In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a lesser superior was petty treason. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.

Oran's Dictionary of the Law (1983) defines treason as "......citizen's actions to help a foreign government overthrow, make war against, or seriously injure the ." In many nations, it is also often considered treason to attempt or conspire to overthrow the government, even if no foreign country is aiding or involved by such an endeavour.

Outside legal spheres, the word "traitor" may also be used to describe a person who betrays (or is accused of betraying) their own political party, nation, family, friends, ethnic group, team, religion, social class, or other group to which they may belong. Often, such accusations are controversial and disputed, as the person may not identify with the group of which they are a member, or may otherwise disagree with the group leaders making the charge. See, for example, race traitor.

At times, the term "traitor" has been levelled as a political epithet, regardless of any verifiable treasonable action. In a civil war or insurrection, the winners may deem the losers to be traitors. Likewise the term "traitor" is used in heated political discussion – typically as a slur against political dissidents, or against officials in power who are perceived as failing to act in the best interest of their constituents. In certain cases, as with the German Dolchstoßlegende, the accusation of treason towards a large group of people can be a unifying political message.

In English law, high treason was punishable by being hanged, drawn and quartered (men) or burnt at the stake (women), or beheading (royalty and nobility). Treason was the only crime which attracted those penalties (until they were abolished in 1814, 1790 and 1973 respectively). The penalty was used by later monarchs against people who could reasonably be called traitors, although most modern jurists would call it excessive. Many of them would now just be considered dissidents.

In William Shakespeare's play King Lear (c. 1600), when the King learns that his daughter Regan has publicly dishonoured him, he says They could not, would not do 't; 'tis worse than murder: a conventional attitude at that time. In Dante Alighieri's Inferno, the ninth and lowest circle of Hell is reserved for traitors; Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, suffers the worst torments of all: being constantly gnawed at by one of Lucifer's own three mouths. His treachery is considered so notorious that his name has long been synonymous with traitor, a fate he shares with Benedict Arnold, Marcus Junius Brutus (who too is depicted in Dante's Inferno, suffering the same fate as Judas along with Cassius Longinus), and Vidkun Quisling. Indeed, the etymology of the word traitor originates with Judas' handing over of Jesus to the Roman authorities: the word is derived from the Latin traditor which means "one who delivers." Christian theology and political thinking until after the Enlightenment considered treason and blasphemy as synonymous, as it challenged both the state and the will of God. Kings were considered chosen by God and to betray one's country was to do the work of Satan.

Read more about Treason:  Related Offences

Other articles related to "treason":

List Of People Convicted Of High Treason In England Before 1 May 1707
... This is a list of people convicted of high treason in the Kingdom of England before the Union with Scotland on 1 May 1707 ... It does not include people convicted of petty treason ...
Treason - Related Offences
... There are a number of other crimes against the state short of treason Apostasy in Islam is considered treason in Islamic belief ... Compounding treason is dropping a prosecution for treason in exchange for money or money's worth ... Misprision of treason is a crime consisting of the concealment of treason ...
List Of Trials Of Peers In The House Of Lords
... Year Peer Charge Verdict Sentence 1499 The Earl of Warwick treason pleaded guilty death 1522 The Duke of Buckingham treason guilty death 1535 The Lord Dacre treason not guilty 1536 The Queen treason ... From 1547 if a peer or peeress was convicted of a crime, except treason or murder, he or she could claim "privilege of peerage" to escape punishment if it was their first offence ...
List Of People Who Were Beheaded - Netherlands/Belgium
... (1568) - Beheaded by the Governor, the Duke of Alba, at Vilvoorde for treason ... Lamoral, Count of Egmont (1568) - Beheaded in Brussels for treason ... de Montmorency, Count of Horn (1568) - Beheaded in Brussels for treason Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1619) – Executed in the Hague for Hollandic separatism by Prince Maurice ...
Brita Tott - Treason
... For this, she was put on trial for treason against the crown at the assembled court in Stockholm of 1452 ... She was judged guilty of high treason and sentenced to be burned at the stake ...

Famous quotes containing the word treason:

    There’s such divinity doth hedge a king
    That treason can but peep to what it would,
    Acts little of his will.
    William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

    She who resists as though she would not win,
    By her own treason falls an easy prey.
    Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso)

    Our kinsman Gloucester is as innocent
    From meaning treason to our royal person
    As is the sucking lamb or harmless dove.
    William Shakespeare (1564–1616)