Agonistic support is generally considered a classical example of altruistic behaviour. It plays a critical role in the process of rank acquisition. This study investigates agonistic coalitions involving juvenile Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) living in a large captive group. Kinship was a good predictor of agonistic support received by juvenile macaques. Kinship also had a significant, though weaker, influence on agonistic support given by juvenile macaques. The latter was strongly influenced by the prospective rank of the individual against which the coalition was directed, i.e. by the rank relationship between the target of the coalition and the juvenile’s mother. Juvenile macaques intervened aggressively more against prospectively subordinate individuals than against prospectively dominant individuals. These results imply agonistic support is not necessarily altruistic, and support the hypothesis that primates may understand the rank relationship that exist among their group mates, i.e. that they are aware of third-party social relationships. They also suggest that selective pressures associated with the process of rank acquisition may have favoured the evolution of higher cognitive abilities.