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a custom that arose and developed in society before the origin of the state. It arose as a universal means of protecting the life, honor, and possessions of one’s kinsmen (tribesmen). Although it had a common basis, the custom of the blood feud existed in different versions. Among some peoples it was considered sufficient to kill one representative of the offender’s family (that is, not necessarily the offender himself); among others the feud had to be continued until the number of victims from both sides was equal.
In early state societies the blood feud was not abolished but was restricted somewhat. The circle of avengers and those answerable for a murder was narrowed, and the extent of the damage and the sex, age, and social position of the victim of the feud were taken into consideration. At the same time, a system of compositions developed—material compensation for the damage. For example, according to Saxon customs, the blood feud extended only to a murderer and his sons. According to Burgundian customs, the feud extended only to the murderer himself, and the circle of persons having the right to take vengeance was also limited. A murder as part of a blood feud could not be carried out in the premises of a church. According to the Russkaia Pravda, one could avenge a brother by killing the perpetrator’s brother, and one’s father could be avenged by killing the perpetrator’s son; if there were no such relatives, a fine (vira) was set. According to the Salic Law, a fine (wergild) replaced the blood feud. As a rule, the blood feud was forbidden if a person had been killed through carelessness or by accident. The blood feud and the compositions continued to exist in such a form in many countries and regions, and in some of them (Albania, Serbia, southern Italy, Corsica, Japan) the blood feud survived to the 20th century.
In the USSR, the blood feud and the compositions, which had been preserved among some peoples in the Caucasus, Middle Asia, and other places, are considered by the criminal law of a number of Union republics to be crimes constituting survivals of local customs (for example, the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, arts. 102 and 231). In the USSR, the custom has practically died out.