Blood Feud

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vendetta (vĕndĕtˈə) [Ital.,=vengeance], feud between members of two kinship groups to avenge a wrong done to a relative. Although the term originated in Corsica, the custom has also been practiced in other parts of Italy, in other European countries, and among the Arabs. It generally reflects a society where the family is the only social unit with authority or where there is no centralized government to compel order. After a society attains cohesion and will no longer tolerate private vengeance, composition for offenses may be compelled. In time the state itself punishes antisocial acts, and a system of criminal law takes form. The vendetta may prevail also where the government is feared or distrusted to such an extent that private justice is considered more equitable. The obligation to carry on the vendetta usually rests primarily on the male who is next of kin to the wronged person. Among some peoples, vengeance may be taken on any member of the group of the person who has done the wrong. The most striking form of the vendetta is the blood feud, or the taking of a life for a life. While the vendetta is almost universally proscribed by law, it persists in areas that are remote or lack trusted police protection.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Blood Feud


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.


Kosven, M. O. Prestuplenie i nakazanie v dogosudarstvennom obshchestve. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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