A blood feud is a feud with a cycle of retaliatory violence, with the relatives of someone who has been killed or otherwise wronged or dishonored seeking vengeance by killing or otherwise physically punishing the culprits or their relatives. In the English-speaking world, the Italian word vendetta is used to mean a blood feud, but in reality it means (personal) "vengeance" or "revenge", originating from the Latin vindicta (vengeance), while the word faida would be more appropriate for a blood feud. In the English-speaking world, "vendetta" is sometimes extended to mean any other long-standing feud, not necessarily involving bloodshed. Sometimes, it is not mutual, but rather refers to a prolonged series of hostile acts waged by one person against another without reciprocation.
Blood feuds were common in societies with a weak rule of law (or where the state does not consider itself responsible for mediating this kind of dispute), where family and kinship ties are the main source of authority. An entire family is considered responsible for the actions of any of its members. Sometimes two separate branches of the same family have even come to blows, or worse, over some dispute.
Ponte dei Pugni ("Bridge of Fists") in Venice
was used by rival clans to stage fist fights
The practice has mostly disappeared with more centralized societies where law enforcement and criminal law take responsibility for punishing lawbreakers.
In Homeric ancient Greece, the practice of personal vengeance against wrongdoers was considered natural and customary: "Embedded in the Greek morality of retaliation is the right of vengeance... Feud is a war, just as war is an indefinite series of revenges; and such acts of vengeance are sanctioned by the gods".
In the ancient Hebraic context, it was considered the duty of the individual and family to avenge evil on behalf of God. The executor of the law of blood-revenge who personally put the initial killer to death was given a special designation: go'el haddam, the blood-avenger or blood-redeemer (Book of Numbers 35: 19, etc.). Six Cities of Refuge were established to provide protection and due process for any unintentional manslayers. The avenger was forbidden from harming the unintentional killer if the killer took refuge in one of these cities. As the Oxford Companion to the Bible states: "Since life was viewed as sacred (Genesis 9.6), no amount of blood money could be given as recompense for the loss of the life of an innocent person; it had to be 'life for life' (Exodus 21.23; Deuteronomy 19.21)".
According to historian Marc Bloch:
The Middle Ages, from beginning to end, and particularly the feudal era, lived under the sign of private vengeance. The onus, of course, lay above all on the wronged individual; vengeance was imposed on him as the most sacred of duties ... The solitary individual, however, could do but little. Moreover, it was most commonly a death that had to be avenged. In this case the family group went into action and the faide (feud) came into being, to use the old Germanic word which spread little by little through the whole of Europe — 'the vengeance of the kinsmen which we call faida', as a German canonist expressed it. No moral obligation seemed more sacred than this ... The whole kindred, therefore, placed as a rule under the command of a chieftain, took up arms to punish the murder of one of its members or merely a wrong that he had suffered.
in the Dades valley, High Atlas
. Historically, tribal feuding and banditry were a way of life for the Berbers
of Morocco. As a result, hundreds of ancient kasbahs were built.
Rita of Cascia, a popular 15th-century Italian saint, was canonized by the Catholic Church due mainly to her great effort to end a feud in which her family was involved and which claimed the life of her husband.
The blood feud has certain similarities to the ritualized warfare found in many pre-industrial tribes. Thus, for instance, more than a third of Ya̧nomamö males, on average, died from warfare. The accounts of missionaries to the area have recounted constant infighting in the tribes for women or prestige, and evidence of continuous warfare for the enslavement of neighboring tribes such as the Macu before the arrival of European settlers and government.
In Japan's feudal past, the samurai class upheld the honor of their family, clan, and their lord by katakiuchi (敵討ち), or revenge killings. These killings could also involve the relatives of an offender. While some vendettas were punished by the government, such as that of the Forty-seven Ronin, others were given official permission with specific targets.
At the Holy Roman Empire's Reichstag at Worms in 1495 AD, the right of waging feuds was abolished. The Imperial Reform proclaimed an "eternal public peace" (Ewiger Landfriede) to put an end to the abounding feuds and the anarchy of the robber barons, and it defined a new standing imperial army to enforce that peace. However, it took a few more decades until the new regulation was universally accepted. In 1506, for example, knight Jan Kopidlansky killed a family rival in Prague, and the town councillors sentenced him to death and had him executed. His brother, Jiri Kopidlansky, revenged Jan by continuing atrocities. Another case was the Nuremberg-Schott feud, in which Maximilian was forced to step in to halt the damages done by robber knight Schott.
In Greece, the custom of blood feud is found in several parts of the country, for instance in Crete and Mani. Throughout history, the Maniots have been regarded by their neighbors and their enemies as fearless warriors who practice blood feuds, known in the Maniot dialect of Greek as "Γδικιωμός" (Gdikiomos). Many vendettas went on for months, some for years. The families involved would lock themselves in their towers and, when they got the chance, would murder members of the opposing family. The Maniot vendetta is considered the most vicious and ruthless; it has led to entire family lines being wiped out. The last vendetta on record required the Greek Army with artillery support to force it to a stop. Regardless of this, the Maniot Greeks still practice vendettas even today. Maniots in America, Australia, Canada and Corsica still have on-going vendettas which have led to the creation of Mafia families known as "Γδικιωμέοι" (Gdikiomeoi).
, a typical Maniot village famous for its towers
In Corsica, vendetta was a social code that required Corsicans to kill anyone who wronged the family honor. Between 1821 and 1852, no less than 4,300 murders were perpetrated in Corsica.
In the Late Middle Ages, the Basque Country was ravaged by the War of the Bands, bitter partisan wars between local ruling families. In Navarre, these conflicts became polarised in a violent struggle between the Agramont and Beaumont parties. In Biscay, the two major warring factions were named Oinaz and Gamboa. (Cf. the Guelphs and Ghibellines in Italy). High defensive structures ("towers") built by local noble families, few of which survive today, were frequently razed by fires, and sometimes by royal decree.
Leontiy Lyulye, an expert on conditions in the Caucasus, wrote in the mid-19th century: "Among the mountain people the blood feud is not an uncontrollable permanent feeling such as the vendetta is among the Corsicans. It is more like an obligation imposed by the public opinion." In the Dagestani aul of Kadar, one such blood feud between two antagonistic clans lasted for nearly 260 years, from the 17th century till the 1860s.
The defensive towers built by feuding clans of Svaneti
, in the Caucasus
The Celtic phenomenon of the blood feud demanded "an eye for an eye," and usually descended into murder. Disagreements between clans might last for generations in Scotland and Ireland.
Due to the Celtic heritage of many people living in Appalachia, a series of prolonged violent engagements in late nineteenth-century Kentucky and West Virginia were referred to commonly as feuds, a tendency that was partly due to the nineteenth-century popularity of William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, both of whom had written semihistorical accounts of blood feuds. These incidents, the most famous of which was the Hatfield–McCoy feud, were regularly featured in the newspapers of the eastern U.S. between the Reconstruction Era and the early twentieth century, and are seen by some as linked to a Southern culture of honor with its roots in the Scots-Irish forebears of the residents of the area. Another prominent example is the Regulator–Moderator War, which took place between rival factions in the Republic of Texas. It is sometimes considered the largest blood feud in American history.
An alternative to feud was blood money (or weregild in the Norse culture), which demanded payment of some kind from those responsible for a wrongful death, even an accidental one. If these payments were not made, or were refused by the offended party, a blood feud would ensue.
Feuds in modern times
Blood feuds are still practised in some areas in:
- France (especially Corsica and within Manush communities)
- Ireland (especially Dublin and Limerick)
- In Northern Ireland between Irish republican and Ulster loyalism communities; particularly during The Troubles
- Southern Italy (especially Sicily, Campania, Calabria, Apulia and other areas of the same territory)
- Greece (Mani and Crete)
- Between White British, British Asian or Black British working-class families, crime groups and clans throughout the British Isles. Feuds amongst Traveller clans are also relatively common throughout the British Isles.. Multiple diaspora communities also partake in feuding, such as Turkish and Kurdish communities.
- Between rival crime families in Galicia, Spain
- Between so-called woonwagenbewoners (ethnic Dutch people who live in mobile homes) in the Netherlands
- Among Kurdish and Turkish clans in Turkey (as well as between Kurdish clans in Iraq and Iran)
- Between Turkish Cypriots
- Between rival clans in northern Albania and Kosovo
- Between Canadian Aboriginal tribes
- Among Pashtuns in Afghanistan
- Among Tribes of Montenegro 
- Among Somali clans
- Among the Berbers of Algeria and Morocco
- Between Yoruba and Igbo clans over land in Nigeria
- Between clans in India and between rival tribes in the north-east Indian state of Assam
- Among Sikh clans in Punjab
- Between Mirpuri clans in Azad Kashmir (as well as between British Pakistanis of Mirpuri descent in England)
- Among rival clans in China, and especially in Fujian and Guangdong provinces
- In the Philippines (especially in Mindanao between Muslim Moro and Christian Cebuano clans)
- Between Burakumin clans in Japan
- In the lawless Wa territories of northern Burma
- Among the Arab Bedouins and other Arab tribes inhabiting the mountains of Yemen
- Between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq
- Among Palestinian clans in Gaza
- Between Maronite clans, and between Shiites and Sunnis, in Lebanon
- Between Mhallami clans in Lebanon
- In southern Ethiopia
- Among the highland tribes of New Guinea
- In Svaneti, in Georgia (especially between Svan clans)
- In the mountainous areas of Dagestan
- Between Kyrgyz and Uzbek clans
- Between Yazidi clans in Armenia and Azerbaijan
- In republics of the northern Caucasus such as Chechnya and Ingushetia
- Among Chechen teips where those seeking retribution do not accept or respect the local law enforcement authority
Blood feuds within Russian communities do exist (mostly related to criminal gangs), but are neither as common nor as pervasive as they are in the Caucasus. In the United States, blood feuds are also not as pervasive or common, but do exist within the African-American and Chicano communities (sometimes gang-related, but not necessarily).
Gang warfare also often takes the form of blood feuds. African-American, Cambodian, Cuban Marielito, Dominican, Guatemalan, Haitian, Hmong, Sino-Vietnamese Hoa, Jamaican, Korean, Laotian, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran and Vietnamese gang fights in the United States, as well as Colombian, Mexican and Brazilian gang and paramilitary wars, Cape Coloured turf wars in South Africa, Dutch Antillean, Surinamese and Moluccan gang fights in the Netherlands, and Scottish, White British, Black and Mixed British criminal feuds in the UK, very often have taken the form of blood feuds where a family member in the gang is killed and a relative takes revenge by killing the murderer as well as other members of the rival gang. This has resulted in gun violence and murders in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Ciudad Juarez, Medellin, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Amsterdam, London, Liverpool, and Glasgow, to name just a few.
Blood feuds also have a long history within the White Southern population of the U.S., where it is called the "culture of honor", and still exist to the present day.
A fortified tower used as refuge for men involved in a blood feud who are vulnerable to attack. Thethi, northern Albania
In Albania, gjakmarrja (blood feuding) is a tradition. They have returned in rural areas after more than 40 years of being abolished by Albanian communists led by Enver Hoxha, and more than 3000 Albanian families are currently engaged in them. There are now more than 1,600 families who live under an ever-present death sentence because of them, and since 1992, at least 10,000 Albanians have been killed in them. Blood feuds in Albania trace back to the Kanun, this custom is also practiced among the Albanians of Kosovo
A feud may develop into a vicious circle of further killings, retaliation, counterattacks, and all-out warfare that can end in the mutual extinction of both families. Often the original cause is forgotten, and feuds continue simply because it is perceived that there has always been a feud.
Blood feuds have also been part of a centuries-old tradition in Kosovo, tracing back to the Kanun, a 15th-century codification of Albanian customary rules. In the early 1990s, most cases of blood feuds were reconciled in the course of a large-scale reconciliation movement to end blood feuds led by Anton Çetta. The largest reconciliation gathering took place at Verrat e Llukës on 1 May 1990, which had between 100,000 and 500,000 participants. By 1992 the reconciliation campaign ended at least 1,200 deadly blood feuds, and in 1993 not a single homicide occurred in Kosovo.
Republic of Ireland
Criminal gang feuds also exist in Dublin, Ireland and in the Republic's third-largest city, Limerick. Traveller feuds are also common in towns across the country. Feuds can be due to personal issues, money, or disrespect, and grudges can last generations. Since 2001, over 300 people have been killed in feuds between different drugs gangs, dissident republicans, and Traveller families.
Family and clan feuds, known locally as rido, are characterized by sporadic outbursts of retaliatory violence between families and kinship groups, as well as between communities. It can occur in areas where the government or a central authority is weak, as well as in areas where there is a perceived lack of justice and security. Rido is a Maranao term commonly used in Mindanao to refer to clan feuds. It is considered one of the major problems in Mindanao because, apart from numerous casualties, rido has caused destruction of property, crippled local economies, and displaced families.
Located in the southern Philippines, Mindanao is home to a majority of the country’s Muslim community, and includes the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Mindanao "is a region suffering from poor infrastructure, high poverty, and violence that has claimed the lives of more than 120,000 in the last three decades." There is a widely held stereotype that the violence is perpetrated by armed groups that resort to terrorism to further their political goals, but the actual situation is far more complex. While the Muslim-Christian conflict and the state-rebel conflicts dominate popular perceptions and media attention, a survey commissioned by The Asia Foundation in 2002 — and further verified by a recent Social Weather Stations survey — revealed that citizens are more concerned about the prevalence of rido and its negative impact on their communities than the conflict between the state and rebel groups. The unfortunate interaction and subsequent confusion of rido-based violence with secessionism, communist insurgency, banditry, military involvement and other forms of armed violence shows that violence in Mindanao is more complicated than what is commonly believed.
Rido has wider implications for conflict in Mindanao, primarily because it tends to interact in unfortunate ways with separatist conflict and other forms of armed violence. Many armed confrontations in the past involving insurgent groups and the military were triggered by a local rido. The studies cited above investigated the dynamics of rido with the intention of helping design strategic interventions to address such conflicts.
The causes of rido are varied and may be further complicated by a society's concept of honor and shame, an integral aspect of the social rules that determine accepted practices in the affected communities. The triggers for conflicts range from petty offenses, such as theft and jesting, to more serious crimes, like homicide. These are further aggravated by land disputes and political rivalries, the most common causes of rido. Proliferation of firearms, lack of law enforcement and credible mediators in conflict-prone areas, and an inefficient justice system further contribute to instances of rido.
Studies on rido have documented a total of 1,266 rido cases between the 1930s and 2005, which have killed over 5,500 people and displaced thousands. The four provinces with the highest numbers of rido incidences are: Lanao del Sur (377), Maguindanao (218), Lanao del Norte (164), and Sulu (145). Incidences in these four provinces account for 71% of the total documented cases. The findings also show a steady rise in rido conflicts in the eleven provinces surveyed from the 1980s to 2004. According to the studies, during 2002–2004, 50% (637 cases) of total rido incidences occurred, equaling about 127 new rido cases per year. Out of the total number of rido cases documented, 64% remain unresolved.
Rido conflicts are either resolved, unresolved, or reoccurring. Although the majority of these cases remain unresolved, there have been many resolutions through different conflict-resolving bodies and mechanisms. These cases can utilize the formal procedures of the Philippine government or the various indigenous systems. Formal methods may involve official courts, local government officials, police, and the military. Indigenous methods to resolve conflicts usually involve elder leaders who use local knowledge, beliefs, and practices, as well as their own personal influence, to help repair and restore damaged relationships. Some cases using this approach involve the payment of blood money to resolve the conflict. Hybrid mechanisms include the collaboration of government, religious, and traditional leaders in resolving conflicts through the formation of collaborative groups. Furthermore, the institutionalization of traditional conflict resolution processes into laws and ordinances has been successful with the hybrid method approach. Other conflict-resolution methods include the establishment of ceasefires and the intervention of youth organizations.