If a nation does not know its history, if the country loses its history, then its citizens have nowhere to go.
Mirzhakyp Dulatuly

From the story of a blood feud

From the story of a blood feud - e-history.kz

“A bloody revenge was probably used in cases of personal insults among the Kazakhs in the old days”. This is indicated by the rite of reconciliation, preserved until late. A public application for forgiveness and personal insults is made in front of a large crowd. The guilty person approaches the offended one, takes off his arakchin and puts it with a whip at his feet, saying: “My head is cut off, my blood is shed off”. In response to this, the victim says: “I forgive you”. So, the Russian ethnographer Grigory Potanin wrote this in his work materials for the History of Siberia. Qazaqstan Tarihy portal will tell you in detail about the blood feuds in other nations.

As you know, the death penalty in the modern sense of the word existed as a punishment imposed by the will of the state in ancient times. But there was also blood feud retaliation committed by the hands of a private person and victim along with it. Revenge was expressed in the form of various attacks on the offender, in particular, in the form of deprivation of his life. The last form of revenge, that is bloody revenge, was the prototype of death penalty.

Perhaps, in distant prehistoric times, hidden from the historian and ethnographer, revenge had the character of a wild animal instinct (animals also take revenge). Instinctively, a person takes revenge on his offender under the influence of irritated feelings. As individual cases of retribution were repeated, the conviction gradually developed that revenge could and should be taken. The fact of revenge turns into the right and duty of revenge. At this stage of its development, revenge is known to us both from the oldest monuments of the law of civilized peoples and from the customary law of modern peoples. Thus, revenge turned from a wild animal instinct into a right sanctioned by legal norms, moral duty and religious obligation.

Among the ancient Germans, bloody revenge was a duty that everyone had to fulfill, protecting the honor of their kind. Wilhelm Eduard Wilda (1800-1856), an expert on ancient German criminal law, said that “Someone left the death of his relative unavenged, and then one could think that the murdered person was an unworthy member of the family, or that he died having committed a shameful deed”. Therefore, it was necessary to take revenge as soon as possible by taking the life of the killer. Evasion of revenge or even delay in its execution was considered as disgraceful circumstance.

The Russian historian and ethnographer Alexander Kotlyarevsky (1837–1881) wrote that among the Baltic Slavs “Revenge was a sacred duty of the family”... According to the concepts of pagan antiquity, in addition to satisfying the natural feeling of retribution for family dishonor or the murder of a close relative, massacre is also satisfied with another, higher, sacred duty in relation to it. Other than this, it is the appeasement of the soul that demands sacrifices.

In the oldest monuments of Bohemian legislation, revenge is not a means of satisfaction for an insult and not a wild instinct that prompts one to pay for evils. It is a religious duty, the fulfillment of which is necessary for the peace and bliss of the soul of the murdered person. Among the Serbs, as well as among the Bohemians and Moravians, revenge was a religious duty, the fulfillment of which was necessary for the soul of the murdered people. Instead of “Avenge the slain”, the Serbs said “To sanctify the soul of the slain”.

Revenge was also a religious obligation in ancient Polish law, as it was with Jews, Arabs and Greeks.

The Caucasian highlanders had a “View of revenge as the fulfillment of a sacred duty imposed by religion itself”. According to the Ossetians` law: “Each relative of the murdered person is obliged to take revenge with death on the murderer and his relatives. Whoever does not do this is subjected to the most severe dishonor and his whole family to possible insults”. Therefore, there follows a clear war between the genus of the murdered person and the tribe of the murderer after every murder.

Among the highlanders of the North Caucasus, “As soon as a baby begins to understand how a mother, father, atalyk (educator) and all relatives tell him the same thing, that he must hate his enemy and avenge blood, insults, and insults with blood”. And among other highlanders, “The father of the family tells his children about revenge, the highest virtue, that he inspires them to fulfill without failure, and they subsequently admire their children, and in this way this revenge passes from generation to generation”. That is why, the victim of the offense will go to any length, legal or illegal, to honor the person who has offended him.

According to the views of the Yakuts, “Human blood could not be shed with impunity, and it demanded retribution”.

The Polish ethnographer V.L. Seroshevsky (1858-1945) managed to record interesting details about the ancient family revenge among the Yakuts:

“Once upon a time, if someone from the family was killed in the old days and the mother was pregnant at that time and then gave birth to a daughter, then the child was killed. They were killed not now, but a little later, when the child grew up so much that when he began to sit, there was a balchir. When they were killed, they said: “Through you, your elder brother (and they avenged more for the brothers) a valiant adult man died. If the newborn turned out to be a boy, he was diligently brought up, fed well, and vigilantly looked after, and when he grew up, they shot him with little toy bows with toy arrows, the point of which could only pierce the skin, no more. The child, avoiding blows, learned to observe the flight of arrows and evade them, and then he was taught shooting, wielding a spear, and watching and hunting down prey”.

According to the Buryat concept, the offended person must certainly avenge the offense, and the offender must wait for revenge.

The king of Bayan-Khaz learned from the fairy tale of the same name that his wife, cattle, and slaves have been captured as well. He said in anger: “Whose son, having been born a woman, should sit at home, having lost his wife, all subjects, and various livestock?” “Whose son, having been born as a man, must fill someone else's wife with impunity, someone else's subjects, and steal someone else's cattle” (Balaganskiy collection). The same plot is revealed in Mongolian and Tatar tales.

The hero Kandyrka abandoned his pregnant wife, got himself another woman, and began to live with her. One man came to him and said: “Your wife gave birth to a son... See that you don't stay with your son”. The woman with whom the hero met said the same thing: “Look, no matter how your son kills you and breaks my house”. Indeed, when the son grew up, he avenged the offense of his mother: he killed his father and took the woman, her cattle and slaves.

There were also seven Dundush who killed Mentysh's mother. Mentysh achieved by cunning that the killers killed their mothers, and then was drowned. The tale ended with the words that Dundush people had a bad heart, and Mentysh had a good soul. Obviously, revenge was a laudable act..

Khar-Khurmukchin killed Koityn-Zebi, and took his wife as a prisoner. She was pregnant and gave birth to the son in captivity. The avenger must be the brother of the victim or his son. Then, the mother said to her newborn son the following words: “You, an innocent baby, do not know that Khara-Khurmukchin killed your father and took me as prisoner. If you are happy, then your uncle will kill Khar-Khurmukchin, otherwise he will be killed as well. In the third year, I will put you on the horse, and you ride after Khar-Khurmukchin” (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, part IV).

In conclusion, we can cite the characterization of the Australians made by Sir George Gray, a military and colonial figure in Great Britain and the governor of South Australia: “The most sacred duty of all that a native is obliged to fulfill is revenge for the death of his closest relative, that lies solely on him; as long as he does not fulfill this duty, old women constantly pursue him with reproaches. If he is married, then his wife soon leaves him. If he is not married, then no young woman will speak to him. His mother will constantly complain and weep, his father will treat him with contempt, and reproaches will constantly be heard in his ears”.

According to the views of an ancient person, the facts cited quite eloquently testify that the offended person must take revenge and the offender must suffer retribution for his guilt. This revenge is not only the right, but also the duty of the avenger. Other than this, the fulfillment of revenge is a glorious valorous feat and its evasion is a shameful act.

Later, when the law became a dominant form of law, the prescriptions of law were not always followed. It happened that the law did not correspond to the people's sense of justice. Such kind of law did not deserve respect and authority in the eyes of the population. They obeyed it only out of fear, and the authorities themselves were forced to put up with its violation and look through their fingers at its non-fulfillment. Such laws were often the laws on the death penalty.

Nikolay Sergeevsky (1849–1909), a researcher in the history of Russian criminal law in the 17th century, wrote: “In the majority of cases, the death penalty is definitely prescribed in the monuments, but in practice other punishments are applied”. From a simple review of those laws in which the death penalty is imposed on certain acts, it becomes clear that in many cases indicated in the law, it could not be applied in reality for the simple reason. According to the letter of the law, in Russia there would be no governor, no clerks, no merchants, and no other inhabitants. The numbers of those executed were enormous, but they would have to increase by tens and hundreds of times if every threat of death in the law was carried out in reality. Professor Mikhail Filippov (1858–1903), the author of a study on punishment under the legislation of Peter the Great, also joined this opinion. He wrote: “No matter how little there is, unfortunately, in the published acts, information for judging the degree of application of the death penalty seems impossible not to draw, even from these materials, the conclusion that usually deprivation of life is used only in extreme cases”.

In this respect, the custom of bloody revenge differed from the law of the death penalty. Customary law corresponded to the ethical and religious views of the people. Bloody vengeance was not only a right, it was a duty that had to be fulfilled without fail. It can be said with certainty that the laws on the death penalty have never been enforced with such rigor as the customs of bloody revenge. And there is no doubt that in antiquity. The cases of murder in revenge took place much more often than later cases of murder in execution of the court sentence.

A wide spread of vengeance killings was also due to the extremely wide range of those who took revenge and those who were avenged. The avengers were not only the offended or their closest relatives, but also other people who were in one way or another with them. The principle of individual responsibility was not recognized as well. Revenge fell on the guilty, not on the innocent. The conditions of imputation were not recognized or were not clearly recognized, and therefore everyone who committed a certain action was subjected to revenge, regardless of their guilt.

In Montenegro, “They often took revenge not on the one who offended, but on the best of the members of the clan to which the offender belonged”. And revenge almost never stopped at one, but many fell victim to the offense caused by one. In the same way, the Arabs took revenge not only on the guilty but often on their innocent relatives and sometimes on the best man of the tribe. Revenge passed from generation to generation and ended only with the extermination of all opponents. And in ancient Norway, this custom prevailed. If someone was killed, then the best member of the murderer's family was killed for him, even if the murder was committed without the knowledge, desire and approval of the latter.

In the Russian chronicle, several cases are noted when the avengers killed the innocent but, in one way or another, connected with the guilty. Princess Olga took revenge on the Drevlyans (mainly the “Best” or “Deliberate people” of the Drevlyans), not distinguishing between the guilty and innocence in the murder of her husband. She exacted her vengeance four times. The first time, 20 people were killed; the third time, 5,000 people; the chronicler does not state how many were killed the second and fourth times. Prince Vasilko, taking revenge on the culprit of his blindness, killed many innocent people: “The city was set on fire, and the people of fire ran out and commanded Vasilko to seek all and create Vasilko vengeance on innocent people and shed innocent blood”. In 1284, Prince Oleg killed Prince Svyatoslav, and the brother of the murdered man took revenge on the murderer and his innocent children: “Follow, Svyatoslav, brother Alexander, kill Oleg and his 2 sons”.

Fyodor Leontovich (1833–1911), a researcher of the customary law of Caucasian foreigners, wrote in his work “Adats of the Caucasian Highlanders”: “In recent times, blood feuds existed in full force among the Circassians”. He exacted vengeance on the clan. Once a crime was committed, it led to a series of blood feuds that dragged on for several generations, even several centuries. Among the Kumyks, “The duty of revenge lies with the closest relative. If there is none, then with the friend of the slain. If there is neither a relative nor a friend, then the avenger is an acquaintance or the owner of the house. To assume, the duty of revenge is considered a special honor and dishonor to evade this duty or fulfill without it due to the perseverance”.

Further, in the same work, it is claimed that among the Ossetians, “All persons belonging to the same surname, according to folk customs, were obliged to provide mutual protection among them, to take revenge with weapons for death, for insulting honor, and violation of the right of personal integrity and property, that is why the blood feuds had no boundaries”. They destroyed entire families, and this boundless revenge, like a plague, prevented the development of any citizenship and improvement among the people.

In 1859, some “Harmful customs” were abolished by the Ossetians. By virtue of these customs, anyone who had any contact with the facts of the murder was subjected to bloody revenge. For example, the owner of an animal that caused the death of the person was subject to revenge. In the same way, the owner of the weapon with which someone was killed was subject to revenge; a careless killer; the owner who killed the thief in a state of necessary defense. A minor child who killed someone, a woman who killed a man who tried to rape her, and the boy who killed the one who attempted to have sodomy with him.

Among the Yakuts, “Family animosity was passed down from generation to generation”. And, the Russian lawyer and ethnographer Yevgeny Yakushkin (1826–1905) wrote the following things: “The Chukchi are extremely touchy. They do not forgive insults and silently wait for an opportunity to take revenge on the offender, trying to kill him without fail”. If the Chukchi fails to take revenge during his lifetime, he bequeaths revenge to his son; thus revenge is passed on from generation to generation”.

Revenge required strength for its implementation, and it was the right of the strength. Revenge is usually referred to the men. But when there was no male avenger, women also took the revenge.

So, the Russian chronicle tells us about Olga's revenge for the murder of her husband and about Rogneda's attempt to avenge her father's death. In the Germanic sagas, the sister avenged the deaths of her brothers. In the Mongolian chronicles, there are stories about the revenge of a wife for the murder of her husband. In Mongolian tales, the murderer runs away after committing a crime, fearing vengeance from the victim's wife.

In the Tuvan tale “Altyn-Arykh” (Bogatyr-maiden), the hero says to his horse: “The heroes Pustug-Kaz and Tyurlyu-Kaz killed the White Tsar”. And the horse replies: “If the son had remained with the king, he would have avenged them; otherwise the girl remained”. However, this girl (daughter of the White Tsar Altyn-Arykh) turned out to be a hero, because she killed the murderers of her father.

A murder of the person entails revenge in the form of deprivation of life. The murderer must be killed and pay with his blood for the blood of the murdered people. There is ample evidence to support this position in the monuments of ancient legal history, modern people and customary law. Therefore, it can be assumed that murders were a rather frequent phenomenon, and, consequently, bloody revenge for murder was also a frequent occurrence. But not one murder caused a bloody revenge. It was also caused by other crimes — significant and insignificant.

The story of Esau and Jacob can be cited as a curious example of bloody vengeance not caused by the murder. “Esau, as the eldest son, had the right to the primacy. Rebekah, who loved the youngest son Jacob more, arranged immediately. So that, the seniority went to this youngest, which aroused indignation on the part of the eldest son Esau, who kindled with a feeling of revenge against his brother? On this occasion, Rebekah said to Jacob: “Why should I lose both of you on the same day”, and advised him to leave. It is clear that Esau could have killed his brother Jacob because he had tricked him into receiving a blessing from his father that belonged to Esau as the oldest person”.

There are many such examples. Let's limit ourselves to a few:

According to the ancient Icelandic law, “Three shameful words can be avenged by death: ragan is a despicable coward, strothin is a prostitute; and sporthin is a sodomite” (Du Boys).

In the Old Russian legal code “Truth of Yaroslav”, it is said that a serf who hits a free husband can be killed.

Under Scandinavian customary law, anyone who calls a free person a slave could be killed (Anders Magnus Strinngholm, 1786–1862).

Among the Caucasian highlanders, bloody revenge was caused by insulting the family and various encroachments on personal and property rights.

According to the adats of the Ossetians, “Each relative of the murdered person was obliged to avenge the killer and his relatives by death... the abduction of a woman is punished in the same way as murder... The violence of a woman is paid for by murder or the price of blood... The cruelest insult is considered if someone witnesses the killing of a dog and says that he killed it for a deceased belonging to such kind. Such an insult is cleared only by murder”.

Among the Pshavs, bloody revenge was used in cases of murder, mutilation and adultery.

The Abkhazians relied on bloody revenge for the refusal of the bride or her parents to an agreed marriage, as well as for the divorce caused by insults or the bad life of one of the spouses.

In the adats of the highlanders of the North Caucasus we read: “All crimes of great importance, such as murder, wounding, female violence, and even insults caused by beatings, whips, or other weapons, are resolved by revenge”.

From this, Leontovich drew the following conclusion about the bloody revenge on the adats of various Caucasian foreigners: “The most serious actions in terms of their punishability are, first of all, actions directed against the interests of tribal (treason against the clan and intercourse with infidels; disobedience of people subject to tribal dressers and owners); then qualified personal and property offenses (murder and injury, especially of the heads of clan and family; rape and dishonor of women; beatings with a whip or weapons; and obvious robbery) —these offenses entail blood vengeance of the clan or family”.

Among the Kazakhs in the old days, bloody revenge was probably used in cases of personal insults. This is indicated by the rite of reconciliation, preserved until late. “Application for forgiveness for personal insults takes place publicly, with a large gathering of people. The guilty person approaches the offended, takes off his arakchin and puts it with a whip at his feet. From one Mongolian tale about a cunning thief, it is clear that revenge in the form of murder was practiced in relation to deceivers (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, IV). The tale of the Tuvans about Altai-Bogatyr testifies to the same case.

The Mongolian chronicle (Altan-Tobchi) tells us the following: Taisun Khan, suspecting his wife of infidelity, killed her lover, and sent her to her father with frostbitten ears and nose. The father, taking revenge for insulting his daughter, killed Taisun Khan and his sons (“Altan-Tobchi’).

In one Mongolian tale, the same theme is developed: the hero's wife, seeing that her husband brought another wife into the house, went to her father. The father, having listened to his daughter's complaint, came to his son-in-law and said: “Why are you laughing at other people's children?” Then, he took an arrow and pierced his son-in-law right through the heart (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, IV).

The “History of the Mongols” also tells the story of a murder in revenge for insulting his daughter. Genghis Khan gave his daughter to Bek Terke-il. But the latter said: “Your daughter is a frog and a turtle. How will I take her?” Genghis Khan got angry and executed him.

And here is another original case of an insult that caused a bloody revenge:

Onigut was preparing food for a feast and poured himself a broth covered with bubbles of fat and, catching a cold, drank it. At this time, Sain-Tulegen, the son of Tunshin from the Mongol family, being thirsty, asked Bagersen to pour him a cold broth; but Bagersen poured him a hot one. He became seized and burned himself, not realizing the broth was hot. Tulegen reasoned that if he swallowed it, his heart would burn; if he threw it away, he would be ashamed. So, he held it in his mouth, gradually inhaling the air, and caught a cold, but the skin of the sky peeled off. “I will not forget this and will take revenge until the end of my life. Someday the time for vengeance will come” (“Altan-Tobchi”).

According to the concepts of the Mongols, property offenses could entail retribution in the form of the murder and offender.

A period of bloody revenge was not only the time of the greatest distribution of the death penalty (killing in revenge). At the same time, it was the time of the greatest cruelty in the commission of these executions.

The refined cruelty of executions is told in the songs of the Edda.            

Other sources state that Atli takes over from Sigurd's widowed wife, Gudruna. Gudruna takes revenge on Atli for the deaths of her brothers Gunnar and Gogni. She kills her children, adopted from Atli, makes the bowls from their skulls, fills them with a mixture of the blood of her murdered sons and wine, roasts the hearts of her sons, and treats Atli with this and kills him at night.

In the Mongolian legends about Genghis Khan, there are also indications of the cruelty shown by the woman avenger. Genghis captured Shiturgu Khan and began to live with his wife. At night, the wife of the murdered man castrated Genghis, and he died (Potanin, Eastern motifs).

In Mongolian tales, bloody revenge is mentioned in the form of burning, being torn to pieces by horses, trampling by horses, drowning, and being cut into pieces.

The hero Bekele killed the murderer of his brother, burned his corpse, and scattered the ashes through the air (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, IV).

Karaty Khan killed Uzun Achak and married his sister. But Uzun-achak came to life, found Karaty Khan, killed him, and tied his sister to the tails of two stallions that tore her apart (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, IV).

The same theme is in another tale: the hero Hovugu had a sister who helped her lover kill him. But the hero, thanks to healing agents, came to life. He found his sister and her lover; he cut the latter into ten pieces, and tied his sister to the tails of nine mares and tore them into pieces (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, IV).

The mother and sister of the hero, Tonji-Mergen, found themselves a lover. With their help, the lover killed the hero. Three years later, the hero came to life; he killed his killer, and forced his sister and mother to milk 80 wild mares daily. Mares killed them (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, IV).

One hero defeated another and made his wife his second wife. Both wives considered it necessary to take revenge on him: the first for the insult, the second for the murder of their husband. The hero got drunk; he was sewn up in a skin and thrown into the sea (Potanin, Sketches of Mongolia, IV).

Extremely cruel forms of bloody revenge are found in Buryat fairy tales.

One old man fraudulently married two girls. After discovering the deception, the young wives exacted their revenge on their husband: they killed him, burned his body at the stake, took all the property, and relocated to their father (Buryat tales).

The burning of the guilty is a common form of bloody revenge. The avenger kills the murderer of his relative, collects taiga trees with tops and forest trees with tops, burns the body of the slain, and scatters the remaining bones and ashes with a shovel (Buryat Tales).

A rich king Badma, from the fairy tale of the same name, having learned about the villainy of his two elder wives, got angry and asked them: “Do you like the tails of seventy nightingale mares and the tops of seventy red larches?” After that, he tied one elderly wife to the tails of seventy nightingale mares; having tied it, the mares let go and shouted. Seventy nightingale mares tore it into seventy pieces and ran away in different directions. Another old queen was tied to the tops of seventy red larches and the tops were released; the tops of seventy larches straightened up and tore them into seventy pieces. All the torn parts were pecked by magpies and crows (Balaganskiy collection).

The hero, Uta-Sagat, went to fight. His envious uncle, Khara-Soton, came to his nephew's wife and forced her to marry him with threats and beatings. The hero returned victorious and, having learned what happened in his absence, took revenge on his uncle: he caught the envious uncle by his gray hair and began to beat; then he nailed it with iron nails to a wooden post on a line of three roads; he put a wooden barrel under it; and he wrote on a wooden pole that everyone riding past should cut off a piece of meat from the body of the envious uncle Khara-Soton and put it in a barrel. Passers-by did just that (Balaganskiy collection).

Bloody revenge is not limited to the deprivation of the life of the guilty person or people close to him. The avenger destroyed or seized the property of the offender, enslaving people close to him. In this, one can see the germs of the phenomena of the future, when the confiscation of property was a necessary result of putting the criminal to death and when his family was subjected to this or that responsibility.

Bloody revenge has retained complete dominance among the Polynesians and Melanesians until recently. “It seems to me”, Cook wrote that New Zealanders live in constant fear of mutual attacks. Few tribes do not feel confident that they did not suffer injustice from some other tribe and do not constantly think about revenge.

The state of constant fear for life, health, freedom and property, the state of complete insecurity of personal and property security, the state of eternal arbitrariness, violence and arbitrariness could not exist for a long time, because under it a hostel was unthinkable. A way out of this state was needed. People stubbornly sought to find this way out and found it. Not the solution that the representatives of the school of natural law came up with, not the conclusion of an agreement on the formation of the state on the basis of the instructions of reason. Before him lay another path, the only one that he had to take and did: the path of a slow and gradual weakening of arbitrariness and the establishment of law principles.