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We analyze historical accounts of Viking populations in Scotland and Iceland to show that considerations of kinship play a role in individuals' decisions on whether to engage in and revenge murder, as well as in the formation of alliances. However, willingness to murder a relative or to demand vengeance for the murder of another individual depends on the costs and benefits that accrue from the action, as well as the degree of relatedness. When the potential gains from murder are high, individuals are more willing to murder relatives; when the costs of exacting vengeance for a murder are high, individuals are more likely to settle for blood-money compensation for the murder of a family member. Alliances are more likely to be formed with relatives than between unrelated families; moreover, alliances with related individuals are less likely to involve preconditions and are more likely to be stable in the long term. © 1995.

Original publication




Journal article


Ethology and Sociobiology

Publication Date





233 - 246