In retrospect the practice of the blood feud was always subject to an inevitability that it would cease to operate. At some point this primitive 'law of the land' was going to yield to the superior equity of justice. While the main reason for the decline of the 'blood-feud' was the implementation of effective government based on principles of justice and order there were other factors that accelerated and slowed down its regression. Among these are moral values, religious discipline, geographical position, sense of identity and regulatory recognition of the blood feud.
While investigating the general decline of the blood feud is helpful, ascertaining the principle reasons for its decline may be best served by looking at the particular regions where the blood feud survived longest. The blood feud was the primitive form of upholding order across Western Europe in medieval times. The Greek odysseys give an indication of how change was brought about. Ruling government and basic principles of justice slowly came to govern the people of the land. A Greek Bronze Plate discovered in Olympia in 1880 is the earliest evidence of law in Ancient Greece.
This change was also aided by the religious theory predominant at the time. When the blood feud held sway the primitive man seemed to be overwhelmed by the atmosphere of feud and danger to feel repugnance for his actions. The ripening of religious morals began to bring the morality of perpetrating criminal acts to bear. In medieval Frankish society the practice of the blood feud was gradually stamped out as a result of the church and the influence of traditional roman law. At first composition and court procedures existed as alternatives to the blood feud, eventually replacing the barberry with a civilized dispute-settling process.
Much like in medieval Iceland the legal structure ('Volksrechte') that immediately replaced the blood feud was derived from feud-processes and closely followed them. In Scotland the blood feud survived until the middle of the seventeenth century, while England embraced principles of royal justice. The main reason for the demise of the Blood Feud in Scotland was the fusion of state and church, Calvinist theology, with its emphasis on discipline, began to impose itself on the rules governing Scottish society. Law-breaking was no longer viewed as a crime against the individual but a sin against god.
Another reason may have been criticisms voiced by a new breed of legal thinkers who viewed the practice as barbaric and strongly disagreed with the obligation to support ones kin. One of the reasons the blood-feud survived in Scotland as long as it did was the continuing localism of society that made the enforcement of impersonal justice inconceivable. As Alfred Zimmern noted (The Greek Commonwealth) "In all societies, in all ages the larger unit tends to be held in less esteem than that of the smaller, and progress consists in making the spirit of the smaller, with its appropriate ideas and customs, transmute and inspire the larger".
As society becomes less consumed with the idea of maintaining tribal ties the Common law of the land gradually becomes more accepted on a broad basis. Parallels are definitely evident between this tribal harmonization and European integration on a larger scale in recent times. This issue of separate identity can certainly be regarded as a factor in the survival of the Blood Feud in Corsica. First and foremost a Corsican's loyalty was to his family, a universally not uncommon trait. After that, his loyalty lay with his village or clan.
He would see himself as a member of his tribe or clan far ahead of seeing himself as a Corsican – a case of Corsican by birth, tribesman by choice. Another reason for the decline of the blood feud may have been an increasing focus on materialism rather than honour. The Franks replaced the blood feud with a system of 'wergeld' whereby a fine was imposed on the wrongdoer to be paid to the victim. As noted above the principle factor that brought the practice of the blood feud to an end was the implementation of proper government.
This is clearly demonstrated by a recent rebirth of the Blood Feud in Albania, where historically the code of the Kanun enforced the principle of 'gakmarrja' (blood vengeance). The Kanun stated, "blood should always be avenged by blood". In 1991 communist rule was broken and the new government laws were not properly enforced in the mountains. In 1991 10% of killings were motivated by revenge, in 1997 that figure increased to 30%. In Corsica, the blood feud held sway until the late 19th century and more than anything else this was because of poor governing from successive ruling states.
The Genoans, who ruled the Island from 1358 -1768, were only interested in the island as 'Bread Basket' and failed to administer principles of justice. When the French took control of the island the poor administration of the island continued as most Corsicans didn't speak French and the Island was badly served by transport. As a sailor in Prosper Merimee's Columba stated "I put more faith in a good gun than in the judge of a royal court". It wasn't until the 20th century that the French government got any sort of stranglehold over the fiery island.
Poor accessibility of certain regions meant the state could not exert sufficient control over the people to uphold principles of the common law. Remote mountainous areas slowly became more integrated with the metropolitan centres and the law of the land slowly came to be accepted. The blood feud had a prolonged life in the highlands of Scotland, the high plateaus of Albania and the inner mountainous region of the Island of Corsica. In Iceland the blood feud didn't die down in the same manner as most other areas it was practiced.
In old Icelandic society the blood feud acted as a cohesive and stabilizing force. The Icelandic sagas, although based largely on fantasy, revealed the normative codes of society and indicated basic rules of conduct. In Iceland the blood feud regulated the exercise of power. The blood feud was based to a large extent on 'Vinfengi' – contractual friendship arrangements. To acquire a position of power one needed to build up a broad network of 'Vinfengi', and improper conduct would have been seen as an abuse of 'Vinfengi' resulting in a loss of support.
Rather than law bringing an end to the blood feud here, the feud is woven in the fabric of old Icelandic law. As James Bryce noted "it is hard to believe that a body of law so elaborate and complex existed among men whose chief occupation was to kill one another". So it was that the Law regulated the blood feud until it's practice became less and less barbaric and eventually became outdated. What can be gleaned from a study of the blood feud is that ultimately the chaos and blood shed gives way to proper order simply because it must.
This was by no means a swift process; indeed in some societies it took hundreds of years for the blood feud to properly die out. Inevitably justice intervenes to steer society away from anarchy, and the obligation of the tribesman to extirpate his enemies root and branch is eventually overtaken by a general societal need for harmony. This need for harmony is subsequently amplified in the gradual recognition of a higher authority -religious and, or political.