Family counts: deciding when to murder among the Icelandic Vikings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In small scale societies, lethal attacks on another individual usually invite revenge by the victim's family. We might expect those who perpetrate such attacks to do so only when their own support network (mainly family) is larger than that of the potential victim so as to minimise the risk of retaliation. Using data from Icelandic family sagas, we show that this prediction holds whether we consider biological kin or affinal kin (in-laws): on average, killers had twice as many relatives as their victims. These findings reinforce the importance of kin as a source of implicit protection even when they are not physically present. The results also support Hughes' (1988) claim that affines are biological kin because of the shared genetic interests they have in the offspring generation.


External organisations
  • University of Oxford
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Applied Psychology
  • Social Anthropology


  • Kinship, Affines, Murder, Icelandic Vikings, Alliances
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-180
Number of pages6
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number1
Early online date2016 Sep 20
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Mar
Publication categoryResearch