U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Retaliatory Violence in Human Prehistory

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 51 Issue: 3 Dated: May 2011 Pages: 518-534
Christopher Boehm
Date Published
May 2011
17 pages
Homicide often spurs lethal retaliation through self-help and this response is widespread among human foragers because brothers are often co-resident in mobile bands.
The roots of this behaviour can be traced back to the shared ancestor of humans, chimpanzees and bonobos, which had strong tendencies to form social dominance hierarchies and to fight, and strong tendencies for alpha peacemakers to stop fights. As well-armed humans were becoming culturally modern, they were living in mobile egalitarian hunting bands that lacked such strong peace makers and lethal retaliation had free play. This continued with tribal agriculturalists who were equally egalitarian, but they tended to live in patrilineal communities, with the males staying put at marriage, and people with such fraternal interest groups developed elaborate rules for feuding. State formation finally brought centralized social control sufficient to put an end to feuding, but self-help killing still continues in certain contexts in modern society. (Published Abstract)


No download available