Murder does seem like a poor choice.
Tease: Murder does seem like a poor choice.
Intro: Welcome to “Dumb Ideas that Changed the World.” The views expressed are solely those of the host and do not reflect the opinions of this station or its funders.
The island of Corsica was long plagued by blood feuds among families. And domination by foreign powers only exacerbated the troubles. This system of violence was known as “vendetta.”
Corsican notions of honor and shame fueled the system through the 19th century. If a man brazenly touched or kissed a woman in public, she was dishonored. So she and her kin had to decide whether to marry him or kill him to reclaim her honor. Some husbands murdered their own wives over an old rivalry, after which the wife’s family took its revenge on him or his brother. A man from Guincheto even wounded his sister-in-law for interfering with his son’s arranged marriage.
The Quastana and Borelli families had a long feud just because a Borelli testified against a Quastana at his murder trial. Before the tit-for-tat ended, eight people were killed over fifteen years.
Even a straying goat could lead to bloodshed, as when Baptiste Bojoli wounded the mayor of Ocana and was then murdered by the mayor’s family. Vendetta overwhelmed the justice system and often replaced it. Writer Vanessa Couchman says up to 900 people were killed annually. And 30,000 were killed on the sparsely-populated island over two centuries.
Some scholars defend the vendetta as a sensible justice system in the absence of effective policing. But it doesn’t take a genius to view it dysfunctional. The dumbest thing was everyone’s agreement that “this violence must end… after I am avenged.” Imagine hiding for months and years because your brother killed someone from another clan. Under the vendetta, your two lives were interchangeable.
Scholar Stephen Wilson’s emphasizes that many good people tried to settle things down rather than settle old scores. And most families in Corsica lived peacefully, steering clear of the violence. But for too long the vendetta posed a constant threat to life on this beautiful Mediterranean island.
I’m Jeff Gentry
Best reference: Wilson, S. (1981). Conflict and Its Causes in Southern Corsica, 1800-35. Social History, 6(1), 33–69. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4285044
Dumb Ideas that Changed the World copyright 2023 by Jeff Gentry. All rights reserved.