Deletion of the viral ligase gene drastically reduced the fitness of bacteriophage T7 on a ligase-deficient host. Viral evolution recovered much of this fitness during long-term passage, but the final fitness remained below that of the intact virus. Compensatory changes occurred chiefly in genes involved in DNA metabolism: the viral endonuclease, helicase, and DNA polymerase. Two other compensatory changes of unknown function also occurred. Using a method to distinguish compensatory mutations from other beneficial mutations, five additional substitutions from the recovery were shown to enhance adaptation to culture conditions and were not compensatory for the deletion. In contrast to the few previous studies of viral recovery from deletions, the compensatory changes in T7 did not restore the deletion or duplicate major regions of the genome. The ability of this deleted genome to recover much of the lost fitness via mutations in its remaining genes reveals a considerable evolutionary potential to modify the interactions of its elements in maintaining an essential set of functions.