Weregeld (alternative spellings: wergild, wergeld, weregeld, etc.) was a reparational
paymentusually demanded of a person guilty of homicideor other wrongful death, although it could also be demanded in other cases of serious crime. In early Germanic law, weregeld was a person's value in monetary terms, which was paid by a wrongdoer to the family of the person who had been injured or killed.
The payment of weregild was an important legal mechanism in early
Northern European societies, such as those of the Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons; the other common form of legal reparation at this time was blood revenge. The payment was typically made to the familyor to the clan. If these payments were not made, or refused by the offended party, a blood feud would ensue. The word literally means "man price" ("wer" meaning man as in werewolf).
The size of the weregild in cases of
murderwas largely conditional upon the social rankof the victim. In early Anglo-Saxon Britain, an elaborate tariff was prescribed. An aetheling, or prince, was worth 1500 shillings. A yeomanfarmer was worth 100 shillings. A laet, or agricultural serf, was worth between 40 and 80 shillings. Thralls and slavestechnically commanded no weregild, but it was commonplace to make a nominal payment in the case of a thrall and the value of the slave in such a case. A shilling was defined as the value of a cow in Kent or elsewhere, a sheep. As the Northern European tribes were a nomadic people, great importance was placed on the survival of women and children, as they were integral to the propagation of the tribe. The killing of both women and children were also dealt with severely, usually bringing on the larger of the fines. Early Germanic lawforms were very specific to differentiate between the wergelds for free people as opposed to bonded servants. Payment of the wergeld was gradually replaced with corporal punishment, starting around the 9th century and almost entirely replaced by as late as the 12th century throughout the Holy Roman Empire. [Fosberry, John trans, Criminal Justice through the Ages, English trans. John Fosberry. Mittalalterliches Kriminalmuseum, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, (1990 Eng. trans. 1993)pp. 48-52, 99-101]
A classic example of a dispute over the weregild of a slave is contained in Iceland's
Weregild was also known to the
Celts, who called it " ericfine" in Irelandand " galanas" in Wales, and to Slavic peoples, who called it "vira" ("вира") in Russia and główczyznain Poland.
The word "weregild" is composed of "were", a word meaning "man" (as in "
werewolf") and "geld", meaning "payment." Etymologically, "were" is related to the Latin "vir". "Geld" is the root of English "gilt" and cognate with "gold." "Geld" is still the Dutch, German, and Yiddishword for money. In Danish the word is "gæld" and means "debt".
In the Story of Grettir the Strong, chapter 27, "The Suit for the Slaying of Thorgils Makson", Thorgeir conveys to court Thorgils Arison's offer of weregild as atonement for killing Thorgils Makson. [ [http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/gre/index.htm The Story of Grettir the Strong: translation by Eiríkr Magnússon and Willam Morris  ]
In "," it is revealed that after the
Last Alliance of Elves and Menhad defeated the forces of Sauron, that Isildurclaimed the One Ringas weregild owed to him for the deaths of Elendilhis father and Anárionhis younger brother, in protest to the insistence of Elrondand Círdanto destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.
In the epic poem
Beowulf, at lines 456-472, Hroðgarrecalls the story of how Ecgþeow(Beowulf's father) once came to him for help, for he had slain Heaðolaf, a man from another tribe called the Wulfings, and either couldn't pay the wergild or they refused to accept it. Hroðgar married Wealhþeowwho likely belonged to the Wulfing tribe, and was able to use his kinshipties to persuade the Wulfings to accept the wergild and end the feud. Hroðgar sees Beowulf's offer as a son's gratitude for what Hroðgar had done for Beowulf's father.
In Popular Culture
Dresden Files, Harry Dresden demands weregild from Lara Raith for the families of the dead after the war against the Vampire Courts. Similar fantasy texts that incorporate medieval or roman figures may also contain weregilds.
* Blood money
Leges inter Brettos et Scottos
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