Weregild (also spelled wergild, wergeld (in archaic/historical usage of English), weregeld, etc.), also known as man price (
blood money Blood money may refer to: * Blood money (restitution), money paid to the family of a murder victim Films * Blood Money (1917 film), ''Blood Money'' (1917 film), a film starring Harry Carey * Blood Money (1921 film), ''Blood Money'' (1921 film) ...
), was a precept in some archaic legal codes whereby a monetary value was established for a person's life, to be paid as a
fine Fine may refer to: Characters * Sylvia Fine (''The Nanny''), Fran's mother on ''The Nanny'' * Fine/Officer Fine, character in Tales from the Crypt, played by Vincent Spano Vincent M. Spano (born October 18, 1962) is an American film, stage and ...
or as
compensatory damages At common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ''Black's Law Dictionary'' ...
to the person's family if that person was killed or injured by another.


A weregild was a defined value placed on every man graded according to rank, used as a basis of a fine or compensation for murder, disablement, injury (or certain other serious crimes) against that person. It was assessed from the guilty party, payable as
restitution The law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is described by its b ...

to the victim's family. The weregild was codified, for example, under
Frankish Frankish may refer to: * Franks The Franks ( la, Franci or ) were a group of Germanic peoples The historical Germanic peoples (from lat, Germani) are a category of ancient northern European tribes, first mentioned by Graeco-Roman author ...

Salic Code The Salic law ( or ; la, Lex salica), or the was the ancient Salian Frankish civil law code compiled around AD 500 by the first Frankish King, Clovis I, Clovis. The written text is in Latin and contains some of the earliest known instances of O ...
. Weregild payment was an important legal mechanism in early Germanic society; the other common form of legal reparation at this time was blood revenge. The payment was typically made to the
family In , family (from la, familia) is a of people related either by (by recognized birth) or (by marriage or other relationship). The purpose of families is to maintain the well-being of its members and of society. Ideally, families would off ...

or to the
clan A clan is a group of people A people is any plurality of person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, morality, consciousness or self-consciousness, and being a part of ...
. Similar to the way a payment was made to family, it was also a family or kin group responsibility to ensure the payment for the wrong committed, especially if the offender is unable to cover the cost of the offense himself. No distinction was made between
murder Murder is the of another without or valid , especially the unlawful killing of another human with . ("The killing of another person without justification or excuse, especially the crime of killing a person with malice aforethought or with ...

manslaughter Manslaughter is a common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent or judge-made law, or ) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial by virtue of being stated in written opinions. ' is the most-used legal ...
until these distinctions were instituted by the re-introduction of
Roman law Roman law is the system of , including the legal developments spanning over a thousand years of , from the (c. 449 BC), to the ' (AD 529) ordered by Eastern Roman emperor . Roman law forms the basic framework for , the most widely used legal s ...
in the
12th century The 12th century is the period from 1101 to 1200 in accordance with the Julian calendar. In the history of European culture, this period is considered part of the High Middle Ages and is sometimes called the Age of the Cistercians. The Golde ...
. Payment of the weregild was gradually replaced with
capital punishment Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the State (polity), state-sanctioned killing of a person as punishment for a crime. The sentence (law), sentence ordering that someone is punished with the death penalty is called a de ...

capital punishment
due to
Christianization Christianization ( or Christianisation) is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire groups at once. Various strategies and techniques were employed in Christianization campaigns from Late Antiquity and througho ...
, starting around the 9th century, and almost entirely by the 12th century when weregild began to cease as a practice throughout the
Holy Roman Empire The Holy Roman Empire ( la, Sacrum Romanum Imperium; german: Heiliges Römisches Reich) was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western Europe, Western, Central Europe, Central and Southern Europe that developed during the Early Middle Age ...
. Weregild from '' Norðleoda Laga'':

Etymology and related concepts

The word ''weregild'' is composed of ''were'', meaning "man", and ''geld'', meaning "payment or fee", as in Danegeld. ''Geld'' or ''Jeld'' was the Old English and Old Frisian word for money, and still is in Dutch (language), Dutch, Frisian languages, Frisian, German (language), German and Afrikaans. The Danish word ''gæld'' and Norwegian ''gjeld'' both mean "debt". "-Gäld" is also a constituent of some Swedish words, having the same meaning: e.g. ''återgälda'' (retribute, return favour), ''gengäld'' (in return/exchange), ''vedergälda'' (revenge), and the formal/legal term ''gäldenär'' (geldeneer, referring to someone who is indebted). The word survives in English in the word "yield"; an equivalent reconstruction in Modern English of the term would therefore be ''*manyield'' or ''*wereyield''. The same concept outside Germanic culture is known as Blood money (term), blood money. Words include ''ericfine'' in Ireland, ''galanas'' in Wales, ''veriraha'' in Finnish language, Finnish, ''vira'' ("''вира''") in Kievan Rus', Russia and ''główszczyzna'' in Poland. The comparable tradition of diyya plays a role in the contemporary legal systems of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and Pakistan.


The size of the weregild was largely conditional upon the social rank of the victim. There used to be something of a "basis" fee for a standard "free man" that could then be multiplied according to the social rank of the victim and the circumstances of the crime. The weregild for women relative to that of men of equal rank varied: among the Saxons half that of men. In the Migration period, the standard weregild for a freeman appears to have been 200 Solidus (coin), solidi (shillings), an amount reflected as the basic fee due for the death of a ''churl'' (or ''ceorl'') both in later Anglo-Saxon and continental law codes. In the 8th century, the ''Lex Alamannorum'' sets the weregild for a duke or archbishop at three times the basic value (600 shillings), while the killing of a low ranking cleric was fined with 300, raised to 400 if the cleric was attacked while he was reading mass. During the reign of Charlemagne, his ''missi dominici'' required three times the regular weregild should they be killed whilst on a mission from the king. In 9th century Mercian law a regular freeman (churl) was worth 200 shillings (''twyhyndeman''), and a nobleman was worth 1,200 (''twelfhyndeman''), a division established enough that two centuries later a Old English#Charter of Cnut, charter of King Cnut's would simply refer to "all his people - the twelve-hundreders and the two-hundreders". The law code even mentions the weregild for a king, at 30,000 thrymsas, composed of 15,000 for the man, paid to the royal family, and 15,000 for the kingship, paid to the people. An archbishop or nobleman is likewise valued at 15,000 thrymsas. The weregild for a Welshman was 120 shillings if he owned at least one Hide (unit), hide of land and was able to pay the king's tribute. If he has only 1 hide and cannot pay the tribute, his wergild was 80 shillings and then 70 if he was landless yet free. Thralls and slaves legally 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. Technically this amount cannot be called a weregild, because it was more akin to a reimbursement to the owner for lost or damaged property.

In literature

A classic example of a dispute over the weregild of a slave is contained in Iceland's ''Egil's Saga''. In the Völsungasaga or Saga of the Volsungs, the Æsir (Odin, Loki and Hœnir) are asked to pay weregild for killing Ótr, Otr, son of Hreidmar. Otr is a "great fisherman" and resembles an otter. He is 'eating a salmon and half dozing' on the river banks of Andvari's Falls when Loki kills him by throwing a stone at him. Later that evening, the Æsir visit Hreidmar's house where they are seized and imposed with a fine. Their fine consists of "filling the [Otr] skin with gold and covering the outside with red gold." Loki is sent to get the gold and he manages to trick the dwarf Andvari into giving him the gold as well as a curse ring: "The dwarf went into the rock and said that the gold ring would be the death of whoever owned it, and the same applied to all the gold." In the ''Grettis saga, 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.sacred-texts.com
The Story of Grettir the Strong: translation by Eiríkr Magnússon and Willam Morris (1869) In the Epic poetry, epic poem ''Beowulf'', lines 156-158 Grendel refuses to settle his killings with payment or recompense, and at lines 456-472, Hroðgar recalls 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 could not pay the wergild or they refused to accept it. Hroðgar had married Wealhþeow, who probably belonged to the Wulfing tribe, and was able to use his kinship ties 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 the novel ''The Lord of the Rings'' by J. R. R. Tolkien, the journal of Isildur reveals that he justified taking the One Ring as a weregild for the deaths of his father (Elendil) and brother (Anárion) in battle. Appendix A of ''The Return of the King'' also mentions a rich weregild of gold sent by Túrin II, Stewards of Gondor, Steward of Gondor, to King Folcwine of Rohan (Middle-earth), Rohan, after the death of his twin sons, Folcred and Fastred, in battle in Ithilien. In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files, Dresden Files novel ''Skin Game (The Dresden Files), Skin Game'', Harry Dresden offers The Dresden Files characters#"Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, John Marcone a cashbox of diamonds as ''weregild'' for an employee murdered by Deirdre. Dresden says "That's for your dead employee's family. Take care of them with it. And leave my people out of it. It ends here." In Rick Riordan's novel ''The Hammer of Thor'', Hearthstone, an elf, must pay a wergild for his brother Andiron's death when they were children. Hearthstone, the older brother, was distracted and playing with rocks when a Brunnmigi emerged from a well and killed Andiron. Since Hearthstone was deaf, he didn't notice until it was too late. Hearthstone was forced by their father to skin the large beast by himself, which was turned into a rug and placed on the floor of his room. To pay his wergild, he had to cover every single hair with gold earned from his father, generally by doing chores. Every meal and any free time, among other things, cost Hearthstone earned gold. This task wasn't accomplished until years later, and his father, Alderman, was reluctant to consider the debt paid, but finally conceded that Hearthstone was released from the debt.

See also

* Anglo-Saxon law * Beot * Blood feud * Blood law * Blood libel * Blood money (term), Blood money * Danegeld * Diyya * Ericfine * Feud * Galanas * Germanic law * Główszczyzna * Kanun (Albania), Kanun * Leges inter Brettos et Scottos * Leibzoll * Lex Frisionum * Religious minority * Sklavenkasse * Tallage * Tribalism * Value of life * Wrongful death



* Byock, Jesse L. (1990) ''Saga of the Volsungs''. University of California Press. . * Rabin, Andrew, ''The Political Writings of Archbishop Wulfstan of York'' (Manchester, 2015). {{Authority control Early Germanic law 6th century in law 11th century in law Slavery in England