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 wergeld on Wikipedia

Alternative forms[edit]


Learned borrowing from Old English werġeld, wereġeld (compensation for a man killed), from Proto-West Germanic *werageld. More at wer, geld.


wergeld (countable and uncountable, plural wergelds)

  1. (historical, especially in Germanic law) Blood money, the monetary value assigned to a person, set according to their rank, used to determine the compensation paid by the perpetrator of a crime to the victim in the case of injury or to the victim's kindred in the case of homicide.
    • 1973, George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia, →ISBN.
      In its opening article the equality of the wergeld of a Novgorodian Slav with that of a Kievan Russian is proclaimed.
    • 1995, David Anthony Edgell Pelteret, Slavery in Early Mediaeval England: From the Reign of Alfred Until the Twelfth Century, →ISBN.
      In these clauses a lord had the duty of yielding up his esne if he was guilty of homicide and paying the dead man's wergeld. If the esne escaped, his lord had then to pay the value of a further man (that is, one hundred shillings), which was a ceorl's wergeld and may well have been the value of an esne as well.
  2. (historical, especially in Germanic law) Compensation thus determined and paid; a reparative payment.
    • 1977, J.R.R. Tolkien, Of the Rings of Power (HarperCollins), pages 353–354:
      Isildur would not surrender [The Ruling Ring] to Elrond and Círdan who stood by. [...] ‘This I will have as weregild for my father's death, and my brother's. Was it not I that dealt the Enemy his death-blow?’
    • 2002, Richard Firth Green, A Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England, →ISBN.
      The folklaw set a price on every person's head and this price was easily converted into oath equivalents: if the wergeld to be paid for killing a churl was 200 shillings, for killing a thegn 1200 shillings, and for killing a king 7,200 shillings, then it follows that for a churl to sue a thegn he would need five other 200-shilling men prepared to swear alongside him, and to sue a king, thirty-five others.


  • 1862, John Benjamin Marsden, The Influence of the Mosaic Code Upon Subsequent Legislation, →ISBN.
    The first law we find is one of Æthelbirht's:—"if a freeman lie with a freeman's wife, let him pay for it with his 'wer-geld,' and provide another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other."
  • 2005, Jean A. Stuntz, Hers, His, and Theirs: Community Property Law in Spain and Early Texas →ISBN:
    A person's class could be determined by the amount of his or her wergeld. When a malefactor killed an innocent person, the offender had to pay a fine called a wergeld. This compensation was paid to the victim's kin. The higher a person's status was, the higher his or her wergeld was. A ceorl's wergeld was usually set at two hundred shillings. A thegn's wergeld might be 1,200 shillings...The king's wergeld was also set so high that no one would contemplate killing him, because to do so would bankrupt the malefactor's family and they would all be sold into slavery to pay the debt.
    When a wife was killed, her wergeld went to her birth family, not to her husband.
    A man who committed adultery with another man's wife had to pay the wronged husband one-tenth the amount of his wergeld.



See also[edit]


  • Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield, Massachusetts, G.&C. Merriam Co., 1967