Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Wergeld Definition:

A fine set for injury or death of certain animals or person and upon which, the perpetrator was required to pay to the family of the deceased. Also spelled wergild.

Related Terms: Diyya

Literally, "man money".

In order to prevent vigilante justice and blood feuds which could quickly not only devastate the men of fighting stock of a particular territory but also stoke war, early European kingdom developed a system of monetary value for the life of a man or a slave, known as a wergeld.

The bulk of a wergeld was paid to the victim or his family, with a small portion going to the King.

The wergeld was a popular feature of early Frank and Visigothic law codes such as the Burgundian Code and was set in accordance with a scale of formal social standing.

For example, the wergeld for a cow was 1 gold coin (solidi) but the destruction of a person’s sword, required a wergeld of 3 gold coin. A horse was worth 7 gold coins. An ordinary slave’s life was worth 30 gold coins  but that of a slave goldsmith, 200 gold coins. The death of a member of the Royal entourage was 600 gold coins.

In the Salic Law, the wergeld was one gold coin for a "horned cow able to see and healthy"; two gold coins for a "horned ox able to see and healthy" and three gold coins for an "untrained hawk".

References:

  • Drew, K., The Burgundian Code (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972), page 19.
  • James, Edward, The Franks (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1988), page 210-211.
  • Kibler, W., and Zinn, G., editors, Medieval France: An Encyclopedia (London: Garland Publshing Inc., 1995), page 975.

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