Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. In Anglo-Saxon and Germanic law, a price set upon a person's life on the basis of rank and paid as compensation by the family of a slayer to the kindred or lord of a slain person to free the culprit of further punishment or obligation and to prevent a blood feud.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. 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.
  • n. Compensation thusly determined and paid; a reparative payment.

Etymologies

Middle English wargeld, from Old English wergeld : wer, man; see wī-ro- in Indo-European roots + geld, payment.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English wergeld, from Old English wergeld ("compensation for a man killed"), from Proto-Germanic *werageldaz (“weregild”), equivalent to wer (“man”) +‎ geld (“payment”). Cognate with German Wergeld. More at wer, geld. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The wergeld was an unsafe subject for a joke, as Gregory of Tours has shown with startling finality 8.

    The Early Middle Ages 500-1000

  • Bear in mind, I'm responding to this as a lowly Bachelor of Arts (essentially, I have a very small wergeld in the academic community) -- but I found the diagram to be quite helpful.

    Drawing a Dissertation

  • Incensed at the shameful slaughter of his son, Harald Harfagr came over from Norway about the year 900 to avenge him, but, as was then not unusual, accepted as a wergeld or atonement for his son's death a fine of sixty marks of gold, which it fell to the islanders to pay.

    Sutherland and Caithness in Saga-Time or, The Jarls and The Freskyns

  • Ottar, earl in Thurso; his heir; son of Moddan in Dale; probably owned Thurso valley; paid wergeld to Sweyn; his lands left to earl Erlend Haraldson, and afterwards went to

    Sutherland and Caithness in Saga-Time or, The Jarls and The Freskyns

  • He sailed up the Exe, burning and plundering the villages on its banks, and for four years his army marched in every direction across Wessex, and was at length induced to withdraw on being paid a _wergeld_ (war tax) which was first levied on Exeter.

    Exeter

  • /2 /2 By the Salic law a man who could not pay the wergeld was allowed to transfer formally his house-lot, and with it the liability.

    The Common Law

  • The compensation money (wergeld), which was quite different from the fine or fred, (21) was habitually so high for all kinds of active offences that it certainly was no encouragement for such offences.

    Mutual Aid; a factor of evolution

  • (wergeld) to be paid to the wronged person, or to his family, as well as the fred, or fine for breach of peace, which had to be paid to the community.

    Mutual Aid; a factor of evolution

  • If he wishes to clear himself from such a charge, he shall do it by an oath equal to the king’s wergeld.

    The Early Middle Ages 500-1000

  • Kin-group B might with honor accept blood money, the wergeld, the man’s fixed worth, instead of another life.

    The Early Middle Ages 500-1000

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