kúgildi (ON) noun

The kúgildi may have represented an early standard of legal currency (lögeyrir, q.v.) in Iceland, namely one based on cattle. This standard was later replaced by cloth and subsequently by fish. It is thought that cattle served as a currency standard throughout Scandinavia from the prehistoric period up into the Middle Ages, and the term kúgildi persisted for some time after cows ceased to be physically exchanged. A cow which was kúgildi is defined in Grg Misc 246; it had to be medium-sized, aged between three and ten winters, horned, without blemish and in milk. Interest-bearing loans could be assessed in kúgildi. Values of other animals could be expressed in kúgildi, such as twelve one-year-old sheep being worth one kúgildi, though some fluctuations on this standard are attested. The money equivalent of kúgildi was set at spring assemblies (várþing) and therefore could have a different value in various parts of Iceland. This lasted until the late twelfth century, when, in comparison with the later cloth standard, kúgildi became equivalent to 120 ells of homespun cloth (vaðmál) or its equivalent in silver from 1186, if not earlier.

The kúgildi was used particularly for larger transactions, such as farmsteads or land. As such, kúgildi and its compounds appear frequently in medieval diplomas. It has been suggested that kúgildi might also refer to a plot of land required to maintain a cow. Alternatively, it may have been a unit measuring an amount needed to sustain one person for a year.

Kúgildi was in common use until at least the sixteenth century and was used sporadically well up into the modern period. The value of a kúgildi in relation to other goods, in particular butter, changed over the years, especially from Erik Magnússon’s 1294 amendment and later.

In the Norwegian laws kúgildi has been compared to kýrlag, which appears in numerous diplomas. Kýrlag is defined in GuL (ch. 223), though the term itself does not appear there.

Between c. 1100 and 1300 a kúgildi was worth at least 2–2.5 aurar of pure silver (cf. Gelsinger 1981, 195).

cow equivalent OIce Grg Lbþ 202, 220
OIce Sg 1 Llb 51

cow value ONorw FrL Var 14
cow’s worth ONorw FrL KrbA 27
price of a cow OIce Grg Þsþ 77 Vís 89 Misc 246
OIce Kab 6, 15
ONorw FrL Bvb 10

Einzig 1966; Finnur Jónsson 1936; Gelsinger 1981, 36−38; Hastrup 2006; Helgi Þor. 1991, 93−97, 523−26; KLNM s.v. byamål, hundrað, kýrlag; RGA s.v. kúgildi; Strauch 2013a; Þorvaldur Thoroddsen 1908−22, III: 43−58

  • ‘kúgildi’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.

  • http://www.dhi.ac.uk/lmnl/nordicheadword/displayPage/2861