værgæld (OSw) vereldi (OGu) værold (OSw) noun

The wergild (‘man price’, ‘worth of a man’) payable for a killing. There are equivalents in other West Germanic languages and the first element of the word is related to ON verr, ‘man’. The second element is related to ON giald, OSw gæld (q.v.), ‘payment’. Schlyter in his glossary points out that the only OSw instance of the word, as found in HL (værold), should be værgæld. He records the OGu form under a separate entry. Wessén suggests that both vereldi and værold were loan words from a West Germanic language, but this has been rejected by Brink (2010b, 127). He instead suggests that the forms found came into OGu and OSw (where it occurs only in HL), via ON legal texts, and ultimately from OE wergild, but that the form was altered by confusion with OSw verold, ‘world’. In the context in which it occurs in HL, it refers only to the king’s portion of the man-price. The usual word in Swedish provincial laws is manbot (q.v.) (ÄVgL) and cognates, whereas ON has vígsbót (q.v.) and vígsbœtr.

It was the sum of money that a killer owed to the kindred of the victim to compensate them for the death. It was the means by which a wronged family could obtain satisfaction from wrongdoers, without resorting to a blood feud. Swedish provincial laws demonstrate how the latter was gradually replaced by a system of compensation. In HL, the family is given the choice of revenge or payment (seven marker in silver, or 9 1/3 marker in coin, to the family and four, or 5 1/3 in coin, to the king). Levels of wergild are defined in GL chapters 14 and 15. These varied with the status of the person killed and sometimes with the status of the killer. The sums varied from six örar in coin for a slave in his banda (q.v.) to three marker in gold, 96 marker in coin, for a Gotlander, the coinage being considerably less valuable in Gotland than in Hälsingland, for example. The level of wergild seems in GL to have been used as a basis for calculating fines to be paid in general. It was sometimes demanded of a thief of between two örar and a mark of silver, equating theft with a killing (GU 38), but leaving an ambiguity over whether the amount depended on the status of the thief or the person from whom he had stolen. It could also be the punishment for the abduction of a woman and rape (GL 21, 22) and for taking stolen goods into another’s house to incriminate him (GL 37). It was also demanded of a person causing injury by carrying fire to another’s house (GL 51). A third of a wergild was even payable if an animal caused someone’s death (GL 17).

In ONorw laws, a wergild ring (see bogher) was the compensation to be paid by a member of the killer’s family to the corresponding member of the family of the killed man. Outside the circle of the closest relatives (the ‘ring men’ mentioned in the GuL 218–22), the GuL distinguishes three circles, groups of receivers and corresponding groups of payers. Each group of receivers or payers was called an uppnám (q.v.). The amount to be paid was differentiated between the values of the lives of individuals of various social classes. GuL contains different systems of assessing the wergild (cf. Robberstad).

compensation OGu GL A 15
fine for manslaughter OSw HL Mb
wergild OGu GL A 9, 12–18, 20–22, 28, 37, 38, 51, Add. 1, 2 (B 4, 17)
OGu GS Ch. 2

wergild compensation OGu GL A 15

Brink 2010b; Helle 2001, 14, 110, 117, 144; Hertzberg, s.v. þversök; KLNM, s.v. mansbot; Peel 2015, 106−07 note 9/10−11, 118−19 notes 15/2−6−15/6−12, 119−20 notes 16/2−4−16/9−13, 121−22 notes 17/17−19−17/19−21; Radding 1989, 617; Robberstad 1981, 370−75, 380; Schlyter 1877, s.v.v. vereldi, værold; SL GL, 250 note 20; Vogt 2010, 121, 133, 143–51

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