bot (OSw) bot (ODan) bøter (ODan) bot (OGu) bót (ON) böter (OSw) noun

Both bot and the derived verb böta refer to payment of two different kinds: (1) compensation to private persons for injury, insult or damage; and (2) fines to the king or the church for crimes or violations of ecclesiastical regulations. In this latter case the fine was called sekt (see sækt). Several OSw laws (ÄVgL, YVgL, ÖgL, HL, DL) conceive böter as a means of reconciliation between families (ættir, see átt and æt). This was also the purpose of ODan laws (e.g. SkL) concerning böter. For this reason, böter were paid not only to the aggrieved person(s), but also to the family (the æt). Böter to public authorities were paid partly to the king, partly to society (land (q.v.), hæraþ (q.v.) etc.) or to the church.

Both compensation and fines were often stipulated in terms of baugar (‘rings’, or parts of rings), the values of which were expressed in monetary units (mark, öre etc.), and frequently paid in domestic animals or goods like clothes and weapons; the amount varying with the scope and seriousness of the offence in question. Some fines also implied fasting (see fasta v.).

For very serious offences or crimes, such as murder, værgæld 'wergild' had to be paid by the killer and his kin to the killed person’s kin, as well as a fine to the king. Some crimes, the so-called óbótamál/orbodemål, were considered too grave to be atoned for by compensation. The punishment for such crimes was usually outlawry.

There was no uniform system of fines and compensation in the Nordic countries. However, fines and compensation were graded in two respects: on the one hand according to the nature, scope, and harmful effects of the offence, on the other hand according to the social standing and personal rights (ON réttr) of the aggrieved person. All free persons were entitled to compensation when insulted, and OSw provincial laws considered all free men equal in this respect. The only social gradation known in OSw law was the so-called þokkabot (q.v.). In ONorw laws social gradation was the rule (except for cases of insult in church, at the assembly, or in parties, see FrL Mhb, ch. 58). In Western and Mid-Norway the freeholder (the hauldr) set the standard of comparison. Payments were stipulated in fixed relations to him. He was entitled to 3 merkr, an ordinary farmer (one without odal rights) the half of this (12 aurar), a freedman 6 aurar. Higher up on the scale were the landed men and the stallari (6 merkr each), earls and bishops (12 merkr). The highest fine to the king might amount to 40 merkr. Otherwise, the standard fine to the Norwegian king was 12 aurar (1 1/2 mörk). For minor offences, publicly known, the standard fine was 3 aurar. For bodily harm the Norw laws have very detailed and explicit provisions. For violations of church law fines were paid to the bishop.

As indicated above the culprit had in some cases, e.g. when værgæld was involved, to make payments both to the king and to private persons. A division of the fine is also found in ONorw law, when both the king and society (the householders) received fines for breach of justice (see Helle 2001, 94). Not only active offences were fined, but also disregard of decisions or judgements from a court (dómrof).

There were two calculation systems in use: (1) the duodecimal system, based on 3 merkr or multiples of 3 (6, 9, and 12), and (2) the 40 merkr-system (‘den store bod’), 40 merkr or multiples of 40. It is disputed which system is the older, the 3 merkr-series or the 40 merkr-series. In Sweden and Denmark the 3 merkr-series is considered to be the older one; in Norway the 3 merkr-system seems to have prevailed.

atonement OIce Grg Vís 94
compensation ODan ESjL 1−3
ODan JyL 1−3
ODan SkL passim
ODan VSjL 23, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 65, 69, 86
OGu GL A 13–19, Add. 1 (B 4)
OIce Grg Þsþ 60 Feþ 156 Misc 249
OIce Mah 1, 8 Kge 26 Fml 17
OIce Js Mah 4, 28
ONorw FrL Intr 4 Var 9 Sab 1
ONorw GuL Sab
OSw HL Kgb, Mb
OSw UL Äb, Mb, Jb, Blb, Rb
OSw VmL Äb, Mb, Bb, Rb
OSw YVgL Frb, Drb, Äb, Gb, Tb, Föb, Add
OSw ÄVgL Md, Smb, Slb, Tb
OSw ÖgL Kkb, Eb, Db, Vm

fine ODan ESjL 1
ODan SkL 226
ODan VSjL 40, 49, 86
OGu GL A 7, 11, 12, 14, 16, 19, 23, Add. 2 (B 17)
ONorw BorgL 5.2
ONorw FrL Intr 5 KrbB 8
ONorw GuL Løb
OSw DL Kkb, Eb, Mb, Bb, Gb, Rb
OSw HL Kkb, Kgb, Äb, Mb, Blb
OSw SdmL Kkb, Kgb, Gb, Äb, Jb, Bb, Kmb, Mb, Tjdb, Rb, Till
OSw UL Kkb, Kgb, Äb, Mb, Jb, Kmb, Blb, Rb
OSw VmL Kkb, Kgb, Äb, Mb, Jb, Kmb, Bb, Rb

means to pay fines OSw DL Kkb
payment ODan ESjL 2, 3
ODan JyL 2
ODan SkL 43, 97, 118
ODan VSjL 41, 50

recompense OGu GL A 37
remedy OSw UL StfBM
repair OSw SdmL Kkb

fulder bot, fulder bruta, full bot, fullar böter (OSw)

full compensation OSw UL Mb, Rb VmL Mb, Rb

full fines OSw VmL Mb


Helle 2001, 94; Hertzberg s.v.v. bót, réttr; KLNM s.v.v. byfred, böter, dómrof, hämnd, kroppsstraff, kyrkostraff, legemskrænkelse, leidang, lejermål; Schlyter s.v. bot

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