Viking Weregild: When Money Could Settle Dispute

Viking fight

In the Viking Age, there was a thing known as Viking Weregild. It refers to an amount of money that the murderer paid for the victim’s family. And done, the dispute was settled.

“Weregild” was a compound word: “were” meaning man and “gild” meaning “gold”. The word means “price of man”. The payment of the weregild (by those guilty) was made to the family or the clan who had suffered from their loss and to appease the victim’s family. If the guilty didn’t make a payment or the victim’s family refused to take the weregild, justice was yet to be carried out. They must find other ways to settle this dispute – Holmgang (Viking duel) which often resulted in another death.

 The Vikings had many ways to settle dispute including weregild and holmgang. While the former was about a payment, the latter was a duel which often result in death of one party.
The Vikings had many ways to settle dispute including weregild and holmgang. While the former was about a payment, the latter was a duel which often result in death of one party.

So how much was a Viking weregild?

The amount of a weregild depended on the victim’s social rank and status. The lower their ranks were, the less value were made as the weregild. For example, when A killed B who was a slave of C, C could only get a weregild equal to a sheep or a cow.

The amount of a Viking weregild could also depend on the type of injury, for example loss of limb. Gender could also be an important element for weregild. In the Viking culture, weregild for a man was more valuable than that for a woman.

An interesting case for a weregild was about the extramarital affair. If a Viking husband caught his wife on the bed with her fella, the Viking husband could kill the fella immediately on the bed. But he had to take the bloody sheet to the court to expose their wrongdoings. If he failed to so do, he would have to pay a weregild to the fella’s family.

Viking weregild
Viking weregild

In the legendary Saga of the Volsungs, Odin, Loki, and Hoenir came to visit the land of the dwarf. On the way, they found out a beautiful otter. Loki killed it with a stone and took the skin of the otter. They came to meet Dwarf King only to get seized for Loki’s killing. The otter was Otr the Dwarf Prince in disguise. Then the Dwarf King demanded a weregild from the gods. And Loki had to travel back home to gather a great amount of money to compensate for what he had done.


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