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see compositioncomposition,
in ancient and medieval law, a sum of money paid by a guilty party as satisfaction to the family of the person who was injured or killed. Failure to make the payment might justify retaliation in kind against the offender or his family.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(in Russian, vira’;, in Polish, gtowa), in the Leges Germanorum, money compensation for the murder of a freeman. It arose as an alternative to the blood feud, gradually replacing it. The amount of the wergild was established by an agreement between the two parties with consideration of the sex and age of the person murdered. The Leges Germanorum of the Germanic tribes provided special protection for women and children and also set a higher amount of wergild for the murder of aristocrats, officials, and clergymen. The wergild was established as a fixed sum of money (in solidi) and paid by the murderer or his kinsfolk in definite shares to the family of the murder victim, to his kinsfolk, and to the king. According to the Salic Law, the wergild for the murder of a free Frank was 200 solidi, for the murder of a royal retainer 600 solidi. Failure to pay the wergild on time returned to the victimized party his right to use direct violence against the murderer.

With the development of feudal relations in Western Europe, the wergild gradually lost its importance, but it was retained in various forms until the 12th or 13th century.

The vira of Russkaia Pravda, which corresponds to the Germanic wergild, reflects a later phase in the evolution of this institution.


Chernilovskii, Z. M. Istoriia rabovladel’ cheskogo gosudarstva i prava, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1960.
Khrestomatiia pamiatnikov feodal’nogo gosudarstva i prava stran Evropy. Moscow, 1961.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Thus one is shown how determinations of worth and desert were not arbitrary but based on ideas of respect, dignity, or wergeld (the worth of persons).
We pay pain and suffering damages, indeed, as a kind of "wergeld" to show remorse and respect, not to wipe out the injury.
(31) For instance, Ine 30: "Gif mon cierliscne monnan fliemanfeorme teo, be his agnum were geladige he hine; gif he ne maege, gielde hine his agne were; 7 se gesidmon swa be his were" [If anyone accuses a commoner of harbouring a fugitive he shall clear himself by (an oath) equal in value to his own wergeld. If he cannot do so he shall pay for (harbouring) him (the fugitive), (a sum equal to) his own wergeld.
Much like the 'Dentalium Land' or 'Money's Home' of Native California peoples, whence came the shell monies whose employ in bride-price and wergeld compensation was testimony to their vital worth (Bushnell and Bushnell 1977).
Kinsella, Stephen (2009B), "The Libertarian Approach to Negligence, Tort, and Strict Liability: Wergeld and Partial Wergeld," September 1; http://blog.mises.org/ 10572/the-libertarian-approach-to-negligence-tort-and-strict-liability-wergeld-andpartial-wergeld/
By locating the origin of innovations such as prize money, thief catching, informing, and vagrancy legislation within ancient practice of wergelds, Valenze shows how monetary factors helped create and reinforce social stability and hierarchy.