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How much does a life cost?

I appeal to the collective knowledge of the flist.

Today, while teaching Beowulf, I pointed out the bit that always amuses me about Grendel, where they say that not only is he a horrible monster and eats our warriors but he doesn't even have the decency to pay weregild!

A hand popped up, and one student asked the very sensible question - what would weregild consist of? In other words, what was the going rate for a warrior's life in those days? I had to confess that I didn't have the foggiest but would endeavour to find out. If necessary, I'll do some research (or at least try Googling it), but I figured that one of my esteemed flist might just already know, so... any takers?

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
a_d_medievalist
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:01 am (UTC)
you can check some Frankish ones on the Salic Law excerpts at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook, but I don't know what the equivalents are.
intertext
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:31 am (UTC)
Thanks for the tip about the Internet Medieval Sourcebook! I'll investigate.
wordweaverlynn
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:12 am (UTC)
I know there was a lot of haggling over it -- some people were more valuable than others. In one of the sagas -- Burnt Njal? Egil's? -- there's an enormous amount of arguing over settlements.
intertext
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:31 am (UTC)
That's interesting, thank you! By the way, I note from your profile that we share a time-zone; we obviously share insomnia - my sympathies!
sjkasabi
Sep. 7th, 2007 12:16 pm (UTC)
Hmm, here's some likely-looking stuff:

http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/medieval/saxlaw.htm

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/560-975dooms.html

Working through laws about wergild used to go down a treat with first years in my teaching days (we generally used the laws of the Salian Franks, though).
chickenfeet2003
Sep. 7th, 2007 12:35 pm (UTC)
Most of the early English law codes specify a fixed rate. So much for a freeman, so much for a thane (typically 3 or 6 times an ordinary freeman) and so much for someone who was 'half free' where that status existed. The going rate for a thane in Mercia was 1200 shillings but it did vary a bit by time and place.
brinian
Sep. 8th, 2007 05:28 am (UTC)
Hmmm...I remember having this discussion in a class too. I can't remember which one though - either Old English I or Beowulf translation seminar. My notes are in a box in the garage. Where exactly in the garage or the box I couldn't say, but my memory of the notes agrees with chickenfeet2003's statement that there was a set amount depending on who you were.
intertext
Sep. 8th, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)
yes - that seems to be the general concensus!
necrostopheles
Sep. 8th, 2007 08:49 pm (UTC)
The first thing I thought of when I read about the weregild in Beowulf was just exactly how do you put a price on a life? I decided I would ask in class; that hand was mine.

My biggest surprise was that no one had asked that before.
intertext
Sep. 8th, 2007 09:24 pm (UTC)
heh - no, you were the first! As you can see, though, you've provided me an entertaining question.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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