Monday, February 24, 2014

The Price of a Man (With Details)

King Æthelbert of Kent (c.560-616) was first mentioned here in an explanation of wergild, the price paid by law for a man's death by the killer. This system helped to halt the endless "Hatfield and McCoy" style of revenge killings that could destroy families and tear apart a community.

But was each man worth the same amount? And what were they worth? And what if he wasn't killed, but there was some other transgression that required revenge? Æthelbert had that covered; here are some "items from the menu":

[The bracketed items are my translations of the Anglo-Saxon terms.]
3. If the king drink at any one's home, and any one there do any lyswe [corrupt thing], let him make two-fold bot [compensation].
4. If a freeman steal from the king, let him pay ninefold.
5. If a man slay another in the king's tun [manor], let him make bot with fifty shillings.
6. If any one slay a freeman, fifty shillings to the king, as drihtinbeah [lord's payment].
7. If the king's ambihtsmith [court craftsman], or laadrinc [escort], slay a man, let him pay a half leodgeld [wergild for manslaughter].
8. The king's mundbyrd [protection], fifty shillings.
9. If a freeman steal from a freeman, let him make threefold bot; and let the king have the wite [penalty fee] and all the chattels.
10. If a man lie with the king's maiden, let him pay a bot of fifty shillings.
12. Let the king's fedels [livestock] be paid for with twenty shillings
13. If a man slay another in an earl's tun [earl's/lord's village/manor], let him make bot with twelve shillings.
14. If a man lie with an earl's birele [steward], let him make bot with twelve shillings.
15. A ceorl's [low-class freeman; a churl] mundbyrd, seven shillings.
16. If a man lie with a ceorl's birele, let him make bot with six shillings; with a slave of the second (class), fifty sceatts [coin worth 1/20th of a shilling]; with one of the third, thirty sceatts.
17. If any one be the first to make an inroad into a man's tun, let him make bot with six shillings; let him who follows, with three shillings; after, each, a shilling.
18. If a man furnish weapons to another where there is strife, though no evil be done, let him make bot with six shillings.
19. If wegreaf [highway robbery] be done, let him make bot with six shillings.
20. If the man be slain, let him make bot with twenty shillings.
21. If a man slay another, let him make bot with a half leodgeld of 100 shillings. . . .
31. If a freeman lie with a freeman's wife, let him pay for it with his wergild, and provide another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other.
(...regarding fighting:)
34. If there be an exposure of the bone, let bot be made with three shillings.
35. If there be an injury of the bone, let bot be made with four shillings.
38. If a shoulder be lamed, let bot be made with thirty shillings.
39. If an ear be struck off, let bot be made with twelve shillings.
40. If the other ear hear not, let bot be made with twenty-five shillings.
41. If an ear be pierced, let bot be made with three shillings.
42. If an ear be mutilated, let bot be made with six shillings. 
(...and what I think is my favorite:)
51. For each of the four front teeth, six shillings; for the tooth which stands next to them four shillings; for that which stands next to that, three shillings; and then afterwards, for each a shilling. (See this explained on YouTube.)
It goes on. There are 85 rules of payment in all. You can find them (and more early medieval laws) here.

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