I am building a world where a system of weregild or blood money can be paid when someone was killed by another. Renumeration by the murderer in money for the death, according to the value of the life lost. I already know that the social status of the victim influenced the amount paid to the family in other systems. Given that children are plentiful in the world I am creating, and yet don't contribute to society I am hoping that it will be realistic to value them at a lower amount. I plan to add my own tweaks based on the way children are perceived there, but I'd like to know/if how the age of the victim affected the amount paid out (very old or very young), if at all in the system of weregild and in medieval society (which used a modified form of the system)? Is it realistic to impose a scale based on age for a system like this?

Edit: "In other parts of England, where the cost of one sheep set the value of a shilling, the value of a nobleman was 1200 shillings, with 200 shillings for the value a freeman. Under King Alfred the Great, acts of mutilation required specific compensation: 30 shillings for cutting off an ear, 60 for a nose, 9 for a finger and 20 for a toe. Women held the same wergild as male members of their class, and pregnant women had their own value, plus half of that for an unborn child." Use the values in this link as a jumping off point, if you want specific numbers.

EDIT: As @The Bloody Poet pointed out in his answer, the values for all kinds of things were set down. As detailed as it was, children are not mentioned in the primary source. This could be because the concept of childhood was not quite as it is now. Given that my world does have a concept of childhood, I will likely modify this to fit my world.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you provide the price of an adult? Or maybe that of commonly bought goods? it might help $\endgroup$ – Lewis Smith Jul 24 '16 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ I added a link as a starting point in the question above. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 24 '16 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ Life was cheap back then! 200 shillings was ten pounds weight of silver. Applying traditional conversion of four pounds silver to one ounce gold, that is 2.5 ounces or something like $4000 in today's money. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Jul 25 '16 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I can scale it to my world using this as a base. @LewisSmith just asked for pricing. Anyone that wants to get specific using those numbers can, but it's not required for an answer. I am trying to figure what the value would be worth relative to an adult of the same class. The unborn are half in this example, but there's nothing on underage kids anywhere. Children are common and die all the time in this world, so it's going to be lower, but I'd like to get a handle on how it might have worked here for realism's sake. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 25 '16 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ @nigel222, the UK military pays compensation for Afghani civilians killed during the 'occupation' at half that value on average. Life is even cheaper today, it seems - at least if isn't 'one of our own'. $\endgroup$ – TheBloodyPoet Jul 27 '16 at 20:36

You've actually stumbled upon something that is (or at least has been) a matter of debate among some History scholars (I know, I used to live with one.)

Her speciality was Islamic Law (The Principles Of Muhammadan Jurisprudence by Rahim, Abdur was a favourite of hers) but she also dealt with European tribes and customs, and I spent many a 'happy' evening listening to her discussions on the subject. I contacted her to get her opinion on this, and this was her reply:

"Read the Alamannorum. It is all in there."

Sigh. So I did.

The Leges Alamannorum (Pactus legis Alamannorum and Lex Alamannorum) are a group of Germanic texts dating from around the 8th-12th century. They deal specifically with Wergild, and give a pretty damn complete list of crimes and rates of payment due, from grave robbing (80 shillings) to raping a free woman (40 shillings) or a servant (6 shillings).

The price for killing a free man was 200 shillings (the same as in your question, luckily!), 300 for a deacon, 600 for a priest, etc, but only 40 for a shepherd, baker, blacksmith or other servant/indentured man. Kill a slave, and you only had to replace with property worth the same value as the slave, usually another slave.

Interestingly, the price for killing a free woman was twice that of a free man, at 400 shillings. This separates the Alamanni from the Saxony and Islamic people of the time, who gave women half the value of men - Islam still does, by the way.

To give an idea of how thorough these documents can be, they include prices for striking somebody (1 shilling), striking with blood drawn (1.5s), striking with baring skullbone (3s), striking which produces skull splinter (6s), striking which exposes brain matter to the touch (12s) and striking in which brain matter is separated from the victims head (40s):

"Wenn aber aus dieser Wunde das Gehirn heraustritt, wie es geschehen mag, so daß der Arzt es mit einem Heilmittel oder einem Seidentuch verbindet, und später heilt und bewiesen wird, daß es wahr ist, büße man mit 40 Schillingen."

But when comes out of this wound the brain, as it may happen so that the doctor with a cure or with it combines a silk scarf, and later heals and it is proved that it is true to atone with 40 shillings

There are a lot of ways to wound somebody, and these documents go quite a way to list them and the various prices for wergild. As a man's physical health was his livelihood, this was quite important. Lost a toe? Have 3 shillings. Lost a foot? Have 40 shillings. Genitals? Also 40, but only 20 if you still have them, but they don't work.

It even lists prices for stealing or killing geese, ducks, crows, pigeons and cukoos.

I give these examples so you can get an idea of how detailed this document can be, and so you can understand how strange it is that it does not give a price for a dead child. A number of scholars assume that this means there was no price for a dead child, but there is some debate, due to this passage:

"Wenn ein Weib schwanger ist und durch die Tat eines andern das geborene Kind tot ist oder wenn es lebend geboren wird und nicht bis neun Nächte lebt, zahle der, dem es zur Last gelegt wird, 40 Schillinge"

If a woman [Note: not a free woman] is pregnant and by the action of another, the child born is dead or if it is born alive and not living up to nine nights, pay of which it is accused, 40 shillings

This passage clearly gives a price for the unlawful killing of an unborn child (including killed during birth or dying not long after as a result of) as 40 shillings (the same as a non-free adult), so how can a born child be worth nothing? The common argument -and I believe the only logical one- is that, once the child is born, the price was set as it would be for an adult of the same social stature.

Edited to add:

It is worth noting that the Alamannorum texts do mention children in regards to inheriting goods and other things like that, and they give different wergild values for crimes committed by children, so it's not like the authors didn't think about children and how the law changed with regards to them.

Also, older children were often the only source of income for aged parents, as there were no such thing as pension funds or retirement plans back then for most of society. Your child was your future income, and to lose a healthy one could easily be a death sentence, especially if the parents are too old to have more.

This means that, contrary to popular opinion, the value of a live, healthy child could actually be seen as greater in a society where young children are plentiful but regulary died of illness, etc. If you lose your only son, to relace him you might need to have two or three more children to have a good chance of at least one of them reaching adulthood. A healthy child living to adulthood was quite rare in comparison to today, and therefor harder to achieve. This makes the death of a healthy child a much greater financial burden on a family back then than it does now, and wergild was concerned primarily with atoning for financial loss, not emotional one.

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    $\begingroup$ Yes, I've been reading books such as "Life in a Medieval City" and looking up reference materials from that, and I could not find it anywhere. Like you I thought it was weird how detailed it was, with nary a mention of a child anywhere. So, I guess, on day 10 of life you get full value? Huh. I'll have to ruminate on that. Thanks for setting it out for me, I was getting scraps of this in secondary sources. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 27 '16 at 1:37
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    $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby The Alamannorum docs do mention children with regards to hereditary goods, etc. They even give different levels of wergild if a crime was committed by a child, but as for the rest, there is just no mention of age at all. Unborn children are mentioned, as are dead people (grave robbing, etc), but it does seem like everybody inbetween birth and death was valued at a single adult rate dependant on social stature. I'm not sure if it helps you, but there you go. $\endgroup$ – TheBloodyPoet Jul 27 '16 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinThursby One way of looking at it is, as many children died of natural causes, a live/healthy child was more valuable. Remember that children were future income for parents in old age (in many cases, the only income), so the loss of a child signifies the loss of potential future earnings for a family. $\endgroup$ – TheBloodyPoet Jul 27 '16 at 11:07

It is definitely realistic to base a part of your scale on age, but I think you need to bring other factors into play as well.

Birth order and bloodline might both be important.

By birth order, I mean that an oldest child, who has been trained from birth to assume leadership of their family, is far more valuable than a later born child, who has received no such training.

By bloodline, I mean that the sole male child in a patriarchal society, or the sole female child in a matriarchy, would be extremely highly valued because their death would be seen as the death of an entire family line.

Gender might also be a more general factor, again in alignment to the matriarchal/patriarchal nature of the society. Historically, female children have been undervalued compared to their male siblings, but in a female dominated culture that prejudice might be reversed.

So in answer to your question, yes it is realistic to use age as part of your system of justice, but it might be more realistic if factors beyond just age were part of the renumeration calculation process.

  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of adding the amount of training they'd received in profession as part of their value. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 24 '16 at 1:46
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    $\begingroup$ It depends on if you are valuating the potential future value/earning power/influence of the no longer existing person (like current culture tends to do), or look to the effort/expense spent so far (lost investment) on the lost child by the family. In the first, the value stays the same or even increases as the lost person gets younger. In the second, a young child is treated as somewhat easily replaceable (the effort of having another child), but might be affected by things like "can a replacement be made at all?" due to the death of parents or fertility issues they might have. $\endgroup$ – Mark Ripley Jul 24 '16 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ Children are extremely easily replaceable in this world (they come out in litters) but all the points are valid to consider. The death of the parents is an interesting wrinkle--an older sibling might be able to claim more for a younger sib if the 'rents are dead. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 24 '16 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ Another thing to consider is health. Depending on the time the world is set in, children in medieval times died often and easily, so the younger the person (up to a certain age that is) the higher the probability of a more or less natural death. Thus I'd say, the lesser the value. Same goes for elders. In modern times I'd rather tend to reverse the trend. With modern medicine and quite few child deaths, killing a child that has all it's life ahead of him is considered more cruel $\endgroup$ – Otto Abnormalverbraucher Jul 26 '16 at 13:33

If a pregnant women added 50% for the unborn child, then I'd expect that a born child would be worth at least as much. Indeed, given that the mother dying at birth was not a too rare event, the very fact that it was already born would likely increase the value. Given that especially at the beginning, the probability of the child dying was about 25% in the first year, I'd expect another value jump after a year or so.

Children were indeed valued in the medieval time:

Children were of course valued to some extent, and while they may have been seen as useless, they were not seen as worthless.

There is some record of Medieval families taking every measure possible to recover their sick children, even though it certainly cost them a great deal.

At an age of ten to twelve you were considered adult. So adult value should apply.

So my suggestion would be something like:

  • 3/5 of the adult value during the first year.
  • 4/5 of the adult value between one and ten to twelve years old.
  • Full adult value afterwards.
  • $\begingroup$ I realize the article that you linked to says that 10-12 you are considered an adult, however, that's not entirely accurate. By law in many places, men couldn't actually attain property until age 21. They were legally allowed to marry but were often still considered wards. Marriage was used to cement deals, so while they weren't actually able to have children, they weren't quite considered to be adults either...Here's a more academic link. Rather dense. People generally married at a later age than 10. academia.edu/322247/… $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 26 '16 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ Still upvoted you because the scale makes some sense. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 26 '16 at 21:10

The life of an infant or young child would likely considered worth less than a life of an adult or adolescent heir (within the noble strata of the society), and a commoner's child would be be priced much less then an able to work adult provider.

As it was mentioned in the comments, child death was very common in medieval times (when the Weregild system was in place), in some cultures they did not even name infants before they were at least a year old.

...an oldest child, who has been trained from birth to assume leadership of their family, is far more valuable than a later born child, who has received no such training...

@Henry Taylor--I have to respectfully disagree to some point. While the firstborn/heir would be definitely more valuable among siblings, I would rather imagine a system where no able scions are deprived of proper training just because they are second sons, for the situation can change at any moment if the society is violent enough, and anyone might have to step up as an heir.


Children and especially infants might be exempt by law however it would be good practice to pay the equivalent of a young adult (or however much the parents won't take offence to) this way unscrupulous people can't go kidnapping infants and dropping them under carriages or something like that because there’s no guarantee of being paid, it also makes the payment more significant if it isn’t mandatory.

Paying a weregild isn’t something people would make a habit off, a common murderer would just be hung or slain when found, really it’s intended to let a noble or knight save face when they’ve been a little too rough with a peasant or to placate the parent of a horse trampled child. It’s not so much a matter of law as prudent self-preservation, if enough animosity builds up even nobles can find themselves hanging from the gallows or the branches of a tree, would you risk being lynched in the night just to keep the contents of your wallet?

I can't imagine why anyone would play a weregild for a noble, only other nobles or better can afford it and they're more likely to say "you and what army?" to which a response might be "this one, now I'm going to kill you and take everything you own".

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    $\begingroup$ Weregild was paid for nobles, and the reason generally was to stop blood feuds and wars. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Jul 26 '16 at 3:47

Everything I've managed to find on weregild suggests that the value is proportional to the social status of the victim. The more important the larger the figure. In some cases there is an extra multiplier if that person is engaged in a certain activity for the local lord at the time. At the other end slaves or thralls seemed to be worth nothing or maybe a token payment to foster goodwill or instead a replacement. As noted previously children are cited in terms of crimes committed by them but not in terms of crimes committed to them.

From that I tend to deduce that up to a certain age a child would class more as a possession of the parent. After all if a child needs to pay a wereguild then the money is presumable coming from the family rather than child itself and that serves in a small way to ensure parental responsibility and the need to keep your offspring in check.

For a fantasy setting I could believe that up to a certain age a parent might accept a nominal payment or recompense similar to the loss of a thrall if it was offered. It wouldn't be any more enforceable as the counter argument would be 'it was up to you to stop little Beowolf from running in front of the cart so his death is your fault not mine'. This would be more believable to me if the age where the child attains the status of an adult (in terms of this system rather than in terms of inheriting etc) was quite young and linked in perhaps to the child's ability to perform useful work for the family rather than being, in crude terms, an expense on them.

Given that there would be a high infant mortality rate then if there was money to be made from the death of a young child I can foresee all sorts of unpleasant possibilities opening up to certain people that would render the whole system unworkable.


I see the 50% extra cited when a woman was pregnant not as a notional value for the loss of the child as well but rather a premium payed because the woman was demonstrably able to bear children.


If you want hard data on the price of a human life, there is plenty of it available...from the Antebellum South. Here is an article that has a graph of the age-sex-price curve for slaves, as well as some notes about skills that increase or decrease value (+55% if a blacksmith, -60% if crippled, etc.)


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