You may not have said, "What's the price of that," but probably like me, have said, "How much is it," or, "How much does it cost?" All of us have asked that question in one manner or another. And, when we heard the answer, we either liked it or not. Depending on how deep our pockets were at the time, and how deep our desire was, we either left it on the shelf or bought it. When it comes to material things, price fluctuates with supply and demand; remember the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze? But, what is the price of a man?
In old northern Europe, among some of the Celtic tribes and especially among the Germanic/Norse, there was a concept known as 'wergeld,' which literally means, 'man price.' If a man's life was taken away from him, either accidentally or intentionally, and before personal vengeance took place, the guilty party was brought before an annual council known as the 'All Thing.' In regards to matters such as this, the aggrieved party could bring their case to All Thing for redress, in a similar way that in our time, people can file a wrongful death suit in a court of law against the accused.
At All Thing, the decedent's life was examined: what was his standing in the community and how did he contribute to the overall welfare, was he a family man, what was his occupation, etc. From questions like and similar to those, it appears that a determination was attempted to be made, to gauge what else the decedent could have accomplished if allowed to enjoy a full life; family was a major concern for those ancient peoples (the liability put on the defendant from the decision was known as shild). In comparison, in our world today, we have something known as, 'to make whole.' This is an insurance concept that can be readily seen in automobile and homeowners insurance, and if properly applied, life insurance. In a wrongful death lawsuit, if the defendant is found guilty, the judge and jury will attempt to reach some kind of monetary award for the aggrieved party.
During the days of All Thing, sometimes a decree of death or banishment was given to the defendant. But in many cases, the aggrieved party was awarded money, land, cattle, and horses (not necessarily in that order, all at once, or all of those four). It's not to much of a stretch of the imagination as to what the decree could have been for the defendant if he was dirt poor. In cases like those, an option previously not mentioned was indentured servitude; the defendant spent the remainder of his life as a virtual slave to the decedent's family.
In the present, just as in the past, people understand that you cannot replace a life that is gone. As with our present day insurance concepts, and with our ancestor's concept of wergeld and shild, we attempt to 'make whole' for the decedent's survivors. But, it falls short, as it should.
In all of our wars and human tragedies, brave men and women have lost their lives so that we could go on living. On 9/11/2001, hundreds of New York City police and firemen died trying to save others, as did the passengers on flight 93. And recently during the debacle known as Hurricane Sandy, we've heard of police, firemen and regular people risking it all to bring others to safety. On even sadder notes, we've heard of people murdered for a damned cell phone. In all of these cases, even the ancient ones, no amount of compensation, dollars or otherwise, can replace life lost; life is priceless.
Honoring those who have given the ultimate price with our thoughts. prayers, and a lifted glass just may be the best that we can do.
Copyright @2012 Terry Unger