The payment of weregild was an important legal mechanism in early Germanic society; the other common form of legal reparation at this time was blood revenge. The payment was typically made to the family or to the clan.
No distinction was made between murder and manslaughter until these distinctions were instituted by the Holy Roman imperial law in the 12th century. Payment of the weregild was gradually replaced with capital punishment, starting around the 9th century, and almost entirely by the 12th century when weregild began to cease as a practice throughout the Holy Roman Empire.
The standard weregeld for a freeman appears to have been 200 solidi (shillings) in the Migration period, an amount reflected as the basic amount due for the death of a ceorl both in Anglo-Saxon and continental law codes. This fee could however be multiplied according to the social rank of the victim and the circumstances of the crime. For example, the 8th century Lex Alamannorum sets the weregeld for a duke or archbishop at three times the basic value (600 shillings), while the killing of a low ranking cleric was fined with 300, raised to 400 if the cleric was attacked while he was reading mass.
The size of the weregild was largely conditional upon the social rank of the victim. A regular freeman (churl) was worth 200 shillings in 9th century Mercian law (twyhyndeman), a nobleman was worth 1200 (twelfhyndeman). The law code even mentions the weregeld for a king, at 30000, composed of 15000 for the man, paid to the royal family, and 15000 for the kingship, paid to the people. An archbishop is likewise valued at 15000. The weregild for a Welshman was 110 if he owned at least one hide of land, and 80 if he was landless.
Thralls and slaves technically commanded no weregild, but it was commonplace to make a nominal payment in the case of a thrall and the value of the slave in such a case. A shilling was defined as the value of a cow in Kent or elsewhere, a sheep. The weregild for women relative to that of men of equal rank varied: Among the Alamanni, it was double the weregild of men, among the Saxons half that of men.