is the practice of holding a prisoner or
item to extort
money or property to secure
their release, or it can refer to the sum of money involved.
In early Germanic law a similar concept was called Weregild
Julius Caesar was captured by pirates near the
island of Pharmacusa and held until someone paid 50 talents to free
It also refers to demanding concessions from a person
or organization by threatening damaging action.
In Europe during the Middle Ages
became an important custom of chivalric warfare. An important
, especially nobility
was worth a significant sum of money if captured, but nothing if he
was killed. For this reason, the practice of ransom contributed to
the development of heraldry
, which allowed
knights to advertise their identities, and by implication their
ransom value, and made them less likely to be killed out of hand.
Examples include Richard the Lion
and Bertrand du
When ransom means "payment", the word comes via Old French
from Latin redemptio
= "buying back":
In Christianity, ransom is the shed blood of Jesus
Christ, which made deliverance from sin
and death possible for the offspring of Adam
In Judaism ransom is called kofer-nefesh
( ). Among other
uses, the word was applied to the poll tax
of a half shekel
to be paid by every male
above twenty years at the census.
In the popular imagination, ransom notes (i.e. letters sent by the
captors to those who they expect to pay up) are constructed from
letters cut from newspapers
to stop anyone
from recognising the handwriting of the extortionist.
In typography, and later in computing lore, the ransom note effect
occurs when a document
uses too many fonts
In school athletics, a school's mascot is sometimes kidnapped, and
the ransom payment is usually a contest like a football game.
Although ransom is usually demanded only after the kidnapping
of a person, it is not unheard of for
thieves to demand ransom for the return of an inanimate object or
body part. In 1987, thieves broke into the tomb of
Argentinian president Juan Perón
and stole his hands; they later
demanded $8 million US for their return.
The ransom was not
- Plutarch, “ The Life of Julius Caesar,” in The Parallel
Lives, Loeb Classical Library edition, 1919, Vol. VII, p. 445.
The pirates originally demanded 20 talents, but Caesar felt he was
worth more. After he was freed he came back, captured the pirates,
took their money and eventually crucified all of them, a fate he
had threatened the incredulous pirates with during his
- "Peron Hands: Police Find Trail Elusive." The
New York Times, September 6, 1987. Accessed October 16,