Ransom 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 an early German law, a similar concept was called bad influence.

Julius Caesar was captured by pirates near the island of Pharmacusa, and held until someone paid 50 talents to free him.

In Europe during the Middle Ages, ransom became an important custom of chivalric warfare. An important knight, especially nobility or royalty, 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 Heart and Bertrand du Guesclin.

When ransom means "payment", the word comes via Old French rançon from Latin redemptio = "buying back": compare "redemption".

In Judaism ransom is called kofer-nefesh (Hebrew: כפר נפש‎). 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.

East Germany, which built the Inner German border to stop emigration, practiced ransom with people. East German citizens could emigrate through the semi-secret route of being ransomed by the West German government in a process termed Freikauf (literally the buying of freedom). Between 1964 and 1989, 33,755 political prisoners were ransomed. West Germany paid over 3.4 billion DM – nearly $2.3 billion at 1990 prices – in goods and hard currency. Those ransomed were valued on a sliding scale, ranging from around 1,875 DM for a worker to around 11,250 DM for a doctor. For a while, payments were made in kind using goods that were in short supply in East Germany, such as oranges, bananas, coffee and medical drugs. The average prisoner was worth around 4,000 DM worth of goods.

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 paid.

The practice of towing vehicles and charging towing fees for the vehicle's release, is often euphemized or referred to as ransoming, especially by opponents of towing. (In Scotland, booting vehicles on private property is outlawed as extortion.)

Other articles related to "ransom":

Thulcandra - Characters
... Elwin Ransom - A professor of philology at a college of the University of Cambridge, hence gifted with languages ... history and such trash" in favor of the hard sciences and imperialism and, boasting to Ransom about his achievements in interplanetary travel, declares, "You cannot be so small-minded as to think that the rights ... Hyoi - Ransom's first hross friend they meet in Chapter 9, and Hyoi begins to teach him the Old Solar language and the practical philosophy of the hrossa ...
Sharpe's Ransom
... two short stories, Sharpe's Christmas and Sharpe's Ransom, written by historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell ... an extended version was published by The Sharpe Appreciation Society in 2003 to add Sharpe's Ransom into a collection of the two short stories simply titled ...
MT Stolt Valor - Ransom
... An initial demand of ransom for US$6 million was later decreased to US$2.5 million ... The ransom negotiations were conducted by National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) General Secretary Abdul Gani in Hong Kong, saying "Definitely ransom has been ...
Simon Kaspé - Kidnap and Murder
... The following day, his father received a ransom note demanding $100,000 ... in Harbin, who delayed the paying of the ransom, promising to cooperate with the Japanese authorities in finding Simon ... Again he was advised to not pay the ransom ...
MV Sirius Star - Career - Ransom Demand and Deadline
... alleged pirate, Farah Abd Jameh, provided information regarding the ransom by audio tape broadcast over Al-Jazeera television ... The tape specified that an unspecified cash ransom was to be delivered to the Sirius Star, where it would be counted using machines that were able to detect counterfeit bills ... On 20 November, the pirates demanded a US$25 million ransom having set a 10-day deadline ...

Famous quotes containing the word ransom:

    The image cannot be dispossessed of a primordial freshness, which idea can never claim. An idea is derivative and tamed. The image is in the natural or wild state, and it has to be discovered there, not put there, obeying its own law and none of ours. We think we can lay hold of image and take it captive, but the docile captive is not the real image but only the idea, which is the image with its character beaten out of it.
    —John Crowe Ransom (1888–1974)

    A boy not beautiful, nor good, nor clever,
    A black cloud full of storms too hot for keeping,
    A sword beneath his mother’s heart— yet never
    Woman bewept her babe as this is weeping.
    —John Crowe Ransom (1888–1974)

    The horn, the hounds, the lank mares coursing by
    Under quaint archetypes of chivalry;
    And the fox, lovely ritualist, in flight
    Offering his unearthly ghost to quarry;
    —John Crowe Ransom (1888–1974)