Anyone wants to understand the tradition and viewpoint towards life of the Vikings must learn their social acceptance of divorce. The custom of Viking divorce, though not common, showed us how much the Vikings were ahead of their times.
According to an Arabian poet who had the chance to work with the Vikings, he told that jealousy didn’t exist in the Viking society.
A Danish queen taught him that there was no sense of jealousy in their society. A woman stayed with a men on her own free will and she could leave him when she wanted to do so.
However, many scholars refuted this claim because it was the females that sought divorce. Because the Viking men often had a variety of sexual options. For example, the female slaves they got from other countries could become the sex slaves.
Viking men obviously had a greater social network and could travel outside a lot. Meanwhile, the Viking women had to work within their threshold to support the family.
Because the Vikings often got married for the good of both families, they wanted to maintain their marriage as long as possible. But once one partner reached the limit, it was the last straw that ignited the divorce.
Reasons for Viking Divorce
The Icelandic law code allowed its people to divorce only in three cases. First, if one partner gave the other a large wound somewhere in the head or body, they could file for divorce. Second, when the couple was too poor to support both families and they had to rely on their father or mother, they could break up. Third, if one partner wanted to take the other out of the country without the consent, they could divorce.
Some Norse sagas told us some other reasons leading to the Viking divorce.
If the partner made the mocking verses about his/her partner, they could end their marriage by divorce.
Slapping was not a favorite thing to do in the Viking Age (of course, the modern couples don’t favor this, either). Slapping the spouse in the face would be humiliating, especially in front of the witnesses.
This alone could make the pair break up because one side felt the insult. The Viking women sometimes felt that divorce was not enough for the slap they got in the face. Sagas told two occasions when two women killed two husbands for slapping them.
Again, sexual reasons like adultery appeared when it came to the Viking divorce. If a Viking woman committed adultery, she would surely face the penalties for her deed. It might be a fine of money or the sentence to death.
But if a man slept with other men’s wife, it was not enough for the Viking wife to seek divorce. But the man who committed adultery could got killed by the husband of the woman he slept with. And the murderer if could prove the extramarital activities of his wife and her fella would only face a mall amount of money as a fine.
One strange reason was that if the wife caught her husband in the women’s clothes, she could divorce for her dislike.
How to divorce in the Viking Age
The procedures of Viking divorce was quite simple. The couple had to call for the presence of at least 6 witnesses in their wedding to observe their divorce.
They would face the witnesses and declared their wish to divorce. The one who sought divorce had to list the reasons for the divorce. They would announce their divorce in their bedroom, in the main entrance of their house, and in the public assembly.
But the process to divide the property was quite hard to remember. The couple had to agree on the settlement of the property. Before the settlement, the woman was free to take her dowry and morning gift on the first morning of their wedding.
If the divorce was because of mutual poverty or unhappiness, they got no penalty. As the wife would get the dowry, morning gift and the husband got would get the bride price. If they had the property together, the wife would take one third of it.
If the man was the one that sought divorce, the woman would get the dowry, morning gift, bride price, and one third of mutual property if had.
If the woman was the one demanding the break-up, she only got her dowry and morning gift.
With the financial penalty on the one who sought divorce, it served to keep the couple together except for the most serious cases.