Viking Society: Viking Classes and Viking Law

The beginning of the Viking age had no certain national kings. There were three Viking social classes back then: Jarls (the noble), Karls (the freemen), and Thralls (the slave). People from this class could move among classes, particularly the lower classes. The progress of the Viking age paved the way for the kingship in their time. However, the kingship didn’t become a strong position until later. In the Viking society, there was Viking law as well. We know it as Viking Thing.

Viking Society: Three Classes

Viking Jarls

The noble or the Jarls in the Viking age were rich. They possessed not only the material treasure but also the high social rank. The Viking Jarls stood at the highest point compared with the other classes. They could be wealthy landowners, traders, or merchants. The Jarls were allowed to have slaves and employ the Karls to work for them. The Jarls could be materially powerful enough to become a king and they could also be reduced to the Karls. This change of social class was common in the Viking age.

Viking Karls

Karls or the freemen occupied the largest part in the Viking population. The majority of the Karls were the farmers. They were free to own land, have slaves, and employ the workers for them. What distinguished the Jarls and the Karls were the level of richness and the social status. The Karls could both work on their own land (if they had their land) or they could work for the others. In the latter case, they would become the helpers (different from the slaves) so that the people that hired them would pay them with food and shelter.

Viking trading slave
Viking slaves in their time

Viking Thralls

Thralls or the slaves were the lowest rank in the Viking social classes. The Viking thralls had no rights to possess anything. They would live to work for and to serve their masters. As they got no possession and property, they had to work for the other to get food and shelter. Many Viking masters treated their thralls very well. There were many ways to have a slave. The Viking captured their slaves in wars and raids or through a crime or punishment.

Viking Law: Where Law was recited by mouth

Commonly, the Thing would meet at a specific place and on regular time. Each time the Vikings held their Viking thing, a law-speaker would appear to cite their laws from their memory.

Though the Viking free men could attend the public court to raise their voice, earls or chieftains were those who made the most important decisions. That is to say, the Viking Thing was somewhat a noble-family discussion in disguise. Viking society

If we say Viking thing is a court, it at least had the Judge and the Accused. The chieftain would be the Judge who made the final judgement. The accused were those who the Vikings believed/found them in the course of crimes.

Viking society

There would be three levels of judgement: fined, semi-outlawed, and fully-outlawed. If the Judge decided that the accused to be fined, they would get away with their crimes with a sum of money. Being the fully-outlawed accused would be the most severe punishment. For the fully-outlawed would not be accepted in the Viking community. They had to live in an isolated part far away from their family. No one could offer, not to say dare to offer, the fully outlawed a help. They often chose to flee to another country or settle down again in other regions.

One cool story about the Thing was the story about finding wife on the bed with another man. In the Viking Age, if the husband found his wife sleep with her fella, he could kill the fella on the spot. If the killing happened on the bed, the husband must bring the bloody sheet to the Thing. In case he failed to do so, he would have to pay the fella’s family a sum of money for killing their family member.

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