Viking Thing: Viking-Age Laws and Court

For a community to function well, a set of rules is a must. In the Viking Age, the laws were quite simple in comparison with ours today. They existed in the oral versions and spread by the power of mouths. Today, we know more about the laws of the Icelandic than that of any other parts. Because Icelandic laws was the most carefully written.

The Vikings had for themselves the basic form of court. They called it the Thing. The meaning of “Thing” was the assembly or the meeting. Indeed, on this occasion, the Vikings would gather around to discuss and decide important matters to their society.

The Viking Thing in modern reconstruction
The modern reconstruction of the Viking Thing

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.

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.

A fully outlawed meant they could not live with the community

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.

Viking Holmgang or the Viking duel was a way to settle dispute in the Viking Thing
The dispute in the Viking community could be settled by the duel which the Vikings called the Holmgang. A Viking man could challenge the other man to fight duel with him. If the man refused to fight, he admitted defeat unconditionally which was a shame to the Vikings.

Sometimes, the way to solve the tension between two Viking men was a duel. The name for the Viking duel was the Holmgang. The decision of the Holmgang’s result might depend on the first blood or the death.

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