How Did the Vikings Settle Dispute?
We often regard the Vikings as fierce warriors who knew to kill people only. The historical truth was that the Vikings had rules to settle dispute in their time. Axe wasn't always the solution.
In the Viking Age, people would hold a kind of court to make a judgement over many things in their community. A Viking Althing would have a chieftain to witness and decide the final solution, a lawspeaker to recall the ancestral laws, and the people in the community.
A Viking chieftain would sit on the central seat listening to his people. And finally he would be the only one to deliver the final solution to the problem. There would many types of crimes and many levels of punishment. The accused could be punished with an amount of money or he could be classified to be half or full outlawry. The latter was the least wanted because if a Viking was pleaded full outlawry, he would be abandoned by his whole family and his whole clan. No one could offer him help. And anyone could kill full outlawry without being punished.
Viking althing where people assembled to hear their chieftain making important decisions upon their community
The lower level of outlawry would be banished away from his community for about three or five years. He wasn't deprived of his basic right to live.
Weregild was an amount of money that a criminal would give to the victim or the victim's family. As its name indicated, weregild was an amount of money or the price of the man.
This type of solution was the most common in the Viking Age. The amount of money depended on the victim's social rank. The higher the social rank he gained, the more money his family would get. This meant a slave wouldn't demand a weregild because a slave had no social rank at all.
Viking weregild was the price of man
Holmgang was a violent and bloody way that the Vikings used in their time to settle the dispute. A holmgang was a fight between two men with or without a weapon. There must be one party wanting to challenge the other to take a holmgang. Anyone who wouldn't appear in Holmgang was deemed to lose the fight.
Viking holmgang was a fight between two men with or without weapon
In the Viking society, anyone who didn't appear in this challenge would be called a coward. And being called a coward by the whole community is never a good experience.
Unlike weregild which attempted to make peace, in any holmgang fight, someone must be killed. That's why we call it the violent and bloody way to settle dispute in Viking Age.