This Is Why Viking Law Was A Good Example of Civilisation

Posted by Ms Elly on

This Is Why Viking Law Was A Good Example of Civilisation

For long, law and order have become a crucial part in any social structures. They are important because they act as the main guideline as to what is acceptable in the society. In the Viking time, there existed law and order. Though the Viking laws existed orally, they were among the strictest and the most detailed systems of the ancient times. To solve the dispute by laws and make political decisions, the Vikings would have to gather in one place. They called it the "Thing".


First off, we need to decipher what the "Thing" is. In Old Norse, the word is þing (where the sound þ pronounced like "th"). We get used to understanding it as the object, the entity. But there is another meaning of it. It means all parts coming together or in other words, a meeting. 

Image of Viking Thing

Depiction of Viking Thing

One example of the Viking thing that I have read is about the murder. One Viking man deliberately stole his friend's property and got caught. The stealer killed his friend immediately. When the chieftain decided to hold the "Thing", the victim's sister raised her voice to accuse to murder. After listening to the story (or theory) of the sister, the chieftain declared that stealing property was a serious sin and killing a friend was even more serious. The murder was fully outlaw. Death was the final judgement and people agreed with this. At the end of the "Things", the murder was beheaded though he decided to keep his smile as a fearless sign.


Each community had their own "Thing". All free men and women of the Vikings would assemble at the things, either to listen or to solve disputes. Each Thing would have a law speaker who would collect his/her memory to recite the social laws. Of course, there would be a supreme judge and this position often fell for the noble and wealthy families. The president of the "Thing" was the local chieftain. The chieftain, sometimes also the law speaker, was the main guy to decide the way to solve the conflicts of his people and the Viking free men had nearly no voice. 

Image of Viking chieftain Viking Thing Vikings

The judge was often the chieftain. Cre: "Vikings" TV series

However, people who were at the "Thing" could vote to solve the disputes. In this case, the Vikings also chose the concept "The majority wins, the minority follows". The most common case that the "Thing" would meet revolved around land property. 

The wrongdoer in the "Thing" would face three levels of punishment. The first was a fine, then came semi-outlaw and fully outlaw. To be declared fully outlaw in the Viking age was horrible. The malefactor would be isolated by his society and even his family. He would be banished into the middle of nowhere. No one was allowed to give him a help. Anyone who bore hatred toward him could kill him so most of the times the wrongdoer would flee to another place. But the chance of survival was very small. Some materials claim that the judge couldn't make the sentence. Rather, that right belonged to the victims' families.   

Image of Viking Thing

A drawing of Viking Thing 

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