Viking Social Structure

Posted by Ms Elly on

Viking Social Structure

The Viking society consisted of three main classes: Jarls, free men (and women), and slaves. In fact, in the early Viking age, there existed no national kings and only later some powerful leaders became the kings. Three rigid Viking classes contributed to the flourishment of the Viking age and were socially different from each other. 

Viking Jarls 

The jarls were at the top of the Viking society. A jarl was a member of the Viking nobility. The jarls were chieftains, warlords who had won great wealth and many warrior followers during the succession of fruitful raiding and looting. Later, when the first kings rose to power, the jarls became the privileged people who were to serve the kings and provided land at their pleasure.

Image of Viking Jarls from TV series "Vikings"

(Viking jarls from TV series "Vikings")

Viking Free Men and Women 

The Viking free men and women could also be known as the karls. Most of the Vikings were the free men and women. Their main task was farming and fishing. Some Viking farmers were in possession of land. Some who might not own any piece of land needed to labor for the wealthier farmers, often in exchange for permission to farm any portion of their employers’ land. Other free men might be fishermen, craftsmen, merchants, or soldiers. The Viking free men enjoyed and were protected by the system of law.

Image of Viking Warriors from "Vikings" TV series

(Viking warriors from TV series "Vikings")

The Viking warriors were mainly from the class of free men. They might be the very young men who had little wealth in their hands. They experienced the chase after animals and hunting and from such situations they gained skills. When they reached the age, they enrolled in the army and got tested. The tests were some physical tests that they were supposed to pass easily. These young warriors were primarily unwedded and they did not bear any responsibility of supporting wife and children by farming or fishing. In many cases, these warriors were the younger sons of the families who were dissatisfied with the custom of inheritance. In the ancient Viking age, the eldest son would inherit the largest part of the legacy, which left nearly nothing to the younger sons.

Viking Slaves

The slaves or the thralls were the lowest stratum in Viking society. They got no rights in their hands. They were destined to work for their masters or to be sold. Many Viking slaves were sold to the European and Asian. Sometimes when their masters died, the slaves would be buried with their masters in either land or sea burial. This was also a part of rituals because the Viking believed the slave would accompany to serve their masters in their afterlife.

Image of Viking slaves beheaded

(Viking slaves beheaded by masters)


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