A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com - It's an ancient fact that Vikings were fierce warriors and they did plunder a lot. However, what is not particularly well-known is that even though there was no written law and only rune writing existed at the time; the ancient Viking society had a sophisticated government and law system.
Viking law and order was based on the so-called thing system. A Thing was the governing assembly made up of the free people of the community. Each community had its own independent Thing where all free Vikings could gather to make law, resolve disputes and make decisions. The meeting place was called a thingstead.
The Thing System was not restricted to men. Women and handicapped people were allowed to attend its meetings.
The Thing met at specific, regular times and meetings could sometimes last for several days. Each Thing had a law speaker who would recite the law from memory. Although all free men of the community were entitled to voice their opinion, it was still up to the law speaker and the local chieftain to judge and settle the cases of dispute they heard.
The Thing system was considered to be better instead of having disputes settled by duel or family feuds.
In the Viking society, all free men and women had the right to conduct revenge killings.
You could kill somebody in public without suffering serious consequences, because you were honest and did not hide your actions, and gave others the opportunity to react.
It was important to take responsibility for the murder and not run away, and to pay the fines. The same applied to killing somebody in a fight.
Germanic thing, drawn after the depiction in a relief of the Column of Marcus Aurelius (193 CE)
To be summoned to the Thing was regarded a very hostile act and therefore the parties always were trying to reach an agreement.
Those who faced a trial at the Thing knew the verdict could have a devastating effect on their lives. People who were found guilty were either fined, declared semi-outlaw or fully outlawed. To be an outlaw was a dreadful punishment for a Viking as it resulted in being banished from society and having ones property confiscated.
The Tinghaugen mound in Frosta municipality in Central Norway where the Frostating governing assembly took place – probably dating all the way back to the 400s AD. Credit: Stig Morten Skjæran
A person declared an outlaw by the Thing could never expect to receive help from anyone. Isolated from the society, outlaws faced loneliness and could be killed at any time by anyone. The only way to survive with some sort of dignity was to escape abroad or settle in a different location where they were not known.
According to the rules and regulations of the Thing all free men including the kings and chieftains must respect the law. The Thing was a democratic system and everyone was considered a citizen, expect slaves and exiles.
Written by – A. Sutherland - AncientPages.com Senior Staff Writer