Lesson 11 - Law in the Viking Age.
Komið þið sæl,
This week is a brief, uncomplicated overview of Viking Age Law. Most of this material, however, has been gathered from sources that pertain to later medieval Iceland. Still, the roots of Icelandic law run back to Viking Age Norwegian law. Keeping that in mind however, our understanding can never be without some level of doubt. Regardless, I think many will be surprised as to the level of sophistication within Viking Law.
- Introduction and Early Law
- Icelandic Law: The Gragas
- The “Thing” and an Overview of the System
- Legal Procedure from Njal’s Saga
Introduction and Early Law
The earliest legal texts that we have come from the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, so we must ask ourselves: do they really reflect the Viking Age? the answer likely lies somewhere in between yes and no, for they were likely orally transmitted, cultural customs, and later refined into a written codex.
One interesting artifact that we do have from the Viking Age, however, is called the Forsa Rune Ring (ca. 800).
This ring, which is about 30 centimeters in diameter (1 foot), actually possesses a legal inscription in runes. It was likely hung about an entrance or near a gathering area. The inscription regulates the maintenance of a cult/assembly site. This artifact allows us to gather better insight for how much later law texts reflect the actual Viking Age.
The earliest Norwegian law texts are Gulaþing and Frostaþing, ca. 935-961. these law texts survive into the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, but are fragmentary. These laws would later be used to develop Icelandic law.