In Viking society, the strongest leaders were 'jarls', or earls. The most powerful jarls became kings. Freemen met at the Thing, or Viking assembly. People (men and women) met in the open air to settle problems, such as deciding who owned land or farm animals, and to punish criminals. They met old friends, swapped news, and arranged marriages. Viking laws were passed from parents to children, by word of mouth. People who broke the law became 'outlaws', and anyone could kill them.
The family was important to every Viking. An argument might end in a fight. If someone was killed, the dead man's family saw it as their right to take revenge. His relatives tried to punish the killer and the killer's family. This led to long and violent blood-feuds between families. These feuds could be ended by one side paying 'blood-money' to the other as compensation.
Women were important in Viking family life. A wife kept the keys to the chest holding the family valuables. She ran the home and farm while her husband was away trading or fighting.
Vikings and Alfred
The English king Alfred the Great beat the Viking army in battle in AD 878. Alfred then made a peace agreement with the Viking leader Guthrum, who agreed to become a Christian. Alfred allowed the Vikings to settle in part of England, which became known as the Danelaw.
However, even after this agreement, fighting between English and Vikings went on for many years. More Vikings sailed across the North Sea from Norway and Denmark. The English built a navy to fight Viking ships at sea before they could land armies.
Life in the Danelaw
The Danelaw covered an area roughly east of a line on a map joining London and Chester. There were three main areas where Vikings lived. These areas were Northumbria (which included modern Yorkshire), East Anglia, and the Five Boroughs (a borough was a town). The five towns were Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford and Lincoln. In the Danelaw people followed Viking laws, spoke Viking languages, and lived in much the same way as Vikings in Scandinavia. Most people were farmers.