How did the Vikings make decisions?

When the Vikings arrived in Scotland, they brought with them their own rules, laws and ways of living. So, what was it like to live in Viking Scotland?

The Vikings would have a meeting called a Thing where they would settle arguments and all make decisions.

How was Viking society organised?

The Vikings had their own laws and government. The community would gather together at a meeting called a Thing. Here they would settle problems and make decisions.

People could vote on what should happen. For example, the Thing might decide who owned a piece of land or how to punish a criminal. All this was overseen by a chieftain or a judge known as a law-speaker.

Viking laws were not written down, so laws were passed from person to person by word of mouth. People who broke the law became outlaws. They were forced to live in the wilderness and anyone was allowed to hunt them down and kill them.

Vikings could also settle arguments with a fight. They held a type of duel, known as a Holmgang. Whoever won the duel was seen as being favoured by the gods.

A modern recreation of a Viking Thing meeting place in Stoltebüll, Germany.

How was Viking society organised?

At the top of Viking society was the king. He was the most powerful person in all the land and everyone looked up to him.

Being a king cost a lot of money, because they had to make sure their kingdom was safe and that their followers were loyal to them.

Below the king were the nobles or wealthy Vikings known as jarls. They were rich landowners or traders and they employed men to work for them.

Then there were the karls. They were the everyday people and did jobs like farming and craft work. Karls weren't as rich or important as the jarls, but they weren't poor either.

At the bottom of the pile were the thralls or slaves. They did the hardest, dirtiest jobs and if they tried to run away they could be killed. However, if thralls could earn enough money they could buy their freedom.

A modern Viking Jarl at Shetland's Up Helly Aa festival

What happened to the Things?

Over time Viking chieftains began to think of themselves as kings and the Things became less common.

Not all of the Viking Things disappeared, though. The Parliament of Iceland - called the Althing - was set up by Vikings and it is still going strong after over a thousand years! It is often claimed that it is the oldest parliament in the world.

The Althing, the parliament of Iceland, Reykjavik. The Althing was first set up by Vikings in 930 AD.

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