Norse hierarchy

Foreword

Foremost it must be said that norsemen had two different kinds of hierarchy: the Viking one, of viking villages (coastwise, tipically) where a king commanded, and the king was the strongest warrior. The other one was the Norse hierarchy, where an hereditary king commanded and it was subdivided in kinðir, sifjur and ættir. In the beginning the vikings adopted the same hierarchic system of the not­-vikings (the norsemen), but then remained only the ættir, because there were founded real Viking villages, with only viking warriors and not norsemen with a not-warrior life. Here I will describe the Norse hierarchy, because it includes the Viking one in itself. 
As said before, it is subdivided in kinðr (“kindred”), sifja (“family”) and ætt (“clan”). 

Sifja – Family 

Is the standard Norse family. The only way to be in a sifja is to be genetically related to another member of the sifja. 

Kinðr – Kindred 

It means “kindred”. But while in Modern English “kindred” is used to mean a family whith all his relatives, the Norse meaning of the word is more a congregate of people without genetic link nor of blood, and so it is “momentary”, dissoluble in every moment. Tipically the kinðir (kindreds) are coven of religious, united to celebrate the rites or talk together. 

Ætt – Clan 

An ætt (clan) is created with a blood link, so after a fóstbrœðralagr (blood brotherhood) or a brúðhlaup (wedding). The ætt, generally, has the name of one of the founders with the desinence “-ingr” or “-ung”, the Old Norse suffix for “folk”: for example, in Beowulf is mentioned the ætt Wægmunding (Vægmúnðingr in Old Norse), founded by Wægmund (Vægmúnðr). Another known source is the Ylfingr, clan of the wolves (ylfum), in the Icelandic Sagas. An historic and famous ætt is the one of Snorri Sturluson, the Sturlung. 

After the initial foundation, a person who whishes to enter the ætt must do a blood link with one of the members, preferably with one of the founder members. Since the blood brotherhoods can be with more than two people togheter, the ætt’s foundation also can be with more than two people. An ætt will last until even only one of its member is still alive. 

The ætt’s chieftain is called ættingr or ættingja (masculine and feminine form). Generally the ættingr wears a symbol of recognition, for example a golden ring with the ætt initials, but nothing is mandatory. This is only the tradition. 

An ætt could be founded when 13 years old, as at 13/14 winters the Norse child became adult; but the average age was from 20 to 25 years old, when the two founders were yet married and with children; and with a discreet experience of life. Every member of the sifja is also member of the ætt in which is one of his consanguineous. One can be in two (or more) different ættir together, but of course it was considered a betrayal, resulting with avenge of one of the ættir…



Sources

Heimskringla, Beowulf, Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, Sturlunga Saga, Vǫlsunga Saga, Skjǫldunga Saga.

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