The þing, the Norse assembly

Foreword

Norsemen (and Vikings as well), for their age, were an high-democratic folk. Decisions were took with elections at the folk’s assemblies, called “þing” (pl. þingar); which were frequent and were about many arguments.

Norse þing

Þingar amongst civilians (not Vikings) born earlier than amongst soldiers. Norse hierarchy had clans (ættir), and member of ættir were obliged to take revenge for their deads, so, first assemblies born to avoid internal wars. Soon they get also administrative targets, from distribution of goods to king’s election. Thus born lǫgumenn (sing. lǫgumaðr), “men of law”, delegated to be the chairmans of assemblies; they get also decision-making powers, became so a king of “judge”. When þing became very large by population increasing, it was created also the office of “allsherjargoði”, or rather “goði of everyone”. Actually, the þing was in the hands of those who had most representatives. Many places take their name after the þingar, as the Þingvellir in Iceland.

Viking þing

Vikings, that were nothing but Norsemen warriors in raid, usually used less þingar, by they way, when they had, it was a different assembly than the one which was held at home. Mainly, there were no lǫgumenn nor allsherjargoðar; the þing was headed by the commander. Moreover, it seems that sometimes and exceptionally, it was asked slaves’ opinion, if Vikings were too less, a thing completely unthinkable at homeland, and, in fact, this is more a rumor than a reality. Viking þingar are much quoted in poetry and are used as kenning of “war”, as for “go to the þing”.


Sources

Poetic Edda (especially the Haligr Edda, the Heroic poems, from poem n. 10 to 29 according to Codex Regius), Prose Edda (Gylfaginning) and Heimskringla (almost all the sagas).

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