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Article - 'Viking Society' by Angroth

An item about Miscellanious posted on Apr 6, 2004

Blurb

Learn about the basics of Viking Society, with your host Angroth.

Body

The following article discusses the Viking society. It outlines people’s roles within society and related ideas that the Vikings had.

The People

Children
The children didn’t go to schools, their parents taught them all the skills and knowledge they needed. Expectations of children were that they had to work hard and be full of spirit. A strong willed and quarrelsome child would please their parents. At the age of a mere twelve years you were believed to be able to fight for yourself and wield weapons.

Women
Women would have good authority in the household. When her husband was gone she would make all the decisions. The women would have to direct any farms they might own (women can own property but not sell it unless the husband agrees to). Basically they told the slaves and workers what to do. Unfortunately they could not vote at the Thing.

Slaves
Slaves faced a hard working life. Unfortunately for them they would not be able to carry weapons, own land or vote at the Thing. Slaves would also have to sleep wherever they could (most likely on the floor with animals). They also had to eat their food at the far end of the table away from the others. If they were lucky their owner might give them freedom and then they could be a free servant or craftsman.

Freemen
Freemen were farmers and warriors (all free Vikings new how to use weapons). They fought for their chief or earl in their wars. If freemen helped them they were likely to get a reward for their efforts. When they made raids together the spoils would be shared out and if a freeman managed to get some land, he himself could recruit and band of followers and become a chief.

Earls
Earls were great landowners who supported the king. The earls were supported themselves by the freemen in the neighbourhood. Earls would discuss defence plans with the king and warn him about anything they might know of such as invasions. They would also have to manage their farms, land and men who worked on them.

Kings
Firstly, kings would have to be of royal blood and support from the chiefs he ruled over. He would reward his loyal followers with gold, silver and land. He would consult the Thing if missionaries were wanting to build a church. The king would also have to visit his most powerful earls to discuss plans for defence, the king should be brought news of invasions by ant earl in charge of frontier regions. Finally, in battles the king was expected to fight full heartedly, dying in honour was better than living a long normal life.

The Concepts

The Code Of Honour
The code of honour was very strict, unless you upheld it you would be hated by everyone. The main rules were to be loyal and fearless and that there was nothing worse than treachery. Your family or your leader would support you without weighing up the rights and wrongs of a situation. Families that fell out might end up in a blood feud. This meant each member of the family wanted to kill all the others and seek vengeance. Sometimes these feuds could end up in the house burning down. The men of one clan surprised the members of a family from another clan in their home by surrounding the house in flames, therefore the family could either burn inside or come out only to be slaughtered.

Family Honour
This was very important to the Vikings. If someone was insulted within the family, the whole family were to be offended, likewise if someone in the family did something shameful, the whole family was disgraced.

The Thing
Feuds aside, Vikings were far from lawless. They were acceptant to the authority of traditional laws. Legal decisions had to be decided by the freemen if the area at an official meeting called the Thing. Based on a scale of payments, judges would impose penalties for wrong doing. These ranged from cutting off a man’s nose to killing a man. The Thing decided the judgement and penalties but it was up to the individuals to uphold it. If you were bringing in a lawsuit, you would have to take your friends too, to back you up. If you were the follower of a strong chief he could support you and you would have more power. Decisions were usually swayed in favour of the most powerful people.