Unlike America’s democracy of today, Viking society was self-regulated. Law and order was based on the Thing system, which was established in 600 AD. Under this system, there were legislative and judicial powers. However, the Vikings had no written law, but a man known as a “lovesigemann” (meaning “law reader man”) memorized the agreed upon laws and would open each common meeting with them. This was to ensure that no one changed the laws. Everyone in Viking society, including chieftains and the king, was required to adhere to the law. The people elected the king and the society operated as a democratic constitution. In contrast with the government of ancient Athens, where only 10% of the population was considered citizens, the Viking system was more inclusive, recognizing everybody as a citizen, with the exclusion of slaves and outlaws.
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Viking society was centered around their religion, although their moral code was not directly controlled by belief in the gods. Social behavior was grounded in a code of ethics and honor which every free man was measured by in all circumstances, including daily life, gender roles, sexual morality, and right and wrong. Being a man of honor in Viking society meant practicing moderation, showing hospitality, and extending generosity and aid to those in need. The alternative to honor was disgrace and if a man fell into this category, he could bring disgrace not only on himself, but on his entire family, even extending to his forefathers. The only way for a man to restore honor from a fallen position in Viking society was to confront the source of his disgrace from an honorable status. Thus, revenge played a significant role in this social system.
The Viking view of revenge could be summed up as this: “a slave takes revenge at once, a fool never takes revenge”, but a good man waits. A man of honor would often wait to retaliate against his enemy for a long time, up to several years. Then, he would masterfully attack his victim, as the victim would most likely have forgotten the possibility of revenge and would not be expecting it. In the waiting period, a good man proved his character by displaying patience and composure. As the threat of blood vengeance was the Vikings’ only effective punishment, the practice of waiting for revenge helped to create and enforce a true judicial authority. Therefore, revenge for the Vikings was part of maintaining order, as opposed to being a mere vindictive act.
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While law and justice of Viking society may seem a bit bizarre to the common mind, let us keep in mind that the Vikings were indeed a smart people and had excellent strategies to establish a strong society. To see our Viking collection and other ancient Greek armor and weaponry, check out: http://www.armorvenue.com/