Revenue, Lordship, Kinship & Law
Vikings for all occasions, no plunder too small
The kings revenue comes from his Royal Estates scattered over the whole country and each controlled by a royal reeve, all servants on these estates take their pay before the residue is given up to the king.† Further revenue comes from the ďkings farmĒ, a food rent paid in kind; a given area pays sufficient to feed the kings household for a night, the ďfarm of one nightĒ.† Some times commuted to a cash sum but usually paid in ale and corn, malt, honey, dairy produce and live-stock.† Additional income came from the tribute of subject kings, inheritance of foreigners estates, from tolls, import-export duties, from fines and forfeitures incurred in the law courts.† The kings reeve presided over the latter and even when grants were awarded to the plaintiff some fines for serious offences were reserved for the king.
Comments on this site should be sent to Roger Barry
If a retainer/lord etc. personally surrenders any tax direct to his lord or the king he will include a personal gift, the king in turn will soften the blow of the tax by giving a fine gift to his man.† Each would speak to the other in formal terms of affection, the king would not wish to insult his man unless he had some grudge and wished to provoke disobedience that may then be punished.† If the king gave a warrior sworn to another lord a gift, that warrior would give that gift to his lord on his return and no doubt expect some compensation in turn.
If a lord is sent into exile his men would accompany him depriving the king of their service, should any not follow their lord the king would not use them anyway as their
After lordship kinship was the most important social glue and method of keeping the peace.† A man was duty bound to avenge his kin by birth and marriage and wage vendetta against the killer of his kin or the killers kin even if they were his friends.† A killer could be repudiated by his kin but they would then forfeit any compensation if the killer was killed. Weir gild was originally set in oxen but eventually had a cash value.† A vendetta could be ended by appropriate levels of compensation but only when both sides agreed.† Vendetta was legal and there were rules.† It was illegal to carry out vendetta against a man who killed when defending his lord, his man or his kinsman from wrongful attack or for killing a man he caught in the act of violating† his† wife, daughter,† sister or mother provided† he
Service in the army, building fortifications and maintaining bridges were a tax collected in labour and never exempted.† Other services may be exempted in return for cash.† Services required were the supplying of hospitality to the kings messengers, huntsmen and falconers and the feeding of his dogs and hawks.† Other services varied from place to place, ports for instance had to supply hospitality to ambassadors.† Some places had to provide special goods to the king, Norwich supplied a bear and six dogs for bear-baiting, some times a cash payment would be made instead.
A general cash tax was only made on all classes, clerical and secular, in time of great need, such as the paying of Danegeld.† At times there was a ship tax, in 1008 it was one ship per 310 hides and one ďcoat-of-mailĒ per eight hides, later this was a heavy cash tax.
loyalty would be in question.† Loyalty was personal and to a manís lord not the state or head thereof. Warriors only fought for the king because their lord did so.† Warriors who did not die for a fallen lord were despised, if they slew all those who had killed their lord then living wasnít a sin!
Hostages were not treated in the way we are used to today. A welsh hostage of king Cynewulf of Wessex fought in his hearth troop and only survived the death of the king because he was badly wounded and captured unconscious, the rest of the hearth troop died to a man.† Aescferth the hostage fought with Byhrtnoth at Maldon and was killed along with the rest of the hearth troop.
killed him on the spot.† Nor could you wage vendetta on behalf of a man convicted as a thief or some other capital crime.†† Before vendetta commenced the guilt of the accused had to be proved in court, this could be done by the aggrieved party having more kinsmen appear in court to swear an oath against the accused than the accused could bring to court.† In our terms that would be as if a murder trial ends with the family of the victim being allowed to kill the murderer or one of the murderers family!† If a vendetta is to be resolved by compensation each family negotiates through intermediaries, it is expected that if the protagonists meet face to face prior to an agreement they would kill each other.
As with lordship kinsmen were responsible for their kin and had to ensure that an accused kinsman appeared in court, there they would take oaths in support of his innocence.† In some places men came together in associations of a semi-religious, semi social nature called gilds which reinforced kin relationships when enforcing vendettas.† If a gild member was killed the guild would carry out a vendetta on the same lines as the kinship.
A lord provides his men with horse and mail and more besides. On their death this ďheriotĒ as it was known was returned in kind, the return gift was remitted if the warrior fell in battle. Land was the main gift a follower expected.
If a follower committed an offence the lord was responsible for getting him to court, representing him and paying his fine. This was true even in respect of crimes committed before the man was taken on, if the lord was unable to produce his man in court he would be prosecuted in his stead.
Loyalty to ones lord was set before loyalty to kin, if a man had to choose who to defend, kin or lord, it would always be his lord, anything else would be treachery of the worst kind. If a warrior kills a man at his lords bidding this was considered as strong mitigation and any penance would be slight, killing on behalf of kin is a lesser mitigation.
things to the outlaw that they would be forbidden to do to someone within the protection of the law.† If we had the system today it could mean that having run someone down in your car you are informed the victim is an outlaw so no crime has been committed and you can drive off with a clear conscience!
Full outlawry called Skogarmathr (Lit. man of the forest), for the most serious crimes.† The convicted manís property was confiscated and no man was allowed to shelter him and it was a crime to help him leave the country, should he manage to do so he was not allowed to return.† In Iceland any man could kill him without retribution; abroad any Icelander may kill him.
Lesser outlawry was punishable by a fine, exile from the country within three summers and remains away for another three.
For the least of crimes the sentence was Herathssekt and entailed exile from a particular district for a particular length of time.
Trial by ordeal was reserved for offences concerning religion. The accused could be required to walk through fire or to fetch a ring from bottom of cauldron of boiling water. They could also be bound and thrown into cold water, if they sank they were innocent, if they floated they were being rejected by the pure water and considered guilty. They could be required eat dried crumbs of bread and cheese, if they chocked
Viking Age Law
All societies have a code of ethics which are the basis of their law, for instance it is generally considered unethical to kill someone so society has a law against it.† How seriously the killing is considered will depend on the societies code of ethics and that in turn will be reflected in the punishment.† Today if someone kills another person by accident they will be punished by a short term of imprisonment or even a fine depending on the circumstances.† If the killing is premeditated we call it murder and the perpetrator will receive a life sentence.† There are of course a wide range of variables that affect each case but letís keep this simple.
The Vikings didnít think like us, they were pagans or Christians with a much more robust or black and white
view of the world.† They didnít live in a society tempered by five hundred years of humanism or guilt riven and shell shocked by the bloodiest century in human history.† They had a different code of ethics to modern Europeans.
Viking ethics were based on the difference between shame and honour; openness in all things was very important and formed the basis of their law codes.† For instance, a killing by night or in secret was considered murder but an open killing, one that was feely confessed was treated as manslaughter.† Having committed a killing the man or woman must declare it to the first person they come across for it to be considered manslaughter,† if the killer suspects that the occupant of a house is a relative or friend of the victim they may pass the first two residences but must stop at the third to declare the killing.† Manslaughter may be recompensed by paying a fine or mulct, but murder will usually lead to a blood feud which may also eventually be settled by the payment of mulct. We will look in more detail at mulcts later.
The honour code was supported by the whole if a manís family and if he committed murder the shame was shared by his grand parents and all the family down from the grand parents to the murderers grand childrens generation. The victimís family would share a similar shame if the murder went un avenged, they shared a obligation to avenge the murder. Vengeance had to be considered, it was said that a slave would take vengeance immediately and a fool would not take
vengeance at all, vengeance was put off until such time as the murders family had begun to think the matter forgotten, then suddenly and swiftly another killing occurred. This delayed and reasoned killing gave it a legal status that an impulsive act lacked.
A thief caught in the act of stealing might legally be killed but a robber may not.† The logic being that a thief sneaks into a home to steal without honour while the bolder face to face act of robbery gave the victim a fair chance of preventing it.†
Communal responsibility is also of great importance to the Vikings and all persons that witness a killing must report it to the family or heirs or face the chance of being accused of murder.† One Viking age law code states that all those that witness a killing in an ale house, whether by daylight or firelight must assist in apprehending the killer or face a fine.
A large number of witnesses were always required at a court whether for a civil contract or legal judgment; this keeps people honest and less likely to renege on any agreement.†† In an age of very low literacy this was pretty much essential and it was common practice to have young children present as a means of transmitting the courts decisions and personal contracts to future generations.
Depending on the seriousness of the offence the accused person might be asked to give an oath in their defence in one of four grades requiring the support† of respectively one, two, five or eleven compurgators or supporters, if the charge is murder then twelve compurgators or supporters are required.† The accused and each supporter must make the same oath and any error will invalidate the oath thus implying guilt.
Punishment might also be a communal affair, a convicted thief had to run a gauntlet of stones and turf and anyone not throwing anything would be fined.† A thief ran the gauntlet from the place of his theft to a distance as long as nine bows as carried by a full grown man. Once the thief completes the gauntlet his crime is atoned for.
A common sentence was outlawry and there were three degrees of outlawry, but before we look at them it should be understood what being an outlaw meant.† Simply put an outlaw was outside the protection of the law, people could do
This short article is obviously not a definitive list of Viking laws and punishments; its aim is to give the reader a flavour of Viking law and its administration. The above are if you like the more interesting or juicier bits from o number of Viking law codes, mostly Norwegian, if you want to know more I recommend The Earliest Norwegian Laws translated by Laurence M Larson 1938. I hope that it will be used by members of the Vikings when planning a law case at a show to enrich the experience.† I particularly look forward to seeing a senior Abbess being represented in court by a young priest, I wonder if she will be able to restrain her desire to instruct the priest, probably not.
What I propose to do now is suggest some ideas for a Viking court of law.first we must set the scene, the court; the judge (King, Jarl) sits in the centre with an advisor to each side, there should be a court official, a sort of master of ceremonies (this could be the king's guard commander or village headman) who calls the cases forward. As many people as possible should be present to witness the proceedings, they should include children. Once the court is established and called to order the first plaintiff states his case and then respondent make his defence. Oaths are then taken and judgment given.
As already stated there were four grades of normal oaths: one oath taker, two oath takers, five oath takers and eleven oath takers. I suggest that:
One oath taker is required for simple contract.
Two oath takers are required for charge of dishonesty or beating another manís wife or slave.
Three oath takers for theft of less than one ertog (30 Penning)
Five oath takers are required for charge of robbery or molesting a woman.
Six oath takers are required for theft over one ertog.
Eleven oath takers are required for charge of theft, rape.
Twelve oath takers are required for murder.
Oaths must be sworn calling on the appropriate god or gods and must be spoken correctly first time, any error negates the oath. Suggested oath:
ďI (name of oath taker) stand by (name of plaintiff or respondent) and call on Odin All Father, Tyr and Ull to hear my oath, may they and all the gods hate me if this man is not of good character.Ē
Oath takers must be of equal rank or higher to the person on whose behalf they are taking an oath.
Failure of the oaths will result in one of the punishments above.
A brief comparison to Saxon Law
The Scilling 'shilling' In Ethelbert's Kent, a gold coin, equivalent to the Frankish tremissis, weighing 20 troy grains. (£291.67).
A sceat was a twentieth of this or 1 troy grain. (£14.58).
However in Alfred's Wessex a shilling was a silver coin, half the value of the Kentish shilling (£145.83), and equivalent to 5 silver pennies (£29.17 each).
1 oxen = 6 sheep (£875)
1 Eorl = 100 oxen or 300 shillings (£87,500)
1 freeman = 100 shillings or 200 sheep (£29,167)
1 laet* or semi-freeman = 80 (£11,666.80), 120 (£17,500.20) or 160 sheep (£23,332.60)
The penalty of highway robbery against a slave is 3 shillings (£875.01)
Gebetan = make amends / agreed price for offenses caused.
A slaveís owner would be compensated (gebete) according to the class of slave (1, 2 or 3rd rank according to the laet* class above.) For example 80 shillings (£23,332.60) for 1st, 60 shillings (£17,500.20) for 2nd and 40 shillings (£11,666.80) for 3rd class.† If a slave kills another slave he shall pay his whole value according to class.
For killing a tenant of the King the gebete is 20 shillings (£5,833.40).
If someone kills on a Eorl's land the gebete is 12 shillings (£3,500.04).
If a freeman's dependent is slain the gebete is 6 shillings (1,750.02).
A murdered freeman is weorth 50 shillings (£14,583.50) paid to the King.
If someone slays another he shall pay over 20 shillings (£5,833.40) at the open grave and the whole wergeld as appropriate to social class and status within 40 days
In Alfred's laws:
If a male slave compels a female slave to sexual intercourse, let him atone with his testicles...
Traders must declare to the Kings officers how many men they are taking inland with them. If more men are required they have to be declared to the Kings officers before the assembly.
they were guilty. They could be required to carry a lump of hot iron a set number if paces then throw it down.
One other thing that must be remembered about Viking law, it was the preserve of men.† If a woman committed a crime she would be punished but her male relatives would represent her in court and would not be free from punishment or vengeance.† A man was responsible for the actions of the women of his household. It was also the preserve if the free, slaves, that is thraells (male) and ambatts (female) were considered property before people and outside the code of honour, if a slave challenged a free man to fight he would be killed out of hand. If a slave committed a crime his or her master was responsible both for their fate and actions and could himself face prosecution.
Fines or mulcts were set by the worth of the individual killed or injured. To appreciate the value set upon that person we need some way of comparing the coinage of the past with today's money. A silver penny of Alfred the Greats time was the daily wage if a skilled craftsman, anyone who has looked at the labour charged of a vehicle mechanic will quickly work out that that will give a value in the region of £200 for one penny in 2014! Another method is to compare commodity prices. For most of human history since the domestication of animals wealth has been measured in livestock and still is in some places. The Vikings were in the cow standard, in September 2014 a steer was selling for £1.75 a kilo with the animals averaging at 650 kilos, cattle were generally smaller in the past so I have chosen to assume an average weight of 500 kilos giving us a value of £875 per cow. Our next problem is that fines in different law codes are expressed in a range if monetary units, pennies, marks, shillings, ores and so on, fortunately the law writers usually gave an equivalent price in cattle so a little arithmetic will give you the value of the coin and tell you the equivalent fine in modern money.
The following mulcts are taken from the Gula-Thing law and use the local monetary system where 1 mark = 8 Ýre = 24 ertog = 240 penning (penny), and 1 mark = 3.2 cows. In England a mark was worth 160 pence.
The murders whole family had to pay mulct and it was shared out according to how closely they were related to him. Shared guilt and responsibility was a method adopted by several cultures that lacked a police force to keep order, if I knew my brother planned murder and I'd rather not pay a part if his fine then perhaps I should talk him out of the act.
The murdererís mulct: 102.3 cows, 32 marks, UK £89,461.28.
The murdererís brother mulct: 36.6 cows, 11 marks and 4 Ýre, UK £32,006.67.
The murdererís uncle (fatherís side of the family) mulct: 10 cows, 3 marks, 2 ertog and 4 penning, UK £8,744.99.
The murdererís nephew (fatherís side of the family) mulct: 19.8 cows, 6 marks, 1 Ýre, 1 ertog and 8 penning, UK £17,315.09.
The more distant relations had to pay mulcts from 0.16 cows, 12 penning, UK £139.92 to 4.3 cows, 1 mark, 2 Ýre, 1 ertog and 3 penning, UK £3,760.35.
The mulcts the murdererís family had to pay were divided among the victimís family. The closer ones relation to the victim, the more he or she received in compensation. The laws indicated that the Vikings might award financial compensation to the next generation as well.
If we look at the women who received compensation, we find that both the mother and the sisters of the victim received a payment. But if any of the sisters were childless when they completed their fortieth year, they had to give a part of their compensation to someone who had children.
Killing was expensive, but violence to people was also punished severely. In the Gula-Thing law we also find mulcts for accidents, fighting, wounds and the severance of body parts. If we use the mathematical formula we have used before, we will find the mulcts for a cut off body part will approximately be:
The mulct for one cut off thumb: 9.6 cows, 3 marks, UK £8,395.19
The mulct for one cut off forefinger: 3.2 cows, 1 mark, UK £2,798.40
The mulct for one cut off middle finger: 3.2 cows, 1 mark, UK £2,798.40
The mulct for one cut off ring finger: 2.4 cows, 5 marks, 2 Ýre, 9 ertogs, UK £2,098.80
The mulct for one cut off little finger: 0.8 cows, 2 ore, UK £699.60
The mulct for one cut off hand which still is sticking: 46.45 cows, 14 marks, 4 Ýre, 4 penning UK £40,620.49
The mulct for one cut off hand or foot: 92.9 cows, 29 marks, 7 pennings, UK £81,240.99
The mulct for one cut off hand and foot: 185.8 cows, 58 marks, 15 pennings, UK £162,481.97.
A killing could be considered dishonourable which would result in additional fines or sanctions and of course loss of honour.† There were thirteen forms of dishonourable killing:
Killing a man with the blunt side or end of a weapon.
Wounding a man with two strokes with the blunt side or end of a weapon.
Wounding a man with a barbed arrow or spear so that it has to be cut out.
Wounding a man in more than seven places.
Striking a man dead without the shedding of blood.
The plundering of the corpse.
Slaying a man while he is attending to his private needs.
Felling a man into a fire.
Shoving a man over a cliff.
Pushing a man into water.
Leaving a body unburied so that it becomes prey to ravens and carrion beasts.
Offering atonement in such a loud voice that it is heard beyond the bounds of the thing, this is bragging.
The failure to offer atonement within twelve months.
The additional penalties for dishonourable killing or mutilating the corpse:
If a man cuts into the cheek or bearded upper lip of the man he shall pay a fine of 1 Ýre, UK £349.80 for every molar
If he throws a manís corpse into a fire or stream he shall pay a fine of 1 mark,† 4 Ýre, UK £ 4,197.60 for each of the manís wounds
If a man lies in wait for another where he cannot pass to the side or at the end of a bridge where he must attack with point or edge or face a perilous passage he shall pay of 1 mark,† 4 Ýre, UK £ 4,197.60
If a man carries away his opponents head he is guilty of insulting arrogance and will pay 3 marks, UK £8,395.19
If a man throws a corpse into water so deep that he cannot be recovered without a manís head going under the water he will pay 3 marks, UK £8,395.19
If a man deals another a blow with evil intent he shall pay full atonement
Severing a hand or foot, tearing away the scalp so that the brain drops out, mutilating the sex organs or mangling the buttocks, or breaking the bones of the skull or cutting of any of the limbs except fingers or toes 1 mark,† 4 Ýre, UK £ 4,197.60
For every finger or toe 1 Ýre, UK £349.80
Vike Weapons Law
Whenever a weapons thing is to be held, that is an army is to be raised, the Bailiff or local lord will give due notice in the autumn, and the weapon thing will be held in the following spring. All free men of major age shall attend that weapon thing; that is all those considered old enough to fight; whoever fails will pay a fine of three Ýre (£1,049.40). Now the men shall display their weapons as the law demands. A man shall have a broad-axe or a sword, a spear, and a shield which at the worst shall have three small plates of iron laid across it and shall have the hand grip fastened with iron nails. Now each of these three folk weapons, (if wanting) carries a fine of three Ýre (£1,048.97). The freemen shall provide one bow and two dozen arrows for each thwart (the seat and a longship); they shall pay an Ýre (£349.80) for every arrowhead that is wanting and three oras for the bow.