Things: Old Viking Parliaments, Courts And Community Assemblies | Ancient Origins Members Site


Things: Old Viking Parliaments, Courts And Community Assemblies

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The mechanics of a Germanic thing drawn after the relief on the Column of Marcus Aurelius (193 AD) (Public Domain)

Things: Old Viking Parliaments, Courts And Community Assemblies

Ancient governmental terminology such as monarchy, oligarchy and democracy have been used for more than 2,000 years and have Greek and Roman origin, but in Early Germanic societies, right up to the Vikings of modern Scandinavia and Britain, the word Thing described ancient community assemblies conducted under governance of a local lawmaker, at locations called Thingstead or Thingstow, or in Old English, at þingstedes and þingstōws, respectively. The modern English word Thing, and the German and Dutch word ding, as well as the Scandinavian ting, all mean ‘object’, with an etymology in the Old Norse, Old Frisian and Old English word: þing, which means ‘assembly’.

“Althing in Session.” 19th-century rendering of the Law Rock in Þingvellir by W. G. Collingwood (1854–1932) Bridgman Art Library (Public Domain)

“Althing in Session.” 19th-century rendering of the Law Rock in Þingvellir by W. G. Collingwood (1854–1932) Bridgman Art Library (Public Domain)

Norse Things

According to Norway's Law of the Gulathing dating back to 900 - 1300 AD only ‘free men of full age’ could participate in Things, which functioned as both courts and parliaments administering local, regional, and supra-regional levels of Norse society. According to Natascha Mehler's 2015 paper “Þingvellir: A Place of Assembly and a Market?” they were judicial centers where disputes were resolved, political decisions were taken, and public religious rites associated with the election of chieftains and kings were conducted.


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