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10:11 am: The legal system, punishments, judgment, and "justice"


Date:October 1st, 2007 08:22 pm (UTC)
To some degree the same was true of the Old Norse legal system.

The interesting thing about the Norse system is that almost all offences were private matters. Except perhaps taking care of a tyrant, or hunting down outlaws. If someone killed a member of your family, that was a private matter between your family and the family of the murderer.

Since it's all a private matter a bloodfeud could be solved when both parties came together, and recounted what wrongs they'd suffered. Then they'd weigh them up against each other, the side that had suffered the most wrongs would get some reparations, and then the matter was settled. In other words it was much like striking a bargain.

Often friends or neighbours would come together and force two quarrelling sides to work things out. After all no one is served if two families are having a big feud, especially if you got friends on both sides.

You could also take things to the Ting, or the courts, but that was seen as a very hostile act. Generally you'd try to settle things by yourself. However taking someone to court could be used to force the other side to work things out in private.

At the Ting you'd be judged by a jury of 12 men, or two or three times that number in some cases. Generally the most powerful family would win. Bribery, calling in old favours, and so forth were all perfectly acceptable methods.

The really interesting thing is that even if there's a judgement against you, it's still a private matter. Even if you're outlawed you can still make a deal with the people you wronged, and then everything is fine again.

P.S. I got much that here but that webpage is in Norwegian. Indeed a lot of stuff on the Vikings is written in one of the Scandinavian languages.
Date:October 4th, 2007 12:18 am (UTC)
Another system worth looking at is the Biblical "cities of refuge". Israel at the time was structured much like the Norse culture you're describing: each family or clan was self-governing. It was expected that the family of a murder victim would seek revenge. However, murder had a precise definition (malice was required, though specific intent to kill wasn't) and conviction required the testimony of two witnesses under oath. This is obviously hard to enforce when the "sentence" is being decided and carried out by the enraged relatives of the victim.

Unlike all the other clans, which had received actual territories, the priestly families (the Levites) just received cities scattered throughout the holdings of the other clans. Some of these were designated as "cities of refuge", and someone falsely accused of murder could flee to one of these cities for protection. The avenger could then come to the city and present charges to the priests, who would conduct a trial. Since the Levites were an entirely separate lineage from everyone else, they were fairly impartial in clan disputes.

If the accused was found guilty, he'd be handed over for execution; otherwise, he would stay in the city of refuge, in protective custody, until the death of the current high priest. This gave the victim's family time to cool off so they wouldn't do anything stupid.
Date:June 28th, 2013 07:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for sharing this! My mom has to hire a personal injury lawyer (, so I have been trying to find as much information on the law and court systems as I can! I will definitely pass this message along to her!
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