Never Offend a Viking or ‘The Thing’ Might Just Decide Your Fate

If you offended a Viking, a normal reaction would be to kill you on the spot. If the murder took place in daylight with witnesses present and without trying to hide his act, the punishment for the crime was paying fines.

The Vikings had a complex honor and judicial system that probably developed over many centuries, long before the Viking Age.

Most conflicts were resolved between the involved families. If it was impossible to reach an agreement, the Thing (Old Norse, Old English and Icelandic:  þing, the governing assembly of free people) had the final word.

To be summoned to the Thing was regarded as a very hostile act and therefore the parties always tried to reach an agreement. The summons could also be a means to force the opponents to reach a settlement.

A Viking could be fined, sentenced to death or outlawed. Being outlawed meant that anyone could kill you without any consequences, something considered worse than a death sentence.

Would you have dared to offend one of these Vikings? (Illustration by: Stian Dahlslett ©)

Another method to settle the matters among themselves was a duel (Old Norse:  hólmganga) – a challenge where two men fought with swords or other weapons, often about women or property.

Revenge Killings

In Viking society, all free men and women had the right to conduct revenge killings.

You could kill somebody in public without suffering serious consequences, because you were honest and did not hide your actions and gave others the opportunity to react.

It was important to take responsibility for the murder and not run away, and to pay the fines. The same applied to killing somebody in a fight.


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