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Scandinavian Thing-steads

  • F. Wildte

The Scandinavian peoples emerge into the light of history much later than their neighbours in the South and the West, the Teutons on the Continent and in England. It was only through the Viking raids that the Nordic peoples came into touch with the rest of Europe, and were gradually converted to Christianity. Long after the introduction of the Christian faith they preserved many peculiar and archaic traits. Thus the Nordic peoples retained, with great tenacity and conservatism, their ancient judicial system. This system has therefore been the object of considerable interest even outside Scandinavia, although the manuscripts through which it has become known are much later than the corresponding documents of other Teutonic nations.

An investigation of the localities where justice was dispensed in former ages is of importance not only for the history of civilization, but also as a complement to the study of oral and written tradition, and thus to the history of law itself. In view of the many points of similarity between the judicial systems of the various Teutonic nations, some notes on the Thing-steads, or places of assembly, in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, may perhaps be of interest to English-speaking readers.

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* For a more detailed account of the Thing-steads in Sweden, the reader is referred to a paper in the Swedish journal Fornvännen, 1926, by F. Wildte : Tingsplatserna i Sverige under förhistorisk ttd och medeltid. With regard to Denmark, cf. a paper in Aarbøger for nordisk oldkyndighed og historie, 1902, by Carl Neergaard Thinghøie og Thingdysser. Both these papers give further references.

With regard to the judicial system in Scandinavia as a whole, see Karl von Amira, Grundriss des germanischen Rechts (in Grundriss der germanischen Philologie 5, Strassburg, 1913).

1 Cf. Amira, op. cit., p. 252.

2 Neergaard, op. cit.

3 A Swedish scholar, Professor Sune Lindqvist, has drawn a parallel between the Inglinge Mound and Tynwald Hill. See the Swedish journal Rig, 1925.

4 In Sweden the circular or oval rings are traditionally called domareringar (in English: ‘judges’ circles’).

5 Cf. on this point Grimm, J. Deutsche Rechtsaltertkümer. 4th ed. (1899) 2, 424.

* This expression has a special meaning in Scandinavia where villages are rare, the usual form of settlement being the farm.—ED.

6 Cf. Pollock, F. and Maitland, F.W. The History of English Law, 1, 556.

7 The laws generally required a certain number of men to be present at the Thing. Originally, it was probably a universal obligation to attend the Things.

8 In the old Swedish diocesan city of Skara, the special Royal Courts at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century met sometimes in the Town Hall, sometimes in the Guild Hall, sometimes in the vestry of the Cathedral, and sometimes in various Convent Halls. During the later part of the 16th century the important landsting at Viborg and Ringsted in Denmark had special houses erected for their use.

With regard to England, see Pollock and Mattland, op. cit., I, 555.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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