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Thing

For "thing" as an English word for an undistinguished object, see Philosophy, Entity

Thing is a term used to describe a governing council in Viking society made up of the free men of the community.

In the pre-Christian tribe-culture of Scandinavia the members of a tribe were obliged to avenge injuries against their dead and mutilated relatives. A balancing structure is necessary to hinder tribe fights to lead to anarchy destructing the society. In the North-Germanic cultures the balancing institution was the Thing ("ting" or "žing").

The Thing was the assembly of free men in an area, as in a hundred ("härad") or in a province or land, at which disputes were solved and political decisions were made. The place for the Thing was often also the place for public religious rites, and sometimes the place for commerce. In heathen times chieftains where at the same time political and religious leaders, with the main purpose to bring the people good times ("fred" - nowadays actually the word for peace).

The Thing met at regular intervals, legislated, elected chieftains and judged according to the law, memorized and recited by the law speaker. The žing's negotiations were presided by the chieftain, or by the law speaker. In reality the žing was of course dominated by the most influential members of the community, but in theory one-man one-vote was the rule.

Gotland, as an example, had in late medieval time twenty Things, each represented at the island-Thing (landsting) by its elected judge. (The judge also conducted the local Thing.) New laws were decided at the landsting, which also took other decisions regarding the island as a whole. The landsting's authority was successively eroded after the island being occupied by the the Teutonic Order in 1398, then sold to Eric of Pomerania and after 1449 ruled by Danish governors.

In late Swedish medieval time the Thing-court consisted of twelve representatives for the farmers (free-holders or tenants). Still in the 20th century ting is the name of the lowest courts of justice: "Häradsting" and "Tingsrätt".


Parts of the text above was originally quoted from the s.c.nordic FAQ (http://www.lysator.liu.se/nordic/scn/faq727) with permission.



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