Legal Space in Late Iron Age and Early Medieval Scandinavia

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This chapter will examine the concept of legal space in Scandinavia in the late Iron Age (AD 550-1050) and the early Middle Ages (AD 1050-1200). Legal space is defined as an area demarcated for judicial procedures, asylum and duels (ON hólmganga ‘going to the island’). ‘Legal’ is not used in the modern sense of the word, but in a more all-encompassing function that includes both law and religion, as indeed was the case with the Old Norse word for ‘law’ (lög). In early Scandinavia, law and religion were closely related, to the extent that they have been described as ‘two sides of the same coin’. Demarcated legal space can be traced at three different types of site: assembly (ON þing s. = thing) sites, sacred (ON vé) sites and duelling grounds. Thing sites were the focus of Norse assemblies, which functioned as both parliaments and courts. Vé sites represent cult sites traced through place-names containing the element vé (i.e. ‘sacred’, preserved as vi), as e.g. seen in Viborg (from ‘Viberg’ ‘sacred elevation’) in Denmark. No duelling sites have yet been identified, and nu such place-names are known, but written sources show that they were clearly demarcated. In this chapter, the Scandinavian concept of legal space is examined through a combination of different source materials, such as Viking Age (AD 790-1050) runic inscriptions, medieval written sources as well as archaeological evidence resulting from landscape survey and excavation. By fully integrating all these pieces of evidence, the concept of legal space and how this was presented in the landscape can be thoroughly explored.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication "Rechtsräume": Historische und archäologische Annäherungen
Subtitle of host publicationStudien zur Europäischen Rechtsgeschichte
EditorsCaspar Ehlers, Holger Grewe
PublisherVittorio Klostermann
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


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