Thing-sites and the Political Landscape in the North

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines assembly (thing, ON þing) sites in the Norse settlements in the North Atlantic set within the context of the Viking homelands (for full discussion, see Sanmark 2017a). Particular attention will be paid to the traits and features of Norse assembly-sites in Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Things functioned as both parliaments and courts and were held at outdoor sites and constituted arenas where the elite and the local community met. Assembly sites existed across Scandinavia, and the people of the Viking Age also brought law and thing to all their new homes in the west. These sites were not randomly chosen, but were the outcome of well-planned and well-executed elite strategies, involving all aspects from site selection to the construction and maintenance of features, which were charged with symbolism and meaning. They are found at thing-sites in different combinations, depending on what message the creators – the elite – wanted to transmit to the population (Sanmark 2017a: 1, 5, 28, 56–7). In general, thing-sites were slotted into tiers of administrative territorial units, which, in simplified form, resulted in top-level sites for whole law provinces and local sites for the smaller units often, but not exclusively, referred to as herað units (Sanmark 2017a: 37–42, 56–81, 162–240). As will be demonstrated here, thing-sites across the North Atlantic share many traits and features with Scandinavian assembly-sites, but there are some striking variations, the reasons for which will be examined in detail. An important difference between the areas under examination and with implications for thing-site design is that Scotland had been settled since the Mesolithic period, while Iceland, Greenland and the Faroes were (almost) unpopulated prior to Norse settlement (Sanmark 2017a: ch. 7 and 8).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Viking Age in Scotland
Subtitle of host publicationStudies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
EditorsTom Horne, Elizabeth Pierce, Rachel Barrowman
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781474485845
ISBN (Print)9781474485821
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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