Monday, November 7, 2016

The Viking Althing

By Heather Day Gilbert

Although Vikings might have gone down in history for their fierce conquests, there is another side of them that's rarely mentioned: they developed one of the earliest parliamentary systems in the world.

The national Althing was founded in 930 AD in Iceland. Leaders from all over the country would assemble at the assembly plains to air grievances and settle disputes. People would set up tents over permanent stone foundations for the duration of the assembly, and vendors would sell items (there was a brewhouse on-site). A nearby river and lake provided water for drinking and bathing (yes, Vikings bathed!), as well as fish for food.

One person was a designated Lawspeaker who would stand on a rock and recite the laws, but he did not have the power to decide cases. That power belonged to the judges, who were local leaders appointed by their chieftains (goði). Judges had to be free men older than eighteen with settled homes. 

After witnesses spoke, the judges tried to render a nearly unanimous decision. Punishment could range from demanding a dual to declaring someone an outlaw. Since the Althing had no executive arm, all physical punishments had to be meted out by the offended party.
Being declared an outlaw was very nearly a death sentence, because outlaws were not protected and were forced to live outside society, where any fame-seeking vigilante could take their lives. Outlaws sometimes built hideouts and tunnels and had to perpetually stay on alert. Eirik the Red, a character referred to often in my Vikings of the New World Saga, was one such outlaw. He was banished from both Norway and Iceland, but he eventually founded a settlement in Greenland, where he was well-respected.
The Althing is still the parliament in Iceland today, although it has changed over the years. To find out more about this historical institution, you can read this article on the Hurstwic Organization site. Forest Child, my second book in the Vikings of the New World Saga, has a critical scene that plays out at an Icelandic Althing assembly. The Vikings of the New World Saga is heavily based on the Icelandic saga accounts of the family of Eirik the Red and Leif Eiriksson, and both novels (God's Daughter and Forest Child) are written from the point of view of the Viking women who went down in history for their voyages to North America. 

Forest Child Backcover:
Viking warrior. Dauntless leader. Protective mother. Determined to rise above her rank as the illegitimate "forest child" of Eirik the Red, Freydis launches a second voyage to Vinland to solidify her power and to demand the respect she deserves. She will return home with enough plunder to force her brother, Leif, to sell her the family farm in Greenland. But nothing can prepare her for the horrors she must confront in Vinland...and nothing can stand in her way when her family is threatened. In her race to outrun the truths that might destroy her, Freydis ultimately collides with the only enemy she cannot silence—her own heart. Historically based on the Icelandic Sagas, Forest Child brings the memorable, conflicted persona of Freydis Eiriksdottir to life. This immersive tale is Book Two in the bestselling Vikings of the New World Saga.
Find this novel in both softcover and ebook versions on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iBooks. 

About Heather:
HEATHER DAY GILBERT, a Grace Award winner and bestselling author, writes novels that capture life in all its messy, bittersweet, hope-filled glory. Find out more at


  1. This was cool. Thanks for sharing. The book sounds intriguing.

  2. Very interesting. Can't remember the last time I thought about Vikings. Now, you've piqued my interest about them. Your books look intriguing too.

  3. I had a friend who attending a wedding recently using a Vikings' theme. Great post.

  4. Thank you! I really enjoyed researching Viking ways for this series that was based heavily on the Icelandic sagas. :)

  5. So interesting Heather. It's amazing how much I learned about the Vikings by reading "The Forest Child".

  6. Researching the Vikings is awesome! Though I've focused primarily on the Vikings in Ireland, I did read Njal's Saga, and some other Scandinavian sources. Loved the insight into their culture.

    Thank you for sharing this, Heather. It was timely for me since I'm in the midst of learning about the 10th century Danish and Norwegian law system.

    1. Just saw this comment, MN, but all the best as you research! I highly recommend that Hurstwic site.