Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Diplomatic Twist...Dark Ages Style by Gina Conkle

I've shared my Viking-nerd side in previous posts. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share a little more in this post and the next.

Vikings had their own brand of democracy: one voice, one vote through their annual Thingvellir meeting (also called Thing or Althing).  Independence and rule of law are their hallmarks. But in all Vikingdom, volcanic Iceland bred a fierce style of self-governance.

The near-arctic Vikings lived by their own set of rules on remote Iceland.  They never had a king in residence, rather a "Law Giver" or "Law Speaker" led the island who answered to a distant king.*

Iceland's democratic spirit was tested in what I call "The Great Vote of 1000."  Discord brewed between two factions --- Christians versus pagans. The surprise? The two groups had lived peacefully most of the time.

From early settlement, leaders divided Iceland into four main sections. One person oversaw his or her region, but all of Iceland met once a year for the Thingvellir to settle disputes and hear decrees.

Approaching AD 1000's Thingvellir, Thorgeir Thorkelsson (the Law Speaker) caught wind of trouble. No one narrowed down the heart of the conflict...but the air carried grumbles. Violence erupted. Agitated Icelanders threatened civil war. The well-respected Thorgeir knew if this malcontent wasn't resolved soon, the gathering of 1000 would be the end of self-governance, because Olaf "Crowbone" King of Norway had threatened to intervene. 

Fearing Olaf's brutal interference, Thorgeir travelled around Iceland, section by section, listening to grievances. He promised a fair ruling at the Thingvellir but demanded oaths of obedience first, whatever the ruling. So trusted was Thorgeir that each faction vowed to honor the Law Giver's pronouncement at the gathering. 
What were the sticking points?
The Christian faction wanted baptism en masse for the entire populace.  The pagan faction wanted the right to continue eating horse meat and practice infant exposure.

Both sides agreed, knowing full well pagans would close their doors and practice their religion.  Peace spread throughout the island. Even better, Olaf Crowbone kept his kingly rear in Norway and didn't intrude in Icelandic affairs.

The other interesting fact?  Despite being a practicing pagan, Icelanders regarded Thorgeir as an honorable leader before the ruling and doubly so after it. He held the position for a longer than usual time. 

The following year Thorgeir was replaced (after serving 15 years as Law Giver).  The 'old ways' were abolished peacefully a few years after that, but not without leaving the indelible impression of democracy on Dark Ages history.
*** Note: Much of Iceland was settled by people of Norway

Coming soon...a look at 300 warriors in history ---not those hot Spartans at Thermopylae--- but women! Viking women.

Cheers to you, Reader!
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