Viking Karls by Rob Shackleford
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|Vikings at Home||Viking Society||Viking Thralls|
In the heavily stratified Viking society, the status of Karl sat above the Thrall but shared many similarities in their lifestyles. The main distinction between the two societal classes was that the Karl were considered free and had full protection under Viking law. This allowed them to own farmland and become warriors. In fact, the vast majority of warriors were from the Karl class and worked as fishermen or farmers when they were not on raids.
The highest rank of the free-men was the Godi, who was the local chieftain who carried the legal and administrative responsibilities and was described in Icelandic records. In addition, he may have been the priest for the Norse pagan religion, and thus was held to have a special relationship with the gods.
Every freeman was required to choose a Godi to support.
Next in prominence to the Godi were the land-owning farmers in a region. They supported the Godi and counted on the Godi for support when needed. Not unexpectedly, some farmers were more prominent than others, because of the family ties with other powerful farmers, or because the size of their farms and their wealth, or because of the number of their supporters.
Merchants, although they might not own land, were also held in similar regard as the land owners.
Medieval freemen might get into debt to the point where he might have to sell himself as a bondsman until he could pay off his debt. A slave might be allowed to sell the handicrafts produced in their free time and buy his or her freedom. He might then become among the medieval freemen, but he probably wouldn’t be able to improve his circumstances much from there.
Slaves who had been freed were nominally freemen, but their status was low. If a freed slave died without an heir, the inheritance would revert to the slave’s original owner. Once tainted by slavery, no man’s honour could ever be completely clean. However, the children of freed slaves were completely free in Iceland. In Norway, four generations had to pass before the offspring of a freed slave was considered free.
Although still free men, paupers and vagrants were classed even below freed slaves, in part because they had no residence, and thus could not be charged. The poor were not allowed to marry. The medieval Icelandic law book Grágás states that anyone was free to take the property of a vagrant without penalty and that it was lawful to castrate a vagrant, even if death ensued.
About the author:
Hi, I am Rob Shackleford. I am author of a number of novels, though so far only Traveller Inceptio and Traveller Probo have been officially published. As Traveller Inceptio looks at the fates of modern historical researchers sent to the early 11th Century Saxon world, Vikings do feature.
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