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Although Viking society was split into 3 distinct classes this was in no way a rigid system and it was possible to move between classes during one's life.

 

At the bottom of the social scale there were the Praell. These were comrpised of Bondsmen and Slaves.

Slaves:

 

Slavery was common throughout the Norse lands. Most slaves were taken as booty from raids both abroad and in other Viking lands. Once taken as a slave a man's honour was forever tainted even if he managed to save enough to buy his freedom.

 

Although they were not allowed to partake in any business transactions and were subject to the whims of their owners slaves were allowed to marry and own property.

 

If a slave was injured or too old to work they would be put to death!

Bondsmen:

 

Bondsmen were normlly those who were unable to pay a debt. They would then work for the person they owed until the debt was repaid.

 

In a society such as the Vikings', where honour was very important, it was extremely shameful to become a bondsman.

 

Also, the law dictated that a thief could be given to their victim as a slave to repay the dishonour done in stealing from them.

The middle class of Viking society were the Karls and they were by far the most numerous. These were the 'ordinary' people. Farmers, traders, stone masons and ship-builders - these were the people who kept society working.

 

They would normally live in groups of a few houses together along with the barns or workshops needed to support themselves. It was very common for Karls to have a few slaves to help with the work, especially in farming. It was considered necessary to have at least 3 slaves to help to run an average sized Viking farm with a couple of cows and some land to work.

 

If a slave was freed then they were technically a freeman though they would certainly have been looked down upon by a normal Karl.

At the top of Viking society were the Jarls. These were the Noblemen and women who lived in grand halls and were the leaders of society.

 

It was the duty of the Jarl to provide security for their followers as well as maintaining a good public image for the community. If a Jarl was seen to be failing in these things, or if their wealth or popularity dropped, they could find themselves without any followers and so dropping in social standing to become simply a Karl.

 

The reverse is also true, of course, and a Karl who found themselves suddenly wealthy or who performed a particularly noteworthy act could find themseles elevated to the status of a Jarl.

 

The position of Jarl was also hereditary, usually being passed on to the eldest son.

Like most societies the Vikings had a complex series of rules and codes.

Viking manacles