Other works, such as The Barbarian Status of Women, published by Thorstein
Veblen in 1898, sought to prove the "superiority" of men over women by using
anecdotal evidence of barbarian behavior to back up their sexist claims.
There is little or no evidence to indicate that the Germanic/Norse barbarians
ever enslaved women, and such claims are sadly ridiculous in their blindsighted
sexism in our modern times.
Next came the class of the Thanes, or warriors.
These were similar to the medieval knights; however, they were not considered
"noble" in the same sense. They swore their fealty to their drighten or their
king. A Thane could accede to the rank of Drighten or King by evidence of their
deeds. In the story of Beowulf, the dying Beowulf yields his kingship to his
young thane Wiglaf, because Wiglaf was the only one of his thanes who came to
his aid in slaying the dragon.
Thanes were not necessarily chivalrous, nor were they overly couth. They did
have certain standards of behavior, but were considered to be fairly rough and
ferocious, being of a warrior class.
The commoner class came next. These consisted of villagers, free
servant to the drighten and his thanes, and merchants (such as blacksmiths,
storekeepers, innkeepers, etc., depending upon the level of sophistication and
specialization of labor). These people were free men and women under the
protection of the drighten or king.
The lowest class was that of the thrall, or slave. Usually battle-captives,
the thralls had their heads shaved or cropped to denote that they were
powerless, and iron rings placed around their neck to indicate that they were in
thrall (our modern word "enthrall" means, literally, to be "enslaved" or
obsessed by something).
They had few rights, although generally they were treated well by their
masters (slaves were valuable commodities in barbarian society). Thralls could
also rise above thralldom after several years of service, if the drighten
decided to make them free servants (raising them to the commoner class). They
could also marry out of the class (mainly open to female thralls).
Among the Norse and Germanic barbarians, lawmaking was a surprisingly
democratic process. Every year, a general convocation would be held for
the various tribes called the "Thing." This is where marriages were arranged or
ratified, treaties were signed, disputes were settled, and criminals were
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Punishment among the barbarian peoples generally fit the "crime." For
civil crimes (tort, wrongful death, etc.), barbarians established a system
called "weregild" among the Teutons, and the "eric-fine" among the Celts. These
were monies paid for wrongful or negligent death to the kindred of the victims
by the perpetrators. The victim(s) kin decided the weregild or eric-fine, and
this was approved by the council of the Thing.
(In less remote areas, it was decided by general consensus). This particular
system of settling civil cases was not flawless of course, but it did much to
keep the cycle of revenge and counter-vengeance from escalating out of control.
In Anglo-Saxon communities, crimes were dealt with swiftly and effectively.
In the event that a person was harmed or stolen from, that person could call to
his neighbors to pursue the wrongdoer. If the chase led from the village to
another village, all those in pursuit would call to the members of their
neighborhing village to join the chase, and so on until the culprit was
captured. It was then up to the injured party to decide the penalty (which was
This method was known as the "Hue-and-Cry", a phrase which we use to this
day. It was by no means foolproof, as an unscrupulous person with a grudge
against his or her neighbor could create a false hue-and cry and result in an
innocent person's death or injury. This was balanced by the fact that if a
hue-and-cry was found to be based upon a falsehood, the perpetrator was treated
as an oathbreaker and dealt with accordingly.
For worse crimes, such as oath-breaking (considered worse than wrongful death
or theft of property by the Norse and Germanics), rape, treason, and willful
murder (extremely rare in this culture), the criminal was no longer considered
to be human.