Here’s Another Way The Vikings Settled Their Disputes
The Vikings always had a “Thing” (governing assembly) for matters they had to deal with back in the day. During the “Thing”, they would figure out solutions to different pressing concerns and problems. But even though “Things” were common, there was actually another way to settle disputes in Viking society and it was a swift one.
Another way the Vikings settled disputes was called Holmgang which means "to go to or walk-on a small island." This was done by letting two men fight with each other with or without weapons. But those who failed to show up during this formal fight would get in trouble.
Duels like this took place 3-7 days after one one party challenged another. Also, no one was safe from being part of a Viking Holmgang regardless of their social rank and status. So anyone who felt offended by what someone did or said could challenge that person to a Holmgang battle. For instance, a free or common Viking man could challenge an earl when they felt insulted by their words or actions towards them.
As mentioned earlier, those who didn’t show up would get in trouble. The kind of trouble they would get into was that they would experience being outlawed in Viking society.
Being outlawed was actually one of the most degrading and terrible things a Viking could experience in regards to matters of Viking society law. For example, those who were outlawed after not showing up in a Holmgang fight weren’t allowed to stay with their clan or tribe. They also had to live in exile until the day they died. Apart from that, they were not allowed to receive any kind of help from their loved ones. No food, no drink, no clothing, no assistance whatsoever :(
On the other hand, the other person who showed up was considered the winner by default. This lucky person would also be given all the material possessions of the loser as the prize. However, keep in mind that every place had different Holmgang rules and regulations way back then. These rules and other deciding factors would have to be agreed upon by the duelists before the fight began. This was done as a way to be clear on what weapons were allowed to be used during the battle, who was allowed to strike first, and other things like the prizes that the winner could take home, etc.
If both opponents did show up, the final result must have been that either one of them would be dead or either incapacitated or debilitated by the end of the fight. And once someone passed away, the other person who did that wouldn’t be condemned as a murderer because they killed someone legally. The winner would also not be outlawed or pay any fine for killing another person during a Viking Holmgang.
There’s no denying that life was hard back in the day. If there was only a better way to settle disputes without anyone dying or being disabled or paralyzed then more lives could have been saved. The good thing was that Iceland eventually decided to abandon Holmgang as a way to solve disputes in 1006. Norway followed and excluded this method eight years later.