The Althing was the national assembly of Iceland at Thingvellir. It was established in 930 A.D.

Thirty-six leading men of Iceland, chosen from the godar, elected a lawspeaker for a three year term.

The legal code, drafted by Ulfljót of Lon, has not been entirely preserved.

The country was divided into four quarters, and each quarter had a spring Thing and an autumn Thing to hear minor suits. Later, even smaller local courts were created. A fifth major court was established in 1005.

In 1000, Thorgeir of Ljósavatn the lawspeaker ruled that Iceland should become Christian. Everyone should be baptized immediately. He ruled that infants could still be exposed and sacrifices to the gods could still be made in secret.

By the mid thirteenth century, the aristocratic godar chose the lawspeaker, controlled the writing of new laws, administered the Things in their local districts, and appointed judges. They were extremely powerful. Snorri Sturluson, the historian, was an influential lawspeaker at this time, surrounded by political intrigue.

Free men and women could take their cases to the Althing. In the sagas, frequently a character kills someone, and then must report the killing. The relatives of the dead person bring suit against him at the next Althing, and until then, gather promises of support from their neighbors and kinsman. At the Althing, the judgement may be for the murderer to pay a large sum to the plaintiffs, or he may be outlawed and exiled for several years. This was supposed to stop violent feuds, but judging from the number of bloody sagas, the law didn't always work that way.

Al"thing (?), n. [Icel. (modern) alping, earlier alpingi; allr all + ping assembly. See All, and Thing.]

The national assembly or parliament of Iceland. See Thing, n., 8.

 

© Webster 1913

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