Weapons in Legal Rituals: Between Myth and Reality


  • Anne Irene Riisøy




This article seeks to explore the significance of weapons in legal rituals mentioned in sources, such as sagas and laws. Similarities in the phrasing of various types of sources give reason to believe that it is possible to determine certain uses of weapons in Viking Age legal rituals. Such rituals, which shared essential features with legal procedure, consisted of sequences of activities involving phrasing, objects, and gestures to mark a transition from one legal status to another, and they could also convey, and act as preservers of, legal meaning. Examples show that oaths were sworn on weapons, and  that they conferred legal validity at the assembly (vápnatak). Old Norse mythology explained and legitimised key values in society, and through it everyday people found a template for how to use weapons in legal rituals. Rituals are however dynamic, and hence the ritual objects may change over time. In the Viking Age weapons were objects laden with meaning, and it was probably the introduction of Christianity that led to them being banned from further use in legal ritual.






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