Norway Law Part I

By | December 17, 2021

Old Norse law is essentially national, created by the living conditions of the people, their natural and economic needs, the structure of the country, without foreign influences.

From what can be inferred, Norwegian law must have formed in the so-called Viking period, around 700 AD. C., and is therefore, to a certain extent, the product of a warrior community. Another characteristic of the ancient Norse law is that of being a rural law: at the time of the Vikings Norway did not have cities and had only a few villages; the population was scattered along the coasts and in the valleys, each family lived on their farm cultivating the land on their own, although the collective enjoyment of the land was known, at least to some extent.

Ancient Norway was divided into a series of small regions or provinces, each governed by its chiefs, in which however the landowning peasant enjoyed the greatest political freedom. The oldest legal system is linked to these provinces. In each province, at certain times, the free men met in the so-called ting (parliaments) which had legislative and judicial power; all the resolutions were taken by their assembly and approved with the sound of arms. For Norway 2017, please check

When Norway was reunited in a kingdom (about 872 AD) by King Harald I Haarfagre, local law seems to have remained unchanged in its principles: the only relevant innovation was that of a tax imposed by King Harald on the whole country – in the form of an agricultural tax, due as an income for the king and for the kingdom – and which seems to arouse discontent, because it was considered a violation of the free ownership of peasants, and determined a notable current of emigration towards the Scottish islands, the Faroe Islands and Iceland.

However, even before the unification of the country, greater juridical units had been formed, with the reunion of several provinces into a larger community. Thus Eidsivating (the current Eidsvoll, who gave the country the new constitution in 1814) has been known since the 9th century for having been a common parliament in all of central and eastern Norway; and it also goes back to an ancient age, the date of which it is not possible to fix the date, the Gulating, parliament for western Norway, the Øreting near Trondheim for northern Norway: the latter parliament was later also called Frostating, from island of Frosta in the Trondheim fjord, where it had its new headquarters. Later, after the unification of the kingdom, Borgarting arose at present-day Sarpsborg, parliament for the southeastern part of the country. All these parliaments called themselves Lagting, i.e. major groupings of the previous provincial tings (fylkesting): lagting, like fylkesting, had legislative and judicial power. With the introduction of the monarchy, which lasted for several generations, the authority of kings over lagting naturally grew.

Christianity was introduced in Norway quite late. It acquired solid foundations only with King Olav the Holy, especially after his death in 1030, when little by little he became famous as a martyr and a saint. In the late Middle Ages all Norwegian legislation had the general name of “St. Olav’s laws”. The introduction of Christianity naturally brought changes in the structure of the ancient pagan national law; however, the state, as it was juridically constituted, and its order could without difficulty be adopted by the new Christian society. And so the lagtings continued to work. In the history of law, the organization of lagting is worthy of importance.

It is founded on the representative principle: the representatives were called nevndermenn, and for each province their number was established by law. They were appointed by the king’s officials, but they represented the people. The king was represented by his officials (lendermenn and årmenn), and the church by the bishops and priests.

These ancient lagtings had the following codes: 1. The Gulating code, probably written in 1100, called “the law of St. Olav.” However, only a few fragments remain from a later drafting of 1164, in which among other things we find the law of succession to the throne, ecclesiastical law, criminal law and family law; 2. the code of Frostating: what is known of its text is published in the Norges gamle love (ancient laws of Norway) in an editorial of the century. XIII, 3. the Borgarting and Eidsivating codices, of which only the part concerning ecclesiastical law is preserved.

It belongs to the century. XIII, when a number of cities had already sprung up in Norway, the first draft of a city legislation (the so-called Bjarkeyarrettr), which included the uses of maritime and commercial law, and therefore constitutes the oldest Norwegian international private law. The Bjarkeyiarrettr in the form we have received is also the city law for Nidaros (Trondheim); maritime law constitutes a title in itself.

The influence of Christianity on ancient law made itself particularly felt in two fields: in the effort to abolish that characteristic and milder form of slavery that old Norway had aided in the servitude called trællevesen, and in the tendency to fight the ancient custom of revenge and of replacing it with the payment of fines.

The most notable medieval innovation in the field of law is the grandiose unification and codification of the ancient laws of lagting which took place under King Magnus IV (1263-1280; see above: History). This king, a man of high culture, a friend of peace and without doubt also a skilled jurist, asked and was given a formal mandate by the people to renew the legislation of the country. Alongside this legislation common to the whole country there was also a city law, soon accepted by all the cities of the country, and finally a court law, which constituted a special legislation for the king’s court, the army and the officials. All this great legislation, which by Konrad Maurer was called the first medieval legislation in Europe, remained in force for more than 400 years,

As an explanation for the creation of this code it can be said that not a few Norwegians, lay and clergymen, had gone in their youth to carry out their law studies in foreign universities, especially in Paris and Bologna, and had therefore brought home the knowledge of law. Roman and canonical. However, Roman law did not exert a particular influence on Norwegian law which was and remained in its essentially national formation.

Norway Law