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 punished.
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 often hanging).
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.