The Laws of the Jómsvikings (Vikings from Jóm)

The Jómsvíkinga Saga is from the thirteenth century, and believed to have been written down the first time in Iceland. …

The Jómsvíkinga Saga is from the thirteenth century, and believed to have been written down the first time in Iceland. In this time there was apparently a heightened interest among the Icelanders about their ancestors and their old stories. In the Viking Age all poems and sagas were shared orally, maybe in a great hall, or by a parent to a child. Then a couple of hundred years later, they were written down by then, Christianized scholars. 

One such saga was the Saga of the Jómsvikings. They were a legendary band of vikings, living in a borg (citadel) on a tiny island on the Baltic sea. Operating as warriors for hire, theirs was a life focused on training and being loyal to your brother vikings. They also lived by a shared code, or law.

And this is why I am writing this post, their shared code, also known as the Laws of the Jómsvikings. In our modern day I see many claims that the vikings lived by such and such rules etc. without there ever being any real evidence for it. To be fair, nothing in this saga should be taken as universal truths. It was a saga, loosely tied in with actual facts even back then. It is believed to be part legend, part based on true events and places. However, the supposed laws likely reflected something close to the core beliefs of whomever told the story.

The Jómsvikings – Fact or Fiction

There are at least five different manuscripts which include the Saga of the Jómsvikings, all in slightly different forms. Having been written down by different authors, from Iceland to Denmark, spanning a couple of hundred years, it was clearly a popular story.

Today however, we aren’t really able to discern how much was known as facts, and what should be attributed to artistic freedom. As recently as in 2022-23 remains of what might have been the Jomsborg were discovered by archeologists in Poland

Personally, I have no trouble believing that some especially capable Viking Age warriors would band together. Another such group of vikingr mercenaries was the Varangian guard protecting the emperor of Byzantium. You also have the berserkers and ulfhednar who were elite warriors.

The extent of their involvement in various conflicts however is unknown. Moreover, even some of the proposed conflicts might not quite be factual. Either way, the Jómsvikings were a popular element in the sagas, and part of their legacy is the Laws of the Jómsvikings. If they were actual laws, or dreamt up later, they are still interesting as reflections on the ideas of the time.

The Saga of the Jómsvikings

Outside of Havamal, there are not many sources for how a good vikingr should behave. One such possible source is the Laws of the Jomsvikings.

The saga itself spans from the beginning of the group, and how they came to build their borg/citadel on a tiny island. Living in a tumultuous time with regular conflicts between chieftains and kings, having a large group of professional warriors on your side was probably a great asset. 

Their borg is described as being ingenious as several hundred longships could fit into its enclosed harbor, protected from attackers. Shielded behind wood and stone ramparts, with a protected access to the ocean, it sounds quite ideal. Living inside the citadel, the Jómsborg, were many hundred men, all united as Jómsvikings. Apparently willing to consider any man who was recommended by one of the warrior brothers, it might have been a fairly mixed band of brothers.

With a large group of warriors, living and raiding together, you would need rules. Just like Viking Age societies were governed by rules and laws, so were the Jómsvikings. This is found in chapter 14 of the saga, The Laws of the Jómsvikings.

Jómsvíkinga Saga – Chapter 14 – The Laws of the Jómsvikings

Now after this Pálnatóki establishes laws with the advice of intelligent men there in Jómsborg so that more power should be achieved there than had already been gained. No one was to come there to join Pálnatóki’s company who was older than fifty years of age, and no one younger than eighteen years old; all must be between those ages.

No one at all must be there who would run away from a man as strong and well equipped as himself.

Each man who came there to join the fellowship must promise faithfully that each of them must avenge the other like his messmate or his brother.

And no one at all must stir up strife among men. Moreover, if any news was heard there, no one must be so reckless as to spread it around, for Pálnatóki must be the first to tell any news.

And anyone who is found out in what has been enumerated, and con-travenes these laws, he must at once be ejected and driven out of their rule.

Also, if a man should be admitted who had killed the brother or father of a man who was already there, or someone closely bound to him in kinship, and if that were found out after he had been admitted, Pálnatóki must judge it.

Also, no one must have a woman there inside the fortress, and no one must stay away more than three nights outside the fortress except by Pálnatóki’s advice and consent.

Everything they gained in raiding must be carried to the banner whether large or small, and anything of any value. And if it proved true that anyone had not done so he must leave the fortress, whether he was of greater status or lesser.

No man must speak words of fear there or be afraid, however unpromising things might look for them.

Nothing must take place among those within the fortress that Pálnatóki should not settle and decide according to what he wanted.

Nothing must be decided by kinship or friendship if people decided to make their way there who were not members of the rule. And even if people who were already there invited those who were not fi t to join this rule, it would not be granted to them.

And now they stay in the fortress in this way on good terms and keep their laws properly. They leave the fortress each summer and go raiding in various lands and gain great glory, and are thought to be the greatest of warriors, and none were thought to be anything like their equals at that time. And they are now called Jómsvikings after this for all time.

Featured Image Credit: Halfdan Egedius, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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Norse mythology enthusiast, Norwegian and living in Oslo next to a series of old Viking age burial mounds.I am also able to navigate and understand quite a lot of the old Norse texts and I often lean on original texts when researching an article. Through this blog I hope more people, young and old will get to know Norse mythology and the world of the Vikings a bit better.

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