Photo: Terje Rakke
Fjord Tours Articles / 8 Nov 2019

What is the Viking Honor System?

When most people think about the Vikings that once wandered the Norwegian fjords, they tend to picture chaotic and violent warriors that lived by no one's rules. However, the reality is that they had a complex honor system that they lived by.

In fact, this code of conduct has since been labelled the “Nine Noble Virtues” and shares a lot of similarities with the Knight's Code of Chivalry. As the name suggests, the Viking honour system was composed of nine key principles that every member of society was expected to abide by. Here are the Nine Noble Virtues that governed the fearsome Viking tribes.

IMG 9408 Foto Orjan B. Iversen
Photo: Ørjan B. Iversen

Courage

It likely does not come as much of a surprise that this group of legendary warriors valued courage. Although courage on the battlefield is only a small part of what this virtue actually means. Although being courageous enough to face your fears and enter the battlefield was important in the Viking world, it also took a lot of courage for them to live their everyday lives and stand up for what they believed in. Therefore, every Viking strived to be courageous in every element of their life.

Truth

Lying was something that the Vikings believed to be one of the worst infractions that a person could make. They believed that telling the truth in every situation was always the best course of action. Doing anything else was considered cowardly. The only exception to this rule that they allowed was if an individual was already being lied to, in which case lying back could sometimes be deemed acceptable.

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Photo: © Aurland Photography

Honor

A big part of the Nine Noble Virtues was the presence of honor in a Viking’s life. For Vikings, being honorable meant that they were able to be true to what they believed in. Whatever belief system a specific Viking may have had, it was important for them to stand up for those beliefs even in the face of adversity and doing so was regarded as being very honorable.

Fidelity

This belief in fidelity extended far beyond the modern understanding of it, which is to remain monogamous with your life partner. They also applied this belief in fidelity to friends and family as well, which meant that Vikings had to be unequivocally loyal to those that were close to them.

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Photo: © Aurland Photography

Discipline

Having the level of self-discipline that was required as part of the Viking honor system meant being able to follow their beliefs even when it was not convenient. If a Viking only chose to act for what they believed in when it suited them, then they were considered to have very little discipline and were not held in high regard.

Hospitality

A lot of people may be shocked to learn that hospitality was a big part of the Viking honor system. They believed that everyone should be treated with dignity and courtesy, which was further amplified by their belief that the gods would occasionally visit people in human form, so any stranger could potentially be a god visiting Earth. Therefore, mistreating a guest could potentially be a divine offense.

IMGP3035.Ørjan B Iversen
Photo: Ørjan B Iversen

Industriousness

The Vikings generally believed that if something was worth doing then it was worth doing well. This meant that anyone who could be viewed as being lazy or not giving their full effort in anything they did was regarded as being a lesser person.

Self-Reliance

The Vikings believed that having to depend on anyone else for their livelihood was a dangerous position to be put in. This meant that they needed to be able to provide everything they needed without outside help. However, this also extended to their family, so being unable to be a provider for their family was also considered shameful.

Perseverance

Giving up was not an option for Vikings. Their honor system prevented them from stopping something when it got a little tough. They were required to keep trying it until they either succeeded or were physically unable to try again.

With such an in-depth honor system that they were expected to follow, it is clear that Vikings were not the ruthless warriors that movies portray them to be. Learn more about the Viking honor system and other elements of Viking life by Going Viking in Norway.