Kings, Jarls, Karls, Thralls - The Vikings for Kids and Teachers Illustration

The Vikings

Kings: The Vikings did not have a central government. Instead, each village or town had its own king or chief. The kings were the most powerful people in Viking society.

Jarls: Next on the social scale were the jarls, the wealthy nobles. The nobles lived in the best houses and employed other Vikings to work for them. They also kept slaves.

Karls: The karls were everyday farmers, craftsmen, sailors, and warriors.

Thralls: At the bottom were the slaves. Slaves did the dirtest jobs. Slaves were captured in war.  Slaves were also purchased by traders and sold in the marketplace. If slaves ran away, they could be killed. But, if slaves saved enough money, they could buy their way out of slavery. Slaves did have some time to create goods to sell. Some were paid for special jobs they did or were tossed a coin for some reason.

Women: When a girl was about 15 or 16, whatever her social class, her father found her a husband. If her father was not around, her mother would negoiate on her behalf for a husband. Norse women, jarls and karls, were in charge of the household. They were in charge of the farm or the estate when their husband was away. They could own property, will property, run a business, and divorce their husbands. Women in Viking society were not equal with men, and could not vote, speak, or act as a witness at town meetings, but they had many rights that woman in other ancient cultures did not enjoy. Viking behavior was dictated by Norse law, including the behavior of women.

Kids: Kids in all social levels did not go to school. Karl kids were taught by their parents. Jarl kids were taught by their parents or by someone hired or assigned to teach them a specific skill.

One level of society that did NOT exist for a long time in the Viking world was that of religious leader. Each Viking worshipped in their own way. There were no set religious rituals. When Vikings were introduced to Christianity, some became Christians and no longer believed in the old gods. But the leader of their church had no real power in Viking society because the Vikings believed in religious freedom. The church was never that powerful in the Viking world. What was powerful was Norse law.

What was Viking Society Like?

Viking Daily Life

Viking Law and Government