Vita antiqua and Lex Saxonum on social ranks in Old Saxony

The author of the Vita Antiqua has recorded the historical known facts about the life of Lebuïnus. This anonymous historian wrote the following about the social ranks of the Saxons: “In early times the Saxons didn’t have a king, but they designated leaders to each village.It was their habit to have a “Thing / Folkmoot” once a year in the center of Saksenland (Old Saxony) at the river the Wezer in a place named Marklo. There all leaders usually met, and twelve nobles of every place joined them, with equal number of free-men and serfs. There they ratified laws, spoke just in special cases, and with general votes they set up laws for the coming year, to which they could act, it be in peace or in war.

Germanic Thing, Ding, Ting

To prevent misunderstandings there will be used  four designations for the Saxon ranks. From low to high these are:

the unfree (servi)

the half-free (liti)

the  free (liberi)

the nobles (nobiles)

The unfree were the serfs, they were salable, almost lawless and belonged for a big part to the inhabitants of the areas which the Saxons had annexed or conquered. Still they had the right to “weergeld / mangeld / weregild“. They mainly worked in agriculture and did the work of servants and maids,

The half-free had a favorable position in Saksenland compared to the unfree. They were allowed to carry weapons, were legal and thus represented on the Thing. They worked the soil that was property of the nobles, paid taxes and also had other plights. There were many craftsmen amongst them.

The free were as “free boers / farmers” comparatively independent from the nobles, they did pay taxes, but amongst them there also were small landowners. Some of them could be designated with the German word Freiherr, small landbaron.

The nobles, the noble landowners, were far above the other ranks, also above the free.That big difference was seen in the height of the weregild. That was the amount of money that hat to be paid by the perpetrator to the family or closest relatives of a victim. The first part of the word “weergeld / weregild” traces back to the Latin “vir” in the form that means “man”. That form got the general meaning for human, and the weregild was the atonement money.

For the killing of a noble the killer had to pay 1440 “schellingen / shillings” weregild, a for that era astronomical amount, more then one man could ever earn in his life. For the half-free the weregild was 120 schellingen, for a Free person the Lex Saxonum does not name the amount, but other sources show that it’s double or one and a half times more.

Matthias Springer (2004) showed that the people didn’t choose the representatives from their own ranks. The tribe leaders chose an entourage from the three ranks which they could count on. The moot did not only decide on war and peace, but also a place for conferencing.


Published by


Interested in germanic heathenry, lore, original fairy- and folktales, shamanism and lots of other related worldly stuff. I walk and cycle alot in nature, read, play various instruments etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s