The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue 18 (2018)

An Annotated Edition and Translation of The Older Law of Västergötland: The Rightless Code

Paul PetersonMailto: Icon

University of Minnesota, Morris

©2018 by Paul Peterson. All intellectual property rights reserved. This edition copyright ©2018 by The Heroic Age. Permissions granted for educational and personal purposes only.

Abstract: The Older Law of Västergötland is the oldest surviving text in Old Swedish and marks the beginning of parchment manuscripts written in the vernacular in Sweden. As a result of its primary status, the law code has received a lot of attention in Sweden, but very little scholarship on the text has appeared outside of Sweden and practically nothing in English. The section of the law presented here in the original Old Swedish accompanied by an English translation comes from the most famous part of the law known as Rætløsæ bolkær (The Rightless Code), where the process of electing the Swedish king is discussed, as well as a passage that mentions the punishment for accusing someone of witchcraft. An annotated glossary of the Old Swedish text and detailed commentary on the translation is provided at the end.


§1. I have translated an important selection from The Older Law of Västergötland called The Rightless Code (Old Swed. Rætløsæ bolkær). Äldre Västgötalagen, as it is known in Swedish, is from the oldest surviving Swedish manuscript written with Latin characters around 1220–1225 AD, and thus it is the oldest preserved piece of Swedish vernacular literature apart from runic inscriptions. The law code was compiled by Västergötland's seventeenth lawspeaker Æskil Magnusson, the older half-brother of Birger Jarl, during his service as lawspeaker c. 1219–25. The material for the text was based on an orally-transmitted legal code established at the All-Geatish assembly over two hundred years earlier. However, it is obvious that some minor emendations to the law had been made by the time it was recorded. The complete law code consists of 19 individual sections, Rætløsæ bolkær being the ninth and most well-known section, both for its description of the Swedish king's election (the entire first part, see below) and its mention of punishments for witchcraft (in part 5, section 5, see below). It is worth noting that the title is younger, although the adjective rætløs is recorded three times in the law. The title in the top margin of the first page of the section (folio 21r) reads retlose bolkar and was added by Johannes Bureus (died 1652), the royal librarian of King Gustavus Adolphus. The precise meaning of the word rætløs remains a riddle in the context of this section of the law.

§2. The text in its entirety is extant only in the manuscript Codex Holmiensis B59, which dates to c. 1280. In addition, there is a four leaf fragment of the text in the manuscript Codex Holmiensis B193, dated around 1220–1225, hence the designation of the text as the oldest surviving copy of Old Swedish. The text in the fragment matches almost identically to the final section of Rætløsæ bolkær, which is only found complete in Codex B59. There are also a few short fragments of Ærfþær bolkær (Code of Inheritance), Iorþær bolkær (Code of [Farm] Land), and the antiquated Heþnalagh (Law of the Heathens) in Codex B193. Attached to Codex B59 is the so-called Vidhemsprästens anteckningar (The Priest at Vidhem's Notes), which were added by a priest named Laurentius in possession of the law book around 1325. Laurentius's addendum lists the kings of Sweden and the bishops of Västergötland back as far as 250 years earlier, and also nineteen lawspeakers of the province (Æskil Magnusson, the presumed compiler of the law code, is the seventeenth in the list).

§3. The Older Law of Västergötland is the first in a series of provincial law codes written in Old Swedish, all which eventually led up to the country's first complete national law code called Magnus Erikssons landslag (Magnus Eriksson's Law of the Realm, c. 1350; see Donner 2000 for a recent English translation). The Older Law of Västergötland is not to be confused with The Younger Law of Västergötland (Swed. Yngre Västgötalagen, c. 1295), a later variation of the same province's law code. In terms of preserved manuscripts of Swedish laws, following the law code of Västergötland were those of Östergötland (c. 1285–95), Gotland (c. 1295), Västmanland and Dalarna (c. 1290–1330), Uppland (1296), Småland (c. 1300), Hälsingland (c. 1320–27), Södermanland (1327), Närke and Värmland (both lost now, but mentioned by Johannes Bureus), and also several city law codes from the first half of the fourteenth century. There exists also Skånelagen (The Law of Scania), but the law code was written in Old Danish (c. 1205–1215) and not Old Swedish. Skånelagen is, in fact, slightly older than Västgötalagen, but historically the province of Skåne, since the year 1658 a part of the Swedish kingdom, had always belonged to the Denmark. Västergötland is the oldest inhabited province of Sweden (though millennia further back), so it is fitting that The Older Law of Västergötland is, entirely by chance, the oldest preserved piece of vernacular Swedish literature on parchment.

§4. Much of the material in the text is noticeably older than its written counterpart, having been composed largely in form and content around the time of Västergötland's first known lawspeaker, Lumbær (or Lumær—the -b- is excrescent), who lived around the end of the tenth century. The laws composed by Lumbær were, no doubt, based on earlier traditional legal codes of the province passed down orally. In his annotations to the manuscript around 1325, the priest Laurentius added the so-called Vidhemsprästens anteckningar, where he said that The Older Law of Västergötland had been composed first by Lumbær. The text in Collin and Schlyter's pioneer edition (1827, 295) reads:

Fyrsti war lumbær. oc af hanum æru lums lagh calleðþ. fore þy. at han sighs. hawæ huxæt. oc gört en mykin loth aff laghum warum. han war föðær .i. wangum. oc þær liggær han .i. enom collæ. fore þy at han war heðþen.
First was Lumbær (lawspeaker) and Lumbær's laws are named after him because he is said to have remembered and composed a large part of our laws. He was born in Vånga and there he lies buried in a mound because he was heathen (translation mine).

Æskil learned and memorized these same laws, relatively unchanged from the time of Lumbær, judging by several of the archaic features of the legal code (even for the early thirteenth century).

§5. Laurentius's addition to the manuscript provides a great deal of the known biographical data about Æskil. His description of Æskil's term as lawspeaker (Old Swed. lagmaþær) and Æskil's qualities otherwise come in the form of excessive praise (Collin and Schlyter 1827, 297):

Syutanði war. Æskil laghmaþðær. han spurðþi innurllikæ. oc lettæðþi all lums lagh. oc annarrær. at nytræ hæfð lanzsins for ælðri. Siðþæn han fan lanzsins lagh. þa huxædþi han þem mæð. myklli snilli. oc syalfsins forseo. han war marghæ wæghæ wæl ffallin till þæs walz. han hafði þa giæff. af guðþi. at han atti snilli mykllæ. fore aðrum mannum. han hafðþi oc clærkdom ærlikæn. iæmth goðþom clærkum. oc iuir allæ lötte styrkti han westgötæ. oc þerræ hofdhengiæ. han war mangnusær sun. minniskiolz aff bialbo. han war mykin maðþær for sic. til aldræ raðþæ oc rætræ. swa at war iuir allæ rikissins höffðhengiæ. Swa sum han war mykin for sic til aldræ raðhæ. swa war oc han goðþær drængær till swærðh oc till alðræ takæ .i. strið. hwat ma iæk nu meræ af hanum sighiæ. vtæn þættæ. at sent föðþes annar slikær maðþær.
The seventeenth lawspeaker was Æskil. He inquired scrupulously and searched for all Lumbær's laws and others that were useful laws to the country's forefathers. After he found the laws of the country he contemplated on them with great wisdom and personal foresight (= he learned them by heart). He was in many ways well-suited for this dominion. He had a gift from God that he possessed great competency above other men. He was also well-educated even compared to good clerics. And concerning all things he supported the West-Geats and their chieftains. He was the son of Magnus furtherMinnisköld from Bjälbo. He was a great man on account of himself concerning all counsel and law, so that he was above all the country's chieftains. Just as he was a man of great account in all counsel, he was a capable man with taking up a sword and all else in battle. What more can I tell about him except that it will be a long time before another such man is born (translation mine).

§6. Æskil Magnusson was of noble descent, and his position as lawspeaker was hereditary. He was born at the Bjälbo estate in Östergötland around 1175 and died in 1227. His father was Magnus Minnisköld Bengtsson, and his younger half brother was the later famed Birger Jarl (c. 1210–1266). Magnus Minnisköld (c. 1150–1210) was a lawspeaker of Östergötland and was the younger brother of the jarl of Sweden named Birger Brosa (jarl of Sweden from 1174–1202). Magnus Minnesköld and Birger Brosa came from the family line that ruled Sweden from 1250–1354 known as Bjälboätten (the Bjälbo Family, Bjälbo being their massive family estate in Östergötland), also sometimes referred to as Folkungaätten (the Folkung family). Æskil was well-known and trusted throughout Scandinavia, and Snorri Sturluson visited him in Skara in the summer of 1219 during his stay in Norway between 1218 and 1220. Æskil was married to Kristina den heliga (the holy) Nilsdotter, the granddaughter of Erik den helige (the holy) Jedvardsson, the king of Sweden from 1150–1160. They had no children together. Æskil lived on the island Loholm outside of Skara, the capital of Västergötland during that time, for most of his adult life and ultimately died there.

§7. Regarding editions of the Old Swedish text, the pioneer edition was produced by Collin and Schlyter (1827). It was the first volume in their complete collection of Sweden's medieval provincial laws (in thirteen volumes, 1–12 being the texts themselves, and 13 the glossary). An annotated edition of the normalized Old Swedish text appeared later by von Friesen (1904). Later, Sjöros (1919) produced a diplomatic and normalized edition containing a faithful rendering of the manuscript text with a facing normalized text; for that reason, it provides the best workable text available. The latest edition by Wessén (1954), which is merely a reprint of the normalized text in von Friesen's edition with minor corrections, was published as a short reader for university students with other Old Swedish materials at hand and lacks a glossary or notes. For my edition I have primarily relied upon the normalized Old Swedish text of Sjöros (1919, 58–69) as the basis for my presentation of the Old Swedish text, but have consulted the the antiquated edition by Collin and Schlyter (1827) for its notes and digital facsimiles of Codex B59. For help with the translation I have consulted Schlyter (1877) for his Old Swedish-Swedish/Latin glossary and Söderwall's Old Swedish dictionary (1884–1918). A Swedish glossary of the text is available in Pipping (1913), although I have found it unnecessary to consult in depth since the other dictionaries proved to be more than sufficient.

§8. Several translations and a multitude of scholarly works exist on Äldre Västgötalagen. There are two notable Modern Swedish translations of the text, one by Beckman (1924), and the other by Wessén (Holmbäck and Wessén 1946). Wessén's translation is by far the best, and comes with a copious amount of commentary as part of his voluminous translations of all of Sweden's medieval provincial laws. Another Swedish translation, though of inferior quality compared to either that of Beckman or of Wessén, is by Otman (1883). The only English translation of the law is by Bergin (1906) who wrote it as his dissertation at the University of Minnesota. Bergin's translation is of poor quality: it is wooden and literal, and it lacks useful commentary. Among the heap of scholarship on Äldre Västgötalagen, which has been written almost only in Swedish, it is worthwhile to provide some of the key representatives as a reference for further study. Before publishing his translation of the text, Beckman wrote an article discussing the history of the law code (1912a), and in the same year his book appeared with much of the same material (1912b). Otherwise, any manual of Swedish history or literature will have some mention of Äldre Västgötalagen due to its status as the oldest Swedish vernacular manuscript.

§9. In terms of the language, Old Swedish should not present great difficulty to those who can read Old Icelandic. It does take a little extra effort to recognize the orthography and spelling compared to normalized Old Norse-Icelandic, but the language is essentially the same and must have been mutually intelligible. The orthography used in the manuscript is also slightly older and closer geographically to Old Norwegian than the dialect of Old Swedish found in younger texts. Hence, the text is, due to its age and location, closer to Old Icelandic and standardized Old Norse than other Old Swedish texts written further northeast (closer to Uppland). A good introduction to the differences in Old Icelandic and Old Swedish grammar and spelling is given in part VII of the grammar section in Gordon's An Introduction to Old Norse (1956, 320–326; the East Norse sections of Gordon's book are on pages 163–193, and Old Swedish appears on pages 169–174). Furthermore, a comprehensive grammar of Old Swedish is found in the second volume of Noreen's German-language grammars of Old Norse (1904), and later in Swedish summary (Noreen 1910). The manuscript preserving the text, however, was written with direct influence from Norwegian conventions, style, and orthography.

§10. I have provided commentary to English translation as needed, and also supplied a complete glossary of the Old Swedish text following the notes. The normalized Old Swedish text is presented so that it may be read first, and then in English translation. Most difficult was deciding whether to use Geats, Geatish, and Geatland (Swed. Götar, götsk, and Götaland, respectively) and the like, as is conventional in English, instead of using modern Swedish. I have opted for the former. In any case, I have attempted to use the variations of English Geat and Geatish consistently, even if it can read awkwardly on occasion. The occasional woodenness of the English translation is due in large part to the original cursory and matter-of-fact style of the text, a typical feature of medieval law codes in general. English punctuation has been added to the original text and the translation in order to facilitate a better understanding of quoted speech and sentence or clause breaks.

Laghbok væstgøta—Rætløsæ bolkær

Law Book of the West-Geats: The Rightless Code


1. Svear egho konung at takæ ok sva vrakæ. Han skal mæþ gislum ovæn faræ ok i Østrægøtland. Þa skal han sændimæn hingæt gæræ til aldrægøtæ þings. Þa skal lagmaþær gislæ skiptæ, tva sunnæn af landi ok tva norþæn af landi. Siþæn skal aþræ fiuræ mæn af landi gæræ mæþ þem; þer skulu til Iunæbækkær mote faræ. Østgøtæ gislær skulu þingæt fylghiæ ok vittni bæræ, at han ær sva inlændær, sum lagh þerræ sighiæ. Þa skal aldrægøtæ þing i gen hanum næmnæ. Þa han til þings kombær, þa skal han sik allum gøtom trolekæn sværiæ, at han skal eigh ræt lagh a landi varu brytæ. Þa skal lagmaþær han fyrst til konongs dømæ ok siþæn aþrir þer, ær han biþær. 1. Konongær skal þa þrim mannum friþ giuæ þem, ær eigh hauæ niþingsværk giort.
1. The Svear1 have the right to choose the king and as such it is carried out.2 He will also travel down to East-Geatland3 with hostages. Then he will send4 messengers here to set up the All-Geatish assembly.5 Then the lawspeaker6 will designate the hostages, two from the southern7 part of the country and two from the northern part. Afterwards the four other men from the country will be brought with them; they should travel to the meeting at Junabäck.8 The East-Geatish hostages should follow there and bear witness9 that he is indeed from their country, as their law says.10 Then the All-Geatish assembly will again summon him.11 When he comes to the assembly, then he will swear to all the Geats12 to be faithful, that he will not let rightful laws be broken. Then the lawspeaker will first judge him as king,13 and afterwards the others in the assembly whom he asks. 1. The king will then give dismissal to three men14 who have not committed a serious offense.15


2. Æn biskup skal takæ, þa skal konongær allæ landæ at spyriæ, huarn þer viliæ hauæ. Han skal bondæsun væræ. Þa skal konongær hanum staf i hand sæliæ ok gullfingrini. Siþæn skal han i kirkiu leþæ ok i biskupsstol sætiæ. Þa ær han fullkomen til valdær vtæn vixl.
2. If the bishop is to be elected,16 then the king will ask all his countrymen, whom they want to elect. He will be the son of a farmer.17 Then the king will present18 him his staff and gold-ring.19 Afterwards he will be led into the church and seated on his bishop throne. Then he has completely come to power except for20 his consecration.21


3. Bondæsun skal lagmaþær væræ. Þy skulu allir bøndær valdæ mæþ guz miskun. 1. Konongær skal næmd firi sik sætiæ ok lagmaþær a þingi. 2. Þæt hetir e aldrægøtæ þing, ær lagmaþær ær a; þær ma folk ætleþæ ok sættum lysæ.
3. The lawspeaker will be a farmer's son. All farmers should settle this with God's mercy. 1. The king will appoint a committee to assist him at the assembly, as well as the lawspeaker.22 2. This is indeed called the All-Geatish assembly,23 where the lawspeaker is at; there people may be freed to their families24 and conciliations announced.


4. Takær maþær bo manz vp at vfældu, þæt ær þrænni niv markæ sak: a niv mærkær saksøke ok giald firi bo sit mæþ svornom eþe, niv mærkær konongær ok niv mærkær allir mæn. 1. Huggær maþær hus vp manz at vsøktu, þæt ær þrænni niv markæ sak: a niv mærkær saksøke ok sva konongær ok sva allir mæn.
4. If someone25 takes another's property,26 provided that he is not convicted,27 that is a threefold nine mark penalty: nine marks for the plaintiff and compensation for his property with a sworn oath,28 nine marks for the king and nine marks to the public. 1. If someone cuts apart another's house without legal reason, that is a threefold nine mark penalty: nine marks for the plaintiff, nine marks for the king, and nine marks to the public.


5. Kallær maþær man bykkiuhuælp. "Hvar ær þæt," sighir han. "Þu," koþ han. "Iak skyrskutær þy, at þu kallæþi mik vkuæþinsorþ." Þæt ær sæxtanørtoghæ sak i hvarn lot. Han skal hanum þing visæ ok skyrskutæ vittni latæ bæræ at endaghæ ok vitæ mæþ tylptær eþe: biþi sva sær guþ holl ok vattum sinum, "at þu kallæþi mik vkuæþinsorþ, ok þu æst sandær at sak þerre, ær iak giuær þer." Sva skal vkuæþinsorþ søkiæ ok firnær orþ. 1. Kallær maþær annæn frælsgiuæ, þæn ætboren ær, ællær sighir: "Iak sa, at þu rant en firi enum ok hafþi spiut a baki." Þæt ær vkuæþinsorþ, þrænni sæxtanørtoghæ sak. 2. "Iak sa, at maþær sarþ þik." "Hvar ær þæt?" "Þu," koþ han. "Iak skyrskutær þy, at þu kallæþi mik vkuæþinsorþ ok firnær orþ." Þæt ær sæxtanørtoghæ sak i hvarn þriþiung. 3. "Iak sa, at þu atti þin viliæ viþ ko ællær mæri." Þæt ær firnær orþ, þrænni sæxtanørtoghæ sak. Þæt skal søkiæ a hændær hanum, kombær eigh ne viþ. 4. "Iak sa, at þu atti moþor þinæ." Þæt ær firnær orþ ok þrænni sæxtanørtoghæ sak ok kombær eigh ne viþ. 5. Þættæ æru vkuæþinsorþ kono. "Iak sa, at þu ret a kuiþgrindu løsharæþ ok i trolz ham, þa alt var iamrift nat ok daghær." Kallær hanæ kunnæ firi gæræ kono ællær ko; þæt ær vkuæþinsorþ. Kallær kono hortutu; þæt ær vkuæþinsorþ. Kallær kono hauæ at faþur sin ællær strukit hauæ barn sit fra sær ællær hauæ myrt sit barn; þættæ æru firnær orþ. 6. All þæssi syndæ mal skal fyrst viþ præst sin talæ ok eigh braþæ up mæþ avund ællær vræzviliæ, num han sæki sik at þrim markum; hete þrer ok æru tvar.
5. If someone calls someone else a son of a bitch.29 "Who is that," he says. "You," he replies. "I proclaim this before witnesses, that you called me an abusive word." That is 16 örtugar30 to each party. He will summon him to the assembly and have witnesses brought forth at an appointed time and attest to this with a twelve-man oath31: he asks for himself and for his witnesses the gods' loyalty, "that you called me an abusive word, and you are responsible for this case, which I address to you." As such one will be indicted for the abusive and wicked word.32 If someone calls another person a freedman, who is born to his family,33 or says, "I said that you ran all alone and carried a spear on your back.34" This is an abuse-word, a threefold 16 örtugar penalty. 2. "I said that a man bedded you." "Who is that?" "You," he replies. "I proclaim this before witnesses, that you called me an abusive and wicked word." This is a 16 örtugar penalty to each third party.35 3. "I said that you had your way with a cow or horse." This is a wicked word, a threefold 16 örtugar penalty. He will indict him for this, and he cannot say no to this.36 4. "I said that you had sex with your mother." This is an abuse-word and carries a threefold penalty, and he cannot say no to this. 5. This is an abuse-word towards a woman. "I saw that you rode on the farm fence loose-haired and in the shape of a troll, when it was completely divided equally between night and day.37" If someone calls her capable of killing a woman or a cow; that is an abuse-word. If someone calls her a whore-tit; that is an abuse-word. If someone says that a woman has had sex with her father or that she has forced a miscarriage or killed her child; these are wicked words. 6. Concerning all these sinful ways of speaking, one will first relate to one's priest and not rush out contemptuously with malevolence or in wrath, otherwise he would be liable to pay a fine of three marks; they are called three but are really two.38


6. Rænir maþær man handran, þa skal han væriæ sik mæþ tolf mannæ eþe ok tvæggiæ mannæ vittnum af þem tolf ok siþæn i tylpt standæ. Falz han at, bøte þrænni sæxtanørtoghor.
6. If someone robs a person with his hands, then he will defend himself with the oaths of twelve men, with two of the twelve as witnesses and afterwards stand together with the twelfth.39 If his case falls short, he is fined 16 örtugar threefold.


7. Æn maþær krævær man skyld, þa skal han a grænnæ hans kallæ, latæ þem viþ væræ ok høræ, at han kræuær han skyld; þa ma han næmæ han siþæn, æn han vil. A han skyld at kræfiæ, þa ma han søkiæ han til, sum lagh sighiæ, ok eþ sin a ouæn, æn þem skil vm, at han a hanum eigh meræ at gialdæ. Kuæþær hin ne viþ, kallær sik eigh eghæ hanum skyld at gialdæ, þa skal han sværiæ mæþ tolf mannum, at han a eigh hanum skyld at gialdæ ællær gæf at lønæ. Bær han þryt viþ, bøte þrænni sæxtanørtoghor ok skyldinæ. 1. Nam skal løsæ mæþ skyld mæþ tylptær eþe.
7. When someone demands a collection of debt,40 then he will call on his neighbors, have them informed and hear that he demands his debt, then he may take a pledge from him for the debt afterwards if he wishes.41 To claim his debt from him, he may take up a case against him, as the law says, and in addition to that swear an oath that he is truthful,42 if they are in disagreement, that he does not owe him anything else. If he denies this, and he declares himself to have no debt to him, then he will swear along with twelve men, that he has no debt to him or gift to repay.43 If he is obstinate, he should pay 16 örtugar threefold and the debt. 1. The pledge for the debt will be released with an oath of twelve men.


8. Dræpær maþær hors ællær nøt firi manni, vetir fearføling, þa skal han siunætting firi hanum gæræ latæ ok synær vittni a hændær latæ bæræ. Biþi sva sær guþ holl, "at iak sa, at þu drapt fæ hans ok vette hanum fearføling." Siþæn skal han firi tylpt gangæ, biþiæ sva sær guþ holl ok vat sinni, "at þu vette mær fearføling, ok þu drapt fæ mit, ok þu æst sandær at sak þerre." Siþæn skal han aptær gialdæ mæþ svornom eþe ok a ouæn þrænni sæxtanørtoghor. Ær eigh asynær vittni til, væri sik mæþ tolf mannum. Æn þæt fæ ær dræpit, ær tvæggiæ øræ ær vært ællær tvem ørom bætræ, þæt ær full fearføling. Æn þæt ær værræ æn tver ørær, þa skal þæt tvægildi atær gialdæ, sva hvart, sum vært ær. 1. Værþær dræpit hors ællær nøt a byær marku annærs byær, vet eigh, hvar drap, þa skal han siunætting gæræ firi enum þerræ ok haldæ firi allum ok vittni latæ bæræ a siunættingi, "at þæt fæk þær fiorlæsting a marku þerræ af handæ værkum mannæ, ok þy egho þer þæt mæþ laghum aptær bøtæ."
8. If someone kills a horse or cattle for someone else, and conceals the animal's carcass, then the plaintiff will have seventh-night-assembly44 set aside for him and have eyewitnesses brought against the defendant. The plaintiff asks as such for himself the gods' loyalty,45 "I said, that you killed his animal and hid his animal's carcass." Afterwards he will go before the twelfth witness, he asks as such for himself the gods' loyalty and for his twelve witnesses, "you hid the carcass of my animal, and you killed my animal, and you are the one responsible for their case." Then he will repay him along with sworn oaths and in addition to that 16 örtugar threefold. If there are no eyewitnesses, he defends himself with twelve men. If the animal was killed, which is worth two öre or more than two öre,46 then this is full animal-concealing.47 If the animal is worth less than two öre, then it will be repayed with double compensation, as such for each animal as it is worth. 1. If horse or cattle happen to be killed on the border of another village and it is unknown who killed it,48 then he will announce a seventh-night-assembly for one of them and hold the assembly for them all and have witnesses brought to the seventh-night-assembly, "I received a loss of life there from the handiwork of men in their domain, and because of this they have an obligation according to the law to compensate me."


9. Dræpær fæ annæt ok bær hirþingi vittni, gialdi helt firi mæþ svornom eþe, ok taki han þæt dræpnæ, ællær nyti hold ok huþ, taki halfgildi þæn, ær atti, af þem þæt a, sum drap. I þæssu mali ær hirþingi fuldær vittnismaþær, hvat hældær han ær fræls ællær þræl. Syns hanum giald, þa skal siunætting til gæræ, latæ bæræ asynær vittni. Þa skal reþæ vætti ok kræfiæ bokær. Syns hanum rætmæli, þa skal skyrskutæ: biþi sva sær guþ holl, "at fæ þit drap mit fæ mæþ synær vittni, ok sva gaf iak þær sak til." Far han eigh sokn fræmt mæþ laghæ vittnum, þa skal þæn, ær sak ær giuin, væriæ sik mæþ tolf mannum: biþiæ sær sva guþ holl, "at eigh drap mit fæ þit fæ, ok þy æm iak eigh sandær at þerre sak, þu giuær mær." 1. Faldær fæ i manz handæ værki, i brun ællær diki ællær annur þylik værk ok far þær banæ af, þa skal bøtæ sæx øræ firi hæst, halfmark firi oxæ ok sva firi ko ok hors. Sva skal þæt søkiæ ok væriæ, sva sum fæ haui fæ dræpit. 2. Fløghir fæ i gærþi, sva at ængin æltir, far banæ af, liggi vgilt. Æn fløghir or gærþi, gialdi hin aptær gærþ a. Æltir nokor or gærþi, far þær banæ af, ær til asynær vittni, gialdi þæn sum a ælti, sva sum mælt ær, æn i diki laghi døt; samæleþ søkiæ ok væriæ. 3. Æn maþær læstir hæst ællær halætagl ok stingær vt øghæ, gialdi øre ællær væri sik mæþ tylptær eþe.
9. If cattle kill other cattle and the herdsman bears witness, he pays completely for it with a sworn oath, and if the owner takes the dead animal, or derives benefit from the meat and hide, he takes a half-payment for compensation from those who owned the one that killed. In this case the herdsman is a full witness, whether he is free or a thrall. If he is being refused compensation, then he will prepare a seventh-night-assembly and have eyewitnesses brought. Then he will prepare witness testimony and demand a book on which to swear.49 If he is being refused his legal rights, then he will proclaim this before witnesses: he asks as such for himself the gods' loyalty, "your cattle killed my cattle with witnesses within eyesight, and as such I brought a charge for this against you." If he is unable to carry out the case with legal witnesses, then he will, if a charge is brought, defend himself with twelve witnesses: he asks as such for himself of the gods' loyalty, "my cattle did not kill your cattle, and for this reason I am not the one responsible for this case, which you bring against me." 1. If cattle fall into man-made objects, into a well or ditch or other such works and get killed there, compensation will be due in the amount of six öre for a horse, a half-mark for an ox, and the same for a cow or mare. As such it will be charged and defended, the same as when cattle have killed cattle. 2. If an animal runs into a farm enclosure, such that no one is driving the said animal, and it gets killed as a result, it will lie uncompensated. If an animal takes flight out of a farm enclosure, he is repayed by him who owns the farm. If someone drives an animal out of the farm, and it gets killed as a result, and there are eyewitnesses, he who drove the animal will pay the fine, such as is told, when an animal lies dead in a ditch; likewise it will be charged and defended.50 3. If someone maims a horse or damages its tail or stabs out an eye, he pays one öre or defends himself with a twelve-man oath.


10. All lan skulu hel hem flytiæs þem, sum læþi, firi vtæn all genmæli.
10. All borrowed things should be returned to those who lent them, without any contradiction.


11. Løpær þræl bort ællær ambut fra lauarþi sinum ok gær nokon skaþæ, dræpær, stiæl ællær rænir, eigh skal lauarþær skaþæ gialdæ, num han aptær fai hion sit. Far þem aptær, bøte afgærþir þerræ, sum lagh sighiæ, æn asynær vittni æru til ællær þiufnæþær i handum takin. Ær eigh þæt til, væri mæþ nekuæþum, sum lagh sighiæ. 1. Lanær maþær manni þræl sin, svari hin sakum, ær viþ lani hauir takit, e mæþæn han ær i hans varþnæþi.
11. If a thrall or a female slave runs away from their master and does any harm, kills, steals or robs, the master will not repay the damages unless he gets his servant back.51 If he gets them back, he pays for their crimes, as the law says, if there are eyewitnesses or stolen goods found in their hands. If this is not the case, he defends himself with denial, as the law says. 1. If someone lends someone else his slave, he answers for the charges, he who has taken the loan, always while he is in his custody.52


12. Þæn sum leghir af bondæ hæst ællær oxæ ællær ko, han skal varþæ firi vangømslo. Þæt ær þiuuær, vatn, dyi, klaui ok annur þylik. 1. Firi fars fæ af ofæfli, þæt ær biorn ællær kuesæ. Firi varghi skal varþæ sum firi vangømslo, æn eigh far aflæstir af. Þæt ær sæx ørær firi hæst, halfmark firi oxæ ok sva firi ko ok hors. Far han aflæstir, gialdi iki firi vargh.
12. He who rents from a farmer a horse, ox, or cow will be responsible for any negligence. That is, he will answer for thief, water, mud, halter,53 or any other such thing. 1. If an animal is killed by uncontrollable force, that is, by a bear or boil,54 he is not responsible.55 If a wolf kills the animal he will be responsible as he is for negligence, if he does not fetch the remains. It is six öre for a horse, a half-mark for an ox and the same for a cow or mare. If he fetches the remains, he does not pay for the damage caused by a wolf.


13. Læggær maþær manni fæ sit in til gæzlu, þa ma þæt fæ eigh tapas af þem viþ takær, hvarti mæþ styld ællær mæþ rani, num bondæ þæs fæ, ær viþ takær, ællær kostær værþæ mæþ taknir. Aptær skal han gialdæ. Læggi fram þæt han vil ok mæþ tylptær eþ, at han fæk eigh meræ hans fæ at gæzlu, æn han hauir nu fram laght.
13. If someone puts his property into the safekeeping of another, then he who receives the property may not lose it, either by stealing or by robbery, unless that farmer's property or possessions, the one who has received it, are also stolen. He will repay this. He presents that which he wants along with a twelve-man oath, that he did not receive more of his property for safekeeping than what he has now presented.


1. The Swedes (Swed. Svear) lived in the northern provinces of inhabited Sweden, still called Svealand, while the Geats (Swed. Götar) lived in the southern part of the country still called Götaland. The historical provinces of the early medieval Swedes included Uppland, Västmanland, Södermanland, Närke, Värmland, Dalarna, and Hälsingland. Most scholars believe that the Geatish kingdoms were eventually taken over by the Swedish king in the early half of the 9th century. Despite this, the Geatish provinces of Västergötland (West-Geatland), Östergötland (East-Geatland), and Småland (lit. "Small Lands," that is, "Small Kingdoms") maintained a degree of political independence during this time. [Back]

2. The phrase has been discussed extensively by scholars who have read the text. The idea, however, is simple; the Swedish king was elected by the Svear, but was ceremonially elected by the West-Geatish tribes at the All-Geatish Assembly. The Geatish tribes had lost their right to elect the king of Sweden, and the election was merely a formality in both Östergötland and Västergötland. [Back]

3. Östergötland represented the eastern half of Geatish territory, whereas Västergötland represented the western half. The king would have traveled down from the province of Uppland to meet the East-Geats at Junabäck, the most central location and intersection of Småland, Östergötland, and Västergötland. [Back]

4. The phrase is clear in meaning, but the verb sændæ ("to send") is missing. The phrase might have been han skal sændimæn [sændæ], but it is not entirely necessary to add the verb. Often phrases in Old Swedish with the modal verb skulæ, here skal, are missing the main verb, because the object already tells what will be done or where one will go (the same is true in Modern Swedish); here it is hingæt "hither." The king sends his messengers to the West-Geatish Assembly while attending that of the East-Geats. The vowel æ in Old Swedish may represent the Old Icelandic, or even Modern Swedish, vowels of a, e, and æ/ä. The intended sound is almost immediately recognized by those who know Modern Swedish or Old Icelandic, and the cognate in Old Icelandic or the form in Modern Swedish usually can be inferred by the context. This is still slightly confusing for modern Swedes accustomed to regularized spelling and the orthography, though if the text is thought of as the Old Swedish language written with Old Norwegian orthography, the confusion should be diminished. The umlauted ä and ö became part of standard Modern Swedish orthography through their adoption in Gustav Vasa's Bible, printed in 1541; the first printed Swedish Bible marks rather neatly the point when German orthography was chosen over the long-standing Scandinavian orthography æ and ø, which remain in Norwegian and Danish. [Back]

5. The verb-adverb collocation gæræ til means "to prepare, arrange," hence my translation "set up." The All-Geatish assembly is that of the West-Geats and was presumably held in the town of Skara. [Back]

6. The lagmaþær meant here is the East-Geatish lawspeaker. [Back]

7. Sunnæn is identical to OIcel. sunnan. It is an adverb, and means "from the south," and my addition of "southern part" is used only to render it better into English (the same with norþæn later in the sentence). These hostages are from the southern and northern parts of Östergötland. [Back]

8. Junabäck is a tract of land in the modern Swedish city of Jönköping. This land faces out towards Lake Vättern and marked the border between the East- and West-Geats, as well as the petty kingdoms in Småland. Juna- (Old Swed. iunæ) is also the root found in the city Jönköping, but its etymology is unclear. [Back]

9. Bæræ vittni "bear witness" is almost identical to English. [Back]

10. The meaning of the word inlændær ("native") is immediately obvious, but its mention is reflective of the Geatish tribes' traditional requirement for electing a king in their individual kingdoms. It is strange that they require the king to be a native of Svealand, since to them he was practically considered a foreign ruler, despite the fact that they had lost their political rights long before this legal code was composed. The statement may be the ghost of a former Geatish legal code stipulating this requirement for their own Geatish king, a common legal requirement in older Germanic societies. [Back]

11. The meaning of the verb næmnæ is "to summon," in addition to "to name." In Old Icelandic, it is the verb nefna. I have used "to summon" because it makes more sense in English, and the implication is that the king will be "summoned by name" at the assembly so that all may hear. [Back]

12. That is, he will swear to be faithful to all the West-Geats. He would have already sworn loyalty to the East-Geats. [Back]

13. The king will be officially declared king of Sweden and ruler of his tributary provinces (among these Västergötland, Östergötland, and Gotland) by legal judgment of the West-Geatish lawspeaker. Dømæ is a cognate of English "deem," but it carries the more specified meaning "to judge (by law)." [Back]

14. By his royal authority the king would have dismissed the charges against three criminals who had not committed serious offences. [Back]

15. The word niþingsværk most closely means "felony" in English. It carries the connotation of "willful wrongdoing and destruction of property or life." It is unclear exactly whether the king would give these men pardon for their crimes or if he would have them executed. Wessén suggests in his note (Holmbäck and Wessén 1946, 120–21, note 11) the possibility that they are put to death, but that only begs the question of why those who have committed crimes of a non-serious nature should be sacrificed. It could possibly be a reflection of a custom from pre-Christian times. [Back]

16. Again, as in l. 1, takæ means "to choose, elect." [Back]

17. Bondær in Old Swedish means "a farmer," but usually one who owns property. It has no connection to slavery or low-status as it does in English "bondsman." The requirement to become bishop is limited to those who were born of free farmers and not the nobility. That he is specifically the son of a farmer, and not a farmer himself, may imply that he would have been away from home receiving an education rather than learning his father's trade. [Back]

18. Sæliæ (cf. OIcel. selja) does not have the meaning of "to sell," as it does in Modern Swedish and its English cognate. It means "to give, hand over," hence my translation, "present." [Back]

19. This particular gold ring is for high-level clergymen. It is a long, finger-length ring, hence the second element -fingrini and not -ringær. [Back]

20. The word vtæn (truly, utan) has remained in Modern Swedish. In the phrase here it is used as a conjunction ("without, excluding") to state the opposite of the previous clause. [Back]

21. The manuscript has the noun as vixlt. The -t was probably included by mistake; the word cannot be a past participle. The noun was spelled vighsl and vigxl in other Old Swedish texts. The whole phrase means that the bishop had been declared legally to be the new bishop by the king at the behest of all the local governments but that he had yet to be consecrated by the Catholic Church. [Back]

22. The idea here is that the king will appoint legal representatives, but the lawspeaker will still be making all the judgments at the assembly. The king, in this regard, was not very powerful in Västergötland. This gives credence to the notion that the title of the code (rætløsæ "rightless") may refer, in part, to the king's limited power in the Geatish provinces. [Back]

23. The phrase is chronologically out of place, since the All-Geatish assembly has already been mentioned, and, assumably, everyone would already know that this is its name. The phrase waxes poetic as well, suggesting that it was composed earlier than other phrases in the text. There would have been no need for Æskil and the laws' compilers to include the statement, were it not for their remarkable memorization. The phrase is a remnant of a much earlier rendition of this particular section. [Back]

24. The verb æt-leþæ implies that a freed slave will be released to his family, if the members of his family are not slaves themselves and are in the country, or that he may also be adopted and welcomed into a new family (or the one which he has formerly served). [Back]

25. In the manuscript, as in many Old Norse texts, the Old Norse term maðr "person, human being" is frequently represented by the runic symbol m or ψ (maðr rune), at least whenever it is in the nominative. [Back]

26. In this text selection alone, there are four words meaning "property, possessions." This one happens to be bo (neuter, identical to OIcel. , meaning "livestock, property" but also "farm, estate"), but there is also (also neuter, meaning "cattle, property," the most common term of all for "cattle, livestock, property"), kostær (masculine, usually meaning "condition," but in the text it appears as "property" in the sense of "possessions"), and mark (feminine, meaning "owned land, domains, territory"). [Back]

27. At vfældu is a difficult expression meaning "provided that (he was) not convicted (of a crime)". At takes the dative, hence the neuter dative inflection -u. The adjective vfældær is composed of the negative prefix v- (truly, u-, OIcel. ú-) and the adjective fældær "guilty (of a crime)." Fældær comes from the verb fællæ ("to convict (for a crime), pass sentence on"), and the spelling with a missing -l- and the excrescent -d- is so common in Old Swedish that it eventually becomes ignored. There is also often an excrescent -b- following an -m-, as seen in kombær "comes" (the same as the silent "-b" in English "lamb," "comb," etc.). The expression at vfældu may be understood lit. "at (with the suppressed object "it", meaning "the crime") unguilty." The same phrasing with at followed by a dative adjective occurs soon after as at vsøktu (lit. "at ["it"] unsought [by the law]"). [Back]

28. Throughout the entire law code, deals are sealed by monetary compensation and an oath. Svornom eþe is singular dative, not plural (otherwise it would have been svornom eþum). Oaths are also sworn before bringing a case against someone else to affirm that the case is legitimate and to defend oneself during a trial. Oaths of all types are highly valuable in the eyes of the law and in certain instances may be of greater weight than physical or other verbal evidence. [Back]

29. The term bykkiuhuælpær is the closest Old Swedish equivalent to English "son of a bitch" and is also found in Old Icelandic as bikkjuhvelpr. Bykkiu- (cf. OIcel. bikkja) means "bitch," in the literal sense of "female dog," and -huælpær means "whelp," or in less archaic English "puppy." The meaning "bitch-whelp" is best understood as "son of a bitch," since the motivation behind the insult is almost identical. As with all early Germanic law codes, and indeed with all early Germanic oral tradition, morality and proper conduct were emphasized and highly valued, as this example of legislating a specific insult indicates. [Back]

30. See the glossary for the valuation of this money. As with all such terms dealing with currency or other historically-specific things, no English translation is reasonable or available. For this reason I have used the Modern Swedish equivalents for these forms of currency instead of using even poorer English substitutes. I have used the plural form of örtug (> örtugar), but kept the singular for öre whether singular or plural. For a better understanding of the monetary system and the value of money in medieval Västergötland and the Äldre and Yngre Västgötalagen, see Wennström (1931). [Back]

31. A tylptær eþ is an oath in which twelve men must be present to swear an oath, which is considered valid evidence in legal disputes. The custom comes from even more ancient legal customs and is an integral part of the prosecution and defense in legal cases. The term tylptær truly means "twelfth," but in translation it is better understood as "twelve oath" (that is, an oath of twelve men). The men also function along the lines of "moral support," in addition to their almost ceremonial use in legal disputes. The use of twelve has a long history in Germanic traditions, and this particular practice also pops up in Norwegian and Icelandic law, but even Old Frisian laws (see Popkema 2007). [Back]

32. There is no monetary difference between an vkueþingsorþ and a firnær orþ. Both mean approximately the same thing (vkueþingsorþ is more like "slander" and firnær orþ more like "calumny"), though one is a compound noun meaning "abuse-word" and the other is a separate adjective and noun functioning as a compound noun meaning "nasty word." [Back]

33. The insult is to be understood as an accusation that a man who is free and was born free to his land-owning family is, in fact, a freed-slave. It was considered acceptable behavior to abuse freed-slaves, though not those who have never been in bondage, as the expensive penalty of two marks (in total 48 örtugar = 2 marks) demonstrates. [Back]

34. The phrase may mean two different things. The first option is that the man ran away from his master carrying a spear on his back, as I have chosen to translate the phrase, for the purpose of protection and preservation of his valuable weapon. The West-Geats were renowned for their spears and spear-fighting abilities. The other, which seems less likely, is that the man ran away and was chased by his master and was able to escape danger (that is, a spear pointed at his back with the intention of killing him). Regardless of how it is understood, the accusation was considered a significant crime, equivalent to accusing a man of having been bedded by a man or a woman of having slept with her father. [Back]

35. This is an example of purposeful variation of a repeated phrase. First the penalty's recipients and the penalty are told in complete language, and as the identical recipients are repeated, the phrasing is deliberately simplified as it is internally memorized (one must, after hearing it two or three times, remember the formula). The repetition was probably composed with the purpose of being colorful as well. In section 4, the monetary penalties are followed by the three recipients in their entirety: "that is a three-fold nine mark penalty: nine marks for the plaintiff…nine marks for the king and nine marks to the public." Then in section 5, the penalty is distributed "to each party." Next it is followed by the term used to reintroduce the penalty as "three-fold" (þrænni), then switched to "each third (party)." The rest of the text continues with just "three-fold." [Back]

36. That is, he may not be obstinate to his penalty or its legitimate pursuers (lit. "he comes not at ("it") with no"). In the same sense it also means "to deny (a charge)." The phrase is repeated with a similar meaning, though with a different verb in section 7 as kuæþær ne viþ (lit. "says no at ["it"]"). [Back]

37. That it is an insult punishable by law to accuse a woman of having participated in such specifically supernatural events is curious. Its contents are an example of a legal code punishing accusations of sorcery and magic, while being surrounded by verbal insults of a more worldly nature ("whore," "to have had sex with one's father," etc.). This insult and the next (about a woman being "capable to kill," that is, possessed by the strength of some unknown force so completely as to be able to kill another woman or even a cow) are the only supernatural bits in this section of Västgötalagen. It is particularly notable that the women "ride" the gates of the farm during twilight. A parallel concept is found in Old Icelandic with the noun túnriða (f., meaning "witch," from tún "enclosure, courtyard" plus the noun riða "rider," a word related to ríða "to ride;" tún is a cognate to English "town"). Another similar concept appears in later Swedish folklore with the term blåkulla (meaning "the place where witches meet with the Devil;" blå does not exactly mean the color "blue" as it does in English and Modern Swedish, but more like Old Norse "black, dark, swarthy;" -kulla is a variant of kulle "hill, slope"). The entire phrase is based on superstition, and has been discussed to death by scholars too numerous to mention here. The phrase þa alt var iamrift nat ok daghær means lit. "when everything was equally-ripped night and day," or more intelligibly "at twilight." To accuse someone of taking on the form of a troll or participating in witchcraft was indeed an insult worthy of expensive punishment such as this. [Back]

38. The phrase is found in the glossary to the Collin and Schlyter edition of the law text under the gloss for "mark" with a special comment and in Wessén's note (Holmbäck and Wessén 1946, 127, note 42). The actual value of this penalty is the threefold 16 örtugar fine that is repeated throughout the code and equals 2 marks (48 örtugar = 16 times 3; 24 örtugar equals 1 mark). That the text says "3 marks" is partially explained above in note 35, and that it says three marks instead of "threefold 16 örtugar" is most easily explained by natural variation among otherwise repetitive language. [Back]

39. This is again the twelve-man oath repeated throughout the text, but here the process is given in more detail. Only two men are needed as eyewitnesses, and they swear the truth of their statements (and that of the plaintiff) to the twelfth witness. [Back]

40. The phrase means "his debt," although han "him" is accusative. [Back]

41. It is common in older Germanic literature to emphasize choice and free will of the individual and those involved in reconciling disputes and disagreements, as the phrase illustrates. [Back]

42. It is difficult to translate the phrase and requires some explanation. Ok in this case is merely "and." A ovæn is the combination of the two prepositions a and ovæn and is used adverbially to mean "in addition, to boot" (more or less the same as OIcel. ofan á "to boot, into the bargain"). Thus, ok eþ sin a ovæn means "and his oath to boot." My translation is inferred directly from the context of the previous and following phrases. [Back]

43. The verb meaning "to lend, loan" is lanæ (OIcel. lána), not to be confused with lønæ (OIcel. launa) seen here, which means "to reward, repay (a gift), compensate." [Back]

44. The "seventh-night-assembly" is a legal transaction that avoids bringing a case to an assembly, and instead a makeshift court is held 7 days from the date the charges were initially brought against the defendant. The necessity for 7 days was probably due to the time needed to summon a lower-level lawyer to preside over the case and wait for him to arrive. [Back]

45. In the phrase guþ may be neuter plural (not to be confused with masculine guþ "God"), so this would be a remnant of the law from heathen times (the same expression also occurred earlier in the text). Even though the West-Geats were Christians at this time, Æskil and his recent predecesors seem not to have consciously considered changing the archaic phrase. Hollær (Old Swed. huldær is more common, but it is closer here to OIcel. hollr) is an adjective meaning "gracious, merciful" in the Christian sense and "faithful, loyal, gracious, wholesome, salutary" in the heathen sense. It is a formulaic part of this and most of the other oaths. To render the phrase into natural English, I have had to substantivize the adjective. [Back]

46. The phrase may be understood lit. "…which is worth two öre or two öre('s) better." "Better," in this sense, means "more than." Hence my translation, "…which is worth two öre or more than two öre." [Back]

47. This may mark a legal difference between partial guilt and full guilt for a crime. Later in section 9, the adjective fullær/fuldær also marks someone as a "full" witness (as opposed to a "partial" witness, with less authority in the matter). [Back]

48. The phrase is impersonal, lit. "("one") knows not, who killed ("it", that is "the animal")." Thus, it is best rendered as a passive construction, "(if) it is not known who has killed it." [Back]

49. The need for a book in swearing an oath came with Christianity (as well as books and writing on paper). The book would not necessary have been a Bible, since those were rare, expensive, and seldom owned by anyone outside of the monasteries and churches. It would likely have been substituted with a mass book or any other holy Christian book available. [Back]

50. This is a similar variation pattern to the one seen earlier (see note 35). The same condensed explanation of a crime and its penalties occurred earlier (…søkiæ ok væriæ, sva sum fæ haui fæ dræpit.) and looks familiar (sva sum mælt ær, æn i diki laghi døt; samæleþ søkiæ ok væriæ.). [Back]

51. At the beginning of the sentence, a "thrall" (þræl, m.) and a "female slave" (ambut, f.) are mentioned, but the term for a "household servant" (hion, n., OIcel. hjón) is used here to avoid repetition. [Back]

52. The poetic and archaic e "ever" is used more as an emphasis that those who borrow someone else's slaves are ultimately responsible for them in the eyes of the law. This must be strict for a reason; perhaps slaves "act up" while in the care of someone who is not their master, and therefore the responsibility of borrowing a slave must be taken seriously. [Back]

53. The Old Swedish noun klauæ corresponds to OIcel. klafi, means "harness or halter (for cattle or horses)." Its etymon (*klaƀan) is related to that of English "cleave" ("stick, adhere") and German kleben meaning the same. [Back]

54. This kuesæ is identical with OIcel. qveisa/kveisa and may mean "boil" or "whitlow." "Whitlow" is the condition of having tender feet due to fungal infection, as its relative kveistinn ("touchiness, tenderness") suggests. [Back]

55. The addition on my part can only be inferred from the context. The death of an animal due to overpowering by a superior animal or a disease without treatment (colic or boils) while in a renter's possession surely does not warrant a penalty, and its mention seems to be noting an exception to the laws against negligence of rented property (which is the focus of the entire section). [Back]

List of abbreviations

acc. – accusative

adj. – adjective

adv. – adverb

conj. – conjunction

dat. – dative

dem. – demonstrative

f. – feminine

gen. – genitive

lit. – literally

m. – masculine

n. – neuter

nom. – nominative

numb. – number

OIcel. – Old Icelandic

p. – person

pl. – plural

pp. – past participle

prep. – preposition

pres. – present

pron. – pronoun

sbj. – subjunctive

sg. – singular

Swed. – Swedish


a prep. with dat. on, upon, at, to

af prep. with dat. of, from, concerning, by

afgærþ f. noun crime, offence; afgærþir pl. acc.

aflæsta f. noun remains, remnants (of an animal); aflæstir pl. acc.

aldrægøtæ m. noun All-Geatish, all the Geats

aldær 1) adj. all, every; allum m. pl. dat.; allæ m. pl. acc.; allir m. pl. nom.; all n. pl. nom. and acc. 2) alt adv. completely, entirely 3) alt substantivized adj. everything, all

ambut f. noun female slave

annæn, annæt adj. other, another; aþræ m. pl. acc.; aþrir m. pl. nom.; substantivized noun another (person); annur n. pl. acc. annærs sg. gen., another's

aptær adv. back, in return

asynær-vittni n. noun eyewitness

at 1) infinitive particle ex. at takæ to take 2) prep. with dat. at, to, for, in, about, towards 3) conj. that, so that

atær prep. back

avund f. noun malevolence, hatred

bak n. noun back; baki sg. dat.

bani m. noun death; banæ sg. dat.

barn n. noun child

biorn m. noun bear

biskupstol m. noun bishop's throne

biskupær m. noun bishop; biskup sg. acc.

biþiæ verb to ask, request; biþær 3rd p. sg. pres.; biþi 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.

bo n. noun livestock, property

bok f. noun book, specifically a Bible; bokær sg. gen.

bolkær m. noun code, section or body of law

bondæ m. noun farmer (who owns land); bøndær pl. nom.

bondæsun m. noun son of a bondsman

bort adv. away

braþæ verb reproach; braþæ up rush out contemptuously

brun m. noun well, watering place

brytæ verb break, violate (OIcel. brjóta)

bykkiuhuælpær m. noun little dog, an abusive insult (cf. English "bitch-whelp"); bykkiuhuælp sg. acc.

byr m. noun village, group of farms; byær sg. gen.

bæræ verb carry, bear; bær 3rd p. sg. pres., bæræ þryt viþ be obstinate, refractory

bætræ comparative adj. better, more than

bøtæ verb be fined; bøte 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.; aptær bøtæ repay, compensate

daghær m. noun day

diki n. noun ditch, trench

dræpæ verb kill; dræpær 3rd p. sg. pres.; drap 1st and 3rd p. sg. past; drapt 2nd p. sg. past; dræpit pp.; þæt dræpnæ pp. acting as a noun, the slain (one)

dy m. noun mud; dyi sg. dat.

dømæ verb judge (by law), make a judgment

døþær, døt adj.dead

e adv. always, ever, indeed (poetic)

eghæ verb have, own, possess, or have in one's possessions, have right to do something, have an obligation egho 3rd p. pl. pres.; atti 2nd p. sg. past; a 1st and 3rd p. sg. pres.

eigh adv. not

en cardinal numb. one; enum m. sg. dat.

endaghi m. noun an appointed day; endaghæ sg. dat.

eþær m. noun oath; eþe sg. dat.; sg. acc.

fa verb get, receive, be able; far 3rd p. sg. pres.; fæk 3rd p. sg. past; fai 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.; fars 3rd p. sg. pres., passive construction; fa banæ af get killed as a result

fallæ, faldæ fall; faldær 3rd p. sg. pres.; falz han at reflexive, if he fails to do that, if his case falls short

faræ verb travel, go

faþir m. noun father; faþur sg. acc.

fearføling f. noun concealing of an animal's carcass (related to OIcel. fela "to hide")

fiorlæsting f. noun loss of life due to violent treatment (OIcel. fjör-löstr)

firi 1) prep. with dat. for, before, in front of 2) adv. before

firnær-orþ n. noun wicked, abusive word (approximately equivalent to "calumny")

fiurir cardinal numb. four; fiuræ m. acc.

flytiæ verb move quickly; flytiæs passive construction, be returned quickly

fløghiæ verb jump over, lit. to fly; fløghir 3rd p. sg. pres.

folk n. noun people, folk

fra prep. with dat. from

fram 1) prep. forward, ahead, in front 2) adv. forward, in front, forth

friþær m. noun peace, freedom

fræls adj. free

frælsgiuær adj. freedom-given, a freed slave; frælsgiuæ m. sg. acc.

fræmiæ verb carry out, advance, facilitate; fræmt pp.

fullær, fuldær adj. full, complete; full f. sg. acc.

fullkomen adj. completely arrived, fully come

fylghiæ verb follow

fyrst ordinal numb. first, foremost

n. noun property, livestock, cattle; pl. acc. and dat.

fæk. See fa

gaf. See giuæ

gangæ verb go

gen adv., i gen again

genmæli n. noun contradiction, backtalk

giald n. noun compensation, payment

gialdæ verb pay for (s/t), repay, compensate; gialdi 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.; gialdæ aptær verb adv. collocation pay back

gisl m. noun hostage, prisoner; gislum pl. dat.; gislæ pl. acc.; gislær pl. nom.

giuæ verb give; giuær 1st and 2nd p. sg. pres.; gaf 1st p. sg. past; giuin pp.

grænni m. noun neighbor; grænnæ sg. dat.

guþ 1) n. noun (heathen) god; guþ pl. 2) m. noun God; guz (guþ-s) sg. gen.

gullfingrini n. noun gold ring

gæf f. noun gift

gærþær m. noun farm enclosure, field; gærþ sg. acc.; gærþi sg. dat.

gæræ verb 1) do, accomplish, perform; giort pp.; firi gæræ kill; gæræ til make, prepare

gæzla f. noun safekeeping, watch, keep; gæzlu sg. dat and gen.

gøtæ m. noun a member of the tribe of the Götar (either Olcel. Gautar, or "Geats" in English), an inhabitant of Götaland; gøtom pl. dat.

haldæ verb hold

halfmark f. noun half-mark (coin) or 12 örtugar

halætagl n. noun horse tail

han pron. nom., he; han acc., him; hanum dat., him; hans gen., his

hand f. noun hand; a hændær against; handæ pl. gen.; i handum in one's hands, in one's possession

handran n. noun hand-robbery, stealing out of someone else's hands

handæ-værk n. noun handiwork. See værk

hanæ. See hun

hauæ verb have; hafþi 2nd p. sg. past; hauir 3rd p. sg. pres.; haui 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.

hel adj. whole, complete, entire; helt adv. completely

hem n. noun home

hetæ verb be called, named; hetir 3rd p. sg. pres.; hete 3rd p. sg. past

hin pron. the definite m. article functioning as a pronoun he, he who, whoever

hingæt adv. to this place, hither

hion, n. noun servant, houseperson

hirþingi m. noun herdsman

hollær adj. gracious, faithful, loyal, generous, favorable, merciful; holl substantived, loyalty, grace, generosity

hors n. noun horse, mare

hortuta f. noun whore, harlot (a combination of hor "whore" and tuta "tit, teat-like prominence, spout," so that the word is vulgar and means "whore-tit;" cf. Modern Swed. tutta "tit"); hortutu sg. acc.

huar, hvar pron. who, each, every; huarn, hvarn m. sg. acc.; hvart n. sg. acc.

huggæ verb cut, chop (cf. English "hew," "hack"); huggær vp 3rd p. sg. pres., cuts up, cuts apart

hun, hon pron. she; hanæ sg. acc.

hus n. noun house

hvarti conj. neither; hvarti…ællær neither…nor, either…or

hvat pron. what; hvat hældær whether

hældær comp. adj. rather

hæstær m. noun horse; hæst sg. dat.

høræ verb hear

i prep. with acc. and dat. to, towards, at, in

iak pron. nom., I; mik acc., me; mær dat., me; min, mit gen., my

iamriftær adj. equally divided, equally torn; iamrift n. sg. acc.

iki adv. not. See eigh

in prep. in, inside

inlandær adj. native to the country, thus possessing political rights

Iunæbækkær proper noun Junabäck, a tract of land outside of Jönköping on Lake Vättern dividing the city by a brook facing towards the lake

kallæ verb call someone something, declare; kallær 3rd p. sg. pres.; kallæþi 2nd p. sg. past

kirkia f. noun church; kirkiu sg. dat.

klauæ m. noun halter, fork in a cow or horse harness (OIcel. klafi); klaui sg. dat.

ko f. noun cow

komæ verb come; kombær 3rd p. sg. pres.; kombæ ne viþ deny a charge in an obstinate manner

kona f. noun woman; kono sg. dat.

konongær m. noun king, the king (even without definite suffix); konong sg. acc. and dat.; konongs sg. gen.

kostær m. noun property, possessions

kræviæ verb with gen. demand, claim; krævær 3rd p. sg. pres.

kuesæ f. noun whitlow (felon), boil (OIcel. kveisa)

kuiþgrind f. noun farm enclosure, walls to enclose livestock; kuiþgrindu sg. dat.

kunnæ verb be able to

kuæþær See qvæþæ

lagh n. noun, always n. pl., law, laws; laghum pl. dat.

laghæ indeclinable adj. legal

laghbok f. noun law book, book of law

lagmaþær m. noun lawspeaker, lit. lawman

lan n. noun something borrowed, loan; lani sg. dat.

land n. noun land, country; landi sg. dat.

landi m. noun landsman, countryman from same province; landæ pl. acc.

lanæ verb loan, lend; lanær 3rd p. sg. pres.

latæ verb let, allow, have done; latæ bæræ have brought forth latæ gæræ have something prepared

lauarþær m. noun master, lord; lauarþi sg. dat.

leghæ verb rent, hire (OIcel. leiga); leghir 3rd p. sg. pres.

leþæ verb lead, be led

liggiæ verb lie; liggi 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.; laghi 3rd p. sg. past

lotær m. noun equal part, party; lot sg. acc.

lysæ verb make known, proclaim

læggiæ verb put, place, lay (causative form of liggiæ); læggær 3rd p. sg. pres.; læggiæ fram present, bring forward, lit. lay in front of; læggi fram 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.; laght fram pp.

læstæ verb maim, mutilate, cause injury; læstir 3rd p. sg. pres.

lææ verb loan out, let borrow; læþi 3rd p. sg. past

lønæ verb recompense, reward, repay

løpæ verb run; løpær 3rd p. sg. pres.

løsharæþær adj. loose-haired; løsharæþ f. sg. acc.

løsæ verb to release, be released, lit. to loose

maghæ verb may, be able to; ma 3rd p. sg. pres.

mal n. noun case; mali sg. dat.

mark 1) f. noun a mark (of silver), 8 öre or 24 örtugar equal one mark; mærkær pl. acc.; markum pl. dat. 2) f. noun domains, land property; marku sg. dat.

maþær m. noun man, a person, someone; man sg. acc.; manni sg. dat.; manz sg. gen.; mæn pl. nom. and acc.; mannum pl. dat.; mannæ pl. gen.

meræ adj. indeclinable more

min, mit. See iak

miskun f. noun (from Latin) grace, mercy

motæ prep., a set phrase, til motæ acting as a verb, meet

moþir f. noun mother; moþor sg. acc.

myrþæ verb kill, murder; myrt pp.

mælæ verb tell, relate; mælt pp.

mær. See iak

mæri f. noun mare, female horse

mæþ 1) prep. with dat. with, by, regarding 2) adv. as well, in addition

mæþæn conj. while

nam n. noun pledge for a debt

nat f. noun night

ne adv. no

nekuæþi n. noun denial, lit. nay saying; nekuæþum n. pl. dat.

niv cardinal numb. nine

niþingsværk n. noun a serious offense

nokor pron. m. sg. nom., some, any, someone; nokon m. sg. dat., any

norþæn adv. from the north

nu adv. now, at the present

num conj. unless, except (OIcel. nema)

nytæ verb make use of, derive benefit from; nyti 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.

næmd f. noun committee of twelve men

næmnæ verb name, summon (OIcel. nefna)

næmæ verb take a pledge for a debt

nøt n. noun cattle

ofæfli n. noun superior, overwhelming or uncontrollable force (OIcel. ofrefli)

ok 1) conj. and, but 2) adv. also

or prep. out of

orþ n. noun word (often n. pl.)

ovæn prep. from above, down; figuratively, from the northern areas down to the southern ones

ovæn a prep. used adverbially in addition, together with, to boot

oxi m. noun ox; oxæ sg. dat.

præstær m. noun priest; præst sg. acc.

qvæþæ verb say; qoþ 3rd p. sg. past; kuæþær 3rd p. sg. pres.; qvæþæ ne viþ deny, say no to

ran n. noun robbery; rani sg. dat.

reþæ 1) verb ride; ret 2nd p. sg. past 2) verb prepare; reþæ vætti prepare a witness who was present during an incident

rinnæ verb run; rant pp.

rænæ verb rob; rænir 3rd p. sg. pres.

rætløs adj. rightless, without rights? (not attested in Old Swedish, but reconstructed here)

rætmæli n. noun legal right, often n. pl.

rætær adj. right, lawful, proper

sa. See sighiæ

sak f. noun penalty, charge, case, offence; sakum pl. dat.

saksøke m. noun prosecutor, plaintiff (usually the same person)

samæleþ adv. likewise, in the same way

sandær adj. responsible for something; lit. true (to something)

sighiæ verb say, tell, dictate; sighir 3rd p. sg. pres.; sa 1st p. sg. past

sik reflexive pron. himself, for himself; sær dat.

sin, sit possessive pron. his, her, its; sinum pl. dat.; sinni f. sg. dat.

siunættingær m. noun seventh-night-assembly, a day set aside seven days forward upon which a legal assembly will be prepared; siunætting sg. acc.; siunættingi sg. dat.

siþæn adv. afterwards, then, next

skaþi m. noun harm, injury, damage; skaþæ sg. dat.

skiliæ vm verb be in disagreement

skiptæ verb divide, arrange, separate, exchange

skulæ mod. verb shall, should, will; skal 3rd p. sg. pres.; skulu 3rd p. pl. pres.

skyld f. noun debt, due; skyldinæ sg. acc., plus the post-posed definite article, the debt; han skyld fixed construction, the debt to him, his due

skyrskutæ, skirskutæ verb to submit to judgement, proclaim before witnesses (OIcel. skýrskota); skyrskutær 1st p. sg. pres.

sokn f. noun legal case

spiut n. noun spear

stafær m. noun bishop staff, crozier; staf sg. acc.

standæ verb stand; standæ i stand together with

stingæ verb sting, stab; stingær vt 3rd p. sg. pres., stabs out

stiælæ verb steal; stiæl 3rd p. sg. pres.

strykæ verb stroke; strukit fra sær pp., had an abortion, forced a miscarriage, lit. stroked from herself (probably by means of pressure)

styld f. noun theft

sum 1) conj. as 2) pron. who, which, that, as

sunnæn adv. from the south

sva 1) adv. as such, so, in this manner 2) conj. so, in order that

svaræ verb answer for, be responsible for; svari 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.

sveæ m. noun a member of the tribe of the Svear, an inhabitant of Svealand; svear m. pl., Svear (Swedes)

svorn pp. adj. sworn; svornom m. sg. dat.

sværiæ verb swear

syndæ-mal n. noun sinful speech, sinful way of speaking; syndæ mal n. pl.

synær adj. visible, within eyesight

syniæ verb be denied, refused; syns 3rd p. sg. pres. with passive construction

sækæ verb with reflexive be liable for a fine (OIcel. sekja-sk); sæki sik 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.

sæliæ verb give, hand over, deliver

sændimaþær m. noun messenger sændimæn pl. acc.

sær. See sik

særþæ verb bed, have sex with (used passively to suggest male homosexuality); sarþ 3rd p. sg. past

sætiæ verb appoint

sætt f. noun reconciliation of a suit, conciliation; sættum pl. dat.

sæx cardinal numb. six

sæxtan cardinal numb. sixteen; sæxtanørtug m. pl. acc. 16 örtugar

søkiæ verb search, seek prosecution, indict someone for a crime; søkiæ til take up a case against

takæ verb take, choose, be taken, be elected; takær 3rd p. sg. pres.; taki 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.; takin pp.; taknir pl. pp.; takæ viþ verb/adv. collocation receive

talæ verb tell, relate

tapas verb passive form of tapæ, be lost

til 1) prep. with gen. to, at, for, of (often with a suppressed object, 'at ("it")' 2) adv. moreover, again, too

tolf card. numb. twelve; tolf mannæ eþe an oath of twelve men

trolekær adj. faithful, loyal; trolekæn m. sg. acc.

trolz-hambær m. noun the form or shape of a troll; trolz ham sg. acc.

tver, tvar cardinal numb. two; tva m. sg. acc.; tvæggiæ m. sg. gen.; tvem m. pl. dat.

tvægildi n. noun double compensation

tylpt ordinal numb. twelfth, in a count of twelve, the twelfth (witness)

tylptær-eþær m. noun twelve men's oath, an oath of twelve men

vald n. noun power, rights; valdær sg. gen.

valdæ verb advise, settle

vangømsla f. noun carelessness, negligence (OIcel. vangeymsla); vangømslo sg. dat.

varghær m. noun wolf; vargh sg. acc.; varghi sg. dat.

varþnæþær m. noun custody, keep, care, ward; varþnæþi sg. dat.

varþæ verb take care of, be responsible for; varþær 3rd p. sg. pres.

vatn n. noun water

vatt f. noun the twelve men who took an oath as witnesses; vat sg. dat.; vattum pl. dat.

væstgøtæ m. noun inhabitant of Västergötland; væs[t]gøta pl. gen.

vetæ 1) verb do; vetir 3rd p. sg. pres.; vette 2nd p. sg. past; vetæ fearføling conceal an animal's carcass 2) verb know; vet 3rd p. sg. pres.

vfældær adj. not guilty or convicted of a crime; vfældu n. sg. dat.

vgilt adj. uncompensated

viliæ noun will, way, desire

viliæ verb want, wish; vil 3rd p. sg. pres.

visæ verb summon

vittni n. noun witness; vittnum m. pl. dat.

vittnismaþær m. noun witness

vitæ verb demonstrate, show, prove, attest

vixl f. noun consecration

viþ 1) prep. with dat. at, to, with (often with a suppressed object, 'at ("it")' 2) adv. to this, at this

vkuæþingsorþ n. noun abusive word (approximately equivalent to "slander")

vm prep. with dat. about. See also skiliæ vm

vp, up prep. up, upon

vrakæ verb drive, carry out, accomplished, perform (Icel. reka)

vræzviliæ m. noun wrathful anger, wrath (Old Swed. vreþsvili)

vsøktær adj. without legal reason; usøktu n. sg. dat.

vtæn prep. and conj. except, without, unless

væriæ verb defend; væriæ sik defend oneself; væri 3rd p. sg. pres. sbj.

værk n. noun work, act, deed, accomplishment, often n. pl.; værkum pl. dat.; værki sg. dat.

værræ comparative adj. worse than, worth less than

værþæ verb happen, be; værþær 3rd p. sg. pres.

værþær adj. worth (a certain amount of money); vært n. sg.

væræ verb be, exist; ær 1st and 3rd p. sg. pres.; æm 1st p. sg. pres. (archaic, comes from earlier language used in the law code and is preserved in the text); æst 2nd p. sg. pres. (archaic, as for æm); varu 3rd p. pl. past.; æru 3rd p. pl. pres. (OIcel. eru); væræ til be present

vætti m. noun a witness who was present at an incident for which he is being called to testify

þa adv. then, at that time, when

þer pron. they; þem acc. and dat., them

þerre. See þæn

þerræ possessive pron. gen., their

þin, þit possessive pron. your; þinæ f. sg. acc.

þing n. noun assembly, meeting, meeting place; þings sg. gen.; þingi sg. dat.

þingæt adv. to that place, thither

þiufnæþær m. noun stolen item, goods stolen

þiuuær m. noun thief

þrir, þrer cardinal numb. three; þrim dat.

þriþiungær m. noun three equal parts, thirds; þriþiung sg. acc.

þrytær m. noun obstinacy, stubbornness, defiance (OIcel. þrjótr); þryt sg. dat.. See bæræ þryt viþ

þræl m. noun thrall, slave

þrænnær m. noun three-fold (OIcel. þrennr); þrænni sg. dat.

þu pron. you; þik acc. you; þær dat. you

þylik adj. such, such things, lit. this-like

þæn, þæt dem. pron. this, that, the, he, she, it; þy m. dat., this; according to this, for this reason (OIcel. því); þerre f. sg. dat.; þæs n. sg. gen.

þær adv. there

þæssi n. dem. pron. pl. nom. and acc. these

þættæ n. dem. pron. sg. nom. this, that; þæssu dat.

ællær conj. or, else

æltæ verb drive (an animal); æltir 3rd p. sg. pres.; ælti 3rd p. sg. past

æm, ær, æru, æst. See væræ

æn conj. 1) and, but, when, if 2) than (in a comparative construction)

ængin pron. no one, none

ær 1) conj. when, if 2) relative pron. who, which, where

ætboren adj. born into one's original family, a free peasant

ætleþæ verb bring freed slaves to the families that will adopt them, lit. lead to family

øghæ n. noun eye

ørtogh m. noun a coin of which three equaled one öre, and 24 equaled a mark; ørtoghæ sg. acc.; ørtoghær, ørtoghor pl. acc.

ørær m. noun an öre (usually in the form of a coin), an eighth of a mark; øræ sg. and pl. acc. ørom pl. dat.

østgøtæ m. noun an inhabitant of Östergötland

Østrægøtland n. place name modern Östergötland (East-Geatland), a province in southern Sweden

Works Cited

Beckman, Natanael. 1912a. "Studier till Västgötalagarnas Historia." Arkiv för nordisk Filologi 28: 54–98.  [Back]

———. 1912b. Ur Vår Äldsta Bok: Valda Historiska Texter med Anmärkningar. Stockholm: Norstedt.  [Back]

Donner, Ruth, trans. 2000. King Magnus Eriksson's Law of the Realm. Helsinki: Ekenäs Tryckeri.  [Back]

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Last Modified: 03-Oct-2018