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A thing or ting (Old Norse, Old English and Icelandic: þing; other modern Scandinavian languages: ting, in Finland: käräjät) was the governing assembly in Germanic societies, made up of the free people of the community and presided by lawspeakers. Today the term lives on in the official names of national legislatures and political and judicial institutions in the North-Germanic countries.
The ting was the assembly of the free people of a country, province or a hundred (hundare/härad/herred). There were consequently hierarchies of tings, so that the local tings were represented at the higher-level ting, for a province or land. At the ting, disputes were solved and political decisions were made. The place for the ting was often also the place for public religious rites and for commerce.
The ting met at regular intervals, legislated, elected chieftains and kings, and judged according to the law, which was memorized and recited by the “law speaker” (the judge). The ting’s negotiations were presided over by the law speaker and the chieftain or the king. In reality the ting was of course dominated by the most influential members of the community, the heads of clans and wealthy families, but in theory one-man one-vote was the rule. A famous incident took place when Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker told the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung that it was the people that held power in Sweden and not the king. The king realized that he was powerless against the ting and gave in. Main things in Sweden were the Thing of all Swedes, the Thing of all Geats and the Lionga thing.
The assembly of the ting was typically held at a specially designated place, often a field or common, like þingvellir, the old location of the Icelandic Ting. The parliament of the Isle of Man is still named after the meeting place of the ting, Tynwald, which etymologically is the same word as “þingvellir”. Other equivalent placenames can be found across northern Europe; in Scotland, there is Dingwall in the Highlands and Tingwall, occurring both in Orkney and Shetland. In Sweden, there are several places named Tingvalla, which is the modern Swedish form of “þingvellir”, and the Norwegian equivalent is found in the placename Tingvoll.