Gulating - History


Gulatinget was an annual parliamentary assembly which took place in Gulen from approx. 900-1300 AD and was one of the oldest and largest parliamentary assemblies in medieval Norway. Gulatinget Millennium Site is a symbol of the history of this Norwegian representative form of parliament, with traditions reaching over a thousand years back in time.

Initially farmers from Western Norway met at Gulen to discuss political matters, things like taxation, the building of roads and churches, military service and a number of other issues. The assembly also passed judgements in civil disputes and criminal cases. Special legislation, Gulatingslova, was drafted to aid the discussions. The legislation exists today in a handwritten manuscript from around 1250 but the text represents all the laws adopted and amended by the farmers at Gulatinget over several centuries.

The assembly site was established early in the 10th century and the original legislative area covered the regions of Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane. Initially Gulatinget was an allting or common assembly, where all free farmers had the right to participate. Snorre’s Chronicle of the Kings of Norway tells that Håkon the Good (935-61) took an active part in the parliamentary assemblies at Gulen, and under his rule the regions of Rogaland, Agder and Sunnmøre were brought into the area covered by Gulatinget, with Valdres and Hallingdal being incorporated later too.

The practice of periodic regional assemblies of leading men predates recorded history, and was firmly established at the time of the unification of Norway into a single kingdom (900-1030). These assemblies or Lagting, functioned as judicial and legislative bodies, resolving disputes and establishing laws. The Gulating (Old Norse Gulaþing), held in Gulen north of Bergen on the west coast of Norway, received delegates from Lyngør in the south to north of Ålesund, and its laws were observed from the eastern inland valleys of Valdres and Hallingdal to the Faroe Islands in the west.

The Gulating served as the model for the establishment of the legislative assemblies of Iceland, the Althing, and of the Faeroe Islands, the Løgting, areas settled by people from western Norway. A fairly complete manuscript of the Gulating laws (Gulatingsloven) from the middle of the 13th century is preserved in Codex Ranzovianus at the University of Copenhagen.

While the Gulating was not a democratic assembly in the modern sense of an elected body, it effectively represented the interests of a large number of people rather than a small elite. The laws were typically crafted as social contracts. §35 for instance states, "None of us shall take goods from others, or take the law into our own hands" (Robbestad, 1969). The laws nevertheless applied for every person inside the "law area" Gulaþingslǫg. If a stranger stole from a Gulatingsman, that was also in breach of the laws, but the law set no limits to how he could be punished.

Gulating, along with Norway three other ancient regional assemblies, Borgarting, Eidsivating, and Frostating, were joined into a single jurisdiction during the late Viking era, and King Magnus Lagabøte had the existing body of law put into writing (1263 - 1280). They provided the institutional and legal framework for subsequent legislative and judicial bodies, and remain in operation today as superior regional courts.

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