griþ (OSw) grith (ODan) gruth (ODan) grið (ON) grid (OSw) grud (OSw) gruþ (OSw) noun

The most frequently occurring meaning of this word, which is in certain instances considered to be in the plural form, is that of ‘protection, sanctuary, truce’. The protection granted under this concept was one limited in time and/or place, as opposed to trygth (q.v.), which implied a permanent peace settlement and a promise not to take revenge. Griþ could be granted to someone and accepted by him (griðasetning), or it could be self-imposed (sjalfsettr). The truce was usually granted for a limited period during which the killer or other criminal could not be attacked. After that he had to satisfy certain conditions, otherwise he would again be in jeopardy. The granting of asylum in churches came relatively late into Icelandic law, although it appears to have been current earlier. In ÄVgL, the word is used in the context of disputes over a promised marriage arrangement. Meetings between the parties were governed by griþ, translated as ‘peace’, but in fact more in the nature of ‘safe conduct’ (as translated in YVgL). The dispute was to be resolved, in other words, without recourse to violence. Similar provisions are apparent in ÖgL, translated as ‘promise of immunity’ and the concept can perhaps be traced to pre-Christian times (e.g. on the Oklunda inscription). Breaking of a truce or promise of immunity was a niþingsværk (q.v.), and later became a crime against the King’s Peace (eþsörisbrut). The various truce speeches (ON griðamál) to be found in Icelandic sources seem, from the wording, to have originated in Norway and are notable for their complex grammatical structure. The legal framework behind truce speeches appears also in the laws of medieval Denmark.

A subsidiary meaning refers to the relationship that a person without their own household had to the household in which they lived, were employed and to which they were attached for legal purposes. In Grg in particular, it is stated that a person must have a ‘legal domicile’. Being a member of a household in this way brought with it rights, but also responsibilities. There was the responsibility to respond to summonses and sometimes to act as the householder’s legal substitute. The word also appears in GuL. A griðmaðr (Grg and GuL) was a free man in a household and in GuL, BorgL and GL the word griþkuna seems to refer to the female equivalent, who could sometimes be treated like a daughter or sister. In GuL, it seems just to have referred to a free female servant as opposed to an enslaved servant; someone who could be called as a witness. In BorgL and in GL it refers specifically to a woman who had to be present at a birth, together with a female neighbour, in order to confirm that a child was born dead, or had died naturally just thereafter, and had not been killed deliberately. In the Danish and Low German translations of GL, words referring to midwives are used. Although it is possible that this is the result of a misunderstanding and that it was merely any unrelated female household member that was intended, Wessén thinks that it is probable that the OGu word acquired the meaning ‘midwife’ under the influence of an unrecorded OGu *graiþa, ‘help, speed’ at the birth (cf. ON greiða). It is in any case likely that one of the female members of the household would have been particularly skilled in this respect. The relationship between this meaning of griþ and the meanings related to ‘truce’ might not be obvious, but the protection offered by being a legal member of a household might be seen as a general form of protection and the other meanings as more narrow forms of the same. The concept of ‘household attachment’ is not present in the mainland Swedish or Danish laws nor are the designations griþmaðr or griþkona.

asylum OIce Mah 2, 19
concord OSw YVgL Add
household attachment OIce Grg Þsþ 78 Misc 237
ONorw GuL Mhb

legal protection ONorw GuL Krb, Mhb
lodging ONorw FrL ArbB 5
peace OSw ÄVgL Md, Slb, Urb, Gb
ONorw FrL Tfb 5 KrbA 10 Mhb 30
OIce Mah 1
OSw YVgL Urb, Drb

period of grace ONorw EidsL 43.4
promise of immunity OSw DL Eb
OSw SdmL Kgb
OSw UL Kgb
OSw VmL Kgb

safe conduct ODan ESjL 2
OSw ÖgL Db Gb
OSw UL Kgb

security OSw ÄVgL Tb
OSw HL Kgb

truce ODan ESjL 2
OIce Grg Bat 114 Rsþ 230
OIce MagBref Þfb 5, 8 Mah 2
OIce Js Þfb 4 Mah 4, 19
OIce KRA 6
ODan VSjL 55

a grudh ok göræ sæt (OSw)

against given security and completed settlement OSw HL Kgb

fá/taka sér grið (ON)

find a household to join OIce Grg Þsþ 78

fara til griðs (ON)

move into a household OIce Grg Þsþ 78

ganga á grið (ON)

break a truce OIce Js Þfb 4

forfeit one’s right to truce OIce Þfb 8

ganga/koma í grið/koma til griðs (ON)

enter a household OIce Grg Þsþ 78

griþær at beþas (OSw)

ask for peace OSwe ÄVgL Md

hafa grið (ON)

be attached to a household OIce Grg Þsþ 78

varðveita grið (ON)

maintain a household attachment OIce Grg Þsþ 78

vera á griði (ON)

be in a household attachment OIce Grg Þsþ 78


Helgi Þorláksson 2005; KLNM, s.v.v. drab, grið, griðamál og trygðamál, jordejendom, kvinnearbeid, lejde, landsvist, trygd, tyende; Laws of early Iceland: Grágás I 2000, 247; Peel 2015, 90−91 note 2/5; Ruthström 1988, 64−75; Schlyter 1877, s.v.v. griþ, griþkuna, gruþ; SL GL, 245 note 3 to chapter 2; SL HL, 294 note 3; SL ÄVgL, 33 note 7; Söderwall 1884−1973, s.v. gruþ

  • ‘griþ’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.