niþingsværk (OSw) nithingsværk (ODan) níðingsverk (ON) noun

A particularly shameful or ignominious act or deed which makes the perpetrator a níðing (see niþinger). An action classified as a niþingsværk was strongly condemned on moral grounds. Crimes which fell under the heading of niþingsværk varied according to time and place. Generally the term was reserved for the most egregious offenses, such as treason and breaking sworn truces, but it was applied to a variety of other offenses as well, such as destroying someone’s household, piracy (both in ÄVgL) or killing someone on a king’s ship (MLL IV 4).

Penalties for committing a niþingsværk were usually severe. In the Danish laws the fine was forty marks for killing someone with whom one had previously made peace through compensation. In Norway and Iceland a níðingsverk was often marked as an unatonable crime (óbótamál, see urbotamal) and carried a penalty of property forfeiture and exile. There seem to have been some lesser offenses which were still considered niþingsværk but punished less severely, such as killing another man’s domestic animals (JyL III.53) and slandering someone with defamatory language (ókvæðisorð, see oqvæþinsorþ; ÖgL Bb 38).

In the Swedish laws such a crime required witnesses. It does not seem to figure in the laws of Svealand.

It has been suggested, albeit without any concrete evidence, that in earlier eras someone who committed a niþingsværk could be sacrificed to the gods as punishment.

act of a nithing OSw KrL DbI

act of outrage OSw ÄVgL Kkb
OSw YVgL Kkb

crime of outrage OSw YVgL Add
deed of a villain OIce Mah 1, 2
OIce Js Mah 5, 29
ONorw FrL Mhb 4

dishonourable crime OIce Mah 2
OSw KrL Add

outrageous case OSw ÄVgL Urb
OSw YVgL Urb

outrageous crime OSw ÄVgL Rlb
OSw YVgL Rlb

outrageousness OSw YVgL Add
villain’s act ODan ESjL 3
villainous act ODan VSjL 55
villainy ONorw FrL Mhb 1 Refs:

Almqvist 1965; CV s.v. níðingr; F s.v. níðingsverk; KLNM s.v. niddingsværk, sjörätt, straff; LexMA s.v. Strafe/Strafrecht; Orning 2008, 120

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