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Tingwall, an old Þingvöllr

A thing or þing is a Norse parliament. In Shetland, this is usually rendered as "ting" now, e.g. Lunnasting, and Tingwall.

þings were often held on a Þingvöllr, or "Þing field", where a mound would be raised. In Shetland, the Þingvöllr is represented by Tingwall <ref>The word has given its name to a lot of other places around Europe. See "Elsewhere" list.</ref> This mound was often built of handfuls of earth from all the different districts it was supposed to represent, so that each of the members could say that they were on their home ground. A þingstaðr was the name of the location itself.<ref></ref>



Thing or þing is the same word as "thing" kn English, which is used in the sense of an object or matter. This is parallel to the meaning of "republic", which is a contraction of res publica meaning "public thing/matter" in Latin.<ref></ref> The earliest þings were in fact started by people trying to escape the monarchic system in Scandinavia.

The term originally meant a meeting, and is cognate with the Gothic theihs meaning time.<ref></ref>

Law Ting Holm

The islet of Law Ting Holm, in the Loch of Tingwall (see Þingvöllr above) was the former location of the national þing of Shetland. Here, a group of men would meet with the earl on an annual basis. Initially highly democratic, down the years, it became arguably less so, and was appointed.

A slight mound can still be seen on the holm, but it is much eroded.

Other Shetland þings

Along with the national þing at Law Ting Holm, there were a number of regional things, for each of the old districts.

The suffix "-þingi" is given as meaning an "assembly, meeting, parish". <ref></ref>


The word is still retained in the names of many Scandinavian/Nordic parliaments, as well as that of the Isle of Man.

  • Denmark - Folketing (Folk-Thing) - the parliament.
  • Faroes - Løgting (Law-Thing) - the parliament
  • Finland - Lagting (in Åland)
  • Greenland - Landsting (the youngest, since Greenland is not very Nordic)
  • Iceland - Alþingi ("All-Thing"), national parliament, formerly at Þingvellir (Þingvöllr related to the name "Tingwall") now in Reykjavik. Arguably the oldest parliament in Europe.
  • Isle of Man - Tynwald, national parliament (Þingvöllr, nb both chambers, name related to "Tingwall") Originally held in open in centre of island.
  • Norway - Storting ("Great Thing", cf Papa Stour)
  • Orkney - Ting - like the Shetland example, this is sadly no longer operating.
  • Sweden - Landting ("Land-Thing" - regional assemblies)

The name can also be found in such placenames as Dingwall (Highland), Tinwald (Dumfries & Galloway), Thingwall (Wirral, England), Tingvoll (West Norway), Tinglev (Danmark), Gelting (Germany) and even in Normandy.

Three of these, the ones in Iceland, Faroe and the Isle of Man, claim to be the oldest parliaments in Europe. While Tynwald is certainly older than Westminster, none of these three have had an uninterrupted existence, and all three have moved indoors!

The word þingmaður (Thing-man) is used in modern Icelandic for an MP.



  • Hibbert, Samuel Memoir on the Tings of Orkney and Shetland, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1829)

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