The basic unit in society was no king or earl but a bonds, a free farmer, roughly equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon cereal. It is well from the outset to disabuse ourselves of misleading demo-critic notions. The bonds were no little man in our sense of the word. He was at his most typical the head of a household, a man of some property in land and especially in stock. He was a slave-owner. His symbols of rank were his axe and his spear. The mark of the freeman was the right to bear arms. He was oath-worthy and law-worthy with a right to assist at the making of judgements at the local court. Sturdy, and at times savage, independence was a characteristic of this breed, but we must remember how his very litigious and squabble some nature found its outlet in what was essentially communal institutional life in the folk-court, the local thing, held at some traditional spot in forest, heath or grove, marked by some memorial of stone or wood, hallowed by long custom already by he end of the eighth century.
There was, therefore, a certain unity in social structure characteristic of the whole of the Scandinavian lands at the beginning of t he Viking Age. Some of the features were, it is true, common to all the Germanic world, but the economic backwardness and the localisms bred of such poverty exaggerated Scandinavian peculiarities: the petty king and earl, the bonds and the unfreeze thrall were the typical units in this Northern society. Only in some favoured areas were these signs of a stirring towards greater things, towards a kingship that would extend over a wider area. The Viking Age can never be seen in proper perspective unless it is realised that the terrifying raids overseas were coterminous with the first stirrings towards national unity within Scandinavia itself. We have to this point stressed Scandinavian uniformity.