Gulatinget Millennium Site is a memorial park created to commemorate the site of the Gulating. The park was opened on 27 August 2005 and forms the Millennium Site for the county of Sogn og Fjordane and for the municipality of Gulen. The park is adorned with artworks by the Norwegian sculptor Bård Breivik.
Gulatinget – the Gulating – is the oldest and largest regional “thing” or parliamentary assembly in all of Norway. The Gulating functioned from 900 to 1300 AD. It was here that yeomen farmers met in the open air to discuss political matters, to create, and to enforce, Norway’s very first body of laws – the “Gulatingslova” or Gulating Law – and to settle civil disputes. The Gulating was first an “allting” or public assembly for the regions of Sogn, Fjordane and Hordaland, where “all free men fit to bear arms” had the right to participate. Later, probably under King Håkon the Good, the Gulating became a “lagting” (a superior assembly with legislative, executive and judicial powers), made up of representatives (“lagmenn” or “lawspeakers”) drawn from every county in the Gulatingslagen, which was the jurisdiction where the Gulatingslova applied. The principle of representation in Norway is therefore over one thousand years old.
Jurisdiction of the Gulatingslova
The legislative jurisdiction of the Gulating covers what is now Ålesund (Sunnmøre), Sogn og Fjordane, Hordaland, Rogaland, East and West Agder, Setesdal, Hallingdal and Valdres. The Gulatingslova also applied in the Shetland Islands. In about 1300, the Gulating’s function as a court of law was moved to Bergen and continued as the Gulating Lagmannsrett or court of appeal.
The Gulatingslova – Gulating Law – is the oldest body of laws preserved in the Nordic countries. The laws were originally memorised and passed down orally, and later written down. The oldest Gulatingslova is divided into a number of “codes” covering different subjects. It was written down in the second half of the 11th century. Only fragments of this eldest version have been preserved.
A younger version of the Gulatingslova (from about 1250) disappeared from Norway – probably during the period of union with Denmark – and ended up in the private ownership of the Rantzau family in Denmark. This version of the Gulatingslova is known as the Codex Rantzauvianus, also called the “Rantzau book”, and is preserved in the Manuscript Department of the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen.
The Gulatingslova is unique in a European context because it gave the yeomen farmers a high degree of self-determination. It is also unusual as a handwritten manuscript from this period because it is written in Old Norse and not Latin, as was customary at the time. Laws and principles from the Gulatingslova are to be found in the Norwegian Constitution of 1814, for example the Odelsloven (Allodial Rights Act), the Allemannsretten (Public Right of Access), the principle that all power is exercised by the King in Council, the order of succession for the monarchy, etc.
Norwegian Bodies of Law
Together with the laws created by the other regional assemblies in Norway (the Frostating, the Borgarting and the Eidsivating) the Gulatingslova formed the basis for the national law-codification called the “Landslova” (National Laws), established by King Magnus “Lagabøte” (Law-Mender) Håkonsson in 1274. They were to apply for the whole of Norway. After the Black Death, the people no longer understood Old Norse and so the Landslova were translated into Danish by King Kristian IV of Denmark in 1604. They were known as “The Norwegian Laws”. These laws were subsequently revised by King Christian VII in 1687. We had these collections of laws right up until Norway received its Constitution in 1814.