Who is the Norse god Tyr?r
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Who was the god Tyr?

Tyr in Viking work
from Sweden, 700s AD

Tyr (or Tiw) was the German form of the Indo-European sky god Dyeus Piter, the same god as the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, and the Indian god Dyeus Pita. But unlike Zeus and Jupiter, Tyr was not in charge of the other gods - instead, Odin was. Probably in the earliest days of German religion Tyr was in charge, but later he was overthrown by Odin. Some later German stories say that Tyr was Odin's son, but probably it started out the other way around. Indo-European gods often overthrew their fathers, as Zeus overthrew Kronos and Indra in India overthrew Dyeus Pita.

By the time we have stories about him, Tyr seems to have been the god of war treaties and contracts, of keeping your promises, and of law. That is, he was a god of order as opposed to chaos. He may have been a lot like the West Asian god Mithra, or the Hindu god Varuna. The Romans thought that Tyr was like their god Mars, which is why their Mars Day (Mardi in French, Martedi in Italian) is our Tuesday.

One story about Tyr is that once the gods (mainly Odin, the tricky one) captured Fenrir the wolf with a trick. Odin told Fenrir that this was only a game, and Fenrir should let the gods chain him up as part of the game. The wolf Fenrir was suspicious, and wouldn't let himself be chained up until Tyr offered to guarantee the deal by putting his own hand in the wolf's mouth as a sort of hostage. But it turned out to be a trick, and once Fenrir was chained up he could not break the chain, and the other gods would not let Fenrir go. So Tyr let Fenrir bite his hand off, and now he only has one hand.
The story shows how Tyr always stands by his promises, no matter what.

Learn by doing: Should you always keep your promises? Was Tyr right? Write a persuasive essay
More about Odin

Bibliography and further reading about the German gods:

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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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