As god of the Þing
Tīw was connected to the ‘thing’ or Germanic law assembly. Some of the earliest mentions of a Tīw-like deity in Britain come from inscriptions found at the fort of Vercovicium at Hadrian’s Wall. The inscriptions refer to a ‘Mars Thincsus‘ or a ‘Mars of the Thing‘ and is believed to have been written by Frisian mercenaries during the 3rd Century CE in reference to Tiw.
Tacitus also describes a deity associated with both law and battle in Germania, who was consulted in matters relating to capital punishment.
” But to reprimand, to imprison, even to flog, is permitted to the priests alone, and that not as a punishment, or at the general’s bidding, but, as it were, by the mandate of the god whom they believe to inspire the warrior.”
(Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb trans.)
There is also an interesting clue present in the modern Dutch days of the week. The Dutch name for Tuesday is ‘Dinsdag‘ which translates to ‘Thing-day’, once again linking Tīw, who our Tuesday is named after, with the Germanic lawful assembly.
As god of war and Glory
In Germania, Tacitus refers to a ‘Germanic Mars’ when listing the chief deities of the Germanic tribes. Many scholars have taken this as a reference to Tīw, citing the similarities between the Roman war god and later depictions of Tīw within Norse mythology. Unlike the Greek Ares, who was seen as a chaotic and destructive force, Roman Mars was a god who used war as a way to create cohesion and peace. This description would be loosely consistent with Tyr’s combined role as both god of war and of law.
In Norse sources, Tīw’s (ON: Týr) position as heroic war deity is pushed to the fore, with his defining moment occurring during the binding of the wolf Fenrir.
“Yet remains that one of the Æsir who is called Týr: he is most daring, and best in stoutness of heart, and he has much authority over victory in battle; it is good for men of valor to invoke him. It is a proverb, that he is Týr-valiant, who surpasses other men and does not waver. He is wise, so that it is also said, that he that is wisest is Týr-prudent. This is one token of his daring: when the Æsir enticed Fenris-Wolf to take upon him the fetter Gleipnir, the wolf did not believe them, that they would loose him, until they laid Týr’s hand into his mouth as a pledge. But when the Æsir would not loose him, then he bit off the hand at the place now called ‘the wolf’s joint;’ and Týr is one-handed, and is not called a reconciler of men.”
(Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur trans.)
The rune associated with Tīw also seems to have been used by warriors to find glory both in battle and in the afterlife. The ‘Tir’ rune appears on more funerary urns in Anglo-Saxon burials than any other symbol. In Sigrdrifumol the Valkyrie Sigdrifa suggests Sigurðr carve the symbol twice onto his sword hilt to gain victory in battle.
‘Winning-runes learn, | if thou longest to win,
And the runes on thy sword-hilt write;
Some on the furrow, | and some on the flat,
And twice shalt thou call on Tyr.’
Although the Anglo-Saxon ‘Tir’ rune poem seems to refer to the North Star, or another such celestial body, it has the words ‘fame, honour’ written alongside the rune establishing a possible connection with the god of the same name. Perhaps this was merely a case of Christian censorship or perhaps there was some connection between the god and the celestial body mentioned in the poem.
” Tir is a (guiding) star; well does it keep faith
with princes; it is ever on its course
over the mists of night and never fails.”
(Bruce Dickins trans.)
During the Victorian period and well into the mid 20th Century it was fashionable to try and depict Tīw as the supreme god of the Germanic pantheon. This assertion was based almost entirely on the idea that Germanic ‘Tīw’ was descended from the reconstructed Indo-European Sky-God ‘Dyēus Phatēr’. While the linguistic similarity between Tīw and Dyēus is fairly concrete (Proto-Germanic *Tiwaz being etymologically linked), the theory that the ancient Germans worshipped him as a sky-god has little backing evidence.
Brian Branston makes arguments in favour of Tīw being worshipped as a sky-father figure right up until the Migration Period, although his supporting evidence is weak at best. He draws heavily from Snorri’s words, claiming that since the Eddas claim the Allfather was present from the beginning of time and Wōden was born AFTER this fact, that he couldn’t possibly be the Allfather figure described in the Eddas.
“But Odinn did not live from the beginning of time; he was not just there, but was born from the union of the god Bor and the giantess Bestla; nor did Odinn ‘rule his kingdom with absolute power’ – he was at the mercy of Fate: both Snorri and the ancient verses are agreed on these points. There can be no doubt that the Allfather and Odinn (no matter how they got mixed up later on) were originally two different personages.”
Assuming the Eddas to be some infallible glimpse into the elder religion is dangerous. Anyone who has actually read through the Eddas knows they can be confusing and are often contradictory. Hardly the appropriate place to look to prove a point about Tīw being the supposed lost Sky-Father of the Anglo-Saxons, anyway.
It is entirely probable that Tīw did descend, at least his name did, from the Proto-Indo-European Sky-Father, though it really isn’t a question of IF, but a question of WHEN the changes to his nature occurred. The shift from Sky-Father to martial/law deity may have occurred long before the Germans became a distinct cultural entity.