Tíw/TígFrom all appearances Tíw or to use his name in the Mercian dialect, Tíg was one of the most important gods for the Germanic peoples. Unfortunately, Old English sources contain very little informaton about Tíw. Indeed, references to Týr are sparse even in Old Norse and Icelandic sources.
Sadly, Tíw's name does not even give us a clue as to his nature, and has even been a source of controversy. Nineteenth century philogist Frederic Max Müller insisted that the named ultimately derived from Proto-Indo-Europen *dyeus, making it a cognate of Greek Zeus, Latin Iuppiter, and Vedic Dyaus. He argued that Tíw must have then been the original Germanic sky god. The problem with this derivation is that in none of the Germanic languages does Tíw preserve any traits of a sky god. He is never associated with the sky and does not wield the weapon most of the sky gods do, some weapon to serve as a thunderbolt (an example of which is Þunor's hammer). This seems to make it unlikely that Tíw was ever a sky god or that his name derived from *dyeus.
Müller's rival, Andrew Lang, generally disagreed with all of his theories, and his derivation of the name Tíw was no different. He pointed out that other philogists dervied Tíw's name from Proto-Indo-European *deiwos, from which such words meaning simply "god" and similar terms derived, such as Latin deus, Old Irish dia, and Iranian deva. This would seem to be a more fitting derivation, as the word "týr" appears as a word simply meaning "god" in many kennings (such as Hroptatýr, "God of the gods," for Óðinn) and in the plural tívar for the gods in general. It seems possible that Tíw may have originally had another name at one time which fell into disuse, perhaps because it was taboo.
The one thing we know for certain about Tíw is that he is the god of war. When the Germanic peoples borrowed the seven day week from the Romans, the day the Romans called dies Martis ("the day of Mars, the god of war") they called by the name "Tíw's Day (Old English Tíwesdæg, Old Norse Týsdagr, Old High German Ziestag)." In Roman and later Latin sources Tíw is consistently identified with Mars.
In Old Norse and Icelandic sources Týr is consistently identified as a god of war. In his description of the god in the Prose Edda, Snorri states that Týr is the most courageous and bravest of the gods, and he has power over victory in battle. Snorri furthers states that it is good for brave men to invoke him. He also says that Týr is so well informed that knowledgable men are called "Týr-wise." Snorri also says that he is no peacemaker. Týr's status as a war god is also referenced in the Eddic poem Sigdrífumál. There the Valkyrja Sigdrifa advises Sigurðr to know victory runes if he wants victory. She advises him to carve the runes on the sword's hilt, on sword's sheath, and on the sword's blade, and then to name Týr two times. In Skáldskaparmál, among the kennings for Týr is víga guð, "battle god."
As previously mentioned, Tíw was identified with Roman god of war, Mars, from an early time. In his Annals, Tacitus told of a war between the Hermunduri and the Chatti in which each side vowed to sacrifice the other to Mars and Mercury for victory. Mars is apparently Tíw, while Mercury is apparently Wóden. Jordanes in De origine actibusque Getarum wrote that the Goths sacrificed prisoners of war to Mars, thinking it fitting to please a war god with human blood. Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae saxonicae sive annalium libri tres states that the Saxons celebrated a victory with rites to Mars.
In Old English glosses, the name of Tíg or Tíw is consistently glossed with that of Mars. In the Old English Martyrology it is stated that the Roman Emperor Decius compelled St. Sixtus to make sacrifices to Tíg (þone Syxtum nedde Decius se casere to Tíges deofolgilde). Since both Decius and Sixtus were Roman, Tíg is obviously being used of Mars here. Archaeology provides yet more evidence of Tíw's status as a war god. Suggestive of the verse in Sigdrifumál, the runestave called Týr in the Old Icelandic Rune Poem and the Old Norwegian Rune Poem, and tír in the Old English Rune Poem (see below), has been found carved on a 7th century spear blade from Holborough, Kent, and sword pommels from Faversham and Gilton, Kent.
The perfect example of Týr's bravery can be found in the one major Norse myth involving him, that of Týr binding the Fenrir Wolf. According to Snorri in the Prose Edda, when the Fenrir Wolf was growing, of the gods only Týr was brave enough to feed him. Finally, the gods feared he was getting too big and thought to bind him. They tried two different chains, but neither would hold the Wolf. It was then that the gods had Gleipnir forged, which looked like a thin strip of ribbon but was actually the strongest bond ever known. The Fenrir Wolf thought he could break it easily, but feared if he could not the gods would desert him. He would allow himself to be bound only if one of the gods would place his hand in his mouth. Only Týr was brave enough to do so. Týr placed his hand in the Fenrir Wolf's mouth and bound him, but in the process the Wolf bit his hand off. Týr's binding of the Fenrir Wolf is remembered in such kennings as einhendr áss "the One Handed God" and ulfs leifar "The Wolf's left-overs."
Old English poems from Maxims I to Judith often speak of the ferocity and hunger of wolves, but nowhere in Old English literature is the myth of Tíw binding the Wolf recorded. There isn't even any archaeological evidence of such. Of course, a lack of evidence does not mean that the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes did not know of the myth, it simply means we have no way of proving that they did.
Tíw's worship would seem to have been most popular among the aristocracy, the professional warriors. This is borne out by both the Old Icelandic Rune Poem and Old English Rune Poem. The Old Icelandic Rune Poem verse for Týr is as follows:
ok hofa hilmir.
Týr is the one handed god and the Wolf's left-overs
and the ruler of the temple.
The phrase "ruler of the temple" brings to mind the position of a jarl or king or a góði at least. This would put Týr in the position of an aristocrat. The Latin word tiggi, "governor," would also put Týr in the position of a ruler. It would seem, then, that the Icelanders viewed Týr as an aristocratic god.
In the Old English Rune Poem the name of the rune is given as tír, "glory." In other manuscripts the name is given as tí and even tyr. Given that both the Old Icelandic Rune Poem and Old Norwegian Rune Poem give the name of the rune as Týr and the Old English names for the rune (tír, tí, and tyr) resemble both the Old English and the Old Norse versions of the god's name, it seems likely that the original name of the rune in Old English was Tíw and the scribe who recorded the Old English Rune Poem simply substituted the similar sounding tír, perhaps not wishing to name a heathen god. Regardless, the Old English Rune Poem shows a link between Tíw and aristocracy:
wiþ æþelingas á biþ on færelde,
ofer nihta genipu, næfre swíceþ.
Tír is some token it holds troth well,
with athelings it is always on course
over the night's clouds it never betrays.
The Old English Rune Poem verse for tír would also emphasise Tíw's faithfulness or loyalty. After all, he hold troth well with athelings and he never betrays. In the Eddic poem Hymskviða, Týr's faithfulness is also mentioned. In the poem, Týr advises Þórr on where to get a cauldron for Ægir with which to brew mead. When Týr does so, he is referred to as "faithful Týr." When he tells Þórr where to get the cauldron, we are told that he "very wisely said." From Hymskviða we can gather that Týr was thought of as both faithful and wise, very desirable traits in a war god.
Many today view Tíw as the god of the Thing, the legislative and judicial assemblies of the Germanic peoples. This is entirely due to an altar believed to have been erected by Germanic mercenaries at Hadrian's Wall, dedicated to Mars Thingus and the goddesses called the Alaisiagae. Because of this many assume that Tíw was the original Germanic god of the Thing. That having been said, the inscription does present us with some problems. First, we cannot take for granted that the Germanic mercenaries necessarily followed the interpretatio romana in identifying Tíw with Mars. Mars Thingus could then easily be any other god, from Þunor to Fosite. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there is no real evidence in later sources that Tíw was ever considered the god of the Thing. There is neither literary evidence, nor is there any archaeological evidence of such among the Old English speakers or the Old Norse speakers. It then seems highly unlikely that Tíw was ever counted as the god of the Thing.
Perhaps because of the assumption that Tíw was the god of the Thing, many today see him as a god of justice. Now given his position as god of battle, it seems possible that Tíw governed judicial duels. If we extend his position as god of war to other forms of conflict, as well, it is even possible he was seen as governing lawsuits. As it is said, however, that Tíw is no peacemaker, it is very, very doubtful he governs agreements, contracts, or even the settlement of lawsuits. At any rate, there is absolutely no evidence in any of the sources that Tíw was ever associated with justice, trials, or lawsuits of any kind.
Even though he is only sparsely mentioned in the sources, from all appearances Tíw was a very important god. In his Gothic Wars Procopius states that the people of Thule (presumably Scandinavia) believe the best sacrifice for Ares is the first prisoner taken in battle. He adds that Ares is their greatest god. Being of Greek descent, Procopius may have chosen to identify Tíw with Ares, the Greek god of war, rather than Mars, the Roman god of war. Of course, given that he also tells us sacrifices to Ares are hanged from trees or tossed into thorn, the "Ares" of which Procopius speaks could be Wóden instead.
Tíw's importance is also borne out by the number of places named for him. In Scandinavia his cult seems to have been most popular in Denmark, where there are a number of places with the name Týslundr "Týr's Grove." In Norway there is a place called Tysnesoen "the island of Týr's headland". In England there are an inordinately large number of places named for him: Tislea "Tíw's meadow" in Hampshire, Tysmere "Tíw's Lake" in Worchester, Tuesley "Tíw's clearing" in Surrey, Tigley "Tíg's clearing" in Devon, Tisbury "Tíw's fortification" in Wiltshire, Tuesnoad "Tíw's woodland" in Kent, and Tysoe "Tíw's spur of land" in Warwickshire. Tysoe is of particularly interest, as it is the location of the famous Red Horse of Tysoe. The figure is first mentioned in 1607 and, sadly, it has since been covrred. Unfortunately, then, it impossible to determine how ancient the Red Horse was. That having been said, it would seem reasonable to assume the Red Horse was connected to Tíw in some way.
Sadly, in both Old English and Old Norse sources there is very little information about Tíw. What we do know for certain, from his consistent identification with the Roman god Mars to sources in Old Norse and Old Icelandic is that he was considered the god of war, the god who brought victory to men in battle. We also know from both the Old Icelandic Rune Poem and the Old English Rune Poem that he was strongly associated with the aristocracy. Tíw is considered loyal and faithful. Sadly, this seems to be all we know of how the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes viewed Tíw. From Old Norse and Old Icelandic sources we know that Týr was considered the bravest of the gods and that he was considered extremely wise. Given that these are traits desirable in a god of war, it would make sense that the Old English speakers would also have viewed Tíw this way, although we have no proof that they did. One thing that we can say most definitely about Tíw is that he was a very important god in ancient times. There is no reason why he should not be so today as well.