Viking Age Iceland

Viking Age Iceland

Format
Paperback
Price
$18.00
 
  • Paperback
  • ISBN 9780140291155
  • 432 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult

Overview

The popular image of the Viking Age is of warlords and marauding bands pillaging their way along the shores of Northern Europe. In this fascinating history, Jesse Byock shows that Norse society in Iceland was actually an independent one-almost a republican Free State, without warlords or kings. Combining history with anthropology and archaeology, this remarkable study serves as a valuable companion to the Icelandic sagas, exploring all aspects of Viking Age life: feasting, farming, the power of chieftains and the church, marriage, and the role of women. With masterful interpretations of the blood feuds and the sagas, Byock reveals how the law courts favored compromise over violence, and how the society grappled with proto-democratic tendencies. A work with broad social and historical implications for our modern institutions, Byock’s history will alter long-held perceptions of the Viking Age.
Viking Age Iceland

Viking Age Iceland

Jesse L. Byock

Praise

“Byock brings several disciplines to his work, crossing the boundaries between history, literature, law, and archaeology. This well-written book takes up a wide variety of subjects, including the social fabric, domestic realities, cultural codes, politics and legal infrastructures, and the mechanisms that defused conflicts among the fiercely independent early Icelanders.” Viking Heritage Magazine

“A vital and original reinterpretation both of the sagas and of the society which created them. Byock’s book is an essential guide at once to living conditions and to mentalities.”The London Review of Books

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Maps
Acknowledgments
Preface
Note on Names, Spelling and Pronunciation
Introduction

1. An Immigrant Society
Language and the Term ‘Viking’
Leadership
Mord the Fiddle: A Leader and the Law
The Sagas: An Ethnography of Medieval Iceland

2. Resources and Subsistence: Life on a Northern Island
Turf Housing

3. Curdled Milk and Calamities: An Inward-Looking Farming Society
Provisions, Subsistence Strategies, and Population
Bad Year Economics: Difficulties of Life in the North Atlantic

4. A Devolving and Evolving Social Order
Ranking, Hierarchy and Wealth
Complex Culture and Simple Economy
Privatization of Power in the Tenth Century
A Proto-democratic Community?
Icelandic Feud: Conflict Management

5. The Founding of a New Society and the Historical Sources
The Effect of Emigrating from Europe
Land-taking and Establishing Order
Dating the Settlement: Volcanic Ash Layers
Closing the Frontier and Establishing Governing Principles
Written Sources: The Book of Settlements and The Book of the Icelanders

6. Limitations on a Chieftain’s Ambitions, and Strategies of Feud and Law: Eyrbyggia saga
Arnkel’s Quest for Wealth and Power
Ulfar’s Land Shifts to Arnkel
Thorolf’s Land Shifts to Snorri Godi
Ulfar Claims Orlyg’s Land
Ulfar’s Demise
The End of Arnkel’s Ambitions

7. Chieftain-Thingmen Relationships and Advocacy
The Nature of the Godord
Advocacy
Arbitration and Legalistic Feuding
The Flexibility of the God-Thingman Relationship
The Social Effects of Concubinage
Distinctions of Rank
Hreppar: Communal Units
The Orkneys: A Comparison
Freedmen

8. The Family and Sturlunga Sagas: Medieval Narratives and Modern Nationalism
The Family Sagas
The Sturlunga Compilation
The Sagas as Sources
Modern Nationalism and the Medieval Sagas
Conclusions
The Locations of the Family Sagas

9. The Legislative and Judicial System
Thing: Assemblies
Options

10. Systems of Power: Advocates, Friendship, and Family Networks
Advocacy
The Role of Kinship
A Balancing Act
Friendship (Vinfengi and Vinatta)
Women and Choices of Violence and Compromise:
Vengeance and Feud: Goading in Laxdaela saga
A Goading Woman from Sturlunga saga
Restraint Within a Major Chieftain’s Household in the Sturlung Age

11. Aspects of Blood Feud
Territory
Marriage and Confused Loyalties
Some Conclusions

12. Feud and Vendetta in a ‘Great Village’ Community
The Language of Feud
Norms of Restraint
Bluffing and Violence
Outlawry

13. Friendship, Blood Feud, and Power: The Saga of the People of Weapon’s Fjord
Inheriting a Foreigner’s Goods
Brodd-Helgi’s Revenge Against Thorleif
Struggle to Claim a Dowry
Skirmishes over a Woodland
Seeking a Thingman’s Allegiance
Brodd-Helgi Breaks Vinfengi
Geitir Establishes Vinfengi

14. The Obvious Sources of Wealth
Sources of Income Available Only to Chieftains
Early Taxes
Price-setting
Additional Privileged Sources of Wealth
The Sheep Tax
Sources of Income Available to All Freemen
Trade
Slavery and the Rental of Land and Livestock

15. Lucrative Sourcees of Wealth for Chieftains
The Acquisition of Property in the Family Sagas
Disputed Property in the East Fjords: The Saga of the People of Weapon’s Fjord
Disputed Property in the Salmon River Valley: Laxdaela saga
Inheritance Claims in the Sturlunga Sagas
The Struggle to Inherit Helgastadir: The Saga of Gudmund the Worthy
Inheritance Rights to Heinaberg: The Saga of Hvamm-Sturla
Resurgence of the Dispute over Heinaberg: The Saga of the Icelanders

16. A Peaceful Conversion: The Viking Age Church
Pagan Observance
A Viking Age Conversion
Geography and the Church
Early Bishops, Priests and Nuns
The Beginnings of a Formal Church Structure

<17. Grágás: The ‘Grey Goose’ Law
Manuscripts and Legal Origins
Women and the Law
Marriage and the Church

18. Bishops and Secular Authority: The Later Church
Bishops
The Tithe and Church Farmsteads
Bishops and Priests in the Later Free State
The Church’s Struggle for Power in the Later Free State
Priests
Monasteries

19. Big Chieftains, Big Farmers and their Sagas at the End of the Free State
Big Farmers and the Family Sagas
Advantages Enjoyed by the Stórbaendr
The Saga of the Icelanders in the Sturlunga Compilation
The Stórgodar, Not Quite Rulers
Iceland’s Jarl
1262-4: The Covenant with Norway’s King and the End of the Free State

Appendix 1: The Law-speakers
Appendix 2: Bishops During the Free State
Appendix 3: Turf Construction
Appendix 4: A Woman Who Travelled from Vinland to Rome
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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