IsCommw

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Phase I Variables (polity-based)

General variables

♠ RA ♣ Eva Brandl ♥

♠ Original name ♣ Icelandic Commonwealth ♥

♠ Alternative names ♣ Icelandic Free State ♥

♠ Peak Date ♣ ♥ 'Establishing a peak date for the Icelandic Commonwealth is controversial. When focusing on the peak date in political terms there are two options. The older literature favours the period of the late tenth and early eleventh century. More recent scholars point to the twelfth century as this was a relatively peaceful period. The peak date in terms of literature is undoubtedly the period after 1220 CE. Accordingly, assigning a “peak date” serves no useful purpose here and is misleading.' [1]


Temporal bounds

♠ Duration ♣ 930-1262 CE ♥ 'Circa 930 CE the Alþingi (the general assembly or parliament which met every year in Summer at the Þingvellir) was established and this is traditionally seen as the starting point of the Icelandic Commonwealth. The choice for 1262 CE as the end date of the Icelandic Commonwealth is based upon a widely accepted consensus. Whereas the period 1258 CE to 1264 CE can be seen as a transition period, in 1262 CE the Alþingi agreed to recognize the King of Norway as their sovereign. This was not the result of an invasion, but a voluntary act of the Alþingi and the leaders of all 39 Goðar. Goði (pl. goðar) refers to 'chieftains'. The term goðorðsmaður (godordsman) had practically replaced the term goði in common use by the 12th century. The political unit was called gorðorð. However, by 1262 there were no longer 39 godordsmen (goðar) or indeed active goðorð in Iceland (and this number, although official according to the constitution as explained in Grágás, may never have been real). By the 13th century territorial lordships (héraðsríki) had replaced the goðorð in most places and although technically based on the goðorð they were quite different as political institutions.' [2] eHRAF and Durrenberger provide general descriptions: 'Iceland was a new society, however Icelandic culture perpetuated many of the cultural standards from Scandinavia, especially Norway. While both Norse and Celtic peoples contributed to the founding population they had unequal impacts on the culture of Iceland. Celts appear to have been incorporated into Norse households and appear to have little lasting impact on the cultural and institutional developments that were predominantly Scandinavian in origin. The first settlers claimed lands and established dispersed farmsteads. Many of the economic practices were unsuitable to the fragile Icelandic environment and resulted in deforestation and land erosion, especially in the uplands. As population grew, settlement expanded, and new farmsteads were divided from previous land claims. In 930 A.D. the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) was founded, providing an institution integrating the entire island. The same assembly accepted Christianity as the religion of the land in 1000 A.D. The thirteenth century was a period of escalating conflict (STURLUNGAÖLD) chieftains attempted to exert control beyond their local regions. The system of autonomous chieftains ended after 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under Norwegian rule. The Viking Age expansion into the North Atlantic did not end at Iceland. In the late tenth century Eirík the Red led a major venture to colonize Greenland and his son, Leifur Eiríksson, has been credited with the European discovery of North America. Early Icelanders maintained close ties with Scandinavia and the British Isles. Continental trading and raiding expeditions were common activities for those with the means to take a share in a boat. Their travels sometimes took them as far as Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.' [3] 'Norse settlers came to Iceland in the ninth century from Norway and the British Isles. The traditionally accepted date for the first permanent settlement is 870. Settlers claimed land on the uninhabited island and established an agricultural economy based largely on grass. They raised sheep, cattle, horses, and in some places, some grain as well. According to the Icelandic literary-historical tradition, the land was all claimed by 930 when the Alþing or general assembly was founded, thus marking the end of the period of settlement. In 1000, by a compromise decision of a single arbiter selected at the Alþing, Christianity became the religion of Iceland. In 1096 a tithe law was enacted at the Alþing. Early in the thirteenth century began a period of disorder known after the name of one of its prominent families as the Sturlung age. This period came to an end in 1262 when Icelanders agreed to acept the Norwegian king as their king. The three hundred or so years between the first settlement and 1262 is known as the Icelandic Commonwealth or Free State.' [4] The view that the economic practices of the early settlers was unsuitable to the Icelandic environment is probleamtic: 'This is often claimed but is actually questionable. The settlement undoubtedly had a profound impact in the environment but this always happens when a farming population first appears. It does not follow that economic practices were “unsuitable.” Perhaps the environmental impact was simply unavoidable if people wanted to make a living as farmers in Iceland.' [5]

♠ Degree of centralization ♣ nominal ♥ unknown/ nominal/ loose/ confederated state /unitary state 'It is important to keep in mind that Iceland as a whole (the ‘Commonwealth’) only had nominal centralization and was little more than a loose federation of smaller polities. However, the real political players were the godords (goðorð/chieftaincies) and, towards the end, the territorial lordships (héraðsríki/principalities). The latter can be regarded as emerging tiny centralized states. In some cases, complexity appears less when we consider the Commonwealth as a polity than if we were considering smaller units, especially the territorial lordships. Commonwealth Iceland could therefore be treated as a ‘quasi-polity’. However, this would make it difficult to describe a ‘typical’ polity within Iceland because there were two kinds. One could split the Commonwealth into two periods, the former characterized by godords and the latter by territorial lordships. Admittedly, the latter period would be a short one (1200-1262) although some territorial lordships existed before 1200 and some godords survived into the 13th century.' [6] The eminent political institutions of Commonwealth Iceland were the chieftaincy and its associated courts and assemblies: 'At the time of Iceland’s settlement, Norse people worshiped gods whom they called æsir (singular áss), and this religion left behind an extensive mythology in Icelandic literature. Thor seems to have been the most popular of the pagan gods in Iceland, although Odin is thought to have been the highest in rank. It appears that heathen worship was organized around a distinct class of chieftains called godar (singular godi), of which there were about 40. In the absence of royal power in Iceland, the godar were to form the ruling class in the country. By the end of the settlement period, a general Icelandic assembly, called the Althing, had been established and was held at midsummer on a site that came to be called Thingvellir. This assembly consisted of a law council (lögrétta), in which the godar made and amended the laws, and a system of courts of justice, in which householders, nominated by the godar, acted on the panels of judges. At the local level, three godar usually held a joint assembly in late spring at which a local court operated, again with judges nominated by the godar. All farmers were legally obliged to belong to a chieftaincy (godord) but theoretically were free to change their allegiance from one godi to another; the godar were allotted a corresponding right to expel a follower. Some scholars have seen in this arrangement a resemblance to the franchise in modern societies. On the other hand, there was no central authority to ensure that the farmers would be able to exercise their right in a democratic way. No one was vested with executive power over the country as a whole. In any case, no trace of democratic practice reached farther down the social scale than to the heads of farming households; women and workers (free or enslaved) had no role in the political system.' [7] 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [8] Households and communes functioned as primary economic units: 'The principal unit of social organization was the household. Those with rights to property, the farmer and his (or her) family, headed households. Large households incorporated a range of dependent labor: wage laborers, servants, and slaves. As an institution, slavery declined in the twelfth century and had probably disappeared sometime in the thirteenth century; however, social distinctions were maintained between self-sufficient farmers (either land-owners or renters) and the majority of the population who served as household labor. The main cooperative unit outside of the household was the commune (HREPPUR). The commune was a territorial unit including many households (20 or more). The commune's main functions were management of summer grazing lands, the cooperative round up of animals in the fall, and care for paupers who had no other household support. They also provided some insurance to households against fire or the loss of livestock.' [9]

♠ Supra-polity relations ♣ none ♥ unknown/ none/ alliance/ nominal allegiance/ personal union/ vassalage Icelanders maintained vital commercial connections with Europeans and Scandinavians: 'The early Icelanders maintained commercial contacts with Europe and obtained goods from Scandinavia, England, the Norse Orkneys, and the Netherlands. The majority of trade, however, was with Norway, both for Norwegian goods and for foreign goods obtained by Norwegian merchants. The limited resources, especially in terms of raw materials for manufactured goods, made Iceland highly dependent on imported goods. Even before the decline and cessation of grain production in Iceland it is unlikely that Iceland ever produced enough cereals to meet its own needs. Of special significance in a feasting economy, grain and malt were essential to ale production. After Christianization imported wine also become essential for the celebration of communion. Many higher quality iron products, for example weapons and armor, could not be produced from local sources and were imported, mostly in finished forms. Other metals - brass, tin, lead, gold, silver, and bronze - were unavailable locally as well as steatite for utensils and stone suitable for making whetstones. Iceland had a limited number of exportable resources and goods. Homespun woolen cloth was the principal export and was a common standard of value in local exchanges. Sulfur, unavailable from any continental source, was a valuable commodity. Falcons and various animal skins - sheep, fox, and cat - were marketable as were cheese and possibly butter. Fish, the current mainstay of the Icelandic economy was not a significant export item in early Iceland.' [10] The Commonwealth as such maintained no permanent external alliances, although the Norwegian crown had its allies among the chieftains: 'Isolated in the North Atlantic, Iceland had few external conflicts. Individual Icelanders were occasionally involved in conflict when outside the country and also sometimes served in foreign militaries. During the late tenth century, the Norwegian king was a champion of the Christian movement in Iceland and often attempted to assert his influence, although this was largely limited to Icelanders in Norway. Likewise, the ultimately successful attempts to incorporate Iceland under the Norwegian monarchy were mostly played out through alliances with individual Icelanders.' [11]

Supra-cultural relations

♠ preceding (quasi)polity ♣ Early Settlers ♥ The first permanent Viking settlers arrived in the 9th century: 'Iceland apparently has no prehistory. According to stories written down some 250 years after the event, the country was discovered and settled by Norse people in the Viking Age. The oldest source, Íslendingabók (The Book of the Icelanders), written about 1130, sets the period of settlement at about ad 870-930. The other main source, Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), of 12th-century origin but known only in later versions, states explicitly that the first permanent settler, Ingólfr Arnarson, came from Norway to Iceland to settle in the year 874. He chose as his homestead a site that he named Reykjavík, which he farmed with his wife, Hallveig Fródadóttir. The Book of Settlements then enumerates more than 400 settlers who sailed with their families, servants, and slaves to Iceland to stake claims to land. Most of the settlers came from Norway, but some came from other Nordic countries and from the Norse Viking Age settlements in the British Isles. A layer of tephra (volcanic ash) that in many places coincides with the earliest remains of human habitation in Iceland has been identified in Greenland ice and dated to about 870. Archaeological finds also support the documentary evidence and place Iceland among Norse Viking Age settlements of the late 9th or early 10th century. The Icelandic language testifies to the same origin; Icelandic is a Nordic language and is most closely related to the dialects of western Norway. Although the island was not populated until the Viking Age, Iceland probably had been known to people long before that time. The 4th-century-bc Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia (Marseille) described a northern country that he called Thule, located six days’ sailing distance north of Britain. In the 8th century Irish hermits who had begun to sail to Iceland in search of solitude also called the island Thule. It is unknown, however, if Pytheas and the hermits were describing the same island. According to the early Icelandic sources, some Irish monks were living in Iceland when the Nordic settlers arrived, but the monks soon left because they were unwilling to share the country with heathens.' [12] 'The traditionally accepted date for the first permanent settlement is 874. Settlers claimed land on the uninhabited island and established an agricultural economy based largely on grass. They raised sheep, cattle, horses, and in places some grain as well. The [Page 6] land was all claimed by 930 when the general assembly (Alþing) was founded, thus marking the end of the period of settlement. In the year 1000, by a compromise decision of a single arbiter selected at the Alþing, Christianity became the religion of Iceland. Individual farmers built and maintained Christian churches.' [13]
♠ relationship to preceding (quasi)polity ♣ continuity ♥ After the initial immigration of pioneer settlers, a general Icelandic assembly was established: 'The traditionally accepted date for the first permanent settlement is 874. Settlers claimed land on the uninhabited island and established an agricultural economy based largely on grass. They raised sheep, cattle, horses, and in places some grain as well. The [Page 6] land was all claimed by 930 when the general assembly (Alþing) was founded, thus marking the end of the period of settlement. In the year 1000, by a compromise decision of a single arbiter selected at the Alþing, Christianity became the religion of Iceland. Individual farmers built and maintained Christian churches.' [14] 'By the end of the settlement period, a general Icelandic assembly, called the Althing, had been established and was held at midsummer on a site that came to be called Thingvellir. This assembly consisted of a law council (lögrétta), in which the godar made and amended the laws, and a system of courts of justice, in which householders, nominated by the godar, acted on the panels of judges. At the local level, three godar usually held a joint assembly in late spring at which a local court operated, again with judges nominated by the godar. All farmers were legally obliged to belong to a chieftaincy (godord) but theoretically were free to change their allegiance from one godi to another; the godar were allotted a corresponding right to expel a follower. Some scholars have seen in this arrangement a resemblance to the franchise in modern societies. On the other hand, there was no central authority to ensure that the farmers would be able to exercise their right in a democratic way. No one was vested with executive power over the country as a whole. In any case, no trace of democratic practice reached farther down the social scale than to the heads of farming households; women and workers (free or enslaved) had no role in the political system.' [15]
♠ succeeding (quasi)polity ♣ Kingdom of Norway ♥ The Commonwealth period ended when the chieftains swore allegiance to the Norwegian crown: 'In spite of the seeming abundance, the end was coming for an independent Icelandic commonwealth. In Norway royal power gained strength in the early 13th century when the king set out to unite all Norwegian Viking Age settlements under his reign. By that time about 10 powerful godar, belonging to some five families, held almost all the chieftaincies in Iceland, and by mid-century these chieftaincies were engaged in a bloody struggle for power. Finally, in 1262-64, all Icelandic chieftains and representatives of the farmers were persuaded to swear allegiance to the king of Norway, partly in the hope that he would bring peace to the country.' [16] The persistence of internal strife had contributed to this decision: 'From the twelfth century onwards, especially during the Sturlung Period, a few families managed to control all the goðorð in Iceland. [Page 17] Increasingly the goðorð became territorial units; the most powerful chiefs sought to consolidate their position, appropriating land and property on a large scale. Sigurðsson (ch. 12) discusses the evolution of ríki (‘small states’, new political units with rather clear territorial boundaries), beginning in some parts of Iceland in the eleventh century and culminating almost everywhere by the middle of the thirteenth century. Sigurðsson estimates that by year 1220 perhaps only five chieftains ruled the whole country, whereas during the tenth century the number of chieftains would normally have been no less than fifty. He explores the changing place and dilemmas of friendship, a voluntary relationship based on trust, in the context of increasing concentration of power. Clearly, the bond between chieftain and followers became less personal than before. Due to increased confrontations between the major chieftains and the relative absence of potential mediators, ‘friends of both’ as they were called, there was a rapid escalation in violence, brutality, and warfare. Because of internal conflicts and the expansive policy of the Norwegian state, the Commonwealth finally came to an end. After fierce battles the chieftains agreed in 1262 to cede their authority to the king of Norway. Eyrbyggja saga seems to compare and personify the political systems of the early and late Commonwealth period; the struggle between the two main goðar in the story, Arnkell and Snorri, reflects the changing times (see Olason 1989, 1971:19-20; Turner 1985:112-17; Pálsson 1991b). Arnkell signifies the reality of the early Commonwealth, he is a heroic big man who mobilizes support by personal charms and his obituary is full of praise; he was “a great loss to everybody … good tempered, brave and determined” (ÍF 4, ch. 37). Snorri, on the other hand, represents the reality of the chiefs during the thirteenth century; he is a clever politician who controls his army but does not fight himself. Durrenberger suggests (1990:77), citing Fried (1967), that these saga accounts of the political development of the Commonwealth add to the general credibility of the sagas; they indicate precisely the kind of history one would expect from the ethnography and dynamics of stratified societies without states.' [17] Iceland maintained a degree of autonomy during the Norwegian period: 'To a large extent, Iceland was ruled separately from Norway. It had its own law code, and the Althing continued to be held at Thingvellir, though mainly as a court of justice. Most of the royal officials who succeeded the chieftains were Icelanders. In 1380 the Norwegian monarchy entered into a union with the Danish crown, but that change did not affect Iceland’s status within the realm as a personal skattland (“tax land”) of the crown.' [18]
♠ Supracultural entity ♣ Scandinavia; Norden: 930-1050 CE; Latin Christendom: 1051-1262 CE ♥ The settlers maintained cultural ties with Scandinavia and the British Isles: 'Iceland was a new society, however Icelandic culture perpetuated many of the cultural standards from Scandinavia, especially Norway. While both Norse and Celtic peoples contributed to the founding population they had unequal impacts on the culture of Iceland. Celts appear to have been incorporated into Norse households and appear to have little lasting impact on the cultural and institutional developments that were predominantly Scandinavian in origin. The first settlers claimed lands and established dispersed farmsteads. Many of the economic practices were unsuitable to the fragile Icelandic environment and resulted in deforestation and land erosion, especially in the uplands. As population grew, settlement expanded, and new farmsteads were divided from previous land claims. In 930 A.D. the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) was founded, providing an institution integrating the entire island. The same assembly accepted Christianity as the religion of the land in 1000 A.D. The thirteenth century was a period of escalating conflict (STURLUNGAÖLD) chieftains attempted to exert control beyond their local regions. The system of autonomous chieftains ended after 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under Norwegian rule. The Viking Age expansion into the North Atlantic did not end at Iceland. In the late tenth century Eirík the Red led a major venture to colonize Greenland and his son, Leifur Eiríksson, has been credited with the European discovery of North America. Early Icelanders maintained close ties with Scandinavia and the British Isles. Continental trading and raiding expeditions were common activities for those with the means to take a share in a boat. Their travels sometimes took them as far as Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.' [19] Icelanders also maintained trading relations with Europe: 'The early Icelanders maintained commercial contacts with Europe and obtained goods from Scandinavia, England, the Norse Orkneys, and the Netherlands. The majority of trade, however, was with Norway, both for Norwegian goods and for foreign goods obtained by Norwegian merchants. The limited resources, especially in terms of raw materials for manufactured goods, made Iceland highly dependent on imported goods. Even before the decline and cessation of grain production in Iceland it is unlikely that Iceland ever produced enough cereals to meet its own needs. Of special significance in a feasting economy, grain and malt were essential to ale production. After Christianization imported wine also become essential for the celebration of communion. Many higher quality iron products, for example weapons and armor, could not be produced from local sources and were imported, mostly in finished forms. Other metals - brass, tin, lead, gold, silver, and bronze - were unavailable locally as well as steatite for utensils and stone suitable for making whetstones. Iceland had a limited number of exportable resources and goods. Homespun woolen cloth was the principal export and was a common standard of value in local exchanges. Sulfur, unavailable from any continental source, was a valuable commodity. Falcons and various animal skins - sheep, fox, and cat - were marketable as were cheese and possibly butter. Fish, the current mainstay of the Icelandic economy was not a significant export item in early Iceland.' [20] After the conversion to Christianity, Iceland and Scandinavia became part of the greater cultural sphere of Latin Christendom. [21]
♠ scale of supra-cultural interaction ♣ 3,400,000: 930-1050 CE; 5,600,000: 1051-1262 CE ♥ km squared. The settlers maintained cultural ties with Scandinavia and the British Isles: 'Iceland was a new society, however Icelandic culture perpetuated many of the cultural standards from Scandinavia, especially Norway. While both Norse and Celtic peoples contributed to the founding population they had unequal impacts on the culture of Iceland. Celts appear to have been incorporated into Norse households and appear to have little lasting impact on the cultural and institutional developments that were predominantly Scandinavian in origin. The first settlers claimed lands and established dispersed farmsteads. Many of the economic practices were unsuitable to the fragile Icelandic environment and resulted in deforestation and land erosion, especially in the uplands. As population grew, settlement expanded, and new farmsteads were divided from previous land claims. In 930 A.D. the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) was founded, providing an institution integrating the entire island. The same assembly accepted Christianity as the religion of the land in 1000 A.D. The thirteenth century was a period of escalating conflict (STURLUNGAÖLD) chieftains attempted to exert control beyond their local regions. The system of autonomous chieftains ended after 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under Norwegian rule. The Viking Age expansion into the North Atlantic did not end at Iceland. In the late tenth century Eirík the Red led a major venture to colonize Greenland and his son, Leifur Eiríksson, has been credited with the European discovery of North America. Early Icelanders maintained close ties with Scandinavia and the British Isles. Continental trading and raiding expeditions were common activities for those with the means to take a share in a boat. Their travels sometimes took them as far as Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.' [22] Icelanders also maintained trading relations with Europe: 'The early Icelanders maintained commercial contacts with Europe and obtained goods from Scandinavia, England, the Norse Orkneys, and the Netherlands. The majority of trade, however, was with Norway, both for Norwegian goods and for foreign goods obtained by Norwegian merchants. The limited resources, especially in terms of raw materials for manufactured goods, made Iceland highly dependent on imported goods. Even before the decline and cessation of grain production in Iceland it is unlikely that Iceland ever produced enough cereals to meet its own needs. Of special significance in a feasting economy, grain and malt were essential to ale production. After Christianization imported wine also become essential for the celebration of communion. Many higher quality iron products, for example weapons and armor, could not be produced from local sources and were imported, mostly in finished forms. Other metals - brass, tin, lead, gold, silver, and bronze - were unavailable locally as well as steatite for utensils and stone suitable for making whetstones. Iceland had a limited number of exportable resources and goods. Homespun woolen cloth was the principal export and was a common standard of value in local exchanges. Sulfur, unavailable from any continental source, was a valuable commodity. Falcons and various animal skins - sheep, fox, and cat - were marketable as were cheese and possibly butter. Fish, the current mainstay of the Icelandic economy was not a significant export item in early Iceland.' [23] Wikipedia gives the total geographical extent of the Scandinavian countries (including both Northern Europe and the North Atlantic, i.e. Iceland and Greenland) as 3,425,804 km squared, rounded to 3,400,000 km squared [24]. This number is rather high due to the inclusion of Greenland. We have imported this number provisionally, but remain open to diverging geographical demarkations. After the conversion to Christianity, Iceland and Scandinavia became part of the greater cultural sphere of Latin Christendom. [25] We have estimated the geographical extent of Latin Christendom to be around 5,600,000 km squared, including Northern, Western, and Central Europe as well as parts of Southern Europe. This figure is only an approximation and therefore open to re-evaluation.

♠ Capital ♣ none ♥ 'During the Icelandic Commonwealth there were no cities and therefore no capital city. The Alþingi or general assembly was held for two weeks on a farm (Þingvellir). In addition to the Alþingi there were two bishoprics, but these were characterized by a decentralized structure. The city of Reykjavík was only established in the eighteenth century.' [26] eHRAF provides a general description of history and social structure: 'Iceland was a new society, however Icelandic culture perpetuated many of the cultural standards from Scandinavia, especially Norway. While both Norse and Celtic peoples contributed to the founding population they had unequal impacts on the culture of Iceland. Celts appear to have been incorporated into Norse households and appear to have little lasting impact on the cultural and institutional developments that were predominantly Scandinavian in origin. The first settlers claimed lands and established dispersed farmsteads. Many of the economic practices were unsuitable to the fragile Icelandic environment and resulted in deforestation and land erosion, especially in the uplands. As population grew, settlement expanded, and new farmsteads were divided from previous land claims. In 930 A.D. the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) was founded, providing an institution integrating the entire island. The same assembly accepted Christianity as the religion of the land in 1000 A.D. The thirteenth century was a period of escalating conflict (STURLUNGAÖLD) chieftains attempted to exert control beyond their local regions. The system of autonomous chieftains ended after 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under Norwegian rule. The Viking Age expansion into the North Atlantic did not end at Iceland. In the late tenth century Eirík the Red led a major venture to colonize Greenland and his son, Leifur Eiríksson, has been credited with the European discovery of North America. Early Icelanders maintained close ties with Scandinavia and the British Isles. Continental trading and raiding expeditions were common activities for those with the means to take a share in a boat. Their travels sometimes took them as far as Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.' [27]


♠ Language ♣ Old Norse ♥ 'At the time of settlement, the Icelanders spoke Old Norse (a Germanic language, in the large Indo-European group of languages), which was then common throughout Scandinavia. By the beginning of the twelfth century linguistic conservatism on the remote island society had introduced significant differences between Icelandic and its Scandinavian neighbors resulting in a distinct Icelandic. Prior to the conversion to Christianity in 1000 A.D., Old Norse was written in a runic alphabet. Runes had a restricted use and few runic inscriptions have survived from Iceland. With Christianity came the Roman alphabet and the expansion of written genres, which thrived in Iceland.' [28] 'Old Icelandic, a dialect of Old Norse, is also used.' [29]

General Description

Settlers arrived in Iceland in significant numbers starting from the late 9th century CE, mostly from Norway and the Norse colonies in Scotland and Ireland, bringing with them many people indigenous to the latter. However, language and culture were strongly Norse.
The Icelandic Commonwealth (Icel. íslenska þjóðveldið), occasionally called 'free state' or 'republic' (not to be confused with the modern republic) was established in 930 CE according to 12th-century historical documents. It was the first polity to cover the whole of Iceland and the smaller surrounding islands. Its territory did not change during its lifetime.
Icelandic society during the Commonwealth was strongly rural and never developed significant urbanization. However, centres of power, wealth and learning gradually emerged in the two bishoprics, monasteries and the homes of the greatest secular lords.
Iceland was mostly pagan in the early period but Christianity was accepted in 1000 and the first bishopric established in 1056. This not only brought Iceland closer to Europe but also introduced European culture and learning, and from the early 12th century the Icelanders started to produce significant works of literature in the vernacular but written in the Latin alphabet (sagas). The sagas are usually (at least recently) considered the greatest achievement of the Commonwealth and they flourished in the 13th century (both before and after 1262). However, this was also a time of war and loss of independence, making it difficult to assign it a 'peak' status.

Population and political organization

There are no reliable figures for the total population in Iceland during this period. Common estimates range from 5,000-20,000 in 930 to 40,000-70,000 at the end. The only statistic that is somewhat reliable states that the number of tax-paying farmers around 1100 AD was 4,560. The relationship between this number and the whole population is uncertain.
The Commonwealth functioned as a federation of smaller political units with no fixed borders, the godords/chieftaincies (goðorð), with alliances between households led by a chieftain (goði or goðorðsmaður). Laws were common to all and there was a common judiciary system. In Lögrétta leaders of all the godords met once a year to decide on laws, forming the most important part of the proceedings of the Alþingi ('general assembly'), held in summer at Thingvellir. However, there was no common executive branch of government, leaving the godords quite autonomous.
The godords started to congeal into territorial lordships with fixed borders in the 12th century (the first one perhaps in the late 11th century), but this process was most rapid around 1200 CE and by 1220 they covered most of Iceland. These lordships functioned as practically independent tiny polities (or 'proto-states') and proceeded to fight each other for supremacy. The ensuing civil wars (Sturlungaöld) ended in 1262 when the Icelanders swore allegiance to the Norwegian crown.

This description was provided by Axel Kristinsson and edited by Jenny Reddish.

Social Complexity variables

♠ RA ♣ Eva Brandl ♥

Social Scale

♠ Polity territory ♣ 103,000 ♥ in squared kilometers 'Iceland is an island situated just to the south of the Polar Circle in the mid-North Atlantic Ocean. With a surface of 103,000 square kilometers (39,000 square miles), Iceland is similar in size to the state of Kentucky. It was formed around 20 million years ago through underwater volcanic eruptions at the place where the Midatlantic Ridge and a ridge extending from Scotland to Greenland cross. Compared to other parts of Europe, Iceland has a short geological history, and its formative process is still far from over. The eastern and western halves of the country are slowly drifting apart, with volcanic eruptions filling the fissures with fresh lava. Fire is not the only element that characterizes the Icelandic environment because, as the name of the country indicates, ice also is a dominant factor. There are four major glaciers in the country, including the largest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull, which is around 8,300 square kilometers (3,200 square miles) in size.' [30] Given Iceland's status as a Commonwealth at the time, we have chosen to treat the natural boundaries of the island as coextensive with its political borders.

♠ Polity Population ♣ [5,000-20,000]: 930 CE; 30,000: 1100 CE; [30,000-50,000]: 1200 CE; [50,000-60,000]: 1262 CE ♥ 'Hard demographic data are extremely difficult to find. Most scholars estimate the population around 930 CE between 5.000 and 20.000, with 10.000 as the consensus figure. The population in 1262 CE is estimated to be between 50.000 and 60.000. Population estimates are usually based on data on tax paying farmers. These data allow us to establish a minimum population. Around 1100 CE there were approximately 4500 tax-paying farmers and this number is usually multiplied by seven (the number of persons per household) to arrive at the estimate for the overall population.' [31] Estimates given in the literature vary: 'Historical sources set the beginning of Norse settlement in Iceland at approximately 870 A.D., a date that is generally collaborated by the archaeological evidence. There was no prior inhabitation with the exception of a few Irish monks who may have periodically visited the island beginning in the eighth century. The relative proportion of Norse (primarily Norwegian) and Celtic (from the northern British Isles) contributions to the original Icelandic population has been debated. Recent DNA analyses of the modern population indicate that the relative contributions are dramatically skewed by gender with the majority of females deriving from Celtic origins whereas the males appear to have been predominately Norse. Estimates of total population based on a survey of independent farmers conducted around the year 1100 indicate roughly 60,000 - 70,000 individuals.' [32] 'According to the Statistical Abstract of Iceland (1984:64-69), in 1900, before land reclamation began, there were 98,398 hectares of pasture land (homefields, not common pasture lands) in Iceland. Tomasson (1980:60) cites evidence that the area of vegetation in Iceland has decreased by half since the period of settlement. The point is that there may have been as much as about a hundred thousand hectares of land suitable for homefield pastures, [Page 253] sufficient to support a hundred thousand individuals as members of independent households, according to Commonwealth criteria. Whatever their bases for calculation, only one population estimate exceeds 100,000 and most are much lower for the entire period (Tomasson 1980:58). There must have been sufficient land for the population. Any shortage of land was due to social, not ecological factors. In addition to animal husbandry, the rich resources of fish, marine mammals, and birds have been of economic importance from the time of settlement to the present.' [33] But generally, low population densities and dispersed settlement patterns are assumed: 'Because agriculture was the chief economic activity, the population of Iceland was evenly distributed throughout the inhabitable parts of the country until the end of the 19th century.' [34] 'The requirements of livestock herding insured that Icelandic land-use was characterized by low population densities, a dispersed settlement pattern, and large farmsteads. Within such farmsteads land was divided into spatial units reflecting different levels of management associated with homefields, hay-producing areas, and outer pastures. Outbuildings associated with the seasonal components of Icelandic transhumant pastoralism were scattered throughout these various land-use areas and in the upland heaths surrounding zones of intensive occupation (Bredahl-Petersen 1967; Hastrup 1985).' [35]

♠ Population of the largest settlement ♣ [200-300] ♥ 'As there were no cities, this number is extremely low. An educated guess places the population of the villages where the two cathedrals were based between 200 and 300.' [36] Most Icelanders lived in dispersed homesteads rather than settlements: 'Early Icelandic settlement was completely non-urban and almost entirely restricted to dispersed farmsteads, which occupied the coastal plains and more hospitable inland valleys. The earliest farmhouses were of the long-house type: a single large oblong building sometimes with a few side additions and some out structures. The long-houses were designed around a central isle with raised platforms running along the sides for domestic activities and sleeping. Interior space was divided by wood partitions. The houses were constructed of sod around a timber frame.' [37] 'Initial land claims in Iceland were extensive and short-lived. Subsequent settlers and new generations rapidly divided the land into farmstead based properties. Control of a farmstead, through direct ownership or tenancy, was the basis of full membership within the society and was restricted to a small minority of individuals. Property was passed preferentially to male descendents. Once established, farmstead properties were extremely stable. Farms occupied at the time of settlement are still in use today and some survived periods of household abandonment to be reoccupied. Upland pastures were held in common by local communities (HREPPUR), which jointly managed their access and use. Farms also laid claim to special resources even when they were not on farmstead lands such as forests, turf and peat cutting areas, and drift rights on beaches.' [38] Generally, low population densities and dispersed settlement patterns are assumed: 'Because agriculture was the chief economic activity, the population of Iceland was evenly distributed throughout the inhabitable parts of the country until the end of the 19th century.' [39] 'The requirements of livestock herding insured that Icelandic land-use was characterized by low population densities, a dispersed settlement pattern, and large farmsteads. Within such farmsteads land was divided into spatial units reflecting different levels of management associated with homefields, hay-producing areas, and outer pastures. Outbuildings associated with the seasonal components of Icelandic transhumant pastoralism were scattered throughout these various land-use areas and in the upland heaths surrounding zones of intensive occupation (Bredahl-Petersen 1967; Hastrup 1985).' [40]

Hierarchical Complexity

♠ Settlement hierarchy ♣ 1: 930-1050 CE; 2: 1051-1200 CE; 3: 1201-1262 CE ♥ levels

(3) Bishoprics and Elite Residences; (2) Manor Farms; (1) Homesteads of Farming Families

'There was no capital. The only distinction was between average sized farms on the one hand and big farms or manors in which the local elites resided. These manors were approximately four to five times the size of a normal farm. Three levels is probably correct for the late Commonwealth: 1) private homesteads, 2) aristocratic manor-farms, 3) Bishoprics and perhaps the residencies of the greatest territorial lords. However, this only holds true for the late Commonwealth (ca. 1175/1200-1262). Before that there were only two levels and in the early period (until ca. 1050) there may have been just one as manor-farms (höfuðból) probably only started to emerge in the 11th century. Approximate population of each level: 1) 5-10, 2) 20-40, 3) 100-300.' [41] Most Icelanders lived in dispersed homesteads as agro-pastoralists: 'Early Icelandic settlement was completely non-urban and almost entirely restricted to dispersed farmsteads, which occupied the coastal plains and more hospitable inland valleys. The earliest farmhouses were of the long-house type: a single large oblong building sometimes with a few side additions and some out structures. The long-houses were designed around a central isle with raised platforms running along the sides for domestic activities and sleeping. Interior space was divided by wood partitions. The houses were constructed of sod around a timber frame.' [42] 'Initial land claims in Iceland were extensive and short-lived. Subsequent settlers and new generations rapidly divided the land into farmstead based properties. Control of a farmstead, through direct ownership or tenancy, was the basis of full membership within the society and was restricted to a small minority of individuals. Property was passed preferentially to male descendents. Once established, farmstead properties were extremely stable. Farms occupied at the time of settlement are still in use today and some survived periods of household abandonment to be reoccupied. Upland pastures were held in common by local communities (HREPPUR), which jointly managed their access and use. Farms also laid claim to special resources even when they were not on farmstead lands such as forests, turf and peat cutting areas, and drift rights on beaches.' [43] The farming household was the primary social and economic unit of Commonwealth-Era Iceland: 'The principal unit of social organization was the household. Those with rights to property, the farmer and his (or her) family, headed households. Large households incorporated a range of dependent labor: wage laborers, servants, and slaves. As an institution, slavery declined in the twelfth century and had probably disappeared sometime in the thirteenth century; however, social distinctions were maintained between self-sufficient farmers (either land-owners or renters) and the majority of the population who served as household labor. The main cooperative unit outside of the household was the commune (HREPPUR). The commune was a territorial unit including many households (20 or more). The commune's main functions were management of summer grazing lands, the cooperative round up of animals in the fall, and care for paupers who had no other household support. They also provided some insurance to households against fire or the loss of livestock.' [44] The settlement pattern was dispersed: 'Because agriculture was the chief economic activity, the population of Iceland was evenly distributed throughout the inhabitable parts of the country until the end of the 19th century.' [45] 'The requirements of livestock herding insured that Icelandic land-use was characterized by low population densities, a dispersed settlement pattern, and large farmsteads. Within such farmsteads land was divided into spatial units reflecting different levels of management associated with homefields, hay-producing areas, and outer pastures. Outbuildings associated with the seasonal components of Icelandic transhumant pastoralism were scattered throughout these various land-use areas and in the upland heaths surrounding zones of intensive occupation (Bredahl-Petersen 1967; Hastrup 1985).' [46] Homesteads belonged to assembly districts: 'About 960 this system was changed. The country was divided into four quarters, Each quarter, except the Northern, had three assembly-districts, each with three chieftains. The Northern quarter had four assembly districts. Now people had to select a chieftain from within their own quarter, and an assembly site was named for each district. Cases had to be heard in the disputants' assembly, or if they were from different assembly-districts, in the quarter court at the meeting of the Alþing. Unanimity was required for judgements. Cases that could not be resolved in quarter courts were referred to a fifth-court (established about 1004) where a simple majority of judges could decide a case. By 1117, when the laws were written in Grágás, not all local assemblies were functioning. Some had been consolidated into others (Jóhannesson 1974:238).' [47] Chieftains and other leaders relied on additional household labour, leading to substantially larger homesteads among elites: 'Although I would prefer to flout the conventional wisdom that slavery had all but died out by the eleventh century (Karras 1988a), the household laborers that replaced them in the Commonwealth period were numerous. When Þórðr kakali returns to Iceland Kolbeinn ungi immediately sends out thirty húsmenn to look for him in Eyjafjörðr. Þorsteinn Cod-biter had sixty free men in his household (Eyrbyggja saga, ÍF 4, ch. 11); Guðmundr the Mighty had one hundred (Brennu-Njáls saga, ÍF 12, ch. 113); Sörla þáttr (Ljósvetninga saga), ÍF 10, ch. 1:109); Bishop Páll's household at Skálholt (ca 1200) had seventy to eighty residents, and a household with eighty has been discussed above. It is probably not unfair to say that by the Commonwealth period the majority of the wealth of great bœndur and goðar was the product of teams of house-men and women.' [48]

♠ Administrative levels ♣ 4 ♥ levels.

(4) Commonwealth Assembly (Alþingi); (3) Local Assemblies (Þings) or Territorial Lordships; (2) Chieftains (Goðar) or Hreppar; (1) Free Farmers/Heads of Households

'As there was no state as such, it is difficult to identify proper administrative levels. The existence of parallel hierarchies complicates matters. The communes (hreppar) existed independently from the godords and, unlike them, were territorial units. Typically there would be one or two members of the gentry living on their manor-farms in each commune and they would often, even usually, have a sphere of influence albeit an informal one and not necessarily concurrent with the commune. However, there is a broad four-tier hierarchy which incorporates both formal and informal elements, although the levels were not the same throughout. We can summarize it like this: 930-1200: 1) Free Farmers 2) Goðar 3) Local assemblies 4) Alþingi. Note: The local assemblies may not have been formalized until around 960 but probably functioned in some sense even before that. 950/1050-1200 (concurrently with above): 1) Free Farmers 2) Hreppar 3) Local Assemblies 4) Alþingi. Note: We don’t know when the hreppar were established but it must have been in the 10th or 11th centuries. 1200-1262 1) Free Farmers 2) Hreppar 3) Territorial lordships 4) Alþingi. Note: The local assemblies were usually abolished with the emergence of territorial lordships that often covered approximately the same area.' [49] The general assembly of chieftains was the highest political institution of the Commonwealth: 'At the time of Iceland’s settlement, Norse people worshiped gods whom they called æsir (singular áss), and this religion left behind an extensive mythology in Icelandic literature. Thor seems to have been the most popular of the pagan gods in Iceland, although Odin is thought to have been the highest in rank. It appears that heathen worship was organized around a distinct class of chieftains called godar (singular godi), of which there were about 40. In the absence of royal power in Iceland, the godar were to form the ruling class in the country. By the end of the settlement period, a general Icelandic assembly, called the Althing, had been established and was held at midsummer on a site that came to be called Thingvellir. This assembly consisted of a law council (lögrétta), in which the godar made and amended the laws, and a system of courts of justice, in which householders, nominated by the godar, acted on the panels of judges. At the local level, three godar usually held a joint assembly in late spring at which a local court operated, again with judges nominated by the godar. All farmers were legally obliged to belong to a chieftaincy (godord) but theoretically were free to change their allegiance from one godi to another; the godar were allotted a corresponding right to expel a follower. Some scholars have seen in this arrangement a resemblance to the franchise in modern societies. On the other hand, there was no central authority to ensure that the farmers would be able to exercise their right in a democratic way. No one was vested with executive power over the country as a whole. In any case, no trace of democratic practice reached farther down the social scale than to the heads of farming households; women and workers (free or enslaved) had no role in the political system.' [50] The country was divided into quarters served by local assemblies: 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [51] Chieftains relied on the support of farmers and armed followers: 'Following the establishment of the Althing in 930, executive power at the regional level was vested in the goðar, whose possession of goðorð and common participation in the judicial and legislative branches of the general assembly defined them as chieftains. However, the chieftains were not linked hierarchically. After A.D. 965 Iceland was divided into thirteen assembly districts, each with three chieftainships and a district assembly site. The assembly districts were in turn grouped into four quarters. While goðar were tethered to particular districts by law, the political office of chieftainship, the goðorð, did not imply control over a defined territorial unit. It was instead a shifting nexus of personal, negotiated alliances between a chieftain and those bœndur who became his supporters or pingmenn through public oaths of allegiance.' [52] Conflicts between rival chieftains were a major source of internal strife before the onset of Norwegian rule. During the Sturlung period, the godords became concentrated in the hands of a few powerful magnates: 'It may be tempting to regard the Icelandic Commonwealth as a permanent structure, for, after all, it seems to be sealed in the poorly-dated or undated ‘ethnographic present’ of the sagas. But any social system is necessarily a product of history, representing a particular moment in time. We know for sure that the Commonwealth underwent important changes before it eventually ‘collapsed.’ Not only was there important ecological and demographic change and, as a result, mounting pressure on land (Gelsinger 1981; McGovern et al. 1988), access to resources was increasingly determined by the political manoeuvres and battles of competing goðar. According to the near contemporary Sturlunga saga, the battles between contesting leaders involved an ever larger number of men-no less than two thousand fought in the biggest one, at Örlygsstaðir in year 1238. To increase the number of followers, each goði had to maximize his fund of power at the cost of competitors. Feasts and gifts, a measure of the generosity of the goði, and the display of imported luxury goods, must have been an additional burden to the household, at a time of economic decline. One saga describes a large wedding feast extending through a whole week (SS 3, ch. 17:22). The only way to meet the costs involved was to collect taxes, hire additional labor, and seek further support from followers. With the Tithe Law, the tax law enacted in 1096, the ownership of churches became an important source of wealth and power. Furthermore, slavery seems to have disappeared early (see Karras, ch. 17), probably because recruiting freemen who had insufficient land was less costly than maintaining slaves. This meant that soon there was a reserve of labor; on one occasion, in 1208, a group of more than 300 unemployed people, many of whom were strong and healthy, followed a travelling bishop in the hope of some sustenance (see G. Karlsson 1975:27).' [53] 'From the twelfth century onwards, especially during the Sturlung Period, a few families managed to control all the goðorð in Iceland. [Page 17] Increasingly the goðorð became territorial units; the most powerful chiefs sought to consolidate their position, appropriating land and property on a large scale. Sigurðsson (ch. 12) discusses the evolution of ríki (‘small states’, new political units with rather clear territorial boundaries), beginning in some parts of Iceland in the eleventh century and culminating almost everywhere by the middle of the thirteenth century. Sigurðsson estimates that by year 1220 perhaps only five chieftains ruled the whole country, whereas during the tenth century the number of chieftains would normally have been no less than fifty. He explores the changing place and dilemmas of friendship, a voluntary relationship based on trust, in the context of increasing concentration of power. Clearly, the bond between chieftain and followers became less personal than before. Due to increased confrontations between the major chieftains and the relative absence of potential mediators, ‘friends of both’ as they were called, there was a rapid escalation in violence, brutality, and warfare. Because of internal conflicts and the expansive policy of the Norwegian state, the Commonwealth finally came to an end. After fierce battles the chieftains agreed in 1262 to cede their authority to the king of Norway. Eyrbyggja saga seems to compare and personify the political systems of the early and late Commonwealth period; the struggle between the two main goðar in the story, Arnkell and Snorri, reflects the changing times (see Olason 1989, 1971:19-20; Turner 1985:112-17; Pálsson 1991b). Arnkell signifies the reality of the early Commonwealth, he is a heroic big man who mobilizes support by personal charms and his obituary is full of praise; he was “a great loss to everybody … good tempered, brave and determined” (ÍF 4, ch. 37). Snorri, on the other hand, represents the reality of the chiefs during the thirteenth century; he is a clever politician who controls his army but does not fight himself. Durrenberger suggests (1990:77), citing Fried (1967), that these saga accounts of the political development of the Commonwealth add to the general credibility of the sagas; they indicate precisely the kind of history one would expect from the ethnography and dynamics of stratified societies without states.' [54] The household headed by a property-holding farmer was the primary unit of local social and economic organization: 'The principal unit of social organization was the household. Those with rights to property, the farmer and his (or her) family, headed households. Large households incorporated a range of dependent labor: wage laborers, servants, and slaves. As an institution, slavery declined in the twelfth century and had probably disappeared sometime in the thirteenth century; however, social distinctions were maintained between self-sufficient farmers (either land-owners or renters) and the majority of the population who served as household labor. The main cooperative unit outside of the household was the commune (HREPPUR). The commune was a territorial unit including many households (20 or more). The commune's main functions were management of summer grazing lands, the cooperative round up of animals in the fall, and care for paupers who had no other household support. They also provided some insurance to households against fire or the loss of livestock.' [55]

♠ Religious levels ♣ 1: 930-1055 CE; 2: 1056-1262 CE ♥ levels.

(2) Bishops; (1) Priests

'At the start of the Icelandic Commonwealth the dominant religious tradition was Nordic paganism. There is no data on the number of religious levels for Nordic paganism. Christianity (in the form of Catholicism) was introduced around 1000 CE. In 1056 CE Christianity was officially accepted as the official religion. The conversion was largely the result of a top-down decision. There is no data available on a popular Christian movement in the years before 1056 CE. The Church followed the standardized Catholic hierarchy consisting of a bishop, (deacons), and priests. Before 1056 the code should probably be 1 as we have no indications of religious hierarchy in either pagan or early Christian times.' [56] Christianity was introduced around 1000ce: 'Iceland was settled before any significant impact of Christianity in Scandinavia and the early Icelanders were pagans. Many of the Celtic people incorporated in the foundational population were probably Christian but this appears to have had little impact in the society in general. Pre-Christian religious practices are known largely by poetic and literary sources, all recorded during the Christian era, and some traces of material culture. These sources depict a rich cosmology including the Norse pantheon of gods and giants. Thor held a place of special significance based on his frequent inclusion in person and place names. The Icelanders inhabited an environment rich in supernatural entities including trolls, elves, and ghosts. Prescience and magical abilities were often attributed to individuals. In 1000 A.D., responding to a combination of internal and foreign pressure exerted by the Norwegian king, the Icelanders meeting at the General Assembly decided to adopt Christianity as the common religion. Hencefor th Iceland was officially Christian although many of the traditional beliefs remained.' [57] 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [58] During the pagan period, chiefs frequently fulfilled religious functions: 'Pagan ceremonies were varied, and the details handed down by later Christian texts are not clear. Sacrificial rites performed by household heads or chieftains played a part in the ritual. Certain rituals seeking the intercession of spirits for divination or assistance (SEIÐR) were largely performed by women. Special cultic sites or buildings (HOFS) existed but religious ceremonies were not limited to these settings. Sacrificial activities were banned shortly after the conversion and Christian ceremonies such as baptism and communion were introduced.' [59] The offices of priest and bishop were introduced after the formal adoption of Christianity, but chiefs and farmers remained primary actors in the performance of rituals: 'The political institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was rooted in religious function, a priestly office of intermediary between the community and supernatural forces. It is unclear the degree to which the role of chieftains had been secularized by the occupation of Iceland, but it is likely chiefs played a continued role in local religious activities by performing rites and sacrifices. Religious activities were not exclusive to chieftains. Individuals played a variety of intermediary between the mundane and supernatural roles including private devotions, divination, and sorcery. The conversion to Christianity brought with it the institutions of priest and bishop to Iceland. Throughout much of the early period, the institutional power of the church was weak. Churches were located on privately owned farmlands and were built and maintained by the local farmers who maintained a priest or served as priest himself. The early farm churches were small and probably served little more than the household and immediate neighbors.' [60] The few Icelandic bishops of the Commonwealth period resembled chiefs in their reliance on additional household labour: 'Although I would prefer to flout the conventional wisdom that slavery had all but died out by the eleventh century (Karras 1988a), the household laborers that replaced them in the Commonwealth period were numerous. When Þórðr kakali returns to Iceland Kolbeinn ungi immediately sends out thirty húsmenn to look for him in Eyjafjörðr. Þorsteinn Cod-biter had sixty free men in his household (Eyrbyggja saga, ÍF 4, ch. 11); Guðmundr the Mighty had one hundred (Brennu-Njáls saga, ÍF 12, ch. 113); Sörla þáttr (Ljósvetninga saga), ÍF 10, ch. 1:109); Bishop Páll's household at Skálholt (ca 1200) had seventy to eighty residents, and a household with eighty has been discussed above. It is probably not unfair to say that by the Commonwealth period the majority of the wealth of great bœndur and goðar was the product of teams of house-men and women.' [61] The interests of the church and the 'secular' elites were in conflict during the phase of intensified internal strife that preceded the Norwegian period: 'As I have mentioned earlier, the era of the Sturlungs was a period bordering on civil war, in which the Sturlunga family was central. What kinds of sentiments would the author of the Eyrbyggja saga, who must have been close to the Sturlungs, be likely to express? Although some of the Sturlung family's most prominent members in Norway had solemnly obliged themselves to further the king's cause, they nevertheless tended to forget the vow when they returned to Iceland. As also was the case with other chieftains, they preferred to act independently of the king. Some of the Sturlungs clearly harbored dreams of being Icelandic kings; others preferred a society governed by an oligarchy of Icelandic [Page 144] chieftains. In both cases sentiments would have been against the Norwegian king's growing influence in Iceland. The Sturlungs were therefore likely to express anti-royal feelings, even though they might admire the king's person. As the aristocracy was competing with the Church, we may also assume that the Sturlungs were against the ascending dominance of the Church in juridical, economic, and moral matters (Hastrup 1985, ch. 7). Two of the Sturlungs had in fact been instrumental in removing bishop Ari Guðmundsson from his bishopric in northern Iceland in 1222 (ST 1:287-298). As representatives of the dominant class, the Sturlungs were also likely to express contempt towards the lower classes. We find all these structurally determined resentments in Eyrbyggja saga.' [62] The bishops received seats in the parliament of the general assembly: 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [63]

♠ Military levels ♣ 2: 930-1200 CE; 3: 1201-1262 CE ♥ levels.

(3) Chieftains; (2) Lieutenants; (1) Freemen and Armed Followers of Chiefs

'As there was no central government there was also no central army during the Icelandic Commonwealth. The chieftains (and sometimes the greater farmers) called up the free population on an ad hoc basis. Three levels are attested for the late Commonwealth. We have clear evidence of 13th century warlords commissioning lieutenants that commanded groups of retainers or units of conscripted warrior-farmers.' [64] Some Icelanders joined foreign armies abroad: 'Isolated in the North Atlantic, Iceland had few external conflicts. Individual Icelanders were occasionally involved in conflict when outside the country and also sometimes served in foreign militaries. During the late tenth century, the Norwegian king was a champion of the Christian movement in Iceland and often attempted to assert his influence, although this was largely limited to Icelanders in Norway. Likewise, the ultimately successful attempts to incorporate Iceland under the Norwegian monarchy were mostly played out through alliances with individual Icelanders.' [65] Chieftains relied on an entourage of armed followers: 'Those who had access to sufficient resources to support a household were the tax paying farmers. Each of them had to be a follower of a chieftain from his own quarter, and only the tax paying farmers could make the decision as to which he would follow. All of his dependents - tenants and renters - went with him. However they got it, chieftains were dependent on farmers for support - to feed their increasingly large personal followings or armies, to support them at assemblies, and to accompany them on raids on other chieftains or their followers. As we have seen, without such support, without the ability to mass force, claims to ownership of land, which defined the class system as well as the forms of appropriation, had no force. Farmers had to rely on some chieftain to be able to defend their claims to property, though, as we have seen, this might often lead to the loss of the property. Chieftains had to rely on farmers to enforce their followers' claims and their own, as well as to expand their territories into others'.' [66] Armed supporters were required to enforce legal and political claims: 'Claims of inheritance were only worth as much as the armed support behind them. This follows from the fact that claims to ownership, property, were only worth as much as the armed support behind them. This meant that to assert any claim to ownership, whether by inheritance or any other means, one had to back the claim with armed force. Chieftains were focal points for concentrating force to protect and to forward claims to property.' [67] 'In Commonwealth Iceland there was a system of extraction based on claims to ownership of property, on concepts of the unproblematic [Page 161] differential access to resources in favour of a chieftainly class. The chieftains were unwilling to subordinate themselves to state institutions to protect their privileged positions. The consequence was stratification without a state, the contradiction of an economic system based on property relationships without a congruent institutional system to enforce them. Ownership was as sound as the force one could muster to defend it. There was a complex system of law, but it was all just so much labyrinthine rhetoric in the face of the stark reality that power decided. As slavery diminished, claimants to land enlarged their holdings by using wage labour and tenancy arrangements to work them. To support their claims, they had to increase their power by enlarging their entourages.' [68] Chieftains also relied on farmers willing to support them economically and militarily: 'Relations between chieftains and farmers were not, however, smooth. Chieftains had their “own” estates to support their establishments, and some maintained followings of armed men, but this was a difficult proposition, since it added consumers to the household without adding production. The chieftains had to rely on their following of farmers to support them with both arms and supplies. This was one component of any farmer's household fund, his “rent” so to speak, his expenditures for travel and support for his chieftain, without which his chieftain or another would take his land and livestock. In addition, expeditions took labor from the farm and put the farmer's life at risk. Even so, a farmer's claims to land were not secure, since his chieftain might abandon him, another more powerful chieftain might claim his land, or simply take it, or a farmer might lose his land in a re-alignment of alliances among chieftains, which were frequent.' [69] The interests of chieftains and farmers were often in conflict: 'There was a basic conflict between chieftains' increasing demands for demonstrations of force in support of claims to ownership and the subsistence demands, the economic roles, of farmers. Chieftains were not beyond using coercion to insure support as the following incident relates. [...] In spite of this contradiction, farmers had to rely on some chieftain in order to maintain their claims to land. While the inheritance customs codified in Grágás seem quite orderly in Hastrup's (1985) analysis, inheritance of land is often hotly disputed in the Saga of the Icelanders. One who wanted another's land could often find a third party with some inheritance claim, and acquire the claim on which to base a legitimation for taking the land.' [70] Competition between chieftains was a major source of internal strife before the onset of the Norwegian period: 'It may be tempting to regard the Icelandic Commonwealth as a permanent structure, for, after all, it seems to be sealed in the poorly-dated or undated ‘ethnographic present’ of the sagas. But any social system is necessarily a product of history, representing a particular moment in time. We know for sure that the Commonwealth underwent important changes before it eventually ‘collapsed.’ Not only was there important ecological and demographic change and, as a result, mounting pressure on land (Gelsinger 1981; McGovern et al. 1988), access to resources was increasingly determined by the political manoeuvres and battles of competing goðar. According to the near contemporary Sturlunga saga, the battles between contesting leaders involved an ever larger number of men-no less than two thousand fought in the biggest one, at Örlygsstaðir in year 1238. To increase the number of followers, each goði had to maximize his fund of power at the cost of competitors. Feasts and gifts, a measure of the generosity of the goði, and the display of imported luxury goods, must have been an additional burden to the household, at a time of economic decline. One saga describes a large wedding feast extending through a whole week (SS 3, ch. 17:22). The only way to meet the costs involved was to collect taxes, hire additional labor, and seek further support from followers. With the Tithe Law, the tax law enacted in 1096, the ownership of churches became an important source of wealth and power. Furthermore, slavery seems to have disappeared early (see Karras, ch. 17), probably because recruiting freemen who had insufficient land was less costly than maintaining slaves. This meant that soon there was a reserve of labor; on one occasion, in 1208, a group of more than 300 unemployed people, many of whom were strong and healthy, followed a travelling bishop in the hope of some sustenance (see G. Karlsson 1975:27).' [71]

Professions

♠ Professional military officers ♣ absent: 930-1200 CE; present: 1201-1262 CE ♥ Some Icelanders joined foreign armies abroad: 'Isolated in the North Atlantic, Iceland had few external conflicts. Individual Icelanders were occasionally involved in conflict when outside the country and also sometimes served in foreign militaries. During the late tenth century, the Norwegian king was a champion of the Christian movement in Iceland and often attempted to assert his influence, although this was largely limited to Icelanders in Norway. Likewise, the ultimately successful attempts to incorporate Iceland under the Norwegian monarchy were mostly played out through alliances with individual Icelanders.' [72] Chieftains relied on an entourage of armed followers: 'Those who had access to sufficient resources to support a household were the tax paying farmers. Each of them had to be a follower of a chieftain from his own quarter, and only the tax paying farmers could make the decision as to which he would follow. All of his dependents - tenants and renters-went with him. However they got it, chieftains were dependent on farmers for support - to feed their increasingly large personal followings or armies, to support them at assemblies, and to accompany them on raids on other chieftains or their followers. As we have seen, without such support, without the ability to mass force, claims to ownership of land, which defined the class system as well as the forms of appropriation, had no force. Farmers had to rely on some chieftain to be able to defend their claims to property, though, as we have seen, this might often lead to the loss of the property. Chieftains had to rely on farmers to enforce their followers' claims and their own, as well as to expand their territories into others'.' [73] Armed supporters were required to enforce legal and political claims: 'Claims of inheritance were only worth as much as the armed support behind them. This follows from the fact that claims to ownership, property, were only worth as much as the armed support behind them. This meant that to assert any claim to ownership, whether by inheritance or any other means, one had to back the claim with armed force. Chieftains were focal points for concentrating force to protect and to forward claims to property.' [74] Chieftains also relied on farmers willing to support them economically and militarily: 'Relations between chieftains and farmers were not, however, smooth. Chieftains had their “own” estates to support their establishments, and some maintained followings of armed men, but this was a difficult proposition, since it added consumers to the household without adding production. The chieftains had to rely on their following of farmers to support them with both arms and supplies. This was one component of any farmer's household fund, his “rent” so to speak, his expenditures for travel and support for his chieftain, without which his chieftain or another would take his land and livestock. In addition, expeditions took labor from the farm and put the farmer's life at risk. Even so, a farmer's claims to land were not secure, since his chieftain might abandon him, another more powerful chieftain might claim his land, or simply take it, or a farmer might lose his land in a re-alignment of alliances among chieftains, which were frequent.' [75] The interests of chieftains and farmers were often in conflict: 'There was a basic conflict between chieftains' increasing demands for demonstrations of force in support of claims to ownership and the subsistence demands, the economic roles, of farmers. Chieftains were not beyond using coercion to insure support as the following incident relates. [...] In spite of this contradiction, farmers had to rely on some chieftain in order to maintain their claims to land. While the inheritance customs codified in Grágás seem quite orderly in Hastrup's (1985) analysis, inheritance of land is often hotly disputed in the Saga of the Icelanders. One who wanted another's land could often find a third party with some inheritance claim, and acquire the claim on which to base a legitimation for taking the land.' [76] However, professional officers or lieutenants emerged in the late Commonwealth period: 'In the late Commonwealth there were professional military officers in service of the warlords (in the territorial lordships). These commanded groups of retainers or conscripted warrior-farmers. An example would be Ásbjörn Guðmundarson, an officer of the warlord Þórður kakali (see Þórðar saga kakala). Lieutenants could thus be considered 'officers'.' [77]

♠ Professional soldiers ♣ inferred absent: 930-1200 CE; present: 1201-1262 CE ♥ [Only after 1200 CE the chieftains had retainers.] Some Icelanders joined foreign armies abroad: 'Isolated in the North Atlantic, Iceland had few external conflicts. Individual Icelanders were occasionally involved in conflict when outside the country and also sometimes served in foreign militaries. During the late tenth century, the Norwegian king was a champion of the Christian movement in Iceland and often attempted to assert his influence, although this was largely limited to Icelanders in Norway. Likewise, the ultimately successful attempts to incorporate Iceland under the Norwegian monarchy were mostly played out through alliances with individual Icelanders.' [78] Chieftains relied on an entourage of armed followers: 'Those who had access to sufficient resources to support a household were the tax paying farmers. Each of them had to be a follower of a chieftain from his own quarter, and only the tax paying farmers could make the decision as to which he would follow. All of his dependents - tenants and renters - went with him. However they got it, chieftains were dependent on farmers for support - to feed their increasingly large personal followings or armies, to support them at assemblies, and to accompany them on raids on other chieftains or their followers. As we have seen, without such support, without the ability to mass force, claims to ownership of land, which defined the class system as well as the forms of appropriation, had no force. Farmers had to rely on some chieftain to be able to defend their claims to property, though, as we have seen, this might often lead to the loss of the property. Chieftains had to rely on farmers to enforce their followers' claims and their own, as well as to expand their territories into others'.' [79] Armed supporters were required to enforce legal and political claims: 'Claims of inheritance were only worth as much as the armed support behind them. This follows from the fact that claims to ownership, property, were only worth as much as the armed support behind them. This meant that to assert any claim to ownership, whether by inheritance or any other means, one had to back the claim with armed force. Chieftains were focal points for concentrating force to protect and to forward claims to property.' [80] Retainers emerged in the late Commonwealth: 'The warlords of the late Commonwealth usually kept a number of retainers, proabably around a dozen or so at least and sometimes perhaps around 40-50. We cannot rule out the possibility that these were sometimes employed in farmwork but their chief role was certainly military. These retainers were present after about 1200. The total number of professional warriors in Iceland - retainers in the service of lords and gentry - seems to have been at least 300 at the hight of the Sturlung wars (ca. 1235-1255) or about 0.5% of the population. These were the core of a warlord’s army and could be very instrumental in the outcome of battles (eg. Haugsnes 1246).' [81] Chieftains also relied on farmers willing to support them economically and militarily: 'Relations between chieftains and farmers were not, however, smooth. Chieftains had their “own” estates to support their establishments, and some maintained followings of armed men, but this was a difficult proposition, since it added consumers to the household without adding production. The chieftains had to rely on their following of farmers to support them with both arms and supplies. This was one component of any farmer's household fund, his “rent” so to speak, his expenditures for travel and support for his chieftain, without which his chieftain or another would take his land and livestock. In addition, expeditions took labor from the farm and put the farmer's life at risk. Even so, a farmer's claims to land were not secure, since his chieftain might abandon him, another more powerful chieftain might claim his land, or simply take it, or a farmer might lose his land in a re-alignment of alliances among chieftains, which were frequent.' [82] The interests of chieftains and farmers were often in conflict: 'There was a basic conflict between chieftains' increasing demands for demonstrations of force in support of claims to ownership and the subsistence demands, the economic roles, of farmers. Chieftains were not beyond using coercion to insure support as the following incident relates. [...] In spite of this contradiction, farmers had to rely on some chieftain in order to maintain their claims to land. While the inheritance customs codified in Grágás seem quite orderly in Hastrup's (1985) analysis, inheritance of land is often hotly disputed in the Saga of the Icelanders. One who wanted another's land could often find a third party with some inheritance claim, and acquire the claim on which to base a legitimation for taking the land.' [83]

♠ Professional priesthood ♣ absent: 930-1055 CE; present: 1056-1262 CE ♥ 'Before the establishment of the Church in 1056 CE, the chieftains doubled as religious leaders of Nordic paganism. Even after 1056 CE, they often doubled as church owners and some of them became priests. But many Christian priests were full-time, all of them had some training and most or all of them were paid or had a secure income from their own or ecclesiastical estates.' [84] Christianity was introduced in 1000ce: 'Iceland was settled before any significant impact of Christianity in Scandinavia and the early Icelanders were pagans. Many of the Celtic people incorporated in the foundational population were probably Christian but this appears to have had little impact in the society in general. Pre-Christian religious practices are known largely by poetic and literary sources, all recorded during the Christian era, and some traces of material culture. These sources depict a rich cosmology including the Norse pantheon of gods and giants. Thor held a place of special significance based on his frequent inclusion in person and place names. The Icelanders inhabited an environment rich in supernatural entities including trolls, elves, and ghosts. Prescience and magical abilities were often attributed to individuals. In 1000 A.D., responding to a combination of internal and foreign pressure exerted by the Norwegian king, the Icelanders meeting at the General Assembly decided to adopt Christianity as the common religion. Hencefor th Iceland was officially Christian although many of the traditional beliefs remained.' [85] 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [86] During the pagan period, chiefs frequently fulfilled religious functions: 'Pagan ceremonies were varied, and the details handed down by later Christian texts are not clear. Sacrificial rites performed by household heads or chieftains played a part in the ritual. Certain rituals seeking the intercession of spirits for divination or assistance (SEIÐR) were largely performed by women. Special cultic sites or buildings (HOFS) existed but religious ceremonies were not limited to these settings. Sacrificial activities were banned shortly after the conversion and Christian ceremonies such as baptism and communion were introduced.' [87] The offices of priest and bishop were introduced after the formal adoption of Christianity, but chiefs and farmers remained primary actors in the performance of rituals: 'The political institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was rooted in religious function, a priestly office of intermediary between the community and supernatural forces. It is unclear the degree to which the role of chieftains had been secularized by the occupation of Iceland, but it is likely chiefs played a continued role in local religious activities by performing rites and sacrifices. Religious activities were not exclusive to chieftains. Individuals played a variety of intermediary between the mundane and supernatural roles including private devotions, divination, and sorcery. The conversion to Christianity brought with it the institutions of priest and bishop to Iceland. Throughout much of the early period, the institutional power of the church was weak. Churches were located on privately owned farmlands and were built and maintained by the local farmers who maintained a priest or served as priest himself. The early farm churches were small and probably served little more than the household and immediate neighbors.' [88] The few Icelandic bishops of the Commonwealth period resembled chiefs in their reliance on additional household labour: 'Although I would prefer to flout the conventional wisdom that slavery had all but died out by the eleventh century (Karras 1988a), the household laborers that replaced them in the Commonwealth period were numerous. When Þórðr kakali returns to Iceland Kolbeinn ungi immediately sends out thirty húsmenn to look for him in Eyjafjörðr. Þorsteinn Cod-biter had sixty free men in his household (Eyrbyggja saga, ÍF 4, ch. 11); Guðmundr the Mighty had one hundred (Brennu-Njáls saga, ÍF 12, ch. 113); Sörla þáttr (Ljósvetninga saga), ÍF 10, ch. 1:109); Bishop Páll's household at Skálholt (ca 1200) had seventy to eighty residents, and a household with eighty has been discussed above. It is probably not unfair to say that by the Commonwealth period the majority of the wealth of great bœndur and goðar was the product of teams of house-men and women.' [89] The interests of the church and the 'secular' elites were in conflict during the phase of intensified internal strife that preceded the Norwegian period: 'As I have mentioned earlier, the era of the Sturlungs was a period bordering on civil war, in which the Sturlunga family was central. What kinds of sentiments would the author of the Eyrbyggja saga, who must have been close to the Sturlungs, be likely to express? Although some of the Sturlung family's most prominent members in Norway had solemnly obliged themselves to further the king's cause, they nevertheless tended to forget the vow when they returned to Iceland. As also was the case with other chieftains, they preferred to act independently of the king. Some of the Sturlungs clearly harbored dreams of being Icelandic kings; others preferred a society governed by an oligarchy of Icelandic [Page 144] chieftains. In both cases sentiments would have been against the Norwegian king's growing influence in Iceland. The Sturlungs were therefore likely to express anti-royal feelings, even though they might admire the king's person. As the aristocracy was competing with the Church, we may also assume that the Sturlungs were against the ascending dominance of the Church in juridical, economic, and moral matters (Hastrup 1985, ch. 7). Two of the Sturlungs had in fact been instrumental in removing bishop Ari Guðmundsson from his bishopric in northern Iceland in 1222 (ST 1:287-298). As representatives of the dominant class, the Sturlungs were also likely to express contempt towards the lower classes. We find all these structurally determined resentments in Eyrbyggja saga.' [90]

Bureaucracy characteristics

♠ Full-time bureaucrats ♣ absent ♥ 'As there was no state, there were no professional state bureaucrats. The chieftains performed most of the duties later assumed by state bureaucrats. However, professional bureaucrats were used for the running of the church and of large manors.' [91] There were no formal state institutions in Commonwealth-Era Iceland: 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [92] Chieftains and assemblies fulfilled political leadership roles, but these institutions were not bureaucratic in nature: 'Following the establishment of the Althing in 930, executive power at the regional level was vested in the goðar, whose possession of goðorð and common participation in the judicial and legislative branches of the general assembly defined them as chieftains. However, the chieftains were not linked hierarchically. After A.D. 965 Iceland was divided into thirteen assembly districts, each with three chieftainships and a district assembly site. The assembly districts were in turn grouped into four quarters. While goðar were tethered to particular districts by law, the political office of chieftainship, the goðorð, did not imply control over a defined territorial unit. It was instead a shifting nexus of personal, negotiated alliances between a chieftain and those bœndur who became his supporters or pingmenn through public oaths of allegiance.' [93] There was no centralized institution for the purpose of law enforcement: 'Iceland had established systems of laws, assemblies, and judicial institutions to serve in resolving conflict but no centralized power to enforce order or verdicts. Everyone was legally required to belong to a farming household and individual farmers had authority over and responsibility for their households. Disputes, including injuries and killings, were settled through arbitration. The offending party paid compensation to the offended party. In more extreme cases the offending individual was outlawed, either for three years or permanently, and was official cast out of society and any right to compensation. Prosecution and collection of settlements was up to private individuals. Conflicts often overstepped institutional boundaries into blood feuds. Feuds could escalate well beyond the immediate individuals or households until the involved whole social networks. With the rise of chiefly power and territoriality in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regional conflicts developed that eventually encompassed t he entire island. The decades of civil strife ended in 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under the authority of the Norwegian crown.' [94] We decided in the end not to include church and manor bureaucrats.

♠ Examination system ♣ ♥

♠ Merit promotion ♣ ♥

♠ Specialized government buildings ♣ absent ♥ 'There were no specialized government buildings. Even the Alþingi or general assembly was held in open air. although on a designated place. The participants brought their own tents.' [95] There were no formal state institutions in Commonwealth-Era Iceland: 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [96] Chieftains and assemblies fulfilled political leadership roles, but these institutions were not bureaucratic in nature: 'Following the establishment of the Althing in 930, executive power at the regional level was vested in the goðar, whose possession of goðorð and common participation in the judicial and legislative branches of the general assembly defined them as chieftains. However, the chieftains were not linked hierarchically. After A.D. 965 Iceland was divided into thirteen assembly districts, each with three chieftainships and a district assembly site. The assembly districts were in turn grouped into four quarters. While goðar were tethered to particular districts by law, the political office of chieftainship, the goðorð, did not imply control over a defined territorial unit. It was instead a shifting nexus of personal, negotiated alliances between a chieftain and those bœndur who became his supporters or pingmenn through public oaths of allegiance.' [97] There was no centralized institution for the purpose of law enforcement: 'Iceland had established systems of laws, assemblies, and judicial institutions to serve in resolving conflict but no centralized power to enforce order or verdicts. Everyone was legally required to belong to a farming household and individual farmers had authority over and responsibility for their households. Disputes, including injuries and killings, were settled through arbitration. The offending party paid compensation to the offended party. In more extreme cases the offending individual was outlawed, either for three years or permanently, and was official cast out of society and any right to compensation. Prosecution and collection of settlements was up to private individuals. Conflicts often overstepped institutional boundaries into blood feuds. Feuds could escalate well beyond the immediate individuals or households until the involved whole social networks. With the rise of chiefly power and territoriality in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regional conflicts developed that eventually encompassed t he entire island. The decades of civil strife ended in 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under the authority of the Norwegian crown.' [98]

Law

♠ Formal legal code ♣ present ♥ 'There was a collection of laws in Old Norse, but possibly not bundled together in a formal book. These laws were based upon Norwegian law. According to stories, these laws were brought over in the tenth century. The Alþingi was nominally led by the lawspeaker, who only functioned as a figurehead. His laws were not written down until approximately 1100 CE.' [99] Icelandic assemblies relied on a legal code but established no formal institutions for the purpose of law enforcement: 'Iceland had established systems of laws, assemblies, and judicial institutions to serve in resolving conflict but no centralized power to enforce order or verdicts. Everyone was legally required to belong to a farming household and individual farmers had authority over and responsibility for their households. Disputes, including injuries and killings, were settled through arbitration. The offending party paid compensation to the offended party. In more extreme cases the offending individual was outlawed, either for three years or permanently, and was official cast out of society and any right to compensation. Prosecution and collection of settlements was up to private individuals. Conflicts often overstepped institutional boundaries into blood feuds. Feuds could escalate well beyond the immediate individuals or households until the involved whole social networks. With the rise of chiefly power and territoriality in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regional conflicts developed that eventually encompassed t he entire island. The decades of civil strife ended in 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under the authority of the Norwegian crown.' [100] The Grágás laws are a notable example: 'It is impossible to say how much of this book is represented in Grágás. Grágás has been preserved in two manuscripts which date to about 1260 and 1280. It is not possible to assign dates to individual provisions within it. The provenance of the manuscripts is unknown and neither is an official compilation (Miller 1990: 42).' [101] 'Another section of Grágás, Vígslóði (“Consequences of Slaying”), says that compensations for slaying suits belong to heirs, men or women, and gives the order in which relatives should become plaintiffs. The saga evidence does not contradict this section of the law, to which the Baugatal is only an appendix (Phillpotts 1913 : 38).' [102] 'One reading of the parts of Grágás that specify wergild divisions, Baugatal, suggests that Iceland was “almost a federation of kindreds” (Phillpotts 1913 : 11). Phillpotts reviews the law and says that “if we compare these regulations with Saga wergilds the result is somewhat baffling” (1913 : 13). In the whole corpus of sagas never is a wergild reduced to compensate for missing kinsmen in various categories. It is always a fixed sum. The wergild is never divided among classes of kindred as the law stipulates. There are no disputes about wergild shares among payers or receivers. In Iceland kinsmen quarreled about everything else, and elsewhere in northern Europe kinsmen disputed about the division of wergilds. Often a person who should receive payment of wergild as a relative of a slain person was fighting on the side of his killer (pp. 13-14).' [103] The formal codification process began in the early 12th century: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [104] Some of the received material may have been obsolete by the time of codification: 'If we credit any of the other sources for the period, or the internal evidence of Grágás, it is clear that some of the laws recorded were obsolete, some never enacted, and some unenforced (Miller 1990:231; Dennis et al 1980). This poses the problem of how to interpret this document.' [105]

♠ Judges ♣ absent ♥ 'Presiding as a judge was only a part time occupation. Godordsmen (chieftains) and the lords of the territorial lordships could act as arbitrators and the Lögrétta, where they all had a seat, may sometimes have acted as a court of law. However, jurors would normally have been farmers nominated by the godordsmen, not legal professionals.' [106] Icelandic assemblies relied on a legal code but established no formal institutions for the purpose of law enforcement: 'Iceland had established systems of laws, assemblies, and judicial institutions to serve in resolving conflict but no centralized power to enforce order or verdicts. Everyone was legally required to belong to a farming household and individual farmers had authority over and responsibility for their households. Disputes, including injuries and killings, were settled through arbitration. The offending party paid compensation to the offended party. In more extreme cases the offending individual was outlawed, either for three years or permanently, and was official cast out of society and any right to compensation. Prosecution and collection of settlements was up to private individuals. Conflicts often overstepped institutional boundaries into blood feuds. Feuds could escalate well beyond the immediate individuals or households until the involved whole social networks. With the rise of chiefly power and territoriality in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regional conflicts developed that eventually encompassed t he entire island. The decades of civil strife ended in 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under the authority of the Norwegian crown.' [107] Enforcement of settlements was the responsibility of the individual and therefore highly dependent on social and political power: 'Turner (1971) recognized that there was no state in medieval Iceland, and that while there was law, it did not count for much. Force was decisive. Miller asks under what circumstances people settled disputes by arbitration rather than legal judgments or violent self-help (1984). He describes the system of assemblies, courts, quarters, chieftains and followers, and points out that the sanction behind all legal judgments was feud or the fear of it. There were no corporate kin groups, and in any situation the kin group “had to be actively [Page 234] assembled,” its composition reflecting the “popularity, wealth, and persuasive skills of the organizer” and the seriousness of the wrong to be remedied (p. 99). Kin bonds were stronger closer to home, but this pattern was offset by attendance at the general assembly, where relatives tended to each others' business.' [108] 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [109] Entitlement to personal property was equally defended by force: 'In Commonwealth Iceland there was a system of extraction based on claims to ownership of property, on concepts of the unproblematic [Page 161] differential access to resources in favour of a chieftainly class. The chieftains were unwilling to subordinate themselves to state institutions to protect their privileged positions. The consequence was stratification without a state, the contradiction of an economic system based on property relationships without a congruent institutional system to enforce them. Ownership was as sound as the force one could muster to defend it. There was a complex system of law, but it was all just so much labyrinthine rhetoric in the face of the stark reality that power decided. As slavery diminished, claimants to land enlarged their holdings by using wage labour and tenancy arrangements to work them. To support their claims, they had to increase their power by enlarging their entourages.' [110] State-enforced justice was formalized only during the Norwegian period: 'From the legal and political perspective, it is more or less agreed that the absorption of the Icelandic Commonwealth by the Norwegian monarchy after 1263 changed substantially the penal nature of outlawry and the legal status of the outlaw in society. Banishment from the community or exile from the country became a dead letter of law, as in the Jónsbók of 1281 (1970), even though magicians would occasionally be banished as late as the seventeenth century (Reykers 1936:16). And as a fugitive from justice rather than the outcast of the community, the postmedieval Icelandic outlaw was no longer punishable by the people he had wronged but instead by state-appointed magistrates and the public executioner. This was the sort of juridical transition from personal vengeance to state-enforced ‘justice’ which Lord Acton would have approved of but Andreas Heusler deplored.' [111]

♠ Courts ♣ absent ♥ Icelandic assemblies relied on a legal code but established no formal institutions for the purpose of law enforcement: 'Iceland had established systems of laws, assemblies, and judicial institutions to serve in resolving conflict but no centralized power to enforce order or verdicts. Everyone was legally required to belong to a farming household and individual farmers had authority over and responsibility for their households. Disputes, including injuries and killings, were settled through arbitration. The offending party paid compensation to the offended party. In more extreme cases the offending individual was outlawed, either for three years or permanently, and was official cast out of society and any right to compensation. Prosecution and collection of settlements was up to private individuals. Conflicts often overstepped institutional boundaries into blood feuds. Feuds could escalate well beyond the immediate individuals or households until the involved whole social networks. With the rise of chiefly power and territoriality in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regional conflicts developed that eventually encompassed t he entire island. The decades of civil strife ended in 1262 A.D. when Iceland came under the authority of the Norwegian crown.' [112] Enforcement of settlements was the responsibility of the individual and therefore highly dependent on social and political power: 'Turner (1971) recognized that there was no state in medieval Iceland, and that while there was law, it did not count for much. Force was decisive. Miller asks under what circumstances people settled disputes by arbitration rather than legal judgments or violent self-help (1984). He describes the system of assemblies, courts, quarters, chieftains and followers, and points out that the sanction behind all legal judgments was feud or the fear of it. There were no corporate kin groups, and in any situation the kin group “had to be actively [Page 234] assembled,” its composition reflecting the “popularity, wealth, and persuasive skills of the organizer” and the seriousness of the wrong to be remedied (p. 99). Kin bonds were stronger closer to home, but this pattern was offset by attendance at the general assembly, where relatives tended to each others' business.' [113] 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [114] Entitlement to personal property was equally defended by force: 'In Commonwealth Iceland there was a system of extraction based on claims to ownership of property, on concepts of the unproblematic [Page 161] differential access to resources in favour of a chieftainly class. The chieftains were unwilling to subordinate themselves to state institutions to protect their privileged positions. The consequence was stratification without a state, the contradiction of an economic system based on property relationships without a congruent institutional system to enforce them. Ownership was as sound as the force one could muster to defend it. There was a complex system of law, but it was all just so much labyrinthine rhetoric in the face of the stark reality that power decided. As slavery diminished, claimants to land enlarged their holdings by using wage labour and tenancy arrangements to work them. To support their claims, they had to increase their power by enlarging their entourages.' [115] State-enforced justice was formalized only during the Norwegian period: 'From the legal and political perspective, it is more or less agreed that the absorption of the Icelandic Commonwealth by the Norwegian monarchy after 1263 changed substantially the penal nature of outlawry and the legal status of the outlaw in society. Banishment from the community or exile from the country became a dead letter of law, as in the Jónsbók of 1281 (1970), even though magicians would occasionally be banished as late as the seventeenth century (Reykers 1936:16). And as a fugitive from justice rather than the outcast of the community, the postmedieval Icelandic outlaw was no longer punishable by the people he had wronged but instead by state-appointed magistrates and the public executioner. This was the sort of juridical transition from personal vengeance to state-enforced ‘justice’ which Lord Acton would have approved of but Andreas Heusler deplored.' [116] There were no court buildings.

♠ Professional Lawyers ♣ absent ♥

Specialized Buildings: polity owned

♠ irrigation systems ♣ absent ♥ 'The irrigation systems were all private initiatives.' [117]
♠ drinking water supply systems ♣ absent ♥
♠ markets ♣ absent ♥ 'Markets were apparently ad hoc, seasonal with no permanent buildings. They do not seem owned by anybody, but the owner of the land they stood on could receive compensation. There were no ‘polity-owned’ markets.' [118] Icelanders maintained trading relations with Scandinavians and Europeans: 'The early Icelanders maintained commercial contacts with Europe and obtained goods from Scandinavia, England, the Norse Orkneys, and the Netherlands. The majority of trade, however, was with Norway, both for Norwegian goods and for foreign goods obtained by Norwegian merchants. The limited resources, especially in terms of raw materials for manufactured goods, made Iceland highly dependent on imported goods. Even before the decline and cessation of grain production in Iceland it is unlikely that Iceland ever produced enough cereals to meet its own needs. Of special significance in a feasting economy, grain and malt were essential to ale production. After Christianization imported wine also become essential for the celebration of communion. Many higher quality iron products, for example weapons and armor, could not be produced from local sources and were imported, mostly in finished forms. Other metals - brass, tin, lead, gold, silver, and bronze - were unavailable locally as well as steatite for utensils and stone suitable for making whetstones. Iceland had a limited number of exportable resources and goods. Homespun woolen cloth was the principal export and was a common standard of value in local exchanges. Sulfur, unavailable from any continental source, was a valuable commodity. Falcons and various animal skins - sheep, fox, and cat - were marketable as were cheese and possibly butter. Fish, the current mainstay of the Icelandic economy was not a significant export item in early Iceland.' [119] According to Bolender, there were no formal markets: 'There were no formal markets and most exchanges and payments, such as rents, were made in kind. Regular assemblies provided a venue for traders and specialized producers who also traveled among farmsteads. Despite the rarity of monetary exchanges, the Icelanders maintained a complex system of value equivalencies based on a silver ounce standard that encompassed most exchangeable goods.' [120] But Smith et al mention trading and harbor sites, usually the result of private initiative: 'Other models, each with specific archaeological correlates, could be utilized to examine other relationships. Information on fortifications, boat houses, or the size of dwellings might be used to generate data on the position of farms in political hierarchies. The size and distribution of chapels, cemeteries, and other sacred structures could provide information on religious hierarchies. Other features of the landscape (réttar, þing sites), trail or road markers (Jónsson 1980), boundary markers (Jónsson 1983), and trading or harbor sites (Þorkelsson [Page 195] 1984) could provide information on patterns of regional integration. Modern agricultural data on the productivity of different vegetative communities could also be integrated with archaeological information on farm complexes to estimate their foddering capabilities, their potential productivity, and the degree to which their resources were over- or under-exploited or changed through time (cf. McGovern 1980). The integration of data on economic, political, and ecclesiastic rank, economic strategies, regional integration, and biological productivity should permit detailed analyses of the structure of and changes in regional socioeconomic and political organization and evaluation of the role of different social and ecological factors in causing or directing cultural change.' [121]
♠ food storage sites ♣ absent ♥ 'There were a sort of granaries attached to the bigger manors. It is unknown whether these granaries were simply used by the members of the household or had a sort of public function.' [122] We have provisionally coded 'absent'.

Transport infrastructure

♠ Roads ♣ absent ♥ Smith et al mention trail and road markers, but no permanent paved roads: 'Other models, each with specific archaeological correlates, could be utilized to examine other relationships. Information on fortifications, boat houses, or the size of dwellings might be used to generate data on the position of farms in political hierarchies. The size and distribution of chapels, cemeteries, and other sacred structures could provide information on religious hierarchies. Other features of the landscape (réttar, þing sites), trail or road markers (Jónsson 1980), boundary markers (Jónsson 1983), and trading or harbor sites (Þorkelsson [Page 195] 1984) could provide information on patterns of regional integration. Modern agricultural data on the productivity of different vegetative communities could also be integrated with archaeological information on farm complexes to estimate their foddering capabilities, their potential productivity, and the degree to which their resources were over- or under-exploited or changed through time (cf. McGovern 1980). The integration of data on economic, political, and ecclesiastic rank, economic strategies, regional integration, and biological productivity should permit detailed analyses of the structure of and changes in regional socioeconomic and political organization and evaluation of the role of different social and ecological factors in causing or directing cultural change.' [123] According to Hálfdanarson, roads were absent from Commonwealth-Era Iceland: 'The history of Iceland reflects its harsh ecological conditions in various ways. Although the country is not well suited for agriculture because the short summers render commercial grain growing almost impossible, animal husbandry remained the main occupation of its population for the first millennium of its history. Sheep and cattle were the most important domestic animals; the former raised for their milk, wool, and meat, and the latter primarily for their milk. Horses were used for transportation, but a total absence of roads made the use of wagons or other vehicles almost impossible in Iceland. Icelandic farming took the form of sedentary pastoralism, meaning that extensive mountain pastures were crucial for the feeding of the animals during the summer, while during the winter, farmers and peasants grazed their animals close to their farms and used hay from meadows as fodder for their livestock. In congruence with these economic patterns, the rural population in Iceland was dispersed over the whole inhabitable area. Each farm needed a relatively large tract of land to be economically viable, a fact that made concentration into peasant villages impractical. Rather, the whole countryside was divided between separate farming households living on individual farms. The only common lands were the mountain pastures, which were usually separated from the inhabited lowland.' [124]
♠ Bridges ♣ absent ♥ 'Maintaining bridges (and also ferries) was the duty of the neighbouring farmer, not the state.' [125]
♠ Canals ♣ absent ♥
♠ Ports ♣ absent ♥ Smith et al mention harbor sites: 'Other models, each with specific archaeological correlates, could be utilized to examine other relationships. Information on fortifications, boat houses, or the size of dwellings might be used to generate data on the position of farms in political hierarchies. The size and distribution of chapels, cemeteries, and other sacred structures could provide information on religious hierarchies. Other features of the landscape (réttar, þing sites), trail or road markers (Jónsson 1980), boundary markers (Jónsson 1983), and trading or harbor sites (Þorkelsson [Page 195] 1984) could provide information on patterns of regional integration. Modern agricultural data on the productivity of different vegetative communities could also be integrated with archaeological information on farm complexes to estimate their foddering capabilities, their potential productivity, and the degree to which their resources were over- or under-exploited or changed through time (cf. McGovern 1980). The integration of data on economic, political, and ecclesiastic rank, economic strategies, regional integration, and biological productivity should permit detailed analyses of the structure of and changes in regional socioeconomic and political organization and evaluation of the role of different social and ecological factors in causing or directing cultural change.' [126] It appears these harbors were the result of private initiative: 'The polity did not maintain any ports.' [127]


Special purpose sites

♠ Mines or quarries ♣ absent ♥ Iceland's resources were limited: 'Early Iceland had a limited range of material resources for manufacturing. Clays suitable for ceramic production are largely unavailable in Iceland. Woodworking and carpentry were essential to construction and the many household items were fashioned from driftwood. Bog iron was used for most metalworking and required charcoal production for smelting and working. Spinning and weaving from wool was a ubiquitous household industry. Leather was another important material in the production of clothing and household goods. Ale was locally produced, largely from imported grains and salt was made from burning kelp and seaweed.' [128] Many metal tools were imported rather than locally produced: 'The limited resources, especially in terms of raw materials for manufactured goods, made Iceland highly dependent on imported goods. Even before the decline and cessation of grain production in Iceland it is unlikely that Iceland ever produced enough cereals to meet its own needs. Of special significance in a feasting economy, grain and malt were essential to ale production. After Christianization imported wine also become essential for the celebration of communion. Many higher quality iron products, for example weapons and armor, could not be produced from local sources and were imported, mostly in finished forms. Other metals - brass, tin, lead, gold, silver, and bronze - were unavailable locally as well as steatite for utensils and stone suitable for making whetstones.' [129]

Information

Writing System

♠ Mnemonic devices ♣ unknown ♥ 'There were two kinds of writing systems. Until the introduction of Christianity around 1000 CE runes were used. Very few runes are preserved and these are mostly labels or scratches that cannot be interpreted. They were probably used for the exchange of notes between people and also had some ritualistic function. The evidence is extremely patchy. From 1000 CE onward the Latin Alphabet was used. Mnemonic devices are unknown.' [130]
♠ Nonwritten records ♣ present ♥ Odner refers to oral literature: 'While literacy became widespread in Iceland during the two centuries prior to the writing of the sagas, the evidence suggests that writing continued to be connected to chieftains and landowners. As literacy was taught by the Church, most chieftains had clerical training, and many of them were ordained priests (Sveinsson 1953). Although the international outlook of Christianity was inimical to the kin-based and locally-based Icelandic civilization, at that time it was probably not regarded as too radical. Actually, when Christianity was first introduced to Iceland, it was probably considered to be a resource which the chieftains could exploit [Page 127] to their own benefit, and literacy was part of it. At the turn of the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, when they began to write sagas, relations between the lay and Church authorities became strained. The literature of the twelfth century is half-secular, half-ecclesiastic (Sveinsson 1953:103). The tension between the Church and the chieftains created an independent secular literature in Iceland in the thirteenth century (Lönnroth 1991). Increasingly, people turned to the oral literature which existed in the secular social environment. The context of literacy continued to be closely associated to the dominant social class.' [131] Later written records, such as sagas, at least in part reflected older oral traditions (see below). The legal code was initially transmitted orally (see above): 'As Hastrup points out (1985:189) the principal of allodial or adal land, family ownership of land, was not transplanted to Iceland, for one reason, because there was no history of prior occupation on which to base such claims. She agrees with those who argue that the reason for the writing of Landnámabók, the Book of Settlements, which lists many settlers, their land claims, genealogies, and events of the Settlement Period, in the twelfth century was to provide evidence for claims to hereditary rights in land (p. 192). This work was written some time after the first recording of law began in 1117. The collection of laws is known as Grágás. According to this code, [Page 246] written nearly two-hundred years after the establishment of the Alþing and the adoption of an oral code of laws, land ownership was individual (Hastrup 1985:189). Hastrup argues that there was a contradiction between the legal code of individual ownership and informal concepts of family ownership which developed during the period after the settlement.' [132]
♠ Written records ♣ absent: 930-1100 CE; present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ Literacy existed before latinization, but was associated with social authority and written records are sparse: 'It is usually forgotten that literacy had existed in Norse culture, of which Icelandic culture was a late offshoot, long before the year 1000. Actually, literacy was introduced with the runic alphabet as early as the second or third century A.D. Literacy seems, however, to have been the prerogative of the aristocratic class. It seems that the secrets were jealously guarded by the leading social stratum. Runic inscriptions are generally short, and mainly commemorate family relationships. The Tune stone runic inscription from Østfold in eastern Norway (from around A.D. 200) may serve as an example. Although there is some disagreement regarding interpretation, it is commonly believed that the inscription relates a number of inheritors to an ancestor (Grønvik 1981), and that it was connected to the inheritors' claims to exclusive rights to property. Runes were shrouded in magic and sorcery, imbuing the text with sacrality. Writing constituted authority. That writing of runes was associated with people of authority is also manifested in Norse mythology. In the poem Rígsþula, written in Iceland in the thirteenth century, but commonly [Page 126] believed to belong to the Viking period, the god Heimdallr teaches the prince Jarl (Earl) to write runes. In some of the stanzas of Hávamál the high god Óðinn sacrifices himself in order to obtain the powerful knowledge of the runes (138-141). Óðinn was above all the god of the aristocratic warriors. In these and similar cases the basic message is that rune writing was an exclusive right of the aristocratic class.' [133] The introduction of the Latin alphabet expanded the spectrum of written genres beyond the badly preserved Runic tradition: 'At the time of settlement, the Icelanders spoke Old Norse (a Germanic language, in the large Indo-European group of languages), which was then common throughout Scandinavia. By the beginning of the twelfth century linguistic conservatism on the remote island society had introduced significant differences between Icelandic and its Scandinavian neighbors resulting in a distinct Icelandic. Prior to the conversion to Christianity in 1000 A.D., Old Norse was written in a runic alphabet. Runes had a restricted use and few runic inscriptions have survived from Iceland. With Christianity came the Roman alphabet and the expansion of written genres, which thrived in Iceland.' [134] We have selected 1100ce as a potential date of transition following expert advice. Early Icelanders then developed a rich literary tradition: 'One of the remarkable legacies of early Iceland is its wealth of literary production. Icelandic literary production encompassed continental chivalrous, hagiographic, and historical traditions, in addition to the autochthonous development of the saga. Among other topics, Icelandic sagas depict events from the early years of Icelandic society, the colonization of Greenland and the discovery of North America, and the civil wars that characterized the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Iceland. The medieval manuscripts also preserve an artistic tradition in illumination. The literary levels achieved in Iceland, to some degree, developed from strong oral traditions of poetry and narrative. Much of the material culture of early Iceland has not been preserved but a strong tradition in artistic woodcarving is evident.' [135] The introduction of Christianity was an important factor in this process: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [136] 'While literacy became widespread in Iceland during the two centuries prior to the writing of the sagas, the evidence suggests that writing continued to be connected to chieftains and landowners. As literacy was taught by the Church, most chieftains had clerical training, and many of them were ordained priests (Sveinsson 1953). Although the international outlook of Christianity was inimical to the kin-based and locally-based Icelandic civilization, at that time it was probably not regarded as too radical. Actually, when Christianity was first introduced to Iceland, it was probably considered to be a resource which the chieftains could exploit [Page 127] to their own benefit, and literacy was part of it. At the turn of the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, when they began to write sagas, relations between the lay and Church authorities became strained. The literature of the twelfth century is half-secular, half-ecclesiastic (Sveinsson 1953:103). The tension between the Church and the chieftains created an independent secular literature in Iceland in the thirteenth century (Lönnroth 1991). Increasingly, people turned to the oral literature which existed in the secular social environment. The context of literacy continued to be closely associated to the dominant social class.' [137] The Roman alphabet was adapted to the Norse vernacular: 'When they started writing, Icelanders wrote about secular as well as religious matters. They adapted the Roman alphabet to their own tongue and wrote in the vernacular because they had something to write for one another. This process of writing started just about a hundred years after seasonal labor became available, when landowners could expand their holdings and the distribution of wealth, land, and power began to shift in a continuous process of revaluing the social and political variables.' [138]
♠ Script ♣ present ♥ Literacy existed before latinization, but was associated with social authority: 'It is usually forgotten that literacy had existed in Norse culture, of which Icelandic culture was a late offshoot, long before the year 1000. Actually, literacy was introduced with the runic alphabet as early as the second or third century A.D. Literacy seems, however, to have been the prerogative of the aristocratic class. It seems that the secrets were jealously guarded by the leading social stratum. Runic inscriptions are generally short, and mainly commemorate family relationships. The Tune stone runic inscription from Østfold in eastern Norway (from around A.D. 200) may serve as an example. Although there is some disagreement regarding interpretation, it is commonly believed that the inscription relates a number of inheritors to an ancestor (Grønvik 1981), and that it was connected to the inheritors' claims to exclusive rights to property. Runes were shrouded in magic and sorcery, imbuing the text with sacrality. Writing constituted authority. That writing of runes was associated with people of authority is also manifested in Norse mythology. In the poem Rígsþula, written in Iceland in the thirteenth century, but commonly [Page 126] believed to belong to the Viking period, the god Heimdallr teaches the prince Jarl (Earl) to write runes. In some of the stanzas of Hávamál the high god Óðinn sacrifices himself in order to obtain the powerful knowledge of the runes (138-141). Óðinn was above all the god of the aristocratic warriors. In these and similar cases the basic message is that rune writing was an exclusive right of the aristocratic class.' [139] The introduction of the Latin alphabet expanded the spectrum of written genres beyond the badly preserved runic tradition: 'At the time of settlement, the Icelanders spoke Old Norse (a Germanic language, in the large Indo-European group of languages), which was then common throughout Scandinavia. By the beginning of the twelfth century linguistic conservatism on the remote island society had introduced significant differences between Icelandic and its Scandinavian neighbors resulting in a distinct Icelandic. Prior to the conversion to Christianity in 1000 A.D., Old Norse was written in a runic alphabet. Runes had a restricted use and few runic inscriptions have survived from Iceland. With Christianity came the Roman alphabet and the expansion of written genres, which thrived in Iceland.' [140] Early Icelanders then developed a rich literary tradition: 'One of the remarkable legacies of early Iceland is its wealth of literary production. Icelandic literary production encompassed continental chivalrous, hagiographic, and historical traditions, in addition to the autochthonous development of the saga. Among other topics, Icelandic sagas depict events from the early years of Icelandic society, the colonization of Greenland and the discovery of North America, and the civil wars that characterized the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Iceland. The medieval manuscripts also preserve an artistic tradition in illumination. The literary levels achieved in Iceland, to some degree, developed from strong oral traditions of poetry and narrative. Much of the material culture of early Iceland has not been preserved but a strong tradition in artistic woodcarving is evident.' [141] The introduction of Christianity was an important factor in this process: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [142] 'While literacy became widespread in Iceland during the two centuries prior to the writing of the sagas, the evidence suggests that writing continued to be connected to chieftains and landowners. As literacy was taught by the Church, most chieftains had clerical training, and many of them were ordained priests (Sveinsson 1953). Although the international outlook of Christianity was inimical to the kin-based and locally-based Icelandic civilization, at that time it was probably not regarded as too radical. Actually, when Christianity was first introduced to Iceland, it was probably considered to be a resource which the chieftains could exploit [Page 127] to their own benefit, and literacy was part of it. At the turn of the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, when they began to write sagas, relations between the lay and Church authorities became strained. The literature of the twelfth century is half-secular, half-ecclesiastic (Sveinsson 1953:103). The tension between the Church and the chieftains created an independent secular literature in Iceland in the thirteenth century (Lönnroth 1991). Increasingly, people turned to the oral literature which existed in the secular social environment. The context of literacy continued to be closely associated to the dominant social class.' [143] The Roman alphabet was adapted to the Norse vernacular: 'When they started writing, Icelanders wrote about secular as well as religious matters. They adapted the Roman alphabet to their own tongue and wrote in the vernacular because they had something to write for one another. This process of writing started just about a hundred years after seasonal labor became available, when landowners could expand their holdings and the distribution of wealth, land, and power began to shift in a continuous process of revaluing the social and political variables.' [144] This code refers to both Runes and the Latin alphabet.
♠ Phonetic alphabetic writing ♣ present ♥ Literacy existed before latinization, but was associated with social authority: 'It is usually forgotten that literacy had existed in Norse culture, of which Icelandic culture was a late offshoot, long before the year 1000. Actually, literacy was introduced with the runic alphabet as early as the second or third century A.D. Literacy seems, however, to have been the prerogative of the aristocratic class. It seems that the secrets were jealously guarded by the leading social stratum. Runic inscriptions are generally short, and mainly commemorate family relationships. The Tune stone runic inscription from Østfold in eastern Norway (from around A.D. 200) may serve as an example. Although there is some disagreement regarding interpretation, it is commonly believed that the inscription relates a number of inheritors to an ancestor (Grønvik 1981), and that it was connected to the inheritors' claims to exclusive rights to property. Runes were shrouded in magic and sorcery, imbuing the text with sacrality. Writing constituted authority. That writing of runes was associated with people of authority is also manifested in Norse mythology. In the poem Rígsþula, written in Iceland in the thirteenth century, but commonly [Page 126] believed to belong to the Viking period, the god Heimdallr teaches the prince Jarl (Earl) to write runes. In some of the stanzas of Hávamál the high god Óðinn sacrifices himself in order to obtain the powerful knowledge of the runes (138-141). Óðinn was above all the god of the aristocratic warriors. In these and similar cases the basic message is that rune writing was an exclusive right of the aristocratic class.' [145] The introduction of the Latin alphabet expanded the spectrum of written genres beyond the badly preserved runic tradition: 'At the time of settlement, the Icelanders spoke Old Norse (a Germanic language, in the large Indo-European group of languages), which was then common throughout Scandinavia. By the beginning of the twelfth century linguistic conservatism on the remote island society had introduced significant differences between Icelandic and its Scandinavian neighbors resulting in a distinct Icelandic. Prior to the conversion to Christianity in 1000 A.D., Old Norse was written in a runic alphabet. Runes had a restricted use and few runic inscriptions have survived from Iceland. With Christianity came the Roman alphabet and the expansion of written genres, which thrived in Iceland.' [146] Early Icelanders then developed a rich literary tradition: 'One of the remarkable legacies of early Iceland is its wealth of literary production. Icelandic literary production encompassed continental chivalrous, hagiographic, and historical traditions, in addition to the autochthonous development of the saga. Among other topics, Icelandic sagas depict events from the early years of Icelandic society, the colonization of Greenland and the discovery of North America, and the civil wars that characterized the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Iceland. The medieval manuscripts also preserve an artistic tradition in illumination. The literary levels achieved in Iceland, to some degree, developed from strong oral traditions of poetry and narrative. Much of the material culture of early Iceland has not been preserved but a strong tradition in artistic woodcarving is evident.' [147] The introduction of Christianity was an important factor in this process: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [148] 'While literacy became widespread in Iceland during the two centuries prior to the writing of the sagas, the evidence suggests that writing continued to be connected to chieftains and landowners. As literacy was taught by the Church, most chieftains had clerical training, and many of them were ordained priests (Sveinsson 1953). Although the international outlook of Christianity was inimical to the kin-based and locally-based Icelandic civilization, at that time it was probably not regarded as too radical. Actually, when Christianity was first introduced to Iceland, it was probably considered to be a resource which the chieftains could exploit [Page 127] to their own benefit, and literacy was part of it. At the turn of the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries, when they began to write sagas, relations between the lay and Church authorities became strained. The literature of the twelfth century is half-secular, half-ecclesiastic (Sveinsson 1953:103). The tension between the Church and the chieftains created an independent secular literature in Iceland in the thirteenth century (Lönnroth 1991). Increasingly, people turned to the oral literature which existed in the secular social environment. The context of literacy continued to be closely associated to the dominant social class.' [149] The Roman alphabet was adapted to the Norse vernacular: 'When they started writing, Icelanders wrote about secular as well as religious matters. They adapted the Roman alphabet to their own tongue and wrote in the vernacular because they had something to write for one another. This process of writing started just about a hundred years after seasonal labor became available, when landowners could expand their holdings and the distribution of wealth, land, and power began to shift in a continuous process of revaluing the social and political variables.' [150] This code refers to both Runes and the Latin alphabet.

Kinds of Written Documents

♠ Lists, tables, and classifications ♣ absent: 930-1000 CE; present: 1001-1262 CE ♥ The Book of Settlements seems to fit this category: 'As Hastrup points out (1985:189) the principal of allodial or adal land, family ownership of land, was not transplanted to Iceland, for one reason, because there was no history of prior occupation on which to base such claims. She agrees with those who argue that the reason for the writing of Landnámabók, the Book of Settlements, which lists many settlers, their land claims, genealogies, and events of the Settlement Period, in the twelfth century was to provide evidence for claims to hereditary rights in land (p. 192). This work was written some time after the first recording of law began in 1117. The collection of laws is known as Grágás. According to this code, [Page 246] written nearly two-hundred years after the establishment of the Alþing and the adoption of an oral code of laws, land ownership was individual (Hastrup 1985:189). Hastrup argues that there was a contradiction between the legal code of individual ownership and informal concepts of family ownership which developed during the period after the settlement.' [151] '1000 is probably correct if we include imported books and documents.' [152]
♠ Calendar ♣ inferred absent: 930-1000 CE; present: 1001-1262 CE ♥ It is assumed here that the Christian calender was adopted with the religion: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [153] Icelandic historiography indicates a clear sense of past events and chronology: 'One of the remarkable legacies of early Iceland is its wealth of literary production. Icelandic literary production encompassed continental chivalrous, hagiographic, and historical traditions, in addition to the autochthonous development of the saga. Among other topics, Icelandic sagas depict events from the early years of Icelandic society, the colonization of Greenland and the discovery of North America, and the civil wars that characterized the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Iceland. The medieval manuscripts also preserve an artistic tradition in illumination. The literary levels achieved in Iceland, to some degree, developed from strong oral traditions of poetry and narrative. Much of the material culture of early Iceland has not been preserved but a strong tradition in artistic woodcarving is evident.' [154] We are unsure whether there were written calendars before the introduction of Christianity.
♠ Sacred Texts ♣ absent: 930-1000 CE; present: 1001-1262 CE ♥ Christianity was adopted around 1000ce: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [155] The saga literature does not predate the introduction of Christianity when it comes to received written records: 'According to most authors writing was introduced to Iceland when the country was Christianized in the year 1000. In the two centuries that followed, writing was used for many purposes: religious works, a grammar, a law book and a short history. Most of the family sagas were written in the thirteenth century. The saga with which I am concerned, Eyrbyggja saga (ÍF 4), is commonly believed to have been written between 1230-1250 (Schach & Hollander 1959:xx). I shall deal only with a part of this saga, which I have called the Þórgunna story (ÍF 4, ch. 49-55). I consider the Þórgunna story a myth. Anthropologists believe that myths contain hidden messages in symbolic forms. According to Malinowski (1926) myths are social charters. Lévi-Strauss (1963) argues that myths have a binary structure and that their oppositions explore contradictions in social and other relations.' [156] 'The Poetic Edda, a collection of verses compiled by an Icelander in the last half of the thirteenth century, offers another view into the worldview of the period by indicating what its compiler(s) found valuable. Scribal errors suggest it was not written from memory or dictation, but copied from at least two manuscripts. Paleographic evidence suggests that these two source manuscripts are not older than the beginning of the thirteenth century and must have been written by different scribes. Nothing is known of its provenance or compilation or composition. Linguistic evidence suggests the verses do not predate the ninth century (Hollander 1962).' [157]
♠ Religious literature ♣ absent: 930-1000 CE; inferred present: 1001-1100 CE; present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ absent/present/unknown Christianity was introduced in 1000ce: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [158] Hagiographic and other kinds of religious literature were present: 'Christianity is closely associated with religious literature and some of it must have been present in Iceland after the conversion although imported.' [159] 'One of the remarkable legacies of early Iceland is its wealth of literary production. Icelandic literary production encompassed continental chivalrous, hagiographic, and historical traditions, in addition to the autochthonous development of the saga. Among other topics, Icelandic sagas depict events from the early years of Icelandic society, the colonization of Greenland and the discovery of North America, and the civil wars that characterized the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Iceland. The medieval manuscripts also preserve an artistic tradition in illumination. The literary levels achieved in Iceland, to some degree, developed from strong oral traditions of poetry and narrative. Much of the material culture of early Iceland has not been preserved but a strong tradition in artistic woodcarving is evident.' [160] 'According to most authors writing was introduced to Iceland when the country was Christianized in the year 1000. In the two centuries that followed, writing was used for many purposes: religious works, a grammar, a law book and a short history. Most of the family sagas were written in the thirteenth century. The saga with which I am concerned, Eyrbyggja saga (ÍF 4), is commonly believed to have been written between 1230-1250 (Schach & Hollander 1959:xx). I shall deal only with a part of this saga, which I have called the Þórgunna story (ÍF 4, ch. 49-55). I consider the Þórgunna story a myth. Anthropologists believe that myths contain hidden messages in symbolic forms. According to Malinowski (1926) myths are social charters. Lévi-Strauss (1963) argues that myths have a binary structure and that their oppositions explore contradictions in social and other relations.' [161]
♠ Practical literature ♣ absent: 930-1100 CE; inferred present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ 'There were essays on how to write in Icelandic. There are many little known texts, some collected in ‘Alfræði íslenzk’. These include instructions in medicine and how to make religious statues (líkneski).' [162]
♠ History ♣ absent: 930-1100 CE; present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ After the introduction of Christianity, historiographic literature developed: 'According to most authors writing was introduced to Iceland when the country was Christianized in the year 1000. In the two centuries that followed, writing was used for many purposes: religious works, a grammar, a law book and a short history. Most of the family sagas were written in the thirteenth century. The saga with which I am concerned, Eyrbyggja saga (ÍF 4), is commonly believed to have been written between 1230-1250 (Schach & Hollander 1959:xx). I shall deal only with a part of this saga, which I have called the Þórgunna story (ÍF 4, ch. 49-55). I consider the Þórgunna story a myth. Anthropologists believe that myths contain hidden messages in symbolic forms. According to Malinowski (1926) myths are social charters. Lévi-Strauss (1963) argues that myths have a binary structure and that their oppositions explore contradictions in social and other relations.' [163] The Book of Icelanders is one example: 'Ari Thorgilsson lived from 1068 to 1148. A priest, he wrote the Book of Icelanders, a chronicle of events and people from the first settlement in 870 to 1120. He mentioned the names of his informants and that he selected them for their clearness of mind, good memories, and relationship to the events, much as Lewellyn and Hoebel (1941) assessed their sources for accounts of Cheyenne trouble cases. Ari recorded that in 1117 the general assembly decided to revise and record the laws at the house of Haflidi Másson according to what Bergÿórr, the lawspeaker, responsible for memorizing and reciting the body of law, and other knowledgeable men agreed was law. They would announce the law the next summer and would keep those which were not opposed by a majority. This lawbook has not survived. There were several written versions of law because Grágás specifies that what is found in books is to be taken as law. If the books differ, then the books of the bishops are to be preferred. If their books differ, then the longer would prevail. If both were equally long and differed, then the book at Skálholt would be used. It specified that everything in Haflidi's book would be accepted unless it had been modified since (Stein-Wilkeshuis 1986).' [164] 'The writing of history in Iceland is thought to have commenced with Íslendingabók written between 1122-1133. From then on there was a growing abundance of native written historical works (sagas), both about Icelandic and Scandinavian history (and even some examples of European/world history).' [165]
♠ Philosophy ♣ absent: 930-1100 CE; present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ Durrenberger notes the presence of legal and grammatical literature: 'According to most authors writing was introduced to Iceland when the country was Christianized in the year 1000. In the two centuries that followed, writing was used for many purposes: religious works, a grammar, a law book and a short history. Most of the family sagas were written in the thirteenth century. The saga with which I am concerned, Eyrbyggja saga (ÍF 4), is commonly believed to have been written between 1230-1250 (Schach & Hollander 1959:xx). I shall deal only with a part of this saga, which I have called the Þórgunna story (ÍF 4, ch. 49-55). I consider the Þórgunna story a myth. Anthropologists believe that myths contain hidden messages in symbolic forms. According to Malinowski (1926) myths are social charters. Lévi-Strauss (1963) argues that myths have a binary structure and that their oppositions explore contradictions in social and other relations.' [166] The Grágás legal code is one example: 'It is impossible to say how much of this book is represented in Grágás. Grágás has been preserved in two manuscripts which date to about 1260 and 1280. It is not possible to assign dates to individual provisions within it. The provenance of the manuscripts is unknown and neither is an official compilation (Miller 1990: 42).' [167] The presence of priests and bishops suggests theological writing in the Christian period: 'Educated Icelanders were well acquainted with European literature, including religious philosophy. Passages of a philosophical nature can be found in many sagas (e.g. Fóstbræðra saga, although this may be post 1262).' [168]
♠ Scientific literature ♣ absent: 930-1100 CE; present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ absent/present/unknown Durrenberger notes the presence of legal and grammatical literature: 'According to most authors writing was introduced to Iceland when the country was Christianized in the year 1000. In the two centuries that followed, writing was used for many purposes: religious works, a grammar, a law book and a short history. Most of the family sagas were written in the thirteenth century. The saga with which I am concerned, Eyrbyggja saga (ÍF 4), is commonly believed to have been written between 1230-1250 (Schach & Hollander 1959:xx). I shall deal only with a part of this saga, which I have called the Þórgunna story (ÍF 4, ch. 49-55). I consider the Þórgunna story a myth. Anthropologists believe that myths contain hidden messages in symbolic forms. According to Malinowski (1926) myths are social charters. Lévi-Strauss (1963) argues that myths have a binary structure and that their oppositions explore contradictions in social and other relations.' [169] The Grágás legal code is one example: 'It is impossible to say how much of this book is represented in Grágás. Grágás has been preserved in two manuscripts which date to about 1260 and 1280. It is not possible to assign dates to individual provisions within it. The provenance of the manuscripts is unknown and neither is an official compilation (Miller 1990: 42).' [170] Some sources include passages of a scientific nature: 'In “Alfræði íslenzk” there are some texts that may be called of a scientific nature. Some texts from this source are definitely from the Commonwealth period.' [171]
♠ Fiction ♣ absent: 930-1100 CE; present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ Christianity had a major impact on Icelandic literary tradition: 'By the end of the 10th century, the Norwegians were forced by their king, Olaf I Tryggvason, to accept Christianity. The king also sent missionaries to Iceland who, according to 12th-century sources, were highly successful in converting the Icelanders. In 999 or 1000 the Althing made a peaceful decision that all Icelanders should become Christians. In spite of this decision, the godar retained their political role, and many of them probably built their own churches. Some were ordained, and as a group they seem to have closely controlled the organization of the new religion. Two bishoprics were established, one at Skálholt in 1056 and the other at Hólar in 1106. Literate Christian culture also transformed lay life. Codification of the law was begun in 1117-18. Later the Icelanders began to write sagas, which were to reach their pinnacle of literary achievement in the next century.' [172] The received written records associated with the saga literature do not predate the introduction of Christianity: 'According to most authors writing was introduced to Iceland when the country was Christianized in the year 1000. In the two centuries that followed, writing was used for many purposes: religious works, a grammar, a law book and a short history. Most of the family sagas were written in the thirteenth century. The saga with which I am concerned, Eyrbyggja saga (ÍF 4), is commonly believed to have been written between 1230-1250 (Schach & Hollander 1959:xx). I shall deal only with a part of this saga, which I have called the Þórgunna story (ÍF 4, ch. 49-55). I consider the Þórgunna story a myth. Anthropologists believe that myths contain hidden messages in symbolic forms. According to Malinowski (1926) myths are social charters. Lévi-Strauss (1963) argues that myths have a binary structure and that their oppositions explore contradictions in social and other relations.' [173] 'The Poetic Edda, a collection of verses compiled by an Icelander in the last half of the thirteenth century, offers another view into the worldview of the period by indicating what its compiler(s) found valuable. Scribal errors suggest it was not written from memory or dictation, but copied from at least two manuscripts. Paleographic evidence suggests that these two source manuscripts are not older than the beginning of the thirteenth century and must have been written by different scribes. Nothing is known of its provenance or compilation or composition. Linguistic evidence suggests the verses do not predate the ninth century (Hollander 1962).' [174] 'Icelanders began writing sagas about 230 years after the first “official” settler arrived around 874. Icelanders were widely traveled and could not have avoided contact with writing. Writing was independently invented several times to keep records of time, people, wealth, the business of all states, and then to record religious and “historical” documents, also the business of states. [Page 106] Nonstate peoples, on the margins of states, appropriate writing when they need to write.' [175] However, fiction is difficult to define in this context: 'Before the twelfth century fiction was only present as oral tradition. From the twelfth century and especially the thirteenth century written fictional literature was present. However, it is difficult to distinguish fiction from unreliable history. King Sverrir of Norway (ca. 1200) enjoyed what he called lygisögur (lie sagas) even if others may have been less sceptical. Example: Hrómundar saga Gripssonar. In Sturlu þáttur (part of Sturlunga saga) we learn of an Icelandic lord at the Norwegian court (in 1263) entertaining by telling the story of Huld the giantess. These were sagas later classified as fornaldarsögur (legendary sagas) although it is unclear whether these were actual written texts (Huldar saga probably was although it no longer exists). An abundance of such stories were certainly committed to writing later on. No doubt many of these were entirely made up although some preserve legendary material. There were also chivalric romances, imported, translated and, at least eventually, created in Iceland. It is uncertain how much of this material was present before 1262. Poetry was also abundant and can be found for example in the two Eddas and incorporated into many sagas.' [176] The codebook may be in need of modifications as it is difficult to distinguish fiction from other genres in non-modern settings.

Money

♠ Articles ♣ present ♥ 'Any valuable could be regarded as ‘money’ but some more than others. Cattle and sheep were often used; the term ‘fé’ means money or valuable but evolved to mean livestock and especially sheep in Icelandic (this semantic development began long before the Icelandic settlement). Ells of vaðmál/wadmal (a kind of woollen cloth) became a standard. Originally this was a special standardized cloth but later on (after the end of the Commonwealth) this cloth became obsolete but the unit was still used as a standard unit of value although it no longer referred to a real commodity. These ells (álnir) were the most used units of value in Iceland and formed the basis of the land value system that was probably introduced around 1100 (with the introduction of tithe). Land was valued in so many ‘hundreds’ (actually 120) ells of wadmal.' [177] Icelanders traded with Europeans and Scandinavians, bartering cloth and animal products for grain and metal tools: 'The early Icelanders maintained commercial contacts with Europe and obtained goods from Scandinavia, England, the Norse Orkneys, and the Netherlands. The majority of trade, however, was with Norway, both for Norwegian goods and for foreign goods obtained by Norwegian merchants. The limited resources, especially in terms of raw materials for manufactured goods, made Iceland highly dependent on imported goods. Even before the decline and cessation of grain production in Iceland it is unlikely that Iceland ever produced enough cereals to meet its own needs. Of special significance in a feasting economy, grain and malt were essential to ale production. After Christianization imported wine also become essential for the celebration of communion. Many higher quality iron products, for example weapons and armor, could not be produced from local sources and were imported, mostly in finished forms. Other metals - brass, tin, lead, gold, silver, and bronze - were unavailable locally as well as steatite for utensils and stone suitable for making whetstones. Iceland had a limited number of exportable resources and goods. Homespun woolen cloth was the principal export and was a common standard of value in local exchanges. Sulfur, unavailable from any continental source, was a valuable commodity. Falcons and various animal skins - sheep, fox, and cat - were marketable as were cheese and possibly butter. Fish, the current mainstay of the Icelandic economy was not a significant export item in early Iceland.' [178] 'There were no formal markets and most exchanges and payments, such as rents, were made in kind. Regular assemblies provided a venue for traders and specialized producers who also traveled among farmsteads. Despite the rarity of monetary exchanges, the Icelanders maintained a complex system of value equivalencies based on a silver ounce standard that encompassed most exchangeable goods.' [179]
♠ Tokens ♣ inferred absent ♥ We have found no information on this.
♠ Precious metals ♣ present ♥ 'During the Icelandic Commonwealth people used foreign coins but only in the sense as a piece of precious metal. The nominal value of the coins was irrelevant. Often coins were cut up to match the price of a purchase.' [180] eHRAF mentions a silver ounce standard: 'There were no formal markets and most exchanges and payments, such as rents, were made in kind. Regular assemblies provided a venue for traders and specialized producers who also traveled among farmsteads. Despite the rarity of monetary exchanges, the Icelanders maintained a complex system of value equivalencies based on a silver ounce standard that encompassed most exchangeable goods.' [181]
♠ Foreign coins ♣ present ♥ 'A range of coins were in circulation including Arabic and English coins.' [182]
♠ Indigenous coins ♣ absent ♥ [183]
♠ Paper currency ♣ absent ♥ [184]

Postal System

♠ Couriers ♣ absent ♥ 'Private couriers were used by chieftains. Acting as a courier was one of the many jobs of the retainers of chieftains. Accordingly, there were no full-time couriers.' [185]
♠ Postal stations ♣ absent ♥ [186]
♠ General postal service ♣ absent ♥ [187]

Warfare variables

♠ RA ♣ Eva Brandl ♥

Military Technologies

Military use of Metals

♠ Copper ♣ ♥
♠ Bronze ♣ ♥
♠ Iron ♣ present ♥ [188]
♠ Steel ♣ suspected unknown ♥ Was the steel produced of a good quality? Recoded suspected unknown until further clarification.

Projectiles

♠ Javelins ♣ present ♥ [189]
♠ Atlatl ♣ inferred absent ♥ No evidence could be found that Norse warriors used the atlatl, or spear-thrower. Most of the scholarly literature on the subject appears to focus on world regions outside of Europe.
♠ Slings ♣ inferred present ♥ [The evidence here is problematic. The only evidence is from a later recorded saga and it seems to suggest that slings were in use for the whole period. There is no archaeological evidence as they were made from leather.]
♠ Self bow ♣ present ♥ [This link (http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/viking_bow.htm) claims that self bow (longbows) were common among Vikings but composite bows may also have been present. Sources usually do not make clear whether bows were self or composite bows. We think the self bow was present and the composite bow probably also although neither was common.]
♠ Composite bow ♣ inferred present ♥ [This link (http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/manufacturing/text/viking_bow.htm) claims that self bow (longbows) were common among Vikings but composite bows may also have been present. Sources usually do not make clear whether bows were self or composite bows. We think the self bow was present and the composite bow probably also although neither was common.]
♠ Crossbow ♣ absent: 930-1100 CE; present: 1101-1262 CE ♥ [The first mentioning of a crossbow is from the late 12th century but we don’t know when they first appeared in Iceland. Around 1100 is a reasonable educated guess. If more precise information is available from Scandinavia we should go with that.] We have changed the code accordingly.
♠ Tension siege engines ♣ absent ♥ [190]
♠ Sling siege engines ♣ absent ♥ [191]
♠ Gunpowder siege artillery ♣ absent ♥ [192]
♠ Handheld firearms ♣ absent ♥ [193]

Handheld weapons

♠ War clubs ♣ suspected unknown ♥ [194]
♠ Battle axes ♣ present ♥ [195]
♠ Daggers ♣ present ♥ [196]
♠ Swords ♣ present ♥ Gjerset refers to swords: 'Often the priests themselves would join, sword in hand, in the bloody feuds, like Odd, Lufina and others, only to give the otherwise dark picture of social and political life a still more forbidding aspect.'[197] [Swords were present.]
♠ Spears ♣ present ♥ [198]
♠ Polearms ♣ present ♥ [199]

Animals used in warfare

♠ Dogs ♣ suspected unknown ♥ [Cannot recall any examples of dogs being used in warfare in Iceland. Should probably be ‘inferred present’ at most.] We have coded 'suspected unknown' for the time being.
♠ Donkeys ♣ absent ♥
♠ Horses ♣ present ♥ [Most armies consisted of mounted infantry. Furthermore, horses were used for transport purposes. Although the hard evidence is from the 13th century, it is very probable horses were used from 930 CE onward.]
♠ Camels ♣ absent ♥ [200]
♠ Elephants ♣ absent ♥ [201]

Armor

♠ Wood, bark, etc ♣ suspected unknown ♥ [It feels like the list is at the same time too detailed and not detailed enough. Thanks Axel and Arni Daniel- we will take this point up.]
♠ Leather, cloth ♣ present ♥ [The gambeson/panzari (made of cloth) was undoubtedly present in the late Commonwealth.]
♠ Shields ♣ present ♥
♠ Helmets ♣ inferred present ♥ [There is no hard evidence that helmets were already in use by 930 CE, but is very probable.]
♠ Breastplates ♣ suspected unknown ♥
♠ Limb protection ♣ suspected unknown ♥
♠ Chainmail ♣ inferred present: 930-1200 CE; present: 1201-1262 CE ♥ [Chainmail was well known in Viking Age Scandinavia although expensive and rare. Should be at least ‘inferred present’ even before 1200.]
♠ Scaled armor ♣ inferred present ♥ [Mentioned in some family sagas so it was obviously known in the 13th century and assumed to be old.]
♠ Laminar armor ♣ suspected unknown ♥
♠ Plate armor ♣ inferred absent ♥ [There is evidence of the use of quilted garment (gambeson) which is made of linen and stuffed with wool from the 13th century onward.]

Naval technology

♠ Small vessels (canoes, etc) ♣ present ♥ [Small vessels (fishing boats) certainly were used in military operations.]
♠ Merchant ships pressed into service ♣ inferred absent ♥ On occasion, feuding chieftains would gather fleets: 'Sturla was implacable. Immediately after Snorri's departure he seized Reykholt, took possession of all his belongings, and forced the chieftains of the district to offer their submission. Urökja and Sturla Thordsson, the historian, fled to Aedey, where they began to gather a fleet of ships with which they intended to sail to the Borgafjord, but Sighvat and Sturla harried the seacoast districts and killed many of their adherents.'[202] 'Thord, however, did not leave Iceland, but fled to some islands, where he gathered a fleet of thirty ships, a naval force which his adversaries did not venture to meet. Kolbein harried the southwestern districts where Thord had received some assistance. He even dispatched a force to Stadarhol to slay Sturla Thordsson. But he had been warned, and they were only able to plunder his estates.'[203] Gjerset mentions one naval battle: 'Thord now resolved to gather a fleet for an attack on Kolbein, since a march overland to northern Iceland was very difficult. He was able to secure fifteen small vessels, and sailed with a band of 220 men, leaving the defense of the home districts to Sturla Thordsson. But Kolbein, who was informed of his plans, met him with a larger fleet and superior forces in the bay of Hunafloi, and defeated him after a severe engagement.'[204] [None of these ships/boats appear to have been ocean going merchant vessels. The flagship of the larger fleet in 1244 was ‘almost’ ocean-going. These were large fishing boats, ferries and vessels used for coastal transport each holding about 20-30 men. So probably (inferred) absent.]
♠ Specialized military vessels ♣ absent ♥ [The only recorded naval battle took place in 1244 CE.]

Fortifications

♠ Settlements in a defensive position ♣ inferred present ♥ Amory describes fortifications and strongholds, but says little about the possible strategic location of larger manors: 'Larger groups (sixteen to eighteen members and on up) readily developed a ‘siege mentality’, and would sometimes entrench themselves, not in caves, but in fortified earthworks or strongholds, thrown up against the inroads of their enemies. Both Óspakr and Hörðr had such fortifications built for themselves, their wives and families, and their men, Hörðr's island retreat of wood and turf being virtually impregnable. Though Óspakr's earthworks enclosed a farm with two cows, where his wife and son lived, these fortifications were not internally self-sustaining but were chiefly designed for receiving stolen goods, viz., the produce of the surrounding countryside, and for staging last-ditch defenses. It is remarkable but not unintelligible that the sizeable outlaw colony on the tiny island of Geirshólmr, under the leadership of Hörðr Grímkelsson and his foster-brother Geirr Grímsson, seems never to have engaged in animal husbandry of any sort on the island, or gone fishing in the surrounding waters, but instead preferred to launch expedition after expedition to the mainland in order to rustle from the rich coastal farms the cattle and sheep that it lacked; these would be slaughtered at once for its consumption. One may well think that cattle- and sheep-rustling was a perfectly suitable occupation for outlaws, but they were undercutting themselves by their total dependence on the mainland, and finally allowed themselves to be lured to shore by promises of freedom and were put to death in batches by a coalition of farmers who were lying in wait to dispatch them. So, at any rate, the story of the ‘Hólmverjar’ goes in Harðar saga Grímkelssonar (chs 34ff.). The colony was eradicated in three years' time without the mainland farmers' even having to assault the impregnable hall of Hörðr on one cliffside of the island.'[205] But it seems likely that the location of manors attached to powerful chieftains and their retainers was chosen with potential attacks in mind. [As far as I know, there are no examples of lords’ residences being deliberately located in defensive positions. They could be located in strategic positions, however, and were often fortified.]
♠ Wooden palisades ♣ inferred absent ♥ [In this case, the building material was stone but the wall was glued together with sot, soil, earth. Most evidence comes from the late 12th century onward. However, it is probable that the data is valid from 930 CE onward. There is evidence of several fortresses and fortified manors. But most or all forts seem to be dry-stone walled (sod probably used between stones). Timber for palisades would have to be imported and thus very expensive and probably less functional than dry-stone walls.]
♠ Earth ramparts ♣ inferred absent ♥ Amory describes fortifications and 'earthworks': 'Larger groups (sixteen to eighteen members and on up) readily developed a ‘siege mentality’, and would sometimes entrench themselves, not in caves, but in fortified earthworks or strongholds, thrown up against the inroads of their enemies. Both Óspakr and Hörðr had such fortifications built for themselves, their wives and families, and their men, Hörðr's island retreat of wood and turf being virtually impregnable. Though Óspakr's earthworks enclosed a farm with two cows, where his wife and son lived, these fortifications were not internally self-sustaining but were chiefly designed for receiving stolen goods, viz., the produce of the surrounding countryside, and for staging last-ditch defenses. It is remarkable but not unintelligible that the sizeable outlaw colony on the tiny island of Geirshólmr, under the leadership of Hörðr Grímkelsson and his foster-brother Geirr Grímsson, seems never to have engaged in animal husbandry of any sort on the island, or gone fishing in the surrounding waters, but instead preferred to launch expedition after expedition to the mainland in order to rustle from the rich coastal farms the cattle and sheep that it lacked; these would be slaughtered at once for its consumption. One may well think that cattle- and sheep-rustling was a perfectly suitable occupation for outlaws, but they were undercutting themselves by their total dependence on the mainland, and finally allowed themselves to be lured to shore by promises of freedom and were put to death in batches by a coalition of farmers who were lying in wait to dispatch them. So, at any rate, the story of the ‘Hólmverjar’ goes in Harðar saga Grímkelssonar (chs 34ff.). The colony was eradicated in three years' time without the mainland farmers' even having to assault the impregnable hall of Hörðr on one cliffside of the island.'[206] [Fortifications usually seem to be made of stone (and sod) with vertical sides rather than sloping sides as in earth ramparts. It is a theoretical possibility that some such fortifications were made exclusively of sod (this was sometimes done in house-walls) but these would still have vertical sides and seems unlikely as stone is stronger.] We have accordingly chosen to code this as 'inferred absent'.
♠ Ditch ♣ suspected unknown ♥
♠ Moat ♣ suspected unknown ♥
♠ Stone walls (non-mortared) ♣ present ♥ [The walls were non-mortared.]
♠ Stone walls (mortared) ♣ absent ♥
♠ Fortified camps ♣ absent ♥ [According to the codebook this refers to fortified camps of armies on the move. It is highly unlikely that the small warbands of late medieval Iceland would make fortified camps when moving around. In most cases they would overnight at farmsteads.]
♠ Complex fortifications ♣ absent ♥ [207]
♠ Long walls ♣ 0 ♥ in kilometers. [208]
♠ Modern fortifications ♣ absent ♥ [209]

Phase II Variables (polity-based)

Institutional Variables

♠ RA ♣ Eva Brandl; Dan Mullins ♥

Limits on Power of the Chief Executive

Power distributed

♠ Constraint on executive by government ♣ ♥
♠ Constraint on executive by non-government ♣ ♥
♠ Impeachment ♣ ♥

Social Mobility

Status

Elite status

♠ elite status is hereditary ♣ present ♥ [210]

Religion and Normative Ideology

♠ RA ♣ Daniel Mullins; Enrico Cioni ♥

Deification of Rulers

♠ Rulers are legitimated by gods ♣ absent ♥ Chieftains derived much of their authority from their ability to broker support as advocates for their constituents in legal disputes or feuds.' [211] The eminent political institutions of Commonwealth Iceland were the chieftaincy and its associated courts and assemblies: 'At the time of Iceland’s settlement, Norse people worshiped gods whom they called æsir (singular áss), and this religion left behind an extensive mythology in Icelandic literature. Thor seems to have been the most popular of the pagan gods in Iceland, although Odin is thought to have been the highest in rank. It appears that heathen worship was organized around a distinct class of chieftains called godar (singular godi), of which there were about 40. In the absence of royal power in Iceland, the godar were to form the ruling class in the country. By the end of the settlement period, a general Icelandic assembly, called the Althing, had been established and was held at midsummer on a site that came to be called Thingvellir. This assembly consisted of a law council (lögrétta), in which the godar made and amended the laws, and a system of courts of justice, in which householders, nominated by the godar, acted on the panels of judges. At the local level, three godar usually held a joint assembly in late spring at which a local court operated, again with judges nominated by the godar. All farmers were legally obliged to belong to a chieftaincy (godord) but theoretically were free to change their allegiance from one godi to another; the godar were allotted a corresponding right to expel a follower. Some scholars have seen in this arrangement a resemblance to the franchise in modern societies. On the other hand, there was no central authority to ensure that the farmers would be able to exercise their right in a democratic way. No one was vested with executive power over the country as a whole. In any case, no trace of democratic practice reached farther down the social scale than to the heads of farming households; women and workers (free or enslaved) had no role in the political system.' [212] 'One of the peculiarities of early Iceland was the lack of formal state institutions. The legislature, extensive law code, and judicial system of local and higher courts left prosecution and the enforcement of settlements in the hands of individuals. From an early date, the country was divided into Quarters. Each quarter constituted a broad community with three assemblies (ÞINGS), with the exception of the Northern Quarter that had four, and a system of local courts. Once a year the General Assembly (ALÞINGI) met in the southwest of Iceland. Judicial cases that could not be resolved in local quarters were heard and the parliament (LÖGRÉTTA) convened. The parliament was the principal legislative institution and was responsible for the introduction and maintanence of law. It consisted of chieftains (GOÐAR) from the local quarters. After the conversion to Christianity, the two Icelandic bishops were each given a seat in the parliament. The institution of chieftaincy (GOÐORÐ) was the main locus of political leadership in the country. Originally there were 36 but this number was later expanded. Chieftaincies themselves were a form of property and could be alienated and even divided among multiple individuals. In some cases, individuals asserted power beyond the scope of the political system and controlled multiple chieftaincies. All independent farmers had to be affiliated with a chieftain, although they could choose among any of the chieftains in their quarter and could switch allegiances if they did not feel that their needs were being met. Other than a seat on the parliament, chieftains had few rights beyond those of other independent farmers and few institutional means of dominating others. [213] [Is ‘ruler’ only the head of the entire polity or do the chieftains and lords in Iceland qualify? In the former sense there was no ruler but in the latter we would still say absent in all cases except perhaps descendant of gods.]

♠ Rulers are gods ♣ absent ♥ [However, the genealogies of many leading Icelanders of the 12-13th centuries were traced back to pagan deities, especially Odin. But Odin was no longer considered a god by that time. Nor does this seem to have been important.]

Normative Ideological Aspects of Equity and Prosociality

♠ Ideological reinforcement of equality ♣ unknown: 930-1000 CE; present: 1001-1262 CE ♥ [Inferring ideology about equality is difficult and will not be attempted here. However a general Christian ideology can be assumed after 1000 or at least after 1100.] Jesus' message "envisages a universal society bound together by divine love in which the limited human ties of affection based on kinship, cultural identity, and self-interest give way to the unlimited love of God. It calls for an egalitarian kingdom of love without limits. Jesus likens it to a family in which all are brothers and sisters of one another and children of the one Father (‘Abba’, an informal word for father, is Jesus’ preferred name for God)." [214] [In the eyes of the Christian God, all men were equal but here on Earth they certainly weren’t. On Earth society was divided according to status and social estates. The standard estates in medieval Europe were labourers, fighters and priests. However, according to Christian ideology these estates were supposed to work together and for each other as parts of an organic whole. Rígsþula (probably from around 1000 AD) presumably expressed the ideology of the Nordic elite (not necessarily commoners) and it took a different view where the different estates (in this case, slaves, farmers and nobles) are seen almost as different species. A very interesting discussion of the transformation from one system to another is found in Bagge, S. (2000). Old Norse Theories of Society. From Rígsþula to Konungs skuggsiá. Speculum regale. Der altnorwegische Kdnicjsspiecjel in der europdischen Tradition, JE Schnall et R. Simek éd., Vienne, 8.]

♠ Ideological thought equates rulers and commoners ♣ absent ♥ B on comparison with other Christian societies: "According to a long-standing, and not infrequently contested ideal, European society was composed of a series of hierarchically arranged social groups (estates, orders, and corps), each with a prescribed function and corresponding degree of honour and privileges. In its simplest form, society consisted of three basic groups: the First Estate, the clergy, who prayed; the Second Estate, the nobility, who fought; and the Third Estate, the common people, who worked. This hierarchy of superiority and inferiority was, according to some theorists of the period, inscribed in the order of the universe, so that the terrestrial human hierarchy participated in a greater, divinely sanctioned celestial hierarchy." [215]
♠ Ideological thought equates elites and commoners ♣ unknown: 930-1000 CE; inferred absent: 1001-1262 CE ♥ Based on comparison with other Christian societies: "According to a long-standing, and not infrequently contested ideal, European society was composed of a series of hierarchically arranged social groups (estates, orders, and corps), each with a prescribed function and corresponding degree of honour and privileges. In its simplest form, society consisted of three basic groups: the First Estate, the clergy, who prayed; the Second Estate, the nobility, who fought; and the Third Estate, the common people, who worked. This hierarchy of superiority and inferiority was, according to some theorists of the period, inscribed in the order of the universe, so that the terrestrial human hierarchy participated in a greater, divinely sanctioned celestial hierarchy." [216] "Anybody working on early modern churches will be aware of the great significance attached to the correct seating order by early modern men and women ostensibly all 'sharing space' in church. Pews and their arrangement reflected the prevailing social rank of a person and his or her family within this community and therefore were not to be trifled with." [217] [In the eyes of the Christian God, all men were equal but here on Earth they certainly weren’t. On Earth society was divided according to status and social estates. The standard estates in medieval Europe were labourers, fighters and priests. However, according to Christian ideology these estates were supposed to work together and for each other as parts of an organic whole. Rígsþula (probably from around 1000 AD) presumably expressed the ideology of the Nordic elite (not necessarily commoners) and it took a different view where the different estates (in this case, slaves, farmers and nobles) are seen almost as different species. A very interesting discussion of the transformation from one system to another is found in Bagge, S. (2000). Old Norse Theories of Society. From Rígsþula to Konungs skuggsiá. Speculum regale. Der altnorwegische Kdnicjsspiecjel in der europdischen Tradition, JE Schnall et R. Simek éd., Vienne, 8.]

♠ Ideology reinforces prosociality ♣ inferred present: 930-1000 CE; present: 1001-1262 CE ♥ Almsgiving and charity are key aspects of Christian practice [218].

♠ production of public goods ♣ present ♥ [Bridges and ferries for example.]

Moralizing Supernatural Powers

♠ Moral concern is primary ♣ absent: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing enforcement is certain ♣ absent: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing norms are broad ♣ absent: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing enforcement is targeted ♣ present: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing enforcement of rulers ♣ present: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing religion adopted by elites ♣ present: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing religion adopted by commoners ♣ present: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing enforcement in afterlife ♣ present: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing enforcement in this life ♣ inferred present: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥
♠ Moralizing enforcement is agentic ♣ present: 930CE-1000CE; present: 1001CE-1261CE ♥

These data were reviewed by expert advisors and consultants. For a detailed description of these data, refer to the relevant Analytic Narratives, reference tables, and acknowledgements page. [219] [220] [221]


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