Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland

Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland

William Ian Miller

Language: English

Pages: 415

ISBN: 0226526801

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Dubbed by the New York Times as "one of the most sought-after legal academics in the county," William Ian Miller presents the arcane worlds of the Old Norse studies in a way sure to attract the interest of a wide range of readers. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking delves beneath the chaos and brutality of the Norse world to discover a complex interplay of ordering and disordering impulses. Miller's unique and engaging readings of ancient Iceland's sagas and extensive legal code reconstruct and illuminate the society that produced them.

People in the saga world negotiated a maze of violent possibility, with strategies that frequently put life and limb in the balance. But there was a paradox in striking the balance—one could not get even without going one better. Miller shows how blood vengeance, law, and peacemaking were inextricably bound together in the feuding process.

This book offers fascinating insights into the politics of a stateless society, its methods of social control, and the role that a uniquely sophisticated and self-conscious law played in the construction of Icelandic society.

"Illuminating."—Rory McTurk, Times Literary Supplement

"An impressive achievement in ethnohistory; it is an amalgam of historical research with legal and anthropological interpretation. What is more, and rarer, is that it is a pleasure to read due to the inclusion of narrative case material from the sagas themselves."—Dan Bauer, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

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and the difficulty of communication across harsh country. It would seem that the colonial experience forged a sense of communal identification rather early. 12 The importance of maintaining the unity of the law was the reason Ari, writing in the first third of the twelfth century, attributed to -Thorgeir the Lawspeaker (anno 1000) for proclaiming Christianity into the law: "I think it advisable that ... we all have one law and one religion. For it is true that if we sunder the law, we will also

assume the role of peacemaker. Instead of kin group versus kin group, we have the men of the North versus the men of the Westfjords. In brief, the wars of the big players and the forced contributions they extracted from lesser people to maintain themselves and their followings gave an ever larger segment of the population no special interest in maintaining independence from Norway. If the king promised to make peace, that promise had more promise than a future governed by the big men in Iceland

The larger farms were mostly self-sufficient, although the demands of feasting, hospitality, and garrisoning might require the acquisition of provisions from other farms (e.g., L;6s. 7: 120, 30: 100; POIg. sk. 24: 148); the smaller farms often depended on loans of stock or rentals of land. Between larger and smaller farms there must have existed a fairly permanent series of exchanges regularized in creditor-debtor or landlord-tenant relationships. The amount of attention Gragas gives to loans,

Iceland may have anticipated the Norse arrival by nearly a century (J6hannesson 1974, 3-7). Ari says that they left - - - - - - - - - - - - - IS - - - - - - - - - - - - INTRODUCTION: THE INSTITUTIONAL SETTING when the Norse appeared "because they did not wish to be here with heathen men" (islb. I: 5). They might also have been enslaved or killed, since the Norsemen, as we know, felt either alternative a suitable end for Celts. Besides these Irishmen, the settlers found a land virtually empty:

sister-will suffice. 27 One can address a brother as "brother," but not a first cousin as "mother's sister's son," although it is not unusual to find descriptive terms applied to third parties (islend. 34: 26 7). The recitation of a kinship term was a usual part of the diction of request and admonishment, both of which are nicely exampled above in Thorvard's speech. It was also used as a marker of solidarity once the obligation was admitted and the request accepted, a constantly recited sign of

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