- Paperback: 264 pages
- Publisher: Hisarlik Press; 1st Edition edition (1 Jan. 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1874312052
- ISBN-13: 978-1874312055
- Package Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.2 x 1.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,509,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power Paperback – 1 Jan 1993
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The bulk of the work describes the role of the chieftains relative to the bondir and the landless tenant farmers. He paints a picture which shows how different Iceland was from other Scandinavian nations, and shows how the society evolved with the chieftains functioning largely as power brokers and lawyers.
Of particular interest is the analysis given to a few specific topics, such as the sources of income for the chieftains, and the social structures which provided mechanisms mutually beneficial political relationships.
To read and understand these sagas properly, one requires a key. And this is precisely the value of Byock's work: It places the sagas in a societal context and shows us that -- while Europe was stuck in a feudal rut -- Iceland was a unique republic in which power was distributed among many 30-50 chieftains. If a chieftain failed to be responsive, a landowner could change his allegiance to another, irrespective of his location. Because there were no standing armies in the time of the sagas, it was the responsiveness of the chieftain in assisting with disputes that was the prime determinant of his power, and not brute force.
Byock shows us how the system worked by a series of helpful extended examples taken directly from the sagas. These are by far the best parts of the book. Read this book, and you will see that at the heart of the great sagas are tales of how conflicts were resolved, sometimes over a period of many generations. Although many lives were lost, the fabric of society remained whole and relatively undisturbed because a consensus was finally reached.
I look forward to reading Byock's other Icelandic book on Feud in the Icelandic Saga.