The Outlaw and the Chieftain

Föstudaginn 14. mars kl. 13.00-14.30 í stofu 220 í Aðalbyggingu Háskóla Íslands. Fyrirlestrarnir verða fluttir á ensku.

Outlawry is one of the salient themes of Old Norse-Icelandic literature. The sagas of Gísli and Grettir are among the most popular of the Sagas about early Icelanders, but outlawry is also an important theme in other sagas of different kinds. Though quite a lot of attention has been given to the figure of the outlaw in earlier and recent research, his relationship with the chieftain or goði has not yet been fully explored. The three participants will look at different texts from different points of view with the common aim og giving a more complete picture of this interesting relationship.

Fyrirlesarar og titlar erinda:
  • Elizabeth Walgenbach, doktorsnemi: The outlaw and the goðar in Arons saga Hjörleifssonar
  • Marion Poilvez, doktorsnemi: Facing the chieftain: Outlawry in dynamics of power in the Íslendingasögur
  • Torfi H. Tulinius, prófessor: Law and outlaws: the role of the goði and his relationship to the outlaw

Málstofustjóri: Viðar Pálsson, lektor


Elizabeth Walgenbach, doktorsnemi: The outlaw and the goðar in Arons saga Hjörleifssonar

This paper focuses on Aron saga Hjörleifssonar. It explores the relationship between Aron and the powerful goðar in the Northern Quarter as depicted in the saga. I explore the political motivations for the goðar's actions and Aron's response. I also examine the complicating factor of bishop Guðmundr Arason, who, it might be argued, himself acted as another goði in the north, although one with a different set of tools—tools rooted in the claims and legal ideas of an expanding Church bureaucracy.

Marion Poilvez, doktorsnemi: Facing the chieftain: Outlawry in dynamics of power in the Íslendingasögur

In a society without centralized power such as medieval Iceland, violence was contained through feuds. When feuds escalate, outlawry often appeared as the last resort to prevent an outburst of killings. In theory, outlaws become literally out-of-the-law and thus outside social concerns.Yet, in practice, they are forced to haunt the margins of the icelandic society, as a legal specification of their condition –the interdiction to be transported (óferjandi)- keeps them within the natural borders of Iceland. They become an unpredictable threat to farmers and the goðar have to gather both men and means to help to stop the trouble-maker(s). Thereafter, a manhunt till death is lauched in the district.

Through several case-studies from the Íslendingasögur, this paper aims to analyze how outlaws from the saga-age are represented in their dynamic links with powerful men and legal advocates. Some questions will be addressed, such as: Were outlaws benefitial to chieftains in their raise to power? Are some outlaws represented as respectable opponents to chieftains? What are the consequences of their spats? The analysis will hopefully help to identify outlawry as an elaborate social structure that played a decisive role in a medieval society without a king.

Torfi H. Tulinius, prófessor: Law and outlaws: the role of the goði and his relationship to the outlaw

The Sagas about early Icelanders (Íslendingasögur) often portray chieftains (goðar) in their interaction with other members of society as well as with each other. So do the contemporary sagas (samtíðarsögur) as well as a number of other sources, especially the preserved law-code Grágás dating from the Free State period. This paper will concentrate on how the role of the goði is described in his relationship with the outlaw. A comparison of how these different types of sources present this relationship, allows the construction of a clearer picture of the social role of the chieftain. The results will be discussed in the wider context of the Sagas about early Icelanders as expressing a questioning among thirteenth-century Icelanders about the major institutions of their society in a time of crisis and change. 


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