Beyond The Woods


Ultimately we must recognize that kingship was actually a product of social conditions and stratigies rather than myth

“Over the last couple of decades anthropological observations and analyses concerning the way chieftians rise to power has been produced by a variety of scholars from a number of backgrounds…… and in broad terms a consensus has been achieved. Big men in local communities, it is argued, rose to power through a combination of aggression and largesse, attracting followers by leading succesfull raids, prosecuting sucessful legal actions, taking vengence, distributing prestige goods, such as foreign wares, and essentials, such as livestock, giving feasts and so forth in return for mutual support in their own activities and certain services, some honourable, such as riding to war or law with the lord, and some less so, such as mending his fences and digging his ditches, depending upon the degree of economic distance between lord and client. These chieftains competed with one another for clients, and forged compacts, through similar interractions, feasting, gift-giving and the exchange of women, which purported to be reciprocal but which in fact masked aggression. The fact that such socio-economic systems required the chieftains to redistribute in order to acquire (like a super-tax bracket), together with the universally practised principle of partible inheritance of land, created a situation which prevented individual chieftains from achieving over- arching monopolies. To early medieval kings the attraction of Roman and Biblical models of rulership was, at least in part, that they offered mechanisims, and legitimising cosmologies, for evading the checks and balances inherent in traditional practices of chieftainship.”

Alex Woolf, Kingship in Early Iceland


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