Medieval Icelandic Government

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Definition

Early medieval Icelandic government, or Viking Iceland, has been termed an incipient form of democracy or democratic parliamentarism, however, the system was actually nothing like its European counterparts, be they medieval or contemporary. Historiography prefers the term 'free state'. As the name suggests, it refers to a freely organized political entity, with some elements of statehood but not quite a state. On the contrary, colonists in Iceland, the heroes of the saga literature, from many points of view created a stateless society. They had a well-defined judicial system and a council of lawmakers (lögrétta), but no king and no one to put judicial decisions into practice. There were differences between chieftains and commoners, but not as big as in many other places. Chieftains had little executive power, and at least in the 10th and 11th century they were not hierarchically organized. Settlers left Norway and other regions to start fresh and arrange their world as nowhere else in Europe.

More about: Medieval Icelandic Government

Timeline

  • c. 870 - 930
    Age of Settlement; the period in which Iceland was first settled by Scandinavians (mainly from Norway).
  • 930 - 1030
    Age of Saga; the time, in Iceland, in which many of the Old Norse sagas are set.
  • 1200 - 1262
    Age of the Sturlungs; in Iceland, six family clans have ended up in power, with the Sturlungs being the most powerful. In 1262, Iceland was brought under Norwegian rule.
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