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Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power Paperback – February 7, 1990

ISBN-13: 978-0520069541 ISBN-10: 0520069544 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (February 7, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520069544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520069541
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #138,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Byock's dissection of selected sagas gives a schema (as one might expect from Iceland) which is unusually neat without being incapable of complexity. . . . The most fascinating parts of Byock's book discuss the ways in which saga characters operate within a system of checks and balances to gain their ends." -- Tom Shippey, London Review of Books

"In this stimulating and important work, Byock has succeeded in rehabilitating the Icelandic sagas as important sources for the social and economic history of the Free State (c. 930s to 1262-64). . . . Highly recommended." -- C. W. Clark, Choice

"Valuable both to historians and to literary scholars." -- Susannah J. Baker, Mid-America Folklore

From the Inside Flap

"Byock's book is a tour-de-force of historical argument. He brilliantly reconstructs the inner workings of an intriguing society, not elsewhere to be found in the Western world."—David Herlihy, History Book Club

More About the Author

Jesse Byock is Prof. of Old Norse and Medieval Scandinavian Studies at the University of California(UCLA) and Prof. at UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. He directs the Mosfell Archaeological Project in Iceland.

He is author of: Viking Age Iceland (Penguin); Medieval Iceland (UC Press); and Feud in the Icelandic Saga (UC Press). His translations from Old Norse include The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology (Penguin), The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse epic of Sigurd (Penguin), The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki (Penguin), and Grettir´s Saga (Oxford). Download a -FREE ANSWER KEY- to Viking Language 1 learn Old Norse, Runes, and Icelandic Sagas at www.vikinglanguage.com

The Viking Language Series is a new method for learning Old Norse, runes, and Icelandic sagas. It concentrates on the most frequent words in the sagas, and beginners to advanced learn quickly. For two MP3 download audio albums with clear pronunciation of sagas and runes, search on Amazon Jesse Byock under All Departments or MP3 Music: Viking Language 1 Audio Lessons 1-8 (Pronounce Old Norse, Runes and Icelandic Sagas)-- and -- Viking Language 1 Audio Lessons 9-15.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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I look forward to reading Byock's other Icelandic book on Feud in the Icelandic Saga.
James Paris
It does just what a good book should do imho - provide valuable insight AND additional references to other books which illuminate other areas I am interested in.
Mark Guzowski
A "must read" for anyone interested in the vikings and medieval Scandanavia.
"paceleader"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By James Paris on February 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
The twilight world of the great Icelandic sagas can be difficult for an outsider to understand. We are so fixated on the values of the Western European mainland that it is easy for us to overlook Iceland's many contributions. The great 13th century sagas like Burnt Njal, Laxdaela, and Egil are high water marks of medieval literature -- far more sophisticated than the Arthurian fantasies circulating in Britain and France at the time.
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.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Susan Zuckerman on March 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
Byock has written a very perceptive analysis of the power structure in Viking and Medieval Iceland. As a historical fiction writer, writing about this time period, this book gave me many insights. Byock uses some well-know and lesser-known saga characters to illustrate the power alliances, which I found fascinating. With no royalty, Iceland deveoped a unique democracy, which Byock explains in much detail. The maps and diagrams are very helpful. While it is an academic read, it is certainly not difficult. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of Iceland.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christopher R. Travers on December 18, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In this book, Professor Byock seeks to address a number of previously unsolved problems in Icelandic studies, including the development of the power structure of Iceland and some areas relating to the precise role of the chieftains. He succeeds quite well, and this work is sure to be a classic in the field.

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.
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Format: Paperback
The great thing about Prof Byock is that he knows so much about the topic of Iceland's history. I personally enjoyed the book, because I am strongly interested in the country's literary and political history. That being said, this wouldn't be a good read for someone who was looking for info about vikings, or anyone who wanted a light read that dealt with Icelandic history in broad terms.
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