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Bloodtaking and Peacemaking

Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland

Dubbed by the New York Times as "one of the most sought-after legal academics in the county," William Ian Miller presents the arcane worlds of the Old Norse studies in a way sure to attract the interest of a wide range of readers. Bloodtaking and Peacemaking delves beneath the chaos and brutality of the Norse world to discover a complex interplay of ordering and disordering impulses. Miller’s unique and engaging readings of ancient Iceland’s sagas and extensive legal code reconstruct and illuminate the society that produced them.

People in the saga world negotiated a maze of violent possibility, with strategies that frequently put life and limb in the balance. But there was a paradox in striking the balance—one could not get even without going one better. Miller shows how blood vengeance, law, and peacemaking were inextricably bound together in the feuding process.

This book offers fascinating insights into the politics of a stateless society, its methods of social control, and the role that a uniquely sophisticated and self-conscious law played in the construction of Icelandic society.

"Illuminating."—Rory McTurk, Times Literary Supplement

"An impressive achievement in ethnohistory; it is an amalgam of historical research with legal and anthropological interpretation. What is more, and rarer, is that it is a pleasure to read due to the inclusion of narrative case material from the sagas themselves."—Dan Bauer, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

415 pages | 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 1990

History: European History

Law and Legal Studies: Legal History

Literature and Literary Criticism: Germanic Languages

Medieval Studies

Table of Contents


1 Introduction: The Institutional Setting and the Ranks of Persons
2 Making Sense of the Sources
3 Some Aspects of the Economy: The Problem of Negotiating and Classifying Exchanges
4 Householding Patterns
5 The Bonds of Kinship
6 Feud, Vengeance, and the Disputing Process
7 Law and Legal Process
8 Peacemaking and Arbitration

Concluding Observations
Works Cited

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