The Peace of God in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries

Iceland - sagas

The Peace of God in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries

By Sverrir Jakobsson

Sacri canones servandi sunt: Ius canonicum et status ecclesiae saeculis XIII–XV, curavit Pavel Krafl; Praha: Historický ústav AV ČR, v. v. i., 2008 (Opera Instituti historici Pragae, series C – Miscellanea, vol. 19)

Introduction: This article focuses on one of the most strife-ridden periods of Icelandic history, the Age of the Sturlungs (1220–1262) and the Church’s endeavours to bring about peace. With an emphasis on the relationship between 13th-century Icelandic society and medieval European society, it is argued that the peace effort was shaped by international concepts which had been developing from the 10th century.

The Peace of God movement originated in France. From there it spread to Germany and south to the Italian peninsula. Conditions in France in the 10th century furthered the development of its ideology; state power was in chaos but vassals (castellani) strengthened their position. The century is characterised by noblemen’s private wars, but the unrest also affected farmers. Vassals campaigned in each other’s regions but avoided assailing the adversary himself who sat secure in his castle. Scholars have called such war feud. The strength of those with the means to steal from churches and use force against clerics and monks increased. So-called protectors (advocati) of the Church dispersed its assets at will and attacked servants of the Church, defying the law, and unarmed clerics had little means of defending themselves against such aggression. Bishops and abbots benefited from securing the peace but few managed this until it occurred to them to appeal directly to the war-ravaged populace who always desired peace.

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