Strangers in Icelandic Society, 1100-1400



 
 Strangers in Icelandic Society, 1100-1400

Sverrir Jakobsson

Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, 3 (2007), 141-57.

Abstract

Hœnsa-Þóris saga, an Icelandic Family Saga composed around 1280, describes a merchant named Örn. He is said to have been a captain of a Norwegian ship which was bound for Iceland, ‘a popular man and a most honourable merchant’. Despite these admirable qualities he gets into a quarrel with the local chieftain (goðorðsmaðr) Tungu-Oddr, a person not known for even-handedness. The quarrel concerns the prizing of goods. A farmer in the vicinity, Blund-Ketill, knows this merchant as he had stayed with his father in his youth. For that reason he decides to go to the aid of the merchant, although this means incurring the wrath of the chieftain. This is the catalyst for a feud, in traditional saga idiom, which results in the tragic burning down of Blund-Ketil’s farm, Örnólfsdalr (Borgfirðinga 8-11). This is a late tradition concerning well-known events from the tenth-century. Notwithstanding that, it also contains reference to contemporary issues, that is, from the late thirteenth century (Helgi Þorláksson 1991, 165–68).




Before he is burnt to death together with Blund-Ketill, this austmaðr (literally, ‘eastman’) manages to play a crucial role in the feud, coming to the rescue of his host by using a handbow to shoot another man. The term austmaðr generally signifies a Norwegian and the use of handbows in battle seems to have been a Norwegian speciality when the saga was composed, in the thirteenth century (Borgfirðinga 23, Helgi Þorláksson 1968, 8n.). After his demise along with his host, the friends and kinsmen of Blund-Ketill manage to acquire the goods which caused the dispute (Borgfirðinga 37).

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