Origin of the Icelanders part 1

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Origin of the Icelanders
the theories of Barði Guðmundsson
Author is Gunnar Gunnarsson



Origin of the Icelanders
the theories of Barði Guðmundsson
Author is Gunnar Gunnarsson


Prologue
In
1959 there were released a collection of essays by Barði Guðmundsson.
This book came out after his death and Skúli Þórðarson and Stefán
Pétursson prepared the writings for printing. The book they named
"Origin of the Icelanders", and it covers both the fyrst centuries after
the settlement of Iceland as well as the ancient origin of those who
settled the land.
In this short essay, it is my intention to try and
explain that part of the book, which is about the ancestors of the
Icelanders and discuss the newfangled theories, which Barði put forward
about the origin of the nation. It is rather mild to believe his
theories were newfangled; revolutionary is a word, that is more fitting,
for with them the ideas which men had believed about the origins of the
Icelanders and their society which they built, were turned upside down.
Before these theories will be discussed, i must confess, that the lack
of a bibliography with the book has caused that it is difficult to
realise what writings Barði relied on. This comes especially bad on,
when a person reads it that doesnt have a broad knowlegde of ancient
literature. I in particular there mean the writings about the Goths and
their history,for there also is connected the history of the Heruli, a
tribe, which Barði believes made the most substantial share to Icelandic
culture and societal development. They will be explained as the content
reaches. I will finally have to acknowlegde my astonishment about, how
little attention has been given to Barðis theories in Icelandic schools,
drastic as they are and will probably give a entirely new light to the
origin of the Icelanders. If someone will continue where Barði stopped,
it will hardly be other way than that he will come to conclusions, which
will greatly change the ideas which the Icelanders have about their
origin.

The most Norwegian of all Norwegians
The Saga of
Hörður and the Saga of the Hólmverjar begin with these words: " In the
days of Harald fairhair most of Iceland was settled, for men did not
tolerate enslavement and tyranny, and in particular those who were from a
big family and of great temperament, but had good merit, and they
rather wanted to flee their estates, than tolerate encroachment and
unfairness, not to the king nor other men." Those who thus fled the
tyranny of Harald, appear to have been the most outstanding men. In the
old manuscripts there is much data about this, both in geneologies and
personal descriptions and according to them and other things, which have
been thought as remarkable in the nations culture, men of later times
have had big ideas about the origin of the Icelanders.
Foreign
scholars have even gone further in these matters than Icelanders
themselves. In support of that there can be named two references in
Sigurður Nordals book "Icelandic culture"; After Ernst Sars he repeats: "
the Settlers were of the stock of noble farmers and warlords. They were
the most adamant and warlike men of these families. After the British
writer E.R. Eddison Nordal has the claim, that the settlers were the
prime and creme of the Norwegian people. Eddison then adds: " To find
something comparable, we would have to think about, that the Mayflower
had not sailed from England in the days of Jacob I, but in the reign of
queen Elisabeth, and that on the ship had not been pilgrim fathers, but
that some ridicilous tyranny which noone had known before, had driven
from England men with similar temper and talent as Raleeigh and
Drake,Sydney and Marlowe." With these and similar statements have we
Icelanders warmed ourselves for centuries.

Absolutely not Norwegians
Contrary
to the view that Icelanders are exclusively descended from Norwegians,
not to mention from the "most Norwegian of Norwegians", Barði
Guðmundsson said that from the beginning Icelanders were so different
from Norwegians, that it can i no way be that they were a part of the
Norwegian people. The culture and governance ways of the Icelanders was
too different from Norwegian culture and governance. Now i will take the
major pillars, which Barði put under his theories and make them clear.
Barði believed, that Icelanders had not formated their governance after
the Norwegian one, on the contrary, it is clear from the sources, that
our governance was so different from the Norwegian one, that it couldnt
have been settled by men of Norwegian descent. If that would be right,
that the settlers were all of the stock of the Óðal(freehold property)
born Norwegian nobleman class, it could be intended with good
confidence, that the Óðal right would have been adopted in Iceland in
the settlement period, but no evidence is found. In our old laws the
word Óðal doesnt even once appear, and we will not find examples in
older Icelandic literature, that landownership in Iceland was named
Óðal. Barði said that lands had in actuality been hereditary for a long
while before they could be considered Óðal according to Norwegian law
and practise, but note should be taken that many Icelandic estates were
around a half a century old, when comprehensive laws were adopted in the
land, and it is important to have this in mind, for according to
ancient Norwegian laws men could gain Óðal right in an even shorter
time. Thus it will be said that it is unlikely that the Icelandic
settlers grew up with Óðal rights and a norwegian class structure. Now
it should be noted that Barði doesnt say the settlers did not come from
Norway and the view that they fled the land because of the tyranny of
Harald fairhair, is very well known from the Landnáma(book of
settlements) and other old sources. There is no reason to question this
view, however it is necessary to realise well its presumptions. If the
ancestors of the Icelanders dwelt in Norway for a few centuries, and
were "interlopers" there before migrating to Iceland, and never
harmonising with norwegian customs, but kept their ancient cultural
practises, it is ofcourse easily understood, that this ethnic group got
driven from the country with the new order of king Harald.
Their
freedom was threatened by the increasing power of the state. They are
still newcomers and dont have much in common with other inhabitants of
Norway. They are mindful of ancient times, when their ancestors
travelled all over Europe, but in the late 9th century there werent many
houses to turn to. The Norwegian colonies in Shetland,Okrney and the
Hebrides have been mostly settled when news arrive about the new land to
Norway, they are accepted by merry minds. The problen is solved by that
this implacable and independant tribe, which refuses to obey Haralds
power, take their ships to Iceland. Snorri Sturluson says, that Hákon
Athelstans foster had given farmers the Óðal right anew and his old
estates. Barði thus believed that Snorri was trying to save the theory
that the settlers had fled Norway because, they didnt want to be the
tenants of king Harald. This Barði thought didnt make sense, as Harald
didnt try remove people of their estates. For this view Barði gave the
reasoning which are, that if Harald had tried to commit violence on the
noble class of the land, his kingship would be over at the same time. Ef
Harald had managed with the support of the Norwegian noble class, to
unite Norway, the foreign families would have been treated worst. They
were forced to give away those estates, which they hade gotten there.
Those families, which had the shortest stay in Norway, have ofcourse
gotten the worst treatment.
Contrary to Norway, there were no kings
or earls in Iceland, but rather every freeman was equal before the law
and shared the same rights. The foundation of the Icelandic
constitutional laws were the Goði class and though all freeborn men were
equal before the laws, there was a class divide in Iceland. Over the
peasants stood the noble descended families and the Goði class, which
appear to have ruled almost the entire land. The Goðis were both the
spiritual leaders of the people as temple priests and their headmen.
Nothing suggests that such a caste ever existed among Norwegians. The
word Goði is never used about Norwegians, and really never outside
Iceland, except on two runecarvings in Denmark. Nowhere except in
Iceland is there any examples of this kind of governance, which was
erected on the Goðis and the Goði priesthood. Icelanders certainly didnt
invent this after they came to the land, and obviously we have here
something that was preserved from their forefathers. The establishment
of a comprehensive state in Iceland happens quickly, and in itself can
not be explained except, that the settlers had become used with the Goði
priesthood ideas, which were prevailing in their homeland, before they
moved to Iceland.

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