Gift, Sale, Payment, Raid: Case Studies in the Negotiation and Classification of Exchange in Medieval Iceland
Near the end of Eyrbyggja saga Porir asks Ospak and his men where they had gotten the goods they were carrying. Ospak said that they had gotten them at Pambardal. "How did you come by them?" said Porir. Ospak answered, "They were not given, they were not paid to me, nor were they sold either." Ospak had earlier that evening raided the house of a farmer called Alf and made away with enough to burden four horses. And this was exactly what he told Porir when he wittily eliminated the other modes of transfer by which he could have acquired the goods. There is no question of thievery here. An Icelandic thief had to conceal the taking, and Ospak was not so craven. His taking was open and notorious, and Po6rir did not fail to conceive his meaning. This was a ran, an open, hostile taking. This paper is not intended to be a definitive study of Icelandic exchange. There is no discussion of exchanges of women and the property arrange- ments accompanying them, the nuances of the gift-exchange system, or the intricacies of compensation and wergeld payments. I have instead confined myself to cases in the sagas that show members of the bondi class dealing with each other explicitly about goods. The sagas are the only sources that preserve circumstantial accounts of these kinds of transactions, although the early laws, collectively known as Gragas, also provide relevant information. The cases reveal the extraordinary political and social complexity of such transactions. By calling attention to the cases and the issues they raise, I hope to demonstrate why Ospak's remark is significant for the historian and thus to claim evidence for historical inquiry that has not as yet received the attention it deserves.
Miller, William I. "Gift, Sale, Payment, Raid: Case Studies in the Negotiation and Classification of Exchange in Medieval Iceland." Speculum 61 (1986): 18-50.
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