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"To a faithful friend, straight are the roads and short."—Odin, from the Havamal (c. 1000)Friendship was the most important social bond in Iceland and Norway during the Viking Age and the early Middle Ages. Far more significantly than kinship ties, it defined relations between chieftains, and between chieftains and householders. In Viking Friendship, Jon Vidar Sigurdsson explores the various ways in which friendship tied Icelandic and Norwegian societies together, its role in power struggles and ending conflicts, and how it shaped religious beliefs and practices both before and after the introduction of Christianity.Drawing on a wide range of Icelandic sagas and other sources, Sigurdsson details how loyalties between friends were established and maintained. The key elements of Viking friendship, he shows, were protection and generosity, which was most often expressed through gift giving and feasting. In a society without institutions that could guarantee support and security, these were crucial means of structuring mutual assistance. As a political force, friendship was essential in the decentralized Free State period in Iceland's history (from its settlement about 800 until it came under Norwegian control in the years 1262–1264) as local chieftains vied for power and peace. In Norway, where authority was more centralized, kings attempted to use friendship to secure the loyalty of their subjects.The strong reciprocal demands of Viking friendship also informed the relationship that individuals had both with the Old Norse gods and, after 1000, with Christianity's God and saints. Addressing such other aspects as the possibility of friendship between women and the relationship between friendship and kinship, Sigurdsson concludes by tracing the decline of friendship as the fundamental social bond in Iceland as a consequence of Norwegian rule.
Sigurdsson Jon Vidar :
Jón Viðar Sigurðsson is a Professor in the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo. He is the author of several books, including Chieftains and Power in the Icelandic Commonwealth, and coeditor of Celtic-Norse Relationships in the Irish Sea in the Middle Ages 800–1200, Friendship and Social Networks in Scandinavia, c. 1000–1800, and Ideology and Power in the Viking and Middle Ages: Scandinavia, Iceland, Ireland, Orkney and the Faeroes.
Alex Woolf, University of St Andrews, author of From Pictland to Alba: Scotland, 789–1070:
"Jon Vidar Sigurdsson is one of the foremost historians of the Middle Ages working in Scandinavia today. In Viking Friendship he demonstrates how the trope of friendship was developed within discourses of power relations and how chieftains, kings, and bishops were able to exploit friendship to extend their growing power."
D. J. Shepherd, independent scholar:
"Sigurðsson (Univ. of Oslo, Norway) has written a concisely argued book interpreting the importance of friendship versus kinship in early Iceland and Norway. Looking closely at Icelandic family sagas depicting historical literary events from 930 to 1030, and at Heimskringla, a history of the kings of Norway to 1177, Sigurðsson refutes the common notion that early Scandinavian relationships depended primarily on bonds of kinship. He argues instead that friendship mattered to the survival and success of chieftains and householders in Viking society. Historians formerly believed Icelandic family sagas to be factual accounts of individuals and events. Scholars more recently have increasingly interpreted family sagas as literary stories depicting a memory of how life was lived and society functioned, but personal identities and events were not verifiable. Using the family sagas, the author explores how men depended on their friends rather than their kin for support and power. Not until later centuries, when Iceland fell under the rule of Norwegian kings, did kinship give a man of status more influence than friendship. It is a subtle argument, but the concept of friendship, key to understanding Viking society, clarifies the profound changes in social and political structures necessary to form medieval society. Readers should have familiarity with the period's primary sources."
Julian Haseldine, University of Hull, editor of Friendship in Medieval Europe:
"Viking Friendship is a valuable addition to the literature on the Vikings, and one which brings an original approach to the subject. This book is also notable in that it covers the Norwegian suppression of the Icelandic Commonwealth, itself a unique institution in European political history, from the perspective of the history of friendship."
Oren Falk, Cornell University, author of The Bare-Sarked Warrior: A Brief Cultural History of Battlefield Exposure:
"Medieval friendship complicates our notions of horizontal versus vertical social relationships, of natural versus manufactured social ties, of intimate affect versus alliances of political convenience, and incidentally also of gender roles, institutional structures, and the boundary between cooperation and competition. Friendship in the Middle Ages often bore a much more utilitarian, political profile than it does in the modern imagination. Tensions such as these are the terrain that Jon Vidar Sigurdsson's book provocatively navigates. Viking Friendship offers a thorough, multifaceted survey of friendship in the Norse Middle Ages, making the rich Norse material accessible to scholars in other fields."
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