Political culture in a northern society in the middle ages. A study of chieftains sociopolitical power strategies in Færeyinga saga

Mariann Mohr Mortensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The aim of this thesis is to investigate political culture in decentralized northern societies in the middle ages. This is done by studying socio-political strategies used by chieftains to gain power in Færeyinga saga. This saga is a part of the Icelandic saga-literature and is written by an unknown author in the beginning of the 13th century in Iceland. It tells the story of the power play between two chieftains situated in the Faroe Island around the year 1000.
Because it is the only existing source to early Faroese history, and the fact that it was written two hundred years after the events allegedly took place, its historical credibility to the events and people described has been questioned by historians. However, this does not mean that it is of no historical value. Through an anthropological approach based on dispute studies which deals with conflicts and conflict resolution in decentralized mediaeval societies, advocates believe that the social and political structures in the sagas are historically reliable and that saga-literature can be used as a source in studies for this purpose. That is exactly what is being done in this thesis. By studying the chieftains’ maneuvers in the political arena, we are given insight into social and political norms and institutions implemented in their power struggles, such as arbitration, self-judgement, fostering, marriages and the construction of social ties and how these are being used as socio-political tools and strategies to gain and uphold political power. These norms and institutions are not fictional creations by the author, and thus the saga gives us valuable information about the society, which constitutes the framework for the story-teller and his audience.

EducationsHistory, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date1 Apr 2019
Number of pages78
SupervisorsKim Esmark