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Kingship and kinship in early Iceland and elsewhere: some reflections on Laxdœla saga

Alex Woolf 

Lecturer in Celtic and Early Scottish History and Culture University of Edinburgh

The study of early medieval Europe is, by and large, the study of theemergence from the ruins of the Roman Empire of developed kingdoms which can beclearly recognised as the precursors of the nation states of modern Europe. Muchscholarship and debate has revolved around concepts of kingship and rulership and, toa great extent, issues relating to the influence of Roman and Biblical models in thedevelopment of these institutions have come to the fore. My own interest, however,is drawn more by the north-western rim of Europe, the North Atlantic littoral, whereRoman control had been non-existent or weak and where the Mediaeval Worldsprings fully grown from the Iron Age. Of course areas like Scotland, Ireland andScandinavia were not left untouched by the experience of the Roman Empire, andmuch work has been carried out, particularly in Germanic Europe by scholars such asEggers or Hedeager, in order to chart the effects of contact with the Empire on therise and fall of regional hegemonies and the development of more complex series of social relationships, but this „down the line‟ social transformation is qualitatively different from the impact of full scale romanization, with its cities, roads, monetarisedeconomy and bureaucratic government. Whilst all of Dark Age Europe reflects asubtle blend of Roman and barbarian heritage, it is self evidently the case that in thoseregions which lay outside the Empire the native Iron Age traditions weighed moreheavily than in the South. Of course it would be foolish to demand too rigorous adefinition of this binary model and a vast „grey area‟, roughly coextensive with the distribution of  Reihengräber, cemeteries comprising rows of furnished extendedinhumations, runs from the middle Danube, across north-eastern Gaul and intosouthern Britain, in which the continuity versus discontinuity debate, with respect to Romanitas, will inevitably run and run.

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