[M]edieval Icelandic institutions
have several peculiar and interesting characteristics; they might almost
have been invented by a mad economist to test the lengths to which market
systems could supplant government in its most fundamental functions. Killing
was a civil offense resulting in a fine paid to the survivors of the victim.
Laws were made by a "parliament," seats in which were a marketable
commodity. Enforcement of law was entirely a private affair. And yet these
extraordinary institutions survived for over three hundred years, and the
society in which they survived appears to have been in many ways an attractive
one. Its citizens were, by medieval standards, free; differences in status
on rank or sex were relatively small; and its literary output in relation
to its size has been compared, with some justice, to that of Athens.
David Friedman (1979,400)