by Birgir T. Runolfsson Solvason 


    A Decentralized Order  
    The Minimal State  
    The Minimal State and Tied Public Goods  
    The Evolution of the Goði-Þingmann Relationship  
    The Heathendom Period  
    The Pre-Tithe Period  

      Grágás provides a wealth of detail about Old Icelandic society... Nevertheless, reliance on written law has its limitations. Although Grágás gives much information about Icelandic governmental and social institutions, it rarely specifies how these elements fit together. It is one thing to know the proposed composition of a court or an assembly; it is quite another to understand how bodies and gatherings actually worked when they met in open fields in medieval Iceland. (Byock 1988:27) 
    Having explained the early evolution of the institutional structure of the Commonwealth in the previous chapter, in this chapter I look at the evolution of some of these institutions. Some of these, such as the chieftain-farmer relationship, changed during the course of the Commonwealth period. These institutional changes might explain the demise or end of the Commonwealth experience. 
    But before explaining these changes in the institutions of the Commonwealth it will prove useful to explain how, or rather why, the institutional structure seems to have worked as well as it did, during the early Commonwealth period. 
      "The political arena of the early Commonwealth can be seen as a competitive market of thirty-nine firms of similar sizes. Each firm involved contracts between the chieftain and his liegemen for the joint production and protection of property rights. The power of a chieftain was constrained in various ways. He could not tax his followers like a feudal lord, and there was some flexibility: A farmer was free to cancel his contract with a chieftain and take up association with another." (Eggertsson 1990:308) 
    As shown in the previous chapter, a decentralized system of law and legal enforcement evolved in Iceland in the period 874-1006. The system was based on two local institutions or local communities. On the one hand was the Hreppur and on the other the local þing. The former was an autonomous organization which controlled affairs of interest to the local community as a whole. The latter was the lowest level of a hierarchial yet decentralized order of law and law enforcement. The second level of the hierarchy was the Fjórðungsþing, and after 965, the Fjórðungsdómar. In 1005 the Fimmtidómur was established above of these second-level institutions. From that date onwards the institutional structure of the Commonwealth was well established. 
    The evolution of the institutional structure itself suggests that there were disputes and problems with violence early on. If only disputes of insignificant scale had occurred then it would seem strange for legal and court system on a national level to have arisen. It seems safe to assume that there were frequent disputes, especially when settlers sought to claim suitable land for farming. Immediately after the arrival of the first settlers, Viking raids may have given rise to a need for local law enforcement. This may explain why the institutional structure arose so quickly. As local communities or chieftainships were organized the Vikings may have responded by raiding different communities.1   Each community then responded by extending its protection to other groups via reciprocity, thus creating the hierarchial institutional structure. 
    The establishment of the Fjórðungsdómar at the Alþing to replace the short lived Fjórðungsþings and, especially, the introduction of the Fimmtardómur suggests that problems of law enforcement continued. The latter institution seems to have been introduced because the previous system occasionally failed to resolve cases brought before them. Since super-majorities of jurors was required at lower level courts, a change to a simple majority requirement seems to have been needed to overcome unresolved cases. But, for whatever reason, there must have been significant numbers of unresolved disputes or the introduction of the Fifth Court would not have been necessary. 
    The "unofficial" replacement of Fjórðungsþings by Fjórðungsdómar2   not only suggests a number of major disputes,3  but that the system required different institutional arrangements to achieve a balance of powers. This was in part achieved simply by moving these courts to the Alþing site, so that cases could be resolved in a neutral setting. At the same time, though, the boundaries of the quarters were changed to correspond to geographical boundaries. A farmer living within one quarter was required to choose one of nine chieftains living in the same quarter (one of twelve in the North). Also at this time, a local þing was added in the Norther Quarter. From the 960s onwards there were 13 local-þings in the Commonwealth and 39 full chieftains presiding over them. To counter resultant imbalances in the numbers of chieftains the Alþing, nine "chieftainships" were created. These chieftains (chosen each year by the others) only sat at the Law Council and did not preside over local-þings. After these reforms, the 36 full chieftains were in charge of appointing jurors at the Fjórðungsdómar but, later, at the Fifth Court all 48 chieftains appointed the jurors. 
    The addition of three new Goðar in the Northern Quarter is puzzling. Sometimes, this change is explained as having been made for geographical reasons (Byock 1988:66). Because of the size of the Northern quarter and distances, one additional local-þing was added in the quarter. Although there may be something to this, other factors were more compelling. If geography lay behind this change then it seems that local-þings would also have been added in some of the other quarters. The Western Quarter, is where travelling was the hardest and the Eastern quarter has the longest distances. The growth of the population or the number of free-farmers in the quarters probably had more to do with the addition of Goðar in the Northern quarter. 
    Although no quarter-by-quarter population estimates are available for the tenth or early eleventh centuries, the population counts of 1096 and 1311 are considered fairly accurate by most historians. The number of tax-paying farmers in those years were the following: 
    Table 5.1. Number of Tax-Paying Farmers by Quarters.4 
    Quarter  1095 AD  1311 AD 
    Southern  1200  26%  998  26% 
    Western  1080  24%  1100   29% 
    Northern  1440   32%   1150  30% 
    Eastern   840  18%  564  15% 
    Total  4560  3812  
    If these figures are reliable, they show that at the dawn of the eleventh century the Northern Quarter would have been the most populous by far. The increase in local-þings in the Northern Quarter is therefore most likely due to growth in the population. If the number of tax-paying farmers in 960 was equivalent to their number in 1095, then the number of free-farmers per chieftain would have been the following: 
    Table 5.2. Tax-Paying Farmers pr. þing and Goði. 
    Quarter  Southern  Western  Northern5  Eastern 
    pr. Þing  400  360  480/360  280 
    pr. Goði  133  120  160/120   93 

    Although I have no way of explaining why these numbers were the required ones for a balance, it seems that balancing of the power base was the cause for the reform of the 960s. In the table above I averaged the numbers of farmers per chieftains and þings, but in actuality there may have been some imbalances between chieftains in a given local or quarter. Balancing of numbers is the most plausible cause for the addition of the new local-þing and the geographical restrictions of the quarters.6 
    The legal and judicial structure that evolved in the Commonwealth can therefore be thought of as a balanced system. Each chieftain has approximately equal number of þingmenn and each local-þing is attended by approximately equal number of people. Hierarchically the system is also numerically balanced, except at the Alþing, where some quarters had larger representation of þingmenn than others.7 On the other hand, the power of the Northern chieftains at the Alþing was exactly equal to that of chieftains from any other quarter. The chieftains, whether nine or twelve, from each quarter could only control a quarter of all institutions at the Alþing. It was not apparently too problematic that the Northern Quarter had the most numerous delegation of þingmenn at the Alþing. The Sagas nowhere mention that disparities in the numbers from each quarter caused problems, although numbers sometimes did matter when individual chieftains argued or fought. 
    Aside from the figures showing the numbers of tax-paying farmers in the Iceland, in 1095 and 1311, it is hard to estimate the size of the population. Historians estimate the size of the population in Iceland around 1100 at 40-80,000.8 Over time the population estimates are as follows:9    In 930 around 20-30,000, in 960 around 40-50,000, in 1095 around 50-60,000, and in 1311 about the same. These figures suggest that the largest population growth was in the thirty years between 930 and 960, when the population doubled. This estimate reinforces my claim that the institutional reforms of the 960s were mainly the result of the increase in population. 
    The description given above of a balanced system is analogous to Robert Nozick's (1974) description of the emergence of the minimal state. Essentially, his argument is that an invisible-hand mechanism will give rise to a state or a federation of states will emerge in any orderly stateless society. Although Nozick's purpose in advancing his theory is different from mine, his theoretical analysis is useful here.10 
    Nozick postulates that in the state-of-nature firms or organizations will arise and offer protective services, which he calls Protective Associations (PA's). Individuals in this state-of-nature are more or less peaceful, but occasionally some individuals, either deliberately or by mistake, violate other individuals' rights.11   Entrepreneurs, observing these violations, offer to provide protection to victims and innocent bystanders and, establishing the PA's. The PA's need not limit their services to offering only protection, but may also offer comprehensive legal and judicial services. At the outset, therefore, we may see many competing PA's, offering differing forms of protection and judicial services.12   In this world of competing PA's it is likely that the PA's will require its members to give up the private right of retaliation. If members did not do so then private retaliation might confuse issues of policing and judicial enforcement. Thus, an injured individual would immediately contact his PA and the PA would try to apprehend the wrongdoer and bring him to justice. 
    What happens when the wronged and the wrongdoer belong to competing PA's? In "clear cut" cases the PA of the wrongdoer would allow the wrongdoer to be brought to justice, for otherwise, its reputation of fairness would be harmed. In "hard" cases, on the other hand, what happens is not so obvious. Nozick poses three possibilities: First, the agencies fight and one always wins, thereby gaining membership and driving the other out of the market. Second, the PA's fight, but because they are geographically concentrated each tends to win battles closer to their geographical center. The result is "states" with borders, since individuals prefer to shop at the PA in their locality.13   Lastly, The PA's fight, but are equally successful and, therefore, a cooperative solution emerges. They could, for example, establish a 'supreme court' to decide 'hard' cases (Nozick 1974:16-17). 
    All three solutions result in the formation of a Dominant Protective Association (DPA). As Nozick says: "Out of anarchy, pressed by spontaneous groupings, mutual-protection associations, division of labour, market pressures, economies of scale, and rational self-interest there arises something very much resembling a minimal state or a group of geographically distinct minimal states" (16-17). It should also be noted that Nozick's description of the outcome resembles my description of the institutional structure of the Icelandic Commonwealth.14 
    Nozick claims that the DPA is a natural monopoly, but this is not obvious. It does appear that if a PA has gained a territorial advantage in membership then it would be harder for other PA's to compete with it in price. There are some economies of scale in the provision of protective services. On the demand side, it appears that the larger the PA, or DPA, the more valuable it's services are. A DPA may therefore have a comparative advantage over competing PA's, although this does not exclude several DPA's in different areas within a given territory. 
    However, a problem for the DPA may emerge. As a DPA in a given area or territory grows larger, there emerges an optimum point at which non-joining individuals may find it more beneficial to remain non-aligned than paying fees to the DPA. Even though Nozick postulates that the DPA would offer services to these individuals free-of-charge, it seems that such behaviour would result in no profits. In fact it has been argued that the profit-maximizing solution of the DPA would be inefficient because of this free-rider problem (Mumy 1987:285-89). 
    This inefficiency could be removed if the DPA offered other services to their clients. Mumy (1987) suggests that if the DPA offers tied goods to its clients an efficient outcome could emerge. However, this solution is available only on a qualified basis. First, the tied good must complement the private/public good offered in the first place (Klein 1987). The public good must complement rather than be a substitute for the protective services offered. Secondly, the public good offered must be a non-rival good, and yet excludable to non-members. The members would consume the public good together and non-members would not consume it. Thirdly, the two goods must be offered together, i.e. be tied. An individual wanting to buy protective services also has to buy the public good, and vice versa. As I will show in the following sections such tie-ins were a feature of the Goði-þingmann relationship. 

    Why would individuals buy the tied goods? It is assumed that the public good to be tied is in great demand. The DPA can offer this public good at the same costs as others could, i.e. the DPA is competitive. Since the DPA has a cost advantage in providing protective services the DPA can tie in the public good such that individuals buying both goods together pay less than they would pay if the goods were bought seperatly. At the same time it is more profitable for the DPA to offer both goods together, since it thereby overcomes the free-rider problem and therefore extracts rents from its members (Klein 1987;Mumy 1987;Cowen and Kavka 1990). 
    I should note here that although Nozick's theory is analogous to my explanation of the emergence of the minimal 'state,' this is a mere analogy, not an identity. Nozick begins his analysis in a Lockeian state-of-nature with no or hardly any institutional structures, and his solution emerges from that state. In the Icelandic "state-of-nature" some institutional structures already exist. In Iceland after 930 a shared monopoly already existed in the law, whereas no such legal monopolies are a part of Nozick's process. It is therefore easier for minimal 'states' to emerge in the analysis here than in Nozick's and it should be easier to maintain them. Nozick assumes that DPA's are natural monopolies or have cost advantages. In my analysis this assumption is not necessary because of the legal restriction on the number of chieftains. 
    Among the institutional changes that occurred during the course of the Commonwealth was a change in the chieftain-farmer relationship. The two following sections I present the historical development of this relationship through my theoretical spectacles. The first section shows the institutional relations at the beginning of the Commonwealth era and the changes in this relationship that took place before the introduction of Christianity. The latter section analyses changes that occurred in the period 1000-1096, the beginning of taxation. 
    The Heathendom Period 
    The Sagas do not detail the early development of the institution of the chieftainship. A chieftain in the pre-Alþing period was rather wealthy, well respected, and owned a temple. The term for the chieftainship, the Goði, suggests that the chieftain may originally have been the community's religious leader.15   The Sagas also suggest that these chieftains were those people that originally began the þing tradition in Iceland. Early on, therefore, there was a leadership role for these chieftains, they represented local farmers.16 
    With the establishment of the Alþing and Vár Lög the Goði-þingmann relationship is incorporated into the institutional structure. The law required that all free-farmers align themselves with a chieftain; implicitly the law required that all other people on the island be so aligned through this association with certain farmers. 
    According to the Grágás the free-farmer had a right to follow the chieftain of his choice. Once a year the farmer could switch his allegiance from one chieftain to another.17   Why would a farmer need this choice? 
    First, his current chieftain might be doing a poor job of keeping the peace in his þingmenn "area." There were several potential reasons for ineffective peacekeeping: The chieftain may have been a colourless leader, such that his threats or enforcement were unconvincing, or he might be poor, unable to reimburse his followers for their participation in the enforcement of judgements. Secondly, the farmer might need such a choice if his current chieftain was a poor representative for any of the above mentioned reasons. Third, there might be a conflict of interest between the chieftain and the farmer. For example, they might sue each other. Finally, the chieftain may have been weak either in wealth or following as compared to surrounding chieftains. 
    But why would the chieftain care whether he lost followers or not? Surely the right to sit in the Lögrétta did not depend on whether the chieftain had any followers or not. Did the chieftain's rights at the local-þings or quarter-þings depend on this? 
    Although the chieftains, even those without followers, could use their voting rights, they needed followers from which to appoint jurors. A chieftain without followers could not appoint members to the jury, unless he could happily rely on followers of other chieftains. In many, or even most, cases this may not have been of any consequence to the chieftain. But if he himself was involved in a lawsuit he would surely prefer some of his own followers to be on that jury, rather than only the followers of other chieftains. 
    Furthermore, if the chieftain had any followers at all he would have preferred to have more of them rather than less, since the more numerous his þingmenn, the better his ability to enforce judgements.18 Under the institutional structure of the Commonwealth, and described in the laws of Grágás, the chieftains and farmers mutually needed each others support. 
    Although the number of a chieftain's þingmenn may have been determined by the revenue/cost ratio and the extent to which the level of personal connection could be retained, the scope of the chiefdom was determined differently. The scope of the chiefdom was determined by the size of the area in which most, if not all, of the chieftain's followers lived. This was determined in turn to some extent by the ease or difficulty of travelling to the chieftain. The Sagas provide another clue to how such scope became determined in the pre-Christian era. The Goðar were owners of temples and people in the surrounding area would seek to carry on their religious activities in these temples. There may have been a connection between which chieftain a farmer chose and the temple he chose to attend. The chieftains may not have been the only ones to have kept temples, since it is unlikely that 36 temples would satisfy the religious needs of a population in excess of 30,000. But even if some of the wealthier farmers also built temples, these farmers in turn were aligned to chieftains of their choice. As Jóhannesson (1974:227) says: 
      During the heathen era the people attending a temple were also the followers of the priest-chieftain (goði) in charge of it, as everyone would normally want to attend the temple nearest to him. As a result, there was little danger that the chieftaincies would extend over large areas or that the chieftains would have liegemen in remote districts. It appears most likely that in this early period, chieftaincies as well as assembly jurisdictions were more or less strictly localized, although in theory individuals were free to declare their allegiance to whatever chieftain they decided to support. Accordingly, the temple may be said to have imposed limitations upon the following of a chieftain. 
    Thus temple associations may have aligned certain farmers with particular chieftains. 
    Owners of temples may have received revenues, a temple-fee, from the farmers that attended their temples.19  The fee may have been there mainly to reimburse the owner for building and service expenditures. The amount of this fee may also have determined the size of the temple's following. Thus, the fee, if it ever was in fact collected, may have affected the farmer's choice of both a chieftain and a temple. 
    All this, of course, does not exclude the possibility that a farmer could choose a chieftain whose temple he did not attend. Occasionally a farmer may even have chosen a chieftain living quite far away. Other factors may have entered into these decisions, such as previous residence, family ties and intermarriage links.20 
    This connection between the temple attendance and chiefdom membership may have influenced the zeal with which a chieftain would represent his farmers. If a particular farmer chose chieftain A but continued to attend chieftain's B temple and thereby pay temple-fees to B, A may have had less of an incentive to represent this farmer to the best of his ability than he would have if the farmer paid him fees. Thus, the chieftains may have seen an advantage in offering tied goods. The chieftain could have claimed a share of the farmers award of damages or in his property,21  if award was won as a condition of representation, but, furthermore the chieftain could have insisted that the farmer belong to the chieftains temple in order for the chieftain to take the case. This would be especially true of chieftains who had already built their reputation and following. 
    New chieftains, who had newly acquired a chieftainship through inheritance, sale or gift, might find the tie-in worked to their disadvantage. The new chieftains often needed to establish a reputation to keeping "inherited" þingmenn and to attract new ones. They may therefore have had to offer their services at lower costs, i.e. without tie-ins. 
    In 960-5 the Alþing restricted chiefdoms within certain geographical boundaries. This divided the island into quarters, and required that farmers within each quarter choose a chieftain within their quarter. This restriction, it seems, was ignored, especially later in the Commonwealth.22 
    The Pre-Tithe Period 
    By the year 1000, when Christianity was accepted, the institutional structure in place was founded on the reciprocical relationship between the chieftains and their þingmenn. Until 1096 no institutional changes greatly altered this relationship, but there were some changes in this relationship nonetheless. 
    In 1000, when Christianity was accepted as the "national" religion,23  heathen worship was not outlawed, but temples and other public forms of heathen worship were outlawed.24 Instead of temples, churches were built. It may be that some temples were converted into churches. The owners of churches must have insisted on charging a fee to reimburse them for church related costs.25   The tie-in sales of the chieftain services, if they began in the heathendom period, would therefore continue after the acceptance of Christianity. 
    The churches that were built were all local churches. No official or independent Church was established at this time. The local churches were privately built and privately operated, and in many respects their owners ran them as their private service firms. In heathendom the Goðar had been the masters of the temples, and in Christianity many Goðar became priests in their own churches. Some wealthy farmers, as in heathendom, also built private churches and many became their own priests. Not all of the Goðar and wealthy farmers became priests, and sometimes these community leaders owned more than one church each. In these cases their sons, freed-slaves, or labourers were educated to become priests at these churches. Some even hired foreign bishops to sing masses at their churches. All in all, the church that emerged in Iceland was a private and decentralized church. 
    In 1056 the Alþing selected an Icelandic bishop for all of Iceland. Ísleifur Gizurarson had been sent abroad by his father, Gizur Hvíti (the White), for studies. Upon his return he was selected as bishop and given a seat in the Lögrétta, the Law Council.26 
    Ísleifur, although elected the bishop, was not provided with a church or any means of income by the Alþing. As bishop of Iceland Ísleifur had some authority on religious matters, but had to provide his own church and means of income. He therefore settled at his family estate at Skálholt, and built a church there from which he sung masses. Ísleifur also started a school at his church, as did some other chieftains. 
    Although the Alþing accepted Christianity and elected a bishop, the Alþing granted only limited authority to the bishop. For example, Canon Law was not accepted in Iceland until after the Commonwealth period, although the Alþing gradually adopted individual legal provisions conforming to Canon Law. 
    Other institutional changes in the 11th century included the introduction of the Fifth Court at the Alþing and a treaty with the king of Norway.27   The former, as described in chapters 2 and 4, was a form of a high-court to force a solution to unresolved cases. The latter was an agreement between the people of Our Law and the people of the Kingdom of Norway. The treatise concerned the legal status or rights of the two peoples in each other territories. The treatise stipulated that Icelanders had to pay a landing-tax, landaurar, when arriving in Norway.28   This agreement was made with King Ólaf Helga, the Saint, but had to be renewed by each new king. On the Icelandic side, two chieftains from each quarter had to swear to the treaty (Líndal 1964:28). 
    The first major change in the institutional structure came in 1096, when taxation was established. The Tithe, or Tíund, was initiated by Gizur Ísleifsson, then bishop of Iceland. This change initiated a form of rent-seeking that lead to the "decline" of the Commonwealth and eventually brought the Commonwealth to an end.29 
    The implications of the historical sketch above are as follows: First, the institutional apparatus of the Commonwealth was based on a reciprocical relation between the Goði and his þingmenn. The farmers were not only required by law to align themselves with a chieftain but, further, it was necessary for the farmers to align themselves with a chieftain in order to have a voice and representation in legal and judicial matters. The chieftains had a strong incentive to represent as many farmers as possible, for otherwise his chieftainship was almost useless and the chieftain's own status weak. We also saw in chapter 4 how the whole institutional structure emerged as a hierarchial structure of reciprocical relationships. The Commonwealth was built on reciprocity, and, therefore the explanation for its decline and fall will be found in the deteriorations of reciprocal relationships. 
    We have seen in this chapter how a tendency contrary to reciprocity may have been inherent in the chieftain-farmer relation from the start. Although the farmer was supposed to enter into this relationship voluntarily, in reality the farmer's choice was restricted. Because of the position of the chieftain as an owner of a church the chieftains may have been able to limit the farmers' range of choice of allegiance. Furthermore, the chieftain's position was slowly but firmly becoming strong enough for him to extract rents from the farmer by selling tied goods. The chieftains may also have demanded a large proportion of the damages awarded to farmers and portions of the farmer's property in return for representing the farmers in law-suits and in the enforcement of judgements.30 
    A question still remains, though, as to why competition between chieftains did not erode the constraints chieftains imposed on the farmer's range of choice of representative. Two co-determinant factors were significant in the 10th and 11th centuries. First, at the outset the chiefdoms and chieftain's delegations were probably of almost equal size. Secondly, because of their sale of tied goods the chieftains may have been able to gain a local monopoly status. 
    Thus, the chieftain's advantage would be hard to overcome. Farmers switching their allegiance probably had little or no effect on the local monopolies. Seemingly, the only way to overcome the chieftain's advantage would be an organized effort on the part of the farmers, with the cooperation of at least one chieftain.31 Such conspiracies apparently did not materialize.32 
    Instead, other factors affecting the wealth status of the chieftains eventually overcome this dilemma. Aside from acquiring income and wealth from the farmers, the chieftains themselves engaged in farming and in trade. Although the chieftains differential success in farming and trade produced some inequality among them, the share each received of taxes lead to more inequality.33   The Tithe, established in 1096, became the greatest "investment" opportunity for the chieftains in the 12th century, and it eventually broke down the reciprocical relation between chieftains and farmers. 

     bibliography        chapter 6 

    1 In effect, the Vikings by doing so could be considered to have realized the advantage of random interactions. As explained in chapter two, a cooperative group can only grow so large and then the problem of large-numbers imposes itself, unless reciprocity is practiced. 
    2 The whole issue concerning the Fjórðungsþings and the Fjórðungsdómar is unclear in the sources. The first ambiguity cencerns the dates of these formations. Most historians suggest that both of them were established at about the same time (see Lárusson 1932:29;Jóhannesson 1956:68-70;Benediktson 1974:178-9). According to these both institutions would have been established in the period 955-970. The Fjórðungsþings, according to this view, were formed one for each geographical quarter, but almost immediatly became abandoned or ignored in favor of the Fjórðungsdómar at the Alþing. It seems to me that this explanation is unconvincing and too constructivist and that a more evolutionary explanation is in order. I postulate, instead, that the Fjórðungsþings were informally established sometime before the 960s, but then after some experience with them the change to Fjórðungsdómar was initiated about 960-5. I contend therefore that it is only with the Fjórðungsdómar that both institutions became formal and the quarters strictly geographical. 
    3 On the disputes, see Jóhannesson (1956:68-9). 
    4 Reproduced from figures in Gelsinger (1981:7-8). See also Jóhannesson (1956) and Sigurðsson (1990). 
    5 Pre-960s/post-960s. 
    6 The unequal number of Goðar in the quarters after 960-5 also supports the contention that the Fjórðungsþings had been informal or irregular gatherings before that time. It is only when the formalization is attempted and when the Fjórðungsdómar formed that disputes arise concerning the balance of power. From this it seems that the Fjórðungsþings may have become somewhat more or better accepted in all areas except the North. But, see also Jóhannesson (1956:70-1). 
    7 Historians, Ingvarsson (1986:132) for example, claim that a chieftain would ask that every ninth of his þingmenn accompany him to the Alþing. 
    8 Although the number of tax-paying farmers is known, it is hard to estimate how many people lived on their farms. Historians have used the numbers 6 to 17 as representing a typical household. Further, finding out about the relative number of tenant farmers is almost impossible. Most estimates therefore rely on using 14th-18th century figures to estimate backwards. Population estimates vary in the secondary literature. The Sagas are not clear on this, since they only mention the number of tax-paying farmers. On this see Gelsinger (1981:7-10), Byock (1988:2 and 82), and Jóhannesson (1956:46-49). Gelsinger (1981:8) estimates the population at 30-35,000 in 930, around 80,000 in 1095, and around 67,000 in 1311. 
    9 What I accept from the estimates of the historians. 
    10 Nozick's aim is to show how a minimal state can arise from a state-of-nature without violating libertarian constraints or natural rights. In doing so he first shows how the minimal state arises and then why the constraints have not been violated. Since my aim is like his first task, of explaining, and unlike the his second task, of justifying, I focus only on the first two chapters of his book. For criticism of Nozick's explanation and justification of the minimal state, see Murray N. Rothbard, editor, The Journal of Libertarian Studies; An Interdisciplinary Review, vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 1977, (articles by Rothbard, Randy E. Barnett, Roy A. Childs and John T. Sanders). 
    11 Although Nozick's uses the term 'right' we need not interpret these rights as natural rights. Instead they can be thought of as violating property or person, such as stealing or physical assault. 
    12 For an interesting and imaginative vision and arguments of such competition, see Friedman (1989). 
    13 These 'states' are analogous to nation states and the conflicts analogous to conflicts between nation states. 
    14 Gissurarson (1990:16) also argues for this analogy: "The competitive chieftainships in the Icelandic Commonwealth shared some features with the competitive protective associations described by Robert Nozick in his much-discussed Anarchy, State, and Utopia." 
    15 That the Goði may have been a religious leader to begin with is, as mentioned, disputed. See, for example, Lárusson (1932:13-14) and Jóhannesson (1956:72) in support of the religion interpretation and Benediktsson (1974:172-3) who opposes it. 
    16 On the early development of the chieftainship, its religious role and its origin, see Benediktsson (1974). 
    17 The farmer in aligning himself with a chieftain became the chieftain's Þingmaður (or Þingmann). In becoming a þingmaður the farmer was obliged to attend þings with his chieftain, if requested, and contribute to payments of the þingfararkaup. Þingfararkaup was paid to those þingmenn who the chieftain had chosen to attend the Alþing with him. The revenue for the þingfararkaup was raised by having the other, non-attending, þingmenn pay a þingmann-fee. 
    18 This is not to say that there may not have been some optimal number of followers, after which any increase in their number had decreasing or even negative returns. Such factors as the level of personal connection and wealth may have bound the optimal number. 
    19 All historians do not agree on whether there was a temple-tax or not. Benediktsson (1974:172-3) is one who doubts it. But whether there was a temple-tax or not, one thing seems clear and that is that owners of temples would have requested the attending farmers to contribute to the temple somehow. Whether they did so through a tax or through voluntary contributions has no major significance for my argument. It is obvious that the tax would be a required payment, but it could also be contended that the contributions were voluntary in name only. The chieftains, if they in fact owned some of the temples, would have been in a advantageous position to require "voluntary" contributions, or else would not represent their non-contributing followers equally. My argument, or explanation, for the decline of the Commonwealth does not depend on the existence of this temple-fee, although it does depend on on revenue-seeking by the chieftains. As will become clearer later in this chapter and in chapter 6, my argument relies on the establishment of taxation in 1096. 
    20 Both Hastrup (1984) and Byock (1988) present examples of chieftains and farmers living far apart. 
    21 See Byock (1988) on chieftains demanding, and getting, shares of damages and properties of the farmers. 
    22 A partial explanation is found in the authority of the Lögrétta to issue exceptions from this geographical requirement, i.e. the Lögrétta could agree to let a farmer choose a chieftain from outside their quarter. 
    23 "National" only in the sense that Christianity became the official religion of the people of Our Law. The islanders of this time had little sense of a seperate Icelandic nationality, although they did distinguish between people living in Iceland and those living elsewhere ("foreign residents") (Líndal 1974:214). 
    24 Many of the heathendom practices were outlawed in 1006, 1030, and especially in the 12th century. See Hastrup (1984) on these single laws. 
    25 As mentioned, the existence of a temple-tax is somewhat disputed and some, like Benediktsson (1974:172-3), claim that it is fictional. Benediktsson claims that the temple-tax story is inferred from the later acceptance of the Tithe-tax and wrongfully so. I contend that whether there was a temple-tax or not some form of revenue was needed for the church owners. Whether this revenue was gained through a formal tax or through contributions is really not of major concern here. If revenue was gathered by temple owners in the heathendom period then this must have been continued in the Christiandom period, before the Tithe, since otherwise why would the heathen temple owners have accepted the new religion? Jóhannesson (1974:169) supports this view: The introduction of a new religious system is not, in itself, likely to have caused chieftains to relinquish their claims to temle tolls. As the new religion took hold in the country, the chieftains no longer had to maintain the old temples; instead, these men were placed in charge of Christian churches. It would have been quite logical for them to use the temple tolls under a different name for the maintenance of churches. This form of taxation must have ceased when the Tither Law was introduced, or, as is more probable, the tolls continued to be levied under some new name. 
    26 Ísleifur's father Gizur had been a Goði and as such was one of those advocating the acceptance of Christianity at the Alþing in the year 1000. Ísleifur would of course have inherited his fathers Goðorð at his death as well as most of his property. It seems though that Ísleifur's seat in the Law Council was not that of his fathers but rather a special seat created by the Lögrétta. 
    27 On the establishment of the Fifth Court see chapter 4. 
    28 Some historians have used this as supporting Iceland's dependence on Norway in trade matters. I have already alluded to this in chapter 2 and will offer further discussion in chapter 6. 
    29 I provide a theoretical explanation of rent-seeking and analyze the acceptance of the Tithe and its results in chapter 6. 
    30 See Byock (1988) on some case studies of the Goði-þinmann relationship. Byock argues that this may have been a determinant factor in wealth accumulation by chieftains. 
    31 Another factor concerning the workability is the matter of distances. Iceland is about 40,000 miles2 in size and, therefore, each of the 39 chieftains had about 1,000 sq. miles in territory. More important though, is the fact that the farmers were scattered around most of this area and therefore any organized effert against the chieftains would have been even harder to establish. 
    32 The discussion here should not be interpreted as if we are condemning the advantages of the chieftains in their relations with the farmers. Rather we are simply trying to explain the structure as it was. Further, it well may be that the smooth working of the Commonwealth's institutional structure depended on this advantage, or rather on the equality of the chieftains. I will analyze these more fully in chapter 6 and offer some conclusions there and in chapter 7. 
    33 Ther is some dispute as to the timing of when the Goðar became wealthier. Jóhannesson (1956:82) claims that the Goðar were financially disteressed in the 11th and early 12 century, but admits that the introduction of taxation later provided them with revenues. Karlsson (1975:36-38) emphasizes that the introduction of taxation provided certain families with wealth and power advantages immediatly. 

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