Department Chair

Andrew D. Nicholls, Ph.D.

Date of Award


Access Control

Open Access

Degree Name

History, M.A.


History and Social Studies Education Department


Dr. Martin Ederer

Department Home page

First Reader

Dr. Martin Ederer

Second Reader

Dr. Andrew Nicholls


Prior to the Norwegian annexation, Icelandic society lacked a government with an executive branch. As a result their legal system evolved in a highly privatized fashion in which individuals and their families were expected to self-advocate in order to assert and defend their rights and interests. Icelandic law also privatized the prosecution of criminals and enforcement of legal verdicts. Such a legal system required individual Icelanders to forge and maintain an array of social connections in order to protect themselves from both legal actions brought against them and the violent feuds that resulted due to the system’s short comings.

This thesis analyzes the constructs of kinship and other social connections that were defined through their resemblance to kinship to better understand the complex nature of medieval Icelandic society and the social phenomenon of feud as presented in the Icelandic Sagas. While scholars have often been tempted to fit social connections into a hierarchy based on their perceived social importance, this thesis asserts that such a hierarchy is inconsistent with the saga evidence. Rather than rank social connections into a hierarchy, this paper argues that kinship should be viewed as the default social connection that other social ties were constructed to emulate in order to grow social networks. A close examination of the sagas indicates that even the construct of friendship was closely connected to the social norms surrounding kinship and individuals frequently strove to solidify their friendships by forging additional kinship ties.