On Friday November 22nd, experts in medieval manuscripts, history, and legal studies gathered in Reykjavík to discuss Jónsbók and Kristinréttur Árna Þorlákssonar, key sources for the legal and political history of Iceland and among its greatest manuscript treasures. There was a full day lectures on everything from the reasons why Jónsbók was composed, the ways that Jónsbók and Kristinréttur were reinterpreted and reframed in different manuscripts, to an evaluation of the ways Jónsbók is still valid law today.

Sverrir Jakobsson (The University of Iceland)
The Political Context of Jónsbók

The introduction of Jónsbók marks the end of a long process by which Iceland was intregrated into the kingdom of Norway. That process began already in 1247 when the Norwegian king was able to appoint his agents over some regions in Iceland and was followed by the subjugation of the whole country, the introduction of annual taxation and, finally, the harmonisation of the legislation of Iceland to that of Norway. King Magnús Hákonarson was a pioneer within Christian Europe, creating a state more unified in its laws than any other in Europe at the time. However, Iceland became an exception within the Norwegian kingdom, as the code brought to Iceland by Sturla Þórðarson was revised by that of Jón Einarsson. The new legal code was more similar to the traditional Icelandic laws than Sturla’s code had been, at a time when the laws of all other parts of Norway were becoming more harmonious. The political context which led to this development will be analyzed and also how this adjustment led to the creation of an Icelandic sonderweg with important consequences in the centuries to come.

Stefan Drechsler (The University of Bergen)
Law Manuscript Production in Fifteenth-Century Iceland

Rightfully claimed as a largely overlooked period of medieval Icelandic manuscript production, the fifteenth century nevertheless holds a significant large number of well-produced law codices and fragments containing Jónsbók and Kristinréttr Árna biskups; important vernacular legal codes dealing with both secular and ecclesiastical matters. My talk will argue that a continuity of law manuscript production exists in medieval Icelandic scriptoria following the Black Death, and is seen in various ways: indications are found in textual and artistic parts of the manuscripts, as well as in para-texts that accompany the law texts in the margins. Accordingly, this paper will discuss four distinctive cross-disciplinary features of fifteenth-century Icelandic law manuscripts and fragments: (1.) the adaptation of textual contents initially found in law manuscripts dating back to previous centuries, (2.) select types of layouts chosen by initial scribes, (3.) the book painting added by contemporary late-medieval illuminators, and (4.) the use of margins by later users and owners for comments and discussion of the textual content. In summary, by discussing both philological and art historical aspects of select law manuscripts and fragments, my talk aims to shed new light on a greatly neglected historical development of late medieval Icelandic law book production.

Elizabeth Walgenbach (The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies)
Si quis suadente in Manuscripts of Kristinréttr Árna Þorlákssonar

Church inventories give us some insight into the canonical works and commentaries that were likely available in Iceland in the fourteenth century, but much reseach remains to be done on the relationship between Latin canon law and Icelandic text production and circulation. This talk will examine fourteenth-century Icelandic legal manuscripts to reach a clearer sense of how Latin canon law texts, and in some cases translations of these Latin texts, were received and circulated within Iceland. My discussion will focus on the canon si quis suadente (C. 17 q. 4 c. 29), which forbid the laying of violent hands on clerics.

Julian Eduardo Valle (The University of Bergen)
Rekahval eigu menn að flytja ok festa. Gefa skal af inn fimta hlut? Legislation over stranded whales in 13th century Iceland

The intention of the present paper is to discuss how the conflicting interests of Church and lay aristocracy appeared in the legal compilations of the late 13th century. I will do this by analyzing the regulations over the appropriation of stranded whales. Driftage goods were the object of disputes between the communes, the lay aristocracy, and the Church. I argue that the changes in the placement and text of the norms concerning driftage rights express the state of affairs of the relationship between secular and spiritual power in Iceland and Norway.

Valgerður Sólnes (The University of Iceland Faculty of Law)
Jónsbók: Medieval understandings of property in land

Scholarly literature slightly varies in terms of the ways in which property rights can be created under Icelandic law, but most of it shares a view in terms of distinguishing between first possession on the one hand, and sequential possession (by way of eliminating or derived possession) on the other. Where land ownership is concerned, first possession refers to the first settlers' land settlement, whereas sequential possession can occur via means such as adverse possession and transfers including sale and purchase deeds. A doctrine—in chapter 52 of the 1281 lawbook Jónsbók enacted shortly after the Icelandic commonwealth came to an end— has been in effect ever since the lawbook's entry into force, prescribing that the commons and uplands shall remain where they have been (or in old Icelandic: „Svá skulu almenningar vera sem at fornu hafa verit bæði hit efra ok hit ytra.“) This principle has not been repealed, remains in the Icelandic legal code, and thus functions as applicable to this day. Nordic legal historians should be familiar with this principle, as it was also a component of Danish and Norwegian law. The talk will primarily introduce the aforementioned doctrine of Jónsbók, explain how the doctrine has been interpreted in practice, and how it has impacted land ownership and the creation of property rights associated with land ownership under Icelandic law.

Lára Magnúsardóttir (Independent Scholar)
The Emperor’s law

In the late 13th century a new constitution and a legal system were implemented in Iceland. In the spirit of Canon law, the new state consisted of a separate and independent secular authority of the Norwegian king on one hand, and spiritual authority of the Roman church on the other hand.

The nature of this two-party system has never been fully explained, but historians have long theorised about rivalry and constant tensions. That has also been contradicted by research that shows a well-functioning double legal system in the late middle ages.

In my talk I will discuss sources that indicate that the 13th century Icelandic law was also in made the spirit of the Emperor, at least regarding the one thing the two blocks tended to agree—the crime of heresy.

Anders Winroth (Yale University)
Belgsdalsbók (AM 347 fol.) in Scandinavia and in Europe

The mid-fourteenth-century lawbook known as Belgsdalsbók is in several respects unique among Icelandic lawbooks. It contains a very early table of contents (efnisyfirlit; capitulatio), something that was very common in lawbooks in continental Europe, but not (yet) in Iceland. It is one of less than ten manuscripts to contain the older Christian Law of Iceland (Kristinna laga þáttr; Hafliðaskrá). It contains unique excerpts from Grágás that are not exact copies of what appears in the two preserved complete codices of this lawbook. I will raise the question whether the book might have been used at the cathedral of Hólar, and I will discuss how its contents suggests interactions with the European learned law as it developed at the law schools, notably at Bologna.

Lena Rohrbach (Universität Zürich and Universität Basel)
Digests of the Law in the Medieval Icelandic Tradition

In this paper I will discuss a specific type of retextualisations of legal texts in the medieval Icelandic tradition. Indebted to the learned legal tradition, from the middle of the fourteenth century onwards several digests of Icelandic and foreign legal texts appear in a number of manuscripts, with a distinctive accumulation of such texts in some manuscripts. I will study the contents, textuality and materiality of these digests and their manuscripts and discuss potential functions and rationales behind the making of these texts.

Discussed manuscripts in the Arnamagnaean collection: AM 350 fol., AM 135 4to, AM 48 8vo and others

The conference ended in spirited discussions about legal concepts, editions, and manuscripts. The next day, speakers got the chance to examine some of the manuscripts themselves and talk about ways to bring both them and their contents to a wider audience. Plans are afoot to create a network of researches focused on legal manuscripts from Scandinavia and keep the discussions going.

Spirited discussions
Examining the real thing