Of Godi

From: Klaus Ole Kristiansen (klaus@diku.dk)
Date: Fri 31 Jan 1997 - 13:26:32 EET


I don't know what the original singular/plural were. Modern
Danish has one gode several goder. This is probably far from
Old Norse.

One thing that puzzles historians is why the Icelandic setlers
of Norwegian stock would use the Danish priestly title godi for
their political leaders. It was the political leaders, not the
priests, who got to keep that title in Iceland when the functions
split.

The main function of a godi was appointing judges for various courts.
The godir (?) themselves sat on the court of law, Iceland's legislative
assembly. There was no executive branch. None whatever. What good
is winning in court if your friends are few? as the old proverb goes.
It was up to the winner and his friends to enforce the verdict.

Status as godi was property. It could not only be inherited, but also
bought. Note that both oaths and transactions performed under duress
were valid. So if you appear on the doorstep of a godi with an army
at your back, he might be inclined to sell. That is how the system
broke down. A few men gathered all the godi positions. Where there
had been 12 men, each appointing 1/3 of the judges at one of the four
shire courts of northern Iceland, there was one man appointing all
judges in the North Quarter and 1/4 of the judges of the central
courts, and with 12 votes on the Court of Law.

Klaus O K

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