Independent Farmers, Greedy Kings

The Representation of Economic Life in Egils saga Skallagrímssonar

by Santiago Barreiro

Forthcoming 2021/2022

This book provides an in-depth study of the main aspects of economic activity (production, consumption, accumulation and exchange) as represented in the well-known early-thirteenth century Icelandic text, Egils saga Skallagrímssonar. It aims to describe and analyse the ways in which the saga imagined economic interaction amongst men of different social and cultural origin in the time of the narrative (the tenth century) and its possible ideological meaning during the time of composition in the context of the formation of stable, concentrated power structures during the Age of the Sturlungar. The portrayal the saga makes of economic life is heavily driven towards the diverse forms of exchange and accumulation of wealth, while it underrepresents consumption and productive activities. In particular the focus is on activities which yield stronger political messages, such as gift-giving, raiding and pillaging and the creation and transference of landed property. It is argued that the saga portrays the Icelandic farmers at Borg, founders of the lineage later known as the Mýramenn as successful due to their skill as managers and ability to remain independent from the power and wealth networks of the continental monarchs.