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Shows of Force without War under Anarchy in medieval Iceland

[From comments in response to Catallarchy 2005-12-09: Gang warfare without the warfare.]

Interestingly enough, these kind of displays were a common element of stateless arbitration in medieval Iceland, as well. Here’s Jesse Byock, in Viking Age Iceland:

The absence of pitched battles does not mean that the island inhabitants eschewed all forms of militant show, only that they ritualized the actual use of force. Parties to a dispute that was moving toward resolution frequently assembled large numbers of armed baendr [freeholders]. Sometimes these groups confronted each other for days at assemblies and at other gatherings, such as when a successful party was trying to enforce a judgment at the home of the defendant (féránsdómr). Althought opposing sides often clashed briefly, and a few men might be killed, protracted battles were consistently avoided. It was not by chance that the parties showed restraint. Leaders really had few options if they hoped to retain the allegiance of a large following, since the baendr were not dependable supporters in a long or perilous confrontation. They had no tradition of obeying orders, maintaining discipline, or being absent from their farms for extended periods. The godhar, for their part, were seldom able to bear the burdens of campaigning. They lacked the resources necessary to feed, house, equip and pay followers for more than a brief period.

Rather than signalling the outbreak of warfare, a public display of armed support revealed that significant numbers of men had chosen sides and were prepared to participate in an honourable resolution. With chieftains and farmers publicly committed, a compromise resting on a collective agreement could be reached. (p. 125)

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