AAA Annual Meeting Program

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Paper Information:
Type: Paper
Paper Title: HOSPITALITY, DEBT, AND LAND TENURE IN VIKING AGE ICELAND
Author: JOHN STEINBERG (UMass Boston), DOUGLAS BOLENDER (University of Massachusetts-Boston)   
Date/Time: Fri., 4:00 PM
Co-Author(s): JOHN STEINBERG (UMass Boston), DOUGLAS BOLENDER (University of Massachusetts-Boston) 
Abstract: Debt and credit exist in a variety of forms in both capitalist and pre-capitalist societies. In capitalist societies, where credit and debt are foundational, there are three basic kinds of credit: consumer, trade, and bank. Trade credit is probably most aptly applied to pre-capitalist societies. Even today trade credit is not usually under the control of government authorities and can arise simply from the delay of paying bills or as a more formal arrangement between parties. Trade credit and the corresponding debt need to be thought of as property rights. Property rights, in the modern sense are exclusive, transferable, alienable, and enforceable. In pre-capitalist societies these rights can be quite weak. In this paper we explore the strength of property rights in credit and debt during the Viking Age colonization of previously unoccupied Iceland. The Icelandic Sagas describe a violent society in which people raid, steal, and fight when abroad, but when back home offer amazing hospitality to strangers. Hospitality, as a Viking institution, begins a cycle of credit and debt that contrasts with the “Viking” stereotype. We will describe how hospitality and other low cost extensions of credit create a weak debt. Under expansive conditions in Iceland, these weak debts were turned into stronger land tenure systems. We describe how debts and land tenure systems create a patchwork settlement pattern of conflicting interests. When the landscape is filled, the debts of the system became overwhelming resulting in stagnation of many aspects of the medieval Icelandic economy.

Program Number: 3-0830
Session Title: MATERIALIZING AND EMBODYING DEBT
Session Sponsor: Archaeology Division
Session Date/Time: Fri., 1:45 PM-5:30 PM
Organizer(s): CHARLES COBB, MARK HAUSER (Northwestern University) 
Chair(s): ANN STAHL (University of Victoria)  
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