Outlawry as Secular Excommunication in Medieval Iceland
Fimmtudaginn 15. september 2016 kl. 16.30
This talk argues that the sentence of outlawry in Old Norse-Icelandic sources from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was a sentence derived from and continually influenced by the ecclesiastical sanction of excommunication. In the first part of this talk I offer an account of the legal phenomenon of excommunication with special reference to its presentation in Icelandic sources. I next give an account of the legal concept of outlawry, the assumptions that are often made about it, and present a detailed examination of the evidence that directly documents how full and lesser outlawry were defined in medieval Iceland.
One of my key arguments is that the notion of outlawry that we have access to is the outlawry of the thirteenth century and later. This chronology is based on the dating of the manuscripts that survive to document the idea, most of which are from the thirteenth century and later, even if some of the narrative material refers to the tenth and eleventh centuries.
I then consider the often-observed similarities between excommunication and outlawry in northern sources from the Middle Ages. I argue that these similarities are best explained by viewing outlawry as an outgrowth or adaptation of Christian excommunication into secular justice systems. It is difficult to prove this argument but possible to support it by making recourse to a variety of evidence from legal materials, the dating of manuscripts, and the examination of common assumptions about outlawry.
Elizabeth Walgenbach earned her Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Yale University in May 2016. Her research focuses on canon law in the northern European Middle Ages. She is currently working to turn her dissertation into a book while studying Icelandic at the University of Iceland.
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