In the year 870, Ingolfur Arnarson left Norway to found the first settlement in Iceland. He soon had company: dozens of petty chieftains and small landholders, fleeing the tyranny of Harald Fairhair, first king of a united Norway. In 930, the Icelanders established a parliament, the Althing. From then until 1262 flourished what historian William Pencak calls "perhaps the closest approximation of an anarchist or libertarian republic that the world is likely to see."

Shortly after the fall of their republic, the Icelanders began writing the Sagas.

"The Icelandic Sagas are concerned with many things," says Pencak, "but one of the things they are really concerned with is, Why does the Icelandic republic deteriorate? Why after almost 400 years does Iceland turn from a republic to a dependency of the Norwegian monarchy, which the Icelanders had fled to begin with?

I was recently in Iceland, and have become fascinated by the Sagas. This is a nice wee article on William Pencak's book The Conflict Between Law and Justice in the Icelandic Sagas. I'm really intrigued that the Sagas were written "after the fall of their republic": that is, in times of conflict and need, and that they are such a sustained meditation on law and morality.

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