Page images

to open passages with the axe. The coasts did not appear to have been at all times without inhabitants, though there is great reason to suppose that they were only casual visitors; and, from various little utensils which were found belonging to Christian worship, that they were of that religion. Are Frode observes, in the Landnama Saga, that these people were called, by the Norwegians, Papar; in whom seem to have originated the names of Papa-sound, in Norway, Papeyj in Iceland, and Papay Stronsay and Papay Westray, in the Orkney Isles. The eastern coasts of the island were the most frequented by the Papar*, who are by many supposed to have been Irish priests, who labored to convey the blessings of Christianity among many of the northern nations.

So great was the number of Norwegians who now followed Ingulf, in order to escape

* The word Papa, or Pope, has not always been applied to the head of the Romish church, but was in ancient times given to all bishops; and it is only since Gregory vn. that it has been appropriated to the bishop of Rome. — See Jortin't Ecclesiastical History. v. 5. p. 64.

the yoke of an oppressor at home, that, in the course of sixty years, the whole of the coasts, and most of the habitable parts, are said to have been occupied by the new settlers.

As the population increased, the necessity of having a regular form of government became apparent; and, accordingly, about the year 928, a constitution was established, which continued in full vigor for more than three hundred and thirty years. This early state of the republic was evidently an aristocracy. The island was divided into four quarters, to which were given the names of the cardinal points of the compass; these also into three (with the exception of the northern quarter, where, on account of its extent, there were four) lesser divisions, or prefectures, which were called Pyng; and these again were subdivided into ten or more districts, called Hreppars. In each of them a number of inhabitants, not less than twenty, possessed of a certain portion of landed property*, constituted an assembly. Out of

* Those who were to be admitted into this assembly were chosen at a meeting of all the members; it was this body, five were chosen, who were the most celebrated, in the first instance, for their wisdom and integrity, and, in the next, for their wealth and possessions (lest they should be exposed to contempt or corruption) and appointed judges, or Hreppsstiorars, who were privileged to convoke the assemblies, to pass sentence, and to punish crimes in their respective courts. It was their office, moreover, to attend to the wants of the poor, and to prevent, as much as lay in their power, the lower class of people* from

particularly their interest to exclude all such as were likely to be reduced in circumstances; for, in that case, the person and his family were maintained at the expence of the assembly. It was, moreover, enacted by law, that, when any of the members of the Hreppar were suffering under the loss of houses or buildings, by fire or any other accident, or of cattle by disease, an estimate of the damage should be made within fourteen days and the full amount be paid to the sufferer, either out of public funds, established for the purpose, or by a collection made at the house of every individual, each member paying according to his substance.

* Every pauper was to be admitted into the family of his nearest relative, if he had any, otherwise he was to reside in his own Hreppar, and be supported satirely at the public expence. .


becoming burthensome to the nation. In this infant state of the community it was looked upon as most disgraceful to become a beggar through idleness. Arngrim Jonas remarks, that it was an apostolic precept, that he who would not labor should not be suffered to beg, and that consequently severe punishments* were inflicted on persons so offending, and heavy fines imposed upon those who were detected of harboring and encouraging this class of people.

The Hreppsstiorars, as has been just stated, had authority to convoke assemblies of the people; and these assemblies may be considered of two kinds, the fixed or ordinary, and the extraordinary, or such as were called on special occcasions. It appears that, at both of them, each member carried with him some emblem or sign, which, since the introduction of Christianity, was a small wooden cross, and the omission of it was considered

* Of such a description, is the following: "Item altera lex de ejusmodi mendicis impune castrandis, etiamsi cum eorundem nece conjunction foret, ne videlicet ostiatim vivendo liberos gignerent similes parentibus, qui postmodum oneri essent Reipublica\. Islandi Tractates. p. 437.

as a crime which merited punishment. Here were held consultations upon public affairs, and here accused persons were brought for trial and to receive punishment. If the complaint was of a private nature, the accuser himself summoned the defendant; or, if he was unable or unwilling to do it, one of the Hreppsstiorars undertook the office for him. It was his duty, likewise, to bring forward all public acts of injustice, but, should he be negligent in the exercise of his functions, he was subject to be called to an account by the other members of the Hreppar, and mulcted in a pecuniary fine.

Each quarter of the island, as has been already stated, contained three (except the northern, which had four) lesser divisions or prefectures. These were under the superintendence of magistrates of much greater rank and dignity than the Hreppsstiorars, and may be looked upon as the Prefects * of

* These were the nobles of the land: "Eos Optimates hoc loco appellamus, et statum Reipublicse, horum inspectione gubernatum, Aristocratiam." Arngrim Jonas Islandi Tract.

« PreviousContinue »