Voru goðorð arfgeng fyrir 1100?
Oftast hafa fræðimenn reiknað með að goðorð hafi verið arfgeng frá upphafi þjóðveldisins á Íslandi eins og þau vissulega voru á tólftu og þrettándu öld. Þegar að er gáð kemur í ljós að engar heimildir eru fyrir því aðrar en Íslendingasögur. Þar sem flestir fræðimenn telja þær nú lítt traustar heimildir um sögutímann verður að endurskoða hvað hægt er að vita um arfgengi goðorða á fyrri hluta þjóðveldisaldar. Athugun á erfðagangi goðorða á tólftu og þrettándu öld leiðir í ljós verulega óreglu sem gæti bent til að arfgengi sé ekki rótgróin hefð. Sé það rétt þarf að endurskoða nokkuð hugmyndir um þróun valdakerfa í þjóðveldinu.
Godords (goðorð, chieftaincies) have usually been assumed hereditary from the very beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth (traditionally dated AD 930–1262). Godords were certainly heritable in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but what of the tenth and eleventh centuries? It turns out the only sources that claim early heritability of godords are the sagas of Icelanders (family Sagas), which were written from the thirteenth century onwards and have been widely discredited as reliable sources for the earliest period of Icelandic history. The hereditary elite of late Commonwealth godordsmen (holders of godords) had an interest in appearing to be of noble descent. Therefore, the sagas they may have sponsored cannot be trusted in this matter, especially as heritability of offices is rarely established when they are first constituted but rather develops as the social elite gradually establishes claims to them. As early Iceland seems to have been rather egalitarian at first, it is reasonable to assume that heritability of godords only emerged as social stratification increased, and there is little evidence of this until the mid-eleventh century. A survey of the dynasties holding godords in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries indicates that most of them seem to have originated in the early twelfth century. While a limited number may be somewhat older, this does not contradict the hypothesis that heritability was only firmly established in the early twelfth century, as heritability usually begins as a custom before it becomes a legal right. The surviving code of law (Grágás) has surprisingly little to say about the heritability of godords; the best interpretation of these laws is that they sometimes assume heritability but do not demand it. The laws also contain many stipulations that appear to make it surprisingly easy to remove a godordsman from office for relatively minor infractions. This makes little sense if heritability had been firmly established, and it is hard to imagine the elite would have allowed it. These stipulations seem to be relics from a period in which godords were not heritable. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, there are also many irregularities in the actual inheritance of godords where the general laws of inheritance were eschewed or ignored. The godords were presumably developing their own customs of inheritance, and these were often incompatible with the general laws, especially in their increased emphasis on the male line. All of this may indicate that heritability was a new custom and not yet firmly established. The conclusion that godords were probably not typically inherited until the early twelfth century has important implications for the evolution of power in Commonwealth Iceland. If correct, the local strongmen who went on to eventually divide Iceland between themselves and proceeded to fight for supremacy in the Age of the Sturlungs (ca. 1220–1264) only started to emerge around the year 1100. Earlier times would not have seen “chieftains” of this sort, even if they are a fixture in the Sagas of Icelanders.