Sigurðsson, Gísli. 2004. The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition: A Discourse on Method. Trans. Nicholas Jones. Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature 2. Cambridge, MA: Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_SigurdssonG.The_Medieval_Icelandic_Saga_and_Oral_Tradition.2004.
1. From Lawspeaker to Lawbook
A Power Struggle between the Church and Secular Leaders? 
Power and Prestige in Oral Society
If this provision was indeed in force before the age of writing, it gives an idea of the power this lack of a book to consult on points of dispute put into the hands of a small group of legal experts who were able to decide among themselves on what was law and what was not. In light of what is said later about Hafliði Másson’s connections with the episcopal sees of Skálholt and Hólar, the writing up of the law at Breiðabólstaður in the winter of 1117-8 maybe viewed as the first step in a movement led by the allies of the Church to encroach upon the secular domain of the lawspeakers, a domain in which the Church was later to exercise considerable influence.
Literacy and the Key to Power
|1181–1202 Gizurr Hallsson|
|1203–1209 Hallr Gizurarson|
|1210–1214 Styrmir the Wise; member of Snorri Sturluson’s circle but of unknown family background|
|1215–1218 Snorri Sturluson|
|1219–1221 Teitr Þorvaldsson, nephew of Hallr and brother of (Earl) Gizurr Þorvaldsson|
|1222–1231 Snorri Sturluson|
|1232–1235 Styrmir the Wise|
|1236–1247 Teitr Þorvaldsson|
|1248–1250 Óláfr hvítaskáld Þórðarson, nephew of Snorri|
|1251 Sturla Þórðarson, brother of Óláfr|
|1252 Óláfr hvítaskáld Þórðarson|
|1253–1258 Teitr Einarsson, appointed through the offices of Gizurr and possibly his nephew|
|1259–1262 Ketill Þorlákssona, husband of Halldóra Þorvaldsdóttir and brother-in-law of Gizurr|
|1263–1265 Þorleifr hreimr Ketilsson, son of Ketill and Halldóra|
|1266 Sigurðr Þorvaldsson|
|1267 Jón Einarsson, possibly Gizurr’s nephew and brother of Teitr|
|1271 Þorleifr hreimr Ketilsson|
|[1272–1276 Sturla Þórðarson, lawman]|
Figure 1-1: Family connections linking lawspeakers Grímr Svertingsson and Skafti Þóroddsson, the first bishops, Hafliði Másson, and lawspeaker Gizurr Hallson
Ari’s Records of the Earliest Lawspeakers
|927–929||Úlfljótr í Lóni||1075||Gunnarr spaki Þorgrímsson|
|930–949||Hrafn Ketilsson hœngs||1076–83||Sighvatr Surtsson|
|950–969||Þórarinn Ragabróðir Óleifsson||1084–1107||Markús Skeggjason|
|970–984||Þorkell máni Þorsteinsson||1108–16||Úlfheðinn Gunnarsson|
|985–1001||Þorgeirr Þorkelsson of Ljósavatn||1117–22||Bergþórr Hrafnsson|
|1002–03||Grímr Svertingsson||1123–34||Guðmundr Þorgeirsson|
|1004–30||Skafti Þóroddsson||1135–38||Hrafn Úlfheðinsson|
|1031–33||Steinn Þorgestsson||1139–45||Finnr Hallsson|
|1034–53||Þorkell Tjǫrvason||1146–55||Gunnarr Úlfheðinsson|
|1054–62||Gellir Bǫlverksson||1156–70||Snorri Húnbogason|
|1063–65||Gunnarr spaki Þorgrímsson||1171–80||Styrkárr Oddason|
|1066–71||Kolbeinn Flosason||1181–1200||Gizurr Hallsson|
Pre-conversion lawspeakers by geographical region
- Úlfljótr (927–929) comes to Iceland from Norway armed with his knowledge of law; he is first said to be ‘austrœnn’ (‘eastern,’ but also ‘from continental Scandinavia, Norwegian’), before he settles ‘austr í Lóni’ (‘at Lón in the east’).
- Hrafn, son of Ketill hœngr (930–949) is ‘ýr Rangárhverfi,’ i.e. from the Rangá district in the south.
- Þórarinn Ragabróðir (950–969) is ‘borgfirzkr,’ i.e. from Borgarfjörður in the west. 
- Þorkell máni (970–984) is simply designated ‘Þorsteinssonr Ingólfssonar’ (‘son of Þorsteinn, son of Ingólfr’). Ari presumably considered Ingólfr Arnarson, traditionally the first settler of Iceland, and his land claim at Reykjavík to be too well known to need further specification.
- Þorgeirr Þorkelsson (985–1001) is said to be ‘at Ljósavatni,’ i.e. from Ljósavatn in the north.
Lawspeakers after the conversion: increased emphasis on family connections
|Lawspeakers about whom Ari says more than just their names||Lawspeakers merely named by Ari (with some genealogical details)|
|Grímr Svertingsson||Steinn Þorgestsson|
|Skafti Þóroddsson (son of Grímr’s sister)||Þorkell Tjǫrvason|
|Markús Skeggjason||Gellir Bǫlverksson|
|Bergþórr Hrafnsson||Gunnarr Þorgrímsson|
|Sighvatr Surtsson (son of Kolbeinn’s sister)|
Other records of the lawspeakers of whom Ari gives only names and family details
Figure 1-2: Genealogy of lawspeaker Gunnarr the Wise and his probable connections to Hafliði Másson and Finnr Hallsson
- Landnámabók (S 270, H 232) traces the genealogy of the Vápnfirðingar clan from Ǫlvir hvíti (‘the White’), father of Þorsteinn hvíti, father of Þorgils, father of Brodd-Helgi, father of Víga-Bjarni, father of Skegg-Broddi, father of Þórir, father of Guðrún ‘er átti Flosi, son Kolbeins’ (‘the wife of Flosi son of Kolbeinn’), this Kolbeinn being the son of Flosi Vallabrandsson. Later (S 359, H 315) a line of descent is given from the settler Flosi Þorbjarnarson, who moved to Iceland after killing three of King Haraldr hárfagri’s local governors; this includes the information that his daughter Ásný was the mother-in-law of Valla-Brandr, father of Flosi, father of Kolbeinn, ‘fǫður Guðrúnar, er Sæmundr fróði átti’ (‘father of Guðrún, the wife of [the historian] Sæmundr fróði’). In the Hauksbók redaction, Haukr Erlendsson extends this line down to himself and adds that Flosi married Guðrún, the daughter of Þórir, son of Skegg-Broddi: ‘þeira synir váru þeir Kolbeinn, er fyrr var nefndr, ok Bjarni, faðir Bjarna, fǫður Flosa, fǫður Valgerðar, móður herra Erlends, fǫður Hauks’ (‘their sons were Kolbeinn, mentioned previously, and Bjarni, father of Bjarni, father of Flosi, father of Valgerðr, mother of Squire Erlendr, father of Haukr [i.e. himself]’). We may suppose that Haukr would have noted that his ancestor Kolbeinn Flosason had held the title of lawspeaker if he had felt justified in doing so.
- The very last person mentioned in Njáls saga is Kolbeinn, the son of Flosi, the son of Kári and Hildigunnr, ‘er ágætastr maðr hefir verið einn hverr í þeiri ætt’ (‘one of the finest men to have come from that family’) (ÍF XII:463-4).
- In an uncontextualized genealogy at the end of the Sǫrla þáttr episode in Ljósvetninga saga, Kolbeinn Flosason is named as the father-in-law of the historian Sæmundr fróði: ‘Dœtr þrjár áttu Kolbeinn ok Guðríðr. Eina dóttur, Guðrúnu, átti Sæmundr inn fróði, ok tvær dœtr hans áttu tveir brœðr Sæmundar. Kolbeinn Flosason var grafinn í Fljótshverfi, en hon fœrði hann til Rauðalœkjar’ (‘Kolbeinn and Guðríðr had three daughters. One of these daughters, Guðrún, married Sæmundr fróði, and two of his [i.e. Kolbeinn’s] daughters married two of Sæmundr’s brothers. Kolbeinn Flosason was buried in Fljótshverfi but she had his body removed to Rauðalækur’ (ÍF X:112).
- Toward the end of Þorsteins saga Síðu-Hallssonar there is a lacuna, after which the text picks up with a series of genealogies. Among these there is a mention of Álǫf, the sister of Hallr of Síða, who is said to have been ‘móðir Kolbeins Flosasonar, Þórðar sonar Freysgoði at Svínafelli’ (‘the mother of Kolbeinn, son of Flosi, son of Þórðar Freyr’s-Priest of Svínafell’) (ÍF XI:319). Other notable people traced back to Hallr of Síða at this point include Bishop Jóhann the Holy; Gróa, the wife of Teitr, son of Gizurr the White (‘Their son was Hallr, father of Gizurr, father of Bishop Magnús and of Þorvaldr, father of [Earl] Gizurr’ (ibid.)); his son-in-law Eyjólfr, the son of Guðmundr ríki of Möðruvellir (‘Their daughter was Þórey, the mother of Sæmundr fróði, father of Loftr, father of Jón, father of Sæmundr of Oddi’ (ibid.)); and his grand-daughter Þórdís, who was mother of Jórunn, wife of Teitr Ísleifsson. In view of the obvious interest here in family connections to important personages it is surprising that Kolbeinn Flosason is neither named as lawspeaker nor said to be Sæmundr’s father-in-law—if this is one and the same man. Such distinction as accrues to this Kolbeinn comes from his blood connections to Flosi and Þórðr of Svínafell rather than from any official position he may have held.
- Þorsteins þáttr stangarhǫggs traces the family of Bjarni of Hof. One of Bjarni’s daughters is said to be Halla, the mother of Guðríðr ‘er Kolbeinn lǫgsǫgumaðr átti’ (‘wife of lawspeaker Kolbeinn’) (ÍF XI:78); Kolbeinn’s father is not named, nor any relationship through marriage to Sæmundr fróði. One of Bjarni’s sons-in-law is said to have been Þorsteinn, the son of Hallr of Síða and the ancestor of Bishop Magnús Einarsson. Other notable figures listed here among Bjarni’s descendants include Þóra, the wife of Þorvaldr Gizurarson; Ormr of Svínafell; Guðný Bǫðvarsdóttir and the Sturlusons; Arnfríðr, the wife of Digr-Helgi; Finnr the priest (possibly the same man as lawspeaker Finnr Hallson); and ‘many men of noble lineage.’
- Kolbeinn Flosason is named in the genealogies in Sturlunga saga (37:46), where it is said that Sæmundr fróði married his daughter Guðrún.
Figure 1-3: Family relationships of lawspeakers Kolbeinn Flosason and Sighvatr Surtsson, showing their connections to lawspeakers Gellir Bǫlverksson, Steinn Þorgestsson, and Þórarinn Ragabróðir
|Identity unclear||Ancestry known, descendants unnamed or obscure||Ancestry unknown, descendants specified|
|Þorkell Tjǫrvason||Steinn Þorgestsson||Gunnarr Þorgrímsson|
|Kolbeinn Flosason||Gellir Bǫlverksson||Úlfheðinn Gunnarsson|
Lawspeakers after the Earliest Writing of the Laws
Finnr Hallsson from Hofteigur
Gunnarr Úlfheðinsson and his probable bloodline
|Priests, literate men||Not priests, no indications of literacy|
|Finnr Hallsson||Guðmundr Þorgeirsson|
|Snorri Húnbogason||Hrafn Úlfheðinsson|
Three Main Groups of Lawspeakers in the 11th and 12th Centuries
|Lawspeakers with Church connections||Lawspeakers from well-known families descended from Bjǫrn buna||Gunnarr the Wise and his family and associates|
|1002–03 Grímr Svertingsson|
|1004–30 Skafti Þóroddsson|
|1031–33 Steinn Þorgestsson|
|1034–53 Þorkell Tjǫrvasona||1034–53 Þorkell Tjǫrvasona|
|1054–62 Gellir Bǫlverksson|
|1063–65 Gunnarr the Wise Þorgrímsson|
|1066–71 Kolbeinn Flosason|
|1072–74 Gellir Bǫlverksson|
|1075 Gunnarr the Wise Þorgrímsson|
|1076–83 Sighvatr Surtsson|
|1084–1107 Markús Skeggjason|
|1108–16 Úlfheðinn Gunnarsson|
|1117–22 Bergþórr Hrafnsson|
|1123–34 Guðmundr Þorgeirssona||1123–34 Guðmundr Þorgeirssona|
|1135–38 Hrafn Úlfheðinsson|
|1139–45 Finnr Hallsson|
|1146–55 Gunnarr Úlfheðinsson|
|1156–70 Snorri Húnbogasonb|
|1171–80 Styrkárr Oddason|