This introductory chapter provides an overview of friendship. Friendship exists in a state of constant flux, being shaped by and shaping other personal relationships. Thus, it cannot be studied in isolation of other social relations. Until about 1970, the idea of a strong kin group was central to the discussion of Norwegian and Icelandic society in the Viking Age and the high Middle Ages. The view was that a patriarchal kin-based organization united the social, judicial, political, and religious facets of society. The kin group possessed land in common and probably took care of the “individual kin-group member's need for protection, his lawful rights and his religious needs.” Over time there has been a shift in the debate in Iceland and Norway, from a focus on the kin-based society and the political institutions described in the law codes, toward the political culture and the role friendship played.
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