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Hidden Harpoons And Poached Whales: Mundane Fishes In North Atlantic Laws

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Chapter Summary

Medieval whaling laws were detailed in Iceland and Norway. The laws of the North Atlantic world originated in the Norwegian regional laws. The Gulathing law and its later revisions served as the law of Orkney and Shetland through the Middle Ages. Whales legally could be driven ashore or hunted at sea with spears or other weapons, termed shots or harpoons. The location of drift or beached whales was the deciding factor of ownership in whale scavenging and property law. Norwegians and especially Icelanders faced a host of problems with whale division and scavenging. The law asks the whales be treated as if they were personal property. The most important criteria of division was based on property and boundaries where the whale landed. Medieval North Atlantic whaling is a far cry from the unregulated, unlegislated, random activity that so many medieval historians have depicted it to be.

Keywords: Gulathing; harpoons; North Atlantic Laws; Norwegian; Orkney; Shetland; whales

10.1163/ej.9789004163980.i-326.17
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