Two bandits or more? The case of Viking Age England

Abstract

The Olsonian distinction between roving and stationary bandits outlines the rationale behind the transition from anarchy to the emergence of the predatory state. This two-bandit model may, however, be expanded to include more bandit types. In the case of Viking Age England, local English kings were unable to monopolize violence and defend their realms against competing Viking raiders. As the Vikings’ time horizon grew, so did the accumulated value of more formal taxation, and bandit types evolved in four steps. The first step is the Olsonian roving bandit, who executed Viking hit-and-run attacks and plunders during the second half of the tenth century. The second step is the gafol bandit; gafol is payment for leaving, paid to, among others, Swein Forkbeard. The third step is the heregeld bandit; heregeld is a tax to support an army for hire; most notably Thorkell the Tall’s. The fourth step is the Olsonian stationary bandit, i.e. the strongest military leader among the Vikings, Cnut the Great, settled down as the new king. Overall, the Olsonian two-bandit model can be expanded to a four-bandit staircase model, in which the new gafol and heregeld bandit types explain the steps from anarchy and short-run raiding to long-run formal taxation in a predatory state.

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Acknowledgements

First, a warm note of thanks to the editor and the reviewers for helpful comments. Second, an earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Symposium on the Predatory State in May 2019, Sorbonne University, Paris. I am deeply grateful to the organizers, the discussant, and the other participants for their stimulating and constructive inputs. Third, but not least, a huge thanks to my colleagues, in particular Marie Bønløkke Missuno, who would have been co-author if not for her modesty. Her assistance in providing empirical material has been invaluable. Furthermore, Peter Nannestad has played a crucial part in stimulating the theoretical ideas during our lively discussions. Finally, I am indebted to Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard—as our previous joint work paved the way for this paper—Else Roesdahl, Søren Sindbæk, Gunnar L. H. Svendsen, Urs Steiner Brandt, Christian Bjørnskov, Martin Paldam, Erich Gundlach, Toke Aidt, Annette B. Andersen and Natasha E. Perera.

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Svendsen, G.T. Two bandits or more? The case of Viking Age England. Public Choice 182, 443–457 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-019-00707-2

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Keywords

  • Roving and stationary banditry
  • Predatory state
  • Defense
  • Viking Age England
  • Gafol
  • Heregeld