hreppr (ON) noun

A commune; the designation for the smallest administrative district in medieval Iceland, though Grg Hrs 234 states that a hreppr could be further divided into thirds or quarters. It is unknown when the division of the country into communes occurred, but a general consensus places it prior to Christianization in the year 1000. According to Grg Hrs 234 and Jó Kge 31 a commune had to have at least twenty householders capable of paying assembly attendance dues (þingfararkaup), but the precise number of extant hreppar is unknown prior to 1703. It has been suggested that the term referred to personal properties prior to becoming geographic districts (cf. Hoff 2012, 26) and that the hreppar were a type of medieval guild (cf. Sv. Jakobsson 2013, 275).

Each hreppr was governed by a group of five councilmen (hreppstjóri; also called [hrepp]sóknarmenn). Communes were allotted one quarter of annual tithes, and these funds were dedicated to the maintenance of the poor and to serve as insurance in the event members of the commune suffered a disastrous fire or loss of livestock. The insurance aspect however seems to have vanished by the time Norwegian rule began in Iceland, as there is no mention of it in Jó. Communes were also involved in the process of spring sheep drives. Maintenance of the poor by the hreppr is thought to predate the tithe system introduced to Iceland in 1097.

In England, particularly in Sussex, the term hreppr was co-opted as rape and referred to an administrative division between a hundred and a shire. In Norwegian dialects and place names it refers to a settlement or group of estates, while in Sweden it was part of a church parish, but the term never took on any legal or political strength as in Iceland. However a manuscript variant in MLL indicates that a hreppr might have been an older administrative district in Norway as well. The term hreppr has been equated with sogn in Norway.

commune OIce Grg Klþ 2 Ómb 132 Fjl 225 Hrs 234 Tíg 255, 256
OIce Þfb 9 Kge 31 Llb 69 Þjb 2
OIce Js Kab 3, 7
OIce KRA 14, 15

CV; Gunnar Karlsson 2005; Hoff 2012; KLNM s.v. hreppr; LexMA s.v. hrepp, Armut (Armenfürsorge, Sonderformen in Skandinavian, Island); Lýður Björnsson 1972−79, I:9−32, I:55−66; ONP; Svavar Sigmundsson 2003; Sverrir Jakobsson 2013

  • ‘hreppr’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.