bryti (OSw) bryte (ODan) bryti (ON) brytia (OSw) noun

This word is derived from the verb (ON) brytja in the senses ‘chop, divide, apportion, distribute’ (namely food and labour). The word is used in ODan, Old West Norse and OSw laws and can be traced back to pre-Christian times, at least to the Viking Age. In Norway and parts of Sweden (Östergötland) the bryti (‘overseer’, Lat. villicus) was the foreman among the slaves and distributed work between them. In his function as an overseer, he was also (in the FrL) called a verkhúsbryti. If insulted he was entitled to a higher compensation than the other servants were.

In Denmark, the situation was different. The bryte was not a slave (see Ulsig 1981, 142). Although originally landless (see Vogt 2010), he was later (in Christian times) usually a free man. Socially he ranked above the tenant in so far as he was in the service of the landowner, but he was not leasing the latter’s land (as the tenant did).

The ODan provincial laws distinguished between two types of bryter, on the one hand the so-called fælaghsbryte (q.v.), who enjoyed some kind of partnership with the landowner, on the other hand the ordinary bryte, who was just a manager or steward. See Ulsig 1981, 142−45; 2011, 125, 129. Although the tenant was more independent, the bryte often managed far larger farms than the tenant did (see Ulsig 1981, 145; 2011, 129−30). As a steward or manager of royal estate — sometimes the word bryte is used synonymous with ármaðr (q.v.) — he might assume higher administrative functions as well, e.g. the collecting of taxes and fines. In the ESjL the word bryte is also used synonymously with ombudsman (umbuthsman, see umbuþsman). He might even have responsibilities of command in military expeditions.

During the twelfth century the relationship between these two social classes changed, because the tenants were taken into the service of the estate owners (see Ulsig 1981, 146). Later (in the thirteenth century) the great lords (herremæn, see hærraman) were allowed (by the JyL II 76) to keep for themselves the three marks’ fines incurred by the bryte, fines that would otherwise have accrued to the king. E. Ulsig has argued (1981, 155−56; 2011, 97) that the great lords took advantage of this to redefine many of their tenants as bryter. This seems to have expanded the nobility’s grip on the resources of their dependents (see Ulsig 2011, 141).

In the late Middle Ages the bryte seems to disappear as a particular social group, probably an effect of the abandoning of large-scale demesne farming during the late medieval agrarian crisis after 1350. The examples of the word bryte in sixteenth-century sources (see Kalkar s.v. bryd(j)e) suggest that the word was then used synonymously for ‘tenant’ (Danish fæster).

In Västergötland the bryti often became a lænsmaþer (q.v.).

bailiff ODan ESjL 2, 3
ODan JyL 1, 2
ODan SkL 59, 163, 171−73, 226−31
ODan VSjL 68, 87

farm administrator ODan ESjL 2
official ODan ESjL 3
overseer ONorw FrL Mhb 10 Kvb 21
ONorw GuL Løb, Mhb, Tjb
OSw UL Mb, Rb
OSw VmL Mb

peasant OSw MEL Hb
steward OIce Kge 32
ONorw MLL Llb 54
OSw ÄVgL Äb, Tb
OSw KrL Hb SmbII
OSw ÖgL Kkb, Db, Kmb
OSw SdmL Mb, Tjdb, Rb
OSw YVgL Drb, Äb, Rlb, Tb, Föb, Utgb

Brink 2008c, 3−6; 2012, 45, 139−45, 258; 2014b; Hertzberg s.v.v. bryti, verkhúsbryti; Iversen 1997, 119, 120, 124, 153; Kalkar s.v. bryd(j)e; KLNM s.v.v. befalingsmand, bryde, embedsindtægter, kyrkogods, landgilde, tyende, årmann; Lund [1877] 1967 s.v. bryti; Nevéus 1974, 26, 28, 141, 162; RGA2 s.v. bryte; Schlyter s.v. bryti; Tamm & Vogt, eds, 2016, 5, 21−22; Ulsig 1981, 141, 142−46, 155−56; 2011, 97, 125, 129−30, 141; Vogt 2010, 54

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