Fosterage, the custom of sending children to be reared and educated in the families of fellow-clansmen, was so prevalent, especially among the wealthy classes, and the laws governing it are so elaborate and occupied such a large space, that some mention of it here is inevitable.
A child in fosterage was reared and educated suitably for the position it was destined to fill in life.
There was fosterage for affection, for payment and for a literary education.
Fosterage began when the child was a year old and ended when the marriageable age was reached, unless previously terminated by death or crime.
Among them are the sagas of Thorgils and Haflidi (I118-1121), the feud and peacemaking of two great chiefs, contemporaries of Ari; of Sturla (1150-1183), the founder of the great Sturlung family, down to the settlement of his great lawsuit by Jon Loptsson, who thereupon took his son Snorri the historian to fosterage, - a humorous story but with traces of the decadence about it, and glimpses of the evil days that were to come; of the Onundar-brennusaga (1185-1200), a tale of feud and fire-raising in the north of the island, the hero of which, Gudmund Dyri, goes at last into a cloister; of Hrafn Sveinbiornsson (1190-1213), the noblest Icelander of his day, warrior, leech, seaman, craftsman, poet and chief, whose life at home, travels and pilgrimages abroad (Hrafn was one of the first to visit Becket's shrine), and death at the hands of a foe whom he had twice spared, are recounted by a loving friend in pious memory of his virtues, c. 1220; of Aron Hiorleifsson (1200-1255), a man whose strength, courage and adventures befit rather a henchman of Olaf Tryggvason than one of King Haakon's thanes (the beginning of the feuds that rise round Bishop Gudmund are told here), of the Svinefell-men (1248-1252), a pitiful story of a family feud in the far east of Iceland.
Fosterage might be undertaken out of affection or for payment.
The cost of the fosterage of boys seems to have been borne by the mother's property, that of the daughters by the father's.
The ties created by fosterage were nearly as close and as binding on children as those of blood.