Quantitative methods were employed to situate medieval Icelandic homicide in comparative context. Estimates of homicide rates were derived from samtíðarsögur, and found comparable with European rural medieval homicide estimates: late twelfth-century Iceland was probably not as violent as a qualitative reading of the sagas might suggest. There were significant differences in patterns of vengeance between íslendingasögur and samtíðarsögur. In íslendingasögur, farmers committing homicide faced flight, outlawry or death; chieftains who initiated homicide might escape justice, although most became embroiled in feud. In samtíðarsögur, lethal vengeance following ordinary homicide was less common, and not a source of feud. These results generate a critique of previous notions of reciprocity in Icelandic vengeance, and support more recent interpretations of early medieval Icelandic society as a highly unequal, divided society. Both sources suggest that, although vengeance may have been legitimated in the language of ‘repayment’, vengeance is best understood within a cross-cultural context as competitive behaviour designed to achieve superiority rather than parity.