Sagas, Saints and Settlements (The Northern World, 11)


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Snorri also wrote the Prose Edda , a handbook of prosody and poetic diction. In it are many tales of pagan gods and heroes. Remarkably, the sagas were written in the vernacular Old Norse. These sagas are family chronicles, describing the events that took place during the period of the Icelandic Commonwealth in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. They were written by anonymous authors. Around 40 family sagas are preserved in the manuscripts from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.

The artistic values of the best of the sagas are indisputable and they are amongst the most important European literary works of the past millennium. Most of the sagas bring together historical and fictional elements in a unified narrative. Their characterization is vivid and they show deep sympathy and understanding of human tragedy. The style is plain, unpretentious and concise, with adjectives used sparingly, and with great emphasis on dialogue.

The sagas are about love and hatred, family feuds and vengeance, loyalty and friendship, conflicts due to matters of honour, warriors and kings, and destiny. They have also had an enormous impact on world literature, and were admired by writers from around the world, including William Blake, William Morris, JRR Tolkien and Jorge Louis Borges, to name just a few.

He has published articles on Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Scottish topics, with particular interests in monetary history, land assessment and military organisation. All those interested in Icelandic sagas, medieval hagiography, medieval land-assessment, place-name studies, and the Norse settlements in Scotland. Terms and Conditions Privacy Statement.

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ISBN alk. Sagas—History and criticism—Congresses. Williams, Gareth. Bibire, Paul. S25 No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Fees are subject to change. Simon Taylor 1 13 29 41 65 Index The aim was to bring together scholars from different disciplines with a shared interest in the history, culture and literature of the Viking Age and of mediaeval Iceland, and to provide a platform for emerging scholars, as well as more established figures in the field, to present their research.

This volume contains seven of the papers presented at the symposium. Others were already promised for publication elsewhere, or were part of more substantial works, too large to be appropriate for inclusion in this volume. The delay in publication has been due to first one editor then the other having other pressing commitments which prevented the completion of the volume earlier. The editors are grateful to all the contributors for their patience, to the external readers who provided valuable comments on the text in draft, particularly to Alison Finlay who helped greatly with proof-reading, to all those who have helped along the way with the production of the volume, and to Brill for agreeing to publish the volume in their Northern World series.

Six of the seven papers in the volume are linked by a shared interest in Icelandic sagas, but from very different perspectives. The first two deal with issues of classification and genre in Old Icelandic literature. She argues that the order and the context of the encyclopaedic material is provided by the concept of aetates mundi the ages of the world , and that the decision of what to include or not was constrained by the structure of the manuscript as a whole. She further argues that encyclopaedic literature was less distinct as a genre from saga literature in mediaeval Iceland than has sometimes been suggested, and the elements of the encyclopaedic material in AM 4to derive from saga literature, though edited to fit the structure imposed by the aetates mundi concept.

Phil Cardew also questions the extent to which Icelandic literature can be separated into distinct genres, this time in the context of the traditional ge- viii PREFACE neric classification of the Icelandic sagas. The issue of genre continues in the next two papers, both of which deal with aspects of the relationship between saga literature and hagiography.

She then explores this hagiographical material in more detail, together with the question of why this should be included in what is in other ways a conventional feud narrative. Gareth Williams uses the sagas together with archaeological and numismatic material, as well as a variety of historical evidence from mediaeval Scotland, to reassess the origins and purpose of land assessment units known as ouncelands and pennylands, found in many PREFACE ix areas of Norse settlement in Scotland. He looks at pre-Norse assessment systems, as well as relating the distribution of ouncelands and pennylands to the patterns of political authority described in the sagas and in other sources, and relates this to a broader picture of economy and society.


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This expansion is also a key theme in the following paper. Barbara Crawford considers the strategies behind the expansion of the power of the earls of Orkney into the northern parts of the Scottish mainland. She does this by comparing the saga accounts of the struggle for control between the earls of Orkney and the mormaers of Moray with the distribution of Scandinavian place-names within the disputed areas.

By focusing on particular place-name types in their geographical context, she argues that a key element in the earldom strategy for control of northern Scotland was the importance of transportation. She suggests that control of a timber supply on the mainland was vital for the Orkney earls, since Orkney itself provided no timber for shipbuilding, while for control within mainland Scotland, horses were as important as ships, and she argues that a number of Scandinavian place-names across northern Scotland can be linked with a programme of horse breeding by the earls or their deputies.

Scandinavian place-names in Scotland form a link with the final paper by Simon Taylor, although here the focus moves further south to central Scotland. This is the only paper not to make use of saga material, as the paper looks at Scandinavian settlement in an area only touched on occasionally, and in passing, in saga literature. Instead, Simon compares the distribution of -by-place-names with hogback tombstones, and seeks to set Scandinavian settlement in central Scotland in the context of the evidence provided by historical sources from the British Isles. He argues against the contention that the -by-names in central Lowland Scotland are the result of Anglo-Scandinavian settlement from the Danelaw in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, and prefers to place the Scandinavian settlement in this area in the tenth century, a period in which control of the Forth-Clyde area was important both for the Dublin-York axis to the south and to the emerging Scottish kingdom to the north.

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The paper thus provides an effective reminder that while the sagas are a valuable source of information x PREFACE for Scandinavian settlement in the north and west of Scotland, and particularly for the earldom of Orkney, there was an important area of Scandinavian settlement in Scotland which had nothing to do with the earls of Orkney, and about which the compilers of the sagas apparently knew nothing. They have been largely bypassed by modern scholarship, in part no doubt because they do not stand out as original thought or great literature.

Yet obviously we will not arrive at a truthful picture of literary activity in Iceland in the Middle Ages only through the study of masterpieces, and our understanding of the masterpieces is lacking if we neglect the study of their background. It would be inaccurate to claim, however, that these encyclopaedic manuscripts had been totally neglected.

But few studies have been devoted to them principally. Scholars tend to turn to these manuscripts if they contain a version of a text they are editing but the codices are not generally seen to merit a study on their own, as compilations. The scant attention meted out to encyclopaedic manuscripts is also due to the understandable tendency in scholars to be more interested in genuine Icelandic works—seeing foreign works translated into Icelandic as a rewarding object of study only insofar as they help to explain the development of the indigenous literature and of the language.

This is of course a simplification but I suspect these reasons go a long way towards explaining the silence that has surrounded these books—as well as the derogatory remarks sometimes meted out to them when they are mentioned. Some of these texts and other fragments previously unedited are printed in R. Jahrhundert Berlin, , but the transcripts are very unreliable. It is a vellum manuscript, now consisting of 43 full-sized leaves and 5 smaller leaves, some mere slips.

There are five lacunae in the latter half of the codex and two small leaves seem to have been lost after fols. Exactly how many leaves have been lost in the lacunae is impossible to determine, not least because the manuscript is not made up of regular gatherings. Two leaves, which belong in the last lacuna, have at some point become separated from the rest of the codex and are now catalogued as fragment m in AM fol. The manuscript is written in many hands—I have identified ten in the first half of the codex but there are clearly some additional hands in the second half—and shows all the signs of having been produced in a scriptorium of some sort.

That it is a book of annals is perhaps more accurate although chronicle might be closer to the truth.

Sagas, Saints and Settlements

The first half of fols. Foote, ed. Bekker-Nielsen, P. Foote and O. Olsen Odense, , p. It is in the first half that the best part of the encyclopaedic material is found and it becomes clear on closer inspection that although the various strands of information may be drawn from disparate sources they are not merely thrown together in a haphazard manner. On the contrary, the various bits are introduced at the right moment in the appropriate context. The order and the context is provided by the old concept of aetates mundi, the ages of the world.

The history of the world, from the Creation, is divided up into ages in accordance with a scheme propagated by St Augustine. World-ages were an important concept within Judaism and one encounters them in the works of early Church Fathers such as Origen, Jerome and Ambrose. Augustine draws a parallel between Genesis and the course of the world.

As the Creation took six days, so the world will pass through six ages before reaching the seventh age, the sabbath.

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Accord5 On aetates mundi before Augustine see R. Gatz, Weltalter, goldene Zeit und sinnverwandte Vorstellungen Hildesheim, , pp. Beiheft Marburg, , pp. Tristram, Sex aetates mundi. Die Weltzeitalter bei den Angelsachsen und den Iren Heidelberg, , pp. CCL B, pp.

see url Flint, ed. There were chiliastic ideas, popular among Christians, about an earthly sabbath after the second coming of Christ, a thousand-year reign before the Last Judgment. These ideas were influenced by Judaism and strengthened by numerological speculations which alloted each age years, resulting in a scheme of 7 x years of earthly history before the eternal heavenly kingdom.

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For him the seventh age was therefore not the time of bodily resurrection but a period of rest for the souls of the righteous, it was civitas Dei peregrinans, and it also signified the life of the Church. It was the age of resurrection, the eighth day which equalled the first day of a new beginning.


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I, PL 34, pp. The years were the result of a combination of the week of Genesis and the words of the Psalter 89,4 : Quoniam mille anni ante oculos tuos tamque dies hesterna, quae praeteriit, et custodia in nocte.

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