Viking Age Iceland: The Founding of a New Society and the Historical Sources

A picture of Leif Eirksson's statue in Reykjavík, Iceland

This 54 of our ongoing series about Viking Age Iceland. For centuries, this island country, unique in Medieval Europe, operated with no king, no great lords, no foreign policy, and no defense forces but which developed legal and judicial systems to limit the violence of bloodfeud and protect the rights of freemen. Far out in the North Atlantic, Iceland was where the famous sagas developed. To explore Iceland’s place in the medieval world, we present selections from Jesse Byock’s Viking Age Iceland that investigate the history, archaeology, culture, systems of feud, and sagas of this magical place.

Many men say that writing about the settlement is unnecessary. But it seems to me that we would be better able to answer foreigners who censure us for our descent from scoundrels or slaves if we knew our true origins for certain. Similarly, for those men who want to know old lore or to reckon genealogies, it is better to begin at the beginning rather than to jump right into the middle. And of course all wise people want to know about the beginnings of their settlement and of their own families.

The Book of Settlements[IS1] 

Iceland is the first “new nation” to have come into being in the full light of history, and it is the only European society whose origins are known.

Richard F. Tomasson, Iceland: The First New Society

Icelanders emerged as a separate people because they chose to migrate overseas. A fundamental ingredient in the development of this immigrant society of freemen was its formation at a time when Scandinavian kings were enlarging their authority at the expense of the traditional rights of freemen.

 [IS1]Note to translator: in case you want to translate from Old Norse, this quote is from ÍF-1, p. 336, note 1. It’s part of Þórðarbók version of Landnámabók, so it’s given in a footnote.

— Jesse Byock, Viking Age Iceland

Published by Jules William Press

Jules William Press is a small press devoted to publishing the best about the Viking Age, Old Norse, and the Atlantic and Northern European regions. Jules William Press was founded in 2013 to address the needs of modern students, teachers, and self-learners for accessible and affordable Old Norse texts. JWP began by publishing our Viking Language Series, which provides a modern course in Old Norse, with exercises and grammar that anyone can understand. This spirit motivates all of our publications, as we expand our catalogue to include Viking archaeology and history, as well as Scandinavian historical fiction and our Saga Series.

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