Viking Age Iceland: Written Sources

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

This 65 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.

The student of early Iceland is fortunate in having a collection of extensive written sources. The laws and sagas are discussed in later chapters. Here we consider the Icelanders’ major historical writings. The chief historical sources are Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) and Íslendingabók (The Book of the Icelanders).[i] Both texts include genealogies as well as historical sections and together offer considerable information about the island’s settlement.

Íslendingabók is the smaller of the two, and is a concise overview (thirteen or so pages in a printed edition) of Iceland’s history from 870 to 1120. It was probably written between 1122 and 1132 by Ari Thorgilsson, called the Learned (inn fróði), who was mentioned earlier. Two versions – the “older” and the “younger” – were extant in the medieval period, but only the younger has survived, in two seventeenth-century copies.

[i] The standard editions of Íslendingabók and Landnámabók were edited by Jakob Benediktsson in Íslenzk fornrit 1.

— 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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