Viking Age Sagas

Sagas are essentially stories, some were legendary but mostly about ancient Nordic and Germanic history, around or about the early Viking Age and their voyages, the battles that took place during those voyages including the Viking expansion migration to Iceland as well as of feuds between Icelandic families. They were written in the Old Norse language, mainly in Iceland. The texts are tales in prose which share some similarities with the epic, often with stanzas or whole poems in alliterative verse embedded in the text, of heroic deeds of days long gone, "tales of worthy men," who were often Vikings, sometimes heathen whilst at other times within a Christian context. The term saga originates from the Norse saga (pl. sögur), or "story, tale, history". It is cognate with the English word saw (as in old saw), and the German Sage. Icelandic sagas are based on oral traditions and much research has focused on what is real and what is fiction within each tale. The accuracy of the sagas is often hotly disputed. Most of the manuscripts in which the sagas are preserved were taken to Denmark and Sweden in the 17th century, but later returned to Iceland.

Classic sagas were composed in the 13th century. The consensus from scholars is that that these sagas were transmitted orally from generation to generation until scribes wrote them down in the 13th century. However, most scholars now believe the sagas were conscious artistic creations, based on both oral and written tradition. A study focusing on the description of the items of clothing mentioned in the sagas concludes that the authors attempted to create a historic "feel" to the story, by dressing the characters in what was at the time thought to be "old fashioned clothing". However, this clothing is not contemporary with the events of the saga as it is a closer match to the clothing worn in the 12th century. There are plenty of tales of kings (e.g. Heimskringla), everyday people (e.g. Bandamanna saga) and larger than life characters (e. g. Egils saga). The sagas describe a part of the history of some of the Nordic countries (e.g. the last chapter of Hervarar saga). The British Isles, northern France and North America are also mentioned. It was only recently (start of 20th century) that the tales of the voyages to North America were authenticated. Most sagas of Icelanders take place in the period 930–1030, which is called söguöld (Age of the Sagas) in Icelandic history. The sagas of kings, bishops, contemporary sagas have their own time frame. Most were written down between 1190 and 1320, sometimes existing as oral traditions long before, others are pure fiction, and for some we do know the sources: the author of King Sverrir’s saga had met the king and used him as a source

The Icelandic Saga Database is an online resource dedicated to the digital publication of the Sagas of the Icelanders -- a large body of medieval literature which forms the foundation of the Icelandic literary tradition. This website contains all the extant Icelandic family sagas in an easily readable format using modernized Icelandic spelling, with Old Norse versions and translations into English and other languages made available where these exist in the public domain.The Icelandic sagas are prose histories describing events that took place amongst the Norse and Celtic inhabitants of Iceland during the period of the Icelandic Commonwealth in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. They were most likely written in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AD, perhaps originating in an oral tradition of storytelling. While their facticity and authorship is for the most part unknown, they are a widely recognized gem of world literature thanks to their sparse, succinct prose style and balanced storytelling. The sagas focus largely on history, especially genealogical and family history, and reflect the struggles and conflicts that arose amongst the second and third generations of Norse settlers in medieval Iceland, which was in this time a remote, decentralised society with a rich legal tradition but no organized executive power.

A legendary saga or fornaldarsaga means literally, the story/history of the ancient era. Legendary sagas are Norse saga that, unlike the Icelanders' sagas, takes place before the colonization of Iceland. There are some exceptions, such as Yngvars saga víðförla, which takes place in the 11th century. The sagas were probably all written in Iceland, from about the middle of the 13th century to about 1400, although it is possible that some may be of a later date such as Hrólfs saga kraka.

Hundreds of years ago in faraway Iceland the Vikings began to write down dozens of stories called sagas - sweeping narratives based on real people and real events. But as Oxford University's Janina Ramirez discovers, these sagas are not just great works of art, they are also priceless historical documents which bring to life the Viking world. Dr Ramirez travels across glaciers and through the lava fields of Iceland to the far north west of the country to find out about one of the most compelling of these stories - the Laxdaela Saga.