Sagas of Icelanders

The sagas of Icelanders (Icelandic: Íslendingasögur, modern Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈistlɛntiŋkaˌsœːɣʏr̥]), also known as family sagas, are one genre of Icelandic sagas. They are prose narratives mostly based on historical events that mostly took place in Iceland in the ninth, tenth, and early eleventh centuries, during the so-called Saga Age. They were written in Old Icelandic, a western dialect of Old Norse. They are the best-known specimens of Icelandic literature.

Egill Skallagrímsson in a seventeenth-century manuscript of Egil's Saga
Grettir is ready to fight in this illustration from a seventeenth-century Icelandic manuscript.
Detail of a miniature from a thirteenth-century Icelandic manuscript

They are focused on history, especially genealogical and family history. They reflect the struggle and conflict that arose within the societies of the early generations of Icelandic settlers.[1]

Eventually many of these Icelandic sagas were recorded, mostly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The 'authors', or rather recorders of these sagas are largely unknown. One saga, Egil's Saga, is believed by some scholars[2][3] to have been written by Snorri Sturluson, a descendant of the saga's hero, but this remains uncertain. The standard modern edition of Icelandic sagas is produced by Hið íslenzka fornritafélag ('The Old Icelandic Text Society'), or Íslenzk fornrit for short.

Historical time frame

Among the several literary reviews of the sagas is that by Sigurður Nordal's Sagalitteraturen, which divides the sagas into five chronological groups (depending on when they were written not their subject matters) distinguished by the state of literary development:[4]

  • 1200 to 1230 – Sagas that deal with skalds (such as Fóstbrœðra saga)[4]
  • 1230 to 1280 – Family sagas (such as Laxdæla saga)[4]
  • 1280 to 1300 – Works that focus more on style and storytelling than just writing down history (such as Njáls saga)[4]
  • Early fourteenth century – Historical tradition[4]
  • fourteenth century – Fiction[4]

List of sagas

A small number of sagas are thought to have existed and now to be lost. One example is the supposed Gauks saga Trandilssonar.

See also


  1. Myers, Ben (2008-10-03). "The Icelandic Sagas: Europe's most important book?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
  2. Egil's Saga, English translation, Penguin Books, 1976, introduction by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards, p. 7
  3. Sigurður Nordal had this to say in his edition of Egils saga: "This matter will never be settled fully with the information we now have. … As for me, I have become more and more convinced, as I gained a better understanding of Egils saga that it is the work of Snorri, and I will henceforth not hesitate to count the saga among his works, unless new arguments are presented, which I have overlooked."
  4. Lönnroth, Lars (1976). Njáls Saga. London: University of California Press. pp. 204–205. ISBN 0-520-02708-6 via Internet Archive.

Further reading

  • Arnold, Martin (2003). The Post-Classical Icelandic Family Saga. Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press
  • Falk, Oren. 2021. Violence and Risk in Medieval Iceland: This Spattered Isle. Oxford University Press.
  • Jakobsson, Ármann. 2013. Nine Saga Studies: The Critical Interpretation of the Icelandic Sagas. University of Iceland Press.
  • Karlsson, Gunnar (2000). The History of Iceland. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  • Liestol, Knut (1930). The Origin of the Icelandic Family Sagas. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press
  • Miller, William Ian (1990). Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  • Nine Saga Studies: The Critical Interpretation of the Icelandic Sagas.