Sources and Some General Information on Medieval Scandinavia

Tamsin Hekala

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One of the joys of working in the field of Medieval Scandinavia is the abundance and availability of source material. There are stories, public documents, and early histories. The interest in Medieval Scandinavia, particularly the Vikings, has been fairly constant since the mid-nineteenth century. That interest was the result of several strong trends: nationalism, imperialism, and romanticism. Those trends created an interest in publishing the primary documents of the past. Some dismiss the older scholarship of the nineteenth century as irrelevant. This attitude severely limits the scholar since the definitive published sources are often the products of meticulous nineteenth-century scholarship. The published primary sources are not easy reading. As scholarly tools they duplicate the inconsistencies and difficulties of the original manuscript. The spelling is not normalized, the text annotated with supplied endings or words, and the discussion is couched in a formal scholarly style that makes quick perusal impossible. Detailed provenance for each existing manuscript and a complete description of the physical condition of the manuscript is usually included. The two areas that were made easier by the publication of sources were clarity of text (print is usually easier to read than a handwritten document) and availability.

The published primary public documents and annals have by and large not been redone since their original publication date. So the definitive dictionaries, diplomataria, annals, and most of the law codes have only been reissued every so many years. The literature has, because of its relative simplicity, been redone in newer definitive editions. For the saga material the series is Islenzk Fornrit. There the more popular and better known sagas are available in Icelandic along with current scholarly comment, also in Icelandic. The sagas also have many translations in many languages. Although the Penguin series is not the most precise edition, it is the most available and least expensive.

For those interested in law, the Icelandic law code Gragas has been translated into English, German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. Of the laws from the rest of Northern Europe, translations have been spotty. Norway's Frostathing and Gulathing are translated, some of the Germanic law codes have been translated by Katherine Fischer Drew, and the codes from England, Ireland, and Wales have been translated. For the rest, they are difficult to find but well worth the search.

What follows is a basic list of material for those starting out in search of information. A few of the greater sagas are listed so that one may see what is typical in the publishing pattern, but others are available. If a work is not in English the language of the work is listed after. A final section on general reference material that is useful is provided at the end. Further sections on secondary works will follow at a later date.


Brennu-Njals Saga . Einar Ol. Sveinsson, ed. Islenzk Fornrit 12. Reykjavik: Islenzka Fornritafelag, 1954.(Icelandic. Spelling is normalized)

Corpus iuris sueo-gotorum antiqui . D. H. S. Collin, and. C. J. Schlyter, eds. 13 vols. Stockholm: Z.Haeggstrom, 1827-1877. (Text is Old Swedish, not normalized. Footnotes are dual text in Swedish and Latin. Difficult to find the entire series. There are a few of the first volumes which have been reissued.)

Codex juris islandorum antiqvssimus, qvi nominatur Gragas: ex duobus manuscriptis pergamensis (qvae sola supersunt)bibliothecae regiae et legati Arnae-Magnaeani, nunc primum editus. J.F.G. Schlegel, ed. 2 vols. Copenhagen, 1829. (Dual text Old Icelandic and Latin both unnormalized. Rarely used because of textual difficulties and rarity. Has information about the law code made by Arne Magnusson about documents lost in the 1728 Copenhagen fire.)

Danmarks gamle Kobstadlovgivning . Erik Kroman, ed. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde og Bagger, 1951. (Old Danish and Latin text unnormalized with Danish footnotes.)

Diplomatarium danicum. C. A. Christensen, ed. Vol. 1. Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels Boghandel, 1975. (Latin, Old Norse, Old Danish text with Danish comment and footnotes. First of a multivolume series.)

Diplomatarium islandicum: Islenzkt fornbrefasafn Vol. 1. Jomment and footnotes. First of a multivolume series.)

Diplomatarium norvegicum: Oldbreve til kundskab om Norgesindre og ydre forholde, sprog, slaegter, saeder, lovgivningof rettergangi middelaldren. Christian C. A. Lang ,and Carl R. Unger, eds., Vol. 1. Christiania: P.T. Mallings Forlagshandel, 1847. (Old Norwegian, Latin, and Old Icelandic with Norwegian footnotes and comments. First in a mmultivolume series.)

Gragas: Konungsbok. 2 vols. Vilhjalmur Finsen, ed. Copenhagen: 1852. (Old Icelandic normalized with Danish footnotes and comment. Reprinted in 1974.)

Islandske annaler intil 1578. Gustav Storm, ed. Christiania: Grondahl & Sons Bogtrykkeri, 1888. (Old Icelandic text unnormalized with Danish-Norwegian comment.)

Johannesson, Jon, Magnus Finnbogason, and Kristjan Eldjarn. Sturlunga Saga. 2 vols. Reykjavik: Sturlunguutgafan,1946. (Old Norse normalized with Icelandic comment.)

Keyser, R., and P.A. Munch, eds. Norges gamle love intil 1387. Vol. 1. Christiania: 1846. (Old Norwegian unnormalized text with Danish-Norwegian comment. Later codes in fraktor script.)

Laxdoela Saga. Einar Ol. Sveinsson, ed. Islenzk Fornrit 5. Reykjavik: Islenzka Fornritafelag,1934. (Old Icelandic normalized text with Icelandic comment.)

Origines islandicae: A Collection of the more Important Sagas and other Native Writings Relating to the Settlement and Early History of Iceland. 2 Vols. Gudbrand Vigfusson,and F. York Powell, eds. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905. (Dual text Old Icelandic unnormalized and English translation, comment, and footnotes. Has good provenance for each document.)


Dennis, Andrew, Peter Foote, and Richard Perkins, trans. Laws of Early Iceland, Gragas: The Codex Regius of Gragas with Material from other Manuscripts. 2 vols. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1993. (English translation of text recension version of Gragas. First volume was published in 1980.)

Dasent, George Webbe, trans. The Story of Burnt Njal or Life in Iceland at the end of the Tenth Century. From the Icelandic of Njal's Saga. 2 vols. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1861.

Eyrbyggja Saga. Translated by Paul Schach. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1959.

Faereyinga Saga: The Faroe Islanders' Saga. Translated by George Johnston. Oberon Press, 1975.

Islandisches Recht: die Graugans. Translated by Andreas Heusler. Weimar: 1937. (German translation of Gragas by premier German scholar of the early 20th century. Interesting insights but the text is fraktor.)

Jomsvikinga Saga: the Saga of the Jomsvikings. Translated by Lee M. Hollander. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Jones, Gwen, trans. Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Larson, Laurence, trans. The Earliest Norwegian Laws: Being the Gulathing Law and the Frostathing Law. Records of Civilization Sources and Studies, no. 20. New York: Columbia University Press, 1935. (A solid translation of the first two-thirds of the first volume of Norges gamle love intil 1387. Text can be placed side by side with Munch and Keyser's original.)

Larusson, Bjorn. The Old Icelandic Land Registers. Translated by W. F. Salisbury. Lund: Berlingska Boktrycheriet,1967. (A later source but provides good example of economic source materials.)

Laxdoela Saga. Translated by A. Margaret Arent. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964.

Njal's Saga. Translated by Carl F. Bayerschmidt, and Lee M. Hollander. New York: New York University Press, 1955.

Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney. Translated by Hermann Palsson, and Paul Edwards. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1981.

Poems of the Vikings: The Elder Edda. Translated by Patricia Terry. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1969.

Sturlunga Saga. 2 vols. Translated by Julia H. McGrew, and R. George Thomas. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc.,1974.

Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology. Translated by Jean I. Young. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954.

Vatnsdaela Saga: the Vatnsdalers' Saga. Translated by Gwyn Jones. Princeton: Princeton University Press for the American- Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 1944.

Viking Tales of the North: The Sagas of Thorstein, Viking's Son, and Fridthjof the Bold. Translated by Rasmus B. Anderson, and Jon Bjarnason. Chicago: S.C. Griggs and Company, 1877.

The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America. Translated by Magnus Magnusson, and Hermann Palsson. New York: Penguin Books, 1965.


Bekker-Neilsen, Hans. The Bibliography of Old Norse-Icelandic Studies. Copenhagen: Vald. Pedersens Bogtrykkeri, 1970.

Brekke, Nils Georg, ed. Kulturhistorisk vegbok. Bergen: Svein Nord, 1993. (Provides recent information about the interaction of culture and vegetation in Norway. Norwegian)

Cleasby, Richard, Gudbrand Vigfusson, and William A. Craigie. An Icelandic-English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1957. (Definitive dictionary of Old Norse reprinted every 5-10 years from the first edition in1874.)

Cultural Atlas of the Viking World. Edited by James Graham- Campbell, Colleen Batey, Helen Clarke, R.I. Page, and Neil S. Price. Oxfordshire: Andromeda Book, 1994. (Nice beginning overview)

Dahlmann-Waitz. Quellenkunde der deutschen Geschichte. 8th ed. Leipzig, 1912. (Reference for the study of Medieval history. In German.)

Gordon, E. V. An Introduction to Old Norse. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. (The starting book for learning Old Norse.)

Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979.

Huntley, and Birks. An Atlas of Past and Present Pollen Maps for Europe 0-13000 Years Ago. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Islandica. Vols. 1-5. Halldor Hermannsson ed. Bibliography of the Icelandic Sagas and Minor Tales. New York: Kraus Reprint Corporation, 1966.

Islenskur soguatlas fra ondverdu til 18. aldar. Reykjavik: Almenna Bokafelagid, 1990. (One of three volumes. Historical atlas of Iceland includes articles by the leading Icelandic specialists on each topic.)

Lewis, Charlton T., and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. (The definitive for classical Latin, also a reissue.)

Loyn, H. R., ed. The Middle Ages: A Concise Encyclopaedia. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989. (Nice to put things into context.)

Niermeyer, J.F., ed. Mediae latinitatis lexicon minus. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976. (An abridged version of Du Cage's10 volume work.)

Paetow, Louis John. A Guide to the Study of Medieval History. New York: F.S. Crofts & Co., 1931. (Classic starting point for sources and information for the study of the Middle Ages.)

Potthast, A. Bibliotheca historica medii aevi: Wegweiser durch die Geshcictswerke des Europaischen MittelAlters bis 1500. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Berlin, 1896. (German)

Previte-Orton, C. W. The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Pulsiano, Phillip, ed. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993. (New work and very nice. Provides current information about the field in English for both specialist and beginner.)

Seeberg, Elizabeth S. English-Norwegian - Norwegian-English Dictionary of Archaeology. 2nd ed. Oslo: University of Oslo Press, 1993. (Useful since half of the information about the Vikings is archaeological. Provides a good tool for those not conversant with archaeological terminology.)

Zoega, G.T. A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic . reprint. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975. (Less expensive dictionary for the beginner.)

Copyright (C) 1996, Tamsin Hekala. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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