Icelanders in the Viking Age

The People of the Sagas

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About the Book

The Sagas of Icelanders are enduring stories from Viking-age Iceland filled with love and romance, battles and feuds, tragedy and comedy. Yet these tales are little read today, even by lovers of literature. The culture and history of the people depicted in the Sagas are often unfamiliar to the modern reader, though the audience for whom the tales were intended would have had an intimate understanding of the material. This text introduces the modern reader to the daily lives and material culture of the Vikings. Topics covered include religion, housing, social customs, the settlement of disputes, and the early history of Iceland. Issues of dispute among scholars, such as the nature of settlement and the division of land, are addressed in the text.

About the Author(s)

William R. Short is an independent scholar living in Southborough, Massachusetts. He regularly demonstrates and lectures on Viking-age topics in universities, museums, and other cultural institutions in North America and Iceland.

Bibliographic Details

William R. Short

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 283
Bibliographic Info: 47 photos, maps, glossary, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2010
pISBN: 978-0-7864-4727-5
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5607-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      v
Introduction      1

1. The Land      9
2. The Settlement      14
3. Government and Law      22
4. Social Structure and Gender      32
5. Feuds, Honor, and the Culture of Combat      40
6. Milestones in Life      58
7. Farm, Food Production, and Home Life      74
8. Manufacture and Trade      110
9. Transportation and Navigation      128
10. Art and Leisure      163
11. Religion, Myth, and Cult      186
12. Exploration and Settlement to the West      202
13. Iceland’s Heritage      208

Glossary      215
Appendix. Sagas for Outlanders      223
Chapter Notes      227
Selected References      264
Index      267

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Provides information on the daily lives, culture, history, and society of the Icelanders in a clear and well-structured fashion that invites and informs modern readers. The 13 chapters are concise, and clearly laid out sections allow readers to review specific themes or read the work as a whole. Using both literary and archaeological sources, Short presents a detailed, succinct, and informative overview of Icelanders of the saga age as well as the sagas themselves. Readers are enticed into further exploration of Viking–age Iceland with the inclusion of detailed chapter notes and recommendations for further readings. This useful introduction to the Viking age is an essential companion to the medieval narratives…. The author’s in-depth research makes this a compelling, informative addition to almost any collection dealing with the sagas or the Viking age. Highly recommended. General and academic collections, all levels.”—Choice
  • “Informative…Short has done an excellent job…most interesting…I unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone with even a shred of interest in the Viking era…faultless…tells a coherent story…this is a book stuffed full of interesting material for anyone interested in the sagas, the Viking age, the Icelandic Commonwealth, and early contact with the New World. Highly recommended”—Armed and Dangerous
  • A warning to readers. You may find you need to hide your copy of this book…chapters on pretty much all aspects of daily life…. You don’t need to be a specialist in anthropology or history to understand…illustrated with numerous black and white photographs of Iceland and Icelandic artifacts, drawings and maps…enjoyed it very much. You’ve got to hand it to McFarland as they publish some fascinating books”—Green Man Review
  • “A perfect companion or an introduction to reading the sagas…very easy to read, and covers many topics in the life of the people in Iceland during those times…covers religion, laws, feuds, home life, and the settlement, among other topics…truly gives you an overview of what everyday life was like…[Short’s] research is flawless, and his sources are well-documented…bibliography is impressive…very well-indexed…entertaining, easy-to-read and very educational”—Lögberg-Heimskringla
  • “Well-structured, easily understandable and practical…digs deep into a wide range of archaeological and literary sources…presents readers with a realistic account of life in the saga age…excellent…thorough and accurate…interesting…especially helpful”—Iceland Review
  • “Riveting exploration…a solid addition”—Midwest Book Review
  • “Comprehensive but accessible history…. All aspects of society are covered including laws, conflict, domestic work, agriculture, gender roles, trade and production. Blending literature, legal codes, chronicles and archaeology and embellishing them with pictures, many of which he took himself. Short’s book is a perfect companion to the study of the Icelandic sagas”—Reference and Research Book News