Norse Sagas

The main Norse God Odin
Norse God Odin

Norse Sagas - Introduction

The Norse sagas (also known as Viking sagas) are epic ancient stories that appeared in Iceland, Norway, and other areas of Scandinavia during the Middle Ages. These medieval stories were passed down from generation to generation for many decades prior to being written down in the Middle Ages. The Norse sagas had various themes such as early Viking voyages, feuds between families, migration to Iceland, and heroic deeds. These sagas were written in the old Norse language and usually with a terse and impersonal style.

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Fate, luck, honor, the supernatural and character play large roles in these stories. An example of the importance of fate within Norse sagas comes from a line in Njal's Saga which reads "each must do as destiny decides". It is because of this belief in fate that Norse sagas generally do not explain the behavior of characters. The characters behave the way they do because it is their destiny to do so and there is no need to explain why. The character of people within the sagas is tested as they must often overcome incredible disadvantages. The question is will they overcome these disadvantages or lose out to evil or cowardice. Their worthiness is often proven by glory in battle. The sagas are far from being historical records although most are loosely based on historical events and do provide important information on Viking history.

Classifications of Norse Sagas

Kings Sagas

These Norse sagas tell the stories of Norwegian kings. The main sagas were written from 1130 to 1230. Unlike the Icelander's sagas these stories focus on non-Icelandic events. Also unlike the Icelander's sagas many of the authors of these stories are known. For example the author of the old Norse saga Heimskringla (actually a collection of sagas) is the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson.

Icelander's Sagas

These Norse sagas were written in the 13th and 14th centuries by unknown authors in Iceland. The stories are about life in Iceland around the year 1000 A.D. They are considered by many the most important historical records of Viking life and are also acclaimed by many as literary masterpieces. These stories focus on the family history of the earlier settlers of Iceland and describe the struggles they faced. Njals saga is a famous old Norse saga and it describes an epic blood feud. Other examples are the old Norse saga (Viking saga) Bandamanna and the saga Egils. Egils concentrates on the life of Egill Skallagrimsson an Icelandic farmer and Viking.

Short Tales of Icelanders

These sagas are similar to the Icelander's sagas but they are shorter. The old Norse saga (Viking saga) "The saga of ref the sly" is an example. This saga follows the main character Ref Steinsson as he becomes an accomplished warrior.

Contemporary Sagas

These stories take place in Iceland in the 12th and 13th century. They were written very soon after the events they describe.

Legendary Sagas

These Norse sagas combine history and legend (or myth). The authors focus was on making an entertaining story.

Chivalric Sagas (Sagas of Knights)

These Norse sagas, written in the 13th century, are of the romance genre. They are generally considered inferior to the Icelander's sagas.