Subject of the Month

A monthly display featuring resources on specific thematic subjects.

Wayne State University Press

Logo for the Wayne State University PressThe Wayne State University Press is a distinctive urban publisher committed to supporting the core research, teaching, and service mission of WSU by generating high-quality scholarly and general-interest books of global importance.

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November 2019

The Vikings were seafaring people originating from the lands currently known as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. They raided and settled in broad expanses of Europe and Asia from the late 8th to the mid-11th centuries, a turbulent time period generally referred to as the Viking Age. Although largely remembered for their ferocious raids and martial expertise, the Vikings were also exceptionally skilled craftsmen, traders, and explorers. They established settlements throughout the Baltic coast, Russia, Normandy, England, Ireland, and the North Atlantic Isles that had lasting cultural impact. Always with an eye on the west, they explored the North Atlantic, setting up temporary colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland and creating a permanent settlement in the last uninhabited country in modern Europe: Iceland.   

 

Much of what we know about the Vikings comes to us courtesy of the writings of their contemporaries. Though the Vikings had a system of writing based on the runic alphabet, they participated in a primarily oral tradition, with stories and histories being passed down from generation to generation. Many of these stories were recorded by Icelandic scholars in the 13th century, mainly through rich retellings in various Sagas and the Eddas.  Nearly a thousand years after the close of the Viking Age, Viking studies remains an engaging topic for many scholars, with new information found predominately through archeological discovery and scientific analysis of material remains. The material in this guide was selected to give a broad overview of different aspects of Viking history and culture. 

 

Selector: Elizabeth Clemens

 

Interactive Map of the Viking Age

The Virtual Edda

Websites, November 2019

Podcasts, November 2019

Videos, November 2019

A virtual tour through the lands settled by Vikings during the Viking Age. Includes modern footage of places and additional historical imagery, where available. Covers: Vinland (Canada), Greenland, Iceland, the Orkneys, Faeroe Islands, Shetland Islands, the Hebrides, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Ireland, England, Normandy, Caspian Sea, Black Sea, Baltic Sea, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark.

A documentary produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that serves as an introduction to the Vikings, including their history and culture, factors that made their sudden rise to power possible, and how they were viewed by their contemporaries. 

In conjunction with its exhibition, "Science, Myth, and Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga," Mystic Seaport Museum gathered an international roster of scholars in Mystic, CT, for a one-day symposium to discuss various aspects of the Vinland Map story, including results of new scientific testing, the map’s role in history and scholarship, medieval Norse sagas, and the archeology of the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America. The symposium and the corresponding exhibit were produced in partnership with the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Databases, November 2019

Picture of the Display

Books: History and Culture

Viking Worlds

Fourteen papers explore a variety of inter-disciplinary approaches to understanding the Viking past, both in Scandinavia and in the Viking diaspora. Contributions employ both traditional inter- or multi-disciplinarian perspectives such as using historical sources, Icelandic sagas and Eddic poetry to explore topics such as personal and communal identity; gender relations between people, artefacts, and places/spaces; rules and regulations within different social arenas; processes of production, trade and exchange, and transmission of knowledge within both past Viking-age societies and present-day research.

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Cultural Atlas of the Viking World

This is an illustrated history of the Viking Age - Europe's dominant culture for over 300 years from the late 8th century. Centered on Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but reaching westward across the Atlantic, eastward to the Black Sea and southward to the Mediterranean, the Viking Age dominated Europe and was symbolized by networks of sea crossings and river routes, military campaigns and cultural development.

Women in the Viking Age

This is the first book-length study in English to investigate what women did in the Viking age, both at home in Scandinavia and in the Viking colonies from Greenland to Russia.

The Viking-Age Rune-Stones

This book is the first attempt by a historian to study the nearly 3,000 runic inscriptions on stone created during the Viking Age and includes a digest of the data-base on which this book is based.

The Vikings

The Viking reputation is of bloodthirsty seafaring warriors, repeatedly plundering the British Isles and the North Atlantic throughout the early Middle Ages. Yet Vikings were also traders, settlers, and farmers, with a complex artistic and linguistic culture, whose expansion overseas led them to cross the Atlantic for the first time in European history. Highlighting the latest archaeological evidence, Julian Richards reveals the whole Viking world: their history, society and culture, and their expansion overseas for trade, colonization, and plunder. We also look at the Viking identity, through their artistic expression, rune stones, their ships, and their religion. 

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Viking Friendship

Friendship was the most important social bond in Iceland and Norway during the Viking Age and the early Middle Ages. Far more significantly than kinship ties, it defined relations between chieftains, and between chieftains and householders. In Viking Friendship, Jón Viðar Sigurðsson explores the various ways in which friendship tied Icelandic and Norwegian societies together, its role in power struggles and ending conflicts, and how it shaped religious beliefs and practices both before and after the introduction of Christianity. Drawing on a wide range of Icelandic sagas and other sources, Sigurðsson details how loyalties between friends were established and maintained. 

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The Age of the Vikings

Drawing on a wealth of written, visual, and archaeological evidence, Anders Winroth captures the innovation and pure daring of the Vikings without glossing over their destructive heritage. He not only explains the Viking attacks, but also looks at Viking endeavors in commerce, politics, discovery, and colonization, and reveals how Viking arts, literature, and religious thought evolved in ways unequaled in the rest of Europe. The Age of the Vikings sheds new light on the complex society, culture, and legacy of these legendary seafarers.

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The Viking Art of War

In this innovative and thought-provoking book, Paddy Griffith explores the Viking art of war in theory and practice, addressing such questions as strategic mobility, operational intelligence-gathering, and tactical fighting formations. 

Heimskringla

Beginning with the dim prehistory of the mythical gods and their descendants, Heimskringla recounts the history of the kings of Norway through the reign of Olaf Haraldsson, who became Norway's patron saint. Once found in most homes and schools and still regarded as a national treasure, Heimskringla influenced the thinking and literary style of Scandinavia over several centuries.

Books: Settlement and Trade

West over Sea

This volume is a collection of 30 papers on the broad subject of the Scandinavian expansion westwards to Britain, Ireland and the North Atlantic, with a particular emphasis on settlement.

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The Viking Eastern Baltic

This book demonstrates how communication networks over the Baltic Sea and further east were established and how they took different forms in the northern and the southern halves of the Eastern Baltic. Changes in archaeological evidence along relevant trade routes suggest that the inhabitants of present-day Finland and the Baltic States were more engaged in Viking eastern movement than is generally believed.

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The Vinland Sagas

One of the most arresting stories in the history of exploration, these two Icelandic sagas tell of the discovery of America by Norsemen five centuries before Christopher Columbus. Together, the direct, forceful twelfth-century Graenlendinga Saga and the more polished and scholarly Eirik's Saga, written some hundred years later, recount how Eirik the Red founded an Icelandic colony in Greenland and how his son, Leif the Lucky, later sailed south to explore - and if possible exploit - the chance discovery by Bjarni Herjolfsson of an unknown land. In spare and vigorous prose they record Europe's first surprise glimpse of the eastern shores of the North American continent and the natives who inhabited them.

Orkneyinga Saga

Written around AD 1200 by an unnamed Icelandic author, the Orkneyinga Saga is an intriguing fusion of myth, legend and history. The only medieval chronicle to have Orkney as the central place of action, it tells of an era when the islands were still part of the Viking world, beginning with their conquest by the kings of Norway in the ninth century. The saga describes the subsequent history of the Earldom of Orkney and the adventures of great Norsemen such as Sigurd the Powerful, St Magnus the Martyr and Hrolf, the conqueror of Normandy. Savagely powerful and poetic, this is a fascinating depiction of an age of brutal battles, murder, sorcery and bitter family feuds.

Settlement and Lordship in Viking and Early Medieval Scandinavia

This volume aims to define the changing nature of lordship in Viking and early medieval Scandinavia. Advances in settlement archaeology and cultural geography have revealed new aspects of social power in Viking Age and early medieval Scandinavia. Seventeen thematic chapters by leading scholars survey and assess the state of research and provide a new baseline for interdisciplinary discussions. How were social ties structured? How did lordship and dependency materialize in modes of agriculture, settlement, landscape, and monuments? The book traces the power of tributary relations, forged through personal ties, gifts, duties, and feasting in great halls, and their gradual transformation into the feudal bonds of levies and land-rent.

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The Beginning of Norse Settlement in England

The conquest and settlement of lands in eastern England by Scandinavians represents an extreme migratory episode. The cultural interaction involved one group forcing themselves upon another from a position of military and political power. Despite this seemingly dominant position, by 900 CE the immigrants appear to have largely adopted the culture of the Anglo-Saxons whom they had recently defeated. Informed by migration theory, this work proposes that a major factor in this assimilation was the emigration point of the Scandinavians and the cultural experiences which they brought with them.

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Beyond the Northlands

The Norsemen traveled to all corners of the medieval world and beyond. Beyond the Northlands explores this world through the stories that the Vikings told about themselves in their sagas. What emerges from these tales is a mixture of realism and fantasy, quasi-historical adventures and exotic wonder-tales of trolls, dragons, explorers, traders, and kings. To explore the sagas and the world that produced them, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough now takes her own trip through the dramatic landscapes that they describe. Along the way, she illuminates the rich but often confusing saga accounts with a range of other evidence: archaeological finds, rune-stones, medieval world maps, encyclopedic manuscripts, and texts from as far away as Byzantium and Baghdad. As her journey across the Old Norse world shows, by situating the sagas against the revealing background of this other evidence, we can begin at least to understand just how the world was experienced, remembered, and imagined by this unique culture from the outermost edge of Europe so many centuries ago.

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The Book of Settlements

Iceland was the last country in Europe to become inhabited, and we know more about the beginnings and early history of Icelandic society than we do of any other in the Old World. This world was vividly recounted in The Book of Settlements, first compiled by the first Icelandic historians in the thirteenth century. It describes in detail individuals and daily life during the Icelandic Age of Settlement.

Books: Archaeology

Viking Age Archaeology

Viking raids, and the subsequent Scandinavian settlements in the ninth and tenth centuries had a major effect on many parts of Britain and Ireland. These impacts can best be seen in a wide variety of archaeological discoveries, primarily from distinctive pre-Christian burials, which contain weapons, tools, jewellery, and metal, wood and bone artifacts. Written by an expert in the field of Viking and Norse archaeology, this book examines the distinctive archaeology of each phase, with sufficient historical background to put the archaeological discoveries into context.

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Ancient Scandinavia

Scandinavia, a landmass comprising the modern countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, was the last part of Europe to be inhabited by humans. Not until the end of the last Ice Age when the melting of huge ice sheets left behind a fresh, barren land surface, about 13,000 BC, did the first humans arrive and settle in the region. The archaeological record of these prehistoric cultures, much of it remarkably preserved in Scandinavia's bogs, lakes, and fjords, has given us a detailed portrait of the evolution of human society at the edge of the inhabitable world. In this book, distinguished archaeologist T. Douglas Price provides a history of Scandinavia from the arrival of the first humans to the end of the Viking period, ca. AD 1050. Ancient Scandinavia features overviews of each prehistoric epoch followed by illustrative examples from the region's rich archaeology. An engrossing and comprehensive picture of change across the millennia emerges, showing how human society evolved from small bands of hunter-gatherers to large farming communities to the complex warrior cultures of the Bronze and Iron Ages, cultures which culminated in the spectacular rise of the Vikings at the end of the prehistoric period. The material evidence of these past societies - arrowheads from reindeer hunts, megalithic tombs, rock art, beautifully wrought weaponry, Viking warships - give vivid testimony to the ancient peoples of Scandinavia and to their extensive contacts with the remote cultures of the Arctic Circle, Western Europe, and the Mediterranean

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Viking Archeology in Iceland

The Viking North Atlantic differs significantly from the popular image of violent raids and destruction characterizing the Viking Age in Northern Europe. In Iceland, Scandinavian seafarers discovered and settled a large uninhabited island. In order to survive and succeed, they adapted lifestyles and social strategies to a new environment. The result was a new society, the Icelandic Free State. This volume examines the Viking Age in Iceland through the discoveries and excavations of the Mosfell Archaeological Project (MAP) in Iceland's Mosfell Valley. Directed by Professor Jesse Byock, with Field Director Davide Zori, MAP brings together scholars and researchers from Iceland, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and the United States. The Project incorporates the disciplines of archaeology, history, saga studies, osteology, zoology, paleobotany, genetics, isotope studies, place names studies, environmental science, and historical architecture. The decade-long research of MAP has led to the discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved Viking chieftain's farmstead, including a longhouse, pagan cremation site, a conversion-era stave church, and a Christian graveyard. The research results presented here tell the story of how the Mosfell Valley developed from a ninth-century settlement of Norse seafarers into a powerful Icelandic chieftaincy of the Viking Age.

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The Viking Age

The majority of literature about the Viking period, based on artefacts or written sources, covers battles, kings, chiefs and mercenaries, long distance travel and colonisation, trade, and settlement. Less is said about the life of those that stayed at home, or those that immigrated into Scandinavia, whether voluntarily or by force. This book uses results from the examination of a substantial corpus of Swedish osteological material to discuss aspects of demography and health in the Viking period - those which would have been visible and recognisable in the faces or physical appearances of the individuals concerned. It explores the effects of migration, from the spread of new diseases such as leprosy to patterns of movement and integration of immigrants into society. The skeletal material also allows the study of levels of violence, attitudes towards disablement, and the care provided by Viking communities. An overview of the worldwide phenomenon of modified teeth also gives insight into the practice of deliberate physical embellishment and body modification. The interdisciplinary approach to questions regarding ordinary life presented here will broaden the knowledge about society during the Viking Age. The synthesis of the Swedish unburnt human skeletal remains dated to the Viking age will be a valuable resource for future research and provides an in-depth view on Viking age society.

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Books: Religion and Mythology

Echoes of Valhalla

 Echoes of Valhalla looks at how modern adaptations of the Icelandic eddas (poems of Norse mythology) and sagas (ancient prose accounts of Viking history, voyages, and battles) across an variety of art forms including comic books, plays, travel books, music, and films.

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Myths of the Norsemen

A collection of myths that tell of the creation of the world, the deeds of such gods and heroes as Odin, Thor and Siegfried, the machinations of the evil Loki, and more. Entertaining and readable, these tales present the ancient Germanic and Scandinavian myths that have helped shape literature.

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Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology explores the magical myths and legends of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Viking-Age Greenland--outlining along the way the prehistoric tales and beliefs from these regions that have remained embedded in the imagination of the world. Spanning from the inception of the universe and the birth of human beings to the universe's destruction and the mythic future, these sparkling tales of creation and destruction, death and rebirth, gods and heroes will entertain readers and offer insight into the relationship between Scandinavian myth, history, and culture.

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Holy Vikings

The biographies of royal saints in the Old Icelandic kings’ sagas are usually described as “secular” or “profane” texts and not “proper” saints’ lives. This book argues that theoretical concepts developed by Mikhail Bakhtin can provide new insights into the role of hagiography in the origins of Icelandic saga-writing by enabling a reading of these texts as both saint’s life and saga. The book shows how different generic conventions are brought into dialogue in Orkneyinga saga, Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga and Knýtlinga saga in order to depict rulers as “holy Vikings”, sometimes conforming to saintly ideals, but often far from doing so.

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Books: Language, Poetry, and Art

The Viking-Age Rune-Stones

There are over 3,000 runic inscriptions on stone made in Scandinavia in the late Viking Age. This book is the first attempt by a historian to study the material as a whole. The analysis reveals significant regional variations that reflect the different stages in the process of conversion toChristianity and the growth of royal power. Many monuments were declarations of faith or manifestations of status; but virtually all reflect inheritance customs found in later Scandinavian law codes. The results of this analysis make a significant contribution to understanding developments inother parts of the Germanic world, as well as Scandinavia. The inclusion of a digest of the data-base on which this book is based will facilitate further study of this rich vein of evidence.

The Poetic Edda

Gods, giants, violence, the undead, theft, trolls, dwarves, aphorisms, unrequited love, Valkyries, heroes, kidnapping, dragons, the creation of the cosmos and a giant wolf are just some of the elements dwelling within these Norse poetic tales. Committed to velum anonymously in Iceland around 1270, they were flash frozen from much-older oral versions that had been circulating throughout Northern Europe for centuries. The Poetic Edda is an epoch-making cache of mythological and heroic tales that have compelled Wagner, Tolkien, Borges and Auden, among many others. It is one of the few extent sources that provide a periscope into the Viking Age consciousness. In this rousing line-by-line translation, award-winning poet Jeramy Dodds transmits the Old Icelandic text into English, placing it in the hands of poetry fans and academics alike, without chipping the patina of the original. 'Jeremy Dodds's instinctive irony and musicality is a particularly apt fit for the idiosyncratic syntax and symbolism of Old Norse.' - ARC Poetry Magazine

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Viking Art

In-Depth work on the culture of the Vikings. particular emphasis on Norse artistry, artwork, paintings, carvings, and the significance of such work to their belief systems. 

A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture

This major survey of Old Norse-Icelandic literature and culture demonstrates the remarkable continuity of Icelandic language and culture from medieval to modern times. Comprises 29 chapters written by leading scholars in the field Reflects current debates among Old Norse-Icelandic scholars Pays attention to previously neglected areas of study, such as the sagas of Icelandic bishops and the fantasy sagas Looks at the ways Old Norse-Icelandic literature is used by modern writers, artists and film directors, both within and outside Scandinavia Sets Old Norse-Icelandic language and literature in its wider cultural context.

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Supernatural Encounters in Old Norse Literature and Tradition

The Icelandic sagas have long been famous for their alleged realism, and within this conventional view, references to the supernatural have often been treated as anomalies. Yet, as this volume demonstrates, such elements were in fact an important part of Old Norse literature and tradition, and their study can provide new and intriguing insights into the world-view of the medieval Icelanders. By providing an extensive and interdisciplinary treatment of the supernatural within sagas, the eleven chapters presented here seek to explore the literary and folkloric interface between the natural and the supernatural through a study of previously neglected texts (such as Bergbuaattr, Selkollu attr, and Illuga saga Gridarfostra), as well as examining genres that are sometimes overlooked (including fornaldarsogur and byskupa sogur), law codes, and learned translations. Contributors explore how the supernatural was depicted within saga literature and how it should be understood, as well as questioning the origins of such material and investigating the parallels between saga motifs and broader folkloric beliefs.

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Four Old Icelandic Sagas and Other Tales

Contains a collection of translations from Old Icelandic. Includes four sagas and five shorter narratives, most of which appear for the first time in English. Contents:The Saga of Clever Ref; The Story of Thorstein of the East Fjords; The Saga of Valla Ljot; The Story of Thorvard Crow-Noes; The Story of Shuttle-Halli; The Story of Gold Asa-Thord; The Saga of Oath-Bound Men; The Story of Gisl Illugason; The Saga of Bjorn, Champion of Hitardale; Bibliography.

Egil's Saga

Egil's Saga tells the story of the long and brutal life of tenth-century warrior-poet and farmer Egil Skallagrimsson: a morally ambiguous character who was at once the composer of intricately beautiful poetry, and a physical grotesque capable of staggering brutality. The saga recounts Egil's progression from youthful savagery to mature wisdom as he struggles to avenge his father's exile from Norway, defend his honour against the Norwegian King Erik Bloodaxe, and fight for the English King Athelstan in his battles against Scotland. Exploring issues as diverse as the question of loyalty, the power of poetry, and the relationship between two brothers who love the same woman, Egil's Saga is a fascinating depiction of a deeply human character.

Seven Viking Romances

Combining traditional myth, oral history and re-worked European legend to depict an ancient realm of heroism and wonder, the seven tales collected here are among the most fantastical of all the Norse romances. Powerfully inspired works of Icelandic imagination, they relate intriguing, often comical tales of famous kings, difficult gods and women of great beauty, goodness or cunning. The tales plunder a wide range of earlier literature from Homer to the French romances - as in the tale of the wandering hero Arrow-Odd, which combines several older legends, or Egil and Asmund, where the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops is skilfully adapted into a traditional Norse legend. These are among the most outrageous, delightful and exhilarating tales in all Icelandic literature.

Viking Poems on War and Peace

The Old Norse and Icelandic poets have left us vivid accounts of conflict and peace-making in the Viking Age. Russell G. Poole's editorial and critical analysis reveals much about the texts themselves, the events that they describe, and the culture from which they come. From a historical perspective, he weighs the poems' authenticity as contemporary documents which provide evidence bearing upon the reconstruction of Viking Age battles, peace negotiations, and other events. He traces the social roles played by violence in medieval Scandinavian society, and explores the many functions of the poet within that society.  The poems discussed are the 'Darradarljód,' where the speakers are Valkyries; 'Lidsmannaflokkr,' a rank-and-file warrior's description of Canute the Great's siege of London in 1016; 'Torf-Einarr's Revenge'; 'Egil's Duel with Ljótr,' five verses from the classic Egils saga Skallagrimssonar; 'A Battle on the Health,' marking the culmination of a famous feud described in a very early Icelandic saga, the Heidarviga saga; and two extracts from the poem Sexstefia, one describing Haraldr of Norway's great fleet and victory over Sveinn of Denmark, and the other the peace settlement between these two kinds. The texts are presented in association with translations and commentaries as a resource not merely for medieval Scandinavian studies but also for the increasingly interwoven specialisms of literary theory and anthropology.

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Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age

The Vikings were the master mariners and ship-builders of the middle ages: their success depended on these skills. Spectacular archaeological finds of whole or partial ships, from burial mounds or dredged from harbors, continue to give new and exciting evidence of their practical craftsmanship and urge to seek new shores. The nautical vocabulary of the Viking Age, however, has been surprisingly neglected - the last comprehensive study was published in 1912 and was heavily dependent on post-Viking Age sources. Far better contemporary sources from the later Viking Age are available to document the activities of men and their uses of ships from c.950-1100, and Judith Jesch undertakes in this book the first systematic and comparative study of such evidence. The core is a critical survey of the vocabulary of ships and their crews, of fleets and sailing and battles at sea, based on runic inscriptions and skaldic evidence from c.950-1100. This nautical vocabulary is studied within the larger context of "Viking" activity in this period: what that activity was and where it took place, its social and military aspects, and its impact on developments in the nature of kingship in Scandinavia. JUDITH JESCH is Reader in Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham and author of Women in the Viking Age.

Gods and Settlers

Gods and Settlers is an interdisciplinary study that brings together iconography, literature, history, and religious studies to investigate a unique subset of this sculptural corpus: stone monuments with mythological and heroic iconography of Scandinavian origins. These carvings are particularly interesting because of the ecclesiastical roots of stone sculpture as a mode of artistic expression in England and the undoubtedly Christian context of the majority of the surviving monuments.

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The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga

The medieval Norse-Icelandic saga is one of the most important European vernacular literary genres of the Middle Ages. This Introduction to the saga genre outlines its origins and development, its literary character, its material existence in manuscripts and printed editions, and its changing reception from the Middle Ages to the present time. Its multiple sub-genres - including family sagas, mythical-heroic sagas and sagas of knights - are described and discussed in detail, and the world of medieval Icelanders is powerfully evoked. The first general study of the Old Norse-Icelandic saga to be written in English for some decades, the Introduction is based on up-to-date scholarship and engages with current debates in the field. With suggestions for further reading, detailed information about the Icelandic literary canon, and a map of medieval Iceland, this book is aimed at students of medieval literature and assumes no prior knowledge of Scandinavian languages.

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