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Sagas and politics in 13th century Borgarfjörður

Axel Kristinsson

Sagas and Societies – Section 2: History of Mentality and Cultural Contact (2002)

Why did the Icelanders write so much more than almost everybody else in the Middle Ages? This is an old problem that has still not been solved to everyone’s satisfaction. The present author has put forward an idea about what may have lain behind the phenomenon, and the purpose of the current paper is to test how this theory works for a specific district in Iceland and the sagas that originated there. The district in question is Borgarfjörður, the location of the „Sagas and Societies“ conference.

First a few general words about the theory. A survey of family sagas presumably written before 1262, when the Commonwealth was abolished as Iceland became a part of the Norwegian kingdom, shows that they were distributed very unevenly throughout the country, and there is a remarkable correlation between saga-writing and new or weak political units.2 As far as we know, the old established principalities produced no family sagas. This requires further explanation.

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