Genealogy, Labour and Land: The Settlement of the Mýramenn in Egils saga
Network & Neighbours, vol. 3, n. 1 (2015)
This study analyses the way in which the thirteenth-century Egils saga Skallagrímssonar presented the migration to Iceland of Egill’s father Grímr and grandfather Úlfr, and the creation of a settlement in the area of Borgarfjǫrðr in Western Iceland during the tenth century. Egils saga aimed to present the migration as a foundational act, which enabled the descendants of the settlers (the lineage known as Mýramenn) to claim inalienable rights over the lands settled by Grímr. The saga highlights three main shared markers of identity amongst the family members: their burial in barrows, their skill as farm managers, and the transference of both personal traits and material goods from one generation to the next. This led to a form of legitimation that included an ideology of a quasi-aristocratic lineage of landowners with the typical traits of the self-made men of the frontier. In contrast, it presented the martial deeds of these men as less meaningful. Moreover, the saga explored alternative ways (personified by each member of the main family) to deal with the rulers of Norway. This kingdom was presented as the historical homeland of Icelanders and as more central for them than other foreign lands. This paper holds that the main alternatives proposed by the saga were in service of the kings (expressed by both Þórólfrs) against independence (exemplified by Úlfr, Grímr, and Egill), but that simultaneously each character presented nuances which might reflect ideological variety within a peripheral immigrant society.