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The Medieval Icelandic Sagas

University of Iceland via edX


The Medieval Icelandic Sagas is an introductory course on the single most characteristic literary genre of Medieval Iceland. Mainly written in the 13th century, the Icelandic Sagas are comprised of roughly 40 texts of varying length.

In this course, you will learn about three Sagas, written at different times, with the aim of giving an overview of the writing period and the genre as a whole. These are Eyrbyggja Saga, Njáls Saga and Grettis Saga. We will explore the landscape and archaeology of Iceland to see how they can add to our understanding of the Sagas as well as take an in-depth look at the most memorable characters from the Sagas.

Participants will have opportunities to engage with an online community of Icelandic and international scholars, learners and others to explore topics relating to Icelandic and Nordic Medieval history beyond the course curriculum.

The Medieval Icelandic Sagas course is associated with a two-year international master’s program in Viking and Medieval Norse Studies at the University of Iceland.


Week 1 : Historical overview. We explore what is unique about the Sagas as a genre, compare some contrasting views on their origin and examine how the Sagas are related to other works of European Medieval literature.

Week 2 : Manuscripts. We get an overview of the world of Old Norse manuscripts and talk to some experts of Icelandic textual criticism about the extant (and lost) manuscripts of our three main Sagas.

Week 3 : Landscape and Archaeology. We visit a few of the most important historical sites of Iceland and ask how they can add to our understanding of the Sagas.

Week 4 : Saga Characters. We meet some memorable characters from our three main Sagas and look at their careers and conflicts. By contextualizing their biographies we come to understand the functioning of the Medieval Icelandic Commonwealth.

Week 5 : Paganism and Christianity. We ask how traces of Norse Mythology can be interpreted in the Sagas, even if they are written over two hundred years after paganism officially comes to a close in Iceland. We evaluate the impact of Iceland's conversion and how it is described in the Sagas.

Week 6 : The Supernatural. We address the profusion of supernatural elements, the contradiction at the core of the Sagas' presumed realism.

Taught by

Hjalti Snær Ægisson

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5.0 rating, based on 2 reviews

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  • Karen Carlson completed this course, spending 8 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    I greatly enjoyed this course. Since I knew nothing about Iceland or Norse literature going in, the first week left me a bit overwhelmed, but I caught on after that and had a great time learning about the sagas as literature, and as reflections of Iceland's history and culture. The required reading is limited to excerpts and chapters (a plus to me), though of course anyone's free to read the entire sagas if they wish. And don't miss the weekly podcasts - they're a lot of fun!
    For more details see my blog post at
  • Jennifer Cates

    Jennifer Cates completed this course.

    This introductory course will take you on a journey of learning about Icelandic culture, landscape, history, and religion. Through the various lectures, reading materials, links to additional sources, and podcasts, the instructors paint a vivid picture of why and how medieval manuscripts of islendingasögur came to be, and touch on why Norse culture is a fascinating topic today.
    The content is relevant... and addictive. I fully enjoyed this course.

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