I’m sometimes asked (today by email, for example) how historically accurate the Icelandic sagas are thought to be. The answer is: pretty damn good. The information in the sagas matches up well not only with other historical records (the Landnamabok or Book of Settlements, the Gragas law code, etc.) but also with the physical and cultural geography of the island: farm homesteads are where the sagas say they are, named individuals are buried where the sagas say they’re buried, and so forth. (Moreover, wherever the authors of the sagas did perhaps embellish the record, they would presumably have made the society seem more violent than it was, not less.)
Today’s query reminded me of a particularly striking example from a 1995 Scientific American article which I’m pleased to see is now online (it wasn’t the last time I googled it). It’s by Jesse Byock, author of numerous works on medieval Iceland, and makes a case that even an apparently fanciful detail in Egil’s Saga turns out to have a foundation in fact. Check it out, and see also this followup.
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