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Learn Old Norse,

Runes, and Icelandic Sagas

Jesse L. Byock
VIKINGLANGUAGE1

Vikings
Sailed over onethird of the globe and were the first northern
Europeanstoharnessthetechnologyoflongdistanceseafaring.
SpokeOldNorse,thesourceofmanyEnglishwordsandtheparentof
modernScandinavianlanguages:Icelandic,Danish,Swedish,Faroese,
andNorwegian.
Toldtheirmyths,legends,andsagaswherevertheywent.Todaythese
arethebasisofTolkien'sLordoftheRings,Wagner'sRingCycle,and
ahostoffantasywritingandgaming.

THEVIKINGLANGUAGESERIES
VikingLanguage1&2areacomprehensivecourseinOldNorselanguage,
runes,Icelandicsagas,andVikinghistoryandCulture

VikingLanguage1:LearnOldNorse,Runes,andIcelandicSagas(thefirstbookin
the Viking Language Series) is an introduction to Old Norse and Icelandic. The
beginnerhaseverythinginonebook:Readingpassages,gradedlessons,vocabulary,
grammar, exercises, and pronunciation. A full complement of maps, runic
inscriptionsandculturesectionsexplorethecivilizationandmythsoftheVikings.
Thebookfollowsaninnovativemethodthatspeedslearning.Becausethegrammar
ofModernIcelandichaschangedlittlefromOldNorse,thelearneriswellonthe
waytomasteringModernIcelandic.

VikingLanguage2:TheOldNorseReader(thesecondbookintheVikingLanguage
Series) immerses the learner in Old Norse and Icelandic. It offers readings of
completesagas,poemsoftheScandinaviangodsandheroes,andrunicinscriptions
andincludesalargevocabulary,afullreferencegrammar,andananswerkeytothe
exercisesinVikingLangauge1.

Visitourwebsitewww.vikingnorse.com
VIKINGLANGUAGE1

ABOUTTHEAUTHOR
JesseByockreceivedhisPh.D.fromHarvardUniversity.HeisDistinguishedProfessorofOld
Norse and Medieval Scandinavian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles
(UCLA).Anarchaeologist,heisprofessoratUCLAsCotsenInstituteofArchaeologyand
directs the Mosfell Archaeological Project (MAP) in Iceland excavating a Viking Age
chieftainshall.HewritesabouttheVikingAge,sagas,archaeology,Icelandicsociety,and
feud.

BOOKSBYJESSEBYOCK
STUDIES
VikingAgeIceland.PenguinBooks
LIslandedesVikings.Flammarion,EditionsAubier
LaStirpeDiOdino:LaCiviltVichingainIslandia.OscarMondadori
...CorpusBooks
FeudintheIcelandicSaga.UniversityofCaliforniaPress
;6^I<,6262<A-0>212=W]D^I<U3:/6.TokaiUniversityPress
MedievalIceland:Society,Sagas,andPower.UniversityofCaliforniaPress
Islandsagatiden:Samfund,magtogfejde.C.A.Reitzel
12=W]D^;6TokaiUniversityPress

TRANSLATIONSFROMOLDNORSE
GrettirsSaga.OxfordUniversityPress
TheProseEdda:NorseMythology.PenguinBooks.
TheSagaoftheVolsungs:TheNorseEpicofSigurdtheDragonSlayer.Penguin
Books
TheSagaofKingHrolfKraki.PenguinBooks
SagasandMythsoftheNorthmen.PenguinBooks(ashortintroductorybook)

THEVIKINGLANGUAGESERIES
VikingLanguage1:LearnOldNorse,Runes,andIcelandicSagas.JulesWilliam
Press
VikingLanguage2:TheOldNorseReader.JulesWilliamPress

www.vikingnorse.com
www.vikingoldnorse.com
VIKINGLANGUAGE1

VIKINGLANGUAGE1
LEARNOLDNORSE,RUNES,
ANDICELANDICSAGAS

JESSEL.BYOCK

JulesWilliamPress

www.vikingnorse.com
JulesWilliamPress
www.vikingnorse.com

Copyright2013,JesseL.Byock
MapsCopyright2013,JesseL.Byock

Allrightsreserved.Nopartofthiscopyrightedbookmaybereproduced,transmitted,or
usedinanyformorbyanymeansgraphic,electronic,ormechanical,includinginternet,
photocopying,recording,taping,pdf,oranyinformationstorageandretrievalsystems
withoutwrittenpermissionfromJesseL.Byock.

CataloginginPublicationData
Byock,JesseL.,1945
VikingLanguage1:LearnOldNorse,Runes,andIcelandicSagas/JesseByock.1sted.
v.cm.(Vikinglanguageseries)
Contents:v.1.Vikinglanguage1:LearnOldNorse,runes,andIcelandicsagas.v.2.
Vikinglanguage2:TheOldNorsereader.
Summary:OldNorseIcelandiclanguageintroductorytextbookwithreadingsfrom
sagas,runes,andtheVikingAgeinScandinavia.
Includesbibliographicalreferences,vocabulary,appendices,andstudentsguide.
ISBN13:9781480216440(v.1,pbk.)
ISBN10:1480216445(v.1,pbk.)
1.OldNorselanguageGrammar.2.OldNorselanguageReaders.3.
VikingsLanguage.5.SagasIcelandic.6.RunesScandinavian.I.Title.
PD2235.B92012/v.1
439/.6/v.1dc 2012921210(LCN)

PrintedinCalibri
CoverPicturePermission:Cf24063_C55000_100_VSH:Vikingskipshuset,detakademiske
dyrehodetfraOsebergKulturhistoriskmuseum,UniversitetetIOslo/OveHolst
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 5

DEDICATION
ThisbookisdedicatedtomyteachersofOldNorse:EinarHaugenatHarvardUniversity;
KennethChapmanandEricWahlgrenattheUniversityofCalifornia,LosAngeles(UCLA);
andGstaHolmatLundsUniversitet.Theyweregreatscholarswithdeeplearningin
differentaspectsofOldNorse.Itwasanhonorandapleasuretolearnwiththem.I
believethisbookwouldpleasethem.
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 7

ORGANIZATIONANDNOTESFORUSING
VIKINGLANGUAGE1

Figure1.VikingAgeheadcarvedon
elkhornfoundinSigtuna,Sweden.

TheBookIncludes

TableofContentsacomprehensivelistingssothatallreadingsandgrammatical
informationcanbeeasilylocated.

IntroductiondefinesthesourcesandcultureforlearningOldNorse/Icelandicand
runes.

Discussions,Lists,andFeatures
OldNorse/IcelandicAlphabetandSpelling.
ListofAbbreviations.
ExtensiveGrammarIndextellingwheretofindgrammaticalexplanationsandrules.
AlistofSagasandtheirlocationsonamapofIceland.
Maps,Charts,andIllustrations.

LessonsincludeOldNorse/Icelandiclanguage,runicwriting,andthehistory,
mythology,andliteratureoftheVikingAge.Eachlessonfocusesonanaspectof
8 VIKINGLANGUAGE1

languageandlife.TheOldNorsereadingpassagesandculturalsectionsinthefirstand
secondlessonsconcentrateonthesettlementofIcelandandGreenland.Succeeding
lessonsturntodifferentlocationsintheVikingworldincludingDenmark,Sweden,
Norway,theBritishIsles,Europe,theBalticregion,Russia,Byzantium,theEast.An
extensiveseriesofmapsvisualizetheseafaringandtravelsoftheVikingAge.
Alllessonsincludegrammarandexercises.
Runesaretaughtinalmostalllessons.
GrammarToolboxes.Specialreviewsectionsdefiningbasicpartsofspeechare
strategicallylocatedinthelessons.Theyofferoverviewsofcoregrammatical
elementsforthosereaderswishingtobrushuptheirgrammarwhilelearningOld
Norse.

AppendixAQuickGuidetoOldNorseGrammarisastudyresourceofferingthemost
importanttablesofnouns,pronouns,adjectives,andverbs.

AppendixBTheMostFrequentWordsintheSagas.VikingLanguageisdesignedwith
awordfrequencystrategytospeedlearning.Eachlessonhasawordfrequencysection
andthesymbolmarkseachofthe246mostcommonwordsinthesagas.Twolistings
inAppendixBgivethe70mostfrequentwordsinthesagasandthe246mostfrequent
words.

AppendixCPronunciationofOldIcelandic.Inadditiontothisappendix,
www.vikingnorse.comoffersanaudiolearningsectionwithIcelandicspeakers
pronouncingreadingpassagesfromtheearlylessons.

Vocabulary.TherearofthebookcontainsacomprehensiveVocabulary.Soalso,the
readingpassagesinthefirst7lessonshavetheirownspecificvocabularies.Thesesmall
vocabulariesfreethelearnertoconcentrateonmasteringthegrammaroftheearly
lessons.Forthoseinterestedinwordstems,thevocabularyentriesofferallnecessary
information.
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 19

INTRODUCTION
IcelandicSources.Attheendoftheeleventhcentury,Icelandersmastered
writing. They adopted a slightly altered Latin alphabet that included the
consonants (called thorn) and (called eth). With writing at their
disposal,Icelanderssoonbegancapturingonskinmanuscriptstheirlaws,
genealogies,histories,sagas,legends,andmyths.Thesemedievalwritings,
manyofwhichhavesurvived,providemuchofwhatweknowfromnative
OldNorsesourcesofthehistoryandpersonalitiesoftheVikingAge.
Incomposingtheirprosesagasandhistories(amongthelatter,the
mostimportantareTheBookofSettlements[Landnmabk]andTheBook
oftheIcelanders[slendingabk]),Icelandersrecognizedthattheoriginsof
theircommunitywerenottimelessorverydistant.Insteadtheysawtheir
personalrootsandthoseoftheirislandwidecommunityencapsulatedinthe
relatively recent, memorable events of the Viking Age. Keeping these
memoriesalive,theycomposedthefamilysagas(slendingasgur)about
Icelandersandthekingssagas(konungasgur)abouttherulersandhistory
ofNorway,Denmark,andSweden.Thesetwogroupsofsagas(thereare
others,asdiscussedinthisbook)formalargeliteratureofquasihistorical
prosestoriesfocusingonprivateandpubliclifeandVikingAgeconflicts.
Figure2. With often great social detail, the sagas recount moments of honor and
Helmet deceitaswellasthebanalityandhumorofeverydaylife.
NosePiece, Icelandersalsowrotemythiclegendarysagas(fornaldarsgur).These
Sweden.
sagasofancienttimescapturedVikingAgestoriesofancientheroessuch
asSigurdtheDragonSlayer(SiegfriedintheGermanNibelungtradition)andKingHrolf
Kraki.OtherIcelandicwritingssuchasTheProseEddapreservedOldNorsemythology,
legends,andpoetry.TheyrecounttalesoftheNorsegodsfromtheiroriginsinthegreat
voidofGinnungagaptotheirdemiseatthefinalbattleofRagnarok.Eachofthesesources
ofwritingisincludedinthereadingpassagesofthisbook.
InthemedievalperiodimmediatelyfollowingtheVikingAge,whenthetextswere
writtendown,theIcelanderscontinuedspeakingOldNorse,asdidNorwegiansandother
Scandinavians.
RUNES.Runicinscriptionsarethesecondofthetwomajorgroupsofnativesources
forlearningthelanguageandhistoryoftheVikingAge.Runeswereanalphabeticwriting
system.Thelettersaremadefromshortstraightstrokescarvedonwood,bone,bark,wax
tablets,andstone.Sometimesruneswereengraved,inlaid,oretchedontosteelobjects
20 VIKINGLANGUAGE1

suchasswordblades.Atothertimes,theywerecarvedonhouseholdartifactssuchas
spindlewhorlsandbonecombs.
Manyofthelongerrunicinscriptionswerecarvedasmemorialsonstones.Such
stones with their runes and sometimes pictorial
ornamentation are called runestones. Runes were also
used for everyday messages and grafitti. Many
inscriptionshadamagicalcontext,andsomearefoundon
wooden healing sticks. The majority of runic finds are
frommainlandScandinavia,butexamplesofruneshave
beenfoundinmanyareaswheretheNorthmentraveled
orlived.
Therunicalphabetiscalledthefutharkafterthe
firstsixrunicletters FUARK.RunespredatetheViking
Age by many centuries, offering an efficient way of
sharingandpreservinginformation.Theoldestrunesdate
from the first century A.D., when writing in runes first
caughtonamongGermanicpeoples,spreadingtoGoths,
Frisians,AngloSaxons,andthenorthernerswhobecame
theNorthmen(Normenn)oftheVikingAge.
Over the centuries there were several different
futharks.Theearliestfromthefirstcenturyiscalledthe
elderfutharkwithtwentyfourcharacters.
Figure3.TheSkivumRunestone,
Denmark.
FUARKGW HNIJYPZS TBEMLQOD
Withvariations,theelderfutharkwasinuseintothelateeighthcentury.Atthebeginning
oftheVikingAge,theelderfutharkwasreplacedbytheyoungerfuthark,ashortenedrunic
alphabetwithsixteencharacters.

fuork hnias tbmlz


The younger futhark was used throughout the Viking world, including Iceland, where
archaeologistshavefoundasmallstonespindlewhorlfromthetimeofIcelandssettlement
withrunesnamingawomanasitsowner.Runicinscriptionsprovideourmostdirectlinkto
thespeechoftheVikings.
TogetherthetwomajorsourcesforOldNorselanguagetextsfromIcelandand
VikingAgerunesofferanextraordinarywindowintothelanguageoftheVikings.
OLD NORSE LANGUAGE. Old Norse is the parent language of modern Icelandic,
Norwegian,Swedish,Danish,andFaroese.DuringtheVikingperiod,OldNorsespeakers
from different regions within Scandinavian and in overseas Norse settlements readily
understoodeachotherwithfewdialecticaldifferences.Forseveralcenturiesaftertheend
oftheVikingAge,OldNorsewasspokeninScandinaviaandtheNorseAtlanticsettlements,
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 21

suchasIceland,withrelativelysmallchangesingrammar,vocabulary,andphonetics.
MedievalScandinavianscalledtheirlanguagetheDanishtongue,dnsktunga.No
oneisquitesurewhythiswasso.PerhapsitwasbecauseDenmarkwasthefirstofthe
Scandinavianlandstobecomeapowerful,centralizedkingdom,andthespeechofthe
influentialDanishcourtbecameforatimetheacceptedstandard.Itmayalsohavebeen
becausetheDaneswereclosesttotheFrankishEmpireandtherestofEurope.TheDanish
tonguemayhavedistinguishedScandinaviansfromspeakersofotherGermaniclanguages
onthecontinentorinEngland.
SeveralquestionsconcerningOldNorsearise.Oneis,HowclosewasOldNorseto
OldEnglish?OldNorsewasrelatedtobutdifferentfromthelanguagespokeninAnglo
SaxonEngland.Withalittlepractice,however,OldNorseandOldEnglishspeakerscould
understandeachother,afactorthatsignificantlybroadenedtheculturalcontactsofViking
AgeScandinavians.ThetwolanguagesderivedfromasimilarGermanicsource,whichhad
divergedlongbeforethestartoftheVikingAge(seetheaccompanyingIndoEuropean
languagetree).Anotherquestionis,DoeslearningOldNorse/OldIcelandichelpinlearning
ModernIcelandic?Theansweristhatthetwolanguagesarequitesimilar.TheOldNorse
of the medieval Icelanders, especially the language of the sagas, remains the basis of
ModernIcelandicwithrelativelyfewchanges.Mostofthegrammarandvocabularytaught
inthisbookarecurrentinModernIcelandic.

Figure4.IndoEuropeanLanguagesArrivingatProtoOldNorse.

Asadistinctlanguage,OldNorsehasatraceablehistory.Itisthemostnortherlyand
mostwesterlymedievalmemberofthelargeIndoEuropeanfamilyoflanguages.TheIndo
EuropeanlanguagefamilytreeoffersanoverviewoftheplacementofProtoOldNorse(the
22 VIKINGLANGUAGE1

ancestorofOldNorse)intheGermanicbranchofIndoEuropean.OldNorsesharesaclose
relationship with early Germanic languages such as Old English, Gothic, and Old High
German,whiletherelationshipwithotherIndoEuropeanlanguages,suchasLatin,Greek,
andSanskrit,ismoredistant.
AtthestartoftheVikingAge,thereweretwocloselyrelatedvarietiesofOldNorse.
EastOldNorsewasspokeninDenmark,Sweden,andtheNorseBalticregion.WestOld
NorsewasspokeninNorwayandtheAtlanticIslands.TowardtheendoftheVikingperiod,
aroundtheyear1000,OldWestNorsesplitintoOldIcelandicandOldNorwegian.

Figure 5. Proto Old Norse (North Germanic) and Its


DescendantLanguages.

IcelandicandNorwegianshareanespeciallyclosekinship,sinceIcelandwassettled
largelybyNorwegianspeakers.Today,wecallthelanguageofthesagasandtheother
writtenIcelandicsourcesOldNorse(ON)ormorepreciselyOldIcelandic(OI).OldIcelandic
isabranchofOldWestNorsethatdevelopedinIcelandfromtheOldNorsespeechofthe
first settlers. By the twelfth century, the differences between Old Icelandic and Old
Norwegian was noticeable but still minor, resembling to some extent the presentday
distinctionsbetweenAmericanandBritishEnglish.Atroughlythesametime,EastOldNorse
divergedintoOldSwedishandOldDanish.Stillthefourlanguagesremainedsimilarand
mutuallyintelligibleuntilabout1500A.D.,andalltheOldNorsesources,fromeitherthe
AtlanticortheBalticregions,areaccessiblewithtraininginOldNorse.
Bythemodernperiod,Norwegian,Swedish,andDanishchangedconsiderablyfrom
OldNorse.TheselanguageswerestronglyinfluencedbyLowGermandialects,andEnglish.
TheydroppednumerousaspectsofOldNorsegrammarandchangedmanysounds.Modern
Icelandic,however,remainedfaithfultotheolderlanguageandunderwentremarkablyfew
alterations. Today speakers of modern mainland Scandinavian languages can easily
understandoneother,buttheycannotunderstandIcelandicwithouttraining.OldIcelandic
grammar underwent relatively few changes on its way to Modern Icelandic. The most
noticeablediversionfromthemedievallanguagetothemodernisaseriesofsoundshifts,
spellingmodifications,andtheadoptionofnewwordsandmeanings.
ThemostnoticeablespellingdifferencebetweenOldandModernIcelandicisthe
additionofthevowelubeforetheconsonantrinmanyModernIcelandicwords.For
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 23

example, the Old Icelandic words mar man, fagr beautiful, and fegr beauty are
spelledinModernIcelandicmaur,fagur,andfegur.Theadditionoftheufirstappeared
in manuscripts around the year 1300 and became standard in later Icelandic. Most
alterationsfromOldtoModernIcelandicaresmallandsystematic,andanIcelandertoday
canreadthesagasmuchasEnglishspeakerscanreadShakespeare.
COGNATESANDBORROWINGS.ManywordsinOldNorseresembleEnglishwordsin
pronunciationandmeaning.Forexample,OldNorsedalrissimilartoEnglishdale,and
takahasitscounterpartinEnglishtake.Suchwordsareclassifiedaseithercognatesor
borrowings.
CognateisaLatintermmeaningrelatedbyhavingthesameancestorandisused
torefertowordsthatderivefromacommonparentlanguage.OldNorseandEnglishboth
originatefrom(Proto)Germanic,whichwasspokeninpartsofnorthernEuropebetween
500BCand100A.D.Thisearlylanguagesplitintodialects,withwordsretainingsimilarities.
Forexample,thewordfatherisfadarinGothic,fderinOldEnglish,faderinOldSaxon,
faterinOldHighGerman,andfairinOldNorse.ManyofthemostcommonwordsinOld
NorsehavecognatesinEnglishasevidencedinthefollowing:

NOUNS ADJECTIVES VERBS


sonrson ltilllittle komatocome
skipship smrsmall beratobear
konungrking grgood segjatosay
vpnweapon frfew viljatowill
hndhand fyrstrfirst hafatohave
brirbrother vsswise gefatogive
landland daurdead ltatolet
dagrday langrlong ratoride

Numerouscognatesderivingfromtheancientparentlanguagehavebeenlostin
ModernEnglish.Amongarchaismstherearemanywordsnolongerusedsuchasquoth
(ONkveatosay)andsooth(ONsannrtrue).Othersonlysurviveincompounds,asin
Englishblackmail,wherethesecondelementiscognatewithOldNorsemlspeech.
Borrowings,loanwordstakenfromonelanguageintoanother,areusuallytheresultof
closeculturalcontact.DuringtheVikingAge,Scandinaviantrade,conquest,andsettlement
inWestern,Central,andEasternEuroperesultedintheadoptionofNorsewordsintolocal
languages. Some borrowed words are still present in the modern speech of different
regions.TwocontrastingexamplesofOldNorseinfluenceonmodernlanguagesarefound
oneithersideoftheEnglishChannel.OneisfromtheDanelaw,theareainnortheastern
EnglandthatsawwidespreadScandinaviansettlement,andtheotherfromNormandyin
northernFrance.
The closeness of Old Norse with Old English facilitated extensive adoption of
24 VIKINGLANGUAGE1

everydayOldNorsewords,andthereweremanyborrowingsintolocalEnglishdialects.
Suchborrowingsincludedbasicgrammaticalwordssuchasthey(eir),their(eira),and
them(eim).Inaddition,mostwordsinEnglishthatbeginwithskorscareborrowings
from Old Norse (e.g., sky,
scrape, skill), while those
beginning with sh are of
English origin (e.g., short,
shape,shell).Sometimesboth
the Old Norse borrowing and
itsAngloSaxoncognatesurvive
in Modern English, as for
exampleskirtandshirt.
Todaythereareatleast
nine hundred words in
contemporary English
borrowed from Old Norse.
Among these are common
words such as cast (kasta),
hit (hitta), low (lgr), egg
(egg), same (samr), want
(vanta), wrong (rangr), law
(lg), outlaw (tlagi), viking
(vkingr), fjord (fjrr), and
husband. Husband comes
from ON hsbndi, a
compoundwordcomposedof
hs+bndi(house+farmer
or landowner), meaning the
Figure 6. Scandinavian Settlement in England. Viking raids
masterofthehouse. beganinEnglandinthe790sandeventuallybroughtchangeto
In the area of the the vocabulary and structure of English. Serious Norse
Danelaw, the local speech settlement began in 865, when the Great Army, consisting
todayretainsmanyborrowings. mostlyofDanes,arrivedinEastAnglia.Yorkwasconqueredin
These include words such as 866andbecametheVikingKingdomofYork(Jrvk).Alfredthe
GreatdefeatedtheDanesinthelate800s,whothenwithdrew
garth for yard, beck for north of the line on the map and settled among the Saxon
stream,andmickleformuch population.Asthemapshows,theVikingsweremostactivein
(ON garr, bekkr, and mikill). thenorthandeast(K.Cameron,ScandinavianSettlement).The
Many place names in the lastVikingKingofYorkEirikBloodaxewaskilledin954.The
Danelaw contain Norse EnglishreconqueredtheDanelaw,andtheNorsesettlerswere
integratedintotheEnglishKingdom.
elements such as by and
thorpe, derived from ON br
andorp,meaningfarmstead.ThetownofYorkderivesitsnamefromOldNorseJrvk,
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 25

theScandinavianadaptationofEoforwic,theolderAngloSaxonnameforthetown.Many
parishnamesintheareasofScandinaviansettlementareofNorseorigin.
EnglishwordsofOldNorseoriginoftenhaveaninterestinghistory.Forexample,in
Yorkshirethewordridingwasofficiallyuseduntil1974todenoteeachoftheshiresthree
parts. Most people assume the word relates to horses, but riding comes from ON
rijungr, meaning the third (rii) part of an assembly or of a geographically defined
region.TheOldNorsewordwasadoptedintoOldEnglishasriing.Thewordcontinued
asthriding,withridingasitscore,intomiddleEnglish,wherethridingcontinuedtodefine
the Northern, Eastern, and Western districts of Yorkshire. Thriding was adopted into
medievalLatinastridingum.FinallyinitsmodernEnglishform,theintitialthwasdropped,
andthewordbecameriding.Inthismodernform,ridingwastakentoCanadabyBritish
colonial administrators, where today it is used in parts of the country to denote a
parliamentary
constituency.
Therelativeease
with which large
numbers of Old Norse
words were taken into
English contrasts to
what occurred in other
languages. Only a few
Scandinavianloanwords
havesurvivedinGaelic,
Irish, and Russian
speaking areas, despite
significantScandinavian
settlements during the
VikingAge.
Wehave agood
deal of information on Figure7.NorseSettlementinNormandy.In911theFrankishKing
Charles the Simple ceded land at the mouth of the Seine around
what happened
Rouen to the Viking chieftain Rollo. Rollo became a vassal of the
l i n g u i s t i c a l l y i n Frankish King and undertook the regions defense against future
Normandy. The Viking Viking incursions. Rollos descendants expanded their territory,
incursionsinNormandy formingtheduchyofNormandy,apowerfulfeudalstate.
startedinthe800swith
smallsettlements,butin911,aVikingarmyundertheleadershipofthechieftainRollo
(Hrlfr)tookpossessionofthelandsaroundRouenatthemouthoftheriverSeine.The
settlersandtheirdescendantsrapidlyestablishedanaggressivenewstate,theduchyof
Normandy,whichbecameapowerhouseintenthtotwelfthcenturyFrance.Intheearly
years,RollosNorsefollowerswerejoinedbysmallVikingwarbandsandprobablysome
mixed AngloScandinavian settlers. The Scandinavian colonists in the more westerly
26 VIKINGLANGUAGE1

Cotentin region appear to have been principally Norwegian, perhaps arriving from the
VikingencampmentsinIreland.
Whilepoliticallydominant,theVikingcontingentsinNormandywereneverlarge.
TheScandinaviansettlersretainedrelationswiththeOldNorseworlduntilthebeginning
oftheeleventhcentury,buttheyhad,byahalfcenturyafter911,lostmostoftheirown
language.InplaceofOldNorse,theyadoptedthelocalOldFrenchdialectsoflanguedol
derivedfromVulgarLatin.
ManytracesofOldNorsestillexistinlocalplacenamesinNormandysuchasLa
Londe grove, (ON lundr) and Bricquebec slope (ON brekka). Many words and terms
remainedinthelocalNormandialectsintothemid20thcentury,whensuchlocalspeech
mostlydiedout.Thesedialects,however,neverhadagreatinfluenceonModernFrench.
NormandyremaineddistantfromthecenterofFrenchpowerandculture,andModern
Frenchfavoredthedialectsfromthemoreinlandregions.TodaythetracesofOldNorsein
ModernFrenchareprincipallyconcernedwiththesea,aNormanspecialty.WordsofOld
Norseoriginincludevaguewave(ONvgr),criquecreek(ONkriki),andequiperequip
(ONskipafitoutaship).
ICELAND WHERE THE
SAGAS WERE WRITTEN. The
Viking Age began in the late
700s,andbythe800sNorse
seafarers had discovered
Iceland far out in the North
Atlantic.ReportsofIcelands
large tracts of available land
circulated throughout the
Scandinavian cultural area,
including the Viking
encampmentsinneighboring
Celtic lands. The result was
the rapid ninth and early
Figure8.SailingDistancesfromIceland.Ifsomewhatisolated,
tenthcentury settlement of IcelandwasalsowellplacedinthecenteroftheNorthernseas.
Iceland, a period called the Navigation across the North Atlantic was based on land
landnm(thelandtaking). sightings,astronomicalobservations,aswellasknowledgeof
Icelandic sources also currents, birdlife, sea mammals, and light reflected from
tellofvoyagesfurthertothe glaciers. In bad weather, when the sun in its eastwest
trajectory was obscured, mariners often lost their way. The
westofIceland.Attheendof sagas tell us that some seafarers sailed as far off course as
thetenthcentury,Icelanders NorthAmerica.
and Norwegians sailed from
IcelandintothefarNorthAtlanticwheretheydiscoveredandsettledGreenland.Aboutthe
year1000,theyreachedtheNorthAmericancontinent,whichtheycalledVinland(Vnland,
LandofVinesorWineland),andVikingAgearchaeologicalremainshavebeenexcavatedat
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 27

LAnseauxMeadowsonthenortherntipofNewfoundland.
EarlyIceland,withitswritingsabouttheVikingAgesettlement,isalaboratoryfor
exploringOldNorselanguage,history,andsocialforcesoftheVikingAge,aswellasthe
development of narrative. In most places, Norse colonists took land by force from
indigenouspopulations.Icelandwasdifferent.ItwasuninhabitedexceptforafewCeltic
monks,who,seekingsolitude,hadearliersailedthereinsmallskinboats.Themajorityof
VikingAgeimmigrantstoIcelandwerefreefarmers.Thesettlerscamewiththeirfamilies,
laborers,craftsmen,slaves,livestock,houseequipment,andfarmimplements.Theyalso
broughttheirlanguageOldNorse,thelanguageofScandinaviaduringtheVikingAge.
FromtheIcelandersmedievalhistoriesandsagas,weknowagreatdealaboutthe
menandwomenwhosettledIceland.TheywereapredominantlyNorseculturegroupwith
numbersofCelts,oftenwomenasdeterminedbyDNAstudies.Amongthecolonistswere
smallscalechieftainswhoinIcelandcametobecalledgoar(singulargoi,atermwhich
carriesthemeaningofpriestchieftain).Someoftheseleadersaresaidinthemedieval
Icelandic sources to have left Viking Age Norway because they had troubles with the
centralizationofroyalpowerthere.Icelandssettlersseizedtheopportunitytobringtheir
families,theirwealth,andtheirlivestocknearly1,000kilometers(600miles)overtheNorth
Atlantic in search of land. During the landnm perhaps ten thousand or more people
immigratedtoIceland.
FaroutintheNorthAtlantic,Icelanddevelopedinsemiisolationwithoutnational
or regional commanders powerful enough to lead disputes with other countries over
dynasticclaims,territorialdominance,trade,orwealth.Thetaskfacingtheimmigrantsto
thisnewlandwastoprosperonaemptyislandwithonlyalimitedhabitablearea.Iceland
is twothirds the size of England and Scotland together, but much of the island is
uninhabitable,asonlythecoastiswarmedbyanorthernarmoftheGulfStream.
Beginninginthetenthcenturywiththecloseofthelandnm(ca.930),Icelanders
establishedageneralassembly,theAlthing,andasystemofregionalandnationalcourts.
Withthisbasicgovernancestructuresufficientforregulatingfeud,Icelandfunctionedasa
singleislandwidepolity.1Intheyear1000,IcelanderspeacefullyconvertedtoChristianity
by agreement at the Althing. In this decision, as in many decisions made at Icelandic
assemblies,compromiseplayedalargerole,andforatimeaftertheconversion,pagans
wereallowedtocontinuepracticingtheoldreligionintheprivacyoftheirproperty.
Duringmorethanthreecenturiesofindependence,Icelandwasneverinvadednor
toourknowledgemountedanattackagainstanothercountry.Inmanyways,VikingAge
Icelandwasadecentralized,stratifiedsociety.Itwaskinglessandoperatedwithamixture
ofprestatefeaturesandstateinstitutions.Theislandwasaninwardlookingcountrythat
wasawareof,andattimesinfluencedby,theculturesofothermedievallands,butwhich
dependedonitsowninstitutionsandleaderstomaintainviabilityandstability.Iceland
maintaineditsindependencefromtheninthcenturysettlementuntiltheyears12621264,

1
JesseByock,VikingAgeIceland.LondonandNewYork:PenguinBooks.Seealso,FeudintheIcelandic
Saga.Berkeley:UniversityofCalifornia,Press.
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whenbyagreementofthefarmers,thatisthepropertyowners,ataseriesoflocalIcelandic
assemblies,theIcelandersgrantedthekingofNorwayleadershipofthecountry.
TheVikingAge.Vikingswerepeopleoftheship,thefirstnorthernEuropeansto
harnessandexploitafulltechnologyoflongdistancewatertravel.Theirera,calledthe
VikingAge,wasanepochofseaborneexpansion.Itbeganinthelate700sA.D.,when
Scandinaviawasalandofpaganchieftaincies.AspartoftheirlateIronAgewarriorculture,
VikingssailedfromScandinaviainallcompassdirections.Scandinavianshipwrightshad
advantagesovermostoftheircontemporaries.Theycoulddrawonnativeresourcesofhigh
qualitywoods,tar,ironandsaltwaterresistantseamammalhideforshipsropes.
ThenavigationalskillsoftheNorthmenwereprodigious.Theyreachedfourdifferent
continents,makingtheirpresencefeltinEurope,Asia,theMiddleEast,NorthAmerica,and
Africa.TheirvoyagesgeneratedwealthfortheVikingworldfromplacesasdistantfrom
ScandinaviaasIreland,theByzantineEmpire,andtheCaliphateofBaghdad.Dependingon
the opportunities offered by different places, Northmen traded, raided, explored, and
colonized.ThedistinctionbetweenVikingraidersandmerchantswasoftenunclear.Some
sailors were mostly raiders, and others were mostly merchants, but all were armed.
Dependingonthedefensestheymetontheshores,Norseseamenmightengageinraiding
orcommerce.
WhereverScandinavianswent,theybroughtwiththemtheirlegends,myths,and
language.EspeciallyinIceland,theFaroeIslands,Britain,andIreland,Vikingssettledand
broughttheirfamilies.Insomeoftheseregions,asinpartsofEngland,Vikingcustomsand
languagehadalastingeffect.Inotherregions,suchasinNormandy(Normandie,meaning
NorthmensLand,fromOldNorse)innorthernFrance,theinfluenceoftheNormenn
diminished.
ThetermVikingisnotamoderninvention.TheearlyScandinaviansusedvking,
althoughtheydidnot,asisdonetoday,employitinanethnicsense.Almostsurelythey
wouldhaveunderstoodtheconceptofaVikingAge,butcallingScandinaviansocietya
Vikingsocietywouldhavebeenamisnomertothem.ThroughoutmedievalScandinavia,
vkingrmeantpirateorfreebooter,andvkingar(plural)werebandswhoraidedfromships.
Thetermappliedtothosewhosailedtheseastostealandconqueraswellastomariners
whorobbedneighborsathomeinScandinavia.VkingaralsoreferredtononNorsepirates,
suchastheSlavicWends,whoharassedshippingandraidedintheBalticSea.
Althoughthemeaningofthetermvkingrisclear,itsoriginisnot.Probablyitrelates
tothewordvk,meaninginletorbayplaceswherevkingarlivedandlayinwait.Araid
was called vking, and men were said to go raiding (fara vking). Viking plundering,
extortion,andkidnapingdifferedlittlefromthewarpracticesofpettychieftainsthroughout
WesternEuropeintheEarlyMiddleAges.NorthernEuropeans,mostlyChristianbythat
time,mademuchofthefactthattheScandinavianraiderswerepaganoutsiderswhodid
notrespectholysanctuaries.TheycalledtheseraidersNorthmen,Danes,andVikings.Inthe
East,ScandinavianwarriorsandtraderswerecalledRusandVarangians.
VikingboatsweretheresultofalongScandinavianshipbuildingtradition,whichsaw
VIKINGLANGUAGE1 29

thedevelopmentofavarietyofspecializedwarshipsandcommercialcraft.Archaeologists
cantraceScandinavianboatbuildingbacktothebronzeage,thatisintoprehistory.In
contrasttoshipsofMediterraneanconstruction,Northmenbuilttheirvesselsfromthe
outsideinward.Firsttheyformedaflexibleouterhullofoverlappingplanksheldtogether
withironrivets.Thenintothisclinkerbuilthull,theyinsertedtheshipsrigidinternal
woodenskeleton.Builtwiththisclinkermethod,thehullwasbothflexibleandstrong,an
innovativecombinationsuitablefortheroughseasoftheNorthAtlantic.Withtheirsingle
mastandsquaresail,Norsevesselswereswift.Withthesailwasdown,theboatswere
easilyrowed.
Designedwithashallowdraft,Scandinavianshipsofferedexceptionalmobility,and
theycouldbebeachedwithoutharbors.ThisfeatureallowedNorseseafarers,whetherin
war,commerce,orexploration,tosailawidevarietyofoceanandinlandwaterways.Vikings
tendedtoattackwhenandwheretheydetectedweakness.Speedatlandingtheirshipsand
then withdrawing increased the terror of Norse raiders. If they miscalculated, and the
defensesofthoseattackedprovedtoostrong,Vikingsreturnedtotheirshipsandsailedoff
insearchofweakerprey.
SeagoingVikingAgeshipscarriedbetweentwentyandfiftytonsofcargo,andViking
merchantsweremajortraders.Theytransportedandtradedfurs,slaves,fish,walrustusk
ivory,amber,honey,wheat,grains,iron,weapons,wool,wood,tin,andleather.Inreturn,
theyboughtslaves,cloth,weapons,silver,silk,spices,wine,jewelry,beads,glass,luxury
goods,andpottery.InVikinggravesandatVikingAgetradingsites,archaeologistshave
foundnumbersofsmallfoldingscales.Thesewerelikelyusedforweighingpiecesofsilver
andcoins,eitherwholeorcutintopieces.Silverwasbyfarthemostpreciousmetalduring
theVikingAge,althoughtherewassomegold.
Viking activity continued for three centuries, with Vikings targeting settlements,
monasteries,towns,andsometimeskingdoms.Foreignleaders,whofacedrepeatedViking
attacksbecameaccustomedtopayingtheNorthmentoleavetheminpeace.InEngland,the
VikingsweremostlyDanes,andthesepaymentswerecalleddanegeld.Inmanyregions,
Vikingsservedascatalystsforsocial,commercial,andpoliticaltransformations.Inwestern
Europe, the need to respond to Viking attacks contributed to the consolidation of the
kingdomsofEnglandandFranceandtoalesserextenttheGermanEmpire.IntheEast,the
ScandinavianRusgavetheirnametoRussiaandplayedacrucialroleintheearlyformation
oftheRussianstate.
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