The Swedes of the Sagas. A Historiographic Study of the Old Norse Sagas and the Construction of the Viking Age in Sweden

Project: Dissertation

Layman's description

The Old Norse sagas – stories about kings and commoners before and during the Viking Age, written by Icelanders from the 13th Century – have been seen as a typical Swedish heritage, and this gives them a unique position concerning reception of history. The thesis is concerned with the construction of national identities in relation to how the sagas have been used between 1660 and 1960.

This thesis examines how Swedish historians make use of Old Norse sagas in their presentation of the Viking Age, related to the construction of collective identities and the search for a common ancestry.

The 17th century Swedes embodied the oldest – and best preserved – virtues, and furthermore, inhabited one of the oldest – and best organised – realms in the world according to historians reading the sagas. Researchers continued to use the sagas in the 18th century, but as a visualisation of a law-abiding community, characterised by justice and simplicity, and hard-working men and women. The ancestors were idealised, not as the proud Viking-warrior, but as original democrats. The sagas acquired new readers, and the mythology received new attention. Citizens of the Swedish nation should be able to recognize their forefathers’ love for their homeland. The early 20th century historians were interested in the war-like nature of the Nordic-Germanic Viking, but the critical discussions soon made the sagas outdated as sources. The sagas were not treated as historical sources anymore. They were exclusively seen as fiction. Historians did not want to produce any ethnic myths of origin for the nation that had supposedly originated in the Viking Age.
Effective start/end date1997/09/012004/12/31