Combat in Saga Literature. Traces of Martial Arts in Medieval Iceland.

Dr. Sixt Wetzler

Medieval Icelandic saga literature – and the sub-genre of the sagas of Icelanders – is a unique form of medieval European storytelling. Praised for their laconic, (seemingly) realistic style, the sagas relate to events of the early centuries of Icelandic settlement, from the ninth to the eleventh century. They describe the everyday life of their protagonists, but most of all the quarrels between powerful individuals and families, resulting not only in legal disputes, but also in bloodshed, and long-standing feuds. In their descriptions both of convivial wrestling and of violent, armed conflict, the sagas’ richness in details and apparent realism exceed by far the conventions of other forms of medieval literature. In this respect, they have also drawn attention of parts of the HEMA community.

The talk will give an introduction into the history and shape of the literary genre, and the problems that come with its interpretation; it will describe how wrestling and armed combat are described by the sagas, and what that might tell us about potential martial arts traditions in medieval Iceland; and it will question in how far the sagas can be used as ‘textbooks’ for the recreation of medieval (or even ‘Viking’) Scandinavian combat traditions.

When & where:
Saturday, 1 pm (13 h), hall 1