Research suggests the Vikings may have been more social than savage

Oct 01, 2013

Academics at Coventry University have uncovered complex social networks within age-old Icelandic sagas, which challenge the stereotypical image of Vikings as unworldly, violent savages.

Pádraig Mac Carron and Ralph Kenna from the University's Applied Mathematics Research Centre have carried out a detailed analysis of the relationships described in ancient Icelandic manuscripts to shed new light on Viking society.

In a study published in the European Physical Journal, Mac Carron and Kenna have asked whether remnants of reality could lurk within the pages of the documents in which Viking sagas were preserved.

They applied methods from statistical physics to social networks – in which nodes (connection points) represent individuals and links represent interactions between them – to hone in on the relationships between the characters and societies depicted therein.

The academics used the Sagas of Icelanders – a unique corpus of medieval literature from the period around the settlement of Iceland a thousand years ago – as the basis for their investigation.

Although the historicity of these tales is often questioned, some believe they may contain fictionalised distortions of real societies, and Mac Carron's and Kenna's research bolsters this hypothesis.

They mapped out the interactions between over 1,500 characters that appear in 18 sagas including five particularly famous epic tales. Their analyses show, for example, that although an 'outlaw tale' has similar properties to other European heroic epics, and the 'family sagas' of Icelandic literature are quite distinct, the overall network of saga society is consistent with real social networks.

Moreover, although it is acknowledged that J. R. R. Tolkien was strongly influenced by Nordic literature, the Viking sagas have a different network structure to the Lord of the Rings and other works of fiction.

Professor Ralph Kenna from Coventry University's Applied Mathematics Research Centre said:

"This quantitative investigation is very different to traditional approaches to comparative studies of ancient texts, which focus on qualitative aspects. Rather than individuals and events, the new approach looks at interactions and reveals new insights – that the Icelandic sagas have similar properties to those of real-world social networks.

"On a wider level, the new approach shows that even after two centuries of scholarly examination, these sagas offer new knowledge if new techniques are applied and new questions asked.

"This research demonstrates the importance of what interdisciplinary research between science and humanities can achieve."

Explore further: A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town

More information: The paper, Network analysis of the Íslendinga sögur – the Sagas of Icelanders (European Physical Journal B 86 (2013) 407), is available to view at arxiv.org/pdf/1309.6134.pdf

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Physicists study the classics for hidden truths

Jul 24, 2012

The truth behind some of the world's most famous historical myths, including Homer's epic, the Iliad, has been bolstered by two researchers who have analysed the relationships between the myths' characters and compared them ...

Vikings as criminal profilers

Sep 10, 2012

(Phys.org)—A researcher from the University of Aberdeen, who presented today at the British Science Festival, suggested this is a problem Viking societies themselves were deeply concerned about – so much ...

A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town

Jul 10, 2013

When archaeologists Geir Grønnesby and Ellen Grav Ellingsen found these and other artefacts during a dig in mid-Norway, they realized they had intriguing evidence of a Viking-age trading area mentioned in ...

New app helps Icelanders avoid accidental incest

Apr 18, 2013

You meet someone, there's chemistry, and then come the introductory questions: What's your name? Come here often? Are you my cousin? In Iceland, a country with a population of 320,000 where most everyone is distantly related, ...

Movies that push our cognitive limits

Sep 23, 2013

Hyperlink films mirror contemporary globalized communities, using exciting cinematic elements and multiple story lines to create the idea of a world that is interconnected on many social levels. However, films in this genre ...

Recommended for you

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

13 hours ago

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

Apr 17, 2014

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
1 / 5 (6) Oct 01, 2013
Retconning Häger the Horrible. Just damn.

I suppose danegeld was just foreign aid.

More news stories

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...