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A page from a vellum manuscript of Landnáma in the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík, Iceland

Landnámabók (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈlantˌnauːmaˌpouːk], "Book of Settlements"), often shortened to Landnáma, is a medieval Icelandic written work which describes in considerable detail the settlement (landnám) of Iceland by the Norse in the 9th and 10th centuries CE.


Landnámabók is divided into five parts and over 100 chapters. The first part tells of how the island was found. The latter parts count settlers quarter by quarter, beginning with west and ending with south. It traces important events and family history into the 12th century. More than 3,000 people and 1,400 settlements are described. It tells where each settler settled and provides a brief genealogy of his or her descendants. Sometimes short anecdote-like stories are also included. Landnámabók lists 435 people (landnámsmenn, which includes men and women) as the initial settlers, the majority of them settling in the northern and southwestern parts of the island. It remains an invaluable source on both the history and genealogy of the Icelandic people. Some have suggested a single author, while others have believed it to have been put together when people met at things (assemblies).


Ari Þorgilsson may have written the earliest version of Landnámabók in addition to his shorter Íslendingabók; or early versions may have been based on the genealogies that Ari states he left out of Íslendingabók.[1] The oldest surviving versions were written in the 13th and 14th centuries.[2] The initial settlement of Iceland largely took place during the Viking Age between 870 and 930, but Landnámabók mentions descendants significantly later than the actual settlement period, at least into the 11th century.

Five versions of Landnámabók survive, of which three were written in the Middle Ages, the other two in the 17th century preserving medieval material:

Landnámabók is one of the main sources of information on the heathen religion of the settlers. According to Sveinbjörn Rafnsson, the Sturlubók and Hauksbók versions tend to overemphasise Christianity, Melabók less so.[2] An epilogue to 'Þórðarbók, probably copied from Melabók, justifies studying Icelandic history as a defence against foreign accusations of descent from "slaves or rogues" and because "all reasonable peoples" want to know about their origins.[3]


The Landnámabók discusses the phenomenon of rán, the practice of hostile takeover of land by early Icelandic settlers. Instead of accepting land as gifts or purchasing land outright, early Icelandic settlers preferred to take land through a duel or outright violence in line with the practice of rán.[5]

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  1. ^ a b Einarsson, Stefán (1959) [1957]. A History of Icelandic Literature. Baltimore / New York: Johns Hopkins University Press / The American-Scandinavian Foundation. pp. 107–09.
  2. ^ a b Aðalsteinsson, Jón Hnefill (1999). Jónsson, Jakob S. (ed.). Under the Cloak: A Pagan Ritual Turning Point in the Conversion of Iceland (2nd, extended ed.). University of Iceland Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-9979-54-380-0. Landnámabók is originally from the late 11th or early 12th century but it has been preserved in versions from the 13th and 14th centuries.
  3. ^ a b Tómasson, Sverrir (2006). "Old Icelandic Prose". In Neijmann, Daisy (ed.). A History of Icelandic Literature. Histories of Scandinavian Literature. Vol. 5. Lincoln, Nebraska / London: University of Nebraska Press / The American-Scandinavian Foundation. pp. 80–81. ISBN 978-0-8032-3346-1.
  4. ^ Simek, Rudolf; Pálsson, Hermann (1987). Lexikon der altnordischen Literatur. Kröners Taschenausgabe (in German). Vol. 490. Stuttgart: Kröner. pp. 222–23. ISBN 3-520-49001-3.
  5. ^ Cowell, Andrew (2007). The Medieval Warrior Aristocracy Gifts, Violence, Performance, and the Sacred. GreatBritain: D. S. Brewer. p. 112. ISBN 1843841231.

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