The Sturlunga Era of Iceland

When I first became the editor of Medieval Warfare magazine, there were a few topics I really wanted to do. One of them was about Iceland and its Sturlunga Era.

Recent years have seen new interest in Iceland, with millions of tourists exploring its beautiful country and its fascinating history. Those interested in the island’s past have often focused on its settlement and the many epic sagas of the people lived there during the Middle Ages. The stories of Njál Þorgeirsson and Egil Skallagrimson have been very popular, as has those that tell of the Vikings and their connection to Iceland.

However, the events of the thirteenth century, which was told through the Sturlunga Sagas, have oddly been neglected, both within Iceland and by medieval historians. Perhaps because this is a story of a fall - of how the free state of Iceland, which had lasted for over three hundred years, would collapse in the midst of bitter warfare. It is a sad tale, for Iceland would not regain its independence until the twentieth century.

But the Sturlunga Era is also a story that should be told, for it offers us lessons in how a society can collapse, in how conflict can emerge and spiral into a war that consumes most of the country, and ultimately what was needed to put an end to it. For military historians, the battles of this period also give fascinating insights into warfare, for we see a type of fighting that is more grounded and less polished than even what is normal for medieval combat. Essentially the battles told in this issue are fought between farmers who have little experience in actual fighting, fewer weapons or armour to rely on, and behave in different ways than you would expect.

The articles in this issue about medieval Iceland come from a great set of writers - Terri Barnes, John P. Sexton, Andrew Pfrenger, Beth Rogers, Oren Falk and Beñat Elortza - and I think each piece offers its own unique story. We hope that readers will enjoy those articles that tell about Icelandic society and the sagas they created, as well as about the warfare of the Sturlunga Era.

I first learned about the events of thirteenth-century Iceland a little over twenty years ago. I had only recently began reading the more famous tales from Iceland when I was introduced to the Sturlunga Sagas, and I found those stories to be immensely interesting. I am now very satisfied to retell some of its stories to our readers, and I hope you enjoy them as well.

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