The World’s Saga: An English Translation of the Old Norse Veraldar saga, a History of the World in Six Ages
By James Andrew Cross
MA Thesis, University of Iceland, 2012
Introduction: Veraldar saga is a medieval Icelandic prose universal history written in the Old Norse vernacular. It describes the history of the world divided into six “ages” from the Biblical creation narrative until the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (r. 1155-1190).
The earliest surviving fragment, AM 655 VIII 4to dates from c. 1175-1225. However, the original version is suspected to have been written between 1152-1190. Most versions of Veraldar saga switch to the present tense to state that “now Frederick is [emperor].” This suggests a terminus ante quem of 1190, the year of Frederick’s death. The terminus post quem is derived from the most recent past tense event described in the text: the Icelander Gissur Hallsson’s journey to Rome.
The Six Ages, a common medieval method of dividing history popularized by St. Augustine which doubled as an allusion to the six days of creation, are represented in Veraldar saga as consisting of: 1. Creation of the world to the construction of Noah’s Ark 2. Noah entering the Ark to the life of Terah, Abraham’s father. 3. The life of Abraham to the reign of King Saul. 4. The reign of King David to the life of Elisha, foster-son of Elijah. 5. The Babylonian Captivity to the reign of Emperor Augustus. 6. The birth of Christ to the reign of Emperor Frederick I, though the sixth age was envisioned to last until Judgement Day.
Top Image: Detail of a circular diagram of the Six Ages of the World. British Library.