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New Medieval Books: Animal-Human Relationships in Medieval Iceland

Animal-Human Relationships in Medieval Iceland: From Farm-Settlement to Sagas

By Harriet Jean Evans Tang

ISBN: 978 1 84384 643 7

With medieval Iceland being entirely rural, farms and their animals played a crucial role in their society. This book looks at domestic animals – horses, cattle and sheep – and how they are depicted in the sagas.


Relationships between domestic animals and humans permeated all aspects of the agro-pastoral society of early Iceland (used here as an inclusive term to encompass the Viking-Age and high medieval periods). These relationships, physical and cultural, social and economic, personal and general, cannot be investigated by one discipline alone. It is impossible, then, to discuss animal-human relationships without considering multiple datasets, and the current work therefore takes a multi-disciplinary approach to its interdisciplinary focus.


It draws on a range of sources to consider different representations of early Icelandic society, examining cultural attitudes towards animals and how animal-human relationships manifested within social practice (the way persons organised their spaces and lived out their lives) and its structuring principles. The architectural layout of a house or a farm acts as one set of structuring principles for future practice, and stories about places similarly influence subsequent action and storytelling.

Textual depictions of animal-human interactions are formed from material encounters, and such material encounters may in their turn have influenced or been influenced by legal traditions. Beginning with stories of the settlement of Iceland (both medieval and modern interpretations of a Viking-Age event), the discussion then moves through analysis of Viking-Age farm sites and early laws, before turning to some of the saga literature of medieval Iceland, forever asking: how do these sources depict animal-human relations?


Who is this book for?

Recent years have seen renewed interest in animals during the Middle Ages, and this book fits very well into that category. It will also be of interest to those researching medieval Iceland or Icelandic sagas.

The author:

Harriet Jean Evans Tang is a Post Doctoral Research Associate at Durham University, where her new research is looking at Human-Bear Relationships in the Medieval North. This book, which came out of her PhD research, is her first, but she has also penned several articles on the topic. See her university profile to learn more. You can follow Harriet on X/Twitter.

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