Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Kristján Ahronson, Jonathan Wooding, and Alexis Pantos

Marked caves in Scotland and Iceland

Thursday, September 21, 2017, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Kristján Ahronson

Early medieval religious impulse marked hundreds of special places with simple sculpture across the Irish and Scottish littoral zone. In Scotland, marking caves with rock-cut crosses and other early Christian carvings was a discrete subset within a wider early medieval monastic tradition. Looking to Iceland, we discover a similar phenomenon and, critically, recent research identifies what appears to be the earliest human presence on the island at and in the immediate vicinity of a cave site, around AD 800.

Detailed analysis of the sculpture suggests that the Scottish and Icelandic phenomena are connected. A suite of typological similarities makes a persuasive case for connections between the Icelandic and Scottish cave sites: a number of shared features such as the distinctive sunken form, expanded terminals, bold V-cuts and sinkings indicate particular connections between the Seljaland caves (Vestur-Eyjafjallahreppur, southern Iceland) and western Scotland, as well as wider connections to the Irish and Scottish littoral zone more generally. However, there are also regional differences.

Building on the recent publication of Into the Ocean: Vikings, Irish and Environmental Change in Iceland and the North (University of Toronto Press, 2015), this presentation is the very first airing for new recording and illustration of rock-cut crosses from southern Iceland.

Kristján Ahronson is a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Bangor University, UK. He is interested in the medieval north Atlantic, inter-disciplinary thinking, and in the ways that people relate to their environments. Recent publications include Into the Ocean: Vikings, Irish and Environmental Change in Iceland and the North (University of Toronto Press, 2015)

Jonathan Wooding is Sir Warwick Fairfax Professor of Celtic Studies at the University of Sydney. His research interests are in early medieval Celtic and North Atlantic history, with special interests in monasticism, pilgrimage and literature of travel — especially the Irish ‘voyage’ tales, such as the Nauigatio of St Brendan.

Alexis Pantos MA MSc is a freelance archaeological photographer specialising in digital imaging techniques and heritage visualisation.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Jean-Claude Schmitt

History of Social Rhythms in the Middle Ages

Wednesday, September 20, 2017, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Jean-Claude Schmitt

Rhythms do not only involve music, speech, dance or biological functions. They are also social phenomena. The measure of time, the organization of work, of the day, weeks, months and years, this and much more is shaped by social forces. Rhythms vary form one society to another, more particularly from one historical period to another. Social rhythms have been studied by social scientists for a long time, as well as by philosophers and art historians. The historical comparison of social rhythms has however been neglected. The conference will present the results of Jean-Claude Schmitt‘s extensive research on social rhythms in the Middle Ages. They were published last year in a landmark study: Les rythmes au Moyen Âge (‘Rhythms of the Middle Ages’).

Social rhythms do not only manifest themselves in the way time is accounted for or in the tempo of the day. They can also be perceived in numerous types of social behaviour, as well as individual lifestyles, architecture, visual arts, poetry and of course music.

Rhythms in the Middle Ages were shaped to a large degree by the Christian faith, which was dominant in the period. The story of the Creation is echoed in the organization of the week and the Church year commemorates stages in the life of Christ, from his birth to his crucifixion. But other things also had an impact on the rhythms of medieval society as will be discussed in the conference, which will be illustrated by numerous examples from the visual culture of the Middle Ages, on which prof. Schmitt has produced much innovative research over the years.

Jean-Claude Schmitt is a professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is one of the best known representatives of his generation of the Annales school in historical research. He has been a pioneer in historical research which is also inspired by anthropology and folkloristics, but also in the interdisciplinary study of medieval visual culture. Schmitt has written a number of books which have been translated into many languages, among others Ghosts in the Middle Ages (1998), La Raison des gestes dans l’Occident médiéval (1990) and, published last year, Les Rythmes au Moyen-Âge (2016).

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Frank Brandsma

How did they do it? Sex in the Middle Ages

Tuesday, August 29, 2017, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Frank Brandsma

Of course medieval people had sex, otherwise we would not exist. But did they do things differently then? In a time of arranged marriages was there room for love and passion? How did people fall in love? To answer all of the questions you may come up with, we will look at images and texts representing sex, sexual behaviour and rules of conduct (also for dummies). Chivalric romance presents role models, but there also are more factual texts, describing how children are conceived, how twins are possible, and so on. The animal world provided important lessons for medieval lovers as well. The meeting will take the form of a Q&A rather than a traditional lecture.

Frank Brandsma teaches Comparative Literature (Middle Ages) at Utrecht University. In his research, he focuses on narrative technique and emotions in Arthurian Literature. He has published widely on this subjects, on the narrative technique of interlace and on the presentation of direct discourse in medieval romance. With Dr. Sif Ríkharðsdóttir and others, he will teach an international class on Arthurian Literature this fall semester in Reykjavik and Utrecht.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

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On the Edges of Christianity

Iceland and Armenia in the Middle Ages

Thursday, June 8, 2017, at 13–16
Oddi 101

The University of Iceland Centre for Medieval Studies holds a symposium on Iceland and Armenia in the Middle Ages. Icelandic and Armenian scholars will give papers on medieval Arabic and Armenian sources on Northmen and Iceland and medieval Icelandic sources on Armenians, including the Armenian bishops mentioned in Ari fróði’s Book of Icelanders, as well as Armenian fables that were known in Iceland in the middle ages.The talks will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

Program

13.00–13.30
Þórir Jónsson Hraundal
Northmen in the Caucasus in the Middle Ages

13.30–14.00
Narek Mkrtchyan
Untold Evidence of Iceland in Early Medieval Armenian Historical Sources

14.00–14.30
Sverrir Jakobsson
Armenians in the North: The Icelandic evidence

14.30–15.00
Coffee break

15.00–15.30
Tigran Yepremyan
On History of Christianization of Iceland: the Armenian Episode

15.30–16.00
Halldís Ármannsdóttir
Powerful, virtuous and licentious women:
Two prototypes of women in Armenian sources and Old Icelandic literature

The talks will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

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Þórir Jónsson Hraundal

Northmen in the Caucasus in the Middle Ages

Þórir Jónsson Hraundal

Several medieval Arabic works mention Northmen in and around the Caucasus region. While the modern borders did not exist in that period, this talk focuses on descriptions of Northmen mainly in the region where we find Azerbaijan and Dagestan today. The sources in question belong to the Arabic geographical and historical sources of the ninth and tenth centuries, which constitute a separate corpus on the eastwards expansion of Scandinavian peoples in the Viking age. These sources consistently portray the Northmen in contact with the various peoples inhabiting these regions, especially the Khazars and the Volga Bulghars to the north. Of particular importance also is the influence in these parts of both the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic Caliphate. Additionally, we will look briefly at the archaeological and numismatic evidence and how this can possibly connect with the written sources.

Þórir Jónsson Hraundal is director of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Iceland. His research is focused mainly on medieval Arabic texts and their evidence on the Viking expansion.

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Narek Mkrtchyan

Untold Evidence of Iceland in Early Medieval Armenian Historical Sources

Narek Mkrtchyan

The study aims to examine the early medieval Armenian historical sources by uncovering previously untouched information about Iceland, which has been known to Armenians since the 4th century AD. The study is an original research based on primary sources. Particularly, the works of Movses Khorenatsi (approx. 410–490)—father of the Armenian historiography—will be taken into consideration. The evidence of Iceland to Armenians in early medieval ages will be confirmed by equating Iceland with the Thule of Khorenatsi. The toponym of Thule (Թուղիս, Թղիս, Թուլիս in Armenian) in Moses Khorenatsi’s ‘History of the Armenians’ (Պատմություն Հայոց) is connected with the life story of one of the prominent Kings of Armenia, Varazdat (374–378)—the Olympic Champion—who, according to Moses Khorenatsi, was exiled to oceanic island of Thule by the request of the Roman Emperor Theodosius. The paper will also focus on later Armenian historical sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of Armenian interpretation of the Thule.

Further, the paper will investigate the Armenian origin of the word “Thule”, which, in its turn, brings us to dwell on the geographical location of the very Thule. Fortunately, another prominent work of “Movses Khorenatsi, “Asxarhacoyc” (Աշխարհացույց) or “Geography” (5th century AD.) provides us with valuable information on the Thule. This source is even more interesting as the author uses geographical records, e.g. latitude and longitude, when describing the location of Thule. Moreover, the geographical details are quite convincing to lay down the hypothesis that the Thule of Khorenatsi is most certainly Iceland and is not just an island located in northern waters of Atlantic. After exploration of the Great Britain and Scandinavia by Khorenatsi, one can easily show Thule on the world map, which most accurately fits with the location of modern Iceland.

Narek Mkrtchyan is a Ph.D. Candidate at Yerevan State University, Department of World History. He is currently a visiting lecturer in Armenian History at the American University of Armenia. His research interests focus on study of the Armenian history from the comparative perspective of World History. His research interests lie also in the study of historical/political transformation in Central Asia and post-Soviet Space.

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Sverrir Jakobsson

Armenians in the North: The Icelandic evidence

Sverrir Jakobsson

This paper deals with two possible visits from Armenia to the North in the High Middle Ages. The first one is the visit reported in Íslendingabók of three missionaries who may have been from Armenia and “claimed to be bishops”. Whether these bishops came from Armenia or not has been the subject of much discussion, but I will argue that such an interpretation is the most credible one in the circumstances. It remains to be examined what reason such missionaries had to visit Iceland. The context of a possible Armenian mission to Iceland will be examined, in particular whether these Armenians belonged to a heretical Church described in the Alexiad of Anna Comnena.

Following this brief mission, nothing was heard about Armenia in Icelandic sources for a couple of centuries. In 1314, however, there is a notice in the Icelandic annals concerning the visit of Armenian emissaries to the Norwegian court. The context of this mission, previously examined by the Norwegian historian Bjørn Bandlien, can be linked to the crusader kingdom in Cilicia. It seems that Cilician Armenian kings were interested in establishing links with Norwegians, either for strategic support or to trade hunting falcons. The Armenians first arrived in Norway in 1314 during the reign of King Oshin of Armenia (1307–1320) and Håkon V (1299–1319). The situation in which these interactions took place will be described and the significance of the mission evaluated.

Sverrir Jakobsson is a Professor of Medieval History at the University of Iceland. He has done research on the Icelandic medieval World View and medieval identities, as well as the social and political history of Medieval Iceland.

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Tigran Yepremyan

On History of Christianization of Iceland: the Armenian Episode

Tigran Yepremyan

The Byzantine Christian missionaries, and among them the Armenians, played a notable role in the cultural and religious conversion of Scandinavia. Some of the Armenian missionaries reached even as far as Iceland. The Medieval Icelandic sources, namely Íslendingabók, Grágás and Hungrvaka, preserve information about the presence of the Armenian Christian missionaries in Iceland in the 50–60s of 11th century. A prominent medieval Icelandic chronicler Ari Thorgilsson (1067–1148) in his Íslendingabók writes about the visit of three bishops—Petros, Abraham and Stephannos—from Ermland (Armenia) to Iceland. Remarkably, the Christian laws section of the laws of Old Icelandic Commonwealth links them not only to the Western ecclesiastical canons but also to the Greek and Armenian Christianity. However, the problems of early influences from the Eastern Christendom have not been studied closely by scholars. Perhaps, the Old Icelandic sources concerning the Armenian missionaries in Iceland are unique as they show a real historical event beyond the transforming historical narratives of the 12–13th centuries after the Great Schism between the Western and Eastern Churches.

This historic issue has a significant importance for the general narrative of the history of European civilization as it connects separate national histories of two geographically distant nations of Europe – Iceland in the North Western-most and Armenia in the South Eastern-most Europe. Our starting point is that Europe is a civilizational entity rather than simply a geographical one. Such questions of identity often lead to reflections on the historical past, collective memory and shared values. Therefore, I will tackle the historical interactions between Armenia and Iceland in the aforementioned context.

My paper aims to discuss this under researched topic. Using Medieval Icelandic sources, and a comparative historical analysis, I will argue that the Armenian missionaries had a significant input in the spread of the Christian doctrine in Iceland. Although, due to the subsequent course of history the Armenian episode in the Christianization of Iceland remained only an interesting episode without further historical consequences. Few scholars have discussed separate aspects of this issue. However, this historical problem still lacks a comprehensive study and a unified approach. Therefore, I will also attempt to combine primary and secondary sources, scholarly studies and research works to accomplish a fundamental and comprehensive study of this historical question. Additionally, the Armenian penetration to the island of Greenland in the Late Middle Ages will be discussed based on the Medieval Danish sources.

Tigran Yepremyan recently defended his PhD in World History and International Relations from Yerevan State University. Prior to that, he had graduated from the Estonian School of Diplomacy. He is a researcher and content provider at the AGBU Armenian Virtual College. His research interests include also the European Historical Order (Medieval and Modern Period), International Relations, and the Armenian Diaspora.

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Halldís Ármannsdóttir

Powerful, virtuous and licentious women

Two prototypes of women in Armenian sources and Old Icelandic literature

Halldís Ármannsdóttir

In this paper I shall focus on two stories or fables which seem to have influenced Icelandic Saga writing and are also a part of the Armenian culture. The first is an integral part of Armenian history and mythology, i.e., the story of the Assyrian queen Semiramis who ruled Assyria for 42 years according to Icelandic sources. She desired the Armenian king Ara who resisted her advances and consequently lost his life in a fight with her generals. Semiramis was a sorceress and tried unsuccessfully to bring Ara back to life but managed to make people believe in his resurrection and thus kept peace with the Armenians. Many versions of this story are extant but the ones which seem to have influenced the Icelandic sagas are on the one hand written by Diodorus Siculus and on the other by western scholars like Iustinus, Valerius Maximus and Orosius. The latter are rendered in Vincent de Beauvais’ Speculum historiale. The story of Semiramis is also found in more recent Icelandic manuscripts dated in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The narrative of Semiramis is to be found in a nineteenth century manuscript Sjóðurinn. This same manuscript also includes the story of Joseph and Aseneth. The story was originally written in Greek but one of the oldest versions is in Armenian and is believed to be translated from Greek. Aseneth had to convert to Judaism before marrying Joseph and her conversion was seen as symbolic for the Christian faith. Their story was also widespread in England as can be seen in manuscripts from the 12th and 13th century and the text in Speculum historiale seems to rely on a Latin translation made in England. Later the story was translated into Middle-English and mostly found in manuscripts owned by women. The Icelandic text in the nineteenth century manuscript Sjóðurinn seems at first glance to be analogous to the Latin text in Speculum historiale. Those two stories still seem to have been of some interest to nineteenth-century Icelanders and it would be interesting to know whether they were important to women in Iceland as well as in England.

Halldís Ármannsdóttir is a Ph.D. student in Icelandic Medieval Studies at the University of Iceland. She finished her BA in Icelandic studies and Latin from the University of Iceland in 1977 and MA in Icelandic Studies in 2012. Halldís has worked as a secondary school teacher since 1975.

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series 2016–2017

Balázs Nagy

Residences and Urban Development in Medieval East Central Europe

Patterns and Tendencies

Thursday, April 27, 2017, at 16.30
Oddi 101

Balázs Nagy

The presentation will discuss the urbanisation of the East Central Europe region from the 11th century, when after the Christianisation of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary a new take-off started, which was principally based on the emergence of early bishoprics and royal centres. The comparison of the development of residence cities offers a good way to demonstrate various factors which influenced the urbanisation in the region. Prague, Cracow and the royal residences in the so-called Medium Regni of Hungary, Esztergom, Visegrád and Buda offer good examples for the significance of environmental conditions in the rise of early centres. There are several parallel elements in the topographical development of these cities also. The presence of the royal residences contributed significantly to the urban development of Prague, Cracow and royal centres in Hungary. Both Prague and Cracow played a role as a monarchical residence from the early period, but in Hungary, the royal residences were situated in various locations. Buda finally got the position of permanent royal residence only in early 15th century, comparatively much later than its Central European counterparts. The conscious building activity of both Sigismund of Luxemburg (1387-1437) and Matthias Corvinus (1458-1490) of Hungary finally made Buda a coequal example of Central European residence cities.

Balázs Nagy is Associate Professor of Medieval History at the Eötvös Loránd University from where he holds his doctoral degree (1995) and visiting faculty at the Department of Medieval Studies at the Central European University, Budapest. His main research interest is medieval economic and urban history of Central Europe.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series 2016–2017

Alaric Hall

Medievalism and a Microstate

Medievalism in Icelandic Literature since 2007

Fimmtudaginn 6. apríl 2017 kl. 16.30
Oddi 101

Alaric Hall

With the rise of populist right-wing politics in the West and beyond, the long-standing role of medievalism in white-supremacist thought is again in the spotlight. In Iceland, the role of the medieval in recent national discourses has partly conformed to these wider white-supremacist patterns, yet partly developed in distinctive directions—not least due to Icelandic writers responding to the 2008 financial crisis and to the growing fetishisation of Iceland as a tourist destination. Thus Icelandic literature of the last decade offers a useful case-study both of trends elsewhere and of the alternative political potentials of medievalist rhetoric.

Hopefully steering more towards profundity than banality, the paper will explore how Iceland has traditionally managed to be included in the West’s canonical Middle Ages despite in many ways fitting this temporal construction very poorly, while, for example, North Africa is traditionally excluded. It will ask what effects the globalisation (or perhaps ‘reworlding’) of Medieval Studies which is now underway may have, and what Iceland’s place in this process may be.

The paper will consider how recent writers have adapted medieval texts, arguing that their choices show how deeply constrained much current literary writing is in form, and how this limits novels’ potential to interrogate the realities which we inhabit. Yet it will also show how the Europeanising, post-nationalist, and postcolonial intellectual movements which have characterised academic medieval studies since the Second World War have been influential on Icelandic novellists’ handling of the Middle Ages. The paper will also touch on whether novellists’ handling of the Middle Ages suggests that the medieval can or should currently offer any useful potential for utopian political thought.

Alaric Hall is a senior lecturer in medieval literature at the University of Leeds. Recent work has focused on romance-sagas, the post-medieval copying of sagas, and medievalism in Icelandic literature about the 2008 financial crisis.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

Gendering Historical Literacy — Vernacular Writing in the Nordic Countries 18–20th Century

Gendering Historical Literacy

Vernacular Writing in the Nordic Countries, 18–20th Century

Seminar March 31, 2017
University of Iceland, Gimli 102 (1st floor), 14.15–16.30

Five short papers will be given on the representations of gender and vernacular literacy practices in the Nordic countries. The talks will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.

Í þessari málstofu um rannsóknir á alþýðlegri iðkun læsis og birtingarmyndum kyns og kyngervis verða flutt fimm stutt erindi auk umræðna. Málþingið er öllum opið. Fyrirlestarar og umræður fara (að mestu) fram á ensku.

Programme:
14:15-14:40:
Ann-Catrine Edlund & Erla Hulda Halldórsdóttir: Gendering Historical Literacy. Two
Cases of Vernacular Writing in 19th and 20th Century Sweden and Iceland.

14:40-15:05
Haraldur Bernharðsson: 19th-century language standardization: Bringing a new linguistic
standard to life with boys and girls alike

15:05-15:30
Ásta Svavarsdóttir: Language use and language attitudes in 19th century Iceland: Gendered borrowings?

15:30-15:55
Guðrún Þórhallsdóttir: Gender differences in gender use? Generics, agreement and general
thoughts on 19th-century Icelandic

15:55-16:20
Davíð Ólafsson: Double agents? Exploring gendered literacy practices through the diaries of a male scribe

Sagnfræðistofnun Háskóla Íslands / The Institute of History, University of Iceland Miðaldastofa Háskóla Íslands / The University of Iceland Centre for Medieval Studies

Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series 2016–2017

Anita Sauckel

“A man is mortified naked”

Clothing and Fashion in Íslendingasögur

Thursday March 30, 2017, at 16.30
Oddi 101

Anita Sauckel

Although the last ten years have witnessed a number of relevant publications, a broader scholarly discussion of the literary significance of clothing in Icelandic saga literature is still due. In an attempt at stimulating further debate, my paper will focus on the complex narrative of clothing in Íslendingasögur.

Exclusive, fashionable garments made from costly woollens and even silk play an important role within the saga-plot: at European royal courts they serve as gifts to enhance young Icelander’s social rank; young women of Iceland’s leading families show themselves exclusively dressed at the thing assemblies to find a suitable husband; chieftains like Egill Skalla-Grímsson demonstrate their power by appearing in elaborately dyed coats at the local thing sites.

However, the depiction of clothing does not simply serve the characterisation of high-status protagonists: it influences the plot’s outcome, reflects social norms within the “saga-society” and expresses emotions like love, aggression and sorrow.
In my paper I will present these manifold notions of clothing in Íslendingasögur from different points of view. To what extent does clothing influence the plot? How are the different kinds of fabrics connoted? Does clothing as depicted in the sagas correspond to historical garments from the Viking age?

Anita Sauckel is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Iceland. She has worked as a lecturer in the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Greifswald (Germany), where she taught courses on Old Norse language, literature and culture. Anita studied in Munich (Germany) and Bergen (Norway), and holds a Dr. phil. from the LMU Munich. Her areas of research include Íslendingasögur, narratology, medieval clothing and textiles, and archaeology.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.