Who wrote Njal´s saga and when was it written?

Asked By

Heiða Björk Halldórdóttir


Njal´s saga is anonymous. There are no records in manuscripts of the saga, nor in contemporary sources, that indicate the author. Nor does the saga itself provide any information that would allow one to draw a definite conclusion on this issue.

In recent times, many attempts have been made to identify the author. In the preface to the version in Íslenzkum fornritum, volume 12 (1954), Einar Ólafur Sveinsson discusses the search for the author on pages c-cii. He discusses older theories that appeared in the 17th century, such that Sæmundur the Wise was the author, and theories from this century that have named Jón Loftsson, Snorri Sturluson, Einar Gilsson, Þorvarður Þórarinsson (Barði Guðmundsson's theory), and refutes them all. He once himself proposed Þorsteinn Skeggjason of the Skógverja family, but admits that it is not a strong theory, and in addition that we know rather little about this man. Since then people have suggested Sturlu Þórðarson (Matthías Johannessen) and Bishop Árni Þorláksson (Hermann Pálsson), but there has been no consensus about any given theory.

We know more about the age of the story. The five oldest manuscripts are from about 1300, and although these estimates of age are not exact, there is no doubt that some of them are this old or a little older. It is considered fairly certain that the saga shows influence from the legal language of Járnsíða Law Code, which came into force in 1271. It would have taken the author some time to acquaint himself with the text. There are many indications that the saga is from the latter half of the 13th century. There is a strong likelihood that the saga is from the period 1275-1295 (or 1275-1285 according to Einar Ólafur Sveinsson).

Translated by Paul Richardson.

See also the answer from the same author:

Picture: Living and Reliving the Icelandic Sagas

Um þessa spurningu


Published 6.3.2005


Answers in English


Vésteinn Ólason. „Who wrote Njal´s saga and when was it written?“. The Icelandic Web of Science 6.3.2005. (Skoðað 26.5.2024).


Vésteinn Ólasonprófessor emeritus


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