What is a saga really? A saga is a story. The word saga relates to the English word say. A story that was said (told). Oral stories that were written down about kings, people, saints, bishops and other legendary material. Some authors of these stories are known but not all.
The sagas were written in the 12th and 13th centuries about life lived two to three hundred years earlier. Some are based on oral tales, some are pure fiction, and others are based on historic figures, or they are a mix of all of the above. Scholars of Old Norse and the Medieval period have their hands full examining these rich stories of the Vikings.
The Vikings lived throughout the Northern region of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Greenland and invaded the British Isles, Normandy, Russia, and many more lands. They are legendary for their nautical skills navigating their ships on oceans as well as along rivers. They spoke the Old Norse language.
With the spread of Christianity followed the written word. Sagas took form and often spoke of the conflict between pagan living and Christian living. The old Norse gods of Odin, Thor, and Freja moved over to make room for the Christ figure. Authoritative figures like kings and chieftains might have turned Christian while their subjects might not have.
Vikings in Norway went west and settled in Iceland. Some went further to Greenland and North America. Vikings in Sweden went east and south into Russia and other Slavic nations. Vikings in Denmark went southwest into Great Britain and northern France. This is a rough overview. And the sagas tell their story.
The family sagas are about the people who settled in Iceland. Like Njàls saga, Laxdæla saga and Grettis saga. Often family feuds make up the plot of the sagas. Women figure prominently in the sagas and may question their fidelity, whether it lies with their husband or brother like in Gisli’s saga. Love stories, poetry and heroic deeds are all part of the sagas, too.
The sagas form a rich cultural, historic and linguistic background for the contemporary Nordic nations. Today you can find the saga documents in Iceland.