Current PhD Students

Timothy Rowbotham

Thesis Title

Historicity and Fictionality in the Icelandic 'fornaldarsögur'


Dr Matthew Townend & Prof Elizabeth Tyler


The subject of my research is the literary development of the medieval Icelandic fornaldarsögur, legendary sagas composed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Specifically, this thesis proposes that the genre – if, indeed, these texts can be considered a discrete class of saga – evolved out of historical writing, and that the direct influence of medieval historiography may be detected in the style and structure of these sagas. Analysing the composition and narrative of three key texts in the corpus of fornaldarsögur – Völsunga saga (c.1250), Ragnars saga loðbrókar (c.1250), and Gautreks saga (c.1300) – comparison may be drawn with major works of Icelandic historiography, in particular the genre of konungasögur (‘kings’ sagas’), which flourished in the early decades of the thirteenth-century. The relationship between verse and prose is crucial to the development of the three aforementioned fornaldarsögur, and will be a major focus of my analysis; furthermore, I propose that the prosimetrical form that these sagas share with the konungasögur is the key to understanding their generic relationship with historical writing, and their historiographical function in medieval Iceland.
I completed my BA Hons in History at the University of Leeds in 2013, and my MA Hons in Medieval Studies at the University of York in 2014. I am funded by the Danish National Research Fund, through the Centre for Medieval Literature at the University of York and University of Southern Denmark, and affiliated with the AHRC White Rose College of Arts and Humanities.