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Viking tales of adventure, politics and everyday life

The Icelandic Vikings outdid other areas of Viking society in that it was they who produced the Viking sagas: tales of adventure, politics and glimpses of everyday life, which are still in print today. The most extensive collection of Icelandic manuscripts is found at the Arnastofnun Manuscript Institute / The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and the Arnamagnæan Institute.

They include sagas, and skaldic and romantic poetry. 'The Kings Book of Edda Poetry' is lavishly illustrated, and is one of the prime sources of information about Nordic mythology and tradition.

Originally most of the manuscripts were kept in Danish libraries. Árni Magnússon (1663-1730) gathered 1,666 manuscripts and manuscript fragments, as well as all old Icelandic public records and copies of records (a total of 7,324 documents), and an additional 141 manuscripts from the Danish Royal Library, all of which were transferred to Iceland.

The Arnamagnaean Manuscript collection was added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register on 31st July 2009, along with 34 other items of documentary heritage of exceptional value. The earliest documents date from the 12th century. In addition, the Institute houses manuscripts which had not been taken to Denmark, including the 14th century 'Skarðsbók' – a collection of apostles’ lives which the Icelandic banks bought at an auction in London and donated to the Institute in 1965.

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