In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Romances (East and West Norse)

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Studies of East Norse Romances
  • Monographs on East and West Norse Romances
  • Studies of East and West Norse Romances in Edited Volumes
  • Editions of Indigenous Riddarasögur
  • Collected Editions of Riddarasögur
  • Facsimile Editions of Riddarasögur
  • Editions of Old Swedish Romances
  • Editions of West Norse Romances with Source Texts
  • Translations of West Norse Romances

Medieval Studies Romances (East and West Norse)
Marianne Kalinke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0293


Medieval Scandinavian romances are categorized as East Norse (that is, Swedish), and West Norse (that is, Norwegian and Icelandic). The West Norse romances are of two kinds: Old Norse translations of Old French lais, romans courtois, and chansons de geste, beginning with translations in early-13th-century Norway but transmitted mostly in later Icelandic manuscripts of the 14th and subsequent centuries; and indigenous Icelandic compositions deriving from and inspired by the translations. The two types of West Norse romances are called riddarasögur (chivalric sagas), and they are categorized as either translated, also original, riddarasögur, or indigenous riddarasögur. Several Latin romances and pseudohistories are generally included among the translated riddarasögur. The earliest translation from the French is of Thomas d’Angleterre’s Tristan, called Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar. According to manuscript testimony, the romance was translated in 1226 by a certain Brother Robert at the behest of King Hákon Hákonarson of Norway (r. 1217–1263). Subsequently, Élie de Saint-Gilles, a chanson de geste, was translated by Robert, now an abbot. In the same century, anonymous translators rendered three of Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian romances and a collection of lays into Old Norse; all but two of these translations are known to have been commissioned by the Norwegian king. Altogether, translations of sixteen romances and twenty-two lays have been transmitted. They are distinguished in that they are prose translations of French metrical narratives. To judge by manuscript transmission, the indigenous riddarasögur are mostly 14th-century anonymous Icelandic compositions. The corpus is large, consisting of thirty-two sagas. The East Norse romances include three 14th-century metrical romances, a 15th-century prose romance, and a fragmentary 16th-century metrical romance. The three 14th-century romances are the so-called Eufemiavisor (Eufemia poems), translations of three poems of more or less direct French origin that were translated on the initiative of Queen Eufemia of Norway at the beginning of the 14th century. Unlike the West Norse romances, which were rendered in prose, the East Norse romances are in the so-called Knittelvers, a metrical form with rhyming couplets deriving ultimately from the German-language area.

General Overviews

Leach 1925 is the earliest introduction in English to translated and indigenous riddarasögur, while Schlauch 1934 is a seminal and indispensable study of the indigenous sagas. Barnes 2000 is an introduction to the translated and indigenous riddarasögur, while Driscoll 2005 and Glauser 2005 survey indigenous and translated riddarasögur, respectively. Hughes 2021 reviews early-21st-century research on the riddarasögur. Kalinke 1985 is an introduction to translated and indigenous riddarasögur, while Mitchell 1959 addresses the Scandinavian Arthurian translations. Würth 2005 surveys translations of Latin pseudohistorical texts.

  • Barnes, Geraldine. “Romance in Iceland.” In Old Icelandic Literature and Society. Edited by Margaret Clunies Ross, 266–286. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    A concise introduction to the translated and indigenous riddarasögur, addressing origin, audience, authorial voice, development, and ideology.

  • Driscoll, Matthew. “Late Prose Fiction (Lygisögur).” In A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. Edited by Rory McTurk, 190–204. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

    The term lygisögur in the title refers to the indigenous riddarasögur. The essay focuses on terminology, critical responses to the genre, and popular motifs.

  • Glauser, Jürg. “Romance (Translated Riddarasögur).” In A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. Edited by Rory McTurk, 372–387. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

    The essay includes a survey of the genre and a review of early-21st-century research issues.

  • Hughes, Shaun D. F. “Stories Found on Stone Walls: Contemporary Research on the Riddarasögur.” Scandinavian Studies 93.1 (2021): 114–140.

    DOI: 10.5406/scanstud.93.1.0114

    Indispensable comprehensive review of research on the riddarasögur from the early 20th century to the 2020s, concluding with a bibliography.

  • Jakobsson, Ármann, and Sverrir Jakobsson, eds. The Routledge Research Companion to the Medieval Icelandic Sagas. London: Routledge, 2017.

    Contains examination of scholarship on the sagas, including romances, over the last fifty years.

  • Kalinke, Marianne. “Norse Romance (Riddarasögur).” In Old Norse-Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide. Edited by Carol J. Clover and John Lindow, 316–363. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.

    Introduction to the riddarasögur, including manuscript transmission, terminology, classification, relation to other Icelandic genres, and late-20th-century scholarship. Includes a bibliography of editions.

  • Leach, Henry Goddard. Angevin Britain and Scandinavia. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature 6. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925.

    The earliest study in English of some of the translated and indigenous riddarasögur, concluding with an appendix, partly in error, of “foreign romances in Scandinavia.”

  • Mitchell, P. M. “Scandinavian Literature.” In Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages. Edited by Roger Sherman Loomis, 462–471. Oxford: Clarendon, 1959.

    A concise overview of the East and West Norse Arthurian narratives.

  • Schlauch, Margaret. Romance in Iceland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1934.

    The seminal and authoritative introduction to the West Norse romances. The focus is chiefly on the indigenous riddarasögur, termed lygisögur by Schlauch. The volume concludes with an appendix of translated and indigenous romances before 1550.

  • Würth, Stefanie. “Historiography and Pseudo-history.” In A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. Edited by Rory McTurk, 155–172. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

    The essay includes “translated historiography” (i.e., Latin pseudohistorical works counted among the riddarasögur).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.