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1. Archaeology of Economy and Society

Orri Vésteinsson

Subject Literature » Medieval Literature

Place Northern Europe » Scandinavia

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631235026.2004.00004.x


‘Old Norse’ defines the culture of Norway and Iceland during the Middle Ages. It is a somewhat illogical concept as it is largely synonymous with ‘Norse’ – there are no such things as ‘Middle Norse’ or ‘Recent Norse’ – and its temporal and geographical scope is far from clear. It definitely does not apply to anything post-medieval – after 1500 or so things that used to be ‘Norse’ become ‘Nordic’ or ‘Scandinavian’. Linguists use the term ‘Norse’ or ‘Old Norse’ to describe the common language of Scandinavian peoples (apart from the Sami) until the emergence of the separate languages of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian in the late Middle Ages. This common language – dǫnsk tunga it was called by its speakers – is the manifestation of a common ethnicity – the speakers of ‘ doǫgnsk tunga ’ considered themselves to be ‘norrœnir menn’ – and the term ‘Norse’ is often used as a translation of norrœnn . As such it applies to all the Germanic peoples of Scandinavia and their colonies in the British Isles and the North Atlantic. In the context of the Viking Age we often find ‘Norse’ used as a description of anyone of Scandinavian origin, synonymous with ‘Vikings’, ‘Scandinavians’ and ‘Northmen’, whereas after the end of the Viking Age it is as a rule not used to describe Danes or Swedes, except in the most technical discussion of language or ethnicity. Literacy reached Scandinavia towards ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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