Viking-Age Routes, Landscape, and Power in the Mosfell Region

Connors, Colin Gioia.  2014. "Viking-Age Routes, Landscape, and Power in the Mosfell Region." In Viking-Age Archaeology in Iceland: the Mosfell Archaeological Project, ed. Davide Zori and Jesse Byock, pp. 207-19. Turnhout: Brepols.

When the literary culture of saga writing in Iceland emerged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, men and women, dead for over two hundred years, were still alive in the nation's collective memory. The memory of these renowned individuals of the Viking Age fuelled medieval saga writing, inspiring numerous sagas that feature wealthy and important figures from Mosfell in southwest Iceland. These often substantial references to characters or events in the Mosfell Valley during the Viking Age contrast sharply with the relative absence of such attention in sources that relate the contemporary political events of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, such as the Sturlunga saga collection. During these centuries, political power in Iceland was concentrated into the hands of six prominent families, none of which resided at Mosfell. The leaders of Mosfell had all but vanished from the national stage, while the renown of their antecedents lived on. Archaeological evidence from the Hrísbrú excavations confirms the wealth of Mosfell's early inhabitants, but how might an archaeological approach evaluate the site's fading prominence over the course of the Free State Period?

In this chapter I demonstrate the importance of Mosfell's location through an examination of the surrounding land routes and landscape, which would have placed the farm's leaders in a position to exploit human resources to policial advantage. Hrísbrú and Mosfell were located on two main routes and close to a Viking Age ship's landing, which afforded ambitious individuals opportunities to increase their power. This position was only useful so long as these routes were frequented, and a change in the flow of traffic in the early twelfth century may have weakened the political fortunes of Mosfell's late Free State Period leaders, who failed to achieve the renown of their predecessors.

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