Landscape agency and the materialisation of power in Viking Age Iceland

Karen Beatrice Milek

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


This paper discusses the trajectories of different power centres in Viking Age Iceland as the result of choices of different ways of dwelling in the Icelandic landscape. The dominant discourse on landscapes in the North Atlantic region emphasizes the vulnerability of northern environments, the severity with which they have been culturally modified, and the intensity of their management by Norse settlers and their descendents. This paper proposes an alternative perspective that places greater emphasis on landscape variability and the intimate entanglement and symmetrical interactions of environmental and human agencies. Natural variability in the Icelandic landscape provided different potentialities for economic and social capital, which were used in different ways by the aspiring Icelandic elite. Drawing on examples from recently excavated sites in different regions of Iceland, including Vatnsfjörður, Hofstaðir, Hrísbrú, Reykholt and Hólar, this paper traces how selective interactions with the diverse topographies and resources offered by the Icelandic landscape enabled Viking-age and medieval Icelanders to create different networks, and to acquire different materials and objects, which were used, sometimes in innovative ways, to materialise and signify power. The entanglement of the aspiring elite with different parts of the Icelandic landscape lead to highly variable expressions of power and deeply embedded localized power structures – possibly one of the factors that lead to the civil wars that characterised power politics in Iceland in the 13th century.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2015
EventAnnual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Sept 20155 Sept 2015


ConferenceAnnual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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