Character networks of the íslendinga sögur and þættir

Ralph Kenna, Pádraig MacCarron

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Over the last twenty years, the new tool-set of network science has opened ways to bridge disciplinary divides. Statistical physics, born through importing probabilistic concepts from the social to the hard sciences, has embraced these opportunities and is well placed to quantitatively investigate complex systems of many interacting components whose aggregate characteristics are not simple sums of their individual parts. Such concepts allow collective properties of societies depicted in narratives to be compared to each other in quantitative ways. Here we apply network science to the Íslendinga Sögur and Thættir. The network approach affirms the distinct natures of Gísla saga and Laxdæla saga amongst the sagas, in that the former is strongly disassortative in network terms and the latter assortative. On the spectrum between these two sagas, Njáls saga, Vatnsdæla saga, and Egils Saga are statistically more similar to each other. While these results may come as no surprise to humanities experts (as an outlaw saga, Gísla saga centers more on a single protagonist and Laxdæla saga on a larger society), the methodology is entirely novel. We view the alignment of the new approach with old results as helping validate the former. This opens possibilities for new questions, introducing a new dimension to quantitative humanities.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNordic Elites in Transformation, c. 1050-1250, Volume II
Subtitle of host publicationSocial Networks
EditorsKim Esmark, Lars Hermanson, Hans Jacob Orning
PublisherTaylor and Francis - Balkema
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781000037289
ISBN (Print)9780367901950
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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