THIS work is a Dictionary of the Old Icelandic Language, or (as it may be called)
the Classical Language of the Scandinavian race.
The history of the preservation of this language in its ancient form is remarkable.
The Icelandic language, in old writers also called the Norse or the Danish (Norœna
or Dönsk tunga), was spoken by the four great branches of the Scandinavian race who
peopled the countries abutting on the Baltic, the Norsemen or Northmen, Swedes, Danes,
and Goths (Norđmenn, Svíar, Danir, and Gautar], as well as by the inhabitants of those
parts of Northern Russia which were then known by the name of Gardar*.
At the beginning of the 9th century the growing population of these countries,
together with political changes and the naturally enterprising character of the people,
caused a great outward movement of the race. Under the leading of their chieftains
they set forth to seek for homes in other lands; and thus the gth century came to be
known by the name of the Age of the Vikings (Vikinga-OlcT), The stream of emigra-
tion increased in volume, as tidings of the successes of the first adventurers reached
the northern shores. The Swedes continued to press eastward into the countries
beyond the Baltic, while the Danes and Norsemen steered boldly to the south and
west, and chiefly to the shores of the British Isles.
Two main currents of this emigration by sea may be traced. First, the Danish,
which directed its course to the north-east of England, and at length occupied
that district so completely that it received the name of the Dena-lagu. The Saxon
Chronicle is the chief authority for this part of the subjectf; the only old Icelandic
works which touch on it being the Egils Saga, which says that in the reign of Athelstan
almost every family of note in Northern England was Danish by the father's or the
mother's side; and the Ragnars Saga, which professes to give an historical account
of the great Danish invasion, but is almost as mythical as the Iliad.
The second migration was Norse. These settlers gradually peopled the coasts
of Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Orkneys and Shetland, and the northern counties of
Scotland, Ross, Moray, and especially Caithness. In the year 852 A.D. the Norse
sea-king Olave the White reached Ireland with a large fleet, and founded a Norse
principality at Dublin: the foremost man among the Norsemen in Scotland was Earl
Sigurd, uncle of Göngu-Hrolf. It is probable that to this same emigration must be
referred the conquest and occupation of Normandy.
* See the word Gardar in the Dictionary.
t The Saxon Chronicle under the year 787 states that in that year Danish ships first came to England.
The Annales Cambriae record the same fact with regard to Ireland under the year 795 : so also the Irish Annals,
see Dr. Todd's Introduction to ' The War of the Gaedhill with the Gaill/ p. xxxii (Rolls' Ed.)