The activities of the Vikings in the Western Isles are brought to life
by the Icelandic saga accounts. Many of these sagas contain vignettes
about individuals who went raiding in England and Ireland, and more detailed
information can be found in the sagas about the Norwegian kings. There
is also a saga on the Vikings in the Western
Isles, called Orkneyingja Saga (Saga of the People of Orkney). These sagas
reveal how much the Western Isles had become part of the Viking world.
Viking descendants in Iceland retained knowledge about places, events,
details of landscapes and people showing that the Western Isles were almost
as important in their lives as Norway, and certainly better known than
Sweden or the East. By revealing the complexity in the lives of individuals
who acted variously as raiders, traders, settlers, and farmers, the sagas
paint a more realistic view of actual people and events than can be reconstructed
from historical or archeological sources.
Viking raids in England are a recurring motif in a number of sagas. Young male saga characters frequently went 'a-viking' in England and Ireland as a 'rite of passage' that turned boys into men who would return to Iceland with money, prestige, slaves, and stories to tell. The most famous example is found in Egil's Saga. Egil was a great Viking warrior, a poet, and a successful farmer and family man. His father had been exiled from Norway, and Egil went to great pains to antagonize the Norwegian king, Erik Bloodaxe, in retribution. After one such foray in Norway, Egil stopped in England and joined forces with King Athelstan, who was battling King Olaf of Scotland. Thanks in large part to Egil's skill on the battlefield, Athelstan emerged victorious. To commemorate the victory Egil composed a poem which reads in part, "Even the highland deers' path belongs to mighty Athelstan now" ("highland deers' path" being a poetic reference to Scotland). Egil's Saga is also well-regarded because it is thought to have been first written down by Snorri Sturluson, the famous medieval Icelandic author.
Saga of the