Njal's Saga

Njal's Saga Glossary


Gathering of all free men in Iceland for two weeks every June to settle disputes, arrange marriages, meet old friends, exchange property, and other civil matters. The site of the Althing, between a volcanic chasm and the largest lake in Iceland, is hallowed ground, so fighting is prohibited.


100 ounces of silver is the usual compensation when a crime such as killing has occurred. In the saga, however, 200 ounces seems to be the norm, with special situations requiring multiples of 200 to be resolved.


In Icelandic, to duel is to 'go to the island', or hólmgangg, which is both a metaphor for the boundaries of a fight and sometimes a site for the duels to take place. No duels actually take place in this saga, but they are mentioned as a possible recourse of action from time to time.

Fifth Court

A historical appeals court in Iceland established in 1005. In Njal's Saga it is Njal who establishes this court, but this does not reflect any historical accuracy; rather, it serves as a narrative device.

Foster-child / -parent

Icelandic tradition held fostering in esteem. These parents were paid in money and honor.

Full Outlawry

A person who is banished from civilized society indefinitely is said to have been presented with a 'full outlawry' verdict in court. They must forfeit their property and cannot be fed, nor can they be helped in any way on their way out. Furthermore, a person with this sentence may be killed without legal redress.

Godi (go∂i)

Local chieftains assigned to different sectors of Iceland. They are responsible for convening local assemblies, should disputes be resolvable before the Althing.


A high ranking Godi. This rank can be gained through inheritance, or loaned out to others.


A weapon that is half spear, half battle axe. Njal's halberd has magical powers, as we see in Chapter 30.


Iceland's chief export at this time was its durable wool, spun into a yarn: this is homespun.


A popular sport in which two horses are goaded into fighting until one is killed or runs away. Naturally, the emotions run high during such events, because these horses have utility outside the rink.

Long Hundred

Icelanders counted by 12's, not 10's. When the number 'hundred' comes up, it is likely a rounded figure rather than a specific count.

Law Rock

A raised spot at the Althing where the law code is recited. Public announcements and speeches may be made here as well.


Recites the law code to attendees of the Althing. The participants are expected to memorize 1/3 of this code as well.

Lesser Outlawry

Banishment for three years. This verdict allows the subject help on his way out of the country and provides a stipend for his family, who may continue to maintain his land.


A jury for important cases. Usually 9, but 5 for smaller cases. These are not witnesses, but are rather 'neighbors' of the crime.

Quarter Court

With Iceland divided into four sections, each had 36 men who had to vote unanimously on local legal proceedings. The Fifth Court was created to appeal these decisions and those of the Althing.


A legal proceeding in which the offender allows the offended person to determine the compensation.


A hut where shepherds and farmers stayed in the summer to milk their animals, create dairy products, collect peat, and burn charcoal.

Spring Assembly

Settle disputes before the Althing when possible for local matters.


All free men in Iceland were thingmen: participants in the Althing.


condemned beforehand to certain failure


a feeling that something bad will happen


Being able to drink large amounts of alcohol without thereby impairing one's actions or judgements


make or become bent


crosswise threads


to make a complex story


a spinning pin used in hand-spinning to twist and wind thread