The Institute's Manuscript Collection


The main part of the Institute’s manuscript collection consists of manuscripts that were previously kept in Danish libraries: the Árni Magnússon Manuscript Collection (Den Arnamagnæanske Samling), housed at the University of Copenhagen, and the Danish Royal Library. During the years 1971-1997, 1,666 manuscripts and manuscript fragments kept in the Árni Magnússon Collection, as well as all old Icelandic public records and copies of such records (a total of 7,324 documents), along with 141 manuscripts from the Danish Royal Library, were transferred to Iceland.

The Arnamagnaean Manuscript collection were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register the 31th of July 2009 along with thirty-four other items of documentari heritage of exceptional value.

The Icelandic scholar and antiquarian Árni Magnússon (Arnas Magnæus, 1663-1730) spent much of his life building up what is generally considered to be the most important collection of early Scandinavian manuscripts anywhere. It numbers close to 3,000 items, the earliest dating from the 12th century and provides invaluable sources on the history and culture of medieval, renaissance and early-modern Scandinavia and much of Europe. The collection features many examples of the uniquely Icelandic narrative genre known as the saga, landmarks of world literature still widely translated and read today.

The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, Reykjavík and the Arnamagnæan Institute, Copenhagen jointly submitted a nomination of the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

The Institute houses other manuscripts besides those that were sent from Denmark. The best known of these is the Skarðsbók collection of apostles’ lives, a vellum manuscript from the 14th century, which the Icelandic banks bought at an auction in London and donated to the Institute in 1965. Numerous manuscripts and manuscript fragments have been donated to the Institute from private collections, and during recent years the Institute has, with the support of benefactors, bought several Icelandic manuscripts that have been put up for sale abroad. The most significant and generous contributions have been made by Dr. Örn Arnar, Icelandic consul in Minnesota, and his family.

A number of Icelandic manuscripts are stored in foreign libraries. Of these the oldest manuscripts are kept in Denmark and Sweden, where there are also numerous Icelandic manuscripts from later centuries. There are also several manuscripts in Britain and in Norway, as well as a few in other countries, such as Germany, France, Ireland, Italy, and the United States and Canada. The Institute keeps catalogues of Icelandic manuscripts found in various foreign libraries and museums.