Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Russell Poole


This project examines smithing motifs in the Old Norse poems Völuspá and Völundarkviða. The purpose of this research is to develop an understanding of these motifs in the contexts in which these poems were composed and transmitted.

The first chapter examines stanza seven of Völuspá and the role of the aflar, “forges/furnaces”, that the Æsir establish as part of their first settlement. I examine the significance of these aflar from literary, linguistic and archaeological perspectives and in relation to metallurgical functions and communal structures. I present a definition of afl and I conclude with a summary of the significance of the aflar in Völuspá stanza seven.

The second chapter examines stanza forty of Völuspá and the role of the toponym Járnviðr, “Iron-wood”, in both the mythological and socio-historical landscape. I analyze the derivatives and morphological parallels of this toponym. I conclude that this toponym exhibits a geographical concept of resources related to bog iron smelting.

The third chapter examines artisanal motifs in Völundarkviða in comparison to early Germanic customs and possible literary and historical analogues. I study the poem as a performance of spatial, networked relations between artisans and the aristocratic elite. I examine the significance of Völundr’s artisanal revenge as a subversion of early Germanic customs.

Whereas smithing motifs and smithing figures have regularly been approached through archetypal and comparative methodologies, this thesis attempts to broaden our understanding of these motifs in relation to specific literary, social and technical features of metalworking in early medieval Scandinavia.