Settlement of Iceland: Wikis

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Map showing area of Viking settlement in the eighth (dark red), ninth (red), tenth (orange) and eleventh (yellow) centuries. The settlement of Iceland was part of a wider pattern of Viking migration.
A page from a skin manuscript of Landnámabók, a primary source on the settlement of Iceland, preserved in the Árni Magnússon Institute in Reykjavík

The settlement of Iceland is generally believed to have begun in the second half of the 9th century AD, when Norse settlers migrated across the North Atlantic. (However, the results of recent carbon dating work, published in the journal Skírnir, suggests that the country may have been settled as early as the second half of the 7th century.[1]) The reasons for the migration may be traced to a shortage of arable land in Scandinavia, and civil strife brought about by the ambitions of the Norse king Harald the Fair-haired. Unlike Britain and Ireland, Iceland was unsettled land, and could be claimed without warring on the inhabitants. Historians typically refer to the year 874 as the first year of settlement, and the Icelandic Age of Settlement (Icelandic: Landnámsöld) is considered to have lasted from 874 to 930, at which point most of the island had been claimed and Alþingi Althingi, the assembly of the Icelandic Commonwealth, was founded in Þingvellir Thingvellir. Almost everything known about the first settlers comes from Íslendingabók by Ari Thorgilsson, and Landnámabók, two historical records preserved in skin manuscripts. Landnámabók lists 435 men as the initial settlers, the majority of them settling in the northern and south-western parts of the island.

Contents

First explorers/settlers

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Celtic monks

Medieval monk

The Íslendingabók of Ari Thorgilsson claims that the Norse settlers encountered Gael monks from a Hiberno-Scottish mission when they first arrived in Iceland. However there is no archaelogical evidence for a monastic settlement from the British Isles on the island.[2] The oldest known source which mentions the name "Iceland" is an 11th century Gothic rune carving, while the oldest archeological finds indicating settlement date back to the 9th century. The first written source to mention the existence of Iceland is a book by the Irish monk Dicuil, De mensura orbis terrae, which dates back to 825. Dicuilus claimed to have met some Irish monks who had lived on the island of Thule. They said that darkness reigned during winter but that the summers were bright enough to pick lice from one's clothing. While the veracity of this source may be questioned, there is little doubt that the inhabitants of both Ireland and Britain were aware of a sizeable land mass far up north -- they may have deduced this from the flight patterns of migrating birds or the cloud formations over Vatnajökull, which can be seen from great distances. Additionally, Iceland is only about 450 kilometers from the Faroes which had been visited by Irish monks in the 500s, and settled by the Norse around 650.

Naddoddr and Garðar

The Landnámabók claims that the first Norseman to rest his feet on Icelandic soil was a viking by the name of Naddoddr. Naddoddr stayed for only a short period of time, but gave the country a name: Snæland (Land of Snow). He was followed by the Swede Garðar Svavarsson, who was the first to stay over winter. At some time around 860 AD, a storm pushed his ship far to the north until he reached the eastern coast of Iceland. Garðar approached the island from the east, sailed westward along the coast and then up north, building a house in Húsavík. He completed a full circle, circumnavigating the island and establishing that the landmass in question was indeed an island. He departed the following summer, never to return, but not before giving the island a new name -- Garðarshólmur (literally, Garðar's Island). One of his men, Náttfari, decided to stay behind along with two slaves. Náttfari settled in what is now known as Náttfaravík close to Skjálfandi. Landnámabók, however, maintains that Náttfari was not a permanent settler.

Raven-Floki

"There was a man by the name Flóki Vilgerðarson. He was a great Viking. He left to find Garðarshólmur" -- Landnámabók

The second Norseman to arrive in Iceland was named Flóki Vilgerðarson, but the precise year of his arrival is not clear. According to the story told in Landnámabók, he took three ravens to help him find his way. Thus, he was nicknamed Raven-Floki (Icelandic: Hrafna-Flóki). Flóki set his ravens free near the Faroe Islands. The first raven flew back on board. The second flew up in the air and then returned to the ship. However, the third flew in front of the ship and they followed its direction to Iceland.

He landed in Vatnsfjörður in the Westfjords after passing what is now Reykjavík. One of his men, Faxi, remarked that they seemed to have found great land -- the bay facing Reykjavík is therefore known as Faxaflói. A harsh winter caused all of Flóki's cattle to die -- he cursed this cold country, and when he spotted a drift ice in the fjord he decided to name it "Ísland" (Iceland). Despite difficulties in finding food, he and his men stayed another year, this time in Borgarfjörður, but they finally headed back to Norway the following summer. Flóki would return much later and settle in what is now known as Flókadalur.

A map indicating the travels of the first explorers around Iceland in the 9th century AD

Ingólfur Arnarson

Ingólfr commands his high seat pillars to be erected in this painting by Johan Peter Raadsig.

"There was a man of the North [Norway], Ingólfr, who is truly said to be the first leave it for Iceland, in the time when Haraldr the Fair-Haired was sixteen winters of age [...], he settled south in Reykjavík" -- Íslendingabók

Another Norseman, by the name of Ingólfur Arnarson, had instigated a blood feud in his homeland, Norway. He and his foster-brother Hjörleifur first went on an exploratory expedition to Iceland, and stayed over winter in what is now Álftafjörður. A few years later, they returned to settle the land with their men. When they approached the island, Ingólfur cast his high seat pillars overboard and swore that he would settle where they drifted to shore. He then sent his slaves Vífill and Karli to search for the pillars. They found his foster-brother Hjörleifur murdered, and all his men gone. Ingólfur gave his foster-brother a heathen funeral in the Norse style and slew the murderers, who had fled to the Westman Islands.

As winter approached, Ingólfur's slaves found the pillars by Arnarhvol. When summer came, he built a farmstead in Reykjavík and claimed all the land west of the rivers of Ölfusá, Öxará and Brynjudalsá. His slave Karli did not care for the location, and said to Ingólfur: "How ill that we should pass good land, to settle in this remote peninsula".

The Age of Settlement begins

The Age of Settlement in Iceland is considered to have begun with Ingólfur's settlement, for he was the first to sail to Iceland with the express purpose of settling the land. He was followed by many others -- within about sixty years, all the usable land had been taken. Landnámabók manuscripts mention 1,500 farm and place names as well as more than 3,500 people. The material is arranged in a geographical fashion and seems to give a relatively complete picture of how the country was settled. It is difficult to estimate with any great precision the number of the migrants to the country during the Age of Settlement, but scholars estimate that it was between 15,000 and 20,000 people.

The Age of Settlement ends

The Age of Settlement is considered to have ended in the year 930 with the establishment of Alþingi, when almost all land in the country had been claimed by settlers.

See also

References

  • Árni Daníel Júlíusson, Jón Ólafur Ísberg, Helgi Skúli Kjartansson Íslenskur sögu atlas: 1. bindi: Frá öndverðu til 18. aldar Almenna bókafélagið, Reykjavík 1989
  • Byock, Jesse; Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power. University of California Press (1988) ISBN 0-520-06954-4 ISBN 0-226-52680-1

Notes

  1. ^ RÚV news item http://www.ruv.is/heim/frettir/frett/store64/item310447/
  2. ^ Herdsmen & hermits: Celtic seafarers in the northern seas By Thomas Charles Lethbridge

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