Ingólfur Arnarson

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Ingólfur Arnarson

fl. 874

Norwegian Explorer

Ingólfur Arnarson and his entourage were the first permanent settlers of Iceland, the only European country whose history has a definite beginning.

Two Norwegian Viking brothers, Bjornolf and Hroald, settled in the late eighth or early ninth century in Dalsfjord, Fjalar Province, Norway. Bjornolf's son, Orn, had a son, Ingólfur, and a daughter, Helga. Hroald's son, Hrodmar, was the father of Leif. The second cousins, Ingólfur and Leif, were the best of friends. They swore blood brotherhood, a solemn Viking bond by which each promised always to protect the other. Leif was also in love with Helga.

The blood brothers went on several raids with the three sons of Earl Atli the Slender. They got along well together until one of the earl's sons, Holmstein, began making advances to Helga. After Holmstein swore to marry either Helga or no one, Leif and Ingólfur killed him. Later they killed his brother, Herstein. They offered legal compensation, blood money, to the earl and his third son, Hastein, but Atli and Hastein demanded all their possessions instead. Rather than be reduced to poverty, Leif and Ingólfur chose to become Earl Atli's outlaws. That meant that either the earl or anyone in his service could kill Leif or Ingólfur anytime with impunity.

The outlaws sailed for Iceland, which was then uninhabited. Through stories of the voyages of two Swedes, Naddoddur and Gardar, and a Norwegian, Raven Floki, Norwegian Vikings had known of Iceland's existence for about 20 years. After preliminary reconnaissance, Leif and Ingólfur spent a winter at Ingolfshofdi in southeastern Iceland and determined that it was fit land for settling. Ingólfur returned to Norway to gather money, relatives, and friends for the emigration, while Leif raided in Ireland, plundering money, slaves, and a magnificent sword. There after he was called Hjorleif (Sword-Leif). About this time he married Helga. Hjorleif and Ingólfur joined forces in Norway, then sailed again for Iceland around 874.

A custom of Viking chieftains about to settle a new land was to throw overboard their highseat pillars, an emblem of rank, and then to settle wherever the pillars washed ashore. Sometimes this procedure would take quite a while. Meantime, the settler would either stay in his ship or erect a temporary dwelling. He would send slaves or servants to scout for the pillars. It was considered a very bad omen if the pillars drifted out to sea.

Ingólfur released his pillars as soon as he sighted land. He went ashore at Ingolfshofdi and awaited the report of his scouts. Hjorleif continued sailing west until he landed at Hjorleifshofdi near Myrdalsjökull in southern Iceland. The following spring his Irish slaves revolted, killed him, and fled to the Vestmanna Islands, where Ingólfur tracked them down and killed them.

Ingólfur and Hjorleif disagreed about religion. Ingólfur frequently sacrificed to Thor and the other Norse gods, but Hjorleif never sacrificed. Ingólfur rationalized that Hjorleif's murder was the just deserts of someone who refused to sacrifice.

Two years after the death of Hjorleif and three years after landing in Iceland, Ingólfur's scouts found his highseat pillars on the south shore of a beautiful fjord in southwestern Iceland. He named the place Reykjavík (Smoky Bay) and built his homestead there. Within the next 60 years about 30,000 more Norwegian refugees settled in Iceland.

Ingólfur freed the two slaves, Vifil and Karli, who located his pillars. He married Hallveig, daughter of Frodi, and became a beneficent chieftain in the new country. His son, Thorstein, founded the Kjalarness Assembly, one of the regional assemblies that preceded the national assembly, the Althing.

ERIC V.D. LUFT

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