Updated: Jan 15, 2020
Egill Skallagrímsson is considered the greatest Icelandic poet from the settlement period in Iceland. He was a chieftain and heathen priest. His home was called Borg at Mýrar. This is near the town of Borgarnes. A wonderful saga has been written about his life called, “Egill’s Saga.” This story about the violent Viking and thoughtful poet makes for a wonderful combination of bloody battles and obsessive love connections combined with pagan lore.
His father, Skalla-Grímur Kveldúlfsson, was a prominent man and landowner in Norway but the entire family left during the time of King Harald the Fair-Hair. Skallagrímur arrived in Iceland about ten years after the first settlers began taking land. He worked as a farmer and blacksmith at Borg. The saga tells how they settled on the southwest coast of Iceland where Egill was born. At the age of seven, he killed his older friend with an axe.
The saga tells of Egill’s Viking raids, travels, buried treasure, outlaws, and killings all around northern Europe. Egill was legendary as a warrior but the stories about his poetry and kindness show a complex and interesting hero during the great settlement age of Iceland. His most beloved poem was about the drowning of his son and this sculpture is also found in Borgarnes.
Some experts have theorized that Egill had Paget’s Disease or Van Buchem Disease because of his unusually large and strong head. Stories say that his skull could resist blows from an axe. We learn in the saga that Egill went blind and became deaf. He had bad headaches, lethargy, and cold feet. He is portrayed as an angry and ugly person compared to all the other kinfolk of his day that are described as fair and attractive. His father and grandfather shared these same distinctive facial features. Why would the saga describe the hero of the saga this way if it were not a prominent part of the story?
The last part of the saga portrays the end of our ancestor’s life and what happens with some of his descendants. Iceland converted to Christianity in the year 1000, which was ten years after the death of Egill.
Visitors can go to the Settlement Centre in Borgarnes and see the exhibits which cover the settlement and Egill's Saga. In and around Borgarnes, visitors can see cairns that have been erected on nine of the most significant sites from Egill’s Saga as well as the burial site of Skalla-grímur and Egill’s son, Böðvar.
Egill is my 25th Great Grandfather and if you are Icelandic, he is your ancestor, too! You can learn much more about Egill and his family on the IR database. To see how you are related to Egill, go to the Icelandic Roots Database and use the very fun relationship calculator. He is IR #I135557
To read Egill's Saga in English, click on this link: https://sagadb.org/egils_saga.en