The story of Auður djúpúðga (Aud “the deep-minded”; IR# I136855) is told in several of the Icelandic Sagas. In the article below, we describe our shared, exceptional, Viking-age ancestor.
Her story appears prominently as parts of Eiríks saga rauða and Laxdæla saga. In Laxdæla saga, she is mistakenly referred to as “Unn”, but this saga gives the most attention to her as compared to others. Her story is notable for several reasons. First, it gives insight into the uncertain and dangerous world of Norwegian Vikings living in the British Isles in the 9th century. Second, it tells of Auður’s faith in Christianity, a religion that would not be popular in Iceland for another 150 years. Third, it depicts a strong, clever, and generous woman who manages to lead a large group of her followers out of a war zone in Scotland to relative peace and prosperity in Iceland. Once in Iceland, she would free her slaves, give them land, and become the matriarch of her family. Here we review many of the events that take place in Laxdæla saga.
Auður was born in the early to mid-9th century in Telemark, Norway but moved as a young girl to the Hebrides, where Ketill flatnefur Bjarnarson (IR# I136787), her father, had taken post on behalf of King Harald the Fair. Ketill rebelled against the king and became an independent ruler of the Hebridean islands. Ketill and his wife Yngveldur had at least four children. All of them eventually settled in Iceland. They were Bjöm “austræni” (IR# I136861) who settled in Bjarnarhöfn in Snæfellsnessýsla, Helgi “býla” (IR# 413958), who settled in in Hof in Kjalarneshreppur, Auður, and Þórunn “hyrna” (IR# I136860) who was the wife of Helgi “magra” (i.e., Helgi “the lean”) they settled in Kristsnes in Eyjafjarðarsýsla.
Auður married Ólafur Hvíti (Olaf “the white”; IR# I136854), who was king of the Viking Kingdom in Dublin, Ireland, and they had a son, Þorsteinn rauð (Thorstein “the red”; IR# I136846). But life in Ireland was dangerous, and King Olaf fell in battle. Queen Auður then went with her son Þorsteinn to the Hebrides. There she later arranged his marriage to Þuríður (IR# I136847), sister of Helgi “magra”, her parents were Eyvindur from East Iceland and Rafarta Kjarvalsdóttir an Irish Princess and daughter of Kjarvel Cearbhall Macdunghal.
Þorsteinn and Þuríður had seven children a son, Ólafur feilan, and six daughters Gróa, Ólöf, Ósk, Þórhildur, Þorgerður, and Vigdís (see IR Family ID# F40697). Þorsteinn rauð was successful in leading an army that conquered much of Scotland. But the situation was also not secure there. The Scots revolted against Þorsteinn and killed him in battle.
Auður was in Caithness at the time Þorsteinn was killed. After Þorsteinn's death, she took care of his children. With her husband and son both dead, Auður was unwelcome in a foreign land and was running out of options. So, she hatched a plan on how to escape this hostile environment. It appears she had many loyal to her because she decided to have a ship built secretly out in the forest. When the ship was completed, she took all her belongings, slaves, and many relatives with her and she sailed from Scotland. It is said in the sagas, that it is a testament to her skill that one woman should be able to get out of such a chaotic environment, with such a loyal entourage and tremendous wealth.
She first sailed to the Orkney Islands. While there, she arranged a marriage for Gróa, her granddaughter. It is thought that many people of Orkney Island descend from Gróa. Next, she stayed in the Faroe Islands and there she married Ólöf, another daughter of her son Þorsteinn, and from Ólöf descended the distinguished Faroese family of Götuskegg. From there she sailed to Iceland. Her ship was wrecked on the coast west of Ölfusárós, but all the people and belongings were saved. Auður then went with the group to a meeting with her brother, Helgi “bjóla” at Hof in Kjalarnes. He invited her to stay with him but would only host half of her party. This angered Auður, so she left. She headed west to Snæfellsness to meet her other brother Björn “austræna” in Bjarnarhöfn. Björn was much more generous and offered to host everyone with her. They were all together in Bjarnarhöfn during the winter and in good spirits.
In the Spring, Auður sailed with her people on an exploration trip into Breiðafjörður. They landed and ate breakfast on a headland, and it is called Dagverðarness. It is south of Fellsströnd. From there they sailed all over Hvammsfjörður and went back ashore on a headland. There Auður lost her comb and from this comes the name is Kambsnes (Comb's point), just south of Búðardalur. Finally, she sailed into the end of the fjord, and as was the custom, she let her high seat pillars float on the water and determine where she would make her home. The pillars washed ashore by a beautiful and wooded valley. There she decided to settle down and built a farm which she named Hvamm. Freeing her slaves and setting her followers off to live their own lives, she gave her crew and former slaves land nearby as a form of repayment for their loyalty. Her steward was called Kollur, and he had worked for Auður for a very long time. He married Þorgerður, the daughter of Þorsteinn rauð. He was known as Dala-Kollur. His son and Þorgerður's was Höskuldur, father of Hallgerður langbrókur, Ólafur pá (IR# I135549) and their siblings. After Dala-Koll's death, Þorgerður married Herjólfur and they had a son Hrút. These half-brothers Höskuldur and Hrútur are featured in Laxdæla and also in Brenna-Njál's saga.
When Auður grew old, she held a big party for her grandchildren, other relatives, and friends. There she declared that Ólafur Feilan, her grandson, would receive her farm in Hvammur as well as other property after her passing. With Auður's advice, Ólafur married a woman named Álfdís, a "Barra" (a Hebridean) woman. Ólafur became a great chief in Hvammur. The son of Ólafur and Álfdís was Þórður "gellir", who was very important in the 10th century and was involved when the country was divided into quarters in 965. It is thought that Auður djúpúðga died sometime after 920 AD.
Auður was a Christian woman and very pious. She lived and practiced at a time when Christianity was not popular in Iceland. She had crosses erected on several hills near the sea and held her prayers there. This place is called Krosshólar. In memory of this remarkable settler, a large stone cross was erected on Krosshólaborg in 1965 (pictured). The stone monument was engraved with a quote from Landnámabók, the Book of Settlements. The engraving on the cross reads:
“Auðr djúpúðga bjó í Hvammi. Hon hafði bænahald sitt á Krossholum. Þar lét hon reisa krossa. Því at hon var skírð ok vel trúuð.”
Translated this reads, “Auðr of a Deep Mind lived at Hvammur. She held her prayers at Krosshólar. There she had crosses erected. Because she was baptized and a true believer.”
Auður was intelligent, compassionate, and gracious. Her story is unique in its focus on her charity towards others and her ability to act as a leader. She is an exceptional Viking woman and an inspiration.
This article was written jointly by Jason Doctor and Carrie Magnusson. Aud “the deep-minded“ is Carrie‘s 28th great-grandmother and is Jason‘s 29th great-grandmother.