Connecting landscape to literature in Dalasýsla

Updated: Jan 28


If you are interested in connecting events that took place in the Icelandic saga literature to the physical landscape of Iceland, then Dalasýsla is a good place to start. Over 100 separate saga events in Dalasýla are contained within the 40 family sagas of the Icelanders. Further, these events are not all concentrated in a few sagas, many of the sagas have events that occur here. It can be a bit overwhelming but our new features with the Saga Project in the Icelandic Roots Database make your search direct and interesting.


(In this post I have included unique person identifiers called, "Icelandic Roots numbers (IR#)" that allow Icelandic Roots members to explore their genealogy in relation to saga characters.)


Læxdala saga figures prominently into the Dalasýla landscape with most of the saga taking place here. If you were to travel to Dalasýsla, whether in person or from your computer, Laxdæla would be a good saga to read. This tale was written about 1245 by an anonymous author. It is the tragic story of several generations of an Icelandic warrior family descended from Ketill Flatnose (IR# I136787), the King of the Hebrides, who fled to the British Isles to escape Norway King Harald's tyranny. The female characters are so prominent, and so frequently heroic in this saga, that many suspect the saga was written by a woman.


While reading the saga, you can find the sites mentioned in it by using sagamap.hi.is. Alternatively, you could pick a landmark and then explore saga history near the place that you are visiting. You can do this by using the new Icelandic Roots Saga Event Finder at Icelandicroots.com.


Let me show you how to do this virtually. I´m going to start with an easy-to-spot landmark in Dalasýsla, Hjarðarholtskirkja (pictured), the church in the town Hjarðarholt. Imagine that we've just driven there and it is 9 am. What are we going to do? Well, we will look around and talk about sagas of course!

According to Laxdæla Saga, Ólafur pái Höskuldsson (IR# I135549), where pái means "Peacock" (a nickname given to him for his well-appointed attire) built a farm in an area that was considered haunted because it had previously been owned by the villain Víga-Hrapp. Many believe Víga-Hrapp would return a "draugr", an undead person (much like a zombie). Because of this, the land lay desolate after Víga-Hrapp died.


Ólafur, not fearing of drauginn, built his farm on the land and called it Hjarðarholt. Kjartan Ólafsson (IR# I88490) Ólafur's son and the grandson of the famous poet Egill Skallagrímsson (IR# I135557), and Bolli Þorleiksson (IR# I136831) Ólafur's foster son, grew up at the place you are standing.


The saga tells the tragic story of these two brothers who enter a love triangle. I won't spoil it but an almost unstoppable spiral of violence occurs between these two and others as people take sides in the feud.


Ok so now, you've visited Hjarðarholtskirkja and we've learned a bit about Ólafur pái Höskuldsson's (IR# I135549) farm and his children in Laxædala. It is now 12 pm. Where do we go?


Maybe we should stop and get some lunch and look at the Icelandic Roots saga event finder. We head south a few kilometers to grab some lunch at the Rock n' Troll Café, within the Fossatún Country Hotel to figure out what saga adventures the afternoon will bring. While we wait for our food, we log into the Icelandic Roots database.


We go to "special collections", then "sagas", and then we see an option to click called "close saga places". Close saga places are exactly what we need! We don't want to drive too far for our search so we fill the text box with the church we visited, typing "Hjarðarholtskirkja" and we set the parameters for our search to a 10km radius. What do we find?

Wow! There are 38 saga events within 10km of the church. In addition, Laxdæla Saga, we see some prominent sagas stand out in the list: Brennu-Njáls Saga, Gísla Saga Súrssonar, Grettis Saga, Eiríks Saga rauða and Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar. We look at the locations from our search near the church and we decide to head over to Eiríksstaðir, the former homestead of Eiríkr Þorvaldsson (IR# I137642), known as Erik the Red, who lived in Haukadalur. Here we will connect Eiríks Saga rauða to our surroundings. Let's go!

After a 20 minute drive, we are at Eiríksstaðir. Here is the birthplace of Erik the Red's son Leifur Eiríksson (IR# I137643), the first known European explorer of the Americas. When we arrive we learn that an archaeological excavation has taken place at the original farm. Remains of two buildings dating to the 9th–10th centuries are on display. We also visit an open-air museum nearby. We examine again our Icelandic Roots search and it tells us that Chapter 2 of Eiríks Saga rauða unfolds on the land under our feet.


We have linked to the Sagas in English and Icelandic directly from the people and places of the Sagas in the database. So we spend some time reading this chapter at the site. We can see where Eirikur lived, where Leifur was born, and learn a little about the landscape of this story. More information is found on their pages in the database.

Egill Skallagrímsson is my 27th great-grandfather. Through separate family lines, each of Ólafur pái Höskuldsson and his foster son Bolli Þorleiksson are my 26th great-grandfathers. All three are direct ancestors. I can click on the Saga link within the database to read the Saga, see where events during their life took place with the interactive maps, and learn exactly how I am related to them using the Icelandic Roots Relationship Calculator, a useful tool. This task might have taken years of pouring over books on genealogy in years past.


It has been a great day. There are many more saga places to visit in Dalasýla, maybe we will explore them tomorrow. It was fun for us to spend our time visiting the physical places our ancestors wrote about. Connecting the landscape to literature restores in us the understanding of the sagas our grandparents and great-grandparents had. If you travel in Iceland either by plane or virtually, we hope you use our Icelandic Roots saga event finder as a companion to your saga reading.


Our Public Outreach Director, Jody Arman-Jones, has two seminars for our members in February featuring Vinlandssetur and Eiríksstaðir. You can read more about them on our Event Calendar.