By Rob Olason
In 2023 Icelandic Roots explored the topic of the nineteenth-century emigration period in Icelandic history. Throughout the year, articles in the Icelandic Roots newsletters kept a steady gaze on this topic. Joining this effort, other IR programs such as the Samtal Hour conversational gathering, the book club, and several webinars frequently focused on exploring this rich subject.
In 2024, Icelandic Roots outreach programs are shifting focus to a different emigration period in Iceland’s history: the Settlement Era.
This was the time when Norwegian explorers began searching for new lands in which to settle. Icelandic history credits Ingólfur Arnarson as the first Norse settler in an uninhabited Iceland around 874. Rumors of a faraway land and fallout from a blood feud were credited with his decision to seek this new land.
Wishing for the favor of the Norse Gods, Ingólfur threw the carved pillars of his high seat overboard and pledged to settle wherever they reached land. The notes in his Icelandic Roots profile (IR# I135531) state, “After having thrown them into the water, Ingólfur came ashore at what was subsequently known as Ingólfshöfði, where he raised a house and spent his first winter. He sent out two of his slaves, Vífill and Karli, to look for the carved pillars. They searched along the coastline for three years before finally locating them in a large bay in the southwest of the country.”
The slaves returned and said the location was unfavorable. The IR profile picks up the story: “Ingólfur paid little attention to their complaints and moved to the place where the pillars came ashore. He called the place Reykjavík (literally "steam bay") because of the large amount of steam that rose from the nearby hot springs.”
Ingólfur’s arrival story is the beginning of the Settlement Era, extending for around a half-century when Norse farmers relocated and claimed all the prime farmland.
We are planning articles that will explore the history of this era, the culture of the time, and the Norse worldview as we try to imagine the lives of the people from that era.
In our next issue, Jason Doctor explores in-depth the settlement era of Iceland. In the following issue, Bryndís Víglundsdóttir explores the meaning behind the term “Viking” and gives us a more nuanced description, rather than the version we find in popular culture.
And don’t miss the upcoming webinar on January 11, 2024, by Karen Gummo where she explores “Oðinn's Quest in the Prose Edda.” She gives a grounding in the religious beliefs of the Icelanders before Christianity.
Another public webinar by the Icelandic National League of the United States explores an amazing art project recently completed in Iceland that illustrates Njal’s Saga. Called "The Njal’s Saga Tapestry,” this webinar is available on January 10, 2024 at the INLUS.org website.
Our monthly “Interesting Icelander” feature will be bringing you biographies of significant people from the Settlement Era.
As always, we will continue to keep you informed of upcoming events, and topical stories, but we hope you will find our explorations of this unique era in Iceland’s history to be an interesting feature of our reporting in 2024.