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Interesting Icelander for January 2024


By Shaune Jonasson

Welcome to our first Interesting Icelander of 2024 who also happens to be an important part of this year’s theme, the Settlement Era. Rob Olason introduced the new theme in his blog Going Where the Log Lands.

Ingólfur Arnarson (I135531), born in Norway about 844, fled his homeland due to a blood feud. Ingólfur along with his blood-brother/cousin, Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, killed the sons of a chieftain. A excerpt from the Norway Explorer  provides us with some background:

"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 neither 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."


Once Ingólfur sighted land and, after sailing along the rugged coastline, his fate would be left to the gods; they would tell him where to settle. He and his wife, Hallveig Fróðadóttir (I135532), who had joined him on this voyage, would abide by the gods. Ingólfur tossed his Öndvegissúlur, or high-seat pillars, into the water.

Depiction of the found pillars. (Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Johan Peter Raadsig. No edits made.)
Depiction of the found pillars (Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Johan Peter Raadsig.)

Öndvegissúlur are a pair of wooden poles that are positioned prominently on each side of the high-seat, a place where a Viking head of a household or a chieftain would sit. The pillars are carved with the family name and representations of the gods, especially the one they most worshipped. There would be no mistaking these tossed pillars belonged to Ingólfur because of their markings, thus staking his land.

Once the ship landed, Ingólfur sent two of his slaves to look for the pillars. In the meantime, Ingólfur and his entourage settled while awaiting news of the pillars. Despite not hearing anything from the slaves for three years, and having settled during that time, Ingólfur, Hallveig and many of their ship's company relocated to the gods' chosen area.  

Upon arrival, they witnessed steam rising from the land; the result of hot springs covering this vast area. Ingólfur named this place Reykjavík, which means "bay of smoke" or "Smokey Bay."  It is derived from Old Norse reykja "to smoke" and vík meaning “bay.”

Monument of Ingólfur Arnarson with one of his pillars on Arnarhóll Hill in Reykjavík
Monument of Ingólfur Arnarson with one of his pillars on Arnarhóll Hill in Reykjavík

Ingólfur awarded land around Reykjavík to his slaves. His family and friends were assigned land in this new settlement. Over the years, Ingólfur continued to assign land to those that followed. He and his descendants continued to live in the Reykjavík area for many generations and they held great influence in governing for many years.


We welcome you to join us this year as we learn more about the settlement period. If you have an ancestor whose story you would like to share, please send it to  We look forward to hearing from you.


Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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