The Northern Way




Iceland before the Settlement --- Testimony of Bede --- Anchorites from Britain.

This is the Prologue to this Book. In that Book (1) on the reckoning of time, which the Venerable Bede (2) drew up, there is mention made of the Island called Tili, which in books is said to be six days' sailing north from Britain. There he said day came not in winter, nor night in summer, when day is at its longest. By wise men the reason why Iceland is called Tili is held to be this, that, wide about the land the sun shines all night when the day is at its longest, and that wide about it the sun is not seen in the day time when night is at its longest.

But Bede, the Priest, died 735 years after the Incarnation of our Lord, according to what is written, and more than one hundred years before Iceland was peopled by the Northmen. But before Iceland was peopled from Norway there were in it the men whom the Northmen called Papar; they were Christian men, and it is held that they must have come over sea from the west, for there were found left by them Irish books, (3) bells, and croziers, and more things besides, from which it could be understood that they were Western (4) (Irishmen); these things were found east in Pap-isle (5) and Papyle, and it is stated in English books that in those times voyages were made between these countries.


Chapter I. Here beginneth the "Landnamabok" (or Book of Settlement), and in the first chapter is stated whither is the shortest way from Iceland. When Iceland was discovered and peopled from Norway, Adrian was Pope of Rome, and after him John, he who was eighth of that name in the Apostolic seat, Louis, son of Louis, was Kaisar north of the Alps, and Leo and his son Alexander over Constantinople. Then was Harold Fairhair King over Norway and Eric the son of Eymund in Sweden, and his son Biorn; and Gorm the Ancient in Denmark, and Alfred the Great in England, and afterwards Edward his son, and Kiarval in Dublin, and Earl Sigurd the Mighty in Orkney.
        So wise men say, that from Norway, out of Stad, there are seven half-days' sailing to Horn, in eastern Iceland, and from Snowfells Ness, where the cut is shortest, there is four days' main west to Greenland. But it is said, that if one sail from Bergen straight west to Warf, in Greenland, then one must keep about 12 miles (sea miles) south of Iceland, but from Reekness, in southern Iceland, there is five days' main to Jolduhlaup, in Ireland, going south; but from Longness, in northern Iceland, there is four days' main north to Svalbard, in Hafsbotn, but one day's sail there is to the Wastes of Greenland from Kolbein's Isle in the north.

Discovery of Iceland by Naddod the Viking.

So it has been said that once men set out from Norway bound for the Faroe Islands; and some say that it was Naddod the Viking; but they drifted west into the main and found there a great land. They went up aland, in the East Firths, to the top of a high mountain, and looked round about, far and wide, to see if they could observe smokes, or any inkling of the land being settled, but they could not observe anything of the kind. They went afterwards, about autumn, to the Faroe Islands, and as they sailed from the land, much snow fell upon the mountains, and therefore they called the land Snaeland = Snowland. They praised the land much. The place where they arrived at is now called Reydar Fell, in the East Firths. So said Sæmund, (6) deep in lore, the Priest.

Discovery of Iceland by Gardar.

There was a man named Gardarr, the son of Svavar, a Swede by kin, he went to seek Iceland under the direction of his mother, who was a seer. He came to land east of the Eastern Horn; there was a haven then. Gardar sailed round the land and so came to know that it was an island.
        He was through the winter in the north in Husavik (7) in Skjalfand and there he built a house. In the spring, when he was ready for sailing, a man named Nattfari was drifted from him in a boat, in which also was a thrall and a bondswoman. He settled in the place which has since been called Nattfara-vik. Gardar went from thence to Norway, and he praised the land much. He was the father of Uni, the father of Hroar, the godi of Tunga. After that the land was called Gardar's Holme, and was covered with wood between fell and foreshore.

Discovery of Iceland by Floki. Name of "Iceland" first given.

Chapter II. Floki, the son of Vilgerd, was the name of a man, a great viking. He went to search for Gardar's Holme, and put to sea where it is now called 'Flóka-Varði,' = Flokis beacon. There Hordaland and Rogaland meet. He went first to the Shetlands and lay there in Flokis Bight; there Geirhild, his daughter, perished in Geirhild's Water. With Floki were in the ship a goodman named Thoralf, and another called Herjolf. There was also a man named Faxi, from Sodor, (8) who was in the ship.

 Floki took three ravens (9) with him to sea. When he set free the first, it flew aft over the stem; the second flew up into the air and back to the ship again; but the third flew forth straightway over the stem, in the direction in which they found the land. They hove in from the east at the Horn, and then they coasted the land by the south. But as they sailed west round Reykjanes, and the firth opened out to them, so that they saw Snæfellness, Faxi observed "This must be a great land which we have discovered, and here are mighty rivers." Thence they called that river's mouth 'Faxaóss' = Faxemouth. Floki and his men sailed west over Broadfirth, and there he made land where now is the bay called 'Vatns fjörðr' = Water Firth, against Barda-Strand. The bay so abounded in fish, that by reason of the catch thereof they gave no heed to the gathering in of hay, so that all the live-stock perished in the winter. The following spring was rather cold; then Floki went up to the top of a high mountain and discovered north, beyond the mountain, a firth full of drift ice; therefore they called the land 'Iceland,' and so it has been called since then. Floki and his men were minded to go away in summer, but they were ready only a short time before the beginning of winter. The remains of their scale-toft are yet to be seen east of Branslæk, and the shed that covered their ship, and the firestead. They could not beat round Reykjanes, and the boat broke away from them with Herjolf upon it. He came in at the place which is now called Herjolf's Haven. Floki was, during the winter, in Borg-Firth, and they found Herjolf again. They sailed to Norway the summer after, and when men enquired of them about the land, Floki spoke ill of it, but Herjolf told both the good and the bad of the land, and Thorolf said that butter dropped from every blade of grass in the land which they had discovered, therefore he was called Thorolf 'Smjör' (10) = Thorolf butter.

Discovery of Iceland by Bjornolf.

Chapter III. There was a man named Bjornolf, and another named Hroald, they were the sons of Hromund, the son of Grip. They went from Thelmark on account of manslaughters, and they took up their abode at Dale's Firth, in Fjalir. The son of Bjornolf was Orn, the father of Ingolf and Helga, and the son of Hroald was Hrodmar, the father of Leif. The foster-brothers, Ingolf and Leif, went a-warring with the sons of Earl Atli the slim, of Gaular, these to wit, Hastein, Herstein, and Holmstein. Between them all dealings went well, and when they came home they bespoke an expedition in common the next summer, and in the winter the foster-brothers made an entertainment for the sons of the Earl, at which feast Holmstein vowed a vow that he would marry Helga, the daughter of Orn, or no other. To this vow little heed was given, but Leif reddened up at it, and little enough Leif and Holmstein would have to do with one another as they parted there at the feast.

Chapter IV. In the spring the foster-brothers prepared to go out warring, and went to meet the sons of Earl Atli, whom they met at Hisargafl, when Holmstein and his brothers immediately attacked Leif and Ingolf in battle. When they had fought for a while there came upon them Olmod the Old, son of Horda-Kari, a kinsman of Leif, and brought aid to Ingolf and Leif. In that battle Holmstein fell, but Herstein fled. Thereupon Leif and Ingolf set out on warfare. In the winter following, Herstein went against Leif and Ingolf, and was minded to slay them, but, being warned of his proposed attack upon them, they met him in battle, and there befell a great fight in which Herstein was slain. After that there drifted to the foster-brothers a great number of their friends and acquaintances from the Firth-folk; then men were sent to Earl Atli and Hastein, that they might make a reconciliation between them, which was settled on those conditions, that the foster-brothers should hand over to them all their estates. After that the foster-brothers fitted out a great vessel which they possessed, that they might go and seek that land which 'Hrafnafloki' = (Floki of the ravens) had discovered, which was then called Iceland. They found the land, and made a stay in the east country in the southernmost Alptafirth (or Swans' Firth the southernmost). The land seemed to them to be better southward than northward. They spent one winter in the land and then they returned to Norway.

Leif's Expedition to Ireland.

Chapter V. After that Ingolf spent their money on an expedition to Iceland, but Leif set out upon a viking expedition to the west (Vestrviking). He harried Ireland and found there a large underground house or cavern, he went into it and within it was very dark until he advanced till where he saw a light gleaming from a sword which a man held in his hand. Leif slew the man and took the sword and much treasure from him, and thereafter he was called Hjorleif = Leif of the sword. Hjorleif harried Ireland wide about, and took from thence much treasure; he also took ten thralls who are thus named: Dufthak and Geirrod, Skjaldbjorn, Halldor, and Drafdrit, more are not named.

After that Hjorleif went to Norway and found there Ingolf his foster-brother. He had before this married Helga, the daughter of Orn, Ingolf's sister. That winter Ingolf made a great sacrifice and consulted the oracles concerning his destiny = (forlog or what is "laid" up) but Hjorleif always condemned sacrifices. The oracle (11) marked an abode for Ingolf in Iceland. After that each of those kinsmen-in-law prepared his ship for the Icelandic expedition, Hjorleif taking on board his ship his war-booty; but Ingolf, on his, the wealth they owned in fellowship; and when all their equipments were ready, they set out to sea.


1. Aldarfarsbók = De Ratione Temporum, a work by Bede. [Back]

2. Venerable Bede, born about 673 A.D., died 26th May, 735 A.D. "He was," says Green, "first among English scholars, first among English theologians, first among English historians, it is in the Monk of Jarrow that English literature strikes its roots." [Back]

3. Bækr irskar bjöllur ok baglar. [Back]

4. Westmen were those who came from the British Islands as distinguished from austmenn (eastmen) those who came from Norway and the Scandinavian continent. [Back]

5. The Norse Name for these Anchorite Fathers is Papar. Three islets among the Hebrides, two in the Orkneys, two in the Shetlands, and others among the Faroes, bear the names of Pabba or Papa = Father's Isle. In the mainland of Orkney, and again in South Ronaldshay, we find places called Paplay = The Hermit's abode, and at Enhallow and at one of the Papas in the Orkneys the ancient Cell still remains. [Back]

6. Sæmund Sigfusson of Oddi (b. 1056 d. 1133) an elder contemporary of Ari. In the Sagas he appears as the greatest churchman of his day, as an historian and as the founder of a great family, the Oddverjar. [Back]

7. Husavik lies at the termination of an inlet on the east side of Skialfandafiord. Consists of several houses, and several cottages. Lies at the height of more than 100 feet above the level of the sea on the brow of perpendicular precipices. The harbour is reckoned one of the most dangerous in Iceland, on account of rocks at the entrance and exposure to north and north-west winds, by which enormous masses of Greenland Ice are driven into it. --- Henderson's Iceland. [Back]

8. The word in the Icelandic is 'Suðreyskr' = a man from Suðr-eyjar or the Southern Islands = Sodor, i.e. the Hebrides. [Back]

9. In another copy of the Landnama it is stated that Floki had consecrated these ravens to this service before he set out from Norway. [Back]

10. Smjör or butter is elsewhere in Landnama applied as place names as Smjör-hólar in the west of Iceland, meaning 'Butter-hillocks.' Compare Lake and Butterhilket. Smjör-hólar so called is the place where the lady Olöf stored her butter. Also in Landnama are Smjor Sand and Smjor vatn. [Back]

11. Frétt = an inquiry of the gods or men about the future. [Back]

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