Ingólfur Arnarson - The First Icelander

The first Norseman to settle in Iceland and live here for the rest of his life was Ingólfur Arnarson, who came to the country with his wife Hallveig Fróðadóttir in the year 874 AD. The couple can be seen here standing on the beach by a recently discovered high seat pillar or öndvegissúla.

When Ingólfur Arnarson saw Iceland rise up out of the sea he decided to let the gods decide where might be the best place along the coast for him to settle. He then threw the carved pillars of his high seat overboard and swore that he would build his farm wherever they came ashore. These pillars, or öndvegissúlur as they are known in Icelandic, were carved with the family name and special emblem along with representations of the gods, but prominently featured the god to which they believed they owed the greatest allegiance. 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.

When Vífill and Karli found the pillars they returned immediately to let Ingólfur know. They were not impressed with the place and said that “there had been little point in their having traveled far and wide across fertile land if they were going to end up settling in this out-of-the-way place.” 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 settled all the land between the River Botnsá in Hvalfjörður in the west to the river Ölfusá in the east and gave Vífill and Karli their freedom and some land on which to set up farms. In time, he also gave newly-arriving relatives sizeable portions of land. Ingólfur’s descendants continued to live at his farmstead in Reykjavík and his son Þorsteinn became one of the leading advocates for establishing the first þing (pronounced ‘thing’— a political assembly) at Kjalarnes.

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