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The Book Of Settlements (Landnámabók) * translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards (1972)

LandnámabókJust like with the Islendingabók / Kristni Saga this is not really a great read. In most cases you will read something like:

206. Kolbein
Sigmund of Vestfold married Ingibjorg, daughter of Raud Rugga of Namdalen and sister of Thorstein Svarfad. Their son was Kolbein who went to Iceland and took possession of land between Grjot and Deildar Rivers, including Kolbeinsdale and Hjaltadale.

About 400 settlers are described with a chapter each, which is sometimes a few lines, sometimes an entire page and on a few occasions a bit more even. Lists of names: blabla, son blabla, son of blala, daughter of blabla who married blabla and had the following children: blablabla. Further of course where they landed and where they lived. This information is divided of the four quarters that seemed to have been set up immediately. Sometimes you get some more information and every once in a while you get the information that was mostly my reason to read these texts:

85. Thorolf Mostur-Beard
Thorolf, son of Ornolf the Fish-Diver, lived on Mostur Island, and that’s why he was called Mostur-Beard. He was a great sacrificer and worshipped Thor. He fled to Iceland because of the oppression of King Harald Fine-Hair […]. […]he threw his high-seat pillars overboard. They had an image of Thor carved on them. Thorolf declared that Thor would come ashore where he wanted Thorolf to make his home, and he promised to dedicate his entire land-claim to Thor and call it after him. […] He built a farm there and a big temple dedicated to Thor. […]

The ‘trick’ with the “high-seat” is mentioned a couple of times, the same goes for the fleeing for Harald Fine-Hair and the worship of Thor (no other God is mentioned, besides a Freyr’s Godi one time).
It is nice to see that almost all settlers were still “pagan”, but the compiler of this work was not. Still he mentions facts without passing judgement. A funny quote is to be found in chapter 197 about Crow-Hreidar:

When they made landfall Hreidar went up to the mast and said he wasn’t going to throw his high-seat pillars overboard as he thought it a stupid way to make one’s decisions. Instead, he said he would ask for Thor’s guidance on where to settle […]


Helgi’s [the Lean, chapt. 218.) faith was very much mixed: he believed in Christ but invoked Thor when it came to voyages and difficult times.

The settling period was clearly one of transition. There were also Christian settlers such as:

She [Aud the Deep-Minded, chapt. 97] used to say prayers at Kross Hills; she had crosses erected there, for she’d been baptized and was a devout Christian.

But the previous continues thus:

Later he kinsmen worshipped these hills, then when sacrifices began, a pagan temple was built there.

The Christian faith had not rooted enough among the settlers. The Landnámabók even ends with:

399. Christian settlers
According to well-informed people some of the settlers of Iceland were baptized, mostly those who came from the British Isles. […] Some of them kept up their faith till they died, but in most families this didn’t last, for the sons of some built temples and made sacrifices, and Iceland was completely pagan for about 120 years.

In most cases there seems to have been no problems between pagans and Christians, but in chapter 320 (Ketil the Foolish) it says:

Ketil made his home at Kirkby, where the Papar had been living before and where no heathen was allowed to stay.

More interesting is -of course- to see what is said about ancient, pagan practices. The harvest for that is unfortunately meagre. Besides the high-seat pillars thrown into the water, the longest description of pagan practices is the following:

Thorstein Red-Nose was a great sacrificer. He used to make sacrifices to the waterfall and all the left-overs had to be thrown into it.

Other than this, there are a few mentions of the use of fire to hallow a piece of claimed land, a couple of sorcerers, people with “second sight” (Thorstein Red-Nose “could see clearly into the future” for example) and one time “land east of Grims River where no one had dared to settle for fear of the land-spirits” (chapt. 330). This is about it.
Other nice things are to run into people who I knew from sagas and of course this one:

Thord the Left-Handed and his wife had a daughter called Otkatla who married Sturla Thjordreksson, and their son was Thord who married Hallbera, daughter of Snorri the Priest, whose daughter Thurid married Laflidi Masson. Thord Sturluson had a son called Snorri who married Oddbjorg, daughter of Grim Lodmundarson, and their children were Fly-Grim and Hallbera who married Mag-Snorri.

(chapt. 140, not sure if this is the right Snorri though)

It is for these small treasures that I still advice you to read this text and the two mentioned earlier. I guess you now have an idea of the tone of the book, quite boring with tons of information that is of little use. To get a more complete picture with ‘real information’ next to the sagas and the main texts that we have, it is great to have translations of texts like these though.

1972/2006 Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards, University of Manitoba Press, isbn 0887556981

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