The Viking Heritage


We have often heard from foreigners that visit Iceland, that Icelanders are very proud of their heritage. Now being Icelanders ourselves, we often fall into the same trap, of becoming quite “nationalistic”. Maybe not a surprise then that foreigners frequently find themselves in a conversation with a local about the significance of the Icelandic heritage, culture and maybe most importantly the Icelandic sagas! Now if you are thinking about coming to Iceland and want to impress a local or two, then here are some handy tips for you about the sagas…

The heritage

Iceland was first settled by a man called Ingólfur Arnarson. He is believed to have founded Iceland around 874. The Icelandic legend states that Ingólfur threw carved pillars overboard his ship, vowing that he would settle wherever those pillars would strand. Reykjavík happened to be the place where the pillars drifted. As Ingólfur was the first man to set foot on Icelandic soil, he gave Reykjavík its name. Reykjavík is translated directly as smoky creek, but it draws it name from the smoke that came from the earth when Ingólfur arrived.

How do we know this? Well through Iceland´s most famous book, Landnámsbók or the book of the settlement. In this book, most of the settlement was documented in quite some detailed descriptions. The interesting thing is, while most books written at this time were written in Latin, Landnámsbók is strictly in Icelandic. Apart from Landnámsbók, there are numerous sagas that describe events and people living in Iceland during the first years of the settlement. The most famous ones include: Egil’s Saga, Njáls Saga (or The Story of the Burnt Njal) and Laxdæla. Luckily for those who want to know more about these times then most of the sagas have been translated and are available in several languages.


The settlement is often referred to as the golden age as these times were exciting times in the Icelandic history. Well not a surprise, as during these times the first parliament in the world was founded and Icelanders were also defining their own nation for the first time. Now even though the sagas give a good insight into the life of the people and the events that took place during the settlement, then the sagas were written well after the settlement and therefore cannot be considered accurate source. However they are fun read and show that some things never change!

Have you read any of the Sagas? Tell us in the comments below…

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