Arnasson Ingolfur

According to the first historian to write in Icelandic, Ari fró5i (Ari the Learned, 1067-1148), Iceland was settled around 870. This chronology fits well, if not exactly, with archaeological evidence that suggests that the settlement of Iceland began shortly before 871, when a volcanic eruption produced the so-called settlement layer. Ari further states that the first settler of Iceland was a man called Ingólfr (Ingolfur

Arnasson) who came from Norway. Ingolfr is also mentioned briefly by Norwegian historians of the 12th century in Historia Norwegiae (c.1150) and Historia de antiquitate regum Norwagiensium by Theodricus (c. 1180). The patronymic Arnasson (or Arnarson) does not appear until the 13 th century in family sagas such as Egils saga and Eyrbyggja saga.

Although Ingolfr was the first settler of Iceland, he was not the first person to inhabit the country. Apart from the Irish monks reported to have lived in Iceland, at least three persons of note had visited before and at least one of them left behind peoples who remained. Ingolfr (Arnasson) was, however, the first person of note to settle permanently in Iceland.

Around 1100, the earliest version of Landnamabok or Landnama (The Book of Settlements) is believed to have been composed, but scholars disagree as to whether it pre- or postdated Ari's writing. This version is now lost, but in later manuscripts, especially Sturlubok (composed by Sturla hor5arson, 1214-1284) and Hauksbok (composed by Haukr Erlendsson, d. 1334), the story of Ingolfr is told in detail. According to these sources, Ingolfr came to Iceland around 874 CE along with his foster-brother Hjorleifr, who was subsequently slain by Celtic slaves whom he had captured during his raids in Ireland. Ingolfr then killed the slaves in Vestmannaeyja (the Westmann Islands).

The Sturlubok version of Landnama is thought to be more extensive than older versions because Sturla hor5arson added considerable material from the family sagas. But scholars believe that even if the story in its basic outline might still derive from some older version of Landnamabok, it would nevertheless be suspect. Legends of two brothers who founded a community are common (e.g., Romulus and Remus in Rome, Hengist and Horsa in Anglo-Saxon England), and in these legends, one of the brothers invariably gets killed whereas the other becomes the mythical founder of the community. Scholars have also noted the moralistic aspect of such mythical stories.

According to the legends, the amorous quarrels of his foster-brother Hjorleifr led to his and Ingolfr's flight from Norway. Following this, Ingolfr explored the new land recently discovered in the North Atlantic while his foster-brother plundered throughout the British Isles, gathering a large booty as well as the Irish slaves who later caused his death. The brothers then went on separate ships to Iceland, where Hjorleifr met his fate. Ingolfr, who was a great believer in the heathen religion, blamed his foster-brother for his own negligence in religious matters.

Furthermore, the legends maintain that when Ingolfr arrived in Iceland from Norway, he threw the pillars of his high seat overboard and asked the gods to wash them ashore where he should settle. He landed in southeast Iceland and spent three years searching the shore until he found his lost pillars in a place he named Reykjavik (Smoky Bay), perhaps because of the geot-hermal steam he saw rising there. He built a farm there in what is now the heart of downtown Reykjavik. A number of place-names on the southern coast of Iceland are connected with Ingolfr (Arnasson), including Ingolfshof5i (the cape of Ingolfr) in southeastern Iceland and Ingolfsfell (the mountain of Ingolfr) in the Olfus region.

The third version of the Landnamabok, which dates from this period, Melabok is only known in fragments; however, the story it tells appears somewhat different from previous versions. In the Melabok version, Ingolfr has a different patronym; he is not Arnarson but Bjornulfsson. As scholars generally believe Melabok to stem from an older version of Landnama than the Sturlubok or Hauksbok versions, it is quite probable that the generally known patronym of Ingolfr is incorrect, and that there was no Ingolfr Arnarson. After all, in the oldest narratives, he is simply called Ingolfr. The question of Ingolfr's ancestry remains significant because he may have been connected to the family of Bjorn buna that produced many prominent settlers in Iceland.

Researchers and historians know little about the life of Ingolfr after he settled in Iceland. According to Landnamabok, he helped organize a settlement in the region closest to his farm in Reykjavik. There he laid claim to vast tracts of land, which included the entire region between Hvalfjor5r in the west and Olfussa in the south, but he later gave most of it away to other settlers. Ingolfr's son, horsteinn, founded the first parliament in Iceland, called Kjalarnesfling. Ingolfr therefore most likely died before social organization in the region was complete. His kin remained prominent in the public sphere of Iceland for the first decades after settlement, and his grandson horkell mani horsteinsson held the dignified position of speaker at the parliament from 970 to 984. Subsequently, the clan faded into obscurity. Reykjavik lost its position as an important farm area in Iceland, and did not regain it until the Danish government established its proto-industrial workshops there during the 18th century. In 1924, a statue of Ingolfr, by the sculptor Einar Jonsson (1874-1954), was erected at the mound of Arnarholl in Reykjavik.

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