The Discovery of Iceland

By Kristin Axelsdottir

Iceland is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Norway, east of  Greenland and north of the British Isles. It was the last country of  Europe to be settled and its history is therefore not as long and old as the history of all the neigbouring countries. But Icelanders have always loved books and writing and reading is a great part of our culture. We have many old books or Sagas and two of them tell us the stories about the first settlers. One is called the ‘Book of Icelanders’ (Islendingabok) and tells us about Icelands history for the first 250 years. It was written by Ari Thorhilsson The Wise in the tenth century. The other is called ‘Book of Settlement’ (Landnamabok) and tells us of  those who found Iceland and where they settled.

In his book Ari The Wise mentions Irish monks – or Papar as the Vikings called them – who lived here nearly a century before the first Vikings arrived. We think that these Papar called our country ‘Thule’ and back in Ireland they told other monks about the light midsummer nights. They said that it was so bright that they even could pick lice from their shirts at midnight! These monks either did not like the Vikings or they were chased away by the new settlers and they must have left in a hurry, for they are said to have left behind croziers, bells and books. On the east coast there is a small island, ‘Papey’ ( The island of Papar), obviously named after them.

Naddodd was a Norwegian who was sailing from Norway to the Faroe Islands  in the ninth century. He and his men lost their way and found a new land much farther towards the northwest. They had come to the east coast of Iceland. They explored the surroundings but found no signs of human habitation and soon turned back. When they were sailing away, some snow fell on the mountains and Naddodd decided to give this new land a name, ‘Snaeland’ (Snowland).

Gardar Svavarsson, a Swedish man, was the next Viking to sail to Iceland. He wanted to know more about the country and sailed around it and found out that it was a big island. During the winter he stayed with his men  in the northern part of the country. They had to build some houses there to live in and ever since the place has been called ‘Husavik’ (House Bay) an there is a village there now. The next summer Gardar finished his trip around the island and sailed away. He gave the island a new name, named it after himself and called it ‘Gardarsholmi’ (Gardar’s Island).

Floki Vilgerdarson, later nicknamed Raven-Floki, was a Norwegian Viking who set out to seek this new land. He took with him his family, friends and household and wanted to settle down in ‘Gardarsholmi’. On his ship he also had three ravens and whenever he thought he was near land he released the ravens one by one so that they could show  him the right way. The ravens always came back to the ship but one day the third raven flew forwards. Floki followed that raven and found the new land. Floki and his men settled in a fjord on the northwest part of the island. They vere busy all summer building, fishing, gathering eggs and having fun but forgot to make any hay for the winter.

The following winter all their animals died of cold and hunger. Next spring Floki walked up to a top of a mountain and saw a fjord full of ice on the other side. He called the fjord ‘Isafjordur’ (Icefjord) and gave the country a new name ‘Island’ (Iceland), which it has carried ever since. Floki went back to Norway a few years later, he was very bitter and talked badly of the new country but one of his crew said the country was wonderful and full of goods.