Clues To Two Possible Medieval Treasure Hordes In Iceland


According to the anonymous author of Egil’s Saga, there are at least two large treasure hoards buried on the west coast of Iceland. By now, the treasures, if they ever existed, have probably long been found—the treasures were supposedly buried in the 10th century, and Egil’s Saga released the general location of the buried wealth by the 13th century. Yet, no one has ever claimed to have found these two hidden hoards, so prospective treasure hunters can still hold a small, reserved glimmer of hope.

As the story goes, a man named Skallagrim fled from Norway shortly after King Harald Finehair completed his rise to power around 885, in the Battle of Havsfjord. Skallagrim, along with other family members and enemies of Harald, sailed to Iceland and settled on the shores around the Borgarfjord (modern Borgarfjörður), giving birth to multiple farming communities. In Iceland, Skallagrim farmed and made a name for himself as a smith of bog-iron, and he grew wealthy off of his industry.

While Skallagrim was content with making money through honest labor in Iceland, his sons, Thorolf and Egil, had other ideas. They both decided to sail away from their father’s settlement to become mercenaries and Viking raiders. They arrived in Norway and were able to keep a tense coexistence with the aging King Harald, and his future heir, Eirik Bloodaxe. Just like their father, the brothers soon ran afoul of the Norwegian monarchs and quickly decided to leave to find opportunities in Britain. Egil’s Saga claimed that the brothers found employment under King Athelstan (r.924-939), the first Anglo-Saxon king to effectively rule all of England. While commanding a Scandinavian mercenary band for King Athelstan, Thorolf was killed in what the saga called the Battle of Wen Heath—this is often associated with Athelstan’s victory over a coalition of Scots, Britons and Vikings in the 937 Battle of Brunanburh, yet the identification of Wen Heath is still debated. Nevertheless, following the aftermath of the battle, King Athelstan paid Egil Skallagrimsson lavishly for Thorolf’s sacrifice. He was given a large arm-ring of gold, as well as two chests bursting with silver, which he was instructed to share with his father, Skallagrim. Yet, Egil had no intention of sharing.

So, after a long period of raiding and selling his sword for hire, Egil Skallagrimsson returned to Iceland as a rich man. Unfortunately, instead of the wealthy father and the wealthy son getting along together in the community, Egil and Skallagrim seemed to covet each other’s wealth. The paranoia between the two was so severe that when Egil left for a three-night feast, the elderly Skallagrim gathered all of his wealth (supposedly in a large chest and an iron cauldron) and left in the middle of the night to hide his life’s savings in the nearby Krumskelda Marsh. After exerting himself to such an extent on that cold, Icelandic night, they say that Skallagrim’s stiff corpse was found the next morning, still sitting upright and fully outfitted in mud-stained clothes at the edge of his bed.

Egil inherited Skallagrim’s lands, as well as whatever wealth was left unburied. He eventually left Iceland and returned to his old habits of raiding and selling his services to the rulers of Britain and Scandinavia. Yet, he returned home, with even more wealth, to become a respected leader of his late father’s community around the Borgarsfjord in Iceland.

The saga claimed that at the end of the 10th century, after old Egil had become frail and blind, he followed his father’s example and decided to hide his treasure. He supposedly led two slaves, who carried his several chests of treasure, to an unknown location somewhere east of his farm. After the loot was buried, the elderly Egil summoned enough strength to murder the slaves and hide their bodies where they would never be found. Egil was said to have openly admitted to killing the slaves and hiding his treasure, but he never gave any hints as to where he stashed his hoard of wealth. That very autumn, before anyone could pry any information from him, Egil Skallagrimsson fell ill and died.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (16th Century map of Iceland produced by Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


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