Olaf Hoskuldsson was said to have been a chieftain in the Laxardal region of Iceland. He reportedly lived around 938-1006 and owned a farm called Hjardarholt. The highly fictionalized Laxdæla saga (written c. 13th century) featured him as a central character. With a large helping of creative license and embellishment, the saga traced Olaf’s impressive life and exploits.
Olaf’s father was Hoskuld, a prominent landowner, and his mother was reportedly an Irish slave-woman that Hoskuld had acquired while abroad. The slave-woman, at least according to the saga, possessed a great secret—she was allegedly the daughter of an Irish king. Embracing the news with pride, Olaf devoted himself to learning his mother’s native language and he pointedly dressed in clothes fit for a king. Other Icelanders soon took notice of his proud demeanor and expensive dress—it was reportedly in consequence of these observations that the Icelanders began to call him Olaf Peacock.
As portrayed in the Laxdæla saga, Olaf Peacock had a talent envied by all prospectors. He seemed to find gold wherever he traveled. From Iceland, to Norway, to Ireland, characters in the sagas lined up to bury Olaf with valuable gifts. The anonymous author or authoress of the Laxdæla saga apparently relished such scenes of Olaf receiving or wearing valuable possessions, as almost all of his treasures were described in loving detail. To help grasp the vastness of the treasure hoard he allegedly accumulated during his life, check out this list golden weapons, armors and accessories he supposedly owned:
1) Olaf was given a hefty gold armband of Irish design by his mother.
2) In Iceland or Norway, Olaf Peacock acquired a fancy helmet with gold plating.
3) Olaf was said to have wielded a beautiful sword that was covered from blade to pommel with stylish gold inlay. It was likely acquired at the same time as his gilded helmet.
4) Along with his sword, Olaf carried a shield, which had, displayed on its front, a fierce (but elegant) golden lion. The saga, however, was unclear on whether the lion was painted or made of metal.
5) While traveling in Ireland to look for his supposed regal grandfather, Olaf Peacock obtained a magnificent spear. Like his helmet and sword, the spear was decorated with inlaid gold.
6) Upon his father’s death, Olaf received as a part of his inheritance a golden arm ring that was said to have originated from King Harald Finehair (ruled approximately 860-940), the first king to unify Norway.
7) During a trip to Norway, Olaf encountered Jarl Hákon, a nobleman of the Trondheim region who dominated Norway from 970-995. Jarl Hakon expanded Olaf’s gilded weapon collection by giving him a gold-inlaid axe.
Following his meeting with Jarl Hákon, Olaf returned home to Iceland and reportedly never again sailed abroad. As he was no longer meeting with nobles and kings, his inflow of golden gifts decreased dramatically. At that point in the saga, the narrative begins to focus more on Olaf Peacock’s children than on Olaf, himself, and the reader learns less and less about his daily life. If, however, he stuck to his character, Olaf was likely still adding gold to his collection until his death, which reportedly occurred in 1006.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (The Vikings’ Hoard, by Bror Anders Wikstrom, c. 1886, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Laxdæla saga by an unknown 13th century Icelander, translated by Keneva Kunz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.