A man named Illugi the Red was the fourth-generation of his family to live in Iceland, as his great-grandfather, Ulf, was the first of his ancestors to settle on the island. The Book of Settlements (Landnámabók) did not specifically date Illugi’s years of life, but it is reasonable that he lived during or not long after the so-called Age of Settlement (approximately 860-930). The Landnámabók did, however, report that Illugi the Red was the first Icelander to farm on a stretch of land called Hrauns Ridge.
Illugi the Red and his wife, Sigrid Thorarinsdottir, lived at Hrauns Ridge for an unknown amount of time, but eventually decided to move elsewhere. The couple gave their property on the ridge to a kinsman of Sigrid and then moved to Reykjadale to set up a new farm called Hofsstead, which was situated near a temple. Yet, even there, Illugi the Red was not satisfied.
After the Hofsstead farm had been constructed, Illugi the Red received an interesting proposition from a settler named Holm-Starri, who lived in the Outer-Holm region of Akranes, Iceland. For reasons unknown, Illugi the Red and Holm-Starri reportedly began negotiating an elaborate property swap. Yet, it was not only land and livestock that was being exchanged in the deal. According to the Book of Settlements, Illugi and Holm-Starri planned a complete and total life swap—including the exchange of their wives.
According to the tale, Illugi the Red finalized the deal, and, when the haggling was done, “he and Holm-Starri exchanged property, farms, wives, livestock and all” (Book of Settlements, Stulubók version, chapter 41). The women, apparently, were not involved in the negotiation and were only made privy to the terms of the agreement after the deal had been met. The bartered wives reacted to the shocking news in different ways. Holm-Starri’s wife, Jorunn Thormodsdottir, reportedly agreed to the deal and she was said to have married Illugi the Red and lived with him at Akranes. Yet, Sigrid Thorarinsdottir was distraught and in no way consented to marrying Holm-Starri. In a tragic end to the bizarre and disturbing tale, Sigrid reportedly hanged herself inside the temple near Hofsstead.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Scene from the saga of Harald Hardrada illustrated by Wilhelm Wetlesen (Norway 1871-1925), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.