Ingimund the Old was a prominent figure among the first generation of Icelanders, and his ancestors and countrymen preserved his name in elaborate tales of folklore and legend. Stories about his life are featured in medieval works such as the Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) and the Vatnsdæla saga (Saga of the People of Vatnsdal). According to these sources, Ingimund came from Norway, where his family was respected, but held little social status or power beyond their ancestral farm. When he grew into adulthood, Ingimund decided to become a Viking and reportedly went on many raiding voyages, earning a reputation as a valiant warrior and a fair leader. When Harald Finehair (ruled approximately 860-940) began expanding his influence over the other petty kings and chieftains in Norway, Ingimund was said to have decided to support Harald. He joined the king’s army at the decisive Battle of Hafrsfjord in the late 9th century, a victory that cemented Harald Finehair’s dominance in Norway. Despite having the king’s favor, Ingimund eventually decided to move to Iceland, where he settled in the Vatnsdal region of the island and became a leading figure among the settlers there.
Although Ingimund left Norway, he was said to have remained friends with Harald Finehair and kept the king in his thoughts. In fact, one day when Ingimund discovered something incredible while out surveying and exploring his new land in Iceland, his first impulse was apparently to sail back to Norway so that King Harald could see what he found. As the story goes, Ingimund and his followers had made a chance encounter with a she-bear and two cubs during a particularly icy season. According to the Landnámabók, these were polar bears, which, although not native to Iceland, are known to catch a ride to the island on ice floes from time to time. Ingimund managed to catch the bears (or at least the cubs), and was able to keep the animals alive. The next time that Ingimund sailed to Norway to purchase supplies and lumber, he brought the bears with him, and reportedly gave one or more of the polar bears to King Harald Finehair. On this incident, the Landnámabók stated, “Afterwards he went abroad and gave these animals to King Harald. People in Norway had never seen polar bears before” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 179). As thanks for the exotic gift, King Harald was said to have given Ingimund the Old two ships. One was an impressive vessel named Stigandi, pre-stocked by the king with a cargo of lumber. The other was a smaller craft in which Ingimund the Old would eventually be buried back in Iceland.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Norse folklore or mythology image, from an August 4, 1859, edition of Once a Week magazine, colorized by the Wikipedia user GinnevraDubois, [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.
- Saga of the People of Vatnsdal, translated by Andrew Wawn and edited by Örnólfur Thorsson, in The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin Classics, 2001.