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. He is 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, earning a reputation as a valiant warrior and a fair leader during his many raids. When Harald Finehair (ruled approximately 860-940) began to conquer and subjugate 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 control over Norway. Despite having the king’s favor, Ingimund eventually decided to move his family to Iceland, where he became an influential leader in the Vatnsdal region of the island.
Ingimund reportedly had nearly anything he could want: a happy marriage, seven adoring children, ample land, great wealth, and respect from the community. Yet, he was still lacking one item that any self-respecting Norseman from the Viking Age dreamed of having in their possession—a mighty sword worthy of being given a legendary name. One day, as Ingimund was mulling over his lack of an exquisite blade, a stranger named Hrafn the Easterner arrived at Vatnsdal with a ship and crew. Hrafn was a Norwegian Viking, and he had brought his crew of marauders peacefully to Ingimund’s village for rest and trade. Ingimund the Old—being a former Viking himself—allowed Hrafn to stay on his property, and Ingimund was the first man to peruse the merchandise. None of Hrafn’s cargo caught Ingimund’s attention, but something else among the Viking’s choice of wardrobe did spark the Icelander’s attention. Hrafn, it was said, owned a magnificent sword. It was a beautiful piece, well-balanced and deadly. The moment Ingimund laid eyes on it, he wanted that sword for himself.
After Ingimund saw the sword, it was as if he was in love. All he wanted to do the whole time Hrafn remained in Vatnsdal was to see the blade, wield its weight, ask about its origins…so on and so forth. Hrafn humored Ingimund, allowing the Icelander to inspect and hold the sword, as well as answering any questions that were asked about the masterful piece of metalwork. Yet, anytime Ingimund offered a price to buy the sword, Hrafn, without fail, turned the offer down. It was the Viking’s favorite sword, and he wanted it in his possession for the next time he was in a fight. When the realization hit Ingimund that Hrafn was not willing to sell the sword, he became angry. If Ingimund could not obtain the blade through fair bargaining, then he would need to resort to more deceitful tactics.
Although Ingimund’s attempts at haggling over the sword were unsuccessful, the conversations let the Icelander get a good insight into Hrafn’s character. If there was one trait about the Viking that Ingimund learned, it was that Hrafn was an incredible blabbermouth, who became so immersed while telling tales that he often became unaware of his surroundings during such speeches. Ingimund used this to his advantage as he formulated his plot to seize the coveted sword. The Saga of the People of Vatnsdal described the trick played on the Norwegian Viking by Ingimund:
“On one occasion when he went to his temple, he arranged it so that the Norwegian went with him. Ingimund then spoke to him in a casual way about the topic which he found pleased him most—Hrafn always wanted to talk about his Viking adventures and raids. Ingimund went on ahead into the temple, and the next thing he knew was that Hrafn had rushed into the temple with his sword. Ingimund turned towards him and said, ‘It is not our custom to carry weapons into the temple, and you are exposing yourself to the wrath of the gods, and this is intolerable unless some amends is made’…and [Ingimund] said justice would be best served if Hrafn were to hand over the sword to him, because Ingimund could then say that he owned and had control of it, and in this way assuage the wrath of the gods” (Vatnsdæla saga, chapter 17).
Hrafn the Easterner reportedly saw through the trick, but, as he had broken the town’s law, he decided to hand over the sword without a fuss. Now that Ingimund finally had a sword worthy of a name, he gave the blade the title, Aettartangi, and it became a family heirloom that was used for generations. The sword eventually had several names besides Aettartangi. By the time it passed to Grettir the Strong (said to have lived c. 996-1031), the blade had taken on the names, Jokul’s Gift or Jokul’s Companion, referencing one of Ingimund’s sons.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Outside the hall of the Gibichungs, by Josef Hoffmann (1831–1904), [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.