The Rocky Start To Hrafnkel Hrafnsson’s Settlement Of Iceland

A man named Hrafnkel Hrafnsson moved to Iceland around the early 10th century, landing on the eastern side of the island. According to the medieval Icelandic Book of Settlements (Landnámabók), Hrafnkel disembarked from his ship at a place known as Breiddale, and after gathering livestock and supplies, he started traveling to the northwest from his position, winding his way inland through the mountains. During his journey, Hrafnkel Hrafnsson reportedly stopped along the mountainous slopes of a place called Skridudale, which was located west of the lands between the Berufjörður and Reyðarfjörður regions of eastern Iceland and below Lagarfljót. Night fell as Hrafnkel passed through the Skridudale region, so he camped there with his livestock. Unfortunately, it would be a restless night.

As Hrafnkel and his animals soon learned, the mountainous slopes were perilously unstable that night. Danger was palpable, and the tense atmosphere of foreboding evidently affected Hrafnkel’s sleep, causing him to ultimately wake up in a panicked mood. The tale of what happened that night was recorded in the Book of Settlements, which stated, “He took a rest in Skridudale and fell asleep, and then he dreamed a man came to him and told him to get up and leave at once. He woke up and set off, and he’d only gone a short distance when the whole mountain came crashing down and killed a boar and a bull belonging to him” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 283). As the quote conveys, Hrafnkel Hrafnsson and his animals were evidently hit by a rockslide. Yet, thanks to intuition, good fortune, fate, or supernatural intervention, Hrafnkel and the bulk of his livestock escaped the avalanche of earthen debris. After surviving his close encounter with the Skridudale slopes, Hrafnkel Hrafnsson continued pressing his way westward into the Icelandic interior. He settled in a region called Hrafnkelsdale, which was named after him.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (The Temptation of Frithiof, painted by August Malmström (c. 1829-1901), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum of Stockholm Sweden).



  • The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.

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