A man named Ketilbjorn the Old was said to have been a Norwegian nobleman who settled in Southern Iceland around the 10th century, building an estate called Mosfell. Over his life, he was said to have acquired a great amount of wealth, and much of this opulence was allegedly made up of precious metals. In particular, he was said to have possessed a huge quantity of silver. According to legend, he had so much silver on hand that Ketilbjorn thought he would be able to melt it down to create a silver ingot so large that it could serve as a crossbeam for a temple. Outlandish as it sounds, that is exactly what he reportedly decided to do with his great supply of silver. Yet, when the aging settler expressed this wish to his large household of children (Teit, Thormod, Thorleif, Ketil, Thorkatla, Oddleif, Thorgerd, Thurid and Skaering), the shocked offspring scoffed at the idea and refused to help their father bring his project to fruition.
Ketilbjorn, it was said, did not take well the rejection of his silver crossbeam idea. In fact, he seemed to be quite angry and begrudging in response to the family intervention. After failing to get his family onboard with his costly temple beam idea, he evidently came to an interesting decision—if he could not have his giant silver beam, then his children would not have the silver either. This peculiar tale and Ketilbjorn’s ultimate actions were recorded in the medieval Icelandic Book of Settlements, which stated, “Ketilbjorn was so wealthy he told his sons to forge a cross beam of silver for the temple they built, but they wouldn’t do it. Then he took the silver and hauled it up to the mountain by means of two oxen and with the help of his slave Haki and his bondmaid Bot he buried the silver, and it’s never been found” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 385). With the location of the treasure being such an important secret, Ketilbjorn the Old could only trust himself. Therefore, naturally, he was said to have quickly murdered his accomplices, Haki and Bot.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Cropped illustration titled “Variant av illustrasjon til ‘Håkon den godes saga’ i Snorre Sturlason, Kongesagaer, Kristiania 1899,” by Christian Krohg (c. 1852-1925), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum of Norway).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.