The Matriarchal Settlement Of Thorgerd

In the 9th or 10th century, there lived a woman named Thorgerd, who was married to a wealthy individual named Asbjorn. This Asbjorn reportedly was a child of Chieftain Heyjangur-Bjorn of Sogn, but Asbjorn likely was not the eldest or favored heir of the chieftain, for he began to contemplate leaving Sogn in order to settle his family abroad. Perhaps, the decision to move could have also been spurred on by the rise of the monarch, Harald Finehair (ruled approximately 860-940), who imposed himself as the king of all Norway after his decisive victory over opposing powers at the Battle of Hafrsfjord in the late 9th century. Whatever the circumstances and causes, Asbjorn and Thorgerd (along with their sons, Gudlaug, Thorgils, and Ozur) decided to sail away from Norway and build a new home in Iceland.

Tragedy, however, struck the voyage. Due to obscure and unexplained circumstances, Asbjorn mysteriously died while the family was sailing across the seas. Perhaps he was sick or injured beforehand, or maybe he had some sort of medical emergency on the ship—again, no clear answer was given. Either way, Asbjorn suddenly died, leaving Thorgerd and her sons to complete the oversea journey by themselves. Fortunately for the family, Thorgerd was a woman who was up to the task of overseeing her clan’s resettlement.

Putting grief and mourning aside for the time being, Thorgerd whipped her family and followers back into action, and they resumed their journey to Iceland. On this expedition, the medieval Icelandic Book of Settlements, or Landnámabók, stated, “[after Asbjorn’s death] his widow Thorgerd and their sons completed the voyage and took possession of the whole of the Ingolfshofdi district between Kvia and Jokuls Rivers. She made her home at Sandfell…” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 316). Thorgerd’s homestead of Sandfell was eventually inherited by her son Gudlaug, while his brother Thorgils settled Hnappafell, and Ozur became the father of powerful Thord Frey’s-Priest, who was highly influential in the East Quarter.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Image labeled “Da sa Sigrid: ‘Dette kunne vel bli din bane,’” by Erik Werenskiold  c. 1899, [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.

Leave a Reply