My guest today is Kathleen Kirkwood, pen name for award-winning, best-selling author Anita Gordon. Having an abiding love for history, Kathleen enjoys setting her stories in distant times and places. To date, they include Viking and Medieval adventures and Late Victorian paranormal romances.
After forty years of travels and raising children in various locations, she has returned to her roots in Southern Maryland along with her husband and beloved pooch, Mia. Currently, she is working on a new novel, a haunting tale set on the Chesapeake Bay.
***Be sure and comment and leave your email as Kathleen is giving to one lucky winner the complete Heart trilogy!
The Viking Age of Iceland: The land of ice and fire
Thank you, Regan, for inviting me today. My years living in Iceland fired my interest in the Norsemen and led to the creation of my Heart trilogy. The Viking discovery and founding of Iceland is a fascinating tale. I hope you will find it so too.
Iceland’s discovery began with a bit of “island hopping.” The men of the north were master seamen. Still, it was a hazardous undertaking to launch into open seas, using only the position of the sun, stars and flight paths of birds to find their way. Whether or not they relied upon navigational aids (e.g. “lodestones,” a magnetized mineral that could act as a compass; “sunstones,” a mineral used to locate the sun when obscured by clouds; or a type of hand-held wooden sundial) is still hotly debated today. Nonetheless, dense fog, perilous storms and icy conditions ever challenged the seafarers as they sought new lands to plunder and worked out their sea routes.
The Norwegians, in particular, ventured into the North Sea and Atlantic. As they discovered new islands, they established bases to aid their journeys. At the end of 8th c and early 9th c, settlements were founded on the Shetlands and the Faeroes (not forgetting the Hebrides and Orkneys). These “stepping stones” offered safe harbors as the Norsemen carried out their raids on the British Isles and Ireland, and then made their way back to their homelands. In time, these “way stations” led to the accidental discovery of Iceland.
In the 860s, a Swedish merchant was blown off course while sailing for the Hebrides and was carried northwestward to a land located just south of the Arctic Circle. He followed the coastline, determined it to be an island, and believed it had potential. That same year a Norwegian sailing for the Faeroes was likewise swept off course and made landfall. He found few trees, but plenty of bird and sea life and pastureland for grazing livestock. Climbing a mountain, he discovered a vast emptiness with no evidence of humans. This he deemed to be an advantage. There was no one to battle for the land.
Stories of the island spread, drawing the Norwegian “Raven” Flóki. Intent on establishing a settlement, he sailed with a ship full of goods, livestock, and three ravens. He released the birds separately, and when the last raven didn’t return, he followed its path and came to the island. Flóki and his crew spent their time hunting and fishing but neglected to store sufficient hay for their cattle. The animals died over the winter and the men nearly starved as well. The ice floes failed to break up in the spring, forcing the men to endure a second winter. Embittered, Flóki set sail, declaring the land uninhabitable and naming it “Iceland.” The crew held a more favorable opinion, however, and wanted to try again.
|Ingólfr Arnarson by Johan Peter Raadsig|
By 870 settlers began to arrive and establish permanent farmsteads. Most came from western Norway but also included Norse inhabitants from the Hebrides and the British Isles.
The first colonists consisted mainly of aristocratic chieftains from Norway, the goðar (goði, singular), who sailed with their entire households and livestock. At the time, King Harold Fairhair sought to unite Norway under his rule. But the goðar, wealthy and fiercely independent kinglets, held no interest in relinquishing their authority. Rather than continue in a bloody war with the king, many sailed for the promise of a new land instead.
Ingólfr Arnarson, a powerful goði, is recognized for establishing the first permanent settlement in Iceland in 874. When his ship approached the island, he cast the carved pillars of his high seat overboard, letting the gods guide them ashore and decide where he should establish his homestead. On land, he sent two slaves to find the pillars (öndvegissúlur), which they did on the southwestern coast. Ingólfr settled there and named the place Reykjavík (“bay of smokes” or “steam bay”) due to the geothermal activity. (Reykjavík is today’s capital of Iceland and center of commerce.)
Tales of the settlement period were passed down orally for over two centuries. Between 1122 -1132, Ari the Learned recorded the history of the ancestors in Old Norse. The Landnámabók (“Book of the Settlements”) and the Íslendingabók (“Book of the Icelanders”) are the earliest accounts that survive. Aside from chronicling the names of 430 leading settlers and details of the early colonization, he also writes of the papar, Irish monks who dwelled in the land prior to the arrival of the Norsemen. The papar (“fathers”) fled at their coming, Ari tells us, but left behind books, crosiers, and bells. Place names lend credence to their early presence in the east fjords, e.g. Papey (Papar Island), Papýli (Papa farm) and Papafjörður (Papa fjord).
The Norsemen’s new home possessed a dramatic landscape, shaped over millennia by the forces of ice and fire―glaciers, dating to the ice age, and active volcanoes. These sculpted deep fjords and valleys and threw up lava plateaus. Only 20% of the land proved habitable. Good pastureland could be found around the edges of the island. The interior, however, was a stony wasteland of sand, lava fields and glaciers.
The challenges proved many, yet the Icelanders established a distinctive society, enjoyed a successful democracy, and produced a treasury of literature. Almost all that we know of Norse mythology, Viking navigation, law codes, and minutiae of everyday life is preserved in the ancient Eddas, sagas, and poetry of Iceland.
For more information on Viking Age Iceland, visit these excellent websites and enjoy wax works, videos, archaeology projects, articles and more: Saga Museum, Reyjkavík, Iceland (wax works museum) www.sagamuseum.isand The Viking Site (Prof. Jesse Byock) www.viking.ucla.edu/ For Icelandic recipes and articles on living in Iceland as a Navy wife, visit the “Author Confidential” page of my website: www.kathleenkirkwoodhistoricals.com
The Heart Trilogy contains Kathleen Kirkwood's Viking Age romance novels:
The Valiant Heart:
A golden warrior of the North; a beautiful heiress and pawn of the king. Their unexpected love brings peril to all as Norse and Frank meld into a new people – the Normans.
The Defiant Heart:
A shining warrior of the North; a maiden of Ireland enslaved. Fate and unexpected passion sweep them to distant lands where their love will not be bound.
The Captive Heart:
A Saxon lord on a mission for his king; a maiden of Normandy mistakenly abducted. Now only he can save her from enemies returned from the past, yet amid the darkest dangers, their passions are born.