The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

There are some promontories in South-Iceland, which are of great interest to me. I have already written a travel-blog on the elves in Mt. Pétursey in South-Iceland, but there is another promontory of interest further east, just after you pass the village of Vík. This historical promontory is called Hjörleifshöfði. 

Hjörleifshöfði is 221 meters high and towers majestically above the black glacial volcanic outwash, Mýrdalssandur.  

Hjörleifshöfðiis named after the Viking settler, Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, the blood brother of Ingólfur Arnarson who was our first Viking settler in around 874 AD.  Hjörleifur was the second settler of Iceland, but sadly enough he was killed the year after in 875 AD.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

On the highest point of Hjörleifshöfði, you will find the burial mound of Hjörleifur himself - Hjörleifshaugur.  

I am going to introduce you to the Vikings Ingólfurand Hjörleifur and tell you what Landnáma - the Book of Settlement of Iceland has to say about the first settler of Iceland and his blood brother. Landnáma was written in the 12th century and the story of Ingólfur and Hjörleifur is found in chapters 3-9.

Landnáma tells us about the bloodline of Ingólfur and Hjörleifur and how they were related. They had the same great-grandfather, Hrómundur Gripsson, so their grandfathers, Björnólfur and Hróaldur were brothers. Björnólfur had the son Örn, the father of Ingólfur and his sister Helga, but Hróaldur had the son Hróðmar, the father of Leifur (Hjörleifur). Thus the blood brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur were second cousins.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Back in Norway Ingólfur and Leifur went on a Viking raid with the sons of the earl Atli Hásteinn, Hersteinn and Hólmsteinn. They were friends and decided on going on another Viking raid the following year.

That winter Ingólfur and Hjörleifur threw the sons of the earl a feast. At the feast, Hólmsteinn swore that Helga Arnardóttir would become his wife or else he would not marry.  Leifur blushed, seeing that he was in love with his second cousin Helga, the sister of Ingólfur.

Next spring they meant to go on a Viking raid with the sons of the earl, but Hólmsteinn and his brothers attacked Ingólfur and Leifur, which ended in a Viking battle, where Hólmsteinn was killed.

The next winter the other brother, Hersteinn, attacked them in a battle where Hersteinn got killed. As a settlement for killing 2 of the earl‘s sons, Ingólfur and Leifur had to give all of their assets to the earl.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Not owning land any longer the blood brothers went by ship looking for the land found by Hrafna-Flóki and which he had named Ísland – Iceland. They found Iceland and stayed in the Eastfjords in Álftafjörður for one winter, figuring that the south would be a better place to settle than the north. They then returned back to Norway.

Back in Norway Ingólfur saved up money for their emigration to Iceland, but Leifur went on a Viking raid to Ireland.

Leifur raided Ireland and found a large sunken hut.  He went into the hut and it was totally dark inside. Then he saw a sword glow in the dark – and a man holding the sword.  Leifur killed the man and took his sword and a lot of money; from that time on he was called Hjörleifur – "hjör" meaning a hinge.

Hjörleifur raided many places in Ireland and acquired a lot of money.  He also took 10 slaves and the names of 5 of them are mentioned in Landnáma.  He returned back to Norway to meet up with his blood brother Ingólfur.  Hjörleifur was by now married to Helga Arnardóttir, the sister of Ingólfur, so apart from being blood brothers and second cousins Ingólfur and Hjörleifur were now brothers-in-law.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Ingólfur worshipped the old Nordic gods and sought information about his destiny, whereas Hjörleifur never wanted to worship seeing that he had converted to Christianity. The oracle told Ingólfur to sail to Iceland.

The brothers-in-law sailed on 2 ships to Iceland. Hjörleifur carried his loot on his ship, but Ingólfur carried their common stock.

They sailed together until they saw Iceland, then they separated. Ingólfur came ashore by Ingólfshöfði promontory, which got his name, but Hjörleifur came ashore further west by Hjörleifshöfði, which got his name.  At that time there was a fjord by Hjörleifshöfði.  Hjörleifur built two farmhouses (huts), one of them 18 fathoms and the other one 19 fathoms. Here he spent the winter with his workers and slaves and their women.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Next spring he wanted to cultivate the land. He only had one ox so he forced his slaves to pull the plough.  This angered the slaves and they killed the ox and blamed it on a brown bear.  Seeing that they had just arrived in Iceland and had only stayed here for one winter, they did not know that brown bears don‘t exist in Iceland. As Hjörleifur and his men went to look for the brown bear in the woods – yes, we had woods back then - the slaves attacked them and killed them all – the men were as many as the slaves.

The slaves then fled with the women and the commodity in a boat to the islands, which can be seen in the south from Hjörleifshöfði, and settled there for a while.  They knew that the Ingólfur, the blood brother of Hjörleifur, would revenge his death as soon as he would find out about the killings.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

I took this photo at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík

Ingólfur, who was staying at Ingólfshöfði promontory, sent his slaves, Vífill and Karl, to look for his high seat pillars. Ingólfur had thrown his high seat pillars from the Viking ship and was going to settle land where the pillars would be found. When his slaves reached Hjörleifshöfði they found Hjörleifur dead. They want back to Ingólfur to tell him this bad news. In the photo above, which I took at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík, you can see how Ingólfur and Hallgerður, his wife, are depicted.

Ingólfur went to Hjörleifshöfði and as he saw Hjörleifur lying there dead he said: "Lítið lagðist hér fyrirgóðan dreng, er þrælar skyldu að bana verða, og sé eg svo hverjum verða, ef eigi vill blóta." Meaning: "What a destiny for a good lad, that he was killed by his slaves. I now see what happens to people who don‘t want to worship the Nordic gods“. 

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Ingólfur saw to it that Hjörleifur and his men were buried and then hiked up Hjörleifshöfði and saw the islands in the south. He figured that the slaves might have fled to these islands as the boat was missing. He sailed with his men to the islands and found the slaves as they were dining. 

The slaves panicked and fled, but Ingólfur killed them all. Since then these islands have been called Vestmannaeyjar islands or the Westman islands as the slaves were Irish or Westmen as they were often called. In the Westman islands, you will find the largest Puffin nesting area in the world.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Photo of Ingólfur taken at the Saga Museum

Ingólfur and his men brought with them the wives of the men who had been killed (Hjörleifur and his men) back to Hjörleifshöfði and Ingólfur stayed there for another winter.  

The third winter he spent by Mt. Ingólfsfjall, just west of Selfoss and Ölfusá river, and the mountain was named after him.  

The slaves of Ingólfur found his high pillars by Arnarhvoll in what is now Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland, and next spring Ingólfur settled Reykjavík with his wife Hallveig. In my photo above you will see Ingólfur and Hallveig at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Photo of Hallveig taken at the Saga Museum

After Hjörleifur and his men's killings "no one dared to settle land there because of supernatural beings".

The Viking who finally settled Hjörleifshöfði promontory was Ölver Eysteinsson, the son of Eysteinn Drangakarl in Fagridalur valley.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

I found an account in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason, which I often refer to in my travel-blogs, and translated it into English:

"By now Katla had covered the area around Hjörleifshöfði with a thick sand like in other places on Mýrdalssandur sand plains and destroyed all the traces of human habitation – but now Hjörleifshöfði is a tall mountain. At the highest peak of Hjörleifshöfði stands a large pile of rocks and on top of it, a cairn has been stacked of rocks.  It is believed to be true that beneath the cairn Hjörleifur rests.

There is a folklore that a farmer living on Hjörleifshöfði dreamt Hjörleifur, who asked him to move his grave up to the peak of Hjörleifshöfði, where the sun first and last shone. And where the grave is now, on the highest peak of Hjörleifshöfði, the sun shines first when it comes up and last when it goes down. Hjörleifur promised the farmer in his dream that he would have luck in his life if he did this for him. This turned out to be true as the farmer had great luck in his life both on land and sea".

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

It was a common belief that a spell has been put on Hjörleifshöfði - that whoever lives on it will blossom for 20 years, but after that things would start to go downhill. It cannot be denied that things have gone exactly this way since the 18th century.  When a new farmer had come to live in Hjörleifshöfði and had added to the cairn and looked after it, almost always did he have luck shortly after.

On the other hand, when a farmer had been over 20 years in Hjörleifshöfði and a stone was added to the cairn, the farmer lost one of his cattle or at least one of his domestic animals.

Benedikt Þórðarson, who later drowned in Mýrdalssandur, once came to Hjörleifshöfði in heavy snow and knew exactly where he was going, but when he had hiked up Hjörleifshöfði and was heading for the farm he all of a sudden got lost and found himself by Hjörleifsleiði burial mound - which is much higher up than the old farm.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

He meant to head in the direction of the farm from the burial mound, but he soon got lost again and didn't know where he was going until he was back at the burial mound; it went like this three times. Then Benedikt wrote 3 verses, 2 of which are now lost, but the first one goes like this:

„Er hér haugur uppgjörður,

ýtar hafa í minni,

hér var grafinn Hjörleifur

hraustur í fornöldinni.“

Which translates into English something like this:

A burial mound has been rebuilt here,

Men will remember

Here was buried Hjörleifur

A valiant man from antiquity."

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and HjörleifurHaraldur hárfagri - Haraldur Fairhair had been the king of Norway for 12 years when Ingólfur and Hjörleifur left Norway to settle Iceland.  Many more Norwegians fled the dictatorship of Harald later on and became settlers in Iceland.

Ingólfur is the best known Viking settler as he was the first to settle Iceland - he settled in Reykjavík, which was later to become Iceland's capital city – many Norwegian Vikings followed in his footsteps and settled other parts of Iceland. I am going to tell you about these Vikings later on - their story, which has been written in both the Book of Settlement and our Icelandic Sagas, is very colourful and sometimes very bloody.

Ingólfur Arnarson (844) and Hallveig Fróðadóttir (850) are my ancestors:

  • Ingólfur Arnarson (844) Hallveig Fróðadóttir (850)
  • Þorsteinn Ingólfsson 890 
  • Þórhildur Þorsteinsdóttir 920 
  • Þorkell Þórhildarson 945 
  • Ketill Þorkelsson 965 
  • Haukur Ketilsson 1020 
  • Yngveldur Hauksdóttir 1060 
  • Snorri Húnbogason 1100 - 1170 
  • Narfi Snorrason 1135 - 1202 
  • Snorri Narfason 1175 - 1260 
  • Narfi Snorrason 1210 - 1284 
  • Snorri Narfason 1260 - 1332 
  • Ormur Snorrason 1320 - 1401 
  • Guttormur Ormsson 1345 - 1381 
  • Loftur "ríki" Guttormsson 1375 - 1432 
  • Ólöf Loftsdóttir 1410 - 1479 
  • Þorleifur Björnsson 1430 - 1486 
  • Björn Þorleifsson 1480 - 1548 
  • Jón Björnsson 1520 - 1600 
  • Árni Jónsson 1560 - 1655 
  • Sveinbjörn Árnason 1610 - 1681 
  • Gísli Sveinbjörnsson 1650 - 1703 
  • Sveinbjörn Gíslason 1694 - 1762 
  • Einar "yngri" Sveinbjarnarson 1727 - 1814 
  • Ragnheiður Einarsdóttir 1789 - 1855 
  • Soffía Vernharðsdóttir 1829 - 1869 
  • Ragnheiður Helgadóttir 1855 - 1946 
  • Þórdís Ásgeirsdóttir 1889 - 1965 
  • My grandmother 1920 - 1995 
  • My father 1942 - 2008
  • Regína 1965

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Isn't this an interesting story of a promontory most people pass on their way to other better-known sights in South-Iceland?  

I have written 2 travel-blogs on Hjörleifshöfði and in my second part you will learn more about the people who inhabited Hjörleifshöfði, their grave on the highest peak next to Hjörleifshaugur burial mound, the monument on this peek in the liking of a big cairn, built by Danish surveyors in the first decade of the twentieth century - and my hike on the promontory. Along with a drive down to the southernmost point of the mainland of Iceland, Kötlutangi spit.  Make sure to rent a 4x4 for that drive.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and Hjörleifur

Hjörleifshöfði is on the coast of South-Iceland, on Mýrdalssandur beach, just east of the village of Vík. From Vík, drive along ring-road 1, then turn onto the road marked Hjörleifshöfði.

Here is the location of Hjörleifshöfði on the map. GPS: 63°25'13.2"N 18°44'58.0"W

This is a very popular route with lots of beautiful attractions nearby f.ex. glaciers and waterfalls and tandem flights from Vík. One guided tour Under the Volcano takes you both on a glacier walk and on a scenic drive by Hjörleifshöfði.

The Historical Hjörleifshöfði Promontory in South-Iceland - Part I - the Blood Brothers Ingólfur and HjörleifurAlso, check out the guided tours in South-Iceland: 

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Have a lovely time at Hjörleifshöfði, which is privately owned. The landowners allow us to visit it, so let's be respectful :) They also allow a few tour operators to show us the Katla ice caves further north on their land by Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

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