The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

In my last travel-blog, I told you about my ancestors, the Vikings, and Viking activities in Iceland today. Now I want to show you some of the locations of the biggest Viking battles in Iceland.

In Skagafjörður, in North-Iceland, you will quickly find yourself on the trail of the Vikings. Throughout history, several Viking battles were fought in this beautiful part of Iceland.

Remember the Clan of Sturlungar, which I have written about in other travel-blogs? Here they fought another clan, the Clan of  Ásbirningar, who were known residents of this part of Iceland.

Two bloody Viking battles were fought in Skagafjörður; the Battle of Örlygsstaðabardagi and Haugsnesbardagi, the Battle of Haugsnes.

A third battle was fought at sea... Flóabardagi - the Battle of the Gulf.

Örlygsstaðabardagi | Iceland's Largest Viking BattleA crucial scene from Örlygsstaðabardagi at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík

Örlygsstaðabardagi ("the Battle at Örlygsstaðir") took place on August 21st, 1238 at Örlygsstaðir, in Blönduhlíð, Skagafjörður. Here the most powerful Viking clans in Iceland fought each other in what would become the largest Viking battle in Iceland's history—the Clan of Sturlungar against both the Clan of Ásbirningar and the Clan of Haukdælir.

Around 2,800 Vikings fought each other in this ill-fated battle, making it one of the bloodiest battles in this young country's history. 1,200 - 1,300 of them were from the Clan of Sturlungar whilst around 1,600 were from the Clan of Haukdælir and the Clan of Ásbirningar.

The most important Vikings in Clan Sturlungar - the Chieftains - were Sighvatur Sturluson and his son, Sturla. The major Chieftains in the latter clans were Gissur Þorvaldsson and Kolbeinn ungi Arnórsson. These were the most powerful Viking clans in Iceland, forever seeking more power in my country.
The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

This would come to an end swiftly. The Clan of Sturlungar were taken by surprise in the early stages of the battle, and, after some axe-wielding violence, were quickly defeated. Around 56 men lost their lives in this battle, 7 of them from the Clans of Ásbirningar and Haukdælar, and 49 from the Clan of Sturlungar. Among the dead were the chieftain Sighvatur Sturluson, from Grund in Eyjafjörður, and his 4 sons.

Atrocities took place here when some of the Sturlungar retreated and sought refuge in Miklabæjarkirkja church. Two of Sighvatur's sons, who had sought refuge in the church, were taken and beheaded. Only one of his sons, Tumi, was able to escape.

Sturla Þórðarson was given pardon as his blood-brother was fighting in the opposite clan, but Sturla was a great contemporary story writer and wrote the Íslandingasaga part of the Sturlunga Saga.

Sighvatur Sturluson and his sons are believed to buried at Munkaþverá in Eyjafjörður.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland
At the car park, you will find an information sign with the above explanation of the Viking battle. It is in Icelandic only, but "menn" means men or the clan. "Flóttinn" means the retreat of the men and "drepinn" means the killing of Sturla and Sighvatur.

A 10-15-minute walk leads you to a monument of Örlygsstaðabardagi. It is excellent that such a monument has been erected, although personally, I would have liked to see something more done at this location. Still, wandering around the area, it wasn't hard to imagine what had taken place here.

A statue of a Viking would do wonders in this area, though I know that such statues are too costly for a municipality to erect. So kudos to them for their effort.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland
A steel plaque has been added with good information on the battle but, as fate would have it, some vandals have keyed the description, making it impossible to read... 

It is a bit eerie standing on this spot, the spot where such a big Viking battle took place. If you are sensitive to energy, you will feel a lot of it coming from the ground of the battlefield here, just as I did. 

You can read about this battle in Sturlunga Saga, written by Sturla Þórðarson, who fought in this battle.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

You can also visit the historical place Víðimýri in Skagafjörður, where the powerful chieftain of the Ásbirninga Clan, Kolbeinn Arnórsson ungi (1208–1245) lived. There, you will also find a beautiful turf-church. Sturlunga Saga tells us of a fortress at Víðimýri which Chieftain Snorri Sturluson erected back in 1220.

Gissur became one of the most powerful Chieftains in Iceland after the battle at Örlygsstaðabardagi, and 3 years later, he had Chieftain Snorri Sturluson himself killed in his home at Reykholt. Gissur had, earlier on, been married to Snorri's daughter. A terrible murder of a great man.

Do make an effort of visiting Reykholt in West-Iceland during your Iceland visit, as it is such a fascinating historical area.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

My two photos of the Vikings at Örlygsstaðabardagi were taken at the Saga Museum in Reykjavík. I highly recommend visiting this museum, where you can walk among life-size wax figures of the best known Vikings.

Directions: Örlygsstaðir is located in Skagafjörður, by Ring-Road 1, midway between Bóla and Miklabæjarkirkja church.

Flóabardagi | The Battle of the Gulf

Painting of Flóabardagi sea-battle, belonging to a  series of paintings by Jóhannes Geir Jónsson (1923-2007). I cropped it from the information sign at Skagi for my travel-blog.

There is another Viking battle of significance, Iceland's only sea-battle, where both parties were Icelanders. It didn't happen in Skagafjörður, but it is significant in the procedure of the Viking battles that took place here. It happened in-between the Örlygsstaðabardagi and Haugsnesbardagi battles, on the 25th of June 1244.

It is called Flóabardagi, the Battle of the Gulf, as it took place on Húnaflói bay. The battle was a direct consequence of the battles that preceded it, as we shall see.

On hearing the terrible news that his father and 4 of his brothers had been killed in Örlygsstaðabardagi, Þórður kakali Sighvatsson, of the Clan of Sturlungar, returned to Iceland from Norway, where he had been a courtier by the King's court.

The information sign at Trékyllisvík at Strandir

Preparations for this Viking battle were made from Trékyllisvík at Strandir, and from Skagi. Sturlunga Saga gives descriptions on how Þórður kakali gathered men from the Strandir area and from the Westfjords of Iceland.

Þórður wanted to get power over his patrimony in Eyjafjörður, where Kolbeinn ungi of the Clan of Ásbirningar now ruled. He prepared some 15 ships and around 210 men and set sail from Trékyllisvík.

Kolbeinn ungi Arnórsson and the Clan of Ásbirningar had gathered some 470 men, from Northern Iceland. Kolbeinn prepared his Viking ship fleet, consisting of 20 ships, from Selvík at Skagi.

These cousins, Þórður kakali and Kolbeinn ungi, met each other on Húnaflói bay.

Selvík on Skagi

Þórður kakali had filled his Viking ships with rocks and attacked the Clan of Ásbirningar by throwing rocks at them. Kolbeinn lost around 80 of his men, but Þórður lost only a few. But, the advantage in numbers was still so great between these two powerful clans that Þórður kakali had to retreat 5 hours into the battle.

The Clan of Ásbirningar was exhausted after the battle and didn't follow him. Kolbeinn pursued Þórður to Trékyllisvík and looted that area, which had dire consequences for this now remote and scarcely populated part of Iceland.

Kolbeinn died of a chest illness a year later and before his death, handed Þórður kakali's patrimony over to him. Brandur Kolbeinsson took the reigns over the Clan of Ásbirningar in Skagafjörður.

Just imagine how closely related Þórður and Kolbeinn were - cousins! It always startles me when I read the Sagas how closely related many of the fighting parties were, either by blood or by marriage.

The Battle of Haugsnes

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

On the 19th of April 1246, the Clan of Ásbirningar lost to the Clan of Sturlungar in the bloodiest battle ever to be fought in Iceland. The roles were reversed from Örlygsstaðabardagi, where the Clan of Ásbirningar defeated the Clan of Sturlungar.

Here, Þórður kakali Sighvatsson of the Clan of Sturlungar fought Brandur Kolbeinsson of the Clan of Ásbirningar. Þórður kakali Sighvatsson was the son of Sighvatur Sturluson, who was killed in Örlygsstaðabardagi with his 4 sons, so he had blood-feud and was desperate for revenge.

The Clan of Sturlungar arrived with 600 men, but the Clan of Ásbirningar had some 720 men in their Viking army. Around 111 Vikings lost their lives here, almost 40 from the Clan of Sturlungar and 60-70 from the Clan of Ásbirningar, among them Brandur Kolbeinsson.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

Þórður had planted a spy in the opposite army and at a crucial moment in the battle, the spy pretended to flee. This caused disruption in the Clan of Ásbirningar as others followed suit and retreated. Many were killed on the run.

Sturlunga Saga describes the battle as having been the most gruesome and bloodiest Viking battle in Iceland. Again, the Vikings were fighting for more power in Iceland and, of course, there was revenge and blood-feuds aplenty. 

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

Sigurður Hansen at Kringlumýri, has reconstructed the Viking battle in the memory of all the lives lost in the battle. Sigurður put up an army of more than 1,300 stones representing the combating armies. An iron cross on top of a stone represents a member of a fallen Viking.

Here in beautiful surroundings, you will be able to sit down and ponder on the meaningless nature of such battles and all the young (and old) lives lost, many of whom were from the same extended family. 

The large Holy Rood (róðukross), which you will reach before you reach the army of stones, is a memorial for Brandur and the Clan of Ásbirningar. This place is called Róðugrund as, after the killing of Brandur, a rood was erected. The current Holy Rood was erected in 2009.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

I applaud the idea of putting up a memorial and a stone army with so many crosses - to allow us, travellers, to find the place where such a big Viking battle took place - and to allow us to sit down and ponder on the meaningless of such a terrible battle.

Brandur Kolbeinsson, who got killed in this battle, lived at Reynistaður, which was one of the manors of the Clan of Ásbirningar. At Reynistaður, you will find one gable of a turf house which belongs to Þjóðminjasafn Ísland - the National Museum of Iceland.

Later on, the Chieftain Gissur Þorvaldsson lived at Reynistaður when he held the title of Earl of Iceland, the only man to bear that title. 

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

Above you will see the information sign by the car park at Haugsnes. In the middle, you will see one of the Viking paintings in a series by Jóhannes Geir Jónsson (1923-2007) who was born in Sauðárkrókur town, in Skagafjörður.

The car park is right on the farm, so let's be respectful of the working surroundings of the farmer. You can go through the gate and walk to the memorial. I visited this place a couple of years ago.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

You can also visit Kakalaskáli longhouse at Kringlumýri, run by the abovementioned Sigurður Hansen. At Kakalaskáli you can get more information on Haugsnesbardagi battle and find a large restaurant decorated Viking style. Close to Kakalaskáli, you will find another path leading to the stone army.

I found the video below on Youtube - showing Sigurður Hansen on the scene of Haugsnesbardagi battle at Haugsnesstrandir. In the video, Sigurður tells us the story of Haugsnesbardagi battle - in Icelandic.

Sigurður has placed 111 iron crosses on the stones - 70 crosses on the stones representing the army of Ásbirningar and 41 cross on the stones representing Þórður kakali's army, but that is the number of fallen Vikings he believes is closest to the truth.

The horrific act at Flugumýri in SkagafjörðurThe Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

There is also pure Viking history at Flugumýri, in Skagafjörður. In the Age of the Sturlungs, Flugumýri was one of the manors of the Clan of Ásbirningar and here Kolbeinn ungi once lived.

Flugumýri is best known to us Icelanders for Flugumýrarbrenna, the Fire at Flugumýri in 1253, which is considered to be the worst single act of barbarism of the Age of the Sturlungs.

Gissur Þorvaldsson, who was of the Clan of Haukdælir, and an enemy of the Clan of Sturlungar, bought Flugumýri in 1253 from the church. He wanted to make peace with the Clan of Sturlungar and married off his eldest son, Hallur, to Ingibjörg the daughter of Sturla Þórðarson, who was of the Clan of the Sturlungar.

A big wedding was held and the wedding party lasted for 2 days. On the Tuesday after the wedding, the guests went home.

Painting by the artist Jóhannes Geir (1927-2003). I have seen this series in a couple of locations in Iceland and took photos of it and cropped it for my travel-blog.

Not everybody of the Clan of Sturlungar was happy with this marriage and wanted Gissur Þorvaldsson dead. Eyjólfur ofsi Þorsteinsson was married to Þuríður, the daughter of Sturla Sighvatsson, whom Gissur had killed at Örlygsstaðabardagi.

Þuríður wanted revenge for her father. Eyjólfur and his friend, Hrani, recruited a group of 42 armed men and arrived at Flugumýri after the wedding guests had left. 30 people lived at Flugumýri, not all of them able to hold a weapon. The ones who could put up a brave defence. 

Seeing that the attacking men couldn't force their way into Flugumýri, they decided on burning down the manor.

Twenty-five people were burnt alive inside, among them the wife of Gissur and his 3 sons. The 13-year old bride, Ingibjörg, got saved by her kinsman among the attackers, and Gissur saved himself by hiding in a barrel of sour acid.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

The 16-year old bridegroom, Hallur Gissurarson, jumped out of the burning farm, but his enemies hit him on the head and almost cut off his leg. He survived and the monk Þórólfur dragged him on a lambskin to church, where he died the next morning.

His father, Gissur, was helped to the church after he got out from the barrel of sour acid. Gissur was the only survivor of his family - what a terrible ending to a wedding party.  This dreadful event took place on the 22nd of October 1253.

Flugumýri manor was the most stately manor in Skagafjörður and only Hólar bishopric was more stately. So apart from the loss of lives, there was a huge loss of property in the fire.

Flugumýri has always been considered one of the best lands in the fertile Skagafjörður. Here Þórir dúfunef settled and Fluga (fly) was the name of his speedy mare. There is now a horse-farm at Flugumýri.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

There is not much to see here now apart from visiting the church, which was erected in 1930. If you visit the church you will see that there is a path leading to a hill. On top of that hill, there is Virkishóll, remnants of an old fort from the Age of the Sturlungs. I have been meaning to hike up to it for ages.

Directions: Flugumýri is just off ring-road 1 on road 76.

The Bloody Viking Battles in Skagafjörður, North-Iceland

In the historical Skagafjörður, you will also find the beautiful turf houses Glaumbær and Tyrfingsstaðir - plus a turf church, which has been called the most beautiful of all our turf churches, Víðimýri turf church.

To reach this area it is best to rent a car in Reykjavík and drive up to Skagafjörður in 3.5 hours.

Also, check out the many self-drive tours on offer:

While visiting Skagafjörður you can go river rafting on a roaring glacial river River Rafting Tour in North-Iceland | West Glacial River.

Contact Regína