Iceland’s Most Famous Villains – The Country’s Twisted Past

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Did I just say Iceland’s most famous villains? Icelanders are so nice, how is that even possible? Does Björk have a rogue uncle that no one talks about? People tend to associate many things with Scandinavia. Great health care, outstanding maternity leave policies and personal safety are always at the top of the list. It’s not surprising, because Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland have all these things and more. In fact, Iceland is currently in the top 5 countries with the lowest crime rate in the world. This makes it a very safe place.

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Does this mean that in Iceland evil doesn’t exist and everything is rainbows and sunshine? Not really. Just because the crime rate is low doesn’t mean that it’s non-existent. Neither now nor in the past. The stories of power struggles among bloody leaders are fascinating. While modern Icelanders are quite good-natured, peaceful people, we can’t exactly say the same about their Viking ancestors. Let’s look at some of the most famous villains in the history of Iceland

Villains in Iceland’s History – Egill Skallagrimsson

Beginnings are never easy. This is especially true when it comes to kingdoms, conquests, settlements, and titles. Egill was a Viking warrior and poet who was born in Iceland about 910. He was the son of Grimr, a Norwegian settler who fled his native land because of a small disagreement with the king. And by small, we mean attacking a ship of the royal fleet and killing all the king’s faithful followers. Did we mention that two of the aforementioned followers were also the king’s cousins?

Egil was a more artistic version of his father. From the time he was young, he showed great talent for literature. He was considered one of the best poets of the Viking epics. But you know, like father like son. By the tender age of seven, he had already claimed his first victim. This was one of Egill’s own friends who cheated while they were playing together. Enraged, Egil took an ax in his hands and laid into his buddy’s skull.

The Viking Sagas say that Egill was angry and out of control. He even showed signs of madness. He was described as unattractive with a disproportionate head. Based on the descriptions, historians seem to have concluded that Egil may have suffered from deforming osteitis, known as Paget’s disease.

Viking Man Holding Axe Like Egil

Egil would soon follow in his father’s footsteps. After the death of the king who caused his family to flee from Norway, he returned. He supposedly came in peace and to share a great banquet with King Eric Bloodaxe. This detente did not last long. One of the king’s servants insulted him deeply. Egil did not hesitate in restoring his honor by taking the life of the servant. This earned him the wrath of the king, who would dedicate his life to seeking revenge for the grievance.

He spent years traveling around Iceland, Northumbria and England creating chaos.  In the end, he wrote one of the most beautiful poems that form a part of Egil’s Saga.

Villains in Iceland’s History – Hallgerður Höskuldsdóttir

Now let’s talk about an Icelandic “femme-fatale”. The sagas describe her as a tall, beautiful young woman with long hair. She had a strong, proud spirit and was the cause of hundreds of disputes and disagreements that lasted for decades. They are all now part of the history of Iceland.

The maiden Hallgerður was married against her will and her first husband began mistreating her after an argument. At a time when family honor was of the utmost importance, her stepfather got revenge by killing Hallgerður’s husband. After this, she remarried, but it didn’t end well either. She married a third time to a man from the Icelandic Parliament named Gunner. He ignored everyone who warned him that his future wife was evil. Unfortunately, she did end up being bad luck he suffered great misfortune.

Villains in Iceland’s History – Fjalla-Eyvindur and Halla

From the distant past, we come to a more recent past. Legend has it that during the XVIII century, the terrible story of Fjalla and Halla took place. They were a pair of bandits that ended up fleeing to the highlands of Iceland. It seems that the characters of the story were real and definitely existed. What’s impossible to determine is if everything said about them was true.

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Fjalla-Eyvindur, more commonly known as Eyvindur, was a stocky, athletic, educated, kind man. He then married Hella, a negative woman filled with darkness who was not very nice. Both were farmers in the south of Iceland, but they had to flee to the Westfjords when accused of theft. Eyvindur had stolen cheese from a homeless woman who cursed him. She condemned him to a life of theft but without ever being caught.

Eyvindur was in line with what you think of with small-time thieves. It was his wife, however, that would cause his life to take a much darker turn.  It is said that she drowned a small boy who was helping them on the farm. They had to flee to the mountains, abandoning their own children. Hella wanted to burn the farm with the children inside, but Eyvindur convinced her not to. Both continued their lives as bandits and were constantly on the run from authorities.

It’s said that during her adventures, Hella had many children but she killed them as soon as she gave birth. She also had a daughter that she murdered when the girl was only two years old. Eyvindur did not like what his wife did, but at the same time, he never did anything to stop her. The little girl died when the police took the couple by surprise. To prevent her daughter from interfering with her escape, she threw her down a waterfall. There’s now a very famous lullaby based on this story that’s part of the Icelandic tradition. The title is “Sofdu unga àstin min” which roughly translates to My Beloved Little Girl Sleeps.

Iceland’s Most Famous Villains – The Country’s Twisted Past

After spending more than 20 years as fugitives from the law, Eyvindur died in 1783. The authorities did manage to capture Hella but by this time she was an old woman. Due to her poor state of health, she was allowed to buy a house on a farm in southern Iceland and serve out her term there. Years later, the body of a woman was discovered nearby in the mountains. It’s said that it was Hella’s body. She wanted to escape to return to her now-deceased love for the last time.


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