Jorvik Viking Festival

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Saga tradition shows that women were important in the pioneering expansion across the North Atlantic, even playing prominent parts in the short-lived attempts to settle Vinland in North America. A more significant and lasting role was in the settlement of Iceland, where powerful women such as Aud the Deep-minded (or Deep-wealthy) were involved in the initial land-taking which divided up the land, and were remembered as the ancestors of later chieftains. Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coinage, British Museum

From an early age Aud was forced to become familiar with travelling. Born around AD 834, her family was frequently on the losing side in local power struggles, beginning in Norway where her father Ketil Flatnose was active in Viking raids around Europe, including the British Isles between the 840’s and 860’s.

Aud was later wed to another Viking leader, Olaf the White, who co-ruled Dublin in AD 853 with Ivar the Boneless. Olaf was killed in battle around AD 871, and it seems that during the 18 years they were together Aud spent at least some of her time in Ireland, but a disagreement between husband and wife ended her time there and she returned to father’s household. She took her son Thorstein, who forged his own successful career as a Viking warrior with raids and conquest in Scotland. Not long after the death of his father he succumbed to a similar fate, leaving Aud as the family’s matriarch and in charge of a large fortune. However, Thorstein’s death had catalysed political ruptures in the area that left Aud and her clan vulnerable; fearing betrayal they secretly built a ship and escaped with their wealth, landing initially on the Orkneys where alliances were made through marriage, arriving in Iceland for a reunion with Aud’s brother after which they settled a large province for themselves.

Aud the Deep-minded was in Caithness when Thorstein her son fell; and when she knew that Thorstein was slain and her father dead, then deemed she that she might not avail to raise strife there. After that she let build a round-ship privily in the wood; and when the ship was fully made, then did she fit out the ship, and had great store of wealth. She had away with her all of her kindred that were alive, and men deem that hardly hath the like been heard of, that a woman hath come away out of suchlike unpeace with so much wealth and so great a company. From this one may mark that she far surpassed other women, Aud had also with her there many men who were of great worship and high lineage… Aud steered her ship for the Orkneys, so soon as she was boun; there abode she a little space. There gave she in marriage Groa, daughter of Thorstein the Red ; she was mother of Greilad, who was wedded to Thorstein the earl, the son of Turf-Einar the earl, the son of Rognvald the Mere-earl; their son was Hlodver, father of Sigurd the earl, and thence is come the kin of all the Orkney earls. After that steered Aud her ship for the Sheep-isles [.. and on to Iceland.]

Laxdaela Saga

Iceland is where Aud was finally able to lay down more permanent roots and establish herself as leader of the nascent community that had followed her north. Credited as being the first Christian to settle in Iceland, she seems to have spent her remaining days ruling wisely, creating advantageous alliances and rewarding the loyalty of those who had aided her in the past.