Episode 22a – The Saga of the People of Vopnafjord

Vopnafjord Monument

Monument to Vopnfirðingasögu

The Saga of the People of Vopnafjord picks up where The Saga of Thorstein the White left off.  It tells the story of two friends, Brodd-Helgi Thorgilsson and Geitir Lytingsson, and their rise to power.  The two men share everything in the beginning, including a desire to have that which is not theirs.  Their friendship only deepens when Brodd-Helgi marries Geitir’s sister, Halla.  Later, their son Bjarni is given to Geitir as foster-son.  Things really couldn’t be better between the two leading men of Vopnafjord.


But things fall apart, as they do in these stories, after Brodd-Helgi and Geitir begin to mistrust one another after a plot to rob a hapless Norwegian merchant crumbles.  Their relationship suffers further when Halla becomes ill and Brodd-Helgi wastes no time arranging another marriage for himself, this time to Thorgerd Silver.  The resulting animosity between Geitir and Brodd-Helgi proves too much for the district to bear.  Men from both sides are drawn into the conflict and some even lose their lives.  Though Geitir is reluctant to act as the aggressor, he is finally put on the offensive after some prodding by his thingmen.  What happens next is lost in the great gap left to us in the manuscript.  The saga picks things up again with the next generation from each family trying to pick up the pieces.  Here we find Bjarni, the son of Brodd-Helgi, going head-to-head with Thorkel, Geitir’s son.  The two are not only kinsmen, they had also grown up together at Krossavik.  Though Bjarni attempts to make peace with Thorkel, there’s little that can be done to assuage the thirst for vengeance.  Will Bjarni succeed in putting an end to this bloody and unfortunate feud? Or will Thorkel continue the cycle of violence and pass it on to the next generation?  There’s only one way to find out.

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stone_armor_defense (Hurstwic)

The Stone Armor Defense

The above image comes from Hurstwic’s recreation of Brodd-Helgi’s clever use of a stone slab to protect himself from Svart in chapter 2 of Vápnfirðinga saga.  Read all about this and other creative battle tactics here.

For some more on this saga and its background, check out:

Chapter 13 of Jesse Byock’s Viking Age Iceland – “Friendship, Blood feud, and Power: The Saga of the People of Weapon’s Fjord”

Alan Berger’s “Lawyers in the Old Icelandic Family Sagas: Heroes, Villains, and Authors” in Saga Book XX (1978-79): 70-79

And if you’re interested in traveling to Vopnafjord and taking in all the sights yourself, maybe take a gander at a waterfall or two and pause for some fishing, then start here at https://www.visitvopnafjordur.com/en

Music Credits:

Intro Music – “Prelude and Action” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Episode Summary – “Clash Defiant” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Outro Music – “Stormfront” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)

Selections from music by Kevin MacLeod licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


One thought on “Episode 22a – The Saga of the People of Vopnafjord

  1. Ok something about the sea cow in the dream vision:

    First the biological part: Dugong and manatee are different types of sea cow (=Sirena). Dugongs live in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific Ocean. Manatees live, in three different species, in the Caribbean [including Florida] ( Trichechus manatus), the Amazone River (T. inunguis), and West Africa (T. senegalensis). Dugong and manatee even belong to different families (Dugongidae vs. Trichechidae) and differ i several aspects. For example the tail fluke of a dugong is notched and similar to those of dolphins, whereas the tail fluke of manatees is paddle-shaped, manatees have nails on their flippers, dugongs don’t, dugongs have down turned snouts and small tusks whereas manatees have horizontally replacing molars (like elephants).

    Second, the mythological part: Both classical Greeco-Roman and Celtic mythology offers us sea cattle. On the classical side we have the Taurocampus and the Ophiotaurus. The Celtic tradition which is found in Scotland (where it is called tarbh uisge) and Manx stretches to the Hybrides. The characterization is as inconsistant and varied as the Celtic Water Horeses and goes from a bull that breathes water to a shapeshifter ale to take human form.
    Most interetingly though, the infamous Adam of Bremen mentions potentially water dwelling sea bulls in Norway in the Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum: “In these same mountains there are there are untamed beasts of such a plenitude, that in many parts of the region they feed only on wild animals. There they capture oxen, buffalos and moose as they do in Sweden; furthermore bisons which they [also] capture in Slavonia and Russia; only Norway [however] has black foxes and white hares and martens [presumably stoats], and bears of the same colour, who live under the ocean in the same manner as the oxen.”
    Both the Celtic thread (in the Norse expansion period) and the Greco-Roman one (via the later connections in the periods the sagas were written down) seem possible. I am not quite sure what to make of Adam of Bremen’s reference here, but it seems to point at some connection to water dwelling cattle and Scandinavia (perhaps via the aforementioned Celtic link?).


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