The Historical Truth Behind Floki
Floki is one of the main characters in the Irish-Canadian production ‘Vikings’ on History Channel. Although he might be simply made up by the writers and producers of the show, he can be at the same time loosely based on a certain Flóki Vilgerðarson, who is known to have been the first Norseman to set sail on purpose to Iceland.
Flóki Vilgerðarson was a Norwegian Viking who, hearing good news about a land located far in the west, decided to travel to Iceland along with his family. His journey is documented in the Icelandic ‘Landnámabók’ manuscript, an Icelandic saga which describes the settlements of the Norsemen in Iceland during the 9th and 10th centuries.
Aside from his family members, he is known to have been accompanied by a certain farmer by the name Thorolf and two men called Herjolf and Faxe (according to the saga).
On through his journey, Flóki lost two of his daughters as he approached Iceland. He lost the first daughter when he landed in the Shetlands and the second one in the Faroe Islands, both drowning in the nearby waters.
From the Faroe Islands onwards, he decided to take three ravens to aid him in finding his way to the western land he had heard good rumours about.
This attributed him the nickname ‘Hrafna-Flóki’ (‘Raven-Floki’) in Old Norse. Later on, his nickname was preserved the same in Icelandic, a North Germanic language considered the most conservative and closely related to Old Norse, on par with Faroese.
After setting sail from the Faroese archipelago, he set one of the ravens free, only to return to the Faroe Islands. Then, he set the second raven free, but this one flew a little bit high and returned on boat after a very short time.
At long last, when he sent the third raven loose, this one flew northwest, never to return to him again. He then knew the fact that this must be the direction to the Western land and that he and his crew were very close to it, so he followed the third raven.
After sailing west past Reykjanes (a headland located on the southwestern tip of the Reykjanesskagi peninsula), Floki’s crew spotted a large bay. One of Floki’s companions, Faxe, said that it was a great land that they discovered. Ever since, the bay has been called Faxaflói (‘The bay of Faxi’ in translation).
After Floki’s crew landed on shore, he subsequently set up a winter camp near Vatnsfjörður at Barðaströnd. Floki then explored the island and when he stumbled upon the Ísafjörður fjord, which was full of dirt ice at the time, he gave the name Ísland (literally meaning ‘Iceland’) to the entire land.
Documentation sources and external links:
- Hrafna-Flóki – The Exodus from Norway on www.sagamuseum.is
- Why Iceland is Called Iceland? on www.ravingravens.com
- Facts – Milestones in Icelandic History on www.icelandontheweb.com
- Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
- The Discovery of Iceland on www.viking.no
- Chronicles of the Vikings: Records, Memorials, and Myths by Raymond Ian Page on Google Books
- The Book of the Settlements: Landnámabók edited by Herman Palsson on Google Books
- Vísindavefurinn: Hver gaf Íslandi það nafn? on www.visindavefur.is (in Icelandic)