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).

Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki, starring in the Irish-Canadian TV series 'Vikings' on History Channel.

Gustaf Skarsgård as Floki in the Irish-Canadian TV series ‘Vikings’ on History Channel. Image source: www.fanpop.com

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).

Map highlighting the Norse expeditions to Iceland during the 9th century. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

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.

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5 Responses to The Historical Truth Behind Floki

  1. A very interesting read.

  2. Sveinn Rúnar Traustason says:

    Hrafna-Flóki later returned to Iceland and settled in Fljót in Skagafjörður Region with his wife Gró Bjarnardóttir. The valley they settled still bears Flókis name, Flókadalur (Flóki’s Valley). Flókis wife, Gró, was the syster of Höfða-Þórður Bjarnarson who also settled in Skagafjörður with his wife Þorgerður. Þorgerður was the granddaughter of King Kjarval of Ireland, Claimed to be the same as King Cerball mac Dúnlainge of Osraige (Ossory). Höfða-Þórður and Gró were said to be the great grandchildren of Björn Ironside, the son of Ragnar Loðbrók. Höfða-Þórður’s great grandson was Þorfinnur Karlsefni who first attempted settlement in North America with his wife Guðríður. Their son, Snorri Þorfinnsson, was the first known European child to be born in America. He later took over his parents farm, Glaumbær in Skagafjörður region in Iceland. Snorri Þorfinnssons decendants include three Icelandic bishops.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorfinn_Karlsefni, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snorri_Thorfinnsson

    NB! There is a small mistake in the article: “… when he (Flóki) stumbled upon the Ísafjörður fjord, which was full of dirt ice at the time, he gave the name Ísland (Iceland) to the entire land.” This would be “drift ice”, not “dirt ice”.

  3. Katrín says:

    Flóki’s daughters didn’t both die. One died near the Shetland Islands, the other one was married into a family in the Faroe Islands. One of her descendants was the famous Þrándur í götu and her bloodline is renowned and respected in the Faroe Islands.

  4. Bob says:

    King Rollo traveled to Iceland a couple of times as well. I believe he was exiled by King Harold blue tooth.

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