This blog is about Aud the Deep Minded, a Viking matriarch.
Traditionally, the tales of Viking conquests have been all about Viking longboats filled with marauding male Vikings who killed and pillaged their way across Europe and even North America. It is an image replicated by Hollywood, and is imprinted on most of our minds today. Certainly, in the United Kingdom, the historical record is full of Viking longships appearing off the coast and striking fear into the hearts of the local population before the crews landed and slaughtered everyone in sight. It is certainly a popular, and correct, image but it tends to override the reality that the Vikings, or Danelaw, ruled the northern two-thirds of Britain for several hundred years. They obviously settled there, and their marauding ways must have given way to settlements, and relatively peaceful activities.
However, rarely are exploits of Viking women told with such alacrity as are those of their male counterparts. Recent DNA studies are slowly correcting this one-gender picture. For example, DNA studies have shown that almost all old Icelandic families are descended from Aud the Deep Minded.
One of the first great Viking matriarchs, Aud the Deep Minded, was a 9th-century settler prominent in the history of the settlement of Iceland. Hailing from a military family, she was the second daughter of Norwegian hersir (military commander) Ketill Flatnose and Yngvid Ketilsdóttir, daughter of Ketill Wether, a hersir from Ringerike.
Aud married Olaf the White, son of King Ingjald, a powerful Norwegian family. Together they had a son, Thorstein the Red. Following the death of her husband Olaf in battle, Aud and Thorstein travelled to the Scottish Hebrides where Thorstein married and had six daughters and one son, becoming a great warrior king and conquering large parts of northern Scotland, before dying in battle after being betrayed by his people.
Upon learning of the death of her son, Thorstein, Aud the Deep Minded commissioned the construction of a knarr – a Viking-era ship commonly built for Atlantic voyages. She had the ship built secretly in the forest, for reasons unknown. After its completion, Aud captained the ship to the Orkney Islands, where she married off one of her granddaughters, Groa, thus spreading her DNA there, before sailing west to the area of Breiðafjörður in Iceland.
She had twenty men under her command, proving that she was respected, capable, independent and strong-willed. In addition to the crew, there were other men on her ship; prisoners from Viking raids near and around the British Isles.
Aud the Deep Minded gave these men their freedom once they were in Iceland, making them freed-men. This was a class between enslaved and free, where they were not slaves but did not have all the rights of a freeborn man. She also gave them land to farm so they could make a living.
When Aud arrived in the western region of Iceland, she claimed all the land in Dalasýsla between the rivers Dagverdara and Skraumuhlaupsa for her family. Unlike most early Icelandic settlers, Aud was a baptised Christian and is commonly credited with bringing Christianity to Iceland as well as contributing her DNA to most current Icelandic families through her other daughters. Aud erected crosses where she could pray on a prominent hill within her lands; that location is now known as Krossholar (Krosshólaborg).
Why she made this voyage to Iceland, or even if she knew where she was going when she did, is not known today. Conflicting theories have emerged over the centuries but none can be proven. However, her exploits and achievements as the founding matriarch of Iceland are now coming to light, totally modifying our image of conquering Vikings, and bringing Viking women into our understanding of history. Aud the Deep Minded is a story worth telling.