Viking Age in the Faroe Islands

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Everyday life in the Viking Age in the Faroe Islands. Vikings are generally understood to be a warlike people. But in the Faroe Islands it was poor farmers who created a new, free home for themselves. Stamp pad from 2005.

The Viking Age in the Faroe Islands lasted from the conquest of the Faroe Islands by Grímur Kamban around 825 to the death of Tróndur í Gøtu , the last Viking chief in the Faroe Islands , in 1035, and Leivur Øssursson taking power in the same year.

The biggest historical break during this time was the Christianization of the Faroe Islands by Sigmundur Brestisson from 999, which heralded the end of the Viking Age and at the same time the end of the Faroe Islands as a free settler republic.

To the chagrin of historians, a great many sources from this period were lost in various devastations of libraries and archives. As the most important source we now only have the Faroese saga and statements in other sources from outside that can support the stories there and allow dating.

Although the dates and events mentioned in this article are generally undisputed in the Faroe Islands and are part of the national founding myth, they should always be viewed with a certain reservation, because the Faroese saga is not a chronicle in the real sense , but a historical novel . Very clear myths that appear completely unrealistic are identified as such (mostly in the additional articles on individual episodes of the saga).

There have been numerous archaeological investigations on the Faroe Islands in the last few decades , so that our picture of that time has become more and more condensed. In the Historical Museum of the Faroe Islands are located most of the archaeological finds from this period.

Land grab

When the Faroe Islands were first visited by the Vikings around 795, they found monks from Ireland who led a hermit here . Those in turn had not found any indigenous people to convert, and so they raised sheep and planted etc. a. Oats , which meanwhile allows their arrival to be dated to the period around 625.

First wave of land grabbing

Schematic representation of the land grab with the help of an old map. The arrow there from the Faroe Islands towards the British Isles is a bit misleading. The land grab happened in exactly the opposite direction. Nor were the Faroese conquerors of other countries. Faroese postage stamp from 1982.
Havgrimur's tomb

It is not entirely clear whether the often alleged expulsion of the Irish monks by the Vikings actually took place around 795, or whether only a part of them set off for Iceland . In any case, they were considered to be the first settlers there. At that time, the Faroe Islands could have been uninhabited for 30 years, as Scandinavians had not yet settled in the Faroe Islands at that time. If one follows this hypothesis, which is based on the report in the book Liber de Mensura Orbis Terræ by the Irish chronicler Dicuil (825), Grímur Kamban entered a country around 825 in which there were only sheep (left by the monks) and sea birds .

The name Kamban itself suggests a Celtic origin. Grímur Kamban could have come from the British Isles , where the Scandinavians had already established their rule, or he was a baptized Norwegian who was nicknamed by Irish missionaries. The first people to settle in the Faroe Islands around this time were in any case people from the surrounding Scandinavian domain in the south and east - mostly Scandinavians themselves, but certainly also with Celtic slaves and women in their luggage.

Grímur's settlement is said to have been in Funningur on Eysturoy . Excavations show that there were other Viking settlements in the neighborhood and on the other islands.

The Norwegian emigrant Naddoddur arrived in the Faroe Islands during this period . According to tradition, he discovered Iceland around 850, which he then baptized Snow Country. His (presumed) daughter Ann Naddodsdóttir is, according to a more recent thesis, the mother of Brestir and Beinir , which will be discussed below.

Second wave of land grabbing

Around 880 to 900, the great immigration to the Faroe Islands took place. This wave of land grabbing is narrowed down precisely to 885–890. It was the time of Harald Fairhair of Norway (r. 870–933). The Faroese saga reports that many people fled his lust for power. This includes tax burdens, among other things. As with the first conquest, the immigrants came from Norway and probably also from parts of the British Isles controlled by Norway.

The Vikings were excellent seafarers. Her navigational skills were recognized on this Faroe Islands stamp pad in 2002.

The fact that the majority of these Vikings in the Faroe Islands came from Norway can be determined by a linguistic peculiarity (besides other similarities with the dialects of Western Norway): In Faroese , northeast is landnyrðingur ("Landnord"), southeast is landsynningur ("Landsüd"), northwest útnyrðingur ("out north") and southwest útsynningur ("out south"). Only the imagination of people who live on a continental west coast, such as in mountains, can be responsible for this use of language . From a Faroese perspective, such a word creation would make no sense, because in the northwest there is land with Iceland in the same way as with Shetland in the southeast, while the shores of Svalbard and Newfoundland are in the northeast and southwest - at that time terra incognita (unknown land). And: from a Faroese point of view, every direction is out to sea .

It is said that people from the Faroe Islands and from Bergen can still communicate in their respective local dialects without much difficulty. Relations between this Norwegian trading metropolis and later Hanseatic city and the Faroe Islands have always played a special role over the centuries. See also: Monopoly trade over the Faroe Islands (period 1529–1856)

First thing

Tinganes , the old thing place of the Faroe Islands, is still the political center of the country today.

Around 900 the Faroese had their thing on the Tinganes peninsula named after him . Tórshavn became the capital of the islands so early. The thing at that time was called (like the one in Iceland today) Althing . It has been called Løgting since around 1400 . It is one of the oldest parliaments in the world (see there) . In addition to the central thing, there were local thing places called Várting .

Even if it is not entirely clear what the political order of the Faroe Islands was like at that time, it is not an exaggeration to speak of a republic , because the king in Norway, 500 kilometers away, had no power in the archipelago during the Viking Age, and the Thing was a gathering of the free men on site, that is, the big farmers. Jurisdiction was also exercised there.

Settlement and population development

At that time, all the islands of the Faroe Islands were already inhabited, with the exception of Lítla Dímun . Nothing has changed to this day. The population of the Faroe Islands after the second wave of land invasion was perhaps 3000 people. This number remained almost stable until the end of the 18th century and did not grow above 4,000. Agriculture in this very limited area did not produce any more.

The descendants of the two waves of land occupation actually formed the population for the next 450 years. Only the Black Death in 1349 and 1350 caused dramatic changes with the loss of a third of the population, so that there was space and need for new immigrants.

everyday life

Nutrition and acquisition

A horse as a children's toy. It was found in Kvívík in 1957 . Postage stamp from Bárður Jákupsson 1989.

The Vikings in the Faroe Islands were a farming people. They planted barley , which was ground from slate using millstones imported from Norway . The most important domestic animals were sheep and the Faroese wool was already an important export. In addition, cows were kept and, unlike today, very many pigs. The name of the island Svínoy attests to this. Hay was produced as animal feed . From the horses of the Faroe Islands the independent breed of the Faroe Islands developed over time , from which only a few individuals still live today.

A carved wooden boat used as a children's toy was found during the 1955 excavations at Kirkjubøur . It is 9 inches long and carved from a piece of driftwood. Today it is exhibited in the History Museum of the Faroe Islands . Postage stamp from Bárður Jákupsson 1989.

The fishing and grindadráp served as an important food supplement and was carried out near the coast in the fjords. The typical Faroese boat still bears witness to that time. It is still built in the style of the Viking longboat.

The Faroese bird life also provided food in abundance. Hunting seabirds was far more important here than in other countries - and still is today. Of the dozen species, three were preferred to be hunted.

Household items

There was relatively little local ceramics . The Faroese clay does not have particularly favorable properties, and the lack of trees means that fuel has always been scarce. Soapstone vessels , which were probably imported from Norway, were predominant . Soapstone is also found on the neighboring Shetland Islands , so maybe that's where they come from. Oil lamps, among other things, were carved out of the local tuff , a relatively soft volcanic rock. Baskets and the like were woven from the local juniper . The juniper has almost disappeared in the Faroe Islands today, which u. a. is also due to climate change.

The runestone of Sandavágur . In the background the inscription of the stone from Kirkjubøur . Postage stamp from 1981


Metal had to be imported. There were iron and bronze processed. Silver served as currency, but later also foreign coins, as the coin find of Sandur suggests. Jewelry was made not only from the metals mentioned, but also from bones, pearls and amber . The clothes probably corresponded to those in Norway or the British Isles.


The Kvívík nave was 21 meters long and 5.75 meters wide. The walls were 1.5 m thick. Postage stamp from 1982

People lived in typical stone long houses. They had only one room with a fireplace in the middle and benches on the walls. Foundations of such houses were excavated in many places in the Faroe Islands from 1941, first in Kvívík , and later also in Fuglafjørður , Gøta and Sandavágur .

Linguistic monuments

The language of the first Faroese was Old Norse , from which today's Faroese language emerged . It was written in runes . Three rune stones have been found in the Faroe Islands: the Kirkjubø stone , Sandavágs stone and Fámjins stone . The latter, however, dates from the 16th century, thus proving the use of the runes in addition to the Latin script well into the Catholic period. The Faroese sigurian songs and other Faroese ballads are most likely derived from ancient oral traditions from the Viking Age.

Nordic religion

The Vikings were members of the Nordic religion . The most powerful of their gods was Thor , and not only the Faroese capital Tórshavn (Thor's port) is named after him, but also Hósvík ( hós- comes from tórs- , and -vík means bay). Accordingly, Thursday (Thor is the god of thunder) in the Faroe Islands is called hósdagur or in the dialect of Suðuroy tósdagur . Its symbol is the hammer, and it still adorns the capital's coat of arms.

Sacrificial sites

The Viking worship yard in Hov on Suðuroy
The two menhirs from Havgrímur and Leivur Øssurson in Hov. Havgrímur's standing upright because he fell in battle.
Havgrímur's grave in Hov. In the foreground the grave of his horse

It is not known whether there were sacrificial sites in places like Tórshavn and Hósvík. The Faroese saga reveals no details about the Nordic beliefs practiced at the time. It is believed that the sacrificial cult (blót) was practiced in the open air. With the courtyard, however, there was also a kind of temple, as is assumed in Hov .

Mainly food and drink were offered to the gods, but more rarely animals and people too.


The Viking graves on the Faroe Islands deserve special attention, as they allow conclusions to be drawn about the funeral rites and the cult of the dead. The Vikings buried their dead above ground and oriented the corpses in the direction of west-south-west - east-north-east , with their heads pointing in that direction. The menhirs from Hov on Suðuroy (see photo on the right) are reminiscent of great personalities. Obviously, those who fell in battle received an upright stone, and those who grew peacefully old received a lying stone.

In 1834 the tomb of the high priest (blótsmaður mikil) Havgrímur was opened in Hov on the initiative of the Danish governor Christian Pløyen . It was, according to Pløyen, 24 feet long and 4 feet wide. Iron objects and human bones were found there. Allegedly a grindstone was also found. This excavation was considered unprofessional and unofficial. It was canceled and not resumed.

The first professional excavation of a tomb took place in 1956 in Tjørnuvík in the north of Streymoy . In 1955 children playing found bones there that turned out to be human bones. Systematic archaeological excavations began the following year, and it quickly became clear that the remains of a Viking woman had been found here. She was about 1.55 m tall and, as was common at the time, buried with her head facing east-north-east. A clasp was found on her that was of Celtic - Scottish origin. The historian Sverri Dahl dated the grave to the 10th century.

The British-led excavations in Sandur in 2006 show that the third or fourth generation of Vikings lived there as early as 900.

Sigmundur and Tróndur

The two protagonists of the Faroese saga are Sigmundur Brestisson and Tróndur í Gøtu , who each represented the opposing camps in a 65-year feud in the Faroe Islands. This story begins around 970 and forms the main storyline of the saga.

Despite the reservations regarding the objectivity and accuracy of the Faroese saga, the following picture emerges, which is generally accepted as the chronicle of that time.

Murder of Brestir and Beinir

Around 969 the situation in the Faroe Islands was as follows: There were two Norwegian fiefs, one fell to Havgrímur von Hov, the other to the Brestir and Beinir brothers from Skúvoy . There were apparently simmering conflicts between these two parties, which emerged openly in the dispute between Einar and Eldjarn (one of Brestir and Beinir's followers, and the other of Havgrímur). Havgrímur rejected an attempt at arbitration by Brestir, and so it came to the trial before the Althing on Tinganes , where Havgrímur's party was defeated. He swore revenge and sought support from his father-in-law Snæúlvur von Sandoy , but he did not want to play the game, unlike Tróndur í Gøtu and his uncle Svínoyar-Bjarni , who came up with the plan to kill the brothers with Havgrímur.

The murder of Brestir and Beinir in 970 on Stóra Dímun not only ended with the death of the two brothers. Those managed to kill Havgrímur and five more of his men in battle. Sigmundur Brestisson was 9 years old when he had to experience the death of his father Brestir, in which Tróndur í Gøtu was not active, but was involved in the background. After the bloodshed, Tróndur suggested killing Sigmundur and his cousin Tóri Beinirsson (Beinir's 11-year-old son), but Svínoyar-Bjarni refused. So Sigmundur and Tóri came under Tróndur's tutelage instead, who had no children himself and was unmarried.

Tróndur was then 25 years old. He tried to get rid of these two boys quickly by offering them as slaves to the Norwegian trader Ravnur Hólmgarðsfari that same summer . But he was aware of the background and asked for money to bring her to Norway. Incidentally, this episode testifies to the trade routes of the Faroe Islands at that time as far as Novgorod in Kievan Rus . In any case, Ravnur brought the two to Norway and thus to safety (not only from Trónd's point of view, who had to fear revenge for the murder).

Tróndur took another boy into his care: Øssur Havgrímsson , Havgrím's then 10-year-old son (i.e. the possible heirs of the opposing party Sigmunds and Tóris). He was the sole ruler of the Faroe Islands: Sigmundur and Tóri were in Norway , and Øssur his foster child. The Faroese saga tells that when Tróndur grew up, he gave him the fortunes of Brestir and Beinir , as well as the part of the Faroe Islands that his father ruled over. That could have been from 980 onwards. Tróndur was probably the real and sole ruler of the archipelago.

Sigmund's return

In 983 Sigmundur Brestisson and his cousin Tóri Beinirsson returned to the Faroe Islands for the first time. They traveled on behalf of King Håkon Jarl of Norway. They wanted their stolen property back and were now old enough to avenge their fathers' deaths. According to the Faroese saga, the weather wanted so that they first met Svínoyar-Bjarni , who was surprised unsuspectingly at home. Bjarni was able to demonstrate that it was he who stood up for the lives of the boys in 970, and so he came to an agreement with Sigmundur by revealing the whereabouts of Øssur Havgrímsson on Skúvoy . Sigmundur is said to have moved there with 50 of Bjarni's men and killed Øssur in a duel, probably after he had asked for mercy and compensation.

After this fight there was initially an armistice between the two parties Sigmunds and Trónds. While Tróndur wanted the matter to be clarified before the Althing in Tinganes , Sigmundur demanded a judge's verdict from Håkon Jarl in Norway. So around 984 Sigmundur and Tóri drove back to Norway, where the king ruled that Tróndur was guilty of all four counts - the murder of Brestir and Beinir , the proposal to kill Sigmundur and Tóri, and the enslavement of the two boys. and had to pay a man's money each to Sigmundur and Tóri. Furthermore, the king allowed Tróndur í Gøtu to remain in the Faroe Islands as long as he submitted to Norwegian rule, which in turn was to be represented by Sigmundur, who was promised - theoretically - the entire Faroe Islands as a fief.

At Althing 985, Tróndur accepted these terms, albeit reluctantly, and asked for three-year installments. In the same year Tróndur Leivur took Øssurson (the son of Øssur Havgrímsson) to himself - probably also to help shape his revenge on Sigmundur by now repeatedly demanding man money from Sigmundur.

Probably around 986 Sigmundur brought his family (wife Turið Torkilsdóttir and daughter Tóra Sigmundsdóttir ) from Norway to the Faroe Islands, who would stay there for the rest of their lives. The two are considered to be the first great women in Faroese history.

Christianization of the Faroe Islands

Tróndur í Gøtu defends himself against the arrival of Christianity with the Mjölnir . Allegorical representation on a Faroese postage stamp by Anker Eli Petersen 2000.

After Olav I. Tryggvason converted to Christianity in 994 and became King of Norway in 995 , he invited Sigmundur Brestisson to his place in 997 . The two became friends, Sigmundur was baptized and sailed back to the Faroe Islands in 998 to not only announce on the Althing on Tinganes that Olav had made him the sole ruler of the Faroe Islands, but also that all residents are now converting to Christianity should. This met with violent protest under the leadership of Tróndur í Gøtu , so that Sigmundur had to retreat to Skúvoy until he attacked Tróndur at home in 999 and forced him to become Christian. This baptism, however, was to be understood more formally and politically, and as a result Tróndur prepared the murder of Sigmundur Brestisson , which took place in 1005.


  • George V. Young: From the Vikings to the Reformation. A Chronicle of the Faroe Islands up to 1538 . Shearwater Press, Isle of Man 1979, ISBN 0-904980-20-0 .
  • George V. Young: Færøerne. Fra vikingetiden til reformationen ("From the Vikings to the Reformation"). Rosenkilde og Bakker, Copenhagen 1982 (Danish translation, basis of this article)
  • Klaus R. Schroeter: Creation of a Society. Feud and alliance among the Vikings . Reimer, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-496-02543-3 (also dissertation, University of Kiel 1993).

Web links

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on August 15, 2005 .