So much of the early medieval period of Europe is shrouded in a cloak of mystery and obscurity. 

We moderns might be familiar with the broad outlines of historical narratives, trends, and forces. However, much of the detail, everyday interactions, and the ways in which ordinary people – not just kings or rulers – interacted, as well as their thoughts and feelings, remain lost.

Take, for instance, the area that would, from the late 9th century onwards, become the medieval kingdom of Norway.

The historical narrative is that emerging towards the end of the Scandinavian Iron Age (c. 500 BCE - 500 CE) were a series of petty kingdoms established throughout this mountainous region.

Norway's unique geography – little arable farmland coupled with the Scandinavian Alps running down its spine – meant huge populations and kingdoms could not be sustained. 

One of these petty kingdoms to emerge was Agder, encompassing much of the southern tip of Norway.

The Kingdom of Agder

Like so much of what we know about Norway's Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100), when the historical records are incomplete, we turn to the sagas.

Written in the late 13th century, Gauteks Saga (The Saga of Gautrek) deals with the emergence and evolution of Agder and many of the other petty kingdoms in Norway.

A rich cast of characters emerges from the pages as this small community, thanks to its proximity to important trade routes in the Skagerrak and mainland Europe, grows into a prosperous kingdom. 

Its strategic location meant that inhabitants of this petty kingdom had a practical and commercial need to sail, as it was often the quickest route to conduct trade (or war) with surrounding regions.

It was in this petty kingdom that a man called Naddodd was born sometime in the late 8th century. 

Unfortunately, we have little historical detail about his early life, lacking specific data points regarding his birth date or family.

However, it appears that Naddodd was some sort of merchant, as we have a few records in the sagas of him traveling throughout what would become the Viking "backyard" of Scandinavia and the Baltic region. 

It was during this era, starting in the late 8th century, that people from Viking societies began to spread and settle throughout much of the Western Hemisphere, including on the Faroe Islands.

Before the unexpected voyage to Iceland, Naddodd was part of the first wave of Norse settlers in the Faroe Islands, a key trading juncture between Norway and the northern British Isles. Photo: shocky / Shutterstock

Norse settlement of the Faroes

One of the seminal events in early medieval European history was the unification of Norway under Viking warrior Harald Fairhair, traditionally dated to 872.

This unification was the result of a long and bloody campaign to bring the numerous petty kingdoms of Norway under his rule.

However, not everyone was content with this new overlordship. Many subjects, resenting what they perceived as Harald's iron grip and heavy taxation, chose to emigrate.

A significant number of these dissenters sailed west, particularly to Iceland.

It was Naddodd they could thank for allegedly discovering this remote and volcanic outcrop on the world's edge.

Turning to the sagas again, it appears that Naddodd was sailing from Norway to the Faroe Islands sometime in the early 9th century. 

The Faroe Islands had been settled by individuals from Viking societies and were increasingly becoming an important strategic location for trade and commerce on the route from Norway to the northern British Isles. 

Naddodd seems to have settled here as part of the first wave of Norse settlers on these islands. 

However, while sailing eastward back to Norway, it appears that Naddodd was blown off course, drifting in the sea until he sighted land.

A land of ice and snow

The discovery of Iceland by Naddodd appears in the pages of two sagas (The Book of Settlements and The Faroe Island Saga) written later in the 13th century. 

While these sagas shouldn't be treated as precise historical records, they might contain elements of historical truth. 

When Naddodd is said to have finally sighted land, he reportedly came ashore in a bay surrounded by mountains. Climbing one of these peaks, he hoped to see signs of civilization – perhaps a village or smoke indicating human settlements. 

Yet, he saw neither. Tradition suggests that Naddodd landed in what is now the Icelandic city of Reydarfjordur, though we can never be certain.

Seeing no signs of settlement or civilization, Naddodd returned to his ship and sailed east for his home on the Faroes.

As he departed this uncharted land, a massive snowstorm began. 

Upon his return to the Faroes and recounting his discovery, he named this new territory Snæland (Old Norse for "Snow Land").

In the later medieval period, this name would evolve into Iceland – still the name of the land Naddodd is said to have discovered.

Naddodd may have been the first to set eyes on Iceland, but in his wake, Norse settlers charted a course, making the land a thriving part of Viking lore. Photo: Olja Reven / Shutterstock

Later settlement of Iceland

Whilst Naddodd is traditionally said to have "discovered" Iceland sometime in the early 9th century, he is overshadowed by a later, more famous explorer, Hrafna Floki-Vilgerdason.

Whereas Naddodd merely landed on the east coast of Iceland and then headed back, Floki-Vilgerdason is said to have sailed along the southern half of Iceland, reaching as far as what is now Vatnafjordur before returning home sometime in the late 860s.

By the time the sagas state that Naddodd died at home in the Faroes, in about 825, the Viking expansion, conquest, and settlement of vast areas of the isles of Northern Europe was well underway.

Thanks to Naddodd's accidental "discovery" of Iceland, the land remained a tempting prospect for refuge for later peoples from Viking societies in times of civil war and stress.

A century after Naddodd's supposed arrival, Iceland witnessed significant Norse settlement, establishing the foundations of the medieval Icelandic Commonwealth.

For more information on other famous Viking voyages, visit the Daily Mail here.

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