Olaf the White

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Olaf the White (Old Norse: Óláfr hinn Hvíti) was a viking sea-king who lived in the latter half of the 9th century.

Olaf was born around 820, in Ireland. His father was the Hiberno-Norse warlord Ingjald Helgasson. Olaf is described in some sources as a descendent of Ragnar Lodbrok (according to the Eyrbyggja Saga, his father's mother Thora was the daughter of Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, one of Ragnar's sons). This is problematic given that Ragnar likely lived until the 860s.

Olaf was named King of Dublin around 853; during part of his reign he may have ruled together with his kinsman Ivar the Boneless (according to Irish sources only). Olaf married Aud the Deep-minded (Auðr), daughter of Ketil Flatnose, the ruler of the Hebrides, according to Icelandic traditions only (Landnámabók, Laxdæla saga). Irish fragments provide a different genealogy (Godfred, Ragnall, Godfred, Godfred, Fragm. 127, 195), and his wife was the daughter of King Aedh.[1]

Auðr and Olaf had a son, Thorstein the Red (Þorsteinn rauðr), who attempted to conquer Scotland in the 870s. At some point Olaf had a falling-out with the clan of Ketil and sent Auðr and their son back to her father's house. According to Landnámabók, Olaf and Þorsteinn rauðr were both killed in the British Isles.

Thorstein the Red was married to Þuriðr Eyvindardóttir austmann, and they had several children: Gróa, Álof, Þorgerðr, Þórhildr, Vigdís, Ósk, Ólafr feilan, ancestor of Ari Fróði, author of Landnámabók.[2] The family was related to the Vinland explorers and the Sturlung family.[3]

Olaf may be identical with the Viking warlord Amlaíb Conung, who according to Irish sources was killed in 871/2 by Causantín mac Cináeda, king of Alba. However, both Gwyn Jones and Peter Hunter Blair dispute this identification.

Old Norse sources mention two Olafs belonging to the ninth-century house of Vestfold. The first of these, Olaf the White, because of his connections with Dublin and with Ketil Flatnose, must be identified with Olaf king of Dublin, as described in early Irish and Scottish chronicles. We are also told in Heimskringla of Olaf Guthfrithsson of Vestfold who ..harried in the Western Sea… and on good archaeological evidence can be identified with the king buried in the Gokstad ship. It is possible that there was only one such king, Olaf Guthfrisson of Vestfold, who in his earlier days ruled from Dublin and raided in Scotland and who later in 871 returned to claim his Vestfold kingdom. The Irish Three Fragments of Annals, while not actually proving such a theory, do support the case for regarding Olaf Guthfrithsson of Vestfold as being the same as Olaf the White of Dublin and the Scottish Isles. The Fragments claim that Olaf of Dublin ended his reign there when c. 871 he returned to Norway to support his father Guthfrithin a struggle for a kingdom. This passage, then, would identify Olaf of Dublin, alias Olaf the White of Landnamabok with Olaf Guthfrithsson of Norway.[4]



  1. Fragm. 151, S. 175; Steenstrup, p. 120-121.
  2. see ÍF, 1, genealogy IXa
  3. Gísli Sigurðsson 262.
  4. Warlords and Holy Men, by Alfred P. Smith, Edinburgh University Press 2010, first published in 1984 by Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd. p159-160


  • Steenstrup, Johannes C.H.R. Normannerne, vol. 2. Kjøbenhavn, 1878: Vikingetogene mod Vest. pp. 119 ff.
  • Forte, Angelo, Richard Oram and Frederik Pedersen. Viking Empires. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005 ISBN 0-521-82992-5.
  • Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings. 2nd ed. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984.
  • Gísli Sigurðsson. The Medieval Icelandic Saga and Oral Tradition: A Discourse on Method. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U.P., 2004.
  • Bilbao, Jon. “Sobre la leyenda de Jaun Zuria, primer señor de Vizcaya” in Amigos del País, hoy, Real Sociedad Vascongada de Amigos del País (Comisión de Vizcaya), Bilbao, 1982, pp. 235–263.
  • Warlords and Holy Men, by Alfred P. Smith, Edinburgh University Press 2010, first published in 1984 by Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd.

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