The Lone Medievalist

Aud the Deep-Minded

Poster with information about Aud the Deep-Minded

Artist: Dayanna Knight
Profiler: Dayanna Knight, Independent Scholar

Auðr djúpúðga Ketilsdóttir is known as Aud, or Unn, the Deep-Minded to the English-speaking modern world. These are all names associated with a high status woman of the North Atlantic zone of the ninth century. Her efforts contributed to the establishment of extended family networks that constructed and maintained early medieval trade and exchange to Iceland and beyond. Written sagas detailing Aud’s life date to the thirteenth century. 

Medieval, early or late, depictions of Aud are not known to have survived. Aud serves as a muse for modern musicians and artists. She is not often visually shown as an older woman, although this is the way the sagas describe her.

Brief Biography

  • Aud Ketilsdóttir was born in the Romsdal district of Norway, the second daughter of a high status hersir. 
  • She is married to Olaf the Shining, who had been declared King of Dublin around 853. They have one son, Thorstein, named in surviving sources. Thorstein later attempts to conquer Scotland. 
  • Aud is in Caithness with her father and his retainers when her son is killed. As a response she leaves Caithness for Orkney, sailing on the type of vessel trade in the North Atlantic becomes associated with: the knorr. 
  • In Orkney she marries a grand-daughter, Groa Thorsteinsdottír, into the ruling family of Jarls. She then sails on after resting and re-supplying. 
  • Sailing directly west the next archipelago visited was the Faroe Islands. Here Aud marries another grand-daughter, Olof Thorsteinsdottír, into a high status family. This clan is later known at the Gotuskeggi. 
  • Aud, her followers, and unmarried grandchildren sail on uneventfully to Iceland where the ship is wrecked while attempting to land. She takes twenty men and travels overland to find help befitting her status. She and her people stay the winter with her brother Bjorn at his farm in Breiðafjord. 
  • The following spring Aud establishes her own farm at Hvamm. She also marries another grand-daughter, Thorgerd Thorsteinsdottír, to Dala-Koll, a hersir who had journeyed out with them from Caithness. Thorgerd receives all of Laxardal as her dowry. 
  • Over the subsequent years the final three grand-daughters- Osk, Thorhild, Vigdis- are married into families that become regional power magnates as Iceland is better established. 
  • Aud’s grandson, Olaf Feilan, is married in autumn at Hvamm. Aud formally passes ownership of Hvamm to Olaf during the feasting. She then dies in her sleep.

Selected Quotations

From Kunz, Laxdærla saga:

  • “Unn was at Caithness when her son Thorstein was killed. Upon learning that her son had been killed, and as her father had died as well, she felt her future prospects there were rather dim. She had a knot built secretly in the forest. When it was finished, she made the ship ready and set out with substantial wealth. She took along all her kinsmen who were still alive, and people say it is hard to find another example of a woman managing to escape from such a hostile situation with as much wealth and so many followers. It shows what an exceptional woman Unn was.” Laxdærla saga, Chapter 4. 
  • “Old age was tightening its grip on Unn. She was not up and about until noon and retired to bed early in the evening. No one was allowed to consult her from the time she went to bed in the evening until she was dressed the next day. She replied angrily if anyone asked after her health. On the day the feast began Unn slept longer than usual, but was up when the guests began to arrive and went out to give her friends and kinsmen a proper welcome. She said they had shown their affection for her by making the long journey.” Laxdærla saga, Chapter 7.
  • “Unn then rose to her feet and said she would retire to her bedchamber. She urged them to enjoy themselves in whatever way they say fit, and people could take pleasure in drinking. It is said that Unn was both tall and heavy-set. She walked briskly along the hall and people commented on her dignified bearing. The evening was spent feasting until everyone went to bed. Olaf Feilan came to the sleeping chamber of his grandmother Unn the following day. As he entered the room, Unn was sitting upright among the pillows, dead. Everyone was impressed at how well Unn had kept her dignity to her dying day.” Laxdærla saga, Chapter 7.

Selected Bibliography

Primary: 

Eiríks saga rauða. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson, Matthías Þórðarson (eds.). In: Eyrbyggja saga. Íslenzk fornrit 4. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Fornritafélag, 1935. Pp. 195-237. 

Færeyinga saga. Ólafur Halldórsson (ed. Færeyinga saga lafs saga Tryggvasonar eptir Odd munk Snorrason. Íslenzk fornrit 25. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Fornritafélag, 2006. Pp. 1- 121. 

Íslendingabók. Jakob Benediktsson (ed.). In: Íslendingabók, Landnámabók. Íslenzk fornrit 1. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Fornritafélag, 1986. Pp. 1-28 

Landnámabók. Jakob Benediktsson (ed.). In: Íslendingabók, Landnámabók. Íslenzk fornrit 1. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Fornritafélag, 1986. Pp. 29-397. 

Laxdœla saga. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson (ed.). In: Laxdœla saga. Íslenzk fornrit 5. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Fornritafélag, 1934. 

Orkneyinga saga. F. Guðmundsson (ed.). In: Orkneyinga saga. legenda de Sancto Magno. Magnúss saga skemmri. Magnúss saga lengri. elga áttr ok lfs. Íslenzk fornrit 34. Reykjavík: Hið Íslenska Fornritafélag, 1965. 

Secondary:

Barraclough, Eleanor Rosamund. “Naming the Landscape in the Landnám narratives of the Íslendingasögur and Landnámabók.” Saga-Book of the Viking Society 36 (2012): 79-101. 

Brown, Nancy Marie. The far traveler: voyages of a Viking woman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007. 

Jesch, Judith. The Viking Diaspora. Routledge, 2015. 

Knight, Dayanna. Viking Nations: The Development of North Atlantic Identities. Pen and Swords, 2016. 

Kunz, Keneva. “The Saga of the People of Laxardal”. In: The Sagas of the Icelanders. Viking, 1997. Pp.270-421. 

Shafer, John. “Saga-Accounts of Norse Far-Travellers.” PhD diss., Durham University, 2010. 

Shafer, John. “Viking Travellers of the Sagas.” North and South, East and West: Movements in the Medieval World, Nottingham ePrints website, https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/ groups/medieval/resources/postgraduate-conference-procedings-2009.aspx (2010). 

Vanherpen, Sofie. “Conflict tussen historiciteit en literaire vrijheid: problematiek en gebruik van Oudnoordse teksten bij de schildering van Auðr djúpúðga Ketilsdóttir.” In Doctoral colloquium’Vlaamse Doctorandiedag voor Mediëvisten’. 2010. 

Vanherpen, Sofie. “In Search of a Founding Mother: The Case of Auðr djúpauðga in Sturlubók.” Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik 77, no. 3-4 (2017): 559-583. 

Vanherpen, Sofie. “Remembering Auðr/Unnr djúp(a)uðga Ketilsdóttir: construction of cultural memory and female religious identity.” Mirator 14:2 (2013): 61-78. 

Various Translators. The Sagas of the Icelanders. Viking, 1997. 

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