‘Vikings’ Season 5: Who Settled Iceland First, The Pagans Or The Christians?

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Episode 19 of History Channel’s Vikings Season 5 saw Floki make a startling discovery inside a cave in Iceland. This discovery has led fans to question who really discovered Iceland.

SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains information about Episode 19 (titled “What Happens in the Cave”) of History Channel’s Vikings Season 5. Please proceed with caution if you have not yet viewed this episode and wish to avoid spoilers.

In the penultimate episode of Vikings Season 5, Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) explored the cave he had found at the end of Episode 18. Inside the massive cave system, he finally made a discovery that shook him.

As Metro points out, after traveling deep inside the cave, Floki discovers a giant cross and Christian relics. Included in this stash is what looks like the mythical Holy Grail, or the cup of Christ.

This discovery means that not only was Floki not the first person to discover the lands he considered the home of his gods but that the place was previously discovered by Christians.

So, Who Did Discover Iceland first?

According to the majority of Icelanders, they would like to believe that the Vikings had first claim on the country. As the tourist information site for Iceland, What’s On, points out, the history books state that Iceland was first settled by the Vikings sometime in the 8th or 9th century. However, there is also some suggestion that Irish monks could have been there first.

And with the discovery of Roman coins dating back to the 3rd century, there is speculation the Romans might have actually beat everyone there by centuries. There is speculation as to how those Roman coins got to Iceland so many centuries before actual settlement and it is possible that they were dropped by Romans who accidentally wound up on the island. It is also possible they may have only sheltered there briefly and then moved on, not really laying claim to Iceland.

As for the monks, there are two mentions in ancient Icelandic texts that suggest the Irish monks could have been there first. Both the Islendingabok (Book of the Icelanders) and the Landnamabok (Book of Settlements) give references to the Irish monks.

In addition, as Bangor University points out, Christian crosses have been found inside the Kverkarhellir manmade caves at Seljaland. Archaeologist Kristjan Ahronson of Bangor University believes that these crosses “bear striking stylistic similarities to those found in the northern and western fringes of Britain and Ireland.”

“The history of early Celtic ‘saints’ and their role in spreading Christianity along the western seaboard as they sought seclusion is well-established. What my work has done is to demonstrate that they could have traveled far further, as far as Iceland, in their quest for the wild places in which to follow their religious life. Certainly, the presence of such communities in Iceland – before the well-established arrival of Viking-Age Scandinavians – would explain our discoveries at Seljaland.”

There has also been speculation over the years that the 4th century B.C. Greek explorer Pytheas of Massalia discovered Iceland after he “sailed six days north of Britain until he happened upon the land, describing it as a place where the sun never fully sets.”

However, most archaeological evidence found in Iceland shows the Vikings as the earliest settlers there.

Gustaf Skarsgard stars as Floki in History Channel's 'Vikings'
Featured image credit: Jonathan HessionHistory Channel

Now, About That Holy Grail Connection

It does seem strange that Floki discovered a Christian cross and golden cup that looked like the Holy Grail in Iceland during the Viking Age. However, there is some suggestion that there is, in fact, a Grail connection with Iceland.

As Vice points out, Italian cryptographer Giancarlo Gianazza has been searching Iceland for the Holy Grail after he discovered what he believes is a secret code in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Thanks to this code, he now believes that the Holy Grail is hidden deep in a cave in Iceland.

There are also a few written instances that may suggest the Holy Grail is in Iceland.

According to Historic Mysteries, “a group of the Knights Templar, a monastic military order of the Middle Ages long associated with discovering holy relics, visited Iceland.”

“[I]n the official historic records of Iceland it is stated that in 1217, during the meeting of the Althing – the Parliament established in 930 – the leader and poet Snorri Sturluson appears next to what the text defines [as] ’80 knights from the south, all dressed and armed in the same fashion’ and is elected as commander for that year.”

Snorri Sturluson is an author who wrote some of the early sources of literature from the Viking Age. His works include the Prose Edda and the Heimskringla.

As a result of this, Gianazza is convinced that the Knights “traveled to Iceland and backed the election of Sturluson in exchange for his support in the building of a secret chamber to be filled over the years with sacred books and objects from the Temple of Jerusalem.”

As to whether or not a Grail connection can be linked to Iceland remains to be seen as no archaeological evidence has surfaced yet regarding this theory.

Vikings returns on Wednesday, January 30, at 9 p.m. ET/PT with the Season 5 finale. History Channel provides the following synopsis for Episode 20 (titled “Ragnarok”).

“A new battle for Kattegat is on and only the gods know who will emerge victorious.”