Egill Skallagrímsson (also Egill Skalla-Grímsson; 910 in Iceland; † c. 990) was a skald, chieftain, and Viking. His existence is mentioned in the historical Land Acquisition Book, and some of his poems are preserved in manuscripts, but his life can only be inferred from a literary source compiled over 200 years later, the Egils saga, which is why he must be regarded as a semi-literary figure.
Egill was born in Iceland as the son of a clan chief whose name is also mentioned in the Landnámabók, the most important Icelandic source on the settlement of the island in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Accordingly, Egill is the son of Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson and Bera Yngvarsdóttir and the grandson of Kveld-Úlfr.
Egils saga belongs to the Icelandic sagas (Íslendingasögur), which are among the most important works of medieval European literature.
They describe the lives of Icelanders from the 9th to the 11th century, but were not put into written form until about 200 years later.
The Saga of Egill, written by an anonymous author and attributed by some scholars to Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), tells of Egill's deeds. It covers a long period of time.
The story begins in Norway with the life of Egill's grandfather Úlfur called Kveld-Úlfur, covers the life of his father Skalla-Grímur, Egill's childhood, his travels to Scandinavia and England, his struggles, his old age and the further history of his family.
Egill continues to enjoy great popularity in Iceland.
The main source on the poet's life is this literary work. As usual with such sources, one must view the data with caution. Much is certainly invention.
When Egill's father, Skallagrímur, arrived in Iceland, he settled in Borg (probably Borg á Mýrum) near Borgarnes, at the place where his father's coffin was floated ashore. Skallagrímur was a famous warrior of the Vikings and an enemy of King Harald Fairhair of Norway (Haraldur konungur hinn hárfagri).
If the saga is to be believed, Egill proved to be an early genius and wrote his first poem at the age of three.
Egill also apparently proved to be exceptionally aggressive early on, even for Viking sons. For example, the saga reports that he committed his first murder at the age of 7. Another boy had made him lose unfairly - as he thought - in a ball game. Egill went home, came back with an axe, and killed the other boy.
However, his father was similarly hot-tempered and vengeful. He almost killed his own son when he lost to him in a ball game. The boy owed his life only to the intervention of the brave maid Brák. The maid, on the other hand, died immediately afterwards when her father chased her into the fjord Borgarfjörður and threw a stone after her.
As a young adult, Egill went to Norway, as was the custom required of the sons of wealthy Icelandic families (roughly comparable to the squire of German noble society).
The king valued him for his bravery and poetry. After several adventures there, Egill makes an enemy of the queen Gunnhildr. When the king Harald Fairhair died, Egill was declared an outlaw by his successor in Norway and returned to Iceland after defeating several pursuers.
He fought victoriously in the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 in the ranks of the English King Æthelstan.
In Iceland, Egill had five children with his wife Ásgerðr Björnsdóttir. When two of his sons die in quick succession (Gunnar and Böðvar), Egill falls into a depression and entertains suicidal thoughts.
It is only thanks to the wise intervention of his daughter Þorgerðr that he finally prefers to deal with his grief in a poem called Sonatorrek (The Mourning for the Sons) and continues with his life. A monument to this by Ásmundur Sveinsson stands at the still existing farm Borg í Mýrum near Borgarnes.
The saga further reports that Egill reaches an old age and finally lives with his niece Þórdís, the daughter of Egill's brother Þórólfur, and her husband Grim in Mosfellsbær near today's Reykjavík.
One day he traveled together with 2 slaves, climbed a mountain, there he is said to have buried a silver treasure in a ravine, which many have already searched in vain, because he killed both slaves.