The Westman Islands are a
small and peaceful group of islands, just off the stormy coast of Iceland.
Their peacefulness was broken in 1627 when they became the target of the worst aggression in the history of Iceland.
A gang of pirates from Africa ventured further north than ever before, raided the islands and seized all by surprise.
They found nothing worth stealing so they made off with the only thing of any value – the inhabitants themselves.
But first they ravaged the land, burned the houses and churches and "chopped up people as you chop up sheep for soup".
Nearly the whole population, over 300 people, was taken prisoner and sailed away on a long voyage to Algiers, where eventually they were sold as slaves.
One of the captives, an old vicar – Oluf Eigilssen – worthless as a labourer, was sent off without a penny on a journey to Copenhagen to ask the King of Denmark and Iceland for ransom.
By his endurance and the kindness of people he met, the old vicar managed to travel through war-torn Europe and finally arrived in Copenhagen nine months after his capture.
As a result, 27 were freed and returned to Iceland, among them his wife.
Oluf Eigilssen then wrote a brief but meticulous account of his ordeal, now a treasure of the Royal Library of Denmark.
His chronicle, dense and emotionless as an Icelandic saga, gives a picture of how an old, but inquiring man used to only fish and sheep on a barren island, experienced North Africa and Europe at the beginning of the 17th century.
Barbariet tur retur