Iceland revokes law allowing Basques to be killed on sight

In autumn 1615, Ari Magnússon, Sheriff of  Ögur, decided at a meeting in Súðavík  that it was free for Icelanders to kill Basque sailors. It resulted in a bloodbath and 32 Basques were killed. Now 400 years later, this provision is formally being revoked.

Basques can now visit Iceland freely without any fear of being lynched on the streets.

Islandsbloggen has the story:

It has been called Iceland’s only mass murder. But after 400 years Basques and Icelanders will now conclude a symbolic peace. At the same time, a small monument will be raised in Hólmavík to honor the memory of the 32 Basque sailors who were killed in autumn 1615 under the leadership of Ari Magnússon, Sheriff of Ögur. Relatives as well as the Minister of Culture Illugi Gunnarsson will attend the ceremony.

As whaling became increasingly important – both for oil and for meat –  Basque whalers journeyed far from home to chase their prey. Their travels took them, among other places, to Newfoundland on the east coast of Canada and to Svalbard.

In early 1600 Basque whalers found themselves  in Iceland and the Westfjords. However, it was not to become a long-standing tradition. In Autumn 1615, 86 whalers were ready to return home with huge catches loaded aboard three ships. But a sudden storm in Reykjarfjörður in Strandirregionen crushed all their boats. Three sailors died in the storm.

Using a smaller boat they rounded the Hornstrandir to search for ships that could sail home together with their catches. At Dynjandi in Jökulfjörður they stole a bigger boat and captured the former crew.

The news spread like wildfire in the region. Not so very long before, in 1579, pirates had attacked the farm at Rauðisandur in the West Fjords. The attack had led Judge Magnús Jónsson to require all adult Icelanders in the region to bear arms.

He was probably reminded of this fear of the earlier pirates when Ari Magnússon, Sheriff of Ögur, at a meeting in Súðavík decided that it was free to kill the Basque sailors. The Sheriff was in fact a relative of one of the earlier victims, Eggert Hannesson whose home had been looted.

The Basques had made camp at Sandeyri on Snæfjallaströnd. As they were busy with their catches Ari Magnússon went on the attack attack. In all 18 people were killed at Sandeyri and on the island Æðey. The other Basques were killed in Dýrafjörður where they had broken into the Danish trading house in Þingeyri.

In reality, it was a bloodbath. Fifty of the shipwrecked Basques managed to escape to Patreksfjörður. When spring’s first English ship arrived in the fjord, the Basques seized it – and never returned more to Iceland.

File:Painting of Ari Magnusson and his wife.jpg

District Commissioner Ari Magnusson of Ögur and his wife Kristín Guðbrandsdóttir


The memory of those Basques was commemorated at a ceremony in Hólmavík on April 22nd. A memorial stone with a plaque unveiled in honor of the victims is located outside the Witchcraft Museum. Relatives of both perpetrators and victims were at the ceremony. A ‘symbolic reconcillation’ was acted out by Xabier Irujo, descendant of one of the murdered Basque whale hunters, and Magnús Rafnsson, descendant of one of the murderers.

An account of the events is available here: Spánverjavígin – Slaying of the Spaniards

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One Response to “Iceland revokes law allowing Basques to be killed on sight”

  1. El Rastreador de Noticias » Prohiben matar vascos en Islandia Says:

    […] Iceland revokes law allowing Basques to be killed on sight … […]

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