Old Norse Democracy

«It is the opinion of many men that to write about the settling [of Iceland in the 9th century] is knowledge of little importance, but we believe that if we truly know the truth about out ancestors, we may more easily counter the mockery of foreigner when they accuse us of descending from slaves and bandits. And for those who wish to know ancient transmissions and how to trace lineages, it is better to start with the beginning than to enter in the middle. However it is, all civilized nations desire to know the origin of their own society and of the settling of their lineages.»

                  Landnámabók (The Book of the Settlingo of Iceland), unknown authors, 1140s

The First European Democratic Republic After Athens

“Then all the Powers went/ to the high Chairs of Fate/ the sacrosanct gods/ to discuss this…”

(Völuspá, st. 6, Poetic Edda)

When Iceland was fully settled by Norse peoples during the late 9th and early 10th centuries, something unique in medieval Europe happened; a democratic republic was created right in the midst of a medieval world ruled by totalitarian kingdoms and religious institutions. The Icelandic Alþingformally established in 930 AD, is the oldest extant parliamentary institution in the world. It began as an outdoor assembly at a place called Þingvellir, where large crowds of people gathered for markets and celebrations or attended the Þing (=the Parliament) where the country´s thirty-six leading men, the goðar, met to decide on legislation and dispense justice. All free men could attend the assemblies (and as we shall see, even free women sometimes attended, although their legal cases would usually be promoted by their kinsmen) which were usually the main social event of the year and drew large crowds of farmers and their families, parties involved in legal disputes, traders, craftsmen, storytellers and travellers. The centre of the gathering was the Lögberg, or Law Rock, a rocky outcrop on which the Lawspeaker (lögsögumaður) took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly. His responsibilities included reciting aloud the laws in effect at the time. It was his duty to proclaim the procedural law of Parliament to those attending the assembly each year.

The importance of this medieval democratic institution made the conversion to Christianity a great deal smoother in Iceland than it did in other Norse countries, where wars were fought for centuries over the issue of religious freedom, which the Heathens in these lands supported (although they would usually expect their leaders and other members of the community to attend great public sacrifices for the welfare of the community, even if they were otherwise allowed to believe whatever they wished), versus the totalitarian, enforced religion and the control over mind that the medieval Church represented.

In Iceland, people gathered at Parliament in the year 1000 AD and made a vote instead. The Christian fraction then represented half of the voters, and after winning over the one lacking vote that would make a slight majority, it was henceforth decided that Christianity should be the official, public religion of Iceland. In tune with ancient democratic values such as freedom of thought and religion, however, the Heathen half of the population was allowed to pratice their Heathen religion at home for another hundred years and then some – one of the reasons why Icelandic writers became our main source to the Pre-Christian religion: There were still Heathens and Heathen practices around when Icelanders first learned to write books.

Icelanders were also among the first medieval Europeans to write books almost exclusively in their native language, thus preserving the Old Norse language, poetry and storytelling traditions to a degree that no other Scandinavian country was able to muster. Snorri Sturluson explained this in his introduction to the Heimskringla:“It was Ari Priest the Wise (1068-1148)… who was the first man here in our country (Iceland), who wrote in the Norse language knowledge about old and new times.” That people should be able to read their own history in their own language was another extremely radical notion in medieval Europe, where most books were written in Latin and accessed only by the elite readers who knew that language. In Iceland, anyone who knew how to read – and they were an unusually literate nation for their time – could read the stories of their ancestors to other Icelanders.

An Ancient Norse/Germanic Tradition

Germanic thing, drawn after the depiction in a relief of the Column of Marcus Aurelius (AD 193)

Germanic thing, drawn after the depiction in a relief of the Column of Marcus Aurelius (AD 193)

Although the early Norse settlers who came to Iceland certainly knew of kings, most of them were from Norway, which up to recently had been a tribal land. There were at least 20 nations in Norway, made up of a single large tribes or else by confederations of smaller tribes. Many of these had been ruled by petty kings, but some had been republics ruled by tribal council since time immemorial – and even when there were kings, the king´s power was balanced by the power of the parliaments, the ancient tribal council known as a þing.

When my grandfather told me about the settling of Iceland when I was a child, he spiced up the story by claiming that Iceland was settled by Norwegian people who would rather emigrate than bow their knees to a single ruler. Even if simplified, his observation was partly true; many of the first settlers emigrated exactly because they were fleeing the new conditions at home caused by the forceful claim to totalitarian power and sole kingship over all the tribes of Norway, made by Haraldr Hárfagri. Rather than submitting to his rule, they went to Iceland and made a republic.

As surprisingly modern this attitude appears, the Norse form of democracy was an ancient and sacred institution that was first mentioned by Tacitus («Germania») in the first century AD, where the Roman historian and ethnographer wrote:

«Affairs of smaller moment the chiefs determine: about matters of higher consequence the whole nation deliberates; yet in such sort, that whatever depends upon the pleasure and decision of the people, is examined and discussed by the chiefs. Where no accident or emergency intervenes, they assemble upon stated days, either, when the moon changes, or is full: since they believe such seasons to be the most fortunate for beginning all transactions. Neither in reckoning of time do they count, like us, the number of days but that of nights. In this style their ordinances are framed, in this style their diets appointed; and with them the night seems to lead and govern the day.

From their extensive liberty this evil and default flows, that they meet not at once, nor as men commanded and afraid to disobey; so that often the second day, nay often the third, is consumed through the slowness of the members in assembling. They sit down as they list, promiscuously, like a crowd, and all armed. It is by the Priests that silence is enjoined, and with the power of correction the Priests are then invested.

Then the King or Chief is heard, as are others, each according to his precedence in age, or in nobility, or in warlike renown, or in eloquence; and the influence of every speaker proceeds rather from his ability to persuade than from any authority to command. If the proposition displease, they reject it by an inarticulate murmur: if it be pleasing, they brandish their javelins. The most honourable manner of signifying their assent, is to express their applause by the sound of their arms.»

Kings And þings

The þing was a law-giving, law-enforcing democratic institution of great antiquity in Norse/Germanic societies. Even when there were kings, the parliament had the power to approve of a king, and if the king failed to live up to the expectations for years on end, the þing could decide that his time was up, which usually meant that the king would be sacrificed.

Such events are described in several sources, such as the Ynglinga saga 15:

«The third autumn, the Svear gathered in large numbers at Uppsala when the sacrifices were to be held, then the chieftains held parliament and agreed that the famine must be blamed on Domaldi their king, and that they ought to kill him and sacrifice him for a good year, attack him and kill him and color the sacrificial altars red with his blood, and so they did.»

It was also to the parliament that an aspiring king had to turn if he wanted the support he needed to take the throne. A great king often had many wives and concubines, and thus many sons. Each son was entitled to inherit his father´s throne – if the parliament agreed, and enough people mustered to support him and/or swear their allegiance to him. In the Saga of Magnus the Good, son of Olaf the Holy, we hear that his stepmother, Queen Astrid, speaks his case at a Swedish parliament, a description that illustrates well the importance of the parliament in order to muster people for war or the support of a kingship-claim:

Astrid Queen speaks at the Parliament at Hrangrar

Astrid Queen speaks at the Parliament at Hrangrar

«…there was also Astrid Queen, who had been married to Ólaf the Holy. She received Magnus her stepson with great warmth, and she called for parliament at once, at a place called Hangrar. At that parliament Astrid spoke and said; `To us has now arrived… Magnus. He wishes to travel to Norway to demand his father´s legacy. I am deeply sworn to help him on this quest, for he is my stepson… I shall not hold back on any support that is in my power to give him, neither in the power of warriors that I rule, or in money. And all those of you who travel with him on this journey may expect my full friendship. I also announce that I will personally join him on this journey…´Thus she spoke at length and with wisdom, but when she finished, many responded and said that the Svear had won little honor from their last journey to Norway when they had followed Ólaf King, his father… 

Astrid replied; `All those who wish to be manly men will not be frightened by such. And if any of you have lost friends with Ólaf the Holy, or received scars, then it would now be a manly deed to travel to Norway and avenge it.´

Astrid made it so with her words and her support, that she got a lot of people with her to follow him to Norway.»

The World´s Oldest Democracy

225px-Olav_den_helliges_saga_CK5Erik Werenskiold

In his book, «Norge i Vikingtid» («Norway in the Viking Age»), Torgrim Titlestad discusses the importance of the Parliament in Norse/Germanic cultures. He points out that the Parliamentary system was age-old on Northwestern Europe that did not spring out of history´s darkness. It was rather an evolutionary phenomenon developed through more than a thousand years and which still has political roots in modern Scandinavian societies (which are often considered the most democratic nations in the world). The concept of the þing runs like a red thread from the Migration Age via the Viking Age and the Medieval state and on to the present day.

The Greek democracy, on the other hand, could rightly be called revolutionary. It was created by Kleisthenes around 508 B.C. and lasted for little more than 150 years. Then it vanished and did not show up again until the modern variety during the 19th century.

Titlestad points out that one could compare the Norse þing-system to the Greek democracy because they are both about folkish representation in ancient times. Certainly, slaves were excluded in both systemes, but contrary to the Greek norm, women actually had a certain influence in the Norse, where widows who owned property could attend the Parliament. Besides, the Norse þing-system had a unique longevity and continuity, and they were smaller assemblies that allowed for a more direct democracy than the Greek ever did. In short, the world´s first and long-lasting «direct democracy» was actually invented in Scandinavia. It was only later, when the laws were written down by scribes rather than remembered by everybody, that knowledge of the law became a privilege for the educated few.

Titlestad remarks that it is almost remarkable that this Norse contribution to a very basic aspect of European civilization has not become more famous. But the Norse did not leave grand monuments and remained in the outskirts of civilization until modern times, and so this major contribution to more modern ways of thinking and organizing society has been largely ignored. Yet, as soon as Vikings began to settle in other countries, they brought this organizational system with them: In England, Scotland and Ireland we know of nine þing-places. From generation to generation, Old Norse people transmitted the ideas of folkish representation and democratic values since time immemorial, testified not only by many written accounts, but also by the wealth of Parliament-places from ancient times – in Norway alone archaeologists have dug out at least 27 ancient Parliaments.

According to Titlestad, the Parliament-system was the very blood-vein of Old Norse culture. The system´s flexibility is shown in the way Vikings could have the þing as its most outstanding export-item. They brought it with them everywhere. If they were traveling, they had húsþing – «House-Parliament», in ships these were held by the mast.

The result was, as Chris Wickham writes; that the Norse Parliaments grew to become a part of the state-building in Western Europe. The Norse Parliament-system was the one collective element in relation to a European King-system that based itself on an exclusive societal top-elite around the King or the Emperor ruling through a network of elite-members. Here we see the Norse political system as an advanced and renewing element away from the more pyramidal systems on the continent. The Norse Parliaments pointed towards a democratic direction.

ting in Norway ting

The Viking Age and the Threat to Democracy

Titlestad is among the many Scandinavian historians who see the start of the Viking raids as a direct response to events happening right south of Heathen Denmark ever since the 770s – the Frankish expansion into Saxon territory in what the Norse people knew as Saxland (Sachsen in Northern Germany). Charlemagne invaded Sachsen over the course of thirty years, brutally enforcing his Christian religion upon the Heathen Saxons and destroying their ancient democratic system in favor of his absolute dictatorship. Charlemagne not only suppressed the Saxon people and their religion, but also dissolved their Parliaments, as the missionay Lebuini described them in 770:

«It was also the custom among the Saxons that, once a year, held assembly by the river Weser at a place called Marklo. There came usually all the chiefs from the varous districts, as well as 12 chosen nobles, an equal number of free and an equal number of un-free representatives. There, together they renewed their laws in common council, decided upon the most important legal cases and decided what they were to accomplish in war- and peace-operations for the coming year.»

The historian Martin Linzel who has written carefully about these aspects of Saxon history claims that the number of representatives at the Saxon Parliament was 36 and that they represented the supreme political sovereignty in all public cases – interestingly enough, the Icelandic Parliament also began with 36 gódar.

During the 780s, Charlemagne forbade this sort of decentralized Saxon Parliament-system in order to monopolize all political power, before he forbade the Saxon Heathen religion and introduced a new monotheistic religion that gave the death-penalty to all religious deviants.

Norsemen had never before faced such a threat to their way of life, what must have been a major cause for the aggression that began with the first Viking raids against Christian strongholds in Europe.

Democracy and the Heathen Religion

Religion, ritual and tradition played an important part in the Old Norse democracies, as we often see in the many descriptions of such assemblies. If we go to Old Norse myths, we quickly see that the idea of Parliament was sacrosanct – even the gods ruled by Parliament. According to Snorri Sturluson in the Prose Edda, the gods keep their Parliament by the Well of Origin beneath the Ash Yggdrasill.

The Edda poem Völuspá refers to such divine parliaments several times. Every time a great event takes place and needs to be acted upon, the «powers» gather at Parliament – at the «High Chairs of Fate. The formula repeats itself like a sacred chant in the first lines of verses 6,9,23, and 25):

Then all the powers went – Þá gengu regin ǫll

to the high Chairs of Fate – á rǫkstóla,

the sacrosanct gods – ginnheilug goð,

to discuss this… – ok um þat gættusk;

To Parliament do the surviving children of the gods also gather after Ragnarök in order to remember the past and assess the future (Völuspá st.60):

The Aesir come together – Finnask æsir

At the Plains of Return to Source – a Iðavelli

And of the ancient tidings – ok um Moldþinur

Did they make judgment – mátkan dœma


The Parliament is also mentioned in another Edda poem, the Vegtamkvíða, st. 1, where the gods and goddesses gather at Parliament to discuss the omen dreams of Balder:

All together, the gods came to council – Senn vorv æsir allir a þingi

And all the goddesses, to speak together – ok asynivr, alla a mali,

And what they talked about, those powerful gods – ok vm þat ræðv rikir tifar,

Was why Balder was having sinister dreams – hvi væri Balldri ballir dravmar


Article by Maria Kvilhaug



Old Uppsala mounds

The historian Snorri Sturluson, writing in the 1220s, based his Ynglinga Saga on accounts of “wise people” and most spesifically on the poem Ynglingatal by Thiódolf the Wise, who composed this poem towards the end of the 9th century. Ynglinga Saga tells the legend of the royal Ynglinga lineage, beginning with the arrival of the Aesir in Sweden and Freyr´s domain in Uppsala in ancient Svíthiód, the land of the Svear tribe, and then moving up 30 generations until Halfdan the Black, who was born ca 810 A.D. Halfdan was to father Harald Hárfagri, who came to unite the 30 tribes of Norway (and caused the settling of Iceland by the emigration of his enemies from Norway).

Thirty generations – that could easily lead us back to 700-500 BC. We hear of the lives and rules and deaths of one king after the other, all ruling from the great and sacred site of Uppsala, where people would gather from all over Sweden for celebrations, sacrifice and parliament (“Thing”). Having reached the fifth and sixth centuries AD, we start to hear of the so-called “Sea-kings”, landless Vikings who raided the coasts of Sweden, Finland and the Baltic – and sometimes came to rule the Swedish tribes.

Times were getting hard, violent, and difficult…

Map of Geats and Svear MapBefore Ingjald the Bad Ruler, who may have lived sometime between 500-700 AD, Sweden also consisted of many tribes and kingdoms, the most important of which were Svíthiód, Götaland, Gotland and Scania. Ingjald got it into his head that he should be king of all Swedes, but did not count on Ivarr Rules Widely, the king of Scania (south-east Sweden) and descendant of the Skioldunga lineage that once ruled all of Denmark from the seat of Lejre in Zealand.

The defeat of Ingjald, the last Ynglinga king to rule at Uppsala, caused his son, Ólaf the Tree-Feller, to flee westwards to Norway with a large retinue of men. There, his descendants came to rule the kingdom of Vestfold in Norway, until Harald Hárfagri united the Norwegian tribes and created a nation out of Norway during the 860s.

I am going to let Snorri tell his tale, beginning with chapter 34 of the Ynglinga saga:


Eystein, King Adils’ son, ruled next over Sweden, and in his lifetime Rolf Krake of Lejre fell.  In those days many kings, both Danes and Northmen, ravaged the Swedish dominions; for there were many sea-kings who ruled over many people, but had no lands, and he might well be called a sea-king who never slept beneath sooty roof-timbers.


There was a sea-king called Solve, a son of Hogne of Njardo, who at that time plundered in the Baltic, but had his dominion in Jutland.  He came with his forces to Sweden, just as King Eystein was at a feast in a district called Lofond.  Solve came unexpectedly in the night on Eystein, surrounded the house in which the king was, and burned him and all his court.  Then Solve went to Sigtun, and desired that the Swedes should receive him, and give him the title of king; but they collected an army, and tried to defend the country against him, on which there was a great battle, that lasted, according to report, eleven days.

There King Solve was victorious, and was afterwards king of the Swedish dominions for a long time, until at last the Swedes betrayed him, and he was killed.


Yngvar, who was King Eystein’s son, then became king of Sweden. He was a great warrior, and often lay out with his warships; for the Swedish dominions were much ravaged then by Danes and East-country men.  King Yngvar made a peace with the Danes; but betook himself to ravaging the East country in return.  One summer he went with his forces to Estland, and plundered at a place called Stein.  The men of Estland came down from the interior with a great army, and there was a battle; but the army of the country was so brave that the Swedes could not withstand them, and King Yngvar fell, and his people fled.  He was buried close to the seashore under a mound in Estland; and after this defeat the Swedes returned home.


Onund was the name of Yngvar’s son who succeeded him.  In his days there was peace in Sweden, and he became rich in valuable goods.  King Onund went with his army to Estland to avenge his father, and landed and ravaged the country round far and wide, and returned with a great booty in autumn to Sweden.  In his time there were fruitful seasons in Sweden, so that he was one of the most popular of kings.  Sweden is a great forest land, and there are such great uninhabited forests in it that it is a journey of many days to cross them.  Onund bestowed great diligence and expense on opening the woods and cultivating the cleared land.  He made roads through the desert forests; and thus cleared land is found all through the forest country, and great districts are settled.  In this way extensive tracts of land were brought into cultivation, for there were country people enough to cultivate the land.  Onund had roads made through all Sweden, both through forests and morasses, and also over mountains; and he was therefore called Onund Roadmaker.  He had a house built for himself in every district of Sweden, and went over the whole country in guest-quarters.


Ingjald and Gautvid with Svipdag the BlindOnund had a son called Ingjald, and at that time Yngvar was king of the district of Fjadryndaland.  Yngvar had two sons by his wife — the one called Alf, the other Agnar — who were about the same age as Ingjald.  Onund’s district-kings were at that time spread widely over Sweden, and Svipdag the Blind ruled over Tiundaland, in which Upsal is situated, and where all the Swedish Things are held.  There also were held the mid-winter sacrifices, at which many kings attended.  One year at midwinter there was a great assembly of people at Upsal, and King Yngvar had also come there with his sons.

Alf, King Yngvar’s son, and Ingjald, King Onund’s son, were there — both about six years old.  They amused themselves with child’s play, in which each should be leading on his army.  In their play Ingjald found himself not so strong as Alf, and was so vexed that he almost cried.  His foster-brother Gautvid came up, led him to his foster-father Svipdag the Blind, and told him how ill it appeared that he was weaker and less manly than Alf, King Yngvar’s son.  Svipdag replied that it was a great shame.  The day after Svipdag took the heart of a wolf, roasted it on the tongs, and gave it to the king’s son Ingjald to eat, and from that time he became a most ferocious person, and of the worst disposition.

When Ingjald was grown up, Onund applied for him to King Algaut for his daughter Gauthild.  Algaut was a son of Gautrek the Mild, and grandson of Gaut; and from them Gotland (Gautland) took its name.  King Algaut thought his daughter would be well married if she got King Onund’s son, and if he had his father’s disposition; so the girl was sent to Sweden, and King Ingjald celebrated his wedding with her in due time.


King Onund one autumn, travelling between his mansion-houses, came over a road called Himmenheath, where there are some narrow mountain valleys, with high mountains on both sides.  There was heavy rain at the time, and before there had been snow on the mountains.  A landslip of clay and stones came down upon King Onund and his people, and there he met his death, and many with him.


Konung_Ingjald_Illråda_bränner_upp_6_Fylkiskonungar_by_Hugo_HamiltonThen Ingjald, King Onund’s son, came to the kingdom.  The Upsal kings were the highest in Sweden among the many district-kings who had been since the time that Odin was chief.  The kings who resided at Upsal had been the supreme chiefs over the whole Swedish dominions until the death of Agne, when, as before related, the kingdom came to be divided between brothers.  After that time the dominions and kingly powers were spread among the branches of the family as these increased; but some kings cleared great tracts of forest-land, and settled them, and thereby increased their domains.

Now when Ingjald took the dominions and the kingdom of his father, there were, as before said, many district-kings.  King Ingjald ordered a great feast to be prepared in Upsal, and intended at that feast to enter on his heritage after King Onund his father.  He had a large hall made ready for the occasion — one not less, nor less sumptuous, than that of Upsal; and this hall was called the Seven Kings Hall, and in it were seven high seats for kings.  Then King Ingjald sent men all through Sweden, and invited to his feast kings, earls, and other men of consequence.

To this heirship-feast came King Algaut, his father-in-law; Yngvar king of Fjadryndaland, with his two sons, Alf and Agnar; King Sporsnjall of Nerike; King Sighvat of Aattundaland: but Granmar king of Sodermanland did not come.

Six kings were placed in the seats in the new hall; but one of the high seats which Ingjald had prepared was empty.  All the persons who had come got places in the new hall; but to his own court, and the rest of his people, he had appointed places at Upsal.

It was the custom at that time that he who gave an heirship-feast after kings or earls, and entered upon the heritage, should sit upon the footstool in front of the high seat, until the full bowl, which was called the Brage-beaker, was brought in.  Then he should stand up, take the Brage-beaker, make solemn vows to be afterwards fulfilled, and thereupon empty the beaker.  Then he should ascend the high seat which his father had occupied; and thus he came to the full heritage after his father.

Now it was done so on this occasion.  When the full Brage-beaker came in, King Ingjald stood up, grasped a large bull’s horn, and made a solemn vow to enlarge his dominions by one half, towards all the four corners of the world, or die; and thereupon pointed with the horn to the four quarters.

Now when the guests had become drunk towards evening King Ingjald told Svipdag’s sons, Gautvid and Hylvid, to arm themselves and their men, as had before been settled; and accordingly they went out, and came up to the new hall, and set fire to it.  The hall was soon in a blaze, and the six kings, with all their people, were burned in it.  Those who tried to come out were killed.

Then King Ingjald laid all the dominions these kings had possessed under himself, and took taxes  from them.


Erik Werenskiold Ynglinga sagaWhen King Granmar heard the news of this treachery, he thought the same lot awaited him if he did not take care.  The same summer King Hjorvard, who was called Ylfing, came with his fleet to Sweden, and went into a fjord called Myrkva-fjord.

When King Granmar heard this he sent a messenger to him to invite him and all his men to a feast.  He accepted it willingly; for he had never committed waste in King Granmar’s dominions.  When he came to the feast he was gladly welcomed.  In the evening, when the full bowls went round, as was the custom of kings when they were at home, or in the feasts they ordered to be made, they sat and drank together, a man and woman with each other in pairs, and the rest of the company sat and drank all together.

But it was the law among the vikings that all who were at the entertainment should drink together in one company all round.

King Hjorvard’s high seat was placed right opposite to King Granmar’s high seat, and on the same bench sat all his men.  King Granmar told his daughter Hildigunn, who was a remarkably beautiful girl, to make ready to carry ale to the vikings.  Thereupon she took a silver goblet, filled it, bowed before King Hjorvard, and said, “Success to all Ylfinger: this cup to the memory of Rolf Krake” – drank out the half, and handed the cup to King Hjorvard.  He took the cup, and took her hand, and said she must sit beside him.

She said that is not viking fashion to drink two and two with women. Hjorvard replied that it were better for him to make a change, and leave the viking law, and drink in company with her.  Then Hildigunn sat down beside him, and both drank together, and spoke a great deal with each other during the evening.

The next day, when King Granmar and Hjorvard met, Hjorvard spoke of his courtship, and asked to have Hildigunn in marriage.  King Granmar laid this proposal before his wife Hilda, and before people of consequence, saying they would have great help and trust in Hjorvard; and all approved of it highly, and thought it very advisable.  And the end was, that Hildigunn was promised to Hjorvard, and the wedding followed soon after; and King Hjorvard stayed with King Granmar, who had no sons, to help him to defend his dominions.


Erik Werenskiold Ynglinga saga battleThe same autumn King Ingjald collected a war-force, with which he intended to fall upon Granmar and Hjorvard; but when they heard it they also collected a force, and Hogne, who ruled over East Gotland, together with his son Hildur, came to their assistance. Hogne was father of Hilda, who was married to King Granmar.  King Ingjald landed with his army, which was by far the most numerous.

A battle began, which was very sharp; but after it had lasted a short time, the chiefs who ruled over Fjadryndaland, West Gotland, Nerike, and Aattundaland, took to flight with all the men from those countries, and hastened to their ships.  This placed King Ingjald in great danger, and he received many wounds, but escaped by flight to his ships.  Svipdag the Blind, Ingjald’s foster-father, together with his sons, Gautvid and Hylvid, fell.

Ingjald returned to Upsal, very ill-satisfied with his expedition; and he thought the army levied from those countries he had acquired by conquest had been unfaithful to him.  There was great hostility afterwards between King Ingjald and King Granmar, and his son-in-law King Hjorvard; and after this had continued a long time the friends of both parties brought about a reconciliation.

The king appointed a meeting, and concluded a peace.  This peace was to endure as long as the three kings lived, and this was confirmed by oath and promises of fidelity.

The spring after, King Granmar went to Upsal to make offering, as usual, for a steady peace.  Then the foreboding turned out for him so that it did not promise him long life, and he returned to his dominions.


The autumn after, King Granmar and his son-in-law Hjorvard went to a feast at one of their farms in the island Sile.  When they were at the entertainment, King Ingjald came there in the night with his troops, surrounded the house, and burnt them in it, with all their men.

Then he took to himself all the country these kings had possessed, and placed chiefs over it.  King Hogne and his son Hildur often made inroads on horseback into the Swedish dominions, and killed King Ingjald’s men, whom he had placed over the kingdom which had belonged to their relation Granmar.  This strife between King Ingjald and King Hogne continued for a long time; but King Hogne defended his kingdom against King Ingjald to his dying day.  King Ingjald had two children by his wife – the eldest called Ása, the other Olaf.

Gauthild, the wife of Ingjald, sent the boy to his foster-father Bove, in West Gotland, where he was brought up along with Saxe, Bove’s son, who had the surname of Flette.  It was a common saying that King Ingjald had killed twelve kings, and deceived them all under pretence of peace; therefore he was called Ingjald the Bad Ruler.  He was king over the greater part of Sweden.

He married his daughter Ása to Gudrod king of Scania; and she was like her father in disposition.  Ása brought it about that Gudrod killed his brother Halfdan, father of Ivarr Rules Widely; and also she brought about the death of her husband Gudrod, and then fled to her father; and she thus got the name also of Ása the Bad Ruler.


Ivarr Rules Widely came to Scania after the fall of his uncle Gudrod, and collected an army in all haste, and moved with it into Sweden.  Ása had gone to her father before.  King Ingjald was at a feast in Raening, when he heard that King Ivarr’s army was in the neighbourhood.  Ingjald thought he had not strength to og into battle against Ivarr, and he saw well that if he betook himself to flight his enemies would swarm around him from all corners.  He and Ása took a resolution which has become celebrated.  They drank until all their people were dead drunk, and then put fire to the hall; and it was consumed, with all who were in it, including themselves, King Ingjald, and Ása.


Ivarr Rules Widely subdued the whole of Sweden.  He brought in subjection to himself all the Danish dominions, a great deal of Saxland, all the East Country, and a fifth part of England.  From his race the kings of Sweden and Denmark who have had the supreme authority in those countries, are descended.

After Ingjald the Bad Ruler the Upsal dominion fell from the Yngling race notwithstanding the length of time they could reckon up the series of their forefathers.

Eirik Werenskold birkebeinerne inntar Sverresborg