What the Sagas tell us of the Consolidation of the Scandinavian Countries (and England)- a Summary

Scandinavian tribes

Once upon a time, the lands of Scandinavia were divided into many different tribes. In south-Jutland lived the Saxons and in North-Jutland the Angles, on Zealand and in Scania (south Sweden) lived the Danes, ruled by the clan of the Shieldlings (Skioldungar) who were descended from Shield, a son of the god Óðinn, and from Shield´s wife, the goddess Gefion Freyia. To the north of the Danes lived the large tribe of the Gautar, and by the Great Lake (Mälaren) there were several smaller tribes and one large, the tribe of the Svear.

Around 400 A.D., the tribe of the Danes expanded their territory into Jutland, forcing the Anglos and the Saxons further south. The Danes kept expanding, and while some of the Saxons settled even further south (in Sachsen), others joined forces with the Angles and migrated west across the sea, where they blended in and came to dominate the older Celto-Roman populations. Old Britannia became Anglo-Saxon England.

Danes and Migrations

(Note: The Anglo-Saxons did not replace the older Celtic and Celto-Roman population – they only came to dominate them. Brittannia was weakened after the Roman administration simply packed up and left; a large part of the original Celtic population no longer had their tribal traditions but had come to depend on Roman civilization and bureacracy. As the Anglo-Saxons arrived from Jutland, it was easy for them to dominate the peasant classes. The Anglo-Saxon chiefs set themselves up as overlords, and it was their language and their customs that came to dominate the British upper classes, their language that came to be employed by scribes and clerics. Many Britons were already converted to Christianity because the Roman Empire had converted, and the Anglo-Saxons were also converted at least by the 7th century. As the realm was converted to Christianity, the Christian scholars began to write in the language of the upper classes: Anglo-Saxon. This is why “Old English” (Anglo-Saxon, a variant of the Germanic/Proto-Norse language) became the new language of Brittannia, now called England after the Anglos. This does not mean that the Celtic populations vanished. Apart from the Welsh and Gaelic nations, they were largely subdued and came to adapt to the language and customs of the newcomers).

As England was born, so was Denmark; a realm consisting of Jutland, Zealand, Scania and all the smaller islands of this area. For a long time, they were ruled by the Shieldlings, but then different fractions rose and the tribe of Danes were divided into several smaller kingdoms. Before 700 A.D., descendants of the Shieldlings ruled only in Scania (south Sweden), while many other chiefs ruled the diverse Danish fractions.

Once upon a time, the Svear was just one of many other tribes who dwelled in what we today call Sweden. The Svear lived in Lake Valley, surrounding the Great Lake, Mälaren, and from then spread out to dominate the surrounding lands to the north of the Spirit Lake (Vätteren) and the Vanir Lake (Vänaren). Their land was called Svíthióð (Svea People) or Svealand, but as they expanded their territories, they started to call their reign Svearíki (Svea Reign).

SWEDEN2 (2)

The Svear were ruled by a royal dynasty, the Ynglingar, who claimed descent from the Vanir god Yngví Freyr and his Iötunn wife, Gerð Gymisdaughter. For at least twenty generations, the Ynglingar had ruled their tribe successfully from their seat in Uppsala. Like all Norsemen, the Svear moved by waterways, lakes and rivers, artificial canals and open sea.

One of their last and greatest kings, Ánund the Road Builder, inspired by the Classical idea that all roads lead to Rome, built roads through all the impenetrable forests of Svíthióð, all leading to Uppsala and to the thriving trading ports of Birch Island (Birka), Sígtuna and Telgja. Thus Svíthióð became the first Scandinavian country to enter civilization, followed by Denmark.

Ánund was a great and well-loved king. But he was succeeded by his son, Ingjald the Bad Ruler. Ingjald wanted to rule alone, and to conquer the surrounding tribes. He invited six kings from smaller kingdoms around the Great Lake (Mälaren). He had built a hall named The Hall of the Seven Kings, and invited the other kings to sit together in the seven High Seats to rule the land together. Five of the invited kings arrived and sat down in the hall. Then Ingjald had the Hall of the Seven Kings locked from the outside and burned it down.

Hugo Hamilton (1802-1871) Hall of the Seven Kings Burned by Ingjald

Ingjald burns the Hall of the Seven Kings – by Hugo Hamilton 

Thus Ingjald became sole ruler of Svearíki as it was then. Ingjald was greedy for more power, however, and set his eyes on Gautaland and Scania. But one of the kings whom he had invited to the Hall of the Seven Kings had seen through his deception and escaped.

His name was Granmar, the king of Southern Man´s Land. Granmar fled to Gautaland and met there with Högnir, the king of the Gauts, and sought alliance with him by marrying Högnir´s daughter, Hild. The couple had another daughter, Hildigunn, a very beautiful girl.

Hildigunn grew up in Gautaland beneath the constant threat of invasion from the Svea king. As Ingjald´s power grew, her father, Granmar, her grandfather, Högnir and her uncle Hildur decided that they needed another strong alliance.

In the Eastern Ocean (Baltic Sea), there were Vikings, large fleets of pirates ruled by Sea Kings who regarded themselves as Wolflings, descendants of Hrolf Kráki. Hildigunn´s powerful relatives sent emissaries out to these Vikings, who had so far never been invited to any noble home on account of being regarded as criminals and thugs, pirates as they were. The Vikings, curious at this strange invitation, accepted and arrived at the Gaut court, led by Hjörvarð the Sea King.

As soon as the Vikings had settled in the royal hall, Granmar sent his daughter Hildigunn to serve the Sea King, and the two of them fell in love immediately. Hjörvarð asked for Hildigunn´s hand in marriage, and her father Granmar formally asked her mother Hild if she agreed. She agreed and referred to her grandfather Högnir and her brother Hildur, who also agreed, on one condition; that Hjörvarð helped defend their lands against the Svear.

queen-wealhtheow-pledges-beowulf

Hjörvarð agreed to this term if his son to come by Hildigunn could become heir to the Gautar High Seat. Then, as a sacrifice to his people, Hildur Högnisson abdicated his right to the High Seat in favor of his sister´s daughter´s (Hildigunn´s) as yet unborn son.

Some years later, after Hildigunn had born a son, Hjörmund Hjörvarðsson, her father Granmar and her husband Hjörvarð were assaulted by Ingjald of the Svear and perished in a fire. But Hildigunn and her son lived safely with her grandfather Högnir and her uncle Hildur in Gautaland. Despite the death of Hjörvarð, Hildur honored his promise to leave the High Seat to Hildigunn´s son Hjörmund.

Meanwhile, Ingjald of the Svear sought alliance with Scania by offering up his daughter Ása to the Scanian king, Guðröð the Shieldling (Skioldung). The Shieldlings believed that they were descended from a son of Óðinn, Shield (Skiold), who had married the goddess Gefion Freyia, rulers of Zealand and ancestors to all Danes. Now, the Danes were divided into different fractions – some lived in Jutland, others in Zealand, while the ancient rulers of all Danes, the Shieldlings, had claimed their seat in Scania (south Sweden).

The Shieldlings of Scania believed that Ingjald wanted their help in subduing the Gautar and set one term: that Gautaland was to be divided in two and that the Danes could rule in East Gautaland while the Svear could rule the western part. Ingjald of the Svear agreed to this term and sent his daughter Ása to live with the Scanian king. But Ingjald´s daughter was not there to forge a new alliance – she was there to destroy the Shieldlings so that her father Ingjald could rule all the Swedish lands, including Gautaland and Scania. Ása caused conflict between Guðröð her husband and his brother Halfdan to the point where they killed each other. But Ása had not counted on Halfdan´s son, Ivarr.

Ivarr arrived with many men, and Ása had to flee back to her father in Uppsala. Ivarr allied himself now with the Gautar and all the other tribes that had felt suppressed by the Svear. All the other kings and princelings from all the other tribes now came together and chased Ingjald and his daughter away from Uppsala. When father and daughter understood that all was lost, they locked themselves within a hall and burned it down, thus they committed suicide.

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Ingjald and his daughter Ása – by Gerhard Munthe

Only Ingjald´s son, Ólaf, escaped from Uppsala. He was followed by many Svear and created a new land in Värmland, close to Alfheim (the area of present day Bohuslän and Østfold). His descendants were to marry into the royal families of the many free tribes of Norway, eventually settling in Vestfold, from where one descendant, Harald Hair-Fair, son of Halfdan the Black, came to be the first king to unite all the tribes of Norway beneath himself.

The entire history of the Ynglinga lineage (from their ancient reign in Uppsala to their becoming the first kings of Norway of the Viking Age) was recorded in Ynglingatál by the 9th century skald Thiódolf the Wise of Kvinir (in Blade Honer, he is the grandsson of our skald Thiódolf Griótgardsson and Zivah Hallgrimsdaughter). The story was later elaborated by Snorri Sturlusson in his Ynglinga Saga

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Back in Sweden, the non-Svear tribes had not finished celebrating their freedom from the Ynglinga clan and their Svear armies before they realized that Ivarr of Scania had no intention of giving back their lands and their freedom. Taking away their sovereignty and their royal status, Ivarr still honored the Gauts by allowing Hildigunn´s son by Hjörvarð the Sea King, Hjörmund, to become Earl of West-Gautaland. But Gautaland was now divided, and West-Gautaland came directly under Ivarr´s rule and his new seat in Uppsala.

It is not known who ruled in East-Gautaland, but in Blade Honer, the most powerful clan here was the Thunder Priest Lineage (Thorsgódir), descended from the tribe of Thunder Warriors that predated the arrival of the Gauts. 

With the help of his many tribal subjects, Ivarr re-conquered Denmark. Descended from the first king of all Danes, Skiold (Shield), Odin´s son, and his wife, the original Danish mother goddess Gefion Freyia, Ivarr managed to restore a united Denmark after centuries of division. He also became king of all the Swedish tribes.

As such, he became the greatest king Scandinavia had ever seen: a king of Denmark and Sweden together. His name was now Ivarr Rules Widely.

Ivar

Map showing the possible extent of Ivar Vidfamne’s realms. The kingdom of Ivar Vidfamne (outlined in red) and other territories paying him tribute (outlined in purple), as it may be interpreted from the stories about Ivar Vidfamne in the sagas

But Ivarr was the last of the Shieldlings, and had no surviving sons. Thus his daughter, Auð the Deep-Minded, was his sole heir and the female end to his line. As the female end of a great and divine royal dynasty, she could become mother to new dynasties.

Ivarr married his daughter, Auð, off to one of his new subjects, Rurik the Ring-Slinger, who had been the king of Hleiðargard in Zealand before Ivarr became High King. They had a son, Harald Wartooth.

But as Harald grew, and when Ivarr finally died, it became evident that Rurik had no intention of giving up the royal seat to his son by Auð: he wanted his sons by earlier marriages to take over both Svearíki and Denmark.

Auð and her son Harald traveled east to find a Sea King (a pirate king) who ruled large fleets of pirates.

His name was Ráðbarð the Sea King. Auð offered up herself in marriage to the pirate lord and promised that their son to come would rule all of Denmark if only her son Harald could rule all of Svearíki. Being the female end of her dynasty, any son of hers could rightfully claim such a legacy. Ráðbarð agreed, and with his fleet of Vikings, they overthrew Rurik and set Harald Wartooth to rule both Denmark and Sveariki.

Auð had another son by Ráðbarð, Randvér, who was now heir to Denmark although Harald Wartooth kept ruling as sole king of both realms until Randvér had grown and proven himself. Randvér died young and never became king, but left a son; Sígurð Ring

300px-Lorenz_Frölich_-_Harald_Wartooth

Harald Wartooth by Lorenz Frölich

Around 750 A.D., the Battle of Brávellir took place where Harald Wartooth lost his life. Then, Sweden and Denmark were consolidated as two separate kingdoms.

  • One of Harald´s sons or grandsons ruled Sweden after him
  • Sigurd Ring became king of Denmark.

“Denmark” included Vestfold and Alfheim in Norway, Scania and West-Götaland.

“Sweden” included East-Götaland, Gotland and the rest of Sweden as we know it.

“Norway” was still not a kingdom. But during the reign of Sigurd Ring, the Ynglinga kings worked to conquer or else marry into several smaller Norwegian kingdoms. Around the year 810, Halfdan the Black was born in Vestfold. After his mother Ása had his father killed (vengeance), he grew up with her in the kingdom of Agder, where she was from. From there, he began his conquest of the south-Norwegian kingdoms.

His son, Harald Hair-Fair, came to subdue all the tribes of Norway and became the first king of a united Norway.

Iceland became a nation when several royal and noble clans from Norway refused to bow the knee to a tyrant king and fled westwards to settle this previously quite empty island.

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Sources:

  • Read the entire Ynglinga saga online here.
  • Source to the Danish migration from Sweden and how they forced the Anglos and the Saxons to flee to Britannia (and made it into England) is found in Jordanes´ Getica (“The History of the Goths“) and may be read online here.
  • Skioldunga saga
  • Gesta Danorum (The History of the Danish People) by Saxo Grammaticus may be read online here.
  • Other saga sources are easily found in the many links to the particular persons and events that I have already linked to in the text.

 

 

 

 

 

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