Post-classical history




The Vikings of the Great Heathen Host and their fellow raiders were fleeing something back home, a change in political circumstances that made distant raids seem like a more acceptable option than staying. Debate continues over what caused so many men to leave Scandinavia at around the same time, but is not helped much by the available evidence.

Our chief source, for example, for this period of Norwegian history is Snorri’s Heimskringla, written some three hundred years after the events it describes, and Heimskringla’s chief message about this period is the now contested claim that the rise of king Harald Fairhair irritated enough independent-minded people to make them seek somewhere else to live.1

Halfdan the Black’s son Harald Fairhair may have been only ten years old when he inherited the lands of southern Norway around 870. The true power rested initially with his regent, his maternal uncle Guthorm, who led the war-band against several incursions. The most threatening was from a nearby war leader called Gandalf, whose forces were eventually routed at Haka Dale, north of modern Oslo. Heimskringla graciously implies that the young Fairhair fought in some of these battles, but while he took the credit, much of the hard work must have been uncle Guthorm’s.

As Fairhair grew to maturity, he sought other means of acquiring territory. With Gandalf dead and his immediate environs devoid of enemies, Harald sought a union with Gytha, the daughter of the ruler of Hordaland. Heimskringla makes much of her great beauty and Fairhair’s romantic desire, but we may assume that political expedients governed both his suit and her rejection of it. Her answer was that Fairhair was a petty princeling undeserving of her love, although she might find him more attractive if, instead of clinging to a small fjord in south Norway, he were to make a play for the entire area, as the famous Gorm had done in neighbouring Denmark.

Snorri himself seems surprised at Fairhair’s reaction. Instead of railing against a haughty and insolent reply (as many of his descendants would in similar situations), Fairhair took it for the diplomatic offer that it undoubtedly was. He swore to leave his hair uncut until such time as he had conquered all of Norway, a condition that would be regarded as attained when he was able to extort protection money from all the major landholders.2 The nickname ‘Fairhair’ was a euphemism for the shaggy mane of the king as he undertook a series of aggrandizing expeditions. ‘Tangle-hair’ is another reasonable translation. Gytha’s reply contained within it an element of truth, that thus far all the ‘kings’ of Norway were unworthy of the name. Tribal feuds and squabbles over small patches of land might have sufficed in the days when there was no comparison with other regions, but the Vikings were becoming increasingly well travelled. Reports drifted back of far Constantinople and the young kingdoms of Western Europe. Konung, in Old Norse, simply meant a scion of a noble (i.e. powerful) family. It is during the reign of Harald Fairhair that it came to mean king in our modern sense. But Fairhair, despite the claims of some, was never the king of all Norway. He remained a king in Norway, chiefly dominant over the south.

Fairhair’s conquest was conducted on a larger scale than before. He rejected the simple rounds of occasional extortion favoured by his ancestors, replacing them with a tax-farming system:

He appointed an earl [jarl] for every district, whose duty it was to administer the law and justice, and to collect fines and taxes. And the earl was to have a third of the taxes and penalties for his maintenance and other expenses. Every earl was to have under him four or more hersar, and every hersir was to have twenty marks of revenue. Every earl was to furnish the king sixty soldiers for his army, and every hersir, twenty.3

So claims Heimskringla, although the reality may not have been as neat and tidy. Evidence in Heimskringla is nonexistent, but it is backed up at least in spirit by the later Gulathing Law. This decision, voted on by a Norwegian assembly, agrees that ‘free’ farmers were nevertheless obliged to provide men and materials for the defence of their homeland.4 Fairhair and his cronies certainly had a better-organized system of extortion, even to the extent of possibly organizing a ship-levy for ‘defence’. He collected a tax on the trade with Iceland and Lapland, and cleverly steered debates at assemblies so that even those who claimed independence from him would support his policies by vote.

The system transformed the king from the most powerful roving troublemaker to a centralized holder of wealth, with an army levied from all over the territory he claimed. It installed his agents at the local level as lawmakers, arbiters and tax collectors. It also contained within it the implication that the land on which the Norwegians lived was not their personal property, but a possession of the king in return for which they had to serve, both directly as soldiers, and indirectly through taxation. In the past, it had been possible for a ‘king’ to be a distant, unseen figure, whose claims of his own greatness could have little impact on the average farmer or fisherman. Now, a king was a palpable presence in daily life, whose minions were close at hand, with a vested interest in collecting what was their due.

Heimskringla’s account of Fairhair’s successes has some archaeological support in Kaupang in south-west Norway. Although the original coastline has long since silted up, excavations between 1950 and 1967 uncovered what was once a port, with multiple stone jetties, over 60 lavish burials (of what appear to be successful merchants), and, most notably, no fortifications. Flourishing at the height of Fairhair’s power, the town shows evidences of a trade network that, for some reason, did not need immediate protection – the borders lay not at the outskirts of the town, but elsewhere, guarded by Fairhair’s ships. The town was called Skiringssal in Fairhair’s time – kaupang simply means ‘place of trade’, cognate with kaupangr in Icelandic and kaupunki in Finnish. Skiringssal is thought to have been the port mentioned as Sciringes heal in Orosius’ Universal History, written in the time of Alfred the Great. Whatever Fairhair managed to achieve, it inspired enough confidence to create a booming economy. The more trade was protected, of course, the more it could be supervised and taxed.5

In some places, local leaders relinquished any claim on the term ‘king’, which, as Gytha had amply demonstrated, didn’t mean what it used to anyway. They rebranded themselves as Fairhair’s earls, kept their local power, and set about collecting the levies and taxes on Fairhair’s behalf. Icelandic farmers might claim that their high-born ancestors had been dispossessed by Bad Men. The truth is less romantic – the wealthy of the Norwegian petty kingdoms likely remained so, and it was the smaller landholders who were squeezed out. Harald’s consolidation of the Norwegian coast and hinterland created Norway the kingdom, but it also created hundreds, if not thousands of disaffected Norwegians, unable to pay the protection money, or deposed from their lands for refusing to do so, particularly in the fiercely independent Trondheim region.

Plenty did not like the way the political wind was blowing, and poured across the North Sea to relatives and associates in the Orkneys, Scotland and the Faeroes. Whole communities of Icelanders falsely traced their origins back to those who fled Fairhair’s domination, and some sagas paint a picture of mass movements not only west, but also to the Finnmark, Finland, the south Baltic coast and points east.6 It is better, perhaps, to blame one’s presence on a flight from oppression, than to admit one’s ancestors took their land from someone else – even if the Vikings were refugees, they were refugees with a sense of self-important entitlement that displaced many original inhabitants. It is also worth mentioning that these very places of supposed ‘refuge’ were also the sources of much of the trade coming into Skiringssal; far from scaring people off, it might be that Fairhair’s reforms encouraged them to trade farther afield, and that some of them may have eventually settled in these distant places, their descendants forgetting the more positive impetus that originally led their ancestors there.

However, it would appear that the most troublesome element in Norwegian society did not run far enough. To Fairhair’s annoyance, a number of Vikings regrouped on offshore islands and then attacked western Norway. After a time, it became clear that the main base of these recursive attackers lay in the Shetlands and Orkneys and that one of the repeat offenders was a son of Fairhair’s associate Rognvald – Hrolf the Walker.7 He got his name, it was said, because no horse was big enough to carry him. Hrolf had devoted much of his time to bullying the peoples of the Baltic, but had recently tired of his old hunting grounds and returned to Norway, where pickings were richer.

Hrolf eventually took his men and ships away, stopping first in the Hebrides and Ireland, before carving out a new kingdom for himself on the southern shore of the English Channel. He found a partly willing ally in the form of Charles the Simple, king of the Franks, who granted him land around Rouen in 911 if he undertook to keep other Vikings from attacking it – thereby forming a buffer zone between the coast and inland France. Hrolf’s banishment is a matter of legend, but his arrival in Frankish lands is a matter of fact, his power confirmed by the treaty of St Clair-sur-Epte.8

Hrolf became the head of a new Viking aristocracy in north France, which swiftly lost many aspects of its Scandinavian culture. Many members used two names, one ‘true’ Viking sobriquet, and a second, more Frankish-sounding one for dealing with the locals. Under Hrolf’s son William Longsword and grandson Richard the Fearless, the Viking-held lands grew in prominence until they could play a powerful role in European affairs. The Vikings in the area lost their Scandinavian language within a few generations, but maintained their prowess in battle and brutal politicking. In a corruption of the term ‘Norsemen’, they became known as Normans, and their territory, Normandy.

Back in Norway, Fairhair had many women, and the tally of his sons ranges from a conservative nine to a not-impossible twenty. Fairhair’s concubines came from all over the Baltic region, and many seemed to dwell in their home regions with their offspring – their ‘marriages’ to the king enduring only until he headed off to pastures, alliances and bedmates new.

Four of Fairhair’s sons were supposedly born of an unwelcome dalliance with a sorcerous woman of Lapland, indicating the continued confusion of pagan beliefs enduring into Fairhair’s time. Snorri’s Heimskringla reports a series of bizarre events one winter solstice. A Finn (i.e. a Sámi) arrives at the door in the midst of Fairhair’s feast, and encourages the king to come out. It is implied that the arrival of ‘Svasi the Finn’ is some sort of fortune-teller or travelling player, but it is his daughter Snaefrid (‘Tranquil Snow’?) who holds Fairhair’s attention. Supposedly charmed by a magic potion she gives him, Fairhair demands to have sex with Snaefrid, but her father, perhaps playing on his countrymen’s reputation for sorcerous vengeance, refuses to allow this unless Fairhair takes Snaefrid as his wife.

Much of Heimskringla’s information on the bewitching Snaefrid comprises embellishments after the fact. There may indeed have been an unpopular Sámi woman whose charms caused Fairhair to temporarily neglect his duties, but even if we take Heimskringlaat face value, their relationship seems to have lasted for some years. The name of their eldest son, Sigurd the Bastard, clearly implies a union out of wedlock, but Snaefrid supposedly goes on to bear Fairhair three other sons – Halfdan Longshanks, Guthroth the Radiant and Rognvald the Straight-limbed. The beautiful Snaefrid then dies, but Fairhair pines for her, refusing to allow any to touch her corpse (which remains miraculously undecomposed), and watching his ‘sleeping’ wife for a further three years. He is only jarred from his reverie by Thorleif the Wise, who cunningly suggests that it is time to change the bedding of the pretty Finn. The moment her body is moved, the spell is broken, the stench of decay rises and her previously inviolate body yields up ‘worms and adders, frogs and toads and vipers’.9

The children of Snaefrid remain obscure; while several roaming Viking leaders may have claimed to be sons of little-known concubines of Fairhair, that in itself is no reason to believe them. What is clear enough is that the new generation of Vikings took the squabbles that had busied several dozen Scandinavian clans, and transferred them to foreign parts.

Rognvald the Resourceful, supposed father of Hrolf and lifelong friend of Fairhair, was eventually killed in a raid on the Scottish isles conducted by two ne’er-do-wells who claimed to be sons of Snaefrid the Finnish sorceress. It is a testament to Harald’s kingship that he was able to calm the situation, when there was every chance that it would erupt into a blood feud and split his new kingdom. He gave his daughter Alof in marriage to Rognvald’s son Thorir the Silent, and set Thorir up as the new ruler of the islands. Of the rebellious two half-Finns, Guthroth the Radiant surrendered to his father, and was packed off to the Vik to keep him out of trouble. Halfdan Longshanks managed to get away to the Orkneys, where his arrival took the locals by surprise, and met with little resistance. Thorir the Silent did nothing to stop him, but Halfdan had not reckoned with Rognvald’s son Turf-Einar.

Einar was Rognvald’s youngest son, the illegitimate and unwelcome offspring of a union with a slave-girl, openly despised by his father.10 Nevertheless, while his attitude may have annoyed those around him, it was belligerent enough to impress Vikings in general. When unwelcome Vikings had earlier attempted to settle on the Orkneys without Rognvald’s permission, it had been the brawling, one-eyed Einar who had led a party to kill them. He had also made the best of his lot, adapting in time-honoured Viking fashion to the particular conditions of the land in which he found himself – his sobriquet ‘Turf’ came from his early adoption of peat cutting as a viable alternative to burning scarce trees for fuel on the Orkneys.

Einar fled to Caithness to assemble supporters, returning six months after Halfdan had seized the Orkneys. Einar tracked down his father’s murderer and exacted terrible revenge. He was a Viking, a worshipper of Odin, and the human sacrifice was intended as recompense for the death of his father. Justice, in Viking terms, had been done, but he knew there would be trouble. The sagas record his satisfaction with the victory:

Happy am I, keen

Heroes have spear-hacked,

Bloodied the king’s boy:

Brave the bold act

– but hard to hide

what a howling I’ve caused11

The verse is a triumph of the Viking style, glorying in death and torture, praising Einar’s own men (we can see that Einar did not kill Halfdan himself), and crowing in a class-aware manner – the slave-girl’s bastard has ‘bloodied the king’s boy’. In a grisly poetic manner, the verse acknowledges the trouble to come; the ‘howling’ to which it refers not merely the agonies of the dying Halfdan, but the rage the news was bound to engender back in Norway.

Harald Fairhair, however, seems to have accepted Halfdan’s fate with some equanimity. The sagas frame his reaction as kingly wisdom, although if the events described ever happened, it is far more likely that he simply did not care, or even believe that the dead Viking was a son of his at all. Turf-Einar, however, told the islanders that Fairhair had demanded a fine, and that he had offered to pay it on their behalf, on the understanding that he would be their overlord. The result, after much negotiation, was the imposition of a similar system on the Orkneys as Harald had imposed on Norway itself – Einar was sworn in as an earl and left to his own devices, as long as he continued to pay the islanders’ tax. How he collected it from them, and what he made on the side, was his own concern.

Even as Fairhair secured southern Norway, the greatest threat lay in the succession crisis that would loom with his death. He had lain with many daughters of local rulers, all of whom had doubtless brought up their offspring to expect future power. Fairhair attempted to impose some sort of system, calling an assembly in eastern Norway in an attempt to establish his will. With the pained composure of a long-suffering father, he assured his sons that they would all be kings, and packaged up Norway into a series of satrapies mirroring the petty kingdoms of old. One son, however, would be supreme, and the aging father hoped that all would defer to him in his choice.

One son, Erik, brought with him the hope of future expansion, and it was he who was chosen. Erik’s mother was the daughter of a king of Jutland, thereby creating the possibility of expanding Norway’s borders southwards into Denmark. But as Erik’s sobriquet ‘Bloodaxe’ suggests, he was a troublemaker. Another important factor in Erik’s desirability as heir may have been his wife, Gunnhild Kingsmother. Snorri, the author of Heimskringla and presumed author of Egil’s Saga, is eloquent on the evils of Gunnhild, claiming that she was universally hated by the Norwegians, and that she was not a Danish princess at all, but a chieftain’s daughter from the far north, who had been sent into Lapland to learn witchcraft. It was here that Erik found Gunnhild, cohabiting with two Finnish sorcerers. The faithless witch helped murder her teachers and returned to Norway with Erik – or so claims Heimskringla, the truth is likely to have been much more prosaic. The historical Gunnhild Kingsmother is thought to have been the sister of the Danish king Harald Bluetooth. Such a union of Norway and Denmark was a desirable possibility, leading not only to Gunnhild’s attractiveness as a bride, but also to the loathing she inspired in her enemies.12

In the early days of Erik Bloodaxe’s rule, things proceeded calmly. Harald Fairhair, now nearing his seventies, went into calm retirement, while his sons busied themselves with their duties, which chiefly involved keeping half their local income for themselves, and sending the rest on to Fairhair, hopefully to set up a pattern that would be continued after Fairhair’s death by Erik.

Erik’s brother Rognvald was murdered, supposedly with Fairhair’s blessing, when the old king heard that he was dabbling in sorcery. Erik was dispatched to the district, and ‘burned his brother in his hall, together with eighty wizards’.13 This was, apparently, regarded as a good thing by the local people, although Erik’s next stab at earning the sobriquet Kinslayer was to prove less popular. He fell out with his brother Bjorn over who ought to take local levies to present to Harald – Bjorn had always done it himself in the past, but now Erik presented himself as the agent of their father. Their disagreement escalated into a full-blown fight, and Erik killed Bjorn as a result. This was not quite as welcome with the locals, or indeed with Bjorn’s brother (presumably full-brother) Olaf, who threatened to avenge his death when he had the chance.

Killing and violence continued. Guthroth the Radiant was drowned in a storm at sea, while Erik narrowly escaped death at the hands of Halfdan the Black (not to be confused with his grandfather of the same name). Harald intervened, and forced a reconciliation that favoured Erik’s side of the story. Yet even as Erik Bloodaxe was thinning the Norwegian royal line down, the aged Fairhair was building it up again. Eleven wives were clearly not enough for Fairhair, and he managed to impregnate his serving-girl Thora Morstrstong. She gave birth to yet another son, the future Hakon the Good. Perhaps in the knowledge that he would not be around long to protect the newborn Hakon from his brother Erik, Fairhair took steps to ensure he was raised somewhere far away out of trouble. A diplomatic expedition arrived from the English king Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great. For the events in Heimskringla to match, it would have to have been sometime between 924, the date of Athelstan’s accession, and 930, the presumed date of Fairhair’s death. The two rulers concluded a diplomatic truce with one another, and as part of the deal Hakon was raised at the English court, safe from his murderous siblings.14

Three years after he had officially transferred his power to his son Erik, Harald Fairhair finally died, leaving perhaps two dozen children, almost all of whom were either rulers of parcels of Norway (the boys), or married to earls (the girls). South Norway remained a single kingdom, but with three rulers: Erik the official leader, contending with his brothers Olaf in the Vik area and Sigroth in the turbulent Trondheim. In 934, Erik met them in battle somewhere near the Vik, and emerged from the conflict as the sole survivor. None of his other brothers was prepared to stand against him, and it seemed that Erik Bloodaxe was in charge.

Hakon, however, returned to Norway at some point after hearing of the death of his father, accompanied by a fleet of ships. The exact dates are difficult to match, so we are unsure whether he arrived with the backing of Athelstan himself (who died in 939), or that of Athelstan’s half-brother and successor Edmund I. Heimskringla’s terse account of Hakon’s actions makes it sound as if he simply sailed home on hearing of his father’s death, but the decisions involved took a considerable time. When he did arrive, it was as part of a concerted effort to unseat Erik, with the backing of an English crown that liked the idea of a friendly king in Norway. Hakon legendarily wielded the ‘finest sword Norway ever saw’, a baptismal present from his kingly foster father, named Quernbiter for its alleged ability to slice a millstone in half. Hakon also enjoyed something much more useful and believeable, the full support of the earls of Trondheim.

While Erik still struggled in the south to win over the people of the Vik, the young Hakon went straight to Trondheim, where he and his backers pleaded with the assembly of the farmers to accept him as their rightful ruler. When the people of Trondheim agreed, the news soon made it to the hinterland, where Hakon was hailed as a worthy successor to Fairhair, more likely to see things Trondheim’s way. To the majority of the Norwegians, Hakon was a far more acceptable candidate than Erik Bloodaxe. Erik was unable to find enough allies among his earls to field an army, and eventually fled the country, heading for England where he would briefly reign as the king of Northumbria, before his death in battle during yet another raid. His despised wife Gunnhild Kingsmother fled to the Orkneys with her brood of children.

Just as Harald Fairhair had prepared to repel attacks from Vikings overseas, Hakon the Good (or whatever council of Trondheim earls was manipulating him from behind the scenes) also needed to secure his frontiers until such time as the happy news arrived that Erik Bloodaxe was dead, and no longer likely to turn up somewhere off Norway’s long coasts with a fleet of his own. His actions as king were limited to some confirmations of Trondheim earls in their positions (no surprises there). Only then, with the chance of further trouble from Erik removed, did Hakon take any new steps.

His first problem was the Danes, who had taken advantage of the unrest in Norway to begin raids of their own in the Vik. Hakon pursued the raiders back to their own lands, and further. Whether it had been his intention or not, he began to advance his father’s work, raiding in Zealand and southern Sweden to make it very clear who was boss, and extorting protection money from his victims.15

But Denmark, like Norway, was no longer a cluster of semi-independent states. It was now largely united, with its fortresses and the Christian allies of its Christian King Harald Bluetooth. Now that both Norway and Denmark had strong rulers of their own, what would have once been a local squabble, between a couple of dozen ships and their belligerent crews, stood a chance of escalating into a national conflict. The Danes raiding Norway were no longer mere Vikings, but presumed subjects of the King of Denmark. The same applied in reverse to the punitive raids on the coast. Meanwhile, the Danes themselves could argue that Hakon the Good was not a king at all, but a Norwegian rebel against Danish authority.

Many of the ‘Danes’ raiding the Vik were probably not Danes at all, but an assortment of Vikings under the command of Norwegians. Gunnhild Kingsmother, widow of Erik Bloodaxe, had wasted no time in setting up alliances of her own. Erik’s daughter Ragnild was now a wife of Thorfinn Skull-cleaver, the ruler of the Orkneys. Erik’s sons were now back in the region, first at the Danish homeland of Gunnhild, then raiding along the Baltic coasts, then finally leading parties of their men in raids against their native Denmark.

Despite such annoyances, the rule of Hakon the Good was relatively trouble-free – his nickname does not appear to have been intended ironically. But although Hakon reached manhood and took power to some degree for himself, he was still heavily reliant on his Trondheim supporters. Sectors of Norway were ruled in his name by his two nephews, Tryggvi and Olaf. Other parts were simply beyond his control. There is talk in the sagas of Eystein the Bad, a ruler in the hinterland who so annoyed his subjects that many set out across the mountains that divide Norway from Sweden, in search of new territories in the east – what would become Jamtaland in central Sweden and Helsingaland on Sweden’s Baltic coast.

One of Hakon’s major achievements was an unforeseen consequence of his formative years spent in England. Like the king of Denmark to the south, Hakon had been raised with full appreciation of events elsewhere in Europe, and of the increasing power of Christianity. Hakon the Good was a Christian himself and, according to later legend, now sought to impose his religion upon his pagan subjects. His supporters remember him for trying in the first place, while his opponents remember him for not trying hard enough.16

His decision would have made some sense in the light of events elsewhere, but Hakon was also a practical man, and his main supporters in the Trondheim region were not likely to give up the old gods in a hurry. Hakon made some small attempt to move the pagan Yule celebrations so that they occupied the same slot as Christmas (i.e. that the chief celebration should now be on 25 December, rather than the winter solstice) but otherwise kept his religious beliefs largely to himself. Eventually, believing his position to be secure, he sent for bishops and missionaries from his English allies, only to discover that his subjects were behaving in an irritatingly democratic manner.

There was no divine right of kings in Norway, no heavenly mandate that instructed the people to obey the earthly representative of a god. Particularly in the independent Trondheim region, kings were permitted to rule by their assemblies, and woe betide the monarch who did not give orders that had been approved by his subjects. Consequently, when Hakon’s missionaries arrived in Møre and Raumsdale to the south of Trondheim, the locals immediately submitted the topic to the regional assembly for discussion.

Of all the places to debate the adoption of a foreign religion, Trondheim was probably the worst. Sigurd, the most powerful local earl, was a staunch supporter of the pagan gods, who proudly cited his many sacrifices to Odin as the source of his power. He was a host in the Odinic tradition, generous with his beer and roast meat to his subjects. He was, quite obviously, not going to submit quietly.

Neither, for that matter, were the farmers who formed the bulk of the Trondheim assembly. How ludicrous it must have sounded to them, that the king they had so willingly chosen would appear before them and reveal alien beliefs that, to the average Trondheim farmer, would have sounded quite unhinged. Hakon the Good, in whom the farmers had placed their trust, now wanted them to submit to a single God, to stop worshipping their old gods, value humility, and (this was the last straw) abstain from meat and stop working for one day a week. The farmers refused to believe that a day off was possible, and even the slaves complained at the thought of a day without ample food. Clearly something was being lost in translation.

According to Snorri (although his account is unsupported and probably fictional), the farmers voted to keep their old religion, and Heimskringla reports Hakon the Good enduring their decision in an immensely unregal sulk. Perhaps realizing that their ruler was unhappy with their decision, representatives from the assembly even tried to console him with a sacrifice to Odin. Hakon refused to eat or drink the sacrificial foods, and even made the sign of the Cross over his drinking cup, causing Sigurd to hurriedly claim he was making the hammer-sign of Thor.17

That winter, when Hakon’s Yuletide reforms were due to be instituted, a cabal of Trondheim leaders murdered several priests, burned down three churches, and forced Hakon himself to eat some pieces of horse liver (sacred to Frey) at what must have been an intensely unpleasant Christmas dinner. Hakon’s anger with the locals’ attitude towards Christianity threatened to break into open conflict, and perhaps would have done, had he not faced other threats to the south.

The sons of Erik Bloodaxe continued to plague Hakon throughout his reign, sailing with the open support of their mother’s Danish relatives. Hakon the Good approached middle age with no sons of his own, and a single daughter, Thora. His luck ran out in 961, in a battle in which his loyal forces were outnumbered six-to-one by the sons of Erik and their Danish allies. He was wounded in the shoulder, supposedly by the pageboy of Gunnhild Kingsmother, and died later from his injury. His loyal subjects, in a final irony, buried him with full Odinic rites, hoping to ensure their king’s place in Valhalla.18

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