Heimskringla - The Norse King Sagas
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This early work of poetry is both expensive and hard to find in its first edition. Written in the early thirteenth century, it contains a collection of sagas about Norwegian kings. This is a fascinating work and is thoroughly recommended for anyone interested in Norse history.
Contents Include: Dedication to King Haakon VII - Editor's Introduction - Translator's Preface - Snorre's Preface - The Ynglinga Saga, Semi-Mythical - Historic Sagas - Halfdan the Black - Harald the Fairhaired - Haakon the Good - Eric's Sons - Earl Haakon - King Olaf Tryguesson - King Olaf the Saint - Magnus the Good - Harald the Stern - Olaf the Quiet - Magnus Barefoot - The Sons of Magnus - Magnus the Blind and Harald Gille - The Sons of Harald - Haakon the Broad-Shouldered - Magnus Erlingson - List of Old Sagas - List of Kings of Sweden, Denmark, Norway - Index of Names and Places.



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Date de parution 24 mars 2011
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781446548059
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

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It is to an Icelandic bard and chieftain, Snorre Sturlason, that we owe theSagas of the Norse Kings. He had been keenly interested in the legendary songs and historic narratives which the scalds had sung or told in the common hall of the great house at Odde which was his childhood’s home. Early in the thirteenth century he began to collate and compile the scaldic poems and traditional tales; and at intervals from 1220 onward he committed each saga to writing in the Old Norse tongue, then generally understood throughout the North. The complete collection has come to be known asHeimskringla, the Icelandic word with which the series of tales begins. We have first of all the Ynglinga Saga or narrative of the Yngling family from the legendary Odin to Halfdan the Black, a period which closes semi-historically in the ninth century. Then follow sixteen sagas covering a historic period of upwards of three centuries—from 839 to 1177. The present volume contains all the sagas except two, which have already appeared in Everyman’s Library, under the titleHeimskringla—The Olaf Sagas(No. 717). In the Introduction to that volume all necessary information regarding theHeimskringlaand Snorre Sturlason himself was given. Here we need only add such additional observations as may enable the reader to appreciate the unique contribution which these sagas make to the scanty historical and literary lore of Europe at that period. TheHeimskringla opens in mythical and pagan days, and it shows us the Norse coming into contact with Christianity in Scotland and Ireland. Thereafter, mainly through Anglo-Saxon influence, Norway was Christianised. In due time the Norse kings and leaders took part in the Crusades, and their feats of valour received ample recognition and reward. And although the roving traits in the national character were only partially subdued, we observe the evolving of gentler manners, kindlier customs, and a Christian legislation, all the more interesting to us because it was an evolution in great measure due to the influence of our ancestors on their originally pagan invaders.
Saga Time and Viking Age are frequently employed as if they were synonymous terms. But they are not really so. The number of the sagas cannot be exactly stated. A saga purports to be the story of a man’s life and exploits. Some of the narratives are so lengthy and contain such comprehensive references to other men, that minor sagas can be compiled from them. Many of the sagas are more or less mythical and their dates conjectural; but there are hundreds of sagas, the most important being specified in the appendix. Reckoning only those sagas to which a more a less definite date can be assigned, it may be accepted that Saga Time extended from the sixth to the fourteenth century, the Orkneyinga Saga coming down to a date later than almost any other. Saga Time, then, covered about eight hundred years. The Norse, one might say, only came into history when the vikings began their ravaging raids in the eighth century, and the Viking Age proper occupied not more than three hundred years. That period may be divided into two; the one embracing the era of the plundering expeditions on the coastal kingdoms of Europe up till the middle of the ninth century, and the other covering the time when, as actual invaders, the Norse occupied large sections of territory and set up kingdoms of their own.
WHENCE CAME THE VIKINGS? TheAnglo-Saxon Chroniclefor the year 787 (789) says: Here King Beortric took Offa’s daughter Eadberg in marriage. In his days (785–802) came first three Northmen’s ships: and the count rode down to them and wanted to take them to the king’s farm: for he did not know who they were: but they killed him there. These were the first Danish men’s ships which came to England. That was at Dorchester in Wessex. But the MS. D., drawing from a northern tradition or an older MS., says: “3 scypu Nordmanna af Haeredaland.” Prof. A. Taranger, LL. D., and Norwegian authorities hold that the Haeredaland of theA. S. C. corresponds to the Hordeland of Western Norway, extending from Bommelfjord in the south almost to Sognefjord in the north, including the whole of the famous Hardanger, Vossevangen and Bergen districts. The reference to “Danish men” in theChroniclewas evidently only a supposition, corrected in later MSS. to “Haeredaland.” In the Irish ChronicleCogadh Gaedhel re Gallaib (The war of the Irish with the Northmen), which deals with the period extending from 795 to 1002, the invaders are said to come from
Hirotha or Irruaith; and the Irish contemporary writers speak of Norway as Lochlann; and thelannbeing a Scandinavian word, it is probably younger than Hirotha. Loch corresponds to the Norsefjord, sjö; and Lochlann thus would meansjöland, coastal district. Danish records make no mention of raids on England about that time, whilst Norse and Irish Chronicles do specifically refer to such ravaging expeditions as coming from the fjords and coastal districts of Western Norway. There seems no reasonable doubt, then, that the pillagers of Dorchester, Lindisfarne, and elsewhere, from over the North Sea, were Norsemen from some fjord within sixty miles of Bergen. What then were the vikings? The term viking has nothing whatever to do with a king. The word is “vik-ing” not “vi-king”; andvikmeans a creek. The Norwegian fjords are usually well furnished with creeks and bays, and the place-names ending in “vik” are innumerable. In Saga Time, Viken—the Creek, the Great Creek—was the bay on which Oslo, as it then was and now again is called, was situated. In Scotland, Wick is just the Norse word Vik; Lerwick is the muddy creek; Berwick the bare creek. And the vikings were creek-dwellers, men who housed their galleys in these creeks or bays or fjords. They were men who, if driven by necessity of any kind, did not hesitate to set out, in single ships or in bands of two or three, to supply themselves at some risk, and sometimes at considerable cost, with things they envied or required. But eventually the vikings arrived at a moral code that made it wrong for them to plunder Norse coasts or merchant ships, unless, of course, there was some private quarrel or family feud demanding settlement. And in their plundering raids they ceased murdering women, although they might carry them off as captives and keep them for their own purposes or dispose of them in ways prescribed. The early vikings were not necessarily important personages, but in course of time the leader of a small plundering expedition might gain name and fame because of his seamanship and successes. Such a leader soon had plenty of volunteers for bigger expeditions and further forays, until usually a foreign viking raid was well equipped with ships and with men inured to exposure and hardships of every kind. And although these vikings might be termed brutal robbers and murderers by those who suffered from their violence, in their own country they were looked upon as engaged in an honourable profession, just as pirates, privateers, letters-of-marque men, slavers and other rovers in later days in our own land too often lost but little respect from those at home who knew quite well how nefarious were their deeds on the high seas or on the islands and coasts of the main.
In the course of time a condition of affairs arose in Norway that led to a great increase in the size of the viking expeditions, under the leadership of nobles and princes. In the early Saga Time and at the beginning of the Viking Age, Norway was merely a conglomeration of larger or smaller, more or less well defined, districts, each under its own independent chieftain or kinglet, The stronger chiefs in time managed to bring the weaker or smaller kingdoms into subjection, until at the beginning of the ninth century one of the ancient Yngling race, in the person of Halfdan the Black, had become the most powerful of all the chiefs in the land, and the first really deserving the title of king. And, in the reign of his son Harald the Fairhaired, all the petty kings of Norway had been slain or become tributary to him. Before the time of Harald the chieftains assumed the title of jarl (earl) or even the name of king; and it is difficult to discover any distinction between the two terms. But the viking raids gradually led to a distinction. Any jarl who, with his subjects or followers, sailed from Norway to other lands to subdue a district was reckoned a king by his men. And when Harald had subdued all Norway the kinglets and their sons who went a-roving became known as Sea-kings, to distinguish them from those who stayed at home to administer the realms. Vikings, as we have seen, were the ordinary Norsemen who had their homes on the coastal regions of the Western Fjords, who went on expeditions overseas. The Sea-kings were well-born viking leaders who went forth with larger or smaller fleets of ships. And these vikings and sea-kings were as great a scourge in other European lands as in our own. As early as the seventh century they had visited the Hebrides and Ireland. Later on the Orkneys, Shetlands, Faeroes, Iceland, Denmark, Flanders, Germany knew them too well, and in 845 they captured Paris and sacked Hamburg. They visited the White Sea to seize the valuable furs collected there for the trade with Constantinople; and they made their way to Spain, the Mediterranean, and even Palestine. The story of the viking Vaeringer at Constantinople, in the Saga of Magnus the Good, shows what influence and power the vikings exercised there. Other sagas tell stories of men and regions whereof otherwise we might never have heard at all.
The sagas, although sometimes first written down centuries after the incidents they record, generally had been transmitted orally in precisely the same form, down from contemporary times. A comparison of the sagas shows clearly the evolution of habits and morals, of customs and laws; and in no respect is this so manifest as in the transition from utter paganism in the earlier to pronounced Christian faith in the later narratives. And this makes the whole series of the sagas of peculiar interest to British readers; for directly and indirectly the conversion of Norway was due to the influence and activity of the Anglo-Saxon people and priests and kings. Before 787, occasional merchant ships had come to the English coast on peaceful errands and had carried back to Norway glowing reports regarding the fertility and wealth of the land. But in that black year the first viking fleet, consisting of three vessels, as we have seen, visited our shores with hostile intent. In 793 another raid was made and the vikings fell on St. Cuthbert’s Abbey of Lindisfarne, the most venerable spot in England, and ten years later St. Columba’s island of Iona, Scotland’s most holy place, was also ravaged. Sacrilege and the blood of monks marked the course of these pirates from Norway, In succeeding years the vikings became bolder and more numerous until, from the Cheviots to the river Thames, the land was subject to their sway. Alfred the Great came just in time to prevent the West Saxon kingdom from being conquered too. Then at Ethandune in 879 the vikings were defeated, hostages were given that Wessex would be left unmolested and that the viking king Gudrun would become a Christian and receive baptism, Alfred himself was sponsor at the baptism of the king who received the name Athelstan and who, with rich gifts, withdrew to his own kingdom of East Anglia, where he reigned till his death in 890. King Gudred of York, his contemporary, is described as a friend and protector of the Church; and apparently the majority of the Norwegians under the sway of these two kings also became Christians. Until the Norse kings, in 954, lost their independence and became fused with the English nation they left deep marks on the Anglo-Saxons; but contact, for a century and a half, with the Christianity of England greatly affected their own minds and morals, their characters and lives. The vikings had come to our shores as pagans, but so surely as they remained for some time, or settled in this country, they accepted the Christian faith and changed their mode of life. And so vikings from Norway visiting England, and settlers on their return from England, carried back some knowledge of the Christian faith. A pagan sire might perhaps curse the son who, during a viking expedition, had bowed the knee to the White Christ; but others of the family wanted to know more about the new God; and then, for the introduction of the new faith to Norway, all that was needed was the hour and the man. The sagas tell us how Harald the Fairhaired, having subdued the kinglets and petty rulers, became the first sovereign of all Norway. He had many sons who were headstrong and ambitious, so he sent his youngest son Haakon to England to King Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, to be trained and educated; and the boy became known as Haakon Athelstan’s-foster (son). He won the affection of all by his intelligence, prowess, ability, and friendliness. In course of time he was baptised and confirmed, and he took a great interest in religion and the Christian laws. Harald the Fairhaired was succeeded by his son Eric of the Bloody Axe, who in four years killed at least four of his brothers and oppressed the people beyond endurance. So the Norwegian jarls and peasants sent to England and begged Haakon to come and rule over them. And when he arrived in 934, Eric, deserted by nearly all, fled to other shores, and Haakon ruled for twenty-seven years and has come down to history as Haakon the Good. He sent for a bishop and priests to come from England to Christianise his land; and Glastonbury had the honour of providing from among its monks the first bishop of Norway and other missionaries. These were placed over the churches which Haakon had erected, built of wood, of course, as all other houses were. The new religion naturally met with opposition in many districts and the three churches in Möre and others were burned and the priests slain. England therefore provided the first Christian king for Norway, the first bishop, and the first martyrs for the Cross in the land of the vikings. The next really Christian king was Olaf Trygvesson who had come to England as leader of a viking host which did incalculable injury. He was indeed the victor of Maldon, perhaps the most famous fight of all the Viking Age. Then he entered into league with Ethelred the West Saxon king; and Aelfheah, bishop of Winchester, was the means of converting the viking leader to the Christian faith. Olaf became a very zealous Christian; and when he was summoned from England to Norway, as Haakon the Good had been, he resolved to do all he could to make Norway a truly Christian land. On a spring day in 995 a young viking sailing over from the Faeroe Isles made for Bergen. But when he came to one of the outmost skerries he landed there at Moster and held a Christian service. This was Olaf, and when he had received the Norwegian crown he went back to Moster and caused a church to be erected on the spot where he had worshipped God on his reaching Norway the previous year. It was to be a a memorial church; and it was built of stone by English monks, whom he had brought with him. They built it after the
fashion of English churches, and there it stands to-day at Moster Isle, not only the oldest church in Norway but the oldest in any of the Scandinavian lands. Olaf only reigned for five years, but in that brief period he destroyed many pagan temples, erected many Christian churches, and set ministers over them. He founded Nidaros, known to us as Trondhjem, and St. Clement’s Church which was the forerunner of the cathedral there to-day. In introducing the Christian religion and laws, Olaf was aided by Bishop Sigward who had accompanied him from England. And the third king who secured the final acceptance of Christianity was another Olaf who has come to be known as Olaf King and Saint. He also visited England and fought at Ringmere in 1010. He was present at the assault on Canterbury in 1012 when Bishop Aelfheah, who had converted Olaf Trygvesson, was maltreated and martyred. But Olaf himself in turn was brought under Christian influences, and he attached himself to King Ethelred and received baptism and became a devoted Christian. He was crowned as King of Norway in 1015. He planted churches wherever he went and left zealous priests in charge of them. He fell in battle at Stiklestad in 1030. But the great concern of his life was secured before he died. The Norwegian Church was fully organised; and a code of Christian laws drawn up by his bishop, Grimkell, had been adopted at the popular assemblies in all parts of the land. Paganism was dead; Christianity had come to reign in Viking-land. As we have seen, the three kings by whom the introduction of Christianity in Norway was commenced, continued and completed, had all visited England, resided for some time in the country, and come under Christian influences here. England had greatly suffered by the ravages of the vikings; but they taught us many things, especially how to build ships and to fare upon the sea. In turn we gave them missionaries and martyrs, and the Christian faith and laws, that brought them into the comity of Christian nations, in which they have played a worthy part and contributed greatly to the international weal.
THE information given us in the sagas, regarding the Anglo-Saxon missionaries who were the pioneers of Christianity in Norway, is meagre; but fortunately we can glean something about several of them from other sources than theHeimskringla. In the Saga of Haakon the Good (p. 94) we learn that he sent to England for a bishop and other teachers; and when they arrived in Norway Haakon made it known that he would proclaim Christianity over the whole land. He then had several churches erected and consecrated, and he put priests over them. Some time afterwards, however, men went southward to Möre in four ships and killed three priests and burned their churches. That is the account the saga gives us of a bishop in Norway between 950 and 960. William of Malmesbury, in hisDe Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae, tells us that among the Glastonbury monks, who in King Edgar’s time were bishops in various places, was a Norwegian bishop, Sigfrid, whose death day was 5 April. Now it was only in Glastonbury that men could then have been found to undertake so difficult and dangerous a task as that of attempting to Christianise Norway. We know what fate befell them, but unfortunately the Norwegian tradition has not preserved to us the names of these martyr monks. If the Glastonbury monk, Sigfrid, was one of them, both Anglo-Saxon and Norwegian Church history would be enriched by a name worthy of remembrance. And all honour is due to Sigfrid, even if he did escape persecution by the Norwegians after Haakon’s death and returned safely to England A generation passed and then another Anglo-Saxon Christian mission crossed over to Norway. After Olaf Trygvesson had resided six months in England he returned to his own country in the spring of 995. He was accompanied by Christian teachers and a bishop called Sigward, a name which soon became Sigurd on the lips of the Norse. This Sigward or Sigurd had attached himself to Bishop Aelfheah, Olaf Tryg-vesson’s old teacher and a zealous worker for the conversion of the Norse settlers and others in England. Before he left home with Olaf, Sigward was consecrated as Bishopsub titulo missionis, and in due time he became King Olaf’s chief confidant and counsellor. In the LatinActa Sanctorum in Selio viiit is said that by Olaf’s zeal and perseverance, the Norwegian people through the holy and venerable man, Bishop Sigurd, received the sacraments of the Christian faith, after they had abjured idolatry. The bishop was the main instrument, but he was backed up by the king. Yet there were times when Olaf forgot himself and sought to wreak vengeance on personal opponents. On one occasion when Bishop Sigurd heard the news of a specially cruel act he bitterly upbraided the king, and he did not cease his reproaches until Olaf fell at his feet confessing his misdeed and acknowledging the sin of his abominable act. That incident gives some idea of the spirit and character of Bishop Sigurd. Tradition in Iceland tells us that, after Olaf’s death, Sigurd went to Sweden at the requestof Olaf Skotkonung, and there he baptised that king and many of his men and acted as a missionary until he had attained a great age.
That Icelandic record was committed to writing by the Thingöre monk Gunnlaug Leifson about 1180; it rests on verbal tradition reaching back to the eleventh century; and it agrees with Swedish tradition. Gunnlaug reports that in his old age Bishop Sigurd lived quietly at Veksjö, One day he made public confession of everything he had done amiss towards God. A few days later he sickened and, “after suffering much pain, peacefully departed this life to God the Almighty.” The day of his death was 15 February, but the year is not indicated. The sainted Sigurd was canonised in 1158, by Pope Hadrian IV, the well-known cardinal of our history, the Englishman Nicholas Breakspear. In the year 996 an event happened which may have its place here. It is recorded in theActa Sanctorum in Selio and may be compared withBeda VIt seems that in the early days of the great Otto I there 10. lived in Ireland a princess named Sunniva. After her father’s death her land was ravaged by a pagan prince who wished to marry her. In order to escape his unwelcome attentions she sailed away with three ships and some of her people. A storm eventually drove them to Fyrdafylke, the region between the Sogne and Molde fjords in Norway, and they took refuge in some caves at Selje and Kinn. There they supported themselves by fishing. But the rude inhabitants of the mainland were hostile and accused Sunniva and her folk of stealing their cattle; and they made arrangements to drive the foreigners away. When Sunniva and her companions learned this they entered the caves and prayed to God that the rocks might fall on them, and their prayer was answered. In the course of time, one day a pillar of light was seen at the mouth of the cave at Selje; and the light was found to come from a human head. The head was taken to Bishop Sigurd, who declared it to be a saint-relic. King Olaf and Sigurd then went to Selje; and at the spot they found some human bones emitting a sweet odour. They also discovered the body of the saintly Sunniva quite unscathed. So they erected a church there and enshrined the remains in it in 996. And there, at Selje in Nordfjord, the ruins of St. Sunniva’s Church are still to be seen, hardly however of the original church erected by Bishop Sigurd. It is known that in 1170 Bishop Paul caused the relics of the saint to be removed to Bergen and placed in the cathedral there. Bishop Sigurd is understood to have been the moving spirit in the founding of Nidaros (Trondhjem) with its church and its palace right opposite the old king’s house of Lade, with all its ancient pagan traditions. And the dedication of that new church to St. Clement gives evidence, if that were needed, of the English bishop’s influence; for London had two Clement churches, one of them being the special church of the Northmen in London. Gunnlaug informs us that, on account of his vigour and zeal and devotion, Sigurd had become the apostle of all the Norse. The only other of Olaf’s missionaries mentioned by the sagas is Theobrand, or Thangbrand, who was placed over the first church on Moster Isle. At a later date he was entrusted with the work of introducing Christianity into Iceland. There he quickly gained the friendship of the powerful chief Sidu Hall; and after he had instructed them in the rudiments of the Christian faith, Hall and all his folk and many other chiefs were baptised. Theobrand is characterised as a tall strong and courageous man, and a good and eloquent priest, but inclined to be obstinate when he was angry. No fewer than nine place-names bear record to his two years’ residence in Iceland. Nothing is known about his fate, and we are not told who succeeded him at Moster Church. Theobrand’s successor in Iceland was Thormod, another of the English missionaries, six of whom at least accompanied him to the North, and they built a church on the spot where they first landed in Iceland. In a very short space of time Thormod and his band had the joy of consummating the triumph of Christianity and its adoption by the Althing as the religion of Iceland in the year 1000. Thereafter, Thormod undertook the task of guiding the first steps of the Icelanders along the path of Christian faith and service; but we hear no more about him and his fellow clergy. We have no means of knowing exactly how many English missionaries King Olaf had to assist him in his work of Christianising his realms, beyond those mentioned by name. But Olaf probably left some in the Orkneys, which were Christianised on his passage from England to Norway; and he sent priests to the Faeroe Isles which also gave up the old pagan faith as a result of their labours. Olaf built many churches in addition to those at Moster, Selje, and Nidaros, but how many these really were is not now known. The Olaf who has become known to us as St. Olaf also brought religious teachers and advisers with him from England—among them four who were famed for their erudition, zeal, and devotion, viz. Grimkell, Sigfrid, Rudolf, and Bernard. They traversed the whole mainland and visited all the islands round the coast, preaching the Word of God and the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Grimkell was the foremost, and he was a nephew of Sigurd, the bishop of Olaf Trygvesson. Grimkell was the king’s ecclesiastical adviser and he had taken the lead in the conversion of Olaf himself. As the sagas speak with appreciation of him and all his work, it seems only necessary to make the following reference to him. It was Bishop Grimkell who compiled the mass for St. Olaf. Singularly enough, anofficiumSt. for Olaf’s day was discovered last century in a missal which belonged to Bishop Leofric of Exeter (1050–
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