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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Agder (Norway)
Incorporating the Augandzi

FeatureThe birth of the modern Norwegian nation took place following the Viking age, along with the simultaneous arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia and Fennoscandia (see feature link for an examination of the origins of 'Scandinavia' as a name). Before that, the Scandinavians were contained entirely within the southernmost third of Sweden and Norway. Initial settlement and the spread of early kingdoms largely followed the rivers, with inland areas being only sparsely inhabited. The rest was part of a poorly-defined (and poorly understood) territory known as Kvenland, which stretched all the way east into modern Russia. As with early Denmark and Sweden, the rulers of Norway (the Norsemen) emerged from legendary origins, but the royal house that eventually dominated was probably founded by a refugee noble from the kingdom of the Swedes, fleeing his homeland during a period of Danish superiority.

One of the minor kingdoms which was eventually subjugated by the growing power of that early Norwegian royal house was Agder (otherwise shown as Agdir, or Agðir in Old Norse). It was located in the very south of modern Norway (occupying areas of the two modern counties of Aust-Agder and Vest-Agder, east and west Agder). It was bordered to the north-east by Geirstad and to the north-west by Rogaland.

The name Agder predates the Norwegian language. It originates in an Old Norse word which itself suggests a much older word, but its meaning is unknown. The '-r' on the end of Agder is a nominative suffix so this can be ignored, leaving 'Agde' to ponder over. The people of Agder, the Egðir, could be the Augandzi of Jordanes' sixth century work Getica, suggesting that they are originally the *Augandii people who live in *Augandia.

All of the kings of early Adger are known primarily from early Norse sagas, supplemented by patches of other surviving information. Some of this, such as the writings of Saxo Grammaticus, probably used the sagas as their basis, or at least tried to make sense of some of the more mythological episodes in the sagas. Despite this, the mist around early events can be parted to reveal a list of petty kings of Norway and Sweden, and their various heroic deeds can be pieced together. Most of these kings cannot be pinned down by historical documents or other such reliable methods, so they essentially enjoy a semi-legendary status which probably reflects (and glorifies) a more earthly reality.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Gautreks Saga, from Fridthjófs saga ins frækna, from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Heimskringla: Or, Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, Volume 1, from Glymdrapa, Hornklofe, from Saga: Six Pack 6, A Scandinavian Sextet (various authors), and from External Links: Kvenland (a detailed overview of the existence of Kvenland before it was absorbed into Norway, Sweden, and Finland, although with some content that is of dubious reliability), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Visit Norway.)

fl c.500s?

'King' Bjæring

Possibly a regional chieftain only.

The legendary Bjæring has been linked to the Bjærum grave of Hægebostad, in Agder, which has been dated by archaeologists to the period AD 200-550. Tradition says that he holds court on Tingvatn and that he undertakes a long journey to find a queen, having to cross the River Lygna to reach Eikeland (coincidentally the location of old barrow graves).

Hægebostad
The modern municipality of Hægebostad lies in Vest-Agder, the western half of the former kingdom of Agder as the name suggests, and contains the Bjærum grave of the Migration Period (External Link: Creative Commons Licence CCO)

550s

Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, writes of the barbarian tribes in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, mentioning a wide number of them which include the following for Norway: the Adogit live in the far north. Further south are the Grannii (Grenland), Augandzi (Agder), Eunixi, Taetel, Rugii (Rogaland), Arochi (Hordaland, who have been linked to the Charudes) and Ranii, with the Raumarici (the later kingdom of Raumarike) close to modern Oslo.

fl c.600?

Harald Agder-King / Haraldr inn egðski

Eponymous kingdom founder. Ancestry unknown. Killed.

Following the death of Stóvirk (Stórvirkr), his son Starkad is brought up in Harald's court along with Harald's own son, Víkar. However, there may be two Vikars in the sagas to add some confusion to events.

In Hálfs saga, Vikar's father is given as one Alrek of, apparently, the northern part of Hördaland in Norway. The Ættartolur genealogies which are attached to Hversu Noregr byggdist give a genealogy, but it seems likely that this line is not the dominant one in Hördaland. Instead it may be a minor line of princes who govern a sub-kingdom or earldom. Given that this Vikar suffers a different fate from the Vikar of Agder, the most likely explanation is that it refers to a different Vikar.

Troll's Tongue (Trolltunga)
The 'Troll's Tongue' (Trolltunga) is a remarkable geological feature which lies in the Odda municipality of modern Norway, part of a county by the name of Hordaland - inherited from the Norse kingdom of the same name

King Herthjóf (Herþjófr) of Hördaland makes a surprise attack on the kingdom one night and kills Harald, taking Víkar hostage so that the young king's subjects remain subjugated under Herthjóf. Vikar waits some years before gathering together a force of men and striking back, killing Herthjóf and regaining his kingdom, along with some of the lands of his fallen oppressor.

c.620s?

Swedish control of areas of Norway comes at this time, suggesting increasing Swedish power, but also that there is something worth conquering and ruling in Norway. Many minor kingdoms are known, but little is recorded of their history or rulers outside of early sagas until they come into contact with the Yngling kings, and are subsequently conquered or absorbed.

fl c.630s?

Vikar / Vikarr

Son, but not in all sources. King of Hördaland & Jadar.

Hrólf Kraki of the Danes is claimed in Gautreks saga as a contemporary of Adils of the Swedes. Vikar of Agder is also claimed as a contemporary, seemingly contradicting other mentions of him which seem to place him a century later. Gautrek himself, king of Götland, is also placed in the same generation as Adils, and is thought to flourish around the 620s, so it can clearly be seen that chronology is not especially strict in the sagas.

Vikar is also claimed as the son either of Harald Agder, or of Alrek Eiriksson of Hördaland. Now that he has been restored to his rightful inheritance, Vikar kills Herthjóf's brother, King Geirthjóf of Oppland, at the First Battle of Telemark. Oppland is incorporated into Vikar's kingdom, and the opportunity presents itself to gain Thelemark from Geirthjóf's other brother, Fridthjóf.

Norway's Heimskringla
The term 'saga manuscripts' refers to manuscripts which mostly or entirely contain sagas, ie. medieval stories in prose in Old Norse (Norwegian or Icelandic) - AM 45 fol. Codex Frisianus is known as the Heimskringla, or the sagas of the kings of Norway, which cover most of the pre-unification events in the country's various petty kingdoms

This king is later defeated at the Second Battle of Telemark, during which Vikar is aided by King Óláf the Keen-Eyed of Nærríki in Sweden and by Starkad. Thelemark is added to Agder, although Fridthjóf is allowed to live. Unfortunately, Vikar is subsequently killed by Starkad in order that the latter may 'gain the blessings of Odin', which sounds suspiciously like an attempted coup.

Harald Vikarson

Son. King of Agder & Hördaland.

During the lifetime of Vikar, he had made his sons Harald and Neri the king of Thelemark and the jarl (earl) of Oppland respectively. Upon Vikar's death, the brothers reach an agreement by which Harald becomes king of Agder and Hördaland while Neri becomes jarl of Thelemark and Oppland, clearly demonstrating Neri's junior position.

Neri Vikarson

Brother. Jarl of Thelemark & Oppland. Succeeded to Agder?

c.655 - 690

At a time when the kings of the Denes are conquering his homeland, Olaf Tretelgia is said to flee the kingdom of the Swedes and, settling in Norway, founds its first (historical) royal house. However, although perhaps dominant in Norway, Olaf cannot be said to be the ruler of a single kingdom. Instead he creates a kingdom on the border between modern Norway and Sweden called Värmland.

The historical existence of his descendants of the eighth and early ninth centuries is doubted by some scholars, but the names probably reflect real persons, even if the stories surrounding them may be fanciful.

Värmland in Sweden
Today Värmland is located in western-central Sweden, but in the Viking age it was a border territory which was often more Norse than Swedish

As far as Agder is concerned, the succession at this point is uncertain. It is not known whether Neri succeeds his brother as king, or whether Harald Vikarson is able to secure his own successor by producing a son.

The next king to be known seems to be unrelated to either of them, carrying a name which suggests either that he is claiming to be the kingdom's founder, or that he is claiming control over the kingdom without necessarily having a proper claim to it. The latter possibility suggests that the kingdom is leaderless at this time and Vigbrands has risen to the top by force of arms. Thelemark similarly has an apparent gap in rule which supports the idea that Agder's ruling dynasty has collapsed.

fl c.690

Vigbrands fra Agder ('of Agder')

Referred to in Heimskringla as the first king of Agder.

No details seem to be available about these first three kings of a 'reborn' Agder other than bare-bones mentions in the Heimskringla. They seem to do nothing more than work internally in managing the kingdom, and take no part in adventuring outside its small borders. The third, Kissa, seemingly appears out of nowhere, possibly as a usurper.

c.708 - c.725?

Herbrand Vigbrandsson

Son.

Kissa

Relationship unknown.

790s? - c.810

Harald Granraude / 'Redbeard'

Son of Herbrand. Also king of Hadeland. Killed by Gudröd.

c.810

Gyrd / Gyrder

Son. Never reigned. Killed by Gudröd.

c.810

The wife of Gudröd the Magnificent of Raumarike, Bohuslän, and Vestfold in Norway dies during his reign, so he sends warriors to propose marriage to Harald Granraude's daughter, Åsa. Harald refuses, so Gudröd takes her by force, killing Harald and his son, Gyrd (or Gyrder), in the process.

However, a year after becoming father to Halfdanr Svarti, Gudröd is murdered by Åsa's page boy (on Åsa's orders). The queen returns to Agder to raise her son while the boy's half brother by Gudröd, Olaf, inherits the southern half of Gudröd's kingdom, as well as the Vestfold. Álfgeir of Alfheim takes all of Vingulmark for himself and places his son, Gandalf, in command there.

Map of Norway
This map shows a host of the many petty Norwegian kingdoms in eighth and ninth century Scandinavia, most of them arranged along the coastline, although penetration into the interior is clearly beginning (click or tap on map to view full sized)

There is a question over whether Åsa's father, Harald Grunraude, still reigns in Agder, as her son, Halfdanr has to conquer it in his early years. Harold is known to have been killed by Gudröd, so perhaps Halfdanr's elder half-brother, Olaf Geirstade, still rules it until the late 820s.

c.810? - 827?

Olaf Gudrodsson Geirstad-Alf

King of Raumarike, Bohuslän, & Vestfold. Conquered Agder.

c.827/828

At the age of eighteen or nineteen, Halfdanr Svarti is king of Vestfold, having divided the territory with his half-brother, Olaf Gudrodsson. He conquers Agder before pursuing an aggressive policy of expanding his kingdom further. He persuades Gandalf of Vingulmark to cede him half of that kingdom (possibly through intimidation). Halfdanr's own son, Harald Halfdansson, becomes king of Sogn.

c.827? - 863

Halfdanr Svarti / Halfdan III the Black

Son of Åsa. Also king of Vestfold. Died crossing frozen ford.

c.827? - c.827

Åsa Haraldsdottir

Dau of Harald. Queen? Regent for Halfdanr.

c.830s

Ragnhild, daughter of the king of Sogn, becomes the first wife of Halfdanr Svarti, and mother to a boy named Harald. Ragnhild's father names the young Harald as his successor, but when all three pass away in succession, Halfdanr Svarti lays claim to the kingdom, and it is peacefully subsumed.

c.840s

The minor kingdom of Raumarike is attacked by Halfdanr Svarti. He first kills its king, Sigtryg Eysteinsson, in battle, and then repeatedly attacks Sigtryg's brother in battle until he is also defeated. Raumarike passes to Halfdanr, along with half of Hedmark.

c.840s?

Halfdanr Svarti further expands his kingdom following an attempted ambush by Hysing Gandalfsson of Alfheim and Vingulmark and his brothers, Helsing and Hake. He raises an army and attacks the brothers, killing two and forcing the third to flee. Vingulmark is incorporated into his kingdom, as apparently is Alfheim.

Halfdan Svarti
This fairly modern and rather romantic Victorian-era illustration of Halfdanr Svarti (Halfdan the Black) shows him with his son, Harald Hárfagri (Harald Fairhair), by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892)

c.840s

Ragnhild, the daughter (or great-granddaughter) of the king of Ringerike, becomes the second wife of Halfdanr Svarti after being kidnapped by one Hake (the same Hake who had been expelled from Vingulmark?). Halfdanr rescues her and together they become the parents of Haraldr Hárfagri. (The apparent coincidence of names for Halfdanr's wives may simply be that, or two different stories of her origins are being told. Harald Fairhair's mother is also referred to as being one Gyda, daughter of Eirik of Hordaland.)

863 - 872

Haraldr Hárfagri / Harald I Fairhair

Son of Halfdanr Svarti. United all of Norway.

866 - 872

There is internecine war between the minor Norwegian kingdoms. Haraldr Hárfagri (or Harfarger) of Agder slowly becomes dominant, forcing the kingdoms to acknowledge his rule which, by 872, is complete. He starts his campaigns in 866 by visiting the Oppland and Orkadal. Then, in a series of battles, Gaulardal and Strind districts are conquered, followed by Stjoradal, and then Veradal, Skaun, the Sparbyggja district, and Eyin Idre together.

Some of their kings fall and some flee, but Haraldr is the victor. All of these victories take place in or near the Throndhjem district (modern Trondheim). Then falls Naumudal and its two kings, far to the north of the Throndhjem. Haraldr sets up a royal residence called Lade and marries Asa, daughter of Hakon Grjotgardson, the new jarl of Strind.

Trondheim in Norway
Although it later served for a time as Norway's capital (997-1217), Trondheim in the Viking age was only just emerging as an important centre

867 - 868

Haraldr Hárfagri opens the new campaigning year with a fresh attack on stubborn Orkadal before he sails south to attack the Møre region. The kings of North Møre, Raumsdal, and South Møre assemble an army and the two sides meet at Solskel. A great battle ensues in which Haraldr is the victor. Hornklofe's poem, Glymdrapa, records the action, and mentions two kings being killed. Solve Klofe, the son of Hunthjof of North Møre, escapes the defeat and flees south to join Arnvid of South Møre.

South Møre is attacked in the following spring (868). Solve has spent the winter raiding Haraldr's posts in North Møre, killing many of his men and burning and plundering. Now he heads south to Firdafylke to enlist the help of Audbjørn.

The expanded joint army, together with Arnvid's forces, meets Haraldr's forces at Solskel again, although this time the Heimskringla describes ships being lashed together, stem to stem, marking this out as a naval encounter. In the end, Haraldr kills both Audbjørn and Arnvid. Solve flees again, this time to become 'a great sea king [who] often did great damage in King Harald's dominions'.

868 - 870

Late in 868, Haraldr has selected Ragnvald 'The Wise' to be jarl (earl) of North Møre, South Møre, and also Raumsdal. Ragnvald is the descendant of the original line of 'kings' of Kvenland who seem to have left their homeland in the time of Gor Thorrasson 'Sea King' in the late seventh century to find a new home amongst the Norwegians.

In the following year, Jarl Ragnvald captures Firdafylke by burning down a 'house' in Naustdal in which is King Vemund with ninety of his men (more likely to be a royal hall). At the start of 869, Haraldr Hárfagri sails his own forces into the kingdom to subdue the rest of Firdafylke.

Haraldr Hárfagri and the giant Dofri
In his younger days, Haraldr Hárfagri ('Fairhair' or 'Fine Hair') cuts the bonds of the giant Dofri so that the giant can become his foster father in the Norse sagas - from the collection of Icelandic sagas, the Flateyjarbók

Haraldr learns that King Eric Anundsson of the Swedes has taken command of Värmland and is collecting scat (a form of land tax) from all the forest settlers. He has clearly taken advantage of the fact that Haraldr has been campaigning on the western shores for the past four years. Eric is also claiming Raumarike, the Vestfold, Vingulmark, and additional territory as a restoration of the eighth century Swede kingdom of Sigurd Ring.

Many of the chiefs of these lands have already given obedience to Eric, so Haraldr summons them to face punishment or fines. He processes through Raumarike and Vestfold in the summer, restoring his hold over them. Then he advances into Värmland and seizes it, killing all of Eric's men that he can find and continuing to Vingulmark to restore his power there.

fl late 800s

Ásbjörn the Fat

Sub-king? Sometimes confused/amalgamated with Kjotve.

? - 872

Gudrod Kjotve 'the Rich'

Sub-king? Defeated at Hafrsfjord by Haraldr Hárfagri and fled.

? - 872

Thor Haklang Kjotveson

Son and heir, but not actually ruling. Killed at Hafrsfjord.

872

A final rebellion is organised against Haraldr Hárfagri's increasingly dominant control of Norway. The men of Agder (presumably under Haraldr's rebellious sub-king there), Hordaland, Rogaland, and Thelemark, along with chieftains from the Sognefjord region, are gathering under the leadership of their kings. They meet Haraldr's great army at the Battle of Hafrsfjord of 872 which seems to be the key point in Haraldr's various conflicts. Many are killed and all of the rebels are defeated.

Haraldr Hárfagri Halfdansson of Norway
Haraldr Hárfagri united all the minor kingdoms of Norway in the later ninth century through a mixture of force of arms and diplomacy, although the former seemed to involve most of his time

The year given may not be strictly accurate (various scholars have calculated dates between 870-900 based on the number of winters recorded in the Heimskringla). Many surviving nobles who refuse to accept the defeat now emigrate to Iceland while the defeated states themselves are forced to join Haraldr's new kingdom of Norway. Haraldr places his son Dag in command in Hedmark.

976 - 977

The accession of Haakon Sigurdsson of Lade as ruler of the Norse lands may cause some disharmony in the Norwegian nobility. From about 976, Harald Gudrødsson Grenske, father of King Olaf II, can be found ruling Agder, Vestfold, Viken, and Vingulmark, although it is not clear if he is claiming a kingship or remains subject to the king's authority. Harald Gudrødsson Grenske is the grandson of Bjørn Farmann, the king of Vestfold who had been killed by King Eric I Bloodaxe in the 930s-950s.

976 - 987

Harald Gudrødsson Grenske

Grandson of B Farmann. Agder, Vestfold, Viken, & Vingulmark.

987 - 1016

St Olaf II Haraldson / the Holy / the Stout

Son. First Christian king. Died 1030.

1007

Olaf Haraldson plunders in Finland (the southern coastal section between Kvenland and the Baltic Sea) and almost gets himself killed at the Battle at Herdaler, according to the Saga of Olaf Haraldson, which is part of the Heimskringla.

1013

Olaf Haraldson is allied to King Ethelred II of England, and fights with him against the Danes in this year. Olaf also reunites Norway and achieves hegemony over the Sámi of Kvenland who border the earldom of Lade along a long coastal strip to the north of Sweden and Norway.

St Olaf II Haraldson
Early in life Olaf Haraldson took part in Viking raids on England, before securing his election as a king of Norway and pursuing a passion to Christianise his countrymen, something which ended in the rebellion of his subjects

1016

The accession of Olaf II to the Norwegian throne brings his own domain of Agder fully back under the control of the Norwegian crown (if it was not already under that control beforehand). Olaf rules a Norway which seems now to be a fully and permanently unified kingdom.