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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Alfheim (Norway)
Incorporating Bohuslän

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 Alfheim (or Alvheim, known in Old Norse as Álfheimr). The name literally means 'the home of Alf/Elf, the Alf-home', which links it directly to its earliest-known ruler, Alfgeir. Seemingly though, it never progressed to the level of a recognised kingdom. In modern sources that earliest-known ruler, Alfgeir, is referred to as a jarl (earl), as is his son. The Heimskringla refers to Alfheim as a district, with the implication that it acknowledged someone else as its overlord.

It lay between the River Glomma at its northern end (also known by the Vikings as the Raum) and the River Göta älv at its southern end. The Göta älv - or the Gotha - is now in Sweden, while only the northern third or so of the former kingdom now lies within Norway's borders. At the start of the ninth century Alfheim also included at least the southern section of the province of Bohuslän (also now in Sweden). Known earlier as Båhuslen, this remained a Norwegian county from the country's unification in the 870s up to the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658 when it was handed over to Sweden by the kingdom of Denmark-Norway, along with Skåneland. Alfheim was bordered by Vestfold to the north-west, and by the Geats to the south.

Edward Dawson theorises that the Jutes were originally a mountain tribe which emerged from the mountains in the Alfheim area (long before that name emerged). Darwinism produced a tribe of mountain-dwelling people who were hardy and tall, earning them the name of 'the giants' - the most probable translation of 'Jute' - and providing the legendary name for Jötunheimr, the home of the giants in Norse mythology. This location places them on the border between Norway and Sweden, with direct access to the Skagerrak, the straight between southern Norway and Sweden on one side and Denmark on the other. This gave these Jutes access to the Baltic Sea along which they migrated to reach the coastline of what is now eastern Germany. From there they migrated westwards into the Cimbric peninsula to give their name to Jutland.

All of the kings of early Alfheim 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  late 700s

Alf

Perhaps sub-king of Alfheim? Wife: Bryngerd of Raumsdal.

c.800s

FeatureAlfheim is still a minor entity which at this time incorporates at least the southern section of the province of Bohuslän (now in Sweden). Possibly it occupies territory which once would have been home to the pre-migration Jutes of the Jotunheim mountains (see feature link). It also seems to gain all or part of Vingulmark (thanks to Alfgeir, who's sister had married Gudröd the Hunter of Raumarike and Vestfold, taking with her half of Vingulmark as her dowry). Alfgeir places his son, Gandalf in command of Vingulmark following its reacquisition.

The Asynjur of Norse mythology
Norse mythology involved the fierce and hard-fighting Asynjur, the female equivalent of their male Æsir counterparts, all of whom formed the principle gods of the Norse pantheon (click or tap on image to view full sized)

fl  late 700s

Alfgeir (I)

Son. Possibly only sub-king of Alfheim? Also Vingulmark.

fl c.800

Gandalf (I) Alfgeirsson

Son. King of Alfheim & Vingulmark.

fl c.800s

Alf Gandalfsson

Son.

fl c.800s

Alfarin Gandalfsson

Brother and co-ruler, at least initially. Ruler of Vingulmark.

Alfarin's daughter is Alfhild, who marries Gudröd, king of Raumarike and Vestfold. Thanks to this marriage, Gudröd inherits Bohuslän and half of Vingulmark (bordering the settlement of Raumarike, although the use of 'settlement' would suggest that Raumarike is not yet sufficiently important enough to be labelled a kingdom). This territory also includes the site of the country's later capital, Oslo, and later archaeological finds help to suggest that the region is an important centre of power.

fl c.820s

Álfgeir / Alfgeir (II) Alfsson

Son of Alf. Ruler of Alfheim and remaining half of Vingulmark.

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 a marriage to the daughter of Harald Granraude of Agder, Åsa. Harald refuses, so Gudröd takes her by force, killing Harald and his son, Gyrd (or Gyrder), in the process.

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)

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 restores the full control of Vingulmark by his family and places his son, Gandalf, in command there.

fl c.830s

Gandalf Alfgeirsson

Son. Sub-king in Vingulmark during his father's lifetime.

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.

fl c.840s - 850s

Hysing Gandalfsson

Son. Also ruled Vingulmark. Killed by Halfdanr Svarti of Agder.

Helsing / Helving Gandalfsson

Brother & co-ruler/prince. Killed by Halfdanr Svarti of Agder.

Hake Gandalfsson

Brother and co-ruler or prince. Fled the kingdom.

c.840s?

Halfdanr Svarti of Agder further expands his kingdom following an attempted ambush by Hysing Gandalfsson 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. Apparently neither it or Alfheim regain their independence. Instead, Halfdanr passes all of his domains intact to his son, Haraldr Hárfagri. During a period of internecine war between the other Norwegian kingdoms between 866-872, it is Haraldr who pursues a policy of outright conquest.

River Glomma
The modern River Glomma in Norway was known by the Vikings as the Raum, marking Aflheim's northern border, although much of the originally-Norwegian territory to the south-east of this was lost to Sweden in 1658

By the early 870s he has become dominant, forcing the other kingdoms to acknowledge his rule which, by 872, is complete. The Battle of Hafrsfjord of that year, 872, seems to be the key point in the various conflicts, although 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).

The kingdoms of Agder (presumably under Haraldr's sub-king there), Hordaland, Rogaland, and Thelemark, along with chieftains from the Sognefjord region, all oppose Haraldr and are all defeated, most being killed. Many surviving nobles who refuse to accept the defeat now emigrate to Iceland while the defeated states are forced to join Haraldr's new kingdom of Norway.

The Treaty of Roskilde in 1658 sees the now-combined kingdom of Denmark-Norway hand over Bohuslän in south-eastern Norway and Skåneland (Scania) to the kingdom of Sweden. A major part of Alfheim is therefore lost for Norway.