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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Finnmark (Norway)

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.

The Finnmark was not one of the many minor Norse kingdoms which were eventually subjugated by the growing power of that early Norwegian royal house. Instead it was little more than an ill-defined region which emerged out of gradually increasing Norse presence in the area. It was located at the extreme northern end of modern Norway, further towards the Arctic Circle than Tromsø (both of which are shown on the upper limits of the Norway map - see the map in the timeline, below).

The Finnmark actually lies inside the Arctic Circle, so the Norsemen who stayed for any length of time in this region must have been hardy souls (although it appears to be the Swedes who play a greater role here to begin with). They did so in a landscape which was the preserve of the long-established Sámi, a people who, by this time, had adopted the Finno-Ugric language and who are largely indivisible from the early Finns.

Various attempts at permanent Norse settlement appear to have been made from the eighth century onwards, but may only have succeeded in the last two decades of the ninth century, judging from the established list of the king's agents there.

Egil's saga contains a long description of the Finnmark, showing the variety of Finno-Ugric groups there and the extent of this territory which seemingly is indivisible from concepts of Kvenland or Sámi tribal territories: 'Finnmark is a vast territory, bordered by the sea to the west and the north, and all the way to the east with great fjords, while Norway lies to the south of it. It extends as far south along the mountains as Hålogaland does down the coast.

East of Naumdal lies Jamtland, then Halsinland, Kvenland, Finland and Karelia. Finnmark lies beyond all these countries, and there are mountain settlements in many parts, some in valleys and others by the lakes. In Finnmark there are incredibly large lakes with great forests all around, while a high mountain range named Kjolen extends from one end of the territory to the other'.

The name Finnmark is very easy to translate. It means the border with the Finns. The word 'march' comes from a Germanic word which appeared in Old English as 'mierce', meaning 'boundary', being used to refer to 'the marches' or 'borderland' region on the edge of a territory. Germanic or Scandinavian states or regions such as the kingdom of Mercia, the North March (Northmark), Hedmark, Ostmark, Vingulmark, and Denmark were named for the same reason.

The Heimskringla also refers to the march as 'The Mork', which is simply another derivative of the same word (very close to the Germanic 'mark'). Norse settlement here was late by comparison with the southern kingdoms, and probably began as seasonal trading posts before competition with the indigenous Sámi, Kvens, and Finns became more intense.


(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Gautreks Saga, from Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar (Egil's saga), Eric Rucker Eddison (Translation from Icelandic, The University Press, c.1930), 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 which is of dubious reliability), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Visit Norway, and Sacred Texts (Egil's saga), and Finnmark (also available in English).)

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. 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).

Sami folk circa 1900
The Sámi people inhabited northern Scandinavia from at least 3000 BC, occupying a land they called (and still call) Sápmi, covering areas of modern Norway (Finnmark and beyond), Sweden, Finland, and Russia - the traditional English version of the name was Lapland, although this is now frowned upon in some quarters

It is only after this date and the creation of a functioning pan-Norwegian central authority that the permanent presence of Norsemen is established in the 'Finn march', Finnmark, the borderland between Norse settlement or trading posts in the far north and the Sámi tribes. The Norse sagas state that the new Norwegian monarchy imposes tribute on the Finnmark. It remains unoccupied by Norsemen to any great or permanent extent but royal agents are appointed to collect the tribute from the region's Finno-Ugric tribes.

873 - 874

In this year, the Kvens and Norse cooperate in battles against the invading Karelians, again according to Egil's saga. Thorolf Kveldulfsson, head of taxes for the king of Norway from 872 (and later the tax agent in the Finnmark), enters Kvenland, going 'up on the fell with a hundred men; he passed on at once eastwards to Kvenland and met King Faravid.' Based on medieval documents, this meeting takes place during the winter of 873-874.

fl 880s

Bjorgolf of Torgar

Earliest-known Norwegian agent in Finnmark.

Baron Bjorgolf hails from Torgar, within the former Norwegian kingdom of Hålogaland. Egil's saga relates that at a banquet is a beautiful woman named Hildirida, the daughter of a low-born but wealthy farmer named Hogni. Bjorgolf, now an aged widower, is charmed by the maiden, so he marries her despite the ill pleasure this generates in his son, Brynjolf. The couple have two sons, Harek and Hærek, although Bjorgolf dies not long after their births. Brynjolf immediately banishes Hildirida and her sons and ensures that they will not receive any inheritance.

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

fl 880s

Brynjolf Bjorgolfsson

Son. Appointed by the king to succeed his father.

c.890 - 900

Thorolf Kveldulfsson

Former head of taxes for the king. Executed.


Egil's saga, relates that the mysterious Kylfings (of highly uncertain origin - possibly the Ylfings of the Geats) are trading and plundering in the Finnmark around this year. Thorolf Kveldulfsson employs Sámi scouts to monitor their movements and report back to him. He provides the only effective opposition to their plundering by killing over a hundred Kylfing marauders.

Also stated in Egil's saga is how Thorolf Kveldulfsson had joined the court of King Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway (Harald Fairhair). A capable head of taxes for the king, he had found himself embroiled in a conflict with the brothers Harek and Hrorek Hildridarson regarding their inheritance dispute. The sons of Bjorgolf of Torgar, the presumed first agent in the Finnmark shown above, their legitimacy is somewhat suspect. They slander Thorolf, ruining his relationship with the king, and possibly resulting in his demotion and posting to Finnmark. Ultimately, Haraldr kills him, while the brothers succeed to his post as the king's agent for the Finnmark.

The medieval Swedes and Norse may have liked to think that they had the natives of Kvenland conquered by the thirteenth century, but intermittent raiding was continued by both sides in the struggle for superiority in Scandinavia and Fenno-Scandinavia

c.900 - 901

Harek Hildridarason

Son of Bjorgolf of Torgar. Murdered in revenge.

c.900 - 901

Hærek / Hrorek Hildridarason

Brother. Murdered.


Despite their victory over Thorolf, the brothers are unable to match his past performance when it comes to successfully collecting tribute from the Sámi tribes around the Finnmark. Haraldr is incensed at this but before he can remove them from the post they are murdered in their hall by Thorolf's relatives. Those relatives flee for Iceland before any potential retribution can reach them. Their replacement as tax collector is unknown.

c.901 - ?


Unknown replacement tax collector(s).

fl 1028

Karli of Hålogaland

Of Hålogaland. Tax collector for Olaf II of Norway. Murdered.

Karli is the tax collector for Olaf II of Norway, although his family connections are not mentioned in The Heimskringla. Tasked with collecting revenue for the king (a profitable venture as the tax collector keeps half of everything), he travels through Oppland and north through the mountains to board a vessel which will take him to the Finnmark.

He is joined on the long voyage by Thórir Hund (the 'Hound'), king of Hålogaland, who brings along a greater number of men than the tax collector despite agreeing to equal numbers for an equal share of the gain. It seems that Karli collects the taxes from the Finnmark before the pair sail further to Bjarmaland.

Thorir Hund
This woodcut depicts Thórir Hund and his men returning to their ship after raiding the wealth of a recently-deceased 'Permian', with Karli's vessel also shown alongside it

Thórir acquires an abundance of furs there, but once the trading is over and the agreed truce for the period is also ended, he leads the other Norsemen into a night raid to plunder the wealth of a dead man before it can be shared out according to the custom of the 'Permians' (the Finno-Ugric Finn or Sámi inhabitants).

This they do, but they also plunder from a statue of the native god, Jómali (from the Finnish Jumala, effectively meaning 'God'). Escaping from the vengeful natives, Karli refuses to handle the redistribution of their gains until they reach a safe port. Thórir runs him through with a spear and steals the rest of the loot, while Karli's brother, Gunnstein, and his men avoid being killed themselves.

1028 - 1035

Later in the same year as the adventure of Karli and Thórir into the far north, Norway falls under the rule of Denmark. The country is governed first by Haakon as regent, and then directly by Canute himself. Finally it is ruled by Canute's son, Sweyn, and his mistress, Aelfgifu, in his name until his death.


The Finnmark as a border entity appears to recede from use, even though Norse settlement here is clearly only just beginning. The process probably follows the same path as with the Swedes in Finland. Raiding turns to domination and then settlement.

Vardø kirke in Norway
Today's Vardø kirke (church) is the fourth such building on the site, with the original 1307 construction being located on the southern flank of the building shown here

The native Kvens largely become an integral part of the kingdom of Sweden (which the Swedes call Österland or Osterlandia) while the bulk of the Sámi population remains in Finnmark, the westernmost section of 'Kvenland'. This eventually becomes a Norwegian county (after being dominated by Sweden to begin with). Norse settlement takes place from the thirteenth century, with the first church being consecrated in Vardø in 1307. A fortress is built around the same time, and this still survives, albeit with extensive rebuilding dating from the 1730s.

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