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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Firdafylke / Fjordane (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.

One of those minor kingdoms which was eventually subjugated by the growing power of the early Norwegian royal house was Fjordane (its modern name, with the older form being Firdafylke). This was located between Bergen and Møre in Norway, along a stretch of rugged coastline. It seems also to have been known as Firda, without the 'fylke' suffix. Modern Fjordane is divided into Nordfjord and Sunnfjord and, along with Sogn, forms a single region. It is unclear whether Firdafylke was fully independent of the kingdom of Sogn during the Viking period when each seemed to have its own ruler.

The Old Norse word 'firda' (modern Norse fjord) is cognate with both the Scots 'firth', and the English 'ford'. It can refer to any sort of coastal bay in Scandinavian languages, not just a long narrow one. In modern Norwegian, 'fylke' means 'county'. The original may have been an extension of 'folk' as a plural to refer to a region in the same manner as 'Norwegren', the 'north way', became a region. The root names of the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk (within the kingdom of East Anglia) evolved in the same way.

All of the rulers of early Firdafylke 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 Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar (Egil's saga), Eric Rucker Eddison (Translation from Icelandic, The University Press, c.1930), from Fridthjófs saga ins frækna, 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, and Sacred Texts (Egil's saga), and Finnmark (also available in English), and Firdafylke Kings (Geni).)

fl c.710s

Frøygard Gardsson

Descended from Gor Thorrasson 'Sea King' of Kvenland.

fl c.830s

Frøybjørn Frøygardsson

Son. King of Firdafylke?

? - 868

Audbjørn Frøybjørnsson

Son and king. Killed in battle.

866 - 867

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.

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)

866 - 867

Continuing his quest to unite all of Norway under his rule, Haraldr Hárfagri attacks the Møre region in 867. 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. Solve Klofe, the son of Hunthjof of North Møre, also escapes the defeat and flees south to join Arnvid of South Møre.

868

Having subdued North Møre and Raumsdal, Haraldr Hárfagri of Agder must defeat Solve in South Møre in the following spring (868). Solve, son of North Møre's late king, has spent the winter raiding Haraldr's posts there, 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 the forces of Arnvid of South Møre, 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 storms the flagship, forces the defenders to scatter, and 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'.

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

868 - 869

Vemund Frøybjørnsson

Half-brother. Killed by Ragnvald of Møre & Raumsdal.

868 - 869

Having subdued South Møre, Haraldr Hárfagri selects 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). Haraldr Hárfagri sails his own forces into the kingdom to subdue the rest of it. Firdafylke now joins Haraldr's new kingdom of Norway, commanded by Hakon Grjotgardson, Haraldr's new jarl in Throndhjem.

869

Hakon Grjotgardson

Jarl of Strind (866) & Firdafylke. Of Hålogaland. Killed.

869

Having gained Firdafylke, Jarl Hakon Grjotgardson of Strind in the Throndhjem (and Hålogaland) demands that Jarl Atle Mjove gives up Sogn and returns to his former post in Gaular district (Gaulardal in the Throndhjem), claiming that Haraldr Hárfagri of Agder wants Hakon to govern over Sogn. Atle refuses until Haraldr can provide guidance, and the quarrel escalates until the two sides come to battle. The fight at Fialar, in Stavanger fjord, results in the death of Hakon in combat and Atle from his wounds.

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.900

During his reign, Haraldr Hárfagri divides responsibility for the management of the kingdom. The original holdings in the south-east are given to sons (at least twelve) and kinsmen, the south-west coastal region remains under Haraldr's direct control as high king, the long north-western coastal strip is governed by the earls of Lade, while the earls of Møre govern a much smaller region between Lade and the south-west. The earls of Lade prove to be important players in the rule of Norway later in the century.

903

Haraldr Hárfagri secures the Norwegian succession by naming his favourite son, Eric Bloodaxe as his successor. They rule side-by-side for the three remaining years of Haraldr's life. This does not end the possibility of division within the kingdom, however, and it is not until about 1030 that Norway is unquestionably unified.

early 900s

Hroald

Jarl of Firdafylke.

early 900s - 935

Thorir Hroaldsson

Son.

c.935 - c.950?

Arinbjørn Thorirson

Son.

946 - 947

Scandinavian adventurer Eric Bloodaxe is forced to flee Iceland following the death of his father and Haakon, his brother, being recalled to Norway to become king. Eric travels to Scotland with Arinbjørn Thorirson and then into England.

Eric Bloodaxe silver penny
Shown here are two sides of a silver penny issued under the rule of Eric Bloodaxe following his exile from Norway and during his governance of the Scandinavian kingdom of York in England

946 - 947

The rulers of York have already officially submitted to King Eadred of Wessex in 946, but within a few months they have invited Eric to ascend the Northumbrian throne late in the year. In time Arinbjørn returns to Norway to take up or resume his post as jarl.