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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Hadeland (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 the minor kingdoms which was eventually subjugated by the growing power of that early Norwegian royal house was Hadeland. It was located in what is now the Innlandet and Viken counties of Norway, in the south-east. At its height in the Viking period it dominated the southern half of territory on the eastern shore of Lake Randsfjorden. The larger settlements under its control included Gran, Grua, Jevnaker, Lunner, and Skrukkelia, its north-easternmost settlement. The soil around the Randsfjorden is reputedly amongst the most fertile in Norway.

The name Hadeland can be broken down into two parts: 'hade' and 'land'. The latter is the same in English, unchanged from the original shared Germanic word. The 'had' and very similar 'hod' in Scandinavian names could potentially be borrowings the Celtic 'cat, cad', meaning 'battle'. There was certainly an awful lot of word borrowing - mainly Celtic-to-Germanic - along the hazy, broad borderland between Celts and Germanics prior to the emergence of the Roman empire. The Belgae may even have been more Germanic than Celt, but heavily influenced by the latter. In terms of 'had', the initial 'kh' sound would be turned into an 'h' by all speakers of Germanic languages, even Scandinavians. Hadeland could be the 'battle land'.

All of the kings of Hadeland 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 which is of dubious reliability), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Visit Norway.)

fl mid-500s?

Höd / Höðr

Legendary. Not necessarily the same as the Norse god.

Höðr (often Anglicised as Höd) is a Norse god. The Höðr of Hadeland, however, can be assumed to be a founder figure - legendarily or semi-historically - of Hadeland. The name Höðr is linked to the Norse word for 'battle, war' through the Old Norse 'hǫð', meaning 'war, slaughter', making Hadeland the 'land of warriors'. Höðr is linked through his deeds with King Helgo of the Haleygir.

Geilo in eastern Norway
Norway's origins lie in regional petty kingdoms which were challenged in the mid-seventh century by an exiled member of the Swedish royal house, with full unification being the eventual outcome

fl late-500s?

Hothbrodd / Hǫdbroddr

Son. Legendary.


At a time when the kings of the Denes are conquering his homeland, Olaf Tretelgia is said to flee Sweden and, settling in Norway, founds its first (historical) royal house. Olaf's kingdom is Värmland, on the border between modern Norway and Sweden. 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.


Starting out from his stronghold in Soløyjar, Halfdan Hvitbeinn becomes one of pre-unification Norway's most powerful kings. Having obtained Hedmark and then Oppland, he also conquers Hadeland, Toten (a minor kingdom within Oppland), and part of Vestfold. In addition, he inherits Värmland (which had been founded by Olaf Tretelgia on the border between Sweden and Norway about AD 655) upon the death of his half-brother, Ingjald Olafsson.

late 7th century

Halfdan Hvitbeinn / Halfdan I 'Whitelegs'

Son of Olaf T of Värmland. m Åsa, dau of Eystein Haardaade.

Halfdan Hvitbeinn's son is Eystein. He succeeds his father as king in Raumarike and Vestfold. Married to Hilde, a daughter of Eric Agnarson, the latter kingdom is clearly inherited through his wife while the former appears to be due to a conquest.

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)

790s? - c.810

Harald Granraude / 'Redbeard'

Son of Herbrand of Agder. King of Agder. Killed by Gudröd.


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 and Hadeland, 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.

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.

fl c.845

Haki / Hake Gandalfsson

Berserker. Son of Gandalf Alfgeirsson of Vingulmark.


Ringerike is another of Norway's many minor kingdoms at this time. Its king, Sigurd Hjort, is killed by the berserker, Hake, although he loses twelve men and a hand in the attack. This is seemingly the same Hake who had been expelled from Vingulmark and who now commands in Hadeland.

The daughter (or great-granddaughter) of the king is one Ragnhild. She becomes the second wife of Halfdanr Svarti of Agder after being kidnapped by Hake. Halfdanr rescues her, and together they become the parents of Haraldr Hárfagri, the successor to Halfdanr's growing domains.

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

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. By 872 a final rebellion against him fails and all of the petty kingdoms are forced to join Haraldr's new kingdom of Norway.

During his reign, Haraldr 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.

? - c.890

Gudrod Liomi Haraldsson

Son of Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway.


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.

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

fl 930s

Rögnvaldr / Ragnald Haraldsson

Brother. Killed by Eric Bloodaxe.


An apparently harsh ruler, Eric Bloodaxe quickly falls out of favour with the Norwegian nobility. When Haakon the Good returns from England, he is asked to take the throne. Eric is banished and flees the country to become an adventurer. The various sub-kingdoms of Norway may at this point be merged back under the king's direct rule, with local jarls in place to handle local affairs.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.