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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Hördaland (Norway)
Incorporating the Arochi & Hǫrðar

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 Hördaland (usually shown in English language text as Hordaland, and sometimes shown in early texts as Hörðaland). It was located in south-western Norway, on the coast in the modern county of the same name, between Rogaland to the south and Sogn to the north. Its own northern reaches contained a minor kingdom known as Voss (Vörs or Vǫrs) which at times seemed to gain dominance over Hördaland as a whole. Its people were the Hordafylke, the 'Horda folk'.

The Arochi people were noted by the mid-sixth century Byzantine historian, Jordanes. Their general location seems to put them in territory which later formed at least part of Hördaland. They have been linked to the Germanic tribe of the Charudes, possibly as descendants after the tribe may have been pushed out of its Jutland home by the arrival of the Eudoses (Jutes). The Charudes could be the Norwegian Hǫrðar people who found Hördaland and give their name to the Hardanger fjord.

The Arochi name seems to have variants: 'arochi' could be 'har-och-i' with the 'h' silent, but Charudes would be 'char-ud-es'. The 'horud/th' and 'hortha' variant probably also stems from 'Charudes', making Arochi and Hǫrðar variations of the same name. All of the Germanic 'ch' names were likely pronounced with a 'kh' sound, but these all seem to employ an initial pattern of 'h/kh' - vowel - 'r' - vowel. It may mean 'warriors' or 'army'. The Pokorny breakdown supports this.

All of the kings of early Hördaland 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 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 Fridthjófs saga ins frækna, from Gautreks Saga, from Grettis saga, 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), from the Landnámabók, from Hálfs saga, 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 Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny.)


Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Eastern Roman 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 (Hördaland, possibly related to the Charudes), and Ranii, with the Raumarici (the later kingdom of Raumarike) close to modern Oslo.

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 Hördaland - inherited from the Norse kingdom of the same name

fl c.590s?

Fridthjóf 'the Bold' / Friðþjófr inn frækna

Son-in-law of Beli of Sogn. King of Hördaland.


The dating for Gor of Sogn which is given there may be around two hundred years too early. Gor's son, Bele, and his own two sons are linked with Fridthjóf 'King-Slayer' in Sogn who can more reliably be dated to the mid-eighth century. But Bele is also linked to Fridthjóf 'the Bold' of Hördaland whose dating may also be two hundred years out as a result. In addition, the two Fridthjófs may very well be one and the same person.

fl c.610s?

Hunthjóf / Hunþjófr

Son. King of Hördaland. Also king of Oppland & Thelemark?

fl c.610s?

Herthjóf / Herþjófr

Son. Killed by Víkar of Agder.

fl c.610s?

Hrolf / Bergi Svåsason

Ancestry unclear. Same as Herthjóf? Later in Voss.

The addition of a Hrolf, of/or Bergi Svåsason (an alternative name or a location?) confuses matters here. He is linked to Hördaland in the early seventh century, making him a likely contemporary of Herthjóf. The names are similar enough to suggest the possibility of it being the same person.

Alternative options are that Hrolf is a minor chieftain who governs territory within the kingdom or that there are two rival, minor kingdoms of Hördaland at this time. He son Solvi similarly confuses the chronology of rulers in the kingdom.

fl c.620s?

Solvi Hrolfson / Solgo Hrolfsson

Son. Father of Kaun Solvason (in Voss).

Following the death of Stóvirk (Stórvirkr), his son Starkad is brought up in the court of Harald Agder of the Agder kingdom in Norway along with Harald's own son, Víkar. 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.

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)

Hjorleif Hjorsson of Rogaland is claimed by the Landnámabók and Hálfs saga as the king of the Hördalanders. This seems to contradict the established line of rulers there but does not rule out a temporary domination of that kingdom. Alternatively, Hjorleif may have conquered a portion of Hördaland and now claims total dominance without any true power over the unconquered parts. This could also position the mysterious Hrolf and his son, Solvi, as the disposed former rulers of the land.

? - c.624

Alrek Eiriksson

Son of Eiríkr Skjoldarson of Ringerike. Not king.

fl c.630s?

Vikar / Vikarr

Son (some sources). King of Agder & Hördaland. Killed.


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.


Now that he has been restored to his rightful inheritance, Vikar of Agder kills Herthjóf's brother, King Geirthjóf of Oppland, at the First Battle of Telemark. Oppland is incorporated into Vikar's kingdom, and the opportunity to gain Thelemark from Geirthjóf's brother, Fridthjóf, presents itself.

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.

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

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.


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. 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.


Grandson of Vikar (contradicted by some sagas).


At the start of Grettis saga, it is stated that Geirmund rules in Hördaland instead of Erik. Opposing this is the Landnámabók, which places Geirmund firmly in Rogaland (although this does not preclude him occupying or dominating Hördaland for a time). Voss is also seemingly now under the command of Rogaland, making its domination of Hördaland more likely. That Geirmund, though, could be a much later ruler, Geirmundur Hjorarsson of the ninth century.

A troll witch of the Norse sagas
Troll witches (as shown here) were part of the rich culture behind the various sagas which recorded (in non-historical fashion) the stories of the pre-unification Norwegians

Hördaland now seems to drop entirely out of the semi-historical record as far as the sagas and any more reliable contemporary historical records go. It only reappears in the ninth century when it stands in opposition to the unification of Norway's petty kingdoms.

fl c.840s - 872


Killed at the Battle of Hafrsfjord by Haraldr Hárfagri.


Ragnhild, the daughter (or great-granddaughter) of the king of Ringerike, becomes the second wife of Halfdanr Svarti of Agder 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 (both Ragnhild) 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 Hördaland.)

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).

Map of Norway
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, while above is a map showing the petty kingdoms of Norway (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The kingdoms of Agder (presumably under Haraldr's sub-king there), Hördaland, 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.

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