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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Oppland (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 Oppland. It was located in southern-central Norway, within the modern county of the same name. 'Oppland' was literally the 'uppland' kingdom, occupying the more mountainous terrain inland between Ringerike and Møre.

Oppland also incorporated at least two districts which, for a time, had their own rulers. These were Gudbrandsdal, which was centred on the town of Hundorp, and Hallingdal, which was formed by a valley which drained into the River Hallingdal. Both emerged into what seems to have been independence around the start of the ninth century, a very troubled period for Norway, especially while moves were underway to forcibly unite it under a single king. Valdres in Oppland was also, briefly, a minor kingdom, this time in the sixth century, under Brage, son of the king of Ringerike.

All of the kings of early Oppland 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 Most of these kings cannot be pinned down by historical documents or other such reliable methods, so they essentially enjoy a semi-legendary status which probably reflects (and glorifies) a more earthly reality.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 Copenhagen University (also available in English), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Visit Norway.)

fl c.610s?

Hunthjóf / Hunþjófr

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

c.620s?

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. Hunthjóf's possessions are divided between his sons, Herthjóf (in Hördaland), Geirthjóf (in Oppland), and Fridthjóf (in Thelemark).

Norway's Heimskringla
The term 'saga manuscripts' refers to manuscripts that 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

fl c.630s?

Geirthjóf / Geirþjófr

Son. Killed by Víkar of Agder.

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

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.

fl c.630s?

Vikar / Vikarr

King of Agder & Hördaland. Killed.

FeatureThe name Vikar (more accurately 'Vikr') is made up of 'vik' and 'r' (nominative suffix). 'Vik' is the same as the Anglo-Saxon 'wic', a trading inlet or bay. Gipeswic (Ipswich) in Suffolk is one such example (see feature link).

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.

Neri Vikarson

Son. Jarl of Thelemark & Oppland. Succeeded to Agder?

c.655

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.

Gotland standing stone
This standing stone was found on the island of Götaland, immediately to the east of modern Sweden, and depicts Vikings with their boats and armaments, which were a development of those of the early Germanic settlers around the Scandinavian coastal regions

fl c.660s?

Eystein Haardaade ('Severe')

Son of Thrond. King of Oppland and Hedmark.

c.660s/670s?

Hedmark borders Sweden in the south-east of Norway, (the north-eastern section of modern Østlandet). The kingdom is now either conquered by Halfdan Hvitbeinn or he gains it following the death of his father-in-law, Eystein Haardaade. Oppland borders Hedmark on its western flank ('opp' or 'upp' meaning highlands or upper countries, the highlands next to Hedmark).

late 7th century

Halfdan Hvitbeinn 'Whitelegs'

Son of Olaf Tretelgia. m Åsa, dau of Eystein Haardaade.

Halfdan Hvitbeinn (or Huitbein) 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.

A line of 'kings' of Kvenland ends with Thorri Snaersson. The appellation of 'Sea King' to subsequent names, from Gor Thorrasson to his great-grandson, Sveidi, suggests that they lose or surrender their inheritance as Kven kings (if such an inheritance and connection had ever existed at all) and rule the seas instead. The first of them to be mentioned in connection with Oppland is Sveidi, but his descendents also become involved in other petty Norse kingdoms.

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)

Sveidi 'Sea King'

Son of Svidri, formerly in Kvenland.

fl c.750s

Halfdan Sveidasson Vanha' ('the Old')

Son. King?

fl c.800s?

Ivar Halfdansson

Son. King of Oppland and Hedmark. Dominated Raumsdal.

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. Following the death of Ivar Halfdansson, his son Eystein appears to inherit Raumsdal while his brother (another Eystein) secures Oppland.

fl c.840s

Eystein (II) Eysteinsson 'the Noisy'

Brother. King of Hedmark & Raumarike. Oppland too?

c.840s

The minor kingdom of Raumarike is attacked by Halfdanr Svarti of Agder. He first kills its king, Sigtryg Eysteinsson, in battle, and then repeatedly attacks Sigtryg's brother in battle until he is also defeated. Raumarike passes to Halfdanr, along with half of Hedmark.

Søkkunda in Hedmark
The Søkkunda in Hedmark is a tributary of Norway's River Glomma, with the latter being known by the Vikings as the Raum which marked Aflheim's northern border

Following the reign of Eystein Eysteinsson in Oppland, his kingdom appears to pass to his father-in-law, Ragnvald 'Mountain-High' of Vestfold. Eystein's own son, Ragnvald Eysteinsson 'the Wise', becomes jarl of South Møre, Raumsdal, and North Møre following the region's defeat in several battles by Haraldr Hárfagri in the 870s.