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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Hrafnista (Ramsta) (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 larger petty kingdoms which was eventually subjugated by the growing power of that early Norwegian royal house was that of Hålogaland. It was located on a long, deep stretch of the northern Norwegian coastline, along the western sides of the modern counties of Nord-Trøndelag and Nordland and possibly the southern edge of Tromsø. Bordering the Throndhjem region to the south, it maintained a strong tradition of independence even in the face of Norwegian unification. The Throndhjem was where the royal residence of Lade was to be found following unification, and perhaps this was even the starting point for the populating of Hålogaland, which would make sense as such a progression produces a south-north drift along the Norwegian coastline, with settlements springing up along the way.

A sub-domain of Hålogaland which was for a time ruled on an independent or semi-independent basis was Hrafnista (Ramsta), a territory on the island of Nærøy in Nord-Trøndelag, northern Norway. This domain produced several heroes in the sagas (especially the Hrafnistumannasögur), along with important early settlers of Iceland. Hålogaland itself in the sixth century amounted to little more than a few coastal ports, while the greater part of it was still vaguely attached to the concept of a single great territory known as Kvenland. The word 'hrafn' means 'raven', with the latter being a directly-descended form of the former.

All of the kings of early Hrafnista are known primarily from early Norse sagas (primarily the Hrafnistumannasögur), 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), from Beyond the Northlands: Viking Voyages and the Old Norse Sagas, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, 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.)

Hrafnista within Hålogaland is typically ruled by the kings of Hålogaland. In the troubled ninth century, however, a short-lived line of rulers appears which is separate from those of the parent kingdom. Simultaneously, Gudrod the Magnificent of Raumarike and Vestfold and Harald Grunraude of Agder enter into a fight over the latter's daughter, sparking a chain of events which will lead to the unification of Norway, but only after a great many battles.

Archaeological excavations on the Ørland peninsula
Archaeologist Synne H Rostad operates a standing sieve which is used to sift out smaller bones and objects from the general soil in Throndhjem's Ørland peninsula

fl c.790s - 800s

Ulf 'the Brave'

Hersir (commander) to a jarl, probably Hålogaland.

fl early 800s

Hallbjörn 'Half-Troll' Ulfsson

Son. Hersir.

Hallbjörn's curious nickname comes not because he is half troll but because he is half Sámi. The Sámi, Kvenls, and other early native inhabitants of Scandinavia are often referred to as giants or in derogatory terms, such as troll.

fl mid-800s

Ketil Trout 'of Hrafnista'

Son. Grandfather of Ketil Trout of Iceland.

This Ketil Trout is not to be confused with a later Ketil Trout who is one of the first settlers of Iceland. That Ketil, though, is the grandson (or, sometimes, son) of this one by his daughters, Hrafnhilda. She is married to Thorkel, jarl of Naumudal. Her mother is Hrafnhild, the 'giantess' (probably a Sámi).

Ketil Trout of Hrafnista matures from a bit of a troublemaker into fine champion. He slays a dragon, involves himself in several other fights - mainly in defence of his daughter's honour - and defeats and kills Dusti, 'king of the Sámi'. He also steals three of the king's magic flintstone arrowheads.

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.

Trondheim in Norway
Although it later served for a time as Norway's capital (997-1217), Trondheim in the Viking age was only just emerging as an important centre

Some of their kings fall and some flee, but Haraldr is the victor. All of these victories take place in or near the Throndhjem district (modern Trondheim). Then falls Naumudal and its two kings, far to the north of the Throndhjem. Haraldr sets up a royal residence called Lade and marries Asa, daughter of Hakon Grjotgardson, the new jarl of Strind.

Independently-minded Hålogaland in the north of Norway continues to be a thorn in the king's side for quite some time. The first Lade jarl of Hålogaland appears in the late 800s, but he is the son of its last king, Grjotagard Herlaugsson, so the Lade jarls are shown there for ease of access rather than under the entry for Throndhjem.

Grimr Loðinkinna 'Hairy-Cheek'

Son.

872

A final rebellion is organised against Haraldr Hárfagri's increasingly dominant control of Norway. The men of Agder, Hördaland, Rogaland, and Thelemark, along with chieftains from the Sognefjord region, are gathering under the leadership of their kings. They meet Haraldr's great army at the Battle of Hafrsfjord of 872 which seems to be the key point in Haraldr's various conflicts. Many are killed and all of the rebels are defeated.

fl c.900

Orvar-Oddr 'Arrow-Odd'

Son. Death mixed/confused with that of Oleg the Seer of Kyiv.

Orvar-Oddr - more often known simply as Odd - is the eponymous hero of a legendary saga which conflates him with several earlier, semi-legendary heroes. A story concerning his death at the hands of a poisonous snake, and at the age of three hundred years (possibly meaning a century), later becomes part of Rus folklore which surrounds Oleg 'the Seer' of Kyiv. The story is likely transported there by the Vikings who form the first few generations of rulers of the Rus, but Oleg himself is a contemporary of Orvar-Oddr.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 862-882
Haraldr's final rebellion against his rule came shortly after Scandinavian expansion into the east took place at Novgorod, with other Rus princes at Izborsk and Beloozero (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.900

During his reign as king of a united Norway, 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.

Of Hrafnista and its local rulers there seems to be no further mention, but they and their descendants do play an important part in the founding of Iceland.