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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Ringerike / Rånrike / Hringarík / Viken (Norway)
Incorporating the Hringari & Valdres

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 Ringerike. It was located in the modern county of Buskerud in southern-central Norway, close to the south-western border of the kingdom of Oppland. The name 'Ringerike' is sometimes also shown as 'Hringarík' or as Rånrike. Local tradition states that the name derives from the Hringari tribe, the region's original Germanic inhabitants, and in support of this the progression from 'Hringari' to 'Ringerike' is valid.

The early ninth century king of Ringerike, Sigurd Hjort, is acclaimed as being king of Viken. This name was apparently applied to the combined kingdoms of Ringerike and Vingulmark, although the latter in this period was divided in two and ruled by others, so the origin of this claim is unclear. During the tenth century a king was appointed to the region who was the son of Haraldr Hárfagri, following the latter's conquest and unification of all Norway. By this time, 'Ringerike' seems to have become 'Rånrike'.

All of the kings of early Ringerike 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 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 Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Visit Norway.)

Nori (or Nór) is the legendary founder of the kingdom of Norway. He is mentioned in several medieval Scandinavian texts, which establish that he is either the son of Danp (who himself is the brother-in-law of Domar of Upsal), or one of the sons of King Ypper of Upsal (the other two being Dan, who later rules Denmark, and Østen, who later rules the Swedes (possibly the Östen of the late sixth century)).

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 400s

Halfdan Hringsson 'the Old'

Great-grandson of the legendary Nór of Norway.

fl 540s - 570s

Dag 'the Great' Halvdansson

Son. King of the Hringari or Ringerike. Founder of Döglings.

fl 540s - 570s

Brage Halvdansson

Brother. King of Valdres in Oppland. No successor.

c.579

Skelfi / Skelfir Halvdansson

Brother. In Vörs. Father of Skjold Skelfisson. Died about 579.

fl  late 500s

Oli Dagsson

Son of Dag. King of Ringerike.

c.544

Skjold Skelfisson

Cousin. Father of Eiríkr Skjoldarson. Died about 544.

c.580

Eiríkr Skjoldarson

Son. Father of Alrek Eiriksson. Died about 580.

c.624

Alrek Eiriksson

Son. Gained Hördaland. Died about 624.

c.600s

Although Oli Dagsson is claimed as king of Ringerike, his son is not. The identity of Oli's successor seems to be obscure, but his descendents intermarry with other leading Norse families to produce Helgi Hvasse by the late eighth century, king of Ringerike.

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)

fl c.790s - 810s

Helgi Hvasse 'the Sharp-Witted'

A Dögling. King of Ringerike.

fl c.810s - 840s

Sigurd Hjort 'Snake-in-the-Eye'

Son. King of Hringarík/Ringerike & Viken. Killed by Hake.

c.840s

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 king's daughter (or great-granddaughter), Ragnhild, 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. Ringerike now apparently becomes part of Halfdanr Svarti's Vestfold territory.

c.900

During his reign, Haraldr Hárfagri divides responsibility for the management of his unified Norse 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.

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

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.

fl c.900

Halfdan Haleg (Haraldsson)

Son of Haraldr Hárfagri of Norway. Killed on Orkney.

fl c.930s

Guttorm Haraldsson

Brother.

934

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, although in Ringerike and Vingulmark Haraldr's grandson by Olaf Haraldsson Geirstadalf, Tryggva Olafsson, is placed in charge as a sub-king.

c.934 - 963

Tryggva Olafsson

Son of Olaf Haraldsson Geirstadalf. Also ruled Vingulmark.

976 - 977

The accession of Haakon Sigurdsson of Lade as ruler of the Norse lands may cause some disharmony in the Norwegian nobility. From about 976, Harald Gudrødsson Grenske, father of King Olaf II, can be found ruling Agder, Vestfold, Viken (if indeed this is actually Ringerike in part or wholly), and Vingulmark, although it is not clear if he is claiming a kingship or remains subject to the king's authority. Harald Gudrødsson Grenske is the grandson of Bjørn Farmann, the king of Vestfold who had been killed by King Eric I Bloodaxe in the 930s-950s.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1000
St Olaf II Haraldson
Early in life Olaf Haraldson took part in Viking raids on England, before securing his election as a king of Norway and pursuing a passion to Christianise his countrymen, something which ended in the rebellion of his subjects, while above is a map of Scandinavia around AD 1000 showing the extent of the Norwegian kingdom (click or tap on map to view full sized)

976 - 987

Harald Gudrødsson Grenske

Grandson of B Farmann. Agder, Vestfold, Viken, & Vingulmark.

987 - 1016

St Olaf II Haraldson / the Holy / the Stout

Son. First Christian king of Norway. Died 1030.

c.1000 - 1018

Sigurd Syr

Father of Harald Hadradr of Norway. Baptised.

1013

Olaf Haraldson is allied to King Ethelred of England, and fights with him against the Danes in this year. Olaf also reunites Norway and achieves hegemony over the Sámi of Kvenland who border the earldom of Lade along a long coastal strip to the north of Sweden and Norway.

1016

The accession of Olaf II to the Norwegian throne brings his own domain of Agder fully back under the control of the Norwegian crown (if it was not already under that control beforehand). Olaf rules a Norway which seems now to be a fully and permanently unified kingdom.