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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Sogn (Norway)
Incorporating Svithjod / Svíţjóđ

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 the coastal territory of Sogn. It was located in western Norway and is now the southern half of the modern county of the same name. Modern Fjordane is divided into Nordfjord and Sunnfjord and, along with Sogn, now forms a single region. It is unclear whether Firdafylke was fully independent of the kingdom of Sogn during the Viking period in which each seemed to have had its own ruler. Hördaland lay to the south, close by was the kingdom of Voss within Hördaland's northern borders.

Svithjod or Svíţjóđ is sometimes referred to as a minor kingdom in southern Norway, perhaps tributary to Sogn. If so then it was unlikely to have been more than a small valley state with a brief and tenuous existence. The name Svíţjóđ, though, actually referred to the Swedes, meaning 'Swedish folk/nation'. It was sometimes used in conjunction with the early kingdom of the Swedes at Uppsala, or with fanciful pan-Scandinavian legendary kingdoms.

All of the kings of early Sogn 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 frćkna, 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 that 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.)

fl c.560s?

Gor of Sogn

Mid-sixth century, or very late seventh century?

c.560s?

The dating for Gor of Sogn which is given here may be around two hundred years too early. Bele and his sons are linked with Fridthjóf 'King-Slayer' 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.

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.570s?

Bele / Beli

Not related. Father-in-law of Fridthjóf 'the Bold' of Hördaland.

fl c.600s?

Helge Beleson

Son. Killed by Fridthjóf 'King-Slayer'.

fl c.600s?

Halfdan Beleson

Brother and co-ruler. Submitted to (a) Fridthjóf.

c.600s?

If Fridthjóf 'King-Slayer' is only called that because he has slain Helge Beleson during their falling-out, the he may well be the very same individual as Fridthjóf 'the Bold' (and names and locations do seem to make this likely). This provides a further reason for pushing back the dates for Gor and his successors by the best part of two centuries.

fl c.750?

Fridthjóf 'King-Slayer'

Same as Fridthjóf 'the Bold' of Hördaland?

? - c.765

Hjaldur Vatnarsson

Grandson of Vikar of Hördaland.

765 - 790

Grim Hjaldursson

Son.

790 - mid-800s

Bjarni 'Buna' Veđra-Grimsson

Son.

fl c.815 - 855

Harald Gulskeg 'Goldbeard'

Seemingly unrelated. King of Sogn.

c.827/828

At the age of eighteen or nineteen, Halfdanr Svarti is king of Vestfold, having divided the territory with his half-brother, Olaf Gudrodsson. He conquers Agder before pursuing an aggressive policy of expanding his kingdom further. He persuades Gandalf of Vingulmark to cede him half of that kingdom (possibly through intimidation). Halfdanr's own son, Harald Halfdansson, eventually becomes king of Sogn.

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)

c.830s - 860

The king's daughter, Ragnhild, becomes the first wife of Halfdanr Svarti of Agder, and mother to a boy named Harald. Ragnhild's father names the young Harald as his successor, but when all three pass away in succession by 860, Halfdanr Svarti lays claim to the kingdom, and it is peacefully subsumed.

c.855 - 860

Harald Halfdansson 'the Young'

Son of Halfdanr Svarti of Agder & Ragnhild. Ruled? Died.

fl  mid-850s

Ketil Flatnose Bjarnasson

Son of Bjarni 'Buna' Veđra-Grimsson. Later on Man.

850s - 860s

Ketil Flatnose Bjarnasson, his family, and followers flee Haraldr Hárfagri's ongoing and enforced unification of Norway. Ketil becomes ruler of the Isle of Man and much of the Hebrides, although his precise dominions are open to some question and debate. His daughter, Unn 'the Deep-Minded', marries Olaf the White, ruler of Dublin, while their son, Thorstein 'the Red', is an early jarl of the Orkneys and Caithness. Much of Ketil's clan eventually settle in Laxdaela on Iceland.

Halfdan Svarti
This fairly modern and rather romantic Victorian-era illustration of Halfdanr Svarti (Halfdan the Black) shows him with his son, Harald Hárfagri (Harald Fairhair), by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892)

860 - 863

Halfdanr Svarti / Halfdan III the Black

Father, and widower of Ragnhild. King of Agder.

? - 869

Atle Mjove

Jarl of Gaular & Sogn. Died following a battle.

869

Having gained Firdafylke, Jarl Hakon Grjotgardson of Strind in the Throndhjem (and Hĺlogaland) demands that Atle gives up Sogn and returns to his former post in Gaular district (Gaulardal in the Throndhjem), claiming that Haraldr Hárfagri of Agder wants Hakon to govern over Sogn. Atle refuses until Haraldr can provide guidance, and the quarrel escalates until the two sides come to battle. The fight at Fialar, in Stavanger fjord, results in the death of Hakon in combat and Atle from his wounds.

871

Hesteinn Atlison

Son.

871 - 872

Internecine war continues 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). Sogn, like the other kingdoms, is forced to join Haraldr's new kingdom of Norway.