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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Thelemark (Telemark) (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 Thelemark (otherwise shown as Thelamork - modern Telemark). It was located immediately to the west of the Vestfold in southern Norway, and today has a county named after it. However, its status as a kingdom has been questioned by some modern historians. Vestmar, otherwise known as Grenland, was a minor coastal kingdom which was part of the larger region of Grænafylket (or Grenafylket). Today this territory is situated within the modern county of Telemark but it is unclear whether it was part of the former kingdom of Thelemark.

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 Most of these kings cannot be pinned down by historical documents or other such reliable methods, so they essentially enjoy a semi-legendary status which probably reflects (and glorifies) a more earthly reality.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

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.

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?

Fridthjóf Hunthjofsson

Son. Defeated by Vikar of Agder.

Now that he has been restored to his rightful inheritance, Vikar of the Agder kingdom kills Herthjóf's brother, 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.

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.

Harald Vikarson

Son. King of Agder & Hördaland. Overlord of Thelemark?

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.

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)

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.

As far as Agder is concerned, the succession at this point is uncertain. It is not known whether Neri succeeds his brother as king, or whether Harald Vikarson is able to secure his own successor by producing a son.

The next king to be known there seems to be unrelated to either of them, carrying a name which suggests either that he is claiming to be the kingdom's founder, or that he is claiming control over the kingdom without necessarily having a proper claim to it. The latter possibility suggests that the kingdom is leaderless at this time and Vigbrands has risen to the top by force of arms. Thelemark similarly has an apparent gap in rule which supports the idea that Agder's ruling dynasty has collapsed.

fl  late 700s

Raum (I) 'the Old'

King of Møre, Raumsdal, & Thelemark.

c.800

Raum the Old is father to Hadding Raumsson who becomes king of Hallingdal, perhaps its first king. Another 'son of Raum' who rules another territory - Gudbrandsdal - at the same time is Gudbrand Raumsson. Normally acclaimed as a son of the legendary (mythical?) King Raum of Norway, he could instead be a son of Raum the Old, ruler of Møre, Raumsdal, and Thelemark. Raum's daughter is Bryngerd, wife of Alf of Alfheim.

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

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).

? - 872

Hroald Hryg

King? Defeated at the Battle of Hafrsfjord by Haraldr Hárfagri.

? - 872

Hadd the Hard

Brother. King? Defeated at Hafrsfjord.

872

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