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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Voss / Vörs (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 Voss (also shown as Vörs and Vǫrs). It was located in the northern parts of Hördaland in south-western Norway, on the coastal section of the modern county of the same name. Today the region is best known for the port city of Bergen. The governance of Hördaland and neighbouring Rogaland is somewhat confused and poorly detailed. Both appear to have genealogies which are firmly in place early in Norway's history, and both seem to be heavily involved in Voss, making any accurate king list near impossible to develop.

All of the kings of early Voss 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 Most of these kings cannot be pinned down by historical documents or other such reliable methods, so they essentially enjoy a semi-legendary status which probably reflects (and glorifies) a more earthly reality.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.)

550s

Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, writes of the barbarian tribes in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, mentioning a wide number of them which include the following for Norway: the Adogit live in the far north. Further south are the Grannii (Grenland), Augandzi (Agder), Eunixi, Taetel, Rugii (Rogaland), Arochi (Hördaland, who have been linked to the Charudes) and Ranii, with the Raumarici (the later kingdom of Raumarike) close to modern Oslo.

Hægebostad
The modern municipality of Hægebostad lies in Vest-Agder, the western half of the former kingdom of Agder as the name suggests, and contains the Bjærum grave of the Migration Period (External Link: Creative Commons Licence CCO)

died c.579

Skelfi / Skelfir Halvdansson

Son of Halfdan Hringsson 'the Old' of Ringerike.

died c.544

Skjold Skelfisson

Son. Unlikely to have ruled.

died c.580

Eiríkr Skjoldarson

Son. King?

died c.624

Alrek Eiriksson

Son. King? Gained Hördaland.

fl c.610s?

Hrolf / Bergi Svåsason

Ancestry unclear. In Hördaland. Later (?) in Voss.

Following the death of Stóvirk (Stórvirkr), his son Starkad is brought up in the court of Harald Agder of the Agder kingdom in Norway along with Harald's own son, Víkar. King Herthjóf (Herþjófr) of Hördaland makes a surprise attack on the kingdom one night and kills Harald, taking Víkar hostage so that the young king's subjects remain subjugated under Herthjóf. Vikar waits some years before gathering together a force of men and striking back, killing Herthjóf and regaining his kingdom, along with some of the lands of his fallen oppressor.

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 Hordaland - inherited from the Norse kingdom of the same name

Hjorleif Hjorsson of Rogaland is claimed by the Landnámabók and Hálfs saga as the king of the Hördalanders. This seems to contradict the established line of rulers there but does not rule out a temporary domination of that kingdom. Alternatively, Hjorleif may have conquered a portion of Hördaland and now claims total dominance without any true power over the unconquered parts.

fl c.620s?

Solvi Hrolfson / Solgo Hrolfsson

Son. In Hördaland & Voss.

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.

c.630s?

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

Norway's Heimskringla
The term 'saga manuscripts' refers to manuscripts which 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.650s?

Kaun Solvason

Son. In Hördaland (?) & Voss.

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.

c.660s?

At the start of Grettis saga, it is stated that Geirmund rules in Hördaland instead of Erik. Opposing this is the Landnámabók, which places Geirmund firmly in Rogaland (although this does not preclude him occupying or dominating Hördaland for a time). Voss itself seemingly comes under the command of Rogaland too, making its domination of Hördaland more likely.