at the Southern Borders of Denmark 800-1000.
Charlemagne defeated the Saxons, the Danish King Gudfred became
afraid of the dangerous new neighbour.
blocked the peninsula of Jutland from Østersalt to Vesterø by
means of a rampart, the very long Dannevirke, raided in Frisland
with his fleet, and threatened Charlemagne to visit him in Achen,
but Gudfred was murdered in 810. Then peace was obtained near the
Eider, the border river.
the time to follow quarrels broke out between two branches of the
Danish Royal Family. One of the kings, Harold, often visited Louis
the Pious, who supported him, and he therefore converted to
Christianity in 826.
arrived in Denmark as part of Harold´s retinue. The Carolingian
realm disappeared in 843, and a particularly German domain emerged.
It was weak until Henry the First became its leader and put it into
shape. He started up the fight against the heathen neighbours: the
Magyars, the Slavs, and the Danes.
the Southern part of Jutland ruled King Gnupa, a Swedish Viking.
Together with his Danish warriors he raided the German coasts, but
Henry went against him, made him pay taxes and forced him to convert
to Christianity in 934.
two runic stones placed near Slien show that Gnupa was barrow
buried. Possibly he was defeated and killed when fighting Gorm
the Old. According to the legend Queen Thyra, his wife,
had rebuilt the Dannevirke. Therefore she was called
“Danmarksbod” or “Danebod” (the Jelling Stone).
Otto the Great lived at peace with Denmark, but when he died in 973,
Harold Bluetooth used his death as an excuse for a raid into
Germany. This was avenged the following year by Otto the Second, who
crossed the Dannevirke after having set fire to it. When he died, he
left behind a chief together with many warriors in the uninhabited
land between the Eider and the Dannevirke, the so-called
“Markgrevskab Slesvig.” But a few years later the Danes took
back this strip of land, as Emperor Conrad the Second waived his
right to it to Canute
the Great (Knud den Store).
peaceful coexistence with Germany, which at times stopped the
Vikings from raiding, helped introduce Christianity to the Nordic
countries. Until shortly before the year 1000 the German influence
was all important, at first because of the Nordic trade connections
with Dorestad in Frisland, later because of Germany’s dominant
political power, and because the Nordic church was originally
organized as a branch of the German church.
the influence of the English church grew considerably during the
periods of Sweyn
Forkbeard (Svend Tveskæg) and Cnut the Great (Knud den
Store) in Denmark, and during the times of Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf
the Saint in Norway.
was a Frank from the Picardy, who had moved from his hometown
monastery of Corbie to the newly founded monastery of New Corvey in
the land of the Saxons. He worked tirelessly to propagate the
Christian faith. In his dreams he often thought he heard God’s
bidding to go and live among the heathens. Therefore he happily
followed Harold to Denmark in 826. But Harold was untrustworthy, and
was soon expelled forever. Therefore Ansgar achieved very little in
Denmark, but was much more successful once he moved to Sweden.
an island in Lake Mälaren a church was built. After he came back he
was made Archbishop of the Danes, the Swedes, and the Wends. His see
was in Hamburg, but it was a long time before he could restart his
conversion of the Danes.
Viking raids became more intense, even Hamburg was destroyed by the
Danish fleet, and Ansgar only just managed to save his life. Soon he
made Bremen his hometown. But then the Frankish Empire joined
together, so that the Danish King Haarik had to negotiate a peace
treaty with his neighbour, Germany, and as Ansgar behaved as the
envoy of the German king in Denmark, he won the trust of Haarik by
his honourable behaviour.
King allowed the building of a church near Slesvig. His successor,
Haarik the Younger, presented Ansgar with land for a church in Ribe.
Religious communities were formed in the most important trading
towns in Denmark, and in this way the propagation of faith was
increased. The churches were granted the right to ring their bells,
which dismayed the heathens, who believed that the sound of the
bells would scare away the land pixies. The missionary work in
Sweden was taken over by others, but they failed.
again visited the church at Mälaren and improved the small
religious community. His highest wish was to become a blood witness
for God’s Kingdom, but he was left unscathed and died in 865.
Ansgar’s successors in Hamburg-Bremen did not have his power.
feeble beginning of a religious community in Sweden soon vanished.
In Denmark Christianity did not get the necessary support from
Germany, which at the time was weak. However, some Danish chiefs
converted when raiding in the West. Germany finally grew strong
enough to support missionaries during the reigns of Henry the First
and Otto the Great.
the Old (died in 958 or 959) and Thyra Danebod were both barrow
buried according to heathen custom. But their son, Harold Bluetooth
(died in 986) won the day for Christianity. He is said to have been
a man who was ready to listen, but who took his time before giving
his own opinion. He had been King for more than twenty years before
In these years
the new faith spread rapidly, and the Archbishop of Bremen-Hamburg
ordained the first Danish bishops (in Slesvig, Ribe, and Aarhus). More
and more people believed that Christ was a stronger God than Odin and
the old land pixies.
965 Poppy, a clergyman, offered to prove the truth of the new faith
by carrying red-hot iron in his hands without damaging them in an
ordeal by fire. According to the ideas of the time he proved that
the new God was the strongest. Harold then converted to
worshipping of the old Gods ended in the royal castles. He built a
church in Roskilde.
stone he erected for his parents at Jelling Harold
Bluetooth by right calls himself for “the Harold
who christened the Danes.” He tried to pave the way for the
new faith beyond the borders of his kingdom. He started the
conversion in Viken because he was the ruler of Norway for
Foundation of the Norwegian Kingdom
unification of Norway took place from Viken, where the mountains
were low and the valleys wide, and therefore the closer they were to
the Danish and Swedish realms, the easier was unification.
year 800 The Danish kings had governed parts of Viken, and the king
who founded Norway most likely descended from the powerful Danish
In Viken and
its surroundings Harold Fairhair (Harald Hårfager) possessed large
counties. From here he went to Dovre and conquered the counties of
the Trondelag (Trøndelag). The area around Trondheim (Trondhjem)
was from now considered the most important part of the country.
Norway, however, Harold met long lasting resistance, and it was only
crushed when in 872 he defeated the united chiefs of the local
counties in Havrsfiord. Norway was now united under one king. But
many mighty chiefs would not accept his sovereignty. They migrated
to the Scottish Islands, and when Harold went west and subjected
them, they sailed on and founded independent communities in Iceland.
Harold Fairhair’s influence in Norway was based primarily on the
huge land areas he had acquired when taking the lands of the people
who had migrated.
It is believed
that he seized more than 800 farms in his time. He wielded his power
over the chiefs and demanded taxes, which until then had been
unknown to the Norwegians. The chiefs found the taxes an
insufferable attack on their proprietary rights. In a few counties
the royal power was delegated to earls. On the whole Harold Fairhair
managed to persuade the old chiefs to support him and in return he
presented them with royal estates, and they were then called high
sheriffs (Lendermænd). So the high sheriffs were the king’s
servants as well as the heads of the old Ætte aristocracy. Their
reputation rested on the latter function, and when the country had a
weak leader, they immediately became as independent as before
In 930 Harold
had ruled for more than 60 years, and he decided to give his country
to his sons in such a way that Eric Bloodaxe became the lord
Erik and his
Queen Gunild had several brothers killed, and they caused hatred due
to their extreme imperiousness and bloodthirstiness, and were driven
away. The youngest brother Haakon was appointed king.
Adelstensfostre (935-960) was so called, because he had been raised
by King Æthelstan in England, had been taught the Christian faith
and had tried to convert his countrymen, but failed. In the end he
even participated in their offerings and ate horse liver. He was
beloved by the people. He is said to have put up beacons on top of
the mountains to warn his people when enemies were threatening. When
the beacons were lit, warnings could travel all over Norway in just
one week. In 960 he was killed at Stordøen by Erik Bloodaxe’s
(skjald) Øjvind composed a splendid poem about him highlighting how
the Gods paid tribute to him upon his arrival in Valhalla.
The Rule of
Bloodaxe died as a refugee in England, his three sons found shelter
with Harold Bluetooth, who preferred the eldest son, Harold Graafel.
In 960 they won the Norwegian kingdom assisted by Denmark. They were
Christians, and demolished the temples of the people of high
estates, but also they awakened the dislike of Harold Bluetooth when
they wanted to liberate themselves from his sovereignty. Their
enemy, the Trondheim man Haakon from Lade, whose father Erik’s
sons had burned to death, went to the Danish king and they conspired
against Erik’s sons.
was lured to Denmark and killed, and then Harold Bluetooth went to
Norway and was crowned king. He decided to govern Viken himself.
Earl Haakon became Lord of Trondheim and its surroundings, and also
Harold Bluetooth’s earl in the western Norwegian counties.
Norway’s unity and independence again came to an end. As soon as
Earl Haakon felt safe behind the Norwegian mountains, he no longer
wanted to be subjected to the Danish King.
Though he was
worshipped in Denmark, he worshipped the Norse Gods, and his
warriors again turned to offerings. Then Harold Bluetooth sent his
well -known Jomsvikings against him. They met in Hjørungavang.
Harold prayed to the heathen Gods and offered them his son. Harold
Bluetooth’s warriors were defeated, many were killed, and so was
Bluetooth’s rule stretched as far as to the coast of Vendland,
where he ordered his
herdsmen to stay and control the mouth of the river Oder at
Jomsborg. The legend has it that Palnatoke founded Jomsborg because
he hated Harold, but it is not true. The Jomsviking society was
famous all over the Nordic countries because of its strict laws, and
because the warriors were not afraid of death. One of the first
earls at Jomsborg was Styrbjörn, the Swedish king’s son, who
attacked his father’s brother, the Swedish King Eric the
Victorious. In the battle of Fyrissletten near Uppsala Eric
dedicated the army to Odin. However, the army became delirious and
they fled the King. A group of Scanian runes commemorate this
battle. The runes were put up to honour the men who did not flee
when at Uppsala.
Bluetooth made many enemies in his later years, among other things
because he used force to convert people, and many pagans rose in
protest and hailed his son Sweyn Forkbeard as their king. Harold
Bluetooth was killed in this battle, and his faithful Jomsvikings
brought his body to Roskilde Church.
battle at Hjørungavåg Earl Haakon thought himself secure, but his
cruelty and lasciviousness annoyed the Norwegians. The farmers rose
against him, and he had to hide in a pigsty, where his own thrall,
Kark, killed him in 995.
Such were the
circumstances when one of Harold Fairhair’s family members, Olaf
Trygvesson, came to Norway. He had no difficulties being accepted as
King of the whole kingdom. He was impulsive, easygoing and friendly,
and he was most skilful in the use of weapons and sports. He was a
man who knew what he wanted.
he had lived an exceptional Viking life. In England he had become
baptized, and was now an eager convert. He attacked the heathen
temples and built the first churches in Norway.
If the people
were not baptized voluntarily, he would force them by means of
weapons. However, the countrymen of Trondheim stuck to their old
Gods for very long. To support his power Olaf founded Nidaros
(present day Trondheim), and established a see and a royal castle
the countrymen to watch their sacrifices. When the people were
ready, he went ahead and beheaded the picture of Thor himself. At
the same time his herdsmen killed one of the greatest chiefs, and
Olaf yelled to the angry men, “Let
us not give blood sacrifices using thralls and old people. No, take
your women and the most skilful men and give them to the Gods.”
Many ordinary people became scared, and were baptized. In that way
Olaf broke men for Christianity.
In the year
1000 five years after his crowning he was killed in the Battle of
Svolder. A huge league had formed against him. Among his enemies
were Earl Haakon’s sons, Sweyn Forkbeard, whose wife Sigrid the
Haughty hated Olaf wholeheartedly because he had scorned her, and
Olof Skötkonung, the King of Sweden. On the battleship “The Long
Serpent”(Ormen den Lange”) Olaf and his men defended themselves
for a long time (among the warriors was young Einar Thambarskelfir).
At last Olaf had to leap into the sea and disappeared forever. The
conquerors divided Norway between them. The earls Eric and Sweyn,
Haakon’s sons, came to govern the largest areas, partly in their
own names, but also in the names of the foreign kings. Viken became
Danish. The Norwegian kingdom was dissolved, and the situation was
like before the time of Olaf.
Olaf II the
Saint (Olav den Digre)
He was related
to Harold Fairhair, and had fought in England, Normandy and other
places. In 1015 he arrived in Norway and declared himself king. He
chased away the earls, who no longer forced the Christian faith on
to the common people, and therefore many again returned to their old
beliefs. But Olaf continued Olaf Trygvesson’s work and made Norway
community (fylke) he built a church, gave land to it, and asked the
farmers to care for the priest. Soon he had travelled so far that
“there was no far-off valley or far-off island where there lived
heathen men.” His rule was tough and ruthless, and he was a
strong-willed man. He wanted to fulfil his own ideas of a great
He would not
accept the self-determination of the Earls of Lade and made the most
powerful men his enemies, especially Einar Thambarskelfir and Kálf
Arrason. Many of the displeased chiefs went to Cnut the Great in
Denmark, and when Olaf in return raided Zealand and Scania, Cnut
avenged himself by gaining the trust of even more Norwegian earls.
He took Norway without any fighting. Almost abandoned by everybody
Olaf fled together with his small son Magnus to Gardarige in 1028,
and when he returned, he was killed at the Battle of Stiklestad in
1030 by a peasant army.
The men of
Lade, who had hated Olaf’s strong rule, became just as
dissatisfied with the powerful rule Cnut imposed on them through his
son Svend and his mother Ælgifu, and very soon they began to look
at Olaf in a very different light. They ended up placing his casket
on the high altar in Nidaros Cathedral. Olaf’s worst enemies,
Einar Thambarskelfir and Kálf Arrason, set off for Gardarige and
brought back Magnus, who was declared King in 1035. Cnut the Great
died without having tried to recover Norway. Many pilgrims were
already then travelling to Olaf the Saint’s silver casket. It was
he who christened and united Norway.
Harold Bluetooth’s death Sigvald and his Jomsvikings used trickery
to take Sweyn prisoner, and consequently the Danes had to pay ransom
to free their young King. From that time Sweyn felt that there was a
stain on his character. He tried to improve his reputation by
restarting his Viking raids on England. He left Denmark to its own
devices, and Eric the Victorius therefore made himself master there.
king, Æthelred the Unready, could not protect his country and had
to pay tribute to the Vikings with a tax called Danegeld (Danegæld).
After some years Sweyn returned to Denmark with large treasures and
won back the country.
Two big runic
stones for slain retainers confirm the rough fight Sweyn fought
against the Swedes at Hedeby. He then took part in the Battle of
Svolder and renewed Denmark’s right to rule Viken.
was the first Danish king to
Conquest of England
In 1002 Æthelred
began to kill all Danes in the Anglo Saxon part of England as he
could not continue paying Danegeld. But this only brought back to
life the Danish desire for revenge. For many consecutive years the
English coasts were raided until in 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard conquered
all England within three months. The following year he died in
England as his warriors’ much beloved king.
In Denmark his
son Harold became King, whereas the army in England crowned the
other son Cnut. The English again drew their weapons under Æthelred’s
son, Edmund Ironside, and Cnut had to get hold of more fighting men
from Denmark. In the following fights both Æthelred and Edmund
died, and Cnut was crowned King
of England. In 1018 he also became King of Denmark when his brother
Cnut the Great
He governed a
greater land area than any other Danish king before him. Besides
Denmark and England he took part of the Wendish coast. Olaf II the
Saint and Anúnd Jacob (Olof Skötkonung’s son) felt threatened
and attacked Denmark while Cnut the Great was in England.
soon decided to go home, and the enemies had to flee although they
succeeded in defeating him at Helgeaa. The two kings went back home
immediately and Cnut the Great departed on a pilgrim tour to Rome,
but after his return he destabilized Olaf’s power, sailed to
Norway and became King of Norway from 1028-1035. The mightiest
rulers of Europe considered him their equal although he mostly
resided in England. Up
till then he had mostly been a Viking King, but he changed and took
upon him the great task of reconciling the two peoples of the
country with each other. He married Æthelred’s widow Emma, made
peace with the English bishops, killed off the most wilful
dominating noblemen by tricks and violence and sent the Danish
Vikings home well loaded with treasures. Thus he succeeded in
bringing peace to the country.
Cnut the Great
changed the role of the many retainers “Tingmannalid” that Æthelred
had kept on as protection against the Vikings. He had them work for
both countries and introduced new laws, the “ laws of the
Wends.” He who betrayed his king would be expelled from the nobles
and become a miser, and he who was unfriendly would be seated in an
inferior place at table. Cnut himself was the first to break the law
by killing one of his retainers. However, he accepted the decision
of the noblemen and paid a huge fine. He was a friend of the church,
and they supported him in his work for peace; he also gave valuable
gifts to the monasteries.
of Cnut the Great are less known in Denmark. The Danish church was
strengthened in his time. The huge bishopric was divided at the
foundation of a new see in Lund (Sweden). Many new clerics came to
Denmark, and the first monasteries were established. When Cnut was
in England, an earl ruled Denmark. For some years Ulf Jarl, his
sister Estrid’s husband, was regent.
It is said
that when the people became dissatisfied with Cnut’s frequent
periods of absence, Ulf had young Harthacnut (Cnut and Emma’s son)
crowned as King. Cnut then had Ulf killed in Roskilde Church and was
too proud to do penance. In many of his acts Cnut appears to be
cruel, bloodthirsty, and vindictive, but his Viking temper also knew
repentance and humility. In two letters to his people he honestly
confesses that he had often acted wrongly, but he promises God to
live a righteous and pious life in the future. On the other hand he
also feels his divine mission, and authoritatively he commands both
country and church.
The Last Kings
of the Viking Era (1035-1066)
shortly after the Norwegians had chosen Magnus as their King, Cnut
died in England and was succeeded in Denmark by Harthacnut
(1035-1042), and in England by another son. When Harthacnut wanted
to attack Norway, the chiefs of both countries decided that the
young kings would have to keep peace, and that the survivor would
inherit the whole kingdom.
At the death
of his brother in England Harthacnut therefore ruled over both
Denmark and England, but in 1042 he suddenly died himself. The
kingdom of Cnut the Great was thus dissolved, and England went back
to the Anglo Saxon royal line.
Magnus became King. Magnus had much of his family’s roughness, but
as time went by he grew milder and won the nickname “the Good.”
In Denmark he is remembered for his victory at Lyrskov Heath over a
large Wend army that had crossed the border.
son, Sweyn Estridsson, who Magnus made an earl in Denmark, revolted
against him, but lost the fight and therefore looked for support
from his friends in Sweden, from where he repeated his raids.
Hardrade, a half-brother of Olaf the Saint, who had been chieftain
in Miklegard, came home to Norway, and Magnus had to share his
kingdom with him. Before his death in 1047 Magnus decided that Sweyn
would be King of Denmark, and Harald of Norway.
Hardrade (1047-1066) would not let go of Denmark and from Oslo,
which he had founded, he made many raids against Sweyn Estridsson,
but at last had to recognize him as King of Denmark.
harsh and strict and had mighty Einar Thambarskelfir killed. He was
the last in a long line of kings, who had spent their childhood and
youth in foreign countries, and he was the last Viking King. He was
slain on a raid when attacking England.
The Results of
the Viking Era
consisted of three areas: Scania (including Halland, Bornholm, and
perhaps Bleking), Zealand (including Lolland-Falster and Møn), and
Jutland (including Funen) as far as the Eider river.
Each of these
areas had their own Courts of Justice and their own laws (in the
towns Lund, Ringsted, and Viborg). Jutland was divided into various
districts. The most important tie between the areas was the power of
the kingdom related to the Courts.
In Denmark it
seemed to give recognition either to be one of the king’s men or
to belong to an important and independent family of landowners.
Kingship was inherited within the king’s family, but the people
demanded the right to choose between the heirs to the throne.
had spread to all corners of the country except for some remote
areas like Bleking and Bornholm. They were christened in the