War and Peace in Viking-Age Scandinavia

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From the end of the Viking Age to the dawn of the 20th century, kings battled for supremacy, land changed hands and unions were made and broken.

As the Viking-Age Scandinavia drew to a close in the 11th century, the kings of Norway, Sweden and Denmark – “all handsome and big men, of noble looks and well spoken” – met at Konghelle in the Gota River in 1098 to acknowledge one another’s legitimacy and to adopt a common policy on robbery and theft, ever the crimes of greatest concern.

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To seal the pact, King Magnus of Norway – known as “Barelegs” since returning from Scotland sporting a kilt – married Inge of Sweden’s daughter Margaret, hence “The Peace Maiden”.

Five years later, however, Magnus fulfilled one of his own favorite sayings – “a king stands for his country’s honor and glory, not for a long life” – by being killed in action during the battle at Ulster in 1103 when he tried to conquer Ireland. He went west in 1102 and had his residence for quite some time in Dublin.

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Norway was carved up among his three young sons, undoing the single Norwegian kingdom hammered together by Harald Fairhair, and the prospect of smooth Scandinavian coexistence.

070115-Harald_FairhairAccording to Icelandic sagas, the first king of Norway was Harald Halvdansson Fairhair. In the 9th century, at the climax of the Viking Age, Norway was divided into many small kingdoms, or fylkes. Harald was originally king of Vestfold, west of the Oslo Fjord. By 900 he had conquered all of Norway, and that is what this scenario (picture above) is about.

Read more about Norway’s kings and queens here.

Feature image (on top): Authentic restored Viking helmet under the high midday sun. Photo: Luis Abrantes/Shutterstock