The Viking Age_ A Reader (2014)

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seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
countrymen, hanged on the gallows Godelaib, another duke, whom he had
caught by treachery, and made two-thirds of the Obodrites tributary. But he
lost the best and battle-tested of his soldiers. With them he lost Reginold, his
brother’s son, who was killed at the siege of a town along with a great number
of Danish nobles. But Charles, the son of the emperor, built a bridge across
the Elbe, and moved the army under his command as fast as he could across
the river against the Linones and Smeldingi. These tribes had also defected to
Godofrid. Charles laid waste their 
elds far and wide and after crossing the
river again returned to Saxony with his army unimpaired.
On this expedition Godofrid had as his allies the Slavs called Wilzi, who
joined his forces voluntarily because of their ancient con icts with the Obo-
drites. When Godofrid returned home, they also went home with the booty
which they had been able to capture from the Obodrites. But Godofrid before
his return destroyed a trading place on the seashore, in Danish called Reric,
which, because of the taxes it paid, was of great advantage to his kingdom.
Transferring the merchants from Reric he weighed anchor and came with his
whole army to the harbor of Schleswig. There he remained for a few days and
decided to fortify the border of his kingdom against Saxony with a rampart, so
that a protective bulwark would stretch from the eastern bay, called Ostarsalt,
as far as the western sea, along the entire north bank of the river Eider and
broken by a single gate through which wagons and horsemen would be able
to leave and enter. After dividing the work among the leaders of his troops he
returned home.

. . . . When Eardwulf, king of the Northumbrians, had been taken
back to his kingdom and the envoys of emperor and pontiff were returning,
all crossed without mishap except one of them, the deacon Aldulf, who was
captured by pirates and taken to Britain. But he was ransomed by one of King
Cenwulf’s men and returned to Rome. . . .
In the meantime Godofrid, king of the Danes, sent word by some merchants
that he had heard of the emperor’s wrath against him because he had led an
army against the Obodrites the year before and revenged himself for injuries
done to him. Godofrid added that he would like to purge himself of the charges
made against him and that the Obodrites had broken the peace 
rst. He also
requested that a meeting between his counts and the emperor’s should take
place beyond the Elbe near the borders of his kingdom. There they would
establish what both parties had done and determine what redresses were to be
made. This the emperor did not refuse. A conference was held with Danish
nobles beyond the Elbe at Baden iot. Both sides brought up and elaborated on
a number of matters and then departed, leaving the entire question unsettled.
But Thrasco, duke of the Obodrites, 
rst surrendered his son as a hostage to
Godofrid as Godofrid demanded, and then gathered an army of his people.
three: early religion and belief
and the ancient runes
of heaven’s great ruler.
. Once again they will 

ne gold
gaming pieces
in the grass,
pieces they had owned
in ancient days.
. Unsown 
all ills will be remedied;
Baldr will return;
Hod and Baldr will dwell
in Hropt’s victory halls,
shrine of the gods of the slain.
Do you wish to know more? And what?
. Then Hoenir will select
the prophetic sticks
and the sons of both brothers
will settle in the wide
land of the winds.
Do you wish to know more? And what?
. She sees a hall standing
fairer than the sun,
at Gimlé;
there shall the worthy
warriors live
and all their days
experience delight.
. At the gods’ judgment day
the great one comes
from above, the mighty
master of all.
four: women in the viking age
so that you may drink
at a funeral feast
for all of us,
for Svanhild,
and for your sons.”
. Weeping,
Gudrun, Gjuki’s daughter,
went in sorrow
to sit at the entry,
and to tell,
with tears on her cheeks,
tales of savagery
over and over.
. “Three 
res I have known,
three hearths I have known,
three times been taken
to a husband’s house;
best of all for me
was Sigurd,
whom my brothers
did to death.
. “I have not seen or known
a more terrible wound;
but they intended
to hurt me more,
when the princes
gave me to Attila.
. “I called my lively bear-cubs [her sons]
for secret talk;
I could not get
redress for my misfortunes
till I cut off the heads
of the Nibelungs.
. “I went to the shore,
furious with the norns [Fates];
twelve: from odin to christ
and had those men released by the king. They promised him their help in a
fresh attempt to have Christianity adopted here, and they said that they had
every expectation of being listened to.
They traveled to Iceland the following summer with a priest called Thor-
mod, and, after a successful journey, arrived at Vestmannaeyjar [Westerners’
Islands] when ten weeks of summer had passed. Teit used to give this account,
and he was there himself.
The previous summer, it had been declared law that men were to attend the
Althing after ten weeks of summer; before then, they had come a week earlier.
So they left Vestmannaeyjar and traveled inland to the Althing, but they had
Hjalti stay behind in Laugardal with eleven men as he had been sentenced to
lesser outlawry for blasphemy at the Althing the previous summer. The reason
was that he had recited this verse at the law rock,
I won’t mock the mighty gods,
but I reckon Freya’s a real bitch.
Gizur and his companions kept going until they came to the place called Vel-
lankatli, near Olfossvatn. From there they sent a message to the Thing [here, the
the viking age: a reader
For after he took over the diocese of Bremen and became possessed of some
resources he began once more to desire fervently that, if it were possible, he
might labor on Christ’s behalf among the Danes. For this reason he paid fre-
quent visits to Rorik, who was at that time the sole monarch of the Danes,
and endeavored to conciliate him by gifts and by any possible kinds of service
in the hope that he might gain permission to preach in his kingdom. On
several occasions he was sent to him as an ambassador of the king and sought
strenuously and faithfully to bring about a peace that should be advantageous
to either kingdom. His  delity and goodness having been so recognized, King
Rorik began to regard him with great affection and to make use of his advice
and to treat him in every respect as a friend, so that he was allowed to share
his secrets when with his fellow counselors he was dealing with matters relat-
ing to the kingdom. Concerning matters that had to be arranged in order to
establish an alliance between the people of this land, that is the Saxons, and
his own kingdom, the king only desired that it should be guaranteed by his
pledge, as he said that he had complete con dence in regard to everything
that he approved and promised. When Anskar had thus gained his friendship
he began to urge him to become a Christian. The king listened to all that
was reported to him out of the Holy Scriptures and declared that it was both
good and helpful and that he took great delight therein, and that he desired
to earn the favor of Christ.
After he had expressed these desires our good father suggested to him that
he grant to the Lord Christ that which would be most pleasing to him, namely
permission to build a church in his kingdom where a priest might always be
present who might commit to those who were willing to receive them the
seeds of the Divine Word and the grace of baptism. The king most kindly
granted this permission and allowed him to build a church in a part belonging
to his kingdom, called Sliaswich, which was specially suitable for this purpose
and was near to the district where merchants from all parts congregated; he
gave also a place in which a priest might live, and likewise granted permission
to anyone in his kingdom who desired to become a Christian.
When our lord bishop obtained this permission he at once did that which
he had long desired. And when a priest had been established there, the grace
of God began to bear much fruit in that place, for there were many who had
already become Christians and had been baptized in Dorestad or Hamburg,
among whom were the principal people of the place, who rejoiced at the
opportunity afforded them to observe their religion. Many others also, both
men and women, followed their example, and having abandoned the supersti-
tious worship of idols, believed in the Lord and were baptized. There was,
moreover, great joy in that place as the men of this place could now do what
was before forbidden and traders both from here [Hamburg] and from Dorestad
the viking age: a reader
. Indrechtach, abbot of Í [Iona], came to Ireland with the halidoms of Colum
Cille [St. Columba, d.

. Cinaed son of Conaing, king of Cianacht, rebelled against Mael Sechnaill with
the support of the foreigners, and plundered the Uí Néill from the Sinann to
the sea, both churches and states, and he deceitfully sacked the island of Loch
Gabor, leveling it to the ground, and the oratory of Treóit, with seventy people
in it, was burned by him. . . .
. The dark heathens came to Áth Cliath [Dublin], made a great slaughter of the
fair-haired foreigners, and plundered the naval encampment, both people and
property. The dark heathens made a raid at Linn Duachaill, and a great number
of them were slaughtered.
. Eochu son of Cernach, king of Fir Rois, was killed by the heathens.
. Ard Macha was laid waste by the foreigners of Linn on the day following
. The complement of eight score ships of fair-haired foreigners came to Snám
Aignech, to do battle with the dark foreigners; they fought for three days and
three nights, but the dark foreigners got the upper hand and the others aban-
doned their ships to them. Stain took 
ight, and escaped, and Iercne fell be-
. A slaughter was in icted on the foreigners at the islands of eastern Brega, and
another slaughter of them at Ráith Alláin by the Cianacht in the same month.
. Amlaíb [Olaf], son of the king of Lochlann, came to Ireland, and the foreigners
of Ireland submitted to him, and he took tribute from the Irish.
. Cathmal son of Tomaltach, one of two kings of Ulaid, was killed by the
edited by
two: scandinavian society
made carts,
and guided the plow.
. Then they brought home
a girl in a goatskin tunic
with dangling keys.
They wed her to Karl;
her name was Snor [Daughter-in-law].
She put on the bridal veil.
They lived as a couple,
exchanged rings,
spread their blankets,
and set up house.
. They bore children,
settled down and were happy.
Their names were
Manly and Valiant,
Yeoman, Freeman, and Artisan,
Brawny, Farmer, and Sheaf-Beard,
Neighbor and Landholder,
Jut-Beard and Swain.
. And others yet
were named thus:
Gentlewoman, Bride, Lady,
Haughty, Sparkling,
Dame, Woman, Wife,
Bashful and Bold.
From them are descended
the families of karls.
. From there Rig walked by straight ways,
came to a hall
with south-facing entry.
The door was closed,
with a ring as door-handle.
. He entered.
The  oor was strewn with straw.
A couple sat,
the viking age: a reader
So, no matter where they were, they all went back into the forest, because they
had to return to the shore before their numbers could be checked. Thorolf
got back, but there was no sign of Egil, and as darkness was falling, it seemed
pointless to go looking for him.
Egil and his twelve men made their way through the forest until they came
to a broad, open plain on which settlements had been built. A farmstead stood
nearby, so they headed toward it. As soon as they got there, they rushed into
the buildings, and since no one was about, they seized everything of value.
This took them quite a while since there were so many buildings. When they
left the farmstead, they found that a band of armed men had come between
them and the forest, and was advancing to attack them.
There was a high fence stretching all the way from the farm to the forest
and Egil ordered his men to follow the line of the fence to prevent the enemy
from getting at them from all sides. He himself went 
rst and the rest followed
hard on one another’s heels so that no one could come between them. The
Courlanders attacked them 
ercely with spears and arrows, but avoided close
combat. Egil and his companions followed along the fence and discovered too
late that there was another fence at right angles to the 
rst one, so they could
go no further. They were cornered. Some of the Courlanders followed them
into the pen formed by the fences, while others attacked from the outside,
thrusting their swords and spears between the fence-posts. Still others threw
clothes onto their weapons. Egil and his men were wounded and captured.
Then they were bound and led back to the farm.
The owner of the farm was a rich and powerful man with a grown-up son.
They discussed what to do with the prisoners, and the farmer thought it would
be a good idea to kill them all in quick succession, but his son replied that it
was growing too dark to get any fun out of torturing them and advised waiting
till morning. So, they were thrown into one of the farm buildings and trussed
up tightly. Egil had his hands and feet tied to a post. Then the building was
locked up securely and the Courlanders went into the main room where they
ate and drank with great merriment.
Egil strained and heaved at the post until he pried it loose from the 
oor. It
fell to the ground, and he was able to detach himself from it. Then he untied
his hands with his teeth, and when his hands were free, he untied his feet. After
that he set his comrades free, and they all looked around for the best way out.
The walls of the building were constructed from huge logs, but at one end
there was a partition made of  at planking. They took a run at it and broke
it down, only to 
nd themselves in another building that also had log walls.
Then they heard voices coming from beneath their feet, so they investigated
and found a trap-door in the 
oor. They opened it and found a deep pit. This
was where the men’s voices were coming from. Egil asked who was there, and
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
farthest west, and had seized the plains of Lisbon. Our leaders with their troops
took up a position at Carmona, but, as the enemy was uncommonly brave,
they dared not attack them before the arrival of soldiers from the border. . . .
The border chieftains demanded news of the movements of the enemy, and the
three: early religion and belief
and build Baldur’s funeral pyre on board, but Hringhorni would not move
an inch. So a summons was sent to Jotunheim [Giants’ Land] for a giantess
called Hyrrokkin. She arrived riding on a wolf with a venomous snake for
reins. She leapt from her mount, and Odin ordered four berserks to look after
it, but, until they had thrown it to the ground, they were unable to control it.
She went to the ship’s prow and launched it with her 
rst shove, which made
the rollers burst into  ames, and caused the world to shake. Thor was furious;
he seized his hammer, intending to shatter her head, but all the gods begged
him to spare her.
Now Baldur’s body was carried out to the ship. When Baldur’s wife, Nanna
Nep’s daughter, saw this, she was overcome by grief and died. She too was carried
the viking age: a reader
were hoisted. The small ships all got underway quickly and put to sea ahead
of the others. But Earl Sigvald sailed close to the king’s ship and hailed him.
“Follow me,” he said. “I know where the sounds between the islands are
deepest and you will need depth for the big ships.”
So the earl took the lead with his eleven ships, and the king followed with
his large ships, which were also eleven in number; but the rest of the 
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
sailed to the attack immediately and there was a great 
ght. But then, a great
number of men joined the king’s army so that Svein was overwhelmed and
had to 
ee. King Harald was mortally wounded by an arrow in the battle. He
was the 
rst Danish king to be buried in consecrated ground; by then, he had
been king for eighty years: thirty years while his father, Gorm, was alive, and
fty years after that.
. After the death of his father, King Harald, Svein became king of Den-
mark [Svein I, ca
]. He was called Svein Forkbeard and was a power-
ful king. It was in his days that Earl Sigvald and the rest of the Jomsvikings
went to Norway and fought against Earl Hakon at Hjorunga Fjord in Møre.
Bui Digri died in this battle, but Earl Sigvald got away. After that, the kings
of Denmark lost control of Norway and shortly afterwards Olaf Tryggvason
came to Norway and seized power.
King Svein married Gunnhild, daughter of Burizlaf, king of the Wends.
Their sons were Knut and Harald. Next, he married Sigrid the Proud, daughter
of Skoglar-Tosti and mother of Olaf, king of Sweden, from an earlier marriage
to Eirik the Victorious, king of Sweden. Svein and Sigrid had a daughter called
Astrid who married Earl Ulf, the son of Thorgil the Ambitious. Their sons
were Svein and Bjorn. Another of Svein Forkbeard’s daughters was Gytha, who
married Eirik Hakonarson in Norway. Their son was the Earl Hakon who was
captured by Saint Olaf at Sauthungsund.
King Svein Forkbeard was present at the death of Olaf Tryggvason [see
a] at the Battle of Svold [

CE], as were his stepson, King Olaf of
Sweden, and his son-in-law, Earl Eirik. After the death of Olaf Tryggvason,
each of these three got a third of Norway.
. King Svein was a mighty warrior and a very powerful king. He raided
far and wide, both in the eastern Baltic and in Saxony to the south. Finally, he
took his army west to England where he campaigned extensively and fought
many battles. At this time, Athelred son of Edgar was king of England. He and
Svein fought frequently; both had their victories, but Svein conquered most of
England and stayed there for many years, raiding and burning throughout the
country. People referred to him as “England’s Devil.” In the midst of the war-
fare, King Athelred 
ed the country, but then King Svein died suddenly in his
bed one night and Englishmen claim that King Edmund the saint had killed him
just as Saint Mercurius killed Julian the Apostate [emperor of Rome,


The arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia did not always guarantee respect for the
of eminent clerics. In
, for example, the Danish army under Thorkel the Tall murdered
the archbishop of Canterbury, Alfeah. The following entries from the

the viking age: a reader
King Knut’s fourth battle against Edmund and his brothers was fought at Nor-
wich. It was another major battle and many men died. King Knut was the victor
and the sons of Athelred were put to  ight. Ottar the Black says the following:
Generous gift-giver, who
made mail-shirts bloody in Norwich,
you will lose life before you
lose courage, lord.
. Next, King Knut led his army to the Thames, for he had heard that
King Edmund and his brothers had 
ed to London. When he arrived at the
Thames Estuary, Earl Eirik, his brother-in-law, sailed in from the sea and they
advanced together up the river with their forces. Thord Kolbeinsson says in
Eirik’s Praise-Poem
The kinship of earl and king
prospered on the path to battle;
ships of many sizes sailed
up the estuary;
Earl Eirik, kinsman of kings,
steered his ships, dark serpents
of the sea, so close to land that the

elds of England were in full view.
And he composed this too:
Onward pressed the Danish prince,
ploughed through the sea paths,
sent his longships speeding
to the shoals at the shore;
the helmeted earl and Knut the king
met joyfully that morning,
with both men bent
on sailing the sea ways.
In the middle of the Thames, a large fort had been built and garrisoned to de-
fend the land against ship-borne armies coming up river. King Knut sailed up
the viking age: a reader
in that prince’s presence,
peace often perished;
the eagle’s gray claws grew
blood-red and the ravening
wolf ate well
before Harald headed home.
. Harald sailed to Palestine with his army and then went overland to
Jerusalem. Wherever he went, every town and castle was surrendered to him.
Here is Stuf the skald’s account of these events—he heard them related by the
king himself.
From Greece, the great king
came to conquer Jerusalem;
without effort he easily
got control of the country;
without battle or burnings,
the whole land laid itself
under his princely power.
Joyfully, may the mighty Harald
[the last line to be read with the last
line of the next stanza]
Here we are told that the land came under Harald’s control without being
burned or plundered. Then he went to the River Jordan and bathed in it, as is
the custom of pilgrims. He donated great treasures to the Lord’s tomb, as well
as to the holy cross and other sacred relics in Palestine, and made the road safe
all the way to the Jordan by killing robbers and plunderers. Thus says Stuf:
His wrath being roused,
the kingly commander
targeted the treacherous
on both banks of the Jordan;
for their evil acts
the prince punished
all his enemies.
live forever with the Lord.
[the last line to be read with the last line of
the previous stanza]
the viking age: a reader
Eirik the king’s son brought his ship broadside against the outermost of the
ships that were lashed together. His ship had much higher sides, and there was
ghting, for the Heklungs resisted strongly. However, after a period of
ghting, they were overwhelmed by numbers. Some of them
died and others abandoned their half-rooms.
Then the Birkibeins set about boarding the enemy ship. Eirik’s standard-
bearer, a man called Benedikt, went 
rst and was followed by the men from the
bow. Seeing this, the Heklungs launched a violent attack and killed Benedikt
and most of the boarding party. The rest were driven back. Then the king’s son
encouraged his men to attempt a second boarding. This time, they recaptured
their standard and attacked so 
ercely that the Heklungs retreated and leapt
aboard the nearest ship, with the Birkibeins hard on their heels. What hap-
pened next is what always happens in battle, when men are overcome by panic
or the desire for  ight; they are seldom anxious to face the enemy a second
time, even if they resisted courageously at 
rst. The Heklungs put up less of a
ght on the second ship than on the 
rst and soon they all retreated from that
ship to the next. And so they 
ed from one ship to another with the Birkibeins
in pursuit, uttering war-cries, and shouting encouragement to their comrades.
They cut down and killed everyone in their path.
As the crowd of  eeing men surged onto the big ships, people jumped
overboard from King Magnus’s ship since it was closest to shore. But the other
four large ships sank under the weight of so many men. These were the ships
commanded by Orm, Asbjarn, and Gesta-Flei.
. King Sverrir was ashore and when he saw these decisive events, he went
down to his boat with Bishop Hroi’s son, Peter. At that moment some men
rowed up in a cutter, intending to come ashore. The king called out to them,
“Go back! Don’t you see they’re running away?”
The men turned back, and seeing the scene just described, they dipped their
oars into the water and rowed off down the fjord. “Did you know these men?”
asked Peter. “Why did you say what you did?”
“I would have said the same thing whoever they were,” replied King Sverrir.
Then the king went straight to his ship and walked aft to the quarterdeck.
There he began to sing the Kyrie to celebrate his victory, and all his men joined
in. But King Magnus and all his men jumped from his ship and a whole host
of them perished there. The Birkibeins hurried ashore to intercept anyone
who tried to reach land. Only a handful of men made it, though a few cutters
rowed down the fjord and escaped. The Birkibeins rowed out in small boats.
They killed some of the men who were swimming, but spared others. All those
who managed to reach King Sverrir were given quarter; and the commanders
of Sverrir’s ships also gave quarter to their relatives and friends.

While textual material from the Viking Age is scarce, the corpus of later medieval Icelandic
the viking age: a reader
can get a divorce from her. Aud does not simply fade away but exacts an ironic revenge
on Thord for her humiliation. From
The Saga of the People of Laxdale

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), pp.
. . . . Gudrun Osvifrsdaughter rode to the Althing and Thord Ingunnar-
son went with her. One day, as they were riding across Blaskogarheath in 
weather, Gudrun asked,
“Is it true, Thord, that your wife, Aud, always wears men’s breeches and
leg-bands that reach almost to her shoes?” He replied that he hadn’t noticed.
“There can’t be much truth to the rumor if you haven’t noticed it,” said
Gudrun. “But why else is she called Aud-in-Breeches?”
“I don’t think she can have been called that for long,” said Thord.
“What’s really important is how long the name sticks,” replied Gudrun.
After that, people arrived at the Althing: nothing of much importance hap-
pened there. Thord spent a lot of time in Gest’s booth and was forever talking
with Gudrun. One day, he asked her what would be the consequences for a
woman who always wore trousers like a man. Gudrun answered, “A woman
who does this should face the same penalty as a man who has so large an open-
ing in his shirt that his nipples are exposed. Both are grounds for divorce.”
Thord said, “Do you think I should announce my divorce from Aud here
at the Althing, or at home in my own district where I’ll have the backing of
more supporters? For the men who are likely to take offence at this are proud
and touchy.”
After a moment, Gudrun answered, “The timid postpone their lawsuits till
evening.” Then Thord sprang up and went to the Law Rock. He named wit-
nesses and declared that he was divorcing Aud, on the grounds that she wore
gored breeches as though she were a man.
Aud’s brothers were not at all happy about this, but they took no action. Thord
rode from the Thing with the Osvifrssons. When Aud heard the news, she said:
It’s as well to know
I’m deserted so.
Later, Thord and eleven others rode west to Saurby for the division of the
estate. This went without a hitch as Thord made no dif
culties about how the
property was split up. Then he went back to Laugar with a great number of
livestock and asked for Gudrun’s hand in marriage. His request was granted
willingly by Osvifr, and Gudrun didn’t object. The wedding was to take
place at Laugar ten weeks before the end of summer. The feast was splendid
the viking age: a reader

. Flosi summoned all his men to Almanna Gorge, and he went there himself.
By the time he got to the gorge, all one hundred and twenty of his men had
arrived. Flosi addressed the Sigfussons, “How can I help you in this affair? What
would suit you best?”
Gunnar Lambason replied, “We won’t be happy until all the Njalsson broth-
ers are killed.”
“I give my word to the Sigfussons,” said Flosi, “that I won’t turn my back
on this business until one side destroys the other. And I’d like to know if
there is anyone here who doesn’t want to help.” They all declared themselves
willing to help.
viking life and death
a decrepit man
on a down bed;
my feet are frozen
like frigid widows,
ladies chill as ice
lacking passion’s 
In the early days of Hakon the Powerful’s reign [Earl Hakon Sigurdarson,
], Egil Skallagrimsson was in his eighties. He was still hale and hearty apart
from his blindness. One summer, when everyone was getting ready to go to
the Althing, Egil asked Grim if he could ride along with him. Grim wasn’t too
happy about this. When he talked to Thordis, he told her what Egil had asked.
“I want you to 
nd out what’s behind this,” he said. Thordis went to talk to
her kinsman, Egil. At that time, conversation with Thordis was Egil’s greatest
pleasure. When she met him, she asked,
“Kinsman, is it true that you want to ride to the Althing? I’d like to know
what your plans are.”
“I’ll tell you what I have in mind,” he said. “I’m planning to go to the
Althing and take with me the two chests King Athelstan [king of England, ca
] gave me. They’re both full of English silver. I intend to have the two
chests carried to the top of the Law Rock when the place is really crowded
and then I’m going to scatter the silver. I’ll be surprised if people share it out
fairly. I expect there will be shoving and punching. It might even end with
the whole crowd at the Althing getting into a 
“That seems like a great plan,” said Thordis, “and one that will be remem-
bered as long as Iceland is inhabited.” Then Thordis went to talk to Grim and
told him what Egil intended to do.
“That mustn’t happen,” said Grim. “He can’t go ahead with such a crazy
scheme.” So, when Egil approached Grim about going to the Althing, Grim
opposed the idea completely, and Egil stayed at home during the Althing. He
wasn’t at all pleased and looked rather sullen.
At Mosfell, the animals were kept at a shieling [summer pasture, usually
with a cottage] and that’s where Thordis stayed while the Althing took place.
One evening as the inhabitants of Mosfell were getting ready for bed, Egil
summoned two of Grim’s slaves and ordered them to fetch him a horse.
“I want to go to the hot springs,” he said. When he was ready, Egil went
out carrying his chests of silver with him. He mounted the horse, rode over
the home  eld to the slope beyond, and vanished from sight. When the farm
people got up in the morning, they saw Egil wandering about on the hill to
the east of the farm, leading the horse behind him. They went to him and
brought him home, but neither the slaves nor the chests were ever seen again.
the viking age: a reader
the battle of Stiklestad. He also recounted how the sword had changed hands
since then. When, later, the emperor, Kirjalax, heard about it, he summoned
the sword’s owner and gave him three times its value in gold. The emperor
had the sword carried to St. Olaf’s church, which the Varangians supported.
There, it was placed above the altar.
Eindrid the Young was in Mikligard when these events took place and he told
the story when he returned to Norway, as Einar Skulason af
rms in the drapa
[heroic praise-poem] he composed for Saint Olaf, where this event is related.
(e) Viking Age Swords

Sword hilts and pommels from Sweden.

Source: Paul B. du Chaillu,
The Viking Age
vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

), vol.
, and
fourteen: the end of the viking age
of kings’ lives had reached Sverrir, so Sverrir’s saga was begun. The saga was
read day and night when the king was awake.

. The feast of Saint Lucy the virgin fell on a Thursday, and, late in the
evening of the following Saturday, the king’s illness grew so much more serious
that he lost the power of speech. The reading of Sverrir’s saga ended close to
midnight, and, just as midnight passed, Almighty God called the king away
from this earthly life [
]. This was a very great grief to
everyone there, just as it was to the many others who heard about it later.
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland

Egil’s Saga
the hero’s father, Skallagrim, and grandfather, Kveld-Ulf, emigrate to
Iceland from Norway to escape the tyrannical rule of King Harald Finehair. Chapters
of the saga provide a glimpse into the nature of landtaking and the natural resources
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
. The old Ciaran, of Saigher, foretold also the same—namely, that Danars
would three times conquer Erinn; that is, a party of them [in punishment]
for the banishment of Colum Cille; a party of them for the insult to [Ciaran]
himself at Tailltin; and a party for the fasting of the Apostles in Temhair. And
it was said of this poet and prophet Bec-mac-De sang, as he said—
When the bell was rung in warm Tailltin,
Ciaran the Old, the wealthy, of Saigher,
Promised [to Erinn] that three times there should be
Parties of Danars of the black ships.
And now these three predictions came to pass, and the prophecies were ful
lled. . . .
. There came [now Turgeis, of Ard Macha, and brought] a 
the viking age: a reader
of the son of Hvedrung;
then his father is avenged.
. Thor, Earth’s splendid son
steps forward,
the son of Odin goes forth
ght the serpent;
Middle-Earth’s guardian strikes
with great spirit,
all heroes will forsake
their homestead, earth;
the son of Fjorgyn falls back
nine steps from the serpent,
dying, but undismayed
by its hostility.
. The Sun darkens,
earth sinks into the sea,
the bright stars
disappear from the sky;
fumes war
 ames, surging high,
lick against heaven itself. . . .
. For a second time
she sees the surfacing
of earth from the sea,
green as ever it was;
the eagle  ies overhead
among the hills
. The Æsir meet
on Idavoll
and speak of the mighty
they bring to mind
momentous events
the viking age: a reader
among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All marveled at her
matchless deeds, for her locks 
twelve: from odin to christ
dawn. Let’s meet then and either come to an agreement about this business or
else settle it in battle.” With that, they parted.

. One of King Olaf’s followers was a man called Kolbein the Strong,
whose family came from the Fjord district. He always wore a sword and carried
a thick staff, or club, in his hand. The king told Kolbein to stand next to him
in the morning. Then he ordered his men to go to the farmers’ ships during
the night and drill holes in them. He also ordered them to drive the farmers’
horses away from the farms where they were being kept. The men did so, and
the king spent the night in prayer, asking God to deliver him from this trouble
through his mercy and grace.
At daybreak, King Olaf heard mass and went to the meeting. When he got
there, some of the farmers had already shown up. Then they saw a great crowd
of farmers making their way to the meeting and carrying among them a large
gy of a man decorated with gold and silver. When the farmers already at
the meeting saw this, they leapt to their feet and bowed to the idol. The 
was placed in the middle of the meeting-area, with the farmers sitting on one
side and the king and his men on the other.
Guthbrand of the Dales stood up and spoke. “Where is your god now, king?
I think he must be hanging his head. And it seems to me that you and the
horned fellow next to you—the one you call bishop—aren’t bragging quite
so much as you were yesterday, now that our god, the ruler of all, has come
and is glaring at you with his piercing gaze. I can see that you’re terri
and hardly dare raise your eyes to look at him. Now drop your superstitious
nonsense and have faith in our god, who holds your fate in his hands.” With
that, he ended his speech.
The king spoke to Kolbein without attracting the farmers’ attention.
“If they happen to take their eyes off their god while I’m speaking, hit it as
hard as you can with your club.” Then he stood up and addressed the meeting.
“You have said a great deal to us this morning. You think it’s strange that
you can’t see our god, but we expect he’ll come to us very soon. You threaten
us with your god, who is both blind and deaf, and who can’t protect himself
or anyone else, and can’t move from his place unless he’s carried. I expect he’ll
be in for a rough time before long, for if you look eastwards, you will see our
god approaching in great brightness.”
Then the sun rose, and all the farmers turned to look at it. At that very
moment, Kolbein struck their god so hard that it shattered and out of it leapt
vipers, lizards, and mice as big as cats. The farmers were so terri
ed that they
ed. Some made for their ships but, when they launched them, water poured
in and swamped them, and the farmers could not get aboard. Those who ran
for their horses could not 
nd them.
twelve: from odin to christ
there was great rejoicing among the Christians who were living there and the
number of those who believed increased daily.
. Meanwhile our lord and master [Anskar] diligently executed his of
ce in
the diocese that had been committed to him and in the country of the Danes
and by the example of his good life he incited many to embrace the faith. He
began also to buy Danish and Slav boys and to redeem some from captivity so
that he might train them for God’s service. Of these he kept some with him,
while others he sent to be trained at the monastery of Turholt. There were
also with him here belonging to your order some of our fathers and teachers,
as a result of whose teaching and instructions the divine religion has increased
among us.
. . . . It happened, too, at this time, at the instigation of the devil, that
the Swedish people were in amed with zeal and fury, and began by insidious
means to persecute Bishop Gautbert. Thus it came about that some of the
people, moved by a common impulse, made a sudden attack upon the house
in which he was staying with the object of destroying it; and in their hatred
of the Christian name they killed Nithard and made him, in our opinion, a
true martyr. Gautbert himself and those of his companions who were pres-
ent they bound and, after plundering everything that they could 
nd in their
house, they drove them from their territory with insults and abuse. This was
not done by command of the king, but was brought about by a plot devised
by the people.
. For nearly seven years afterwards there was no priest in this place [in
Sweden], and for this reason our lord and pastor Anskar was af icted with great
sorrow. As he could not bear that the Christian religion which had begun to be
established there should perish and because he grieved greatly for his dear son
Herigar, whom we have already mentioned, he sent a hermit named Ardgar
into those parts and specially directed him to attach himself to Herigar. On
his arrival he was courteously received by Herigar and his presence brought
great joy to the Christians who were there. These began again to do as they
had done before, namely to search diligently for the things of God and to
observe with a willing mind the customs of the Christian religion. None of
the unbelievers was able to withstand his preaching, because they remembered
with fear the punishment that had come upon those who had expelled God’s
servants from this place. On the suggestion of Herigar and with the command
and permission of the king who was then reigning, he began to celebrate the
divine mysteries in public.
. But inasmuch as we have spoken in advance concerning the arrange-
ments that were made relating to this diocese (for a long time elapsed after
Anskar had undertaken the government of this see before it was settled by
apostolic authority) let us now go back to the events of an earlier period.
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement

. Forannán, abbot of Ard Macha, was taken prisoner by the heathens in Cluain
Comarda with his halidoms [relics, sacred items] and following, and was brought
to the ships of Luimnech.
. Dún Masc was plundered by the heathens, and there were killed there Aed son
of Dub dá Crích, abbot of Tír dá Glas, and Cluain Eidnig, Ceithernach son of
Cú Dínaisc, prior of Cell Dara, and many others.
. There was an encampment of the foreigners under Tuirgéis on Loch Rí, and
they plundered Connacht and Mide, and burned Cluain Moccu Nóis with its
oratories, and Cluain Ferta Brénainn, and Tír dá Glas and Lothra and other
monasteries. . . .
. Niall son of Aed in icted a battle-rout on the heathens in Mag Ítha. . . .
. Tuirgéis was taken prisoner by Mael Sechnaill and afterwards drowned in
Loch Uair. . . .
. An encampment of the foreigners of Áth Cliath [Dublin] at Cluain Andobuir. . . .
\n] . Baislec was plundered by the heathens. . . .
. The foreigners won a battle against the Connachta, in which fell Rígán son of
Fergus, Mugrón son of Diarmait and Aed son of Cathrannach and many

others. . . .
. Mael Sechnaill destroyed the Island of Loch Muinremor, overcoming there a
large band of wicked men of Luigni and Gailenga, who had been plundering the
territories in the manner of the heathens.
] . Mael Sechnaill won a battle against the heathens at Forach in which seven
hundred fell.
. Ólchobor, king of Mumu, and Lorcán son of Cellach, with the Laigin, won a
battle against the heathens at Sciath Nechtain, in which fell the jarl [earl] Tom-
[heir] of the king of Lochlann, and two hundred about him.
. Tigernach in
icted a rout on the heathens in the oakwood of Dísert Do-
Chonna, and twelve hundred fell there.
. The Eóganacht of Caisel in icted a rout on the heathens at Dún Maíle Tuile,
ve hundred fell.

. A naval expedition of seven score ships of adherents of the king of the foreign-
ers came to exact obedience from the foreigners who were in Ireland before
them, and afterwards they caused confusion in the whole country.

The Gokstad Ship, built ca

Later used for a burial. Now in the Viking Ship Museum,

Source: Paul B. du Chaillu,
The Viking Age
vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

, frontispiece.
the viking age: a reader
getting ready to weave cloth.
On her head was a coif,
a smock on her breast,
a kerchief round her neck,
brooches at her shoulders.
Grandfather and Grandmother
owned the house.
. Rig knew how
to give them advice.
. There was boiled veal,

nest of delicacies.
He rose from the table,
got ready for sleep.
. More:
in the middle of the bed,
he laid himself down;
on either side,
lay the couple from the homestead.
. Three nights
he stayed there.
then nine months passed.
. Grandmother gave birth
to a child.
They sprinkled him with water,
named him Karl.
The woman swaddled
the red and ruddy boy
in linen.
His eyes were restless.
. He grew and 
broke in oxen,
made a plow,
built houses,
put up barns,
the viking age: a reader
“I want you to give up raiding now, Svein,” he said. “It’s good to drive home
with a full wagon, and you’ve certainly supported yourself and your men for a
long time by raiding, but most men who live by looting and pillaging die on
raids if they don’t get out in time.”
Svein looked at the earl and answered with a smile, “Friendly words indeed,
my lord, and I’m grateful for your advice, though some might argue that you
yourself are not the most peaceful of men.”
“I shall have to answer for my own deeds,” answered the earl. “But that
doesn’t stop me from speaking my mind.”
“You mean well, my lord,” said Svein. “So, I’ll give up raiding because I 
that with age my strength is being drained away by the exertions of war. I’ll go
on my autumn-raid now, and I hope it will be as glorious as my spring-raid.
After that I’ll give up raiding.”
“It’s hard to predict, old friend, whether death or glory will come 
said the earl. After that, the conversation came to an end. Earl Harald left the
banquet and was sent on his way with appropriate gifts. He and Svein parted
on very friendly terms.
. Soon after this, Svein got ready for his raiding trip. He had seven long-
ships, all of them large. Again, Hakon, Earl Harald’s son, joined him on the
journey. First, they steered for the Hebrides but, 
nding little plunder there,
they crossed over to Ireland where they raided extensively.
They traveled as far south as Dublin where they took the townspeople
completely by surprise. No one was aware of their presence until they were
actually inside the town, seizing a great deal of plunder. The leading townsmen
were captured and surrendered the town to Svein, promising to pay whatever
ransom he demanded. They also agreed that Svein and his men should occupy
the town and rule it, and the people of Dublin swore an oath con
rming this.
In the evening, the Orkneymen went back to their ships, but next morning,
Svein was to occupy the town, receive the ransom, and take hostages from
the townsfolk.
Now the story turns to what happened in the town during the night. The
leaders in the town held a meeting to discuss the troubles which had befallen
them. They had no desire to turn their town over to the Orkneymen, and,
worst of all, to the man whom they knew to be the most tyrannical in the
Westlands, so they made up their minds to deceive Svein if at all possible. This
is the plan they came up with: they dug deep pits just inside the town gates
and also in several other places between the houses on the route that Svein
and his men were expected to take. They concealed armed men in the nearby
houses. Then they covered the pits with wood which would collapse under a
man’s weight. After that, they spread straw over the wood so that no trace of
the pits could be seen. Then they waited for morning.
the viking age: a reader
When that was done and everyone had heard about it, the Æsir enter-
tained themselves by having Baldur stand up at assemblies and allow the
others to shoot at him, to cut at him, and to pelt him with stones; and, no
matter what they did to him, he was not harmed. Everyone thought this
was a real marvel.
But when Loki Laufeyarson saw that Baldur was not hurt, he was displeased,
so he adopted the shape of a woman and went to Fensala, Frigg’s palace. Frigg
asked this woman if she knew what the Æsir were up to at their assembly.
She replied that they were all pelting Baldur with things without doing him
any harm.
“Weapons and trees will not hurt Baldur,” said Frigg. “I have received oaths
from all of them.”
“Have absolutely all things sworn oaths not to harm Baldur?” asked the
“A little tree called mistletoe is sprouting to the west of Valhalla,” answered
Frigg, “and I thought it was too young to be asked to swear the oath.”
At that, the woman went away, and Loki pulled up the mistletoe and went
to the meeting. Because he was blind, Hod stood alone outside the circle of
men who were throwing objects at Baldur. Loki asked him, “Why aren’t you
throwing things at Baldur?”
“Because I can’t see where Baldur is, and, anyway, I haven’t anything to
throw,” answered Hod.
“You should do what the others are doing and show Baldur the same
respect. I’ll lead you to where he’s standing, and you can throw this twig at
him,” said Loki.
Hod took the mistletoe and threw it at Baldur with guidance from Loki.
The twig pierced Baldur, and he fell to the ground, dead.
When Baldur fell, the Æsir were speechless and they couldn’t stir themselves
to lift him up. They looked at one another, and no one had the least doubt
about who had done the deed, but no one could take revenge since their meet-
ing place was such an important sanctuary. When the Æsir attempted to speak,
they were so overcome by weeping that no one was able to express his grief in
words. But Odin’s anguish was the most painful, for he understood best how
great a disaster for the Æsir the death of Baldur was.
When the Æsir recovered themselves, Frigg asked who among them wanted
to win all her affections and favor by riding the road to Hel to look for Baldur
and offer Hel a ransom if she would permit him to return to Asgard. Odin’s son
Hermod was the one who undertook the journey. Then Odin’s horse Sleipnir
was caught and led forward; Hermod mounted the horse and galloped off.
Next, the Æsir lifted Baldur’s body and moved it to the sea where lay his
ship Hringhorni, the 
nest of vessels. The gods wanted to launch the ship
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
The king and the earl were quite ready to take part in this expedition. They
assembled a large 
eet in Sweden and, with this force, they went south to
Denmark. When they arrived there, King Olaf Tryggvason had already sailed
east. Halldor the Heathen tells of this in his poem about Earl Eirik:
King-destroying Eirik came with
his army south from Sweden;
the storm-strong earl ordered men
to the sword-blaze of battle.
Warriors, the feeders of wound-wasps,
followed Earl Eirik;

esh-feeding fowls
sipped blood at sea.
the viking age: a reader
his daughter, Thyri, in marriage and then traveled to Sweden with him. Before
going ashore, Styrbjorn burned all his ships, and as soon as King Harald real-
ized that Styrbjorn was shipless, he sailed to Lake Malaren and from there
back to Denmark.
At Fyrisvellir [Fyris Plains], Styrbjorn fought against his uncle, King Eirik
the Victorious of Sweden [Eirik I, ca
], and perished there along
with most of his army, though some of them did escape. The Swedes call the
battle Fyriselta [the Hunt at Fyris].
. When King Harald Gormsson was baptized, as already mentioned, he
forced Earl Hakon Sigurdarson to adopt the Christian faith, and he was also
baptized along with all the men who had accompanied him from Norway.
King Harald supplied him with priests and other clerics and directed him to
have everyone in Norway baptized. Hakon swore that he would do so.
When the king and the earl parted, Hakon made for Norway and, en route,
put the holy men ashore at Hals in Limafjord. He turned his back on Christi-
anity and afterwards offered up huge pagan sacri
ces in Norway. When King
Harald heard that Hakon had rejected Christianity and raided his territory, he
led his army to Norway and laid waste the coastal area, burning everything
from Lindnes to Stad, except for 
ve farms at Laeradale in Sogn. The whole
population  ed to the mountains and forests, taking with them whatever
property they could.
King Harald and his army remained at the Solund Islands for some time. He
was planning to raid Iceland with the forces he had on hand since he wanted
revenge for the insulting and derisory verses leveled at him by the Icelanders.
King Harald ordered a man with supernatural powers to go there in an assumed
shape and tell him what he could  nd out about the place. The man circled
Iceland in the form of a whale and later told the king that there were many
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
to escape.” Ulf promised that Godwin could join his comrades, for he was a
handsome, well-spoken young man.
Earl Ulf and Godwin rode all night and arrived at Knut’s ships just after
daybreak. Some of the men were ashore and when they recognized Ulf, they
all crowded around and gave him a welcome 
t for a man who seemed to have
been recalled from the dead, for he was so popular that everyone loved him
wholeheartedly. For the 
rst time, Godwin realized who his companion was.
The earl had Godwin sit next to him on the high seat and treated him
exactly as he himself or his own son was treated. To put it brie
y, Ulf gave
Godwin his sister, Gytha, in marriage, and Ulf’s strong support persuaded
his brother-in-law, Knut, to bestow an earldom upon Godwin. The sons of
Godwin and Gytha were Harold, king of England and the earls Tosti (called
Longspear), Morkar, Waltheow, and Svein. Their descendants include many
great men in England, Denmark, Sweden, and to the east in Russia, as well as
the royal house of Denmark. Earl Godwin’s son, King Harold, had a daughter
called Gytha, who married King Valdamar of Novgorod, and their son King
Harold had two daughters who will be mentioned later.
. King Knut fought and won another major battle, this time at a town
named Brentford. Athelred’s sons  ed, losing a large army and the Danes
demolished the town, as Ottar the Black says:
Prince, breaker of peace and shields,
feller of Frisians,
you brought ruin to Brentford,
destroyed the dwellings.
King Edmund’s noble kinsman
suffered savage wounds and
Danish soldiers showered spears
as the English forces 
King Knut fought the third major battle against the sons of Athelred at a
place known as Ashton, to the north of the Danewoods. Ottar says:
Shield-bearing Scyld’s son,
you wrought war’s works at Ashton,
where the bird of battle feasted
on men’s bloody meat.
With sword strokes,
prince, you won a worthy
name, north of Daneswood,
when you massacred many.
the viking age: a reader
But when the weather is propitious, they put to sea and come to the river
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
As the king rowed back to his ship, an arrow struck the prow of the boat
just above his head; immediately afterwards, another arrow hit the side of the
boat above his knees. The king sat still and didn’t  inch. His companion said,
“Dangerous shots, my lord.”
“They come as near as God wills,” replied the king.
Then the king realized that the hail of weapons and stones falling on the
was so dense that he couldn’t get aboard again, and so he rowed away
toward the land. Munan Gautsson [a Heklung] and his men also steered their
ship to land. They leapt ashore and fetched great stones to hurl at the

They bombarded her from the rowing space at the stern all the way forward to
the pump room, and the men in those areas endured terrible slaughter. It was
the men stationed in the bow, however, who were most exposed to the attack
and the shower of weapons. They told one another that it was now time to pay
the king for their mead and their 
ne clothing.
The men at the stern ordered the starboard oarsmen to row forward. By
doing so, they pulled the
forward till the
was level with the
aft pump-room. Now the men on the port side and in the rowing place at
the stern had their hands full because fourteen ships lay along one side of the
Then the Heklungs [King Magnus’s men] launched missiles, even
halberds and blocks of whetstone that they had brought west from Skida; these
were very dangerous weapons. They also threw pikes and short swords, but
they couldn’t get close enough for hand-to-hand 
ghting. The Birkibeins took
cover since they could do nothing else. Even so, many of them died and nearly
all of them were wounded by weapons and rocks. They were so worn out and
had taken such a beating that some men died of exhaustion even though they
were just slightly wounded, or not wounded at all. The Heklungs hung back
from boarding the
because they had dif
culty in attacking over the
prows of their own ships. If they had lain broadside to the
, then one
side would have boarded the other much sooner.
. Now, anyone listening to this story will  nd its account of the end of
the battle improbable. For now the tale goes on to recount what (apart from
good luck) caused the victory to take such an unlikely turn.
As the story said earlier, King Sverrir’s son, Eirik, rowed around the big ship
with the thirteen ships not engaged in the 
ght. He made for the thirteen of
the Heklungs’ ships that were furthest from the shore and were not lying next
to the
The ships met broadside on and a 
erce battle broke out. The
Birkibeins had larger ships and more men and they mounted a hard and vigor-
ous attack. However, the Heklungs put up a stubborn resistance and defended
themselves with such spirit that no one could tell whether the battle would
be decided by this 
ght or by the clearing of the
The men of Sogn
had a 
otilla of boats within 
ring range of the Birkibeins and shot at them.
the viking age: a reader
the purpose of ranging through the sea, because the inhabitants claimed that
by a direct course toward the north from the mouth of the Weser River one
meets with no land but only that sea called the Libersee. The partners pledged
themselves under oath to look into this novel claim and, with a joyful call
to the oarsmen, set out from the Frisian coast. Then, leaving on the one side
Denmark, on the other Britain, they came to the Orkneys. And when they
had left these islands to their left, while they had Norway on their right, the
navigators landed after a long passage on icy Iceland. And as they furrowed the
seas from that place toward the farthest northern pole, after they saw behind
them all the islands spoken about above, they commended their way and ven-
ture to Almighty God and the holy confessor Willehad. Of a sudden they fell
into the numbing ocean’s dark mist which could hardly be penetrated with
the eyes. And behold, the current of the 
uctuating ocean whirled back to its
mysterious fountainhead and with most furious impetuosity drew the unhappy
sailors, who in their despair now thought only of death, on to chaos; this they
say is the abysmal chasm—that deep in which report has it all the back 
of the sea, which appears to decrease, is absorbed and in turn revomited, as
the mounting 
uctuation is usually described. As the partners were imploring
the mercy of God to receive their souls, the backward thrust of the sea carried
away some of their ships, but its forward ejection threw the rest far behind the
others. Freed thus by the timely help of God from the instant peril they had
had before their eyes, they seconded the 
ood by rowing with all their might.
. No sooner had the mariners escaped the peril of darkness and the land
of frost than they unexpectedly came upon an island [possibly Ireland] forti
like a town by very high cliffs which encircled it. When they disembarked
there to explore the place, they found men lurking in underground hollows
at midday. Before the entrances lay a countless number of vessels of gold and
of metals of a kind considered rare and precious by mortals. When they had
taken as much of the treasure as they could carry away, the happy oarsmen
returned quickly to their ships. Of a sudden they saw coming behind them
the amazingly tall men whom our people call Cyclops. Before them ran dogs
exceeding the usual size of these quadrupeds, who in their attack seized one
of the comrades and in a twinkling tore him to pieces before their eyes. The
rest, however, took to the ships and escaped the peril. The giants, as they said,
followed them, with vociferations, almost out to the high sea. Attended by such
good fortune, the Frisians came back to Bremen where they told Archbishop
Alebrand everything as it had happened and made offerings to the blessed
Christ and his holy confessor Willehad for their safe return. . . .
. This is what we have learned about the nature of the northern regions
in order to set it down to the honor of the Church at Hamburg. . . .
the viking age: a reader
went to the sheep-house where he found Thorolf and told him to get away as
quickly as possible.
At that moment Ingjald was riding away from Goddastead intent on getting
his money’s worth and when he had come down from the farm, he and his men
saw two men walking toward them: they were Asgaut and Thorolf. It was early
in the morning, so there wasn’t much daylight. Asgaut and Thorolf had got
themselves into a very tight spot, with Ingjald on one side, and the Lax river
on the other. The river was in 
ood and there were huge masses of ice on both
sides, but the middle of the river was 
owing and it looked dangerous to cross.
“We seem to have two choices facing us,” said Thorolf to Asgaut. “First, we
could wait for them here beside the river and defend ourselves as long as our
resolve and courage hold out, but it’s more than likely that Ingjald and his men
will kill us straight off. The other choice is to try the river, and that seems to have
its own risks.” Asgaut told Thorolf to decide, and declared that he wouldn’t part
from him now, whatever he decided to do. “Let’s head for the river,” said Thorolf.
They did this and lightened their equipment as much as possible. After that,
they climbed down to the masses of ice and threw themselves into the water.
Because these men were brave, and longer life was in their destiny, they man-
aged to cross the river and climbed up onto the heaped ice on the other side.
They were no sooner across than Ingjald and his followers reached the side of
the river. Ingjald addressed his men: “What are we going to do? Will we try
the river or not?” They told him to decide and said that they would trust his
judgment, though the river seemed impassable to them. “We’ll turn back and
leave the river alone,” said Ingjald.
When Thorolf and Asgaut saw that Ingjald and his men were not going
to attempt the crossing, they wrung out their clothes 
rst of all and got ready
for their journey. They walked all day and in the evening reached Saudafell
where they had a warm welcome beacause anyone was allowed to stay there
overnight. In the course of the evening, Asgaut went to see Thorolf Raudnef
and outlined to him all the circumstances of their errand. He explained to
Thorolf Raudnef that the man who had arrived with him had been sent there
by his kinswoman Vigdis for support and protection. He gave an account of
all that had gone on between Thord Goddi and his wife and presented the
cation sent by Vigdis to Thorolf Raudnef.
“I’m not going to question this identi
cation,” said Thorolf Raudnef. “Of
course I’ll take in this man at Vigdis’s request. I think she has behaved coura-
geously in this business, and it’s a great pity that a woman like her has made
such a wretched marriage. Asgaut, you can stay here as long as you like.”
Asgaut replied that he wouldn’t stay there any longer. Then Thorolf Raud-
nef received his namesake and made him one of his followers. Thorolf and
Asgaut parted as good friends and Asgaut made his way home.
the viking age: a reader
Gizur said, “Over there, an arm wearing a gold ring reached out and picked
up an arrow lying on the roof. They wouldn’t be looking for arrows outside,
if there were enough inside; we must attack now.”
Mord said, “Let’s burn him alive inside his house.” “Never,” said Gizur,
“even if my life depended on it. But surely someone with your reputation for
cunning can come up with a workable plan.”
Lying on the ground were some ropes used to tie down the house. Mord
the viking age: a reader
Egil in Old Age
. Egil Skallagrimsson became an old man. In old age, he grew stiff in the legs
and had dif culty moving. Both his hearing and his sight began to fail. He was
living at this time with Grim and Thordis at Mosfell. One day, he was walking
outside near the wall, when he tripped and fell.
Some women who saw this laughed at him and said, “You’re done for now,
Egil, when you can’t help falling over.”
“Women didn’t laugh at us so much when we were younger,” said Grim.
Then Egil made up this verse:
My shriveled neck shakes,
I’m forever falling on my hairless head,
my pointless prick is moist and soft,
and I’m hard of hearing.
Egil became completely blind. One cold winter’s day, he went to the 
re to
warm himself. The cook complained that it was shameful for a man of Egil’s
reputation to be lying about under their feet, keeping them from getting their
work done.
“Don’t be annoyed if I toast myself by the 
re,” said Egil. “There should be
enough room for both of us.”
“Get up,” she said. “Go back to your seat and let us get on with our work.”
Egil got to his feet and went back to his place. He composed this poem:
Blind, I must bear
this eye ailment,
blunder to the 
re, beg
mercy from a maidservant;
formerly a 
erce king
warmed to my words;
the noble lord of lands
gave me gold as reward.
Another time when Egil went to the 
re to warm himself, someone asked him
five: viking warriors and their weapons
of terror, a gold mail-shirt, and many other precious objects. In fact, he found
so much gold that he doubted whether two or even three horses could carry it
away. He took all the gold and put it into two large chests. Then he took his
horse, Grani, by the reins, but the horse would not budge and it was useless to
whip it. Then Sigurd realized what the horse wanted: he leapt onto its back,
pricked it with the spurs, and the horse ran as if it had no load.
(d) Saint Olaf’s Sword, Hneitir

This passage recounts the sword’s history after the death of Saint Olaf at Stiklestad.
The Saga of Hakon the Broadshouldered
Source: trans. A.A.
Somerville, from
Snorri Sturluson,
, in
, ed.,
Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk
fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.
. It has already been recounted that King Olaf threw
the sword Hneitir
when he was wounded at the battle of Stiklestad. A certain Swede, who had
broken his own sword, picked up Hneitir and fought with it. This man survived
the battle and escaped with other fugitives. When he got back to Sweden, he
twelve: from odin to christ
through the Dead Sea, but does not mix with the salt-water because the Jordan
is the holiest of rivers.
To the east of the city is the Mount of Olives where Christ ascended to
heaven. Between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives is the valley of Jehosaphat,
where the grave of the Virgin Mary is located. A good way off from here is
Mount Quarantia where Christ fasted and was tempted by the devil. After
that comes Abraham’s Castle, where Jericho once stood, near the Plains of
Abraham. Not far from there is the Jordan, where Christ was baptized. It
ows from the northeast to the southwest [actually north-south]. On the far
side of the Jordan is Arabia, and on this side is the region of Palestine called
Syria. On the river bank stands a little chapel, built to mark the place where
Christ removed his clothes.
Out there by the Jordan, if a man lies down on level ground, raises his knee,
rests his 
st on it, and holds his thumb straight up from his 
st, then the Pole
Star is visible at the tip of his thumb and no higher.
This itinerary and list of towns, with all the other information, was writ-
ten down at the dictation of Abbot Nicholas, a wise and famous man. He has
a good memory and extensive learning. He is also experienced and truthful.
The narrative ends here.
the viking age: a reader
On the following Thursday, the king weighed anchor and moved out past
the island. He was joined there by the troops he had sent to Loch Long. On
the Friday, the weather was 
ne, so the king sent the Guests [a division of the
royal bodyguard] to burn the ships which had been driven ashore. The same
day, the king sailed away from the Cumbraes out to Lamlash, where he stayed
for some days. . . .

. During the summer, the king had a great deal to worry him and many
sleepless nights. There were numerous calls upon him, and his men gave him
little peace. [When he came ashore at Kirkwall in the Orkneys,] he fell ill
and took to his bed immediately. To begin with, the illness was not severe,
and after the king had been laid up for about three weeks, his condition took
a turn for the better and stayed better for three days. On the 
rst day, he was
able to get about his room; on the second day, he went to the bishop’s chapel
and heard mass there; and on the third day, he walked to St. Magnus’s church
and visited the saint’s shrine. The same day, he took a bath and had himself
shaved. That night, his illness intensi
ed and he took to his bed once more;
everyone thought that he was getting much worse.
In the early stages of his illness, he had Latin books read to him, but it grew
cult for him to concentrate on what the words meant, so then he had Norse
books read to him day and night. To begin with, he listened to the lives of
saints, and when these ran out, he had the history of all the kings of Norway
read to him, one after another, from Halfdan the Black onwards.
When King Hakon realized that his condition was deteriorating, he made
arrangements for gifts to be given to the men of his bodyguard in acknowledg-
ment of their services to him. He ordered that each of them should receive a
burnt mark of silver; and he gave half a mark of silver to his guests, cup-bearers,
and all his other servants. He had his [silver] dinner-service weighed, except
for the gilded items, and ordered that if the pure silver ran out, the dinner-
service should be divided up so that everyone could have his fair share. Then
he had letters written for King Magnus, explaining all the arrangements that
he thought were most important.
King Hakon was anointed the night before the feast of Saint Lucy [
December]. These bishops were in attendance: Thorgils, bishop of Stavanger;
Gillibert, bishop of Hammar; and Heinrek, bishop of Orkney. Abbot Thorleif
and many other learned men were present too. Before the king was anointed,
the men who were with him, kissed him. While he was still capable of speech,
he was asked by his con
dants if he had any other son or any other offspring
who could be contacted in case, tragically, he or King Magnus should die. The
king was adamant that he had begotten no son except King Magnus, and no
daughter that people did not know about already. By that time, the reading
the viking age: a reader
by a man called Hrolf, the son of Ornolf the Whale-Driver. Bjorn stayed there
secretly for the winter. The king’s men turned back when they had taken over
Bjorn’s properties and placed men in charge of them.
. Hrolf was a great chieftain and a very open-handed man. He looked
after the temple of Thor on the island, and was a great friend of Thor. For that
reason, he was called Thorolf. He was a tall, strong, handsome man with a
big beard, on account of which he was called Most-Beard. He was the noblest
man on the island.
In the spring, Thorolf gave Bjorn a ship manned by good men, and sent
his son, Hallstein, to accompany him. They sailed west across the sea to visit
Bjorn’s relatives. When King Harald heard that Thorolf Most-Beard had shel-
tered Bjorn Ketilsson, his outlaw, he sent men to him and ordered him off his
lands to wander as an outlaw, like his friend Bjorn, unless he came and placed
his case in the king’s hands. This was ten years after Ingolf Arnarson had gone
out to settle in Iceland. His journey had become very famous because the men
who came from Iceland said that there was a good choice of land out there. . . .
. Now the story says of Bjorn, the son of Ketil Flatnose, that he sailed west
across the sea after he and Thorolf Most-Beard had parted, as was mentioned
earlier. He made for the Hebrides and, when he arrived in the west, his father
had already died, but he met his brother, Helgi, and his sisters. They offered
him a good living with them, but Bjorn became aware that they had adopted
a new faith. It seemed mean-spirited to him that they had abandoned the
ancient faith their ancestors had followed, so he had no desire to stay, and had
no intention of establishing a permanent residence there. However, he stayed
for the winter with his sister, Aud [Unn; see doc.
c], and her son, Thorstein,
but when they discovered that he meant to turn a deaf ear to his relatives,
they called him Bjorn the Easterner. They took it badly that he did not want
to stay there permanently.
. Bjorn stayed for two years in the Hebrides before he got ready to travel to
Iceland. Hallstein Thorolfsson accompanied him. They landed in Breidafjord
and, with Thorolf’s advice, Bjorn claimed land between the Staf river and
Hraunsfjord. Bjorn lived at Borgarholt in Bjorn’s Harbor. He was the noblest
of men.
Hallstein Thorolfsson thought it was unmanly to accept land from his
father, so he traveled west across Breidafjord and took land there. He lived at
Hallsteinsness. A few years later, Aud the Deep-Minded came out to Iceland.
For the 
rst winter, she stayed with Bjorn, her brother, and later took all
the Dales district in Breidafjord, between the Skraumuhlaups River and the
Dogurdar River. She lived at Hvamm. In these days, the whole of Breidafjord
was settled, but there is no need to mention the landtakes of men who don’t
come into this story.
the viking age: a reader
were plundered by another party of them. [They] plundered also Sord-Colum-
cilli, and Damliag Chianain, Slaini, and Orlla-saile, and Glenn-dá-Locha, and
Cluain Uamha, and Mungairt, and the greater part of the churches of Erinn.
. Another  eet came into the harbor of Luim-nech; and Corco-Baiscinn,
and Tradraighe, and Ui Conaill Gabhra were plundered by them. The Ui
Conaill defeated them at Senati, under Donnchadh, son of Scann-lan, king of
Ui Conaill, and Niall, son of Cennfaeladh, and it is not known how many of
them were slain there.
. After that a great royal 
eet came into the north of Erinn, with Turgeis,
who assumed the sovereignty of the foreigners of Erinn; and the north of
Erinn was plundered by them, and they spread themselves over Leth Chuinn
[the northern half of Ireland]. A  eet of them also entered Loch Eathach,
and another  eet entered Lughbudh, and another  eet entered Loch Rai.
Moreover, Ard Macha was plundered three times in the same month by them;
and Turgeis himself usurped the abbacy of Ard Macha, and Farannan, abbot
of Ard Macha, and chief comharba of Patrick, was driven out, and went to
Mumhain, and Patrick’s shrine with him; and he was four years in Mumhain,
while Turgeis was in Ard Macha, and in the sovereignty of the north of Erinn,
as Berchan prophesied, chief prophet of heaven and earth,—
Gentiles shall come over the soft sea;
They shall confound the men of Erinn;
Of them there shall be an abbot over every church;
Of them there shall be a king over Erinn.
Seven years shall they be; nor weak their power,
In the high sovereignty of Erinn.
In the abbacy of every church
The black Gentiles of Dubhlinn.
There shall be of them an abbot over this my church,
Who will not attend to matins;
Without Pater and without Credo;
Without Irish, but only foreign language.
three: early religion and belief
Jormungand [World-Serpent] writhes
in giant’s rage;
the serpent roils the waves
and the eagle screams,
pale-beaked, rends corpses;
Naglfar [Nail-Ship] breaks loose.
. A ship sails from the east.
Muspell’s folk
will come by sea
with Loki steering;
the giant’s sons
all journey with the wolf,
and Byleipt’s brother [Loki]
bears them company.
. Surt travels from the south
with the scorcher of trees;
from his sword  ashes
the sun of the slaughter-gods;
rocks crash
and witches rove;
men tread Hel’s road
and heaven is split asunder.
. Then Hlin [Frigg]
suffers a second sorrow,
when Odin goes forth
ght the wolf,
and Beli’s bright slayer [Frey]
goes against Surt;
then will Frigg’s
beloved [Odin] fall. . . .
. Then comes forward
the Father of Victory’s tall son,
Vidar, to give battle
to the murderous brute;
with his hand he thrusts
his sword into the heart
the viking age: a reader
“Little would you have praised
Hogni’s valor
when they wakened Sigurd
from sleep,
when your costly bed-sheets,
blue and white,
were reddened in your husband’s blood,
Soaked in the blood of the slain.
. “Revenge for your brothers
became cruel and painful for you
when you murdered your sons.
All of us,
being of one mind,
could have taken vengeance
on Ermaneric
for our sister.
. “Bring out the treasures
of the Hunnish kings;
you have goaded us
to settlement by the sword.”
. Laughing, Gudrun
turned to her storehouse,
from chests chose
the crested helmets of kings,
long coats of mail,
and brought them to her sons.
Boldly, they leapt
onto the backs of their horses.
. Then said Hamdir
the great-hearted:
“It may happen
that the spear-warrior,
brought low
in Gothic lands,
will come back
to visit his mother
the viking age: a reader
the north with a new creed, and 
nd out if there was any truth in what he was
saying. Guthbrand said to his son, “Take twelve men and go back to this king
who gave you quarter.” He did so.
When they came to the king, they gave him the message that the farmers
wanted to have a meeting with him, and that they wanted to arrange a truce
between the two sides. King Olaf was amenable to this and they made a formal
agreement to observe a truce for the duration of the meeting. After everything
had been arranged, they went back to tell Guthbrand and Thord that a truce
had been agreed.
The king then moved to a farm called Lidstad. He stayed there for 
days and afterwards he went to meet the farmers. There was heavy rain that
day. When the meeting began, the king stood up and told the farmers that the
people of Leyjar, Loar, and Vagi had all become Christian and had demolished
their temples.
“And now they believe in the true God who made heaven and earth and
who knows all things,” said King Olaf. Then he sat down.
“We have no idea who you’re talking about,” responded Guthbrand. “Do
you call him a god when neither you nor anyone else can see him? We have a
god who can be seen every day, though he isn’t out today because the weather
is wet. He will seem terrifying and majestic to you, and I expect that you’ll be
overwhelmed by fear if he comes to the meeting. But since you say that your
god is so powerful, let him make tomorrow’s weather overcast, but not rainy,
and let us meet here then.”
The king returned to where he was staying and Guthbrand’s son went with
him as a hostage. The king also left a hostage with the farmers. In the evening,
the king asked Guthbrand’s son what form their god took. He answered that
their god looked like Thor.
“He’s big and has a hammer in his hand. He is hollow and has a pedestal to
stand on when he is outdoors. His body is adorned with lots of gold and silver,
and every day he receives four loaves of bread and meat as well.” After that,
they went to bed, but the king stayed awake all night, praying.
Next morning, King Olaf heard mass and had breakfast. Then he went to
the meeting. The weather was cloudy, but not rainy, just as Guthbrand had
wished. The bishop stood up, dressed in his robes and wearing a miter on his
head; in his hand, he held a crozier. He preached the Christian faith to the
farmers, telling them about many miracles that God had performed. Then he
ended his speech eloquently, and Thord Paunch-Belly replied,
“He certainly has a lot to say—this horned man with the curly-ended staff
in his hand. And now, since you folks claim that your god performs so many
miracles, ask him to make the sky bright and sunny tomorrow morning before
the viking age: a reader
. When the servants of God had spent another half year with them and
had attained the object of their mission they returned to the emperor and took
with them letters written by the king himself in characters fashioned after the
Swedish custom [possibly in runes]. They were received with great honor
and good will by the emperor, to whom they narrated all that the Lord had
wrought by them and how in those parts the door of faith was opened by which
these peoples were bidden to enter. When the most pious emperor heard this,
he rejoiced greatly. And as he recalled the beginning which had been made
in establishing the worship of God among the Danes, he rendered praise and
thanks to Almighty God, and, being in amed with zeal for the faith, he began
to inquire by what means he might establish a bishop’s see in the north within
the limits of his own empire, from which the bishop who should be stationed
there might make frequent journeys to the northern regions for the sake of
preaching the Gospel and from which all these barbarous people might easily
and pro
tably receive the sacraments of the divine mystery. . . .
. . . . As we have already said, the same of
ce of legate had before been
entrusted by Pope Paschal [I,

] to Ebbo, the archbishop of Rheims.
Ebbo himself, inspired by the Spirit of God, burned with eager desire to draw
to the Christian fold the non-Christian races and especially the Danes whom
he had often seen at the palace and who, as he grieved to see, had been led
astray by the wiles of the devil. In order to promote their salvation he longed
to sacri
ce himself and all that he possessed. The emperor had given him a
place situated beyond the Elbe, which was called Welanao, so that whenever
he went into those parts he might have a place in which to stay. Accordingly
he frequently went to this place and distributed much money in the northern
districts in order that he might win the souls of the people; and he attached
many to the Christian religion and strengthened them in the catholic faith.
. . . . With the consent, then, and approval of the emperor, the venerable
Ebbo sent to Sweden a relation of his own named Gautbert who had been
chosen for this work and had been given the honorable rank of a bishop. He
supplied him in abundance with all that was wanted for his ecclesiastical of
and for his necessary expenditure at his own cost and that of the emperor.
Having himself undertaken, by apostolic authority, the of
ce of an evangelist,
he appointed Gautbert to act as legate on his behalf among the Swedes. To
him, too, the emperor, at the suggestion of the same bishop Ebbo, gave the
monastery which he had himself built at Welanao, to serve as a place of refuge,
in order that the performance of his task might be rendered permanent and
secure. This Gautbert [d.
], who at his consecration received the honored
name of the apostle Simon, went to Sweden, and was honorably received by
the king [Biorn II] and the people; and he began, amidst general good will
and approval, to build a church there and to preach the faith of the Gospel and
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
to Hinguar, the heathen warlord, unless he submits in this country to Christ
the Saviour and his faith.’”
The messenger went on his way and on the road he met the murderous
Hinguar hastening with his entire army to 
nd Edmund. The messenger told
the impious Dane what Edmund’s answer was, and Hinguar angrily ordered
his forces to look for the king in particular and to secure him immediately.
Nonetheless, when Hinguar arrived, Edmund was standing in his hall,
thinking of the Savior. He discarded his weapons as he wished to imitate the
example of Christ, who forbade Peter to use weapons against the cruel Jews.
So the unbelievers bound Edmund and mocked and insulted him, and beat
him with canes. After that they led the pious king to a 
rmly rooted tree and
bound him to it tightly. Then they scourged him with whips for a long time.
Between the blows, he called on Christ the Savior with unshaken faith. The
heathens were infuriated by his faith as he called on Christ to help him. Then,
for fun, they threw spears at him till their missiles covered him like the bristles
of a hedgehog, as also befell Saint Sebastian.
Then the unbelieving pirate, Hinguar, realized that the noble king would
not renounce Christ since Edmund constantly called on Him with unswerving
faith. Hinguar gave orders for Edmund to be beheaded, and the heathens did this.
Even while he was still calling on Christ, the heathens dragged the saint to the
slaughter. With one blow they struck off his head, and his blessed soul departed
to Christ. Nearby was a man who had been kept hidden from the heathens by
God. He heard all this and recounted it later, just as we have narrated it here.
So the pirates returned to their 
eet and concealed Saint Edmund’s head
among thick brambles so that it might not be buried. Some time after they had
left, the remaining people of the country came to the place where the king’s
headless corpse lay. The witness who had observed everything told them that
the pirates had taken the head with them. He thought (as turned out to be the
case) that they had hidden the head somewhere in the woods.
They all went in a body to the woods and searched everywhere among the
bushes and brambles in their hunt for the head. By a great miracle, a wolf was
sent by God’s guidance to protect the head against other creatures by day and
by night. They proceeded on their search, constantly calling out to one another
as is the custom among those who frequent the woods:
“Where are you now, friend?”
And the head answered them:
“Here, here, here.”
And it went on answering as often as one of them shouted until they all came
upon the head because of their calling out. There lay the grey wolf which
guarded the head. He held it between his paws and, though ravenous and
hungry, dared not eat the head for God’s sake, but protected it against animals.
series editor: Paul Edward Dutton
two: scandinavian society
I think their names were
Bellower and Byreman,
Coarse and Clegg,
Whoreson and Stinky,
Log and Lumpen,
Layabout and Grizzly,
Bent-Back and Leggy.
They built fences,
spread dung on 
tended swine,
guarded goats,
cut peat.
. Their daughters were
Loggy and Lumpy,
Beefy-Calves and Beaky-Nose,
Bustle-About and Serving-Wench,
Stumpy, Raggedy, and Crane-Shanks.
From them are descended
the thrall families.
. Rig walked by straight ways,
came to a hall.
The door was
closed, but not locked.
In he went;
re burned on the 
and a couple sat there,
getting on with their work.
. The man was shaping
wood for a warp-beam [part of a loom].
His beard was trimmed,
the hair of his forehead docked.
His tunic was tight-
There was planking on the 
. The woman sat there,
twirled her distaff,
stretched out her arms,
viking life and death
. After the death of Earl Rognvald [in
], Earl Harald [Harald Maddadarson,
] subjugated the islands and made himself sole ruler over all of them.
Earl Harald was a great chieftain and a very big, strong man. He married a woman
named Afreka, and their children were called Heinrek, Hakon, Helena, and Mar-
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
To punish them for their crimes, God gave them to our sword and destroyed
them, numerous as they were. When they had been annihilated, the govern-
ment made this happy event known through all the provinces, and Abd al-
Rahman also wrote to the Cinhadja tribe in Tanger, to tell them that with
God’s help he had succeeded in destroying Madjus. At the same time he sent
them the heads of the general, and of two hundred of the noblest Madjus
three: early religion and belief
stones would be erected for all men who had manly qualities; this custom was
observed for a long time.
There was to be a sacri
ce at the beginning of winter for a bountiful year,
another at midwinter for good crops, and a third in the summer for victory.
Throughout Sweden, the people were to pay Odin a tax of a penny per head,
and in return he was to protect their land against attack, and make a sacri
on their behalf for a good year. . . .
. Odin fell mortally ill in Sweden and, when he was close to death,
he had himself marked with a spear-point and he claimed as his own all
men who were killed in combat. He said that he would go to the home of
the gods and make his friends welcome there. But the Swedes got it into
their heads that he had gone to the ancient Asgard and that he would live
there forever. So they renewed their faith in Odin and said prayers to him.
They believed that he often appeared to them before great battles, granting
victory to some, and inviting others to join him. Either fate was thought
After his death, Odin was cremated, and the burning was carried out in
princely style, for it was their belief that the greatness of the deceased was in
proportion to the treasure burned with him, and that the higher the smoke
rose, the loftier was his position in heaven.
(c) The Death of Baldur the Good

Baldur, son of Odin, was associated with light and beauty in Norse mythology. His
death, which is greatly mourned by the Æsir, is momentous in that it begins the process
that will end with Ragnarok (the Doom of the Gods). However, after Ragnarok, Baldur
will rise again from the kingdom of Hel to rule a bright new world together with the sons
of Thor.

The following passage is from
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
Edda. Gylfaginning
, ed. Anthony Faulkes (Lon-
the viking age: a reader
used. Swords were prestige items and could have been afforded only by the elite.
might be named, and could be passed down for generations. Their histories may be traced
through sagas and other texts.
(a) King Magnus Barelegs Dresses to Kill

Magnus Barelegs was king of Norway from
, when he died in battle in
Ireland. The following passage gives an account of his appearance and behavior in that
last battle. From
The Saga of King Magnus Barelegs

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
, in
, ed.
Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.
. King Magnus positioned men to protect Dublin and readied his ships, with
the intention of sailing east to Norway. He lay off Ulster with his entire 
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad

Knýtlinga saga (The Story of the Family of Knut)
is an anonymous chronicle that
was probably written in Iceland during the thirteenth century. The author may have been
Sturla Thordarson, the nephew of Snorri Sturluson. The saga covers Danish history
from the age of Harald Gormsson in the ninth century until the late twelfth century.
This section gives an account of Harald Gormsson and the uni cation of Denmark, while
deals with the expansion of Danish power to England.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
, ed. Bjarni Guðnason, Íslen-
zk fornrit XXXV (Reykjavík,

), pp.
. After the death of his father, Gorm the Old, Harald Gormsson became king
of Denmark. He was a powerful king and a mighty warrior who conquered
Holstein in Saxony. He also ruled a large earldom in Wendland where he built
Jomsborg and manned it with a large force. He paid the garrison and granted
them certain rights and privileges; they held the place under his auspices. In
summer, they went raiding and, during the winter, they stayed at home. They
were known as the Jomsvikings.
The Lives of the Kings of Norway record that King Harald Gormsson engi-
neered the betrayal and death of King Harald Gunnhildarson of Norway when
he died at Hals in Limafjord [
CE]. Then King Harald Gormsson invaded
Norway with his army and brought the whole country under his authority.
He established Earl Hakon Sigurdarson as ruler of Norway, but he himself, as
king of the Danes, levied tribute from the whole country.
In the days of King Harald Gormsson, Otto the Red [Otto II,

] was
emperor of Germany. He made war on King Harald and ordered the Danes
to convert to Christianity, but the king of the Danes, who would not adopt
Christianity on any account, called out his army against Otto.
King Harald Gormsson and Earl Hakon of Norway engaged Otto in a great
battle at the Danevirk, in the south of Denmark. The emperor was defeated
there, but shortly afterwards he subdued the country and put Harald and
Hakon to  ight, driving them all the way north to Limafjord and Marsey.
After this, King Harald adopted Christianity and the emperor became godfa-
ther to his son, Svein. At the baptism, Otto gave Svein his own name so that
afterwards he was known as Otto-Svein. Everyone in Denmark was converted
to Christianity since the emperor would settle for nothing less.
. Styrbjorn the Strong was the son of Olaf Bjarnarson, king of Sweden. In
the time of King Harald Gormsson, he made a foray into the eastern Baltic,
invaded Denmark, and took King Harald prisoner. So Harald gave Styrbjorn
the viking age: a reader
Svein’s brave son
brought the battle to Sherston.
. As usual, Earl Ulf was in the front rank of King Knut’s soldiers and he
followed the fugitives furthest. He came to a forest so thick that for the whole
night he couldn’t 
nd his way out until daylight appeared. Then, before him,
on some open ground he saw a young man in his prime herding some sheep.
Earl Ulf approached the young man, greeted him, and asked his name.
“I’m called Godwin,” the youth answered. “Are you one of Knut’s men?”
“Yes, I’m one of his soldiers,” replied Ulf. “How far is it to our ships from
“I’m not sure that you Danes can expect much help from us,” said the young
man. “In fact, you may get something quite different.”
“At the moment, young man, I’d be happy if you’d just point me in the
direction of our ships,” replied Earl Ulf.
“You’ve been heading in the wrong direction entirely,” said the youth. “Instead
of making for the ships, you’ve been going inland through dense forest. And, in
this area, Knut’s men aren’t too popular with the locals, which is understandable
since they’ve just heard about yesterday’s massacre at Sherston. If the farmers catch
you, neither you nor any other of Knut’s men can expect quarter, and the same
goes for anyone who helps you. But it seems to me that there might be some pro
to be made from you, for I don’t think you’re the man you say you are.”
Then Earl Ulf removed a gold ring from his arm and said, “I’ll give you
this ring if you’ll guide me to my men.”
Godwin looked at him for a while and then said slowly, “I won’t accept
your ring, but I will try to bring you to your men. If I do manage to help you,
I would rather you were under an obligation to me; if I can’t help you, there
is no need for a reward. But 
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
. At that time, Queen Zoe the Great [ca
] ruled over Greece [Byz-
the viking age: a reader
this was a slaughter for sure; from the
south northwards, and from the north
to Narbonne, the lady will hear news
of the awful loss of life in icted
on the heathen by our host.
They talked about what had taken place, and each man recounted his own
version of the events. Then they got into an argument about who had boarded the
rst, and they couldn’t agree on this point. Some of them declared
that it was absurd to have several versions of such a great event. So they agreed
that Earl Rognvald should settle the dispute and that they would all go along
with his decision. The earl spoke:
Hell-bent on booty,
Audun the Red rushed

rst with 
erce courage
aboard the dark dromond;
there we wet our weapons
in black men’s blood;
dark bodies fell to the decks
as the god of men granted.
Then they cleared the dromond, and set it ablaze. When the tall man they
had captured saw this, he started and grew pale and agitated. They tried to
make him talk, but no matter how much they threatened or cajoled, he didn’t
say a word or make a sign. When the dromond was completely ablaze, they
saw something that looked like a burning stream 
owing into the sea. This
greatly affected their prisoner. They concluded that they hadn’t searched care-
fully enough for treasure and that metal, either gold or silver, had melted as
re took hold.
(d) The Battle of Fimreite (Norafjord),

This battle secured the throne of Norway for King Sverrir
). The “Birki-
one: the scandinavian homelands
their wealth; sometimes they lie uncremated for half a year, above ground in
their houses. As long as the corpse is in the house, there must be drinking and
entertainment until the day they cremate him. On the day that they intend to
carry him to the funeral pyre, they divide up what remains of his property after
the drinking and entertainment into 
ve or six parts, and sometimes more,
depending on the amount of property. They deposit the largest portion about
a mile from the settlement, then the second largest, and then the third until it
is all laid out within that single mile. The smallest portion must be closest to
the settlement where the dead man is lying. Next, all the men with the swiftest
horses in the land must be assembled about 
ve or six miles from the property.
Then they all gallop toward it. The man who has the fastest horse comes to the
rst and largest portion, and so on, one after another, until everything is taken.
The smallest portion goes to the man who gallops closest to the settlement
to get it. Each man then rides on his way with the property; they may take
everything, and that is why fast horses are excessively expensive there. When
all the treasure is dispersed, the dead man is carried out and cremated with his
weapons and clothes. Almost all of his wealth is used up by the long lying-in of
the dead man, and also by the laying out of his property for strangers to gallop
toward and take. It is an Est custom that everyone must be cremated there;
and if even one bone is found unburned, they must make great atonement for
it. Among the Ests there is a group of people who understand the process of
freezing. And the reason why the dead men lie there so long without decaying
is that they freeze them. If two vessels full of water or ale are set down, they
cause one of the two to freeze over, in summer and winter alike.

Adam of Bremen’s
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
is a history
of the diocese and its archbishops, written ca
and revised down to the early
s, when Adam probably died. The archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen were charged
with the conversion of the neighboring peoples of the north, including the inhabitants of

Source: Adam of Bremen, trans. F.J. Tschan,
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
, with new
introduction by T. Reuter (New York: Columbia University Press,

), pp.

Here, if you please, the fourth book will begin.
. The country of the Danes, as one also reads in the
of Saint Ansgar,
is almost all spread out over islands. Now, this Danish land is separated from
our Nordalbingians by the river Eider, which rises in the densely wooded high-
land of the pagans, called Isarnho, which they say, extends along the Barbarian
four: women in the viking age
said that he knew for certain that Ingjald would make him pay heavily for
the protection already given to Thorolf, now that the door had been locked
behind him.
“Ingjald won’t take your money for giving Thorolf one night’s shelter,” said
Vigdis, “because he’s staying here for the whole winter.”
“You can trump me completely, but I’m really annoyed that such an unlucky
man is here,” complained Thord. Nonetheless, Thorolf stayed there over the
This reached the ears of Ingjald, who was prosecuting his brother’s mur-
der. Ingjald got ready for his journey to the Dales district in late winter and
launched a ferry that he owned. He and eleven others sailed from the west
before a sharp north-westerly wind and landed at the mouth of the Lax river
in the evening. They beached the ferry and traveled to Goddastead during
the evening. Their arrival was expected and they received a warm welcome.
Ingjald drew Thord aside for a talk and told him his business, saying that he
had heard that his brother’s killer, Thorolf, was there, but Thord denied that
this was so. Ingjald told him not to deny it.
“Let’s make a deal,” he said, “You give up the man to me and save me
trouble and I’ve got three marks of silver here for you in return. And I won’t
prosecute the charges you have brought on yourself by sheltering Thorolf.”
Thord thought the money looked good and there was also the promise of
the abandonment of the charges, which he had greatly feared would lead to
a serious loss of property. “I know that I’ll be criticized by people because of
our dealings, but our bargain will stand,” said Thord. They slept for much of
the night until an hour before day.
. Then Ingjald and his men got up and dressed. Vigdis asked Thord what
he and Ingjald had been talking about during the evening. He replied that
they had discussed a lot, and had agreed that the place should be ransacked,
so they would be out of trouble if Thorolf wasn’t found. “So I had my slave
Asgaut take him away,” said Thord.
Vigdis said that she had no time for lying and declared that she didn’t fancy
having Ingjald poking about in her house, but told him to get on with it. Ing-
jald ransacked the place, but didn’t 
nd Thorolf there. At that moment Asgaut
came up and Vigdis asked him where he had parted from Thorolf. “I took him
to the sheep-house as Thord told me to,” replied Asgaut.
“Could anything be closer to Ingjald’s path when he returns to his ship?”
said Vigdis. “I’m not going to take the risk that this is what they cooked up
yesterday evening. I want you to go right now and take him to Saudafel to
meet Thorolf Raudnef [a different Thorolf]. If you do as I ask you, there will
be something in it for you. I’ll give you your freedom and some money so
that you will be able to go wherever you want.” Asgaut was all for this and
viking life and death
So they traveled east to Hlidarend and sent men in search of Thorkell. They
captured him and offered him two choices: be killed or get the dog. He pre-
ferred to save his life and went with them. Leading down to the farmyard at
Hlidarend was a walled path and here the group stopped. Thorkell the farmer
went on to the farmstead. The dog was lying on the housetop and Thorkell
enticed him up the lane. As soon as the dog saw the other men, he leapt at
Thorkell and bit him in the groin. Onund of Trollaskog struck the dog on the
head with his ax. The ax penetrated right to its brain and, with an incredibly
loud howl, the dog fell down dead.
. Inside the house, Gunnar woke up. “Sam my friend,” he said, “you
have been cruelly treated, and perhaps this is a sign that our deaths won’t
be far apart.” Gunnar’s dwelling was built entirely of wood with an outer
shell of overlapping planks. Near the ridge-beams were windows protected
by shutters. Gunnar slept in a loft in the house along with Hallgerd and his
When Gizur and the others approached, they had no idea if Gunnar was at
home so they asked someone to go ahead and 
nd out; the others sat down on
the ground. Thorgrim the Norwegian scrambled up onto the roof. Gunnar
saw a red tunic passing in front of the window and thrust at the middle of it
with his halberd. The Norwegian lost his shield and his footing, and tumbled
down from the roof. He went back to Gizur and the others who were sitting
on the ground. Gizur looked at him and asked, “So, is Gunnar at home?” “Find
out for yourselves,” Thorgrim answered. “But I’ve found out one thing: his
halberd is at home.” Then he fell down dead.
The rest of them headed for the house. Gunnar showered them with arrows
and defended himself so well that they got nowhere. Some climbed onto the
buildings intending to attack him from the roof, but Gunnar could get at them
with his arrows and they made no headway. The stalemate continued for a
while. Then they took a rest and attacked again, but Gunnar kept up his hail
of arrows. Once again, they gained no ground and retreated a second time.
Then Gizur the White said, “Let’s attack more 
ercely; we’re getting
nowhere.” They launched a third attack and kept it up a long time, but again
they fell back.
Gunnar said, “One of their arrows is lying outside on the roof. I’ll shoot it at
them. It will be humiliating for them to be wounded by their own weapons.”
His mother replied, “Don’t do that: you will only provoke them when they
have already withdrawn.”
Gunnar seized the arrow and shot it at them. It struck Eilif Onundarson,
wounding him seriously. He was standing by himself and his companions did
not realize that he was wounded.
viking life and death
were sent to defend it. Fighting broke out, and Egil was 
rst inside the forti
tion. The townspeople  ed and a great slaughter followed. The attackers sacked
the viking age: a reader
“You have killed my brother,” he said, “but I can hardly be considered
Sigurd took his sword, Gram, wiped it dry on the grass, and said, “Regin,
ed a long way off while I carried out this deed and tested this sharp sword
with this strong arm. I had to contend with the might of the dragon while
you were hiding in the heather, not knowing whether you were in heaven or
on earth.”
“This dragon might have lain in his den for a long time if you had not made
use of the sword I made for you with my own hands,” said Regin, “and without
the sword, neither you nor anyone else would have managed to kill him yet.”
Sigurd replied, “When it comes to 
ghting, a man is better off with a stout
heart than a sharp sword.” Then Regin said to Sigurd with great sorrow, “You
have killed my brother, but I can hardly be considered guiltless.”
Afterwards, Sigurd cut out the dragon’s heart with a sword called Ridil.
Regin drank Fafnir’s blood and said, “Do me a small favor, Sigurd: take the
heart to the 
re, roast it, and let me have it to eat.”
Sigurd roasted the heart on a spit, and when the juices began to run, he
tested the meat with his 
nger to see if it was done. Then he put his 
nger in
his mouth and as soon as the blood from the serpent’s heart touched his tongue,
he was able to understand the speech of birds. He heard some nuthatches chirp-
ing in the nearby bushes.
“There sits Sigurd roasting Fafnir’s heart,” said one. “He should eat it
himself and then he would be wiser than anyone else.” “There lies Regin,
intending to betray the man who trusts him,” said the second. “Sigurd should
cut his head off,” said the third. “Then he would be sole owner of all that
gold.” The fourth said, “Sigurd would be wise to follow this advice. After-
wards he should go back to Fafnir’s lair, get hold of the treasure, and ride up
to Hindarfell where Brunhild is sleeping. He will gain great wisdom there.
He would be wise to take this advice and consider his own needs. For, when
I see a wolf’s ears, I expect a wolf.” “He isn’t as wise as I thought, if he spares
the man whose brother he has just killed,” said the 
fth. “It would be a good
idea for Sigurd to kill Regin and became sole owner of the treasure,” said
the sixth.
“It won’t be my ill fate to be killed by Regin,” said Sigurd. “Instead, both
brothers will go the same way.” With that, he drew the sword, Gram, and cut
off Regin’s head.
Afterwards, he ate some of the dragon’s heart, and saved the rest. Then he
leapt on his horse and followed Fafnir’s tracks to his den, which stood open;
all the doors and the door fastenings were made of iron, and the beams were
iron too. The lair itself had been dug down into the earth. There, Sigurd found
a huge quantity of gold and the sword, Hrotti. There, too, he got the helmet
the viking age: a reader
founded a hospice eight miles to the south of Piacenza where food is given to all
comers. It was he who prevailed on Pope Paschal II to move the archbishopric
from Germany to Denmark.
From Cyprus it is a two-day sail to Acre, which is in the land of Jerusalem
[Palestine]. Next is Capharnaum [Kones], formerly called Ptolemais; then
come Caesarea [Qesari] and Jaffa. Jaffa was Christianized by King Baldwin
of Palestine [r.

] and Sigurd Magnusson, king of Norway [r.

Next is Ascalon which is in the land of the Saracens; it is heathen. Eastward
from Acre are Tyre, Sidon, Tripoli, and Latakia. Then comes the mouth of
the gulf which we call the Bay of Antioch. The town of Antioch stands at the
head of the gulf, and it was there that Saint Peter established his archi-episcopal
throne. All these towns are in Syria.
The district of Galilee stretches inland from Acre. In this region is Mount
Thabor, where Moses and Elijah revealed themselves to the apostles. Next is
Nazareth where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and where Christ was
brought up for twenty-three years. After this comes the town of Genin which
was formerly part of Samaria. A holy relic of John the Baptist was found there
in the Castle of St. John. Nearby is Jacob’s Well, where Christ asked the woman
to give him a drink. Then comes Nablus, a large town, and after that Casal
[?] and Magdala [?].
From there, the route leads to Jerusalem, the most wonderful city in the
world. Its praises are sung throughout Christendom, because it is here that the
important memorials of Christ’s passion can be seen. The church which con-
tains Christ’s grave is here. It is also the place where the Lord’s cross stood, and
where Christ’s blood can still be seen on a rock, as if it had been newly shed. It
will remain like this until doomsday. Here, too, on Easter Saturday, heavenly
light is bestowed on men [the miracle of Holy Fire]. This church, which is at
the centre of the world, is called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In it, there
is an opening above the tomb and, on the feast of Saint John, the sun shines
straight down through this opening from the heavens above. The Hospice of
Saint John the Baptist is here—it is the most splendid in the world—and here,
too, are the Tower of David, the Temple of the Lord [Dome of the Rock], and
the Temple of Solomon.
Southwest of Jerusalem is Mount Sion where the Holy Spirit visited the
Apostles, and where Christ ate on the evening of Maundy Thursday [Last
Supper]. The table at which he ate still stands there. Four miles to the south
is Bethlehem, a pretty little town, in which Christ was born, and not far
from there is Bethany, where Christ raised Lazarus from the dead. Southeast
of Jerusalem is a lake called the Dead Sea in which God submerged two cit-
ies: Sodom on one side and Gomorra on the other. The River Jordan 
fourteen: the end of the viking age
several men died. Many of the Norsemen took shelter behind the cog, while
others got aboard her.
When the Norsemen coming down from the hill reached the valley between
the hill and the beach, most of them took to their heels. They were ordered to
turn back, and some did, but only a few. . . . The rest kept running and when
they reached the beach, they were again told to turn back, and again some did,
but not many. . . . This battle was both hard and one-sided for there were ten
Scots for every Norseman.
All during the battle, there was such a great storm that King Hakon found
it impossible to land his troops. However, Rognvald and Eilif from Naustdal
rowed toward the shore in small boats. Rognvald was swept back out to his
ship, but Eilif made it to land and joined the battle with several other men.
They fought very bravely as did those Norsemen who had boarded boats and
got to the beach. When the Norsemen began to assemble their forces, the Scots
withdrew up the hill and, for some time, there were skirmishes between them,
fought with spears and stones.
Late in the day, the Norsemen launched an attack on the Scots who were
up on the hill, and pursued it with great vigor. As
tells us:
The chosen chieftains
of the master of North-Møre [Hakon]
sang war-songs
before mighty men;
the guards of the guardian
of the highseat, hooded
with iron advanced
to the battle of sword-blades.
The bright blade’s
edge bit in battle
the unworthy enemy
among curved red shields;
soon the Scottish
ed the weapon
hail from the heroes
of our conquering king.
Then the Scots 
ed as fast as they could from the hill to the mountains.
When the Norsemen saw that, they returned to their boats and rowed out to
the ships. They had a hard time getting there because of the storm. . . .
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
to the Axe river, and all the headlands in the area. Then Karli said, “There
was no point in traveling over all that  ne countryside, just to settle on this
remote headland.”
So he left, taking a servant-woman with him. Ingolf gave Vi
l his freedom
and he settled at Vi
l’s Homestead; Vi
l’s Fell is named after him too. He
lived there for a long time and became a respectable man. Ingolf had a hall
built at Skali Fell; from it he noticed some smoke near Olfuvatn and found
Karli living there.
Ingolf was the most renowned of all the settlers, for he came to this land
when it was uninhabited, and was the 
rst to settle it. Afterwards, other set-
tlers followed his example. Ingolf married Hallveig Frodi’s daughter, the sister
of Lopt the Old. Their son was Thorstein who set up the Thing [assembly] at
Kjalarness before the Althing was established.
The Saga of the People of Eyri

The Saga of the People of Eyri [Eyrbyggja saga]
tells how Bjorn, son of Ketil Flat
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
The War of the Irish against the Foreigners (Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib)
is an account of
the ninth- and tenth-century Scandinavian invasions of Ireland, and of the resistance to
them by the Dál Cais dynasty of Munster. It was compiled in the early twelfth century
for the grandson of the famous Dál Cais king Brian Boru, whose victory over the Dublin
forms the climax of the work (see doc.
). It is,
therefore, a dynastic propaganda text and by no means an accurate or impartial version
of events, but it remains valuable for the attitudes toward the Vikings that it presents.
The  rst part of the work, from which the excerpts below are taken, recounts the arrival
of Viking  eets in different parts of Ireland. The historicity of the “Turgeis” mentioned
as the leader of a great royal  eet in section
is debated by scholars; some regard him
as a real member of the Norwegian royal house, others as nothing more than a legend.

Source: trans. J.H. Todd,
The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill,
or The Invasions of Ireland by the Danes
(London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer,
), pp.
. It was in the time of Airtri son of Cathal, and of Aedh son of Niall, that the
rst began their devastation of Erinn; for it was in their time that the
foreigners came into Camas ó Fothaidh Tire—namely, a hundred and twenty
ships, and the country was plundered and devastated by them, and Inis Labrainn
and Dairinis were burned by them. And the Eoganachts of Loch Lein gave them
battle, when four hundred and sixteen men of the foreigners were killed. This
was the year after that in which Diman of Aradh was killed, and ten years after
the death of Airtri, son of Cathal [
. There came another  eet after that—namely, in the second year after the
accession to the throne of Feidhlim, son of Crimthann, and they plundered
Corach, and Inis Temhni; and Bennchair, and Cluain Uamha, and Ros Mae-
lain, were plundered by them. Scelleg Michil was also plundered by them; and
they took Edgall with them into captivity, and it was by miracles he escaped,
and he died of hunger and thirst with them [

. There came, after that, another 
eet into the north of Erinn, four years
after the death of Aedh, son of Niall, at Ath-dá-Fert; and they plundered Ben-
nchur of Uladh [Bangor], and brake the shrine of Comhgall, and killed its
bishop, and its doctors, and its clergy: they devastated also the plain [Co. Down].
. Another 
eet came to Ui Cennselaigh, and they plundered Teach Munnu,
and Teach Moling, and Inis Teoc. They afterwards went into Osraighe, and the
country was devastated by them. The Osraighe gave them battle; and one hun-
dred and seventy of them were killed there. [They] demolished Dun Dermuighe
and Inis Eoganain, and Disert Tipraiti; and they devastated Leas Mor, and
burned Cill Molaisi, and Cluan-ard Mubeoc; Lann Leri, also, and Cenn Slebhi
the viking age: a reader
sisters’ sons will corrupt
their kinship;
in a harsh world
whoredom is widespread;
ax age, sword age—
shields are shattered,
wind age, wolf age—
till the world collapses.
No man will show
mercy to another.
. While Mim’s sons revel
fate is roused,

red up by a blast
from old Giallarhorn;
Heimdall blows loud,
with horn raised high;
Odin speaks to
Mim’s severed head.
. The upright ash,
Yggdrasil, trembles;
the ancient tree groans
and the giant breaks free;
all walk in fear
on the way to Hel
until Surt’s kinsman,
Fire, consumes all.
. What disturbs the Æsir?
What alarms the Elves?
all Giantland is in uproar,
the Æsir are in council;
Dwarves groan
before their stone doors,
knowing the nature of their steep rock.
Do you wish to know more? And what? . . .
. From the east drives Hrym,
hoists his shield before him;
four: women in the viking age
Their sons were Sorli, Erp, and Hamdir. Svanhild, Sigurd’s daughter [by
Gudrun], was raised there. She was given in marriage to Ermaneric the Great
[king of the Ostrogoths, d.
]. Bikki was one of his retainers. He advised
Randver, the king’s son, to take her for himself. Bikki then informed the king
of this. The king had Randver hanged and Svanhild trampled under horses’
hooves. When Gudrun heard of this, she addressed her sons.
. Then I heard
a most fearful tirade,
words forced
into speech by terrible woe,
when with 
erce words
Gudrun urged her sons
to the slaughter.
. “Why do you sit still,
why sleep your lives away?
Why does it not grieve you
to talk cheerfully?
When Ermaneric
has trampled your sister,
still in her youth,
on the highway with horses
white, black, and gray,
the steady-paced horses of the Goths.
. “You have not turned out
like Gunnar,
still less are you as bold
as Hogni was;
you would have
tried to avenge her
if you had the 
erce spirit
of my brothers,
or the stern heart
of the Hunnish kings.”
. Then said Hamdir
the great-hearted:
twelve: from odin to christ
King Olaf and Bishop Sigurd left priests behind in Loar and Vaga. Then
they went over Vagarost and came down to Sil, where they stayed overnight.
There they heard the news that a large army was lying in wait for them. At the
same time, the farmers at Breida heard about Olaf’s approach and got ready
ght him. When King Olaf got up, he dressed in his war-gear and moved
south along the Sil Plains. He did not stop until he reached Breida, where he
found himself confronted by a large army ready for battle. Then the king drew
up his forces; he himself rode at their head. He addressed the farmers and bade
them adopt Christianity.
But they replied, “You’ll be doing a bit more than mocking us today.”
And with that, they raised a battle-cry and clashed their weapons against
their shields.
Then the king’s men rushed forward and hurled their spears. The farmers
immediately took to their heels; very few of them stood their ground. Guth-
brand’s son was captured and was granted quarter by the king, who kept the
young man with him. The king remained there for four days. Then he said
to Guthbrand’s son,
“Go back to your father and tell him I’ll be with him soon.” So he went
back to his father and told him the bad news that they had met the king and
fought with him.
“Right at the start, our whole army was put to  ight, and I was taken pris-
oner,” he said. “The king gave me quarter and told me to tell you that he’ll
be here soon. Now we have only a couple of hundred left out of all the men
that we sent against him. So my advice to you, father, is don’t 
ght against
this man.”
“Clearly, you’ve had the stuf
ng knocked out of you,” said Guthbrand.
“Your expedition was ill-fated, and it will be a long time before you live it
down. And now you can’t wait to swallow all the nonsense this man is putting
about, even after the disgrace he has in icted on you and your army.”
That night, Guthbrand dreamed that a man appeared before him. He came
in a blaze of light and inspired great awe.
“Your son did not have a successful foray against King Olaf,” he said,
“and you will fare even worse if you insist on 
ghting with the king, for
you and your entire army will perish; wolves will drag you and your men
away and ravens will tear your 
Guthbrand was terri
ed by this dreadful vision and spoke about his dream
to Thord Paunch-Belly who was a chieftain in the Dales.
“I had the same dream,” said Thord.
In the morning, they had the trumpets blown to summon an assembly and
announced that it would be advisable to meet this man who had come from
twelve: from odin to christ
mission committed to him by the emperor, who desired that he should go to
the Swedes and discover whether that people was prepared to accept the faith
as their messengers had declared. How great and serious were the calamities
which he suffered while engaged in this mission, father Witmar, who himself
shared them, can best tell. It may suf
ce for me to say that while they were in
the midst of their journey they fell into the hands of pirates. The merchants
with whom they were traveling defended themselves vigorously and for a
time successfully, but eventually they were conquered and overcome by the
pirates, who took from them their ships and all that they possessed, while they
themselves barely escaped on foot to land. They lost then the royal gifts which
they should have delivered there, together with all their other possessions, save
only what they were able to take and carry away with them as they left the
ship. They were plundered, moreover, of nearly forty books which they had
accumulated for the service of God. When this happened some were disposed
to turn and go back, but no argument could divert God’s servant from the
journey which he had undertaken. On the contrary, he submitted everything
that might happen to him to God’s will and was by no means disposed to
return until, with God’s help, he could ascertain whether he would be allowed
to preach the Gospel in those parts.
. With great dif
culty they accomplished their long journey on foot, tra-
versing also the intervening seas, where it was possible, by ship, and eventually
arrived at the Swedish port called Birka. They were kindly received in that place
by the king, who was called Biorn [II], whose messengers had informed him of
the reason for which they had come. When he understood the object of their
mission and had discussed the matter with his men, with the approval and con-
sent of all, he granted them permission to remain there and to preach the Gospel
of Christ and offered liberty to any who desired it to accept their teaching.
Accordingly the servants of God, when they saw that matters had turned
out propitiously as they had desired, began eagerly to preach the word of sal-
vation to the people of that place. There were many who were well disposed
towards their mission and who willingly listened to the teaching of the Lord.
There were also many Christians who were held captive among them, and who
rejoiced that now at last they were able to participate in the divine mysteries. It
was thus made clear that everything was as their messengers had declared to the
emperor, and some of them desired earnestly to receive the grace of baptism.
These included the prefect of this town named Herigar, who was a counselor
of the king and much loved by him. He received the gift of holy baptism and
was strengthened in the Catholic faith. A little later he built a church on his
own ancestral property and served God with the utmost devotion. Several
remarkable deeds were accomplished by this man who afforded many proofs
of his invincible faith. . . .
the viking age: a reader
Boneless; d. ca
] and Hubba [ON Ubbi: d.
?; both sons of Ragnar
Hairy-Breeches], united by the devil. They brought their ships to land in
Northumbria, devastated the country, and slaughtered the people. After they
had won a savage victory, Hinguar turned east with his ships while Hubba
stayed on in Northumbria. Hinguar rowed to East Anglia in the twenty-
rst year of Alfred atheling [prince] who later became the renowned king
of Wessex [r.
]. Swiftly, this Hinguar stole like a wolf into the land,
murdering the
people—men, women, and innocent children—and shame-
fully persecuting the blameless Christians. Immediately afterwards, he sent a
threatening message to King Edmund, demanding his submission if he valued
his life. The messenger approached King Edmund and delivered Hinguar’s
message boldly:
“Hinguar our king—courageous and victorious by sea and land, the ruler
of many peoples—has arrived suddenly with his army in this country where he
and his host intend to take up winter quarters. He commands you immediately
to share with him your hidden hoards of gold and your ancestral treasures and
to be his under-king, if you want to stay alive, for you haven’t the strength to
stand up to him.”
King Edmund, however, called on a bishop who was very close to him and
debated with him what answer to give the ferocious Hinguar. The bishop was
ed by the sudden emergency and, fearing for the king’s life, said that he
thought it would be advisable to yield to Hinguar’s demands. The king gazed
silently at the ground; at length he replied as a king should:
“Look here, bishop, the people of this country have been shamefully abused
and I would rather die in battle if they could retain their land as a result.”
“But, my dear king,” replied the bishop, “your people lie shattered and
you don’t have the forces to  ght with. These pirates will come and capture
you alive unless you save your life either by running away or by submitting
to Hinguar.”
Then—bravest of men as he was—King Edmund responded:
“In my heart I have absolutely no desire to survive my beloved thanes who
were slaughtered in their beds by these pirates without warning, along with
their wives and children. It has never been my habit to run away and I would
sooner die for my homeland if necessary. God knows that I will never turn
away from worshiping him, nor from truly loving him whether I live or die.”
With these words, he turned to Hinguar’s messenger and addressed him
“Truly, you deserve to be slaughtered on the spot, but I won’t dirty my
clean hands with your foul blood because I follow Christ, who taught us by
example. I will happily die at your hands if that is what God ordains. Go
quickly and say to your cruel lord: ‘While he lives, Edmund will never yield
one: the scandinavian homelands
that the greatest part of the country subsists only on the beasts of the forest.
Aurochs, buffalo, and elk are taken there as in Sweden. Bison, furthermore,
are caught in Slavia and Russia. Only in Norway, however, are there black fox
and hares, white martens and bears of the same color who live under water like
aurochs. And since much else may there be seen that is entirely different and
strange to our people, we leave it and other things to be more fully described
by the inhabitants of that land.
. The metropolitan city of the Norwegians is Trondheim, which, now
graced with churches, is frequented by a great multitude of peoples. In that city
reposes the body of the most blessed Olaf, king and martyr [Olaf Haraldsson,
]. At this tomb the Lord to this very day works such very great miraculous
cures that those who do not despair of being able to get help through the merits
of the saint 
ock together there from far-off lands. But the route is of a kind
that, boarding a ship, they may, in a day’s journey, cross the sea from Aalborg
or Wendila of the Danes to Viken, a city of the Norwegians. Sailing thence
toward the left along the coast of Norway, the city called Trondheim is reached
on the 
fth day. But it is possible also to go another way that leads over a land
road from Scania of the Danes to Trondheim. This route, however, is slower
in the mountainous country, and travelers avoid it because it is dangerous. . . .
. Beyond Norway, which is the farthermost northern country, you will
nd no human habitation, nothing but ocean, terrible to look upon and limit-
less, encircling the whole world. The ocean off Norway contains many consid-
erable islands, of which nearly all are now subject to the rule of the Norwegians
and so are not to be overlooked by us because they also belong to the diocese of
Hamburg. The 
rst of them are the Orkney Islands, which the barbarians call
Like the Cyclades, they are strewn over the ocean. The Roman
writers Martian and Solinus, it appears, wrote about them thus: “Back of
Britain, where the boundless ocean begins, are the Orkney Islands, of which
twenty are deserted, sixteen are inhabited. The Orkney Islands, numbering
nearly forty, lie close together. In their vicinity, too, are the
[the Heb-
rides?], on which amber originates.” Situated between Norway and Britain and
Ireland, the Orkneys, therefore, laugh playfully at the threats of a menacing
ocean. It is said that one can sail to them in a day from the Norwegian city
of Trondheim. They say, too, that from the Orkneys it is just as far whether you
steer toward England or set sail for Scotland. For these same Orkney Islands,
although they had previously been ruled by English and Scottish bishops, our
primate on the pope’s order consecrated Throlf bishop for the city of Birsay,
and he was to have the cure of all. . . .
There follow descriptions of Iceland, Greenland, Helgeland, and Vinland.
. Archbishop Adalbert of blessed memory likewise told us that in the
days of his predecessor certain noble men of Frisia spread sail to the north for
the viking age: a reader
you suffer frequent losses. On the other hand, if you see that your pro
ts from
trade are increasing greatly, buy good land with two thirds of it, for money is
usually secure in the form of land, whether it’s in your own hands or in your
kinsmen’s hands. Do as you like with the remaining third—leave it in trad-
ing, or put it all into land if you want. But if you decide to keep your money
invested in trade, you yourself should stop going from land to land on trading
voyages, as soon as you have made enough money and have learnt as much as
you want about foreign customs. . . .
. Seas are not all the same size. Small seas present few dangers and may be
navigated without risk at any time of the year, for it’s only a question of being
able to predict favorable winds for a day or two, and that’s not dif
cult for men
who understand weather. Also, there are many lands which offer numerous
harbors when the coast is reached. So, if men can wait for fair winds in a good
harbor, or can be con
dent of good harbors once the crossing has been made, or
if the sea is so small that there is no need to anticipate conditions for more than
a day or two, then they may risk crossing such a sea almost at will. But where
the viking age: a reader
al-Rahman gave to him, as to other governors in provinces adjoining the sea,
authority to take all needful measures.
Madjus arrived in about
ships. One might say they had, as it were, 
the ocean with dark red birds, in the same way as they had 
lled the hearts of
men with fear and trembling. After landing at Lisbon, they sailed to Cadiz,
then to Sidona, then to Seville. They besieged this city, and took it by storm.
After letting the inhabitants suffer the terrors of imprisonment or death, they
remained there seven days, during which they let the people empty the cup
of bitterness.
As soon as Abd al-Rahman had news of this, he gave to the Hadjib [Prime
Minister] Isâ ibn-Chohaid the command of the cavalry. Moslems hastened
to gather under the banner of this general, and to join him as closely as the
eyelid is joined to the eye. Abjullah ibn-Kolaib, Ibn Wasim, and other great
chieftains also joined the cavalry. The commander-in-chief made Axarafe
[a high hill near Seville] his headquarters, and wrote to the governors all round
to command them to call their men to arms. They went to Cordoba, and the
eunuch Nasr took them to the army.
But Madjus continually received reinforcements, and, according to the
author of the book,
Bahdja, an-n-afs
, they continued for thirteen days to kill
men and drag women and children into slavery. Instead of thirteen days, the
author of
Dorar al-Kalayid
says seven days, and we have followed him above.
After some skirmishes with Moslems they [Madjus] went to Kaptel [an island
in the Guadalquivir] where they stayed three days. They then entered Caura
[Coria], twelve miles from Seville, where they murdered many people. Then
they took Talyata, two miles from Seville. There they spent the night, and were
seen next morning at Al-Fakkharin [Alfarache]. Then they re-embarked and
joined battle with Moslems, who were put to  ight and lost so many men that
they could not be numbered. After returning to their ships, Madjus sailed to
Sidona, and then to Cadiz, after Abd al-Rahman had sent his generals against
them and fought them, sometimes successfully, sometimes with loss. At last,
when war engines were used against them, and reinforcements had arrived
from Cordoba, Madjus were put to  ight. They [the Moors] killed about
of their men, and took four of their ships with all their cargoes. Ibn-Wazim had
these burnt, after selling all that was found in them. Then they [Madjus] were
defeated at Talyata on the
Safar of this year [

]. Many were
killed, others hanged at Seville, others hanged in the palm trees of Talyata,
and thirty of their ships were burnt. Those who escaped from the bloodshed
embarked. They went to Niebla, and then to Lisbon, and were no more heard
of. They arrived at Seville on the

], and
forty-two days had passed from the day when they entered Seville until those
of them who were not put to the sword departed. Their general was killed.
the viking age: a reader
(a) Snorri’s History of Burial Practices

Both cremation and burial were common funerary practices in the early Viking Age. In
cremations, the dead were burned on pyres along with their possessions, and their ashes
scattered or buried in urns. Burial became the favored practice later in the Viking Age,
except in Sweden, where cremation persisted. Graves might be marked by simple stones,
or by stones arranged in ship-patterns. The graves of the notable dead were sometimes
marked by a mound, on occasion containing a ship (as at Oseberg and Gokstad). The
dead were often accompanied, not only by the personal possessions they would need in the
hereafter, but also by horses and the occasional servant or handmaid. Snorri lived before
the age of archaeology, but his account of funerary practices follows this general outline,
even though some of his details may be questionable. From the Prologue of
(See also the account of Ibn Fadla
¯n, doc.

Source: Snorri Sturluson,
, ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI—XXVIII

), vol.
, pp.
The  rst age was called the age of burning, for in those days the dead had to
be burned and standing stones were raised in their memory. But after Freyr had
been buried in a burial mound at Uppsala, many chieftains erected mounds as
often as standing stones in memory of their relatives. The age of burial mounds
began in Denmark when King Dan the Proud had a mound built for himself
and gave orders that after his death he was to be laid in it with his regalia and
armor, his horse and harness, and many other precious objects. Many of his lin-
eage were buried in the same way. The age of burning lasted for much longer
among the Norsemen and the Swedes.
(b) Odin Orders Cremation and Becomes a God

The Saga of the Ynglings
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
, in
, ed. Bjarni Aðal-
bjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.
. The laws which Odin established in his country were those which the Æsir
had observed earlier. He decreed that the dead were all to be cremated along
with their possessions and said that everyone should arrive in Valhalla with
the riches from his funeral pyre, and with the treasures he had hidden in the
The ashes were to be taken out to sea or buried in the ground. Burial
mounds would be built to commemorate outstanding men, and memorial
five: viking warriors and their weapons
“You’ll be really terri
ed of 
ghting me if I get angry,” said Snaekoll. “We
won’t know that till we put it to the test,” said Grettir.
The berserk thought that all this talk was just a delaying tactic, so he began
to howl loudly and bite the rim of his shield. Raising the shield to his mouth,
he grimaced horribly over the rim as though he was mad. Grettir hurled him-
self forward until he drew level with the berserk’s horse. Then he kicked the
bottom of Snaekoll’s shield so hard that it ripped through his mouth, shattering
his jaw; the jaw bones fell down to his chest. At one and the same time, Grettir
grasped the Viking’s helmet with his left hand and pulled him off his horse,
while with his right hand he drew his short sword, struck the berserk on the
neck, and beheaded him. When Snaekoll’s followers saw what had happened,
ed in all directions. Grettir didn’t bother to chase them because he could
see that they were a spiritless bunch.
Einar thanked Grettir for what he had done and so did many other people.
Everyone thought that he had acted with presence of mind and courage in
the affair. Grettir stayed there all through Yule, and was entertained hand-
somely. When he left, Einar gave him many gifts. Then Grettir traveled east to
Tunsberg where he met Thorstein, his brother. Thorstein welcomed him
warmly and asked about his adventures, particularly about his killing of the
berserk. Grettir recited a poem:
A quick kick
shoved the shield
straight into Snaekoll’s
menacing mouth;
the iron-bound buckler
tore the tooth-wall in two;
the jaw’s broken bones
dropped down to his breast.
Thorstein said, “You’d be successful in all sorts of ways, Grettir, if you
weren’t hounded by bad luck.”
“Still, what I’ve done will be remembered,” replied Grettir.

Viking warriors were equipped in much the same way as their contemporaries elsewhere in
Europe and possessed no inherent edge in weapons technology. The ensemble of a wealthy
the viking age: a reader

haraltr : kunukR : baþ : kaurua King Harald ordered this monument
kubl : þausi : aft : kurm to be carved in memory of Gorm,
faþur sin his father,
auk aft : þaurui : muþur :
and Thyrve [Thorvi], his mother.
sina : sa
[This was] the
haraltr (:) ias : saR * uan * Harald who conquered
Side B
and all Norway
Side C
and made the Danes Christian.
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
ditches. Then King Knut marched his army further south and was victorious
wherever he went.
. In the same summer or autumn as King Knut invaded England, King
Athelred fell ill and died, having been king of England for thirty-eight years.
His wife, Queen Emma, got ready to leave the country as soon as Athelred
died, intending to travel west to France to meet her brothers, William and
Robert, who were both earls there. Their father was Richard Richardsson,
earl of Rouen, who was the son of William Longspear. He was the son of
Gongu-Hrolf, who conquered Normandy; and Gongu-Hrolf was the son of
Rognvald, earl of Møre in Norway.
However, King Knut’s men got to hear about Queen Emma’s journey and when
she and her men were about to put to sea, Knut’s men turned up and seized the
ship with everything in it. Queen Emma was brought before King Knut, and the
king and his chiefs decided that he should marry her. And that is what happened.
. After King Athelred’s death, his sons by Queen Emma were chosen as
his successors. Edmund the Strong was the eldest, second came Edgar, third
was Edvig, and fourth was Edward the Good [the Confessor].
King Edmund now assembled a large army and moved against King Knut.
They met at a place called Sherston where they fought the most famous battle of
the day with terrible slaughter on both sides. King Edmund rode right into the
middle of the Danish army, coming close enough to his stepfather, King Knut,
to strike him with a sword. Knut thrust his shield forward over his horse’s neck,
but the blow from the sword was so powerful that it cut right through the shield
a little below the hand-grip and sliced into the horse’s shoulders just in front of
the saddle. The Danes then attacked King Edmund so furiously that he had to
retreat toward his own side, but not before he had killed many Danes, though
he himself was wounded only slightly, if at all. However, when King Edmund
had ridden so far ahead of his men that they had lost sight of him and thought
that he must be dead, the army began to run away, and, though some of his
men saw him riding back from the Danes, they all  ed, including those who
had seen him. The king shouted loudly to his army and ordered them to turn
ght, but they acted as though they hadn’t heard him. The whole army
ran for it and there followed a most awful slaughter, with the Danes hunting
the routed army till nightfall. Thus says Ottar the Black:
Young prince, you felled
English troops by the Tees.
A deep ditch was choked with the dead,
clogged with Northumbrian corpses.
In the south, the inciter of strife
disturbed the dark raven’s dream.
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
barrage, they re-embark the others from the dry land and sail
and come
down to the second barrage, called in Russian Oulvorsi, and in Slavonic Os-
trovouniprach, which means “the Island of the Barrage.” This one is like the
rst, awkward and not to be passed through. Once again they disembark the
men and convey the monoxyla past, as on the  rst occasion. Similarly they pass
the third barrage also, called Gelandri, which means in Slavonic “Noise of the
Barrage,” and then the fourth barrage, the big one, called in Russian Aeifor,
and in Slavonic Neasit, because the pelicans nest in the stones of the barrage.
At this barrage all put into land prow foremost, and those who are deputed
the viking age: a reader
. King Magnus now sailed into the fjord in search of the Birkibeins. When
he and his men realized that the 
eets were not far apart, they lowered their
sails and went forward under oars, staying close together as they advanced. . . .
King Magnus addressed his men: “These large merchant ships of ours are
not designed for rowing. We shall lash them together between Orm’s ship
and mine. Then we’ll head for King Sverrir’s big ship and attach our ships to
it. I don’t want the ships separated until either we clear theirs of men or they
clear ours. . . .”
Then King Magnus’s brother, Orm, said, “My lord, my advice is that we
should attack the small ships 
rst because they won’t offer much resistance, but
I think it will be hard to overcome the big ship as long as they have plenty of
men and ships to support it.”
King Magnus replied, “It seems to me that all the ships will be taken if
the big ship is taken.” The king’s words were decisive. The four biggest ships
were lashed together and the king’s ship sailed closest to the southern shore
of the fjord. . . .
. Now it is time to recount some of the events which took place in the
encounter between the two kings. We have already touched on this, and now
the story returns to the Birkibeins who (as previously mentioned) rowed out
from the land as soon as they saw King Magnus’s 
eet heading their way. In
front of this 
eet they saw what looked like heavy rain, the sort of shower that
is seen at sea in calm weather. This shower, which passed quickly overhead,
was, in fact, a hail of arrows; shields had to be used against them.
They tried to bring the
about to face the enemy, but her turning
circle was so wide that the ships crashed together before she could complete
the turn. Magnus’s ships collided with the side of the
, striking her
near the bow with their prows. The
[one of Magnus’s ships] lay at the
’s forward pump-room, and the other ships were lined up side by side
from there to the prow.
erce battle followed. King Magnus’s men fought with great vigor, but
the Birkibeins hung back defensively. In the meantime, the ships were all
drifting toward the shore together, coming very close to the land. At 
rst, the
Birkibeins were unable to go on the offensive because the
lay between
them and King Magnus’s ships. So King Sverrir and one other man leapt aboard
a boat and rowed out to his son Eirik’s ship. Sverrir called out to them that their
behavior was weak and unmanly. He ordered them to row around the big ship
and head toward the smaller enemy ships and see how they got on there. The
king rowed among his ships, encouraging his men and telling them where to
attack. Heartened by the king’s words, his men attacked bravely and put up a
ght, but their enemies gave as good as they got. Both sides let 
y with
all the weapons they had.
the viking age: a reader
by us regarded as wholesome, are by the Danes so much abominated that one
may weep neither over his sins nor over his beloved dead.
. From Zealand to Scania there are many routes; the shortest is that to
Helsingborg, which is even within the range of vision. Scania is the province
of Denmark fairest to look upon—whence also its name—well provided with
men, opulent of crops, rich in merchandise, and now full of churches. Scania
is twice as large as Zealand, that is it has three hundred churches, whereas
Zealand is said to have half that number, and Fyn a third. Scania is the most
remote part of Denmark, almost an island, for it is surrounded on all sides by
sea except for one reach of land which, becoming mainland on the east, sepa-
rates Sweden from Denmark. The densely wooded highlands and very rugged
mountains, over which the road from Scania into Götaland necessarily runs,
make one doubt whether perils by land are more easily avoided than perils by
sea, and whether to prefer the former to the latter. . . .
. But now, since the subject provides the occasion, it seems appropriate
to say something about the nature of the Baltic Sea. Because I drew upon the
writings of Einhard when I previously mentioned this sea in connection with
the deeds of Archbishop Adaldag, I shall proceed in the manner of a commen-
tator, setting forth for our people in greater detail what he discussed in abridged
form. There is a gulf, Einhard says, that stretches from the Western Ocean
toward the east. This gulf is by the inhabitants called the Baltic because, after
the manner of a baldric, it extends a long distance through the Scythian regions
even to Greece. It is also named the Barbarian Sea or Scythian Lake, from the
barbarous peoples whose lands it washes. But the Western Ocean apparently
is the one which the Romans in their writings called the British Ocean. It
is of immense breadth, terrible and dangerous, and on the west encompasses
Britain to which is now given the name England. On the south it touches the
Frisians and the part of Saxony that belongs to our diocese of Hamburg. On the
east there are the Danes and the mouth of the Baltic Sea and the Norwegians,
who live beyond Denmark. On the north that ocean 
ows by the Orkney
Islands and then encircles the earth in boundless expanses. On the left there
is Hibernia, the fatherland of the Scots, which now is called Ireland. On the
right there are the crags of Norway, and farther on the islands of Iceland and
Greenland. There ends the ocean called dark [Arctic Ocean].
. What Einhard says about the unexplored length of this gulf has lately
been proved by the enterprise of the highly spirited men, Ganuz Wolf, a Dan-
ish leader, and Harold, the king of the Norwegians [Harald Hardradi, d.
After exploring the compass of this sea with much toilsome travel and many
dangers to their associates, they 
nally came back, broken and overcome by
the redoubled blows of the winds and pirates. But the Danes af
rm that many
have oftentimes explored the length of this sea. With a favorable wind some
four: women in the viking age
partner in a marriage, as is the case in this passage from
The Saga of the People
of Laxdale
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), pp.
. There was a man called Thorvald, the son of Halldor the Godi [chieftain] of
Garpsdal. He lived in Garpsdal at Gilsfjord and was a prosperous man, but not very
brave. He asked to marry Gudrun Osvifrsdaughter at the Althing when she was
fteen years old. The offer was not badly received but Osvifr remarked that as far
as marriage went, he and Gudrun were not evenly matched. Thorvald responded
the viking age: a reader
Sword bit limb
when the warlord laid
the sword’s edge
on the southern host;
there was danger for the army
until the sword-bearing earl
could clear twenty-
Danish longships.
Then the army was disbanded, and Earl Hakon went to Trondheim. He was not
at all pleased that Eirik had given quarter to Vagn Akason. People say that in this
battle Earl Hakon had sacri
ced his son, Erling, for victory and that, afterwards,
the hail storm arose and the tide of slaughter turned against the Jomsvikings.
Earl Eirik went to Uppland and then traveled east to his own territory.
Vagn Akason went with him. Then Eirik gave Ingibjorg, daughter of Thorkell
Leire, to Vagn in marriage. He also gave Vagn a 
ne longship, fully equipped
and complete with a crew. They parted the best of friends. Then Vagn went
south, home to Denmark, and afterwards became a distinguished man; many
great men are descended from him.

Earlier in the saga, Njal has warned Gunnar that, if he wants to avoid disaster, he
should not kill two members of the same family. Unfortunately, in the web of violence
the viking age: a reader
a log and letting it burn along its length. Egil grabbed the log and carried it
to the main room. He thrust the burning end up under the eaves and into
the bark roof where the faggot lining quickly caught 
re. He also found some
dry wood lying about and piled it outside the door. The drinkers in the main
room didn’t notice a thing until the roof was ablaze. Everyone rushed for the
door, but they couldn’t get out because of the piled wood, and because Egil
was blocking the doorway. He cut down men both in the doorway and just in
front of it. In next to no time, the house was engulfed with  ames and col-
lapsed, and everyone inside perished.
Egil ran back to the forest where he was reunited with his companions.
They all went back to the ship, and for his share of the plunder Egil claimed
the mead cask he had carried off with him . . . it turned out be full of silver.
Thorolf and his men were overjoyed at Egil’s return, and they set sail 
rst thing
in the morning. Aki and his two sons joined Egil’s group. Late that summer,
they sailed to Denmark where they lay in wait for merchant ships and plun-
dered whenever they could.
. At this time, Harald Gormsson had succeeded to the throne of Denmark
after the death of his father Gorm. The country was in turmoil, with many
Vikings lying off the coast. Aki knew a lot about Denmark; he was familiar
with both the land and the seas around it. So Egil often asked him about
the best places to plunder. When they entered Eyrarsund, Aki told him that
there was a large market town called Lund in the vicinity. There was a good
chance of 
nding plunder there, though the townspeople would probably resist.
The men were asked if they wanted to go ashore. Opinion was divided. Some
were all for it, while others were against the idea.
Thorolf was eager to go. Then Egil was asked for his opinion, and he recited
a poem:
We warriors—wolf’s prey—
must make swords glitter;
and do daring deeds
in the serpents’ season [summer];
let each of us eagerly
land here in Lund,
and before the setting of the sun
we’ll sing the spear-songs.
After that they got ready to go ashore. They made their way to the town, and as
five: viking warriors and their weapons
“You are taking offence at everything I say,” said Fafnir, “but, beware, the
treasure that was mine will be the cause of your death too.” “Everyone wishes
to keep all his treasure till his dying day,” said Sigurd, “but everyone has to
twelve: from odin to christ
Pontremoli, and it is a day’s journey from there to the Guild of Saint Mary.
Then comes the town of Luni, with the nearby Sands of Luni [La Lunigiana].
These pleasant sands are ten miles across, and the towns along them have a
sweeping view. Between Santa Maria del Suorte and Luni are the towns of
San Steffano and Sarzana. Some people claim that the Sands of Luni are the
location of the snake pit into which Gunnar was thrown. To the south is
Monte Capriglia.
The roads from Spain and Santiago di Compostella meet at Luni, and Lucca
is a day’s journey away. The cathedral there, St. Mary’s Church, contains the
x that Nicodemus had made in the likeness of God himself. This cru-
x has spoken twice: once to have a poor man provided with shoes, and the
other time, to testify on behalf of a man who had been slandered. South of
Lucca is the town called Pisa where merchants bring dromonds from Greece
and Sicily, and from Egypt, Syria, and Africa. To the south of Pisa is the town
of Arnblack [Arno Nero?].
After that comes the hospice of Matilda [countess of Tuscany, d.
], which
she established in ful
llment of a vow made at the monastery of Monte Cassino.
Every traveler has the right to stay there overnight. Next is Sanctinusborg
[San Gimignano ?], followed by Borgo Martini [Poggibonsi ?]. Then the route
reaches the 
ne, large town of Siena, which has a cathedral, the Church of
St. Mary. The women of Siena are very beautiful. It takes three days to get from
Siena to Lucca, one day to get from Siena to San Quirico, and two days to get
from Siena to Acquapendente. The route crosses a mountain called Montichi-
elli, and on this mountain is a castle called Mala Mulier [wicked woman], or
‘illa kona’ in our language [possibly in error for
, a local placename]. The
people here are very wicked. To the south of Montichielli is Acquapendente.
Everything from here as far north as the Appenines is called Ruscia [Tuscia?].
Twelve miles from Acquapendente is the town of St. Christina [Bolsena]
where the saint herself lies, and where her footprints are visible on the surface
of a rock. Eight miles from here is Borgo San Flaviano [Monte
ascone], and
a day further on is Viterbo where the Baths of Theodoric are located. From
here, it is ten miles to Sutri the larger which is a day’s journey from Sutri the
smaller. This latter town is near Monte Mario, just to the north of Rome. . . .
[Nikolas’s description of Rome and southern Italy is omitted.]
It is not far from there [Myra, a town in Turkey] to Cape Gelidonya in
Turkey and from there it is a two-day sea-voyage to Cyprus. On the way is the
Bay of Antalya, which Norsemen call Atalsfjord and Greeks call the Gulf of
Satalie. On Cyprus is a town called Beffa [Paphos], where there is an outpost
of the Varangian guard. Eirik Sveinsson died here. He was king of the Danes

], and brother of Saint Knut. It was Eirik who endowed Lucca
so that Danish speakers could have wine to drink without payment. He also
the viking age: a reader
and throughout the night until the approach of daybreak. Then all the Norse-
men went back to their ships.
At daybreak, the men aboard the king’s ship dressed and armed themselves,
and the men on the other ships did the same. Then they all rowed ashore. The
Scots had gone aboard the cog and taken all the property they could lay their
hands on. A little later, King Hakon came ashore, with some of his nobles and
a large body of men. The king had the cog unloaded and had the cargo carried
out to his ship by boat.
. When the cog was almost empty, a large number of Scots appeared;
there were so many of them that most people thought the king himself must
be present. Ogmund Crow-Dance was on a hillock with a company of men,
and the 
rst Scots on the scene made a feint at him and his men. When King
Hakon’s companions realized that the main Scottish force was approaching,
they begged him to get into a boat and row out to the ships, and send them a
much larger force. The king offered to stay ashore with them, but they were
reluctant to place him in such danger. So, he boarded a boat and rowed out
past the island to his 
eet. . . .
In the meantime, the battle developed ashore.
There were nearly sixty men from the king’s ship, and their leader was
Andres Club-foot. But most people reckon that there must have been a total
of eight or nine hundred Norsemen ashore. Nearly two hundred of them were
on the hill with Ogmund while the rest were on the beach.
Then the Scottish army drew near, and it was a very large army indeed.
Some reckon that there must have been 
ve hundred cavalrymen, though oth-
ers think that there were rather fewer than that. The Scottish cavalry was very
well equipped, with mail-clad horses and some Spanish horses with armor.
The Scots had a great many foot-soldiers, but they were poorly armed. Most
of them had bows and Irish axes.
The Norsemen on the hill began drifting down toward the sea to pre-
vent the Scots from encircling them. Andres Nikulasson went up the hill
and asked Ogmund if he didn’t think it would be wiser to go down to the
beach and join the force that was already there. Ogmund took that advice.
Andres told the men to go downhill, but not to rush as though they were
The Scots attacked them  ercely, pelting them with stones. Then a great
shower of weapons rained down on the Norsemen, and they withdrew, defend-
ing themselves. As they reached the downward slope of the hill, each man ran
faster than the next. The Norsemen on the beach below saw this, and thought
that their companions were attempting to 
ee, so they leapt aboard their boats.
Some of them escaped to the ships this way, but most of the boats sank, and
the viking age: a reader
Hjorleif landed at Hjorleif’s Head where there was a fjord that cut into the
headland. Hjorleif had two halls built there. One of them was eighteen fath-
oms long, and the other was nineteen fathoms. Hjorleif spent the winter there,
intending to sow seed in the spring. Since he had only one ox, he made his
slaves draw the plow. While Hjorlief and his companions were busy about the
house, Dufthak suggested to the slaves that they should slaughter the ox and
say that a bear had killed it. Then they should kill Hjorleif and his companions
when they went looking for the bear. So they told this tale to Hjorleif, and
when he and his comrades fanned out through the woods in search of the bear,
the slaves attacked them one by one and killed them all. . . . There were as
many dead men as there were slaves. Then they 
ed in the boat, taking with
them the wives and property of the murdered men, and sailed to some islands
that they had seen to the south-west. They settled there for a while.
Two of Ingolf’s slaves were called Karli and Vi
l. He sent them west along
the coast to look for his high-seat pillars, and, when they got to Hjorleif’s
Head, they found Hjorlief dead. They went back and broke the news to Ingolf,
who was greatly upset by Hjorleif’s murder. He went west to Hjorleif’s Head
and, when he saw Hjorleif’s body, he said, “It’s a sorry fate for a brave warrior
to be murdered by slaves. But now I see what happens to people who won’t
Ingolf saw to the burial of Hjorleif and his men and took possession of their
ship and property. Afterwards, he went up to the headland. He noticed that
there were some islands lying to the south-west and, since the boat was missing,
it occurred to him that the slaves might have gone there. So they went in search
of the slaves, and found them in the islands at a place called Eid. When Ingolf
and his men came upon them, they were having a meal and were so panic-
stricken that they 
ed in all directions. Ingolf killed the lot of them. Dufthak
died at a place called Dufthak’s cliff. Most of the slaves jumped off a precipice
that has since been named after them, and the islands where the slaves were
killed are now known as Vestmannaeyjar [the Isles of the Westerners] because
those who were slain there came from the west [from Ireland]. Then Ingolf and
his men returned to Hjorleif’s Head, taking the wives of the murdered men
with them. Ingolf stayed there for a second winter. The following summer he
headed west along the coast and spent the third winter near Ingolfsfell, to the
west of the Olfu River. It was at this time that Vi
l and Karli found the high-
seat pillars down from the heath near Arnarshval [Orn’s Hill].
. In the spring, Ingolf crossed the heath and settled at Reykjavik, where
his high-seat pillars had come ashore. The pillars are still standing in the hall
there. Ingolf took possession of the land between the Olfu river and Hvalfjord
[Whale Fjord] beyond the Brynjudal river. He also took the land from there
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
remained with unarmed hand, and with unshaken purpose of mind; [he had
been] trained to stand against the foe, and to arouse the 
ght, and [was] unused
to yield[ing].
There he spoke to thee, barbarian, in words such as these: “I know nothing
at all of the gold you seek, where it is concealed in the ground or in what hid-
ing place it is concealed. And if by Christ’s permission it were granted me to
know it, never would our lips relate it to thy ears. Barbarian, draw thy sword,
grasp the hilt, and slay; gracious God, to thy aid I commend me humbly.”
Therefore the pious sacri
ce was torn limb from limb. And what the 
soldier could not purchase by gifts, he began to seek by wounds in the cold
bowels [of the earth]. It is not strange, for there always were, and there always
reappear, those that are spurred on by evil rage against all the servants of the
Lord; so that what Christ’s decision has appointed for all, this they all do for
Christ, although with unequal deeds.
Thus [Blathmac] became a martyr for Christ’s name; and, as rumor bears
witness, he rests in the same place, and there many miracles are given for
his holy merits. There the Lord is worshipped reverently with 
tting honor,
with the saints by whose merits I believe my faults are washed away, and
to whom as a suppliant I have sent up gifts of praise. Christ refuses nothing
to these—they have brought him the greatest gains—and he reigns forever
with the good Father and the Holy Spirit, and is exalted without end in
everlasting splendor.

Findan was an Irishman from Leinster who was enslaved by Northmen around the
middle of the ninth century, perhaps in the
s. En route to Scandinavia, he managed
to escape from his captors in the Orkney Islands, where he was aided by some local
Christians. After journeying to the continent and making a pilgrimage to Rome, he
became a monk at the monastery of Rheinau in modern-day Switzerland around
he died in the late
s. Findan’s
was written by a fellow Irish monk not long after
his death. The text belongs to a genre known as hagiography, or the panegyric of a saint,
written to demonstrate the sanctity of the subject. A saint’s life is not identical either
to biography or history in the modern sense, although elements of both may be present.
A simple but effective characterization of the genre is simply “sacred biography.” This
obscure text deserves to be better known for the light it sheds upon several aspects of the
early Viking Age.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from “Vita Sancti Findani,” ed. Oswald Holder-Egger, in
Germaniae Historica
, ed. Heinrich Pertz. Scriptores (in Folio) (SS),
[Supplementa tomorum I-XII,
pars III. Supplementum tomi XIII],
the viking age: a reader

Snorri Sturluson’s
four: women in the viking age
“If we ever get back to Greenland,” she said to her companions, “I’ll kill
anyone who talks about what has happened. Our story must be that they stayed
behind here when we left.”
Early in the spring, they loaded up the brothers’ ship with as large a cargo
as they could get together and the ship could hold. Then they put to sea. They
had a good voyage and sailed into Eiriksfjord early in the summer. . . .
. Freydis returned to her farm which had survived her absence without
harm. She heaped rewards on her entire crew since she wanted her crimes
kept secret. After that, she remained on her farm. However, not everyone was
close-mouthed enough to keep silent about her wicked behavior and stop it
from getting out. After a while, her brother Leif heard the story. He thought
it was dreadful. Leif captured three of Freydis’s men and tortured them until
they confessed what had happened; their stories con
rmed one another.
“I can’t bring myself to deal with my sister Freydis as she deserves,” said
Leif, “but I prophesy that their descendants will never thrive.” And that’s how
things turned out: after that, everyone thought badly of her and her family. . . .

Saxo Grammaticus’s
History of the Danes,
written in Latin, covers the period from the
mythical, pre-Christian past up to the historical present in
books, and was completed
. Much of Book
is concerned with the exploits of the semi-legendary Danish
warrior-king Ragnar Lodbrok. Saxo includes the story of Ragnar’s infatuation with a
Norwegian warrior-woman named Ladgerda. Modern scholarship is skeptical about the
existence of such warrior-women.

Source: trans. Oliver Elton,
The Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus
(New York:
the viking age: a reader
. All my lineage shaped lines
praising Odin’s reign; I remember
precious poems, the work
of my ancestors’ age;
reluctantly—for Odin’s rule
always pleased the poet—
I show hostility to the husband
of Frigg, for I follow Christ.
. Lord of heroes, I leave off
calling the raven-king [Odin]
from heathendom a god; he heaped
disgrace on man’s good name.
. Let Freyr and Freyja rage at me
—last year I left Njord’s mysteries—
let mighty Thor’s fury face me,
let the gods 
nd grace in Grimnir [Odin];
with all my love I will call on Christ,
the only God and great father;
awful for me is the anger of the Son,
whose power prevails over the world.
. For followers of the faith
of Sogn’s prince [King Olaf], sacri
ces are banned;
we must shun most of all the
age-old ordinances of the norns;
all men throw Odin’s
tribe to the tempest;
I am forced to forsake Njord’s
kin to pray to Christ.

Olaf Haraldsson, or Olaf II (ca
), was the son of a minor Norwegian king.
After time spent raiding in England, he seized the Norwegian throne and completed the
uni cation of Norway begun by his great-grandfather, Harald Finehair. Part of his ambi-
tion was to spread Christianity to all Norwegians. This he did with a singular ferocity.
His high-handedness caused his subjects to rebel against him, and he was forced from the
the viking age: a reader
emperor gave him a place beyond the Elbe River so that if it were necessary
he might halt there.
. Accordingly the servants of God, who were with him and who were sta-
tioned at one time among the Christians and at other times among the pagans,
began to apply themselves to the word of God; and those whom they could
uence they directed into the way of truth, so that many were converted to
the faith by their example and teaching, and the number of those who should
be saved in the Lord increased daily. They themselves, being inspired by divine
love, in order to spread their holy religion, made diligent search for boys whom
they might endeavor to educate for the service of God. Harald also gave some
of his own household to be educated by them; and so it came about that in
a short time they established a school for twelve or more boys. Others they
took as servants or helpers, and their reputation and the religion which they
preached in God’s name were spread abroad. After they had spent two years or
more in this good work brother Autbert was overcome with a serious illness.
For this reason he was taken to Corvey where, as his weakness increased day
by day, at Easter time (as it had been revealed to him earlier by the Lord) he
died, passing away happily, as we believe.
. Meanwhile it happened that Swedish ambassadors had come to the
Emperor Louis, and, among other matters which they had been ordered to
bring to the attention of the emperor, they informed him that there were many
belonging to their people who desired to embrace the Christian religion and
that their king so far favored this suggestion that he would permit God’s priests
to reside there, provided that they might be deemed worthy of such a favor and
that the emperor would send them suitable preachers. When the God-fearing
emperor heard this he was greatly delighted, and a second time he endeavored
nd men whom he might send into those districts, who might discover
whether this people was prepared to accept the faith, as the ambassadors had
assured him, and might begin to inculcate the observance of the Christian
religion. So it came about that his serene majesty began once again to discuss
the matter with your abbot and asked him whether by chance he could 
one of his monks who, for the name of Christ, was willing to go into those
parts; or who would go and stay with Harald while God’s servant Anskar, who
was with him, undertook this mission. Thus it was that Anskar was summoned
by royal command to the palace, and was told that he should not even stop to
shave himself before coming into the royal presence. . . . .
. Then, by the good providence of God, the venerable abbot [Wala] found
for him among your fraternity a companion, namely the prior Witmar, who
was both worthy and willing to undertake this great task. He further arranged
that the good father Gislemar, a man approved by faith and good works, and by
his fervent zeal for God, should stay with Harald. Anskar then undertook the
the viking age: a reader
longer and is thirty miles broad. The river we are speaking about 
ows from
the Weald. They towed their ships up this river as far as the Weald, four miles
from the estuary of the river. There, in a fen, they destroyed a hastily built fort
with a few common men in it. Soon after this, Hastein sailed into the mouth
of the Thames with eighty ships. He built a forti
cation at Middletown and
the other army did the same at Appledore. This year, Wulfhere, archbishop
of Northumbria, died.

What follows is taken from MS A of the
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from David Dumville and Simon Keynes, general eds.,
Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition
(Cambridge: D.S. Brewer,

–), vol.
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
shone above your dragon-ship;
beaten gold burned from
the shields on your ships;
across the gilded 
the viking age: a reader
. As Nortmannia is the farthest country of the world, so we properly place
consideration of it in the last part of the book. By moderns it is called Nor-
way. Of its location and extent we made some mention earlier in connection
with Sweden, but this in particular must now be said, that in its length that
land extends into the farthest northern zone, whence also it takes its name. It
begins with towering crags at the sea commonly called the Baltic; then with
its main ridge bent toward the north after following the course of the shore
line of a raging ocean, it 
nally has its bounds in the Rhiphaean Mountains,
where the tired world also comes to an end. On account of the roughness of
its mountains and the immoderate cold, Norway is the most unproductive of
all countries, suited only for herds. They browse their cattle, like the Arabs, far
off in the solitudes. In this way do the people make a living from their livestock
by using the milk of the  ocks or herds for food and the wool for clothing.
Consequently, there are produced very valiant 
ghters who, not softened
by an overindulgence in fruits, more often attack others than others trouble
them. Even though they are sometimes assailed—not with impunity—by the
Danes, who are just as poor, the Norwegians live in terms of amity with their
neighbors, the Swedes. Poverty has forced them thus to go all over the world
and from piratical raids they bring home in great abundance the riches of the
lands. In this way they bear up under the unfruitfulness of their own country.
Since accepting Christianity, however, imbued with better teachings, they
have already learned to love the truth and peace and to be content with their
poverty—indeed, to disperse what they had gathered, not as before to gather
what had been dispersed. . . .
. In many places in Norway and Sweden cattle herdsmen are even men
of the highest station, living in the manner of patriarchs and by the work of
their own hands. All, indeed, who live in Norway are thoroughly Christian,
except those who are removed beyond the arctic tract along the ocean. These
people, it is said, are to this day so superior in the magic arts or incantations
that they profess to know what every one is doing the world over. Then they
also draw great sea monsters to shore with a powerful mumbling of words and
do much else of which one reads in the Scriptures about magicians. All this is
easy for them through practice. I have heard that women grow beards in the
extremely rough alps of that region and that the men live in the woods, rarely
exposing themselves to sight. They use the pelts of wild beasts for clothing and
in speaking to one another are said to gnash their teeth rather than to utter
words, so that they can hardly be understood by the peoples nearest to them.
That mountain region is named by Roman writers the Rhiphaean range, ter-
rible for its perpetual snows. Without these frosty snows the Skrite
ngi cannot
live and in their course over the deepest drifts they 
y even faster than the
wild beasts. In those same mountains there are such large numbers of big game
the viking age: a reader

The  rst part of the thirteenth-century Norwegian text
Konungs skuggsjá (Speculum
King’s Mirror
(see doc.
) consists of a father providing all sorts of useful
advice to his son. Much of the advice in this section relates to how a prospective merchant
should behave when abroad.

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Speculum Regale. Konungs-Skuggsjá
, ed. R. Keyser, P.A. Munch,
the viking age: a reader
gaining entrance to the tower, crossed the Seine and took up their position on
the bank. Nevertheless Odo, his horse at a gallop, got past the Northmen and
reached the tower, whose gates Ebolus opened to him. The enemy pursued
ercely the comrades of the count who were trying to keep up with him and
get refuge in the tower. . . . [The Danes were defeated in the attack.]
Now came the emperor Charles [the Fat], surrounded by soldiers of all
nations, even as the sky is adorned with resplendent stars. A great throng,
speaking many languages, accompanied him. He established his camp at the
foot of the heights of Montmartre, near the tower. He allowed the Northmen
to have the country of Sens to plunder; and in the spring he gave them
pounds of silver on condition that by the month of March they leave France
for their own kingdom. Then Charles returned [home], destined to an early

Spanish and Islamic sources provide information on ninth- and tenth-century Viking
activities in the Christian kingdoms of Galicia and Asturias and in the Islamic Umayyad
Emirate of Cordoba in the Iberian Peninsula, which experienced Viking raids in
, and
. Ibn al-Kutia (d.
) lived in Cordoba and
was the author of a historical work on the
History of the Conquest of Andalusia

which dealt with the period from the Islamic conquest to the early tenth century. Little
is known of the life of Ibn Idhari, a Moroccan whose history of the Maghreb and Iberia
of ca
contains important information extracted from earlier works now lost. The
Vikings were known in Al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) as madjus, in reference to their
polytheistic religion. The following passages use the Islamic calendar, which numbers
the years from the migration of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina (
CE). Gregorian
dates are given in parentheses.

Source: trans. J. Stefánsson, “The Vikings in Spain. From Arabic (Moorish) and Spanish Sources,”
Book of the Viking Club
VI, Pt.
( Jan.

), pp.
(a) Ibn al-Kutia. Year
Abd al-Rahman [II, Umayyad Emir of Cordoba,
] built the great
Mosque in Seville, and when the walls of this city had been destroyed by Madjus
he rebuilt them. The arrival of these barbarians struck terror into the
heart of the inhabitants. All  ed and sought a refuge, partly in the mountains of
the neighborhood, partly in Carmona. In all the west there was none who dared
three: early religion and belief
that breathed poison at him. So he swam
and went west along the coast all
the way to Eyjafjord. When he entered the fjord, there came toward him a bird
so huge that its wings reached to the mountains on either side of the fjord; with
it were many other birds, both large and small. Leaving there, he continued west
along the coast, and then went south to Breidafjord, which he entered. There, a
huge bull came toward him, wading into the sea and bellowing horribly; a horde of
Land-Spirits followed it. So he left and went south around Reykjaness, intending
to land at Vikarskeid, but there he was accosted by a mountain-giant with an iron
staff in his hand. The giant’s head was higher than the mountains, and with him
were many other giants. From there he headed east all the way along the coast.
“There was nothing but sands,” he said, “and a harborless coast with heavy
surf offshore; and the sea between Norway and Iceland is so wide that it’s not
possible for longships to cross it.” After that, King Harald turned his 
Burial chamber of the Gokstad ship burial. The ship was built in the late
ninth century.

Source: Paul B. du Chaillu,
The Viking Age
vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

, p.
the viking age: a reader
no gold-giver’s gift,
but fought the pale-faced foe
for the noisy sport with spears.
Few people lamented Ljot’s death for he had been a very violent man.
His family was Swedish and he had no relatives in Norway, but he had gone
there and made a fortune from dueling. He had killed many good farmers
after challenging them for their farms and ancestral lands. This had made him
exceptionally rich both in land and money.
After the duel, Egil went home with Frithgeir and stayed with him for
a short time before going south to Møre. Frithgeir and Egil parted on the
friendliest terms; Egil commissioned Frithgeir to claim the land that had been
owned by Ljot. Then he went on his way and arrived in Fjordane.
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
. King Harald had now become the sole ruler of Norway. It was then that
he remembered what that proud young lady had said to him. So he sent some
men to fetch her and took her to live with him. Their children were Alof (the
eldest), Hroerek, Sigtrygg, Frodi, and Thorgils.
. After King Harald had conquered the whole of the country, he attended
a banquet in Møre at the house of Earl Rognvald. He took a bath there and
had his hair cut and combed for the 
rst time in ten years. Earl Rognvald
himself did the cutting. Harald’s nickname had been Tanglehair, but now Earl
Rognvald renamed him Finehair. Everyone who saw him thought that this was a
tting name because his hair was both abundant and beautiful [see doc.

Denmark’s equivalent of Harald Finehair is Harald Bluetooth, the son of Gorm the Old, a
ruler in Jutland in the middle of the tenth century. On the large runestone at Jelling, a royal
site associated with Gorm and Harald, Harald claimed that he “won for himself all Denmark
and Norway” and made the Danes Christian. He was responsible for building some of
the monuments at Jelling and is thought to be the builder of a series of fortresses throughout
Denmark—possibly needed to consolidate his uni cation of the kingdom—as well as a
substantial timber bridge at Ravning, near Jelling. The end of Harald’s reign is  rmly placed
in the second half of the
s, when his son Svein Forkbeard led a rebellion against him, in
the course of which Harald died. The beginning of his reign is less  rmly  xed.

Source of Image: Carl Christian Rafn,
Runeindskrift i Piraeus: Inscription runique du Pirée
Société Royale des Antiquaires du Nord,
), p.
Source of Transcription: Lis Jacobsen and Erik Moltke,
Danmarks runeindskrifter
(Copenhagen: Ejnar
Munksgaards Forlag,

), DR

twelve: from odin to christ
rocking on their ropes,
the laden boats were lowered,
brought men to the mouth
of the cave in the cliff.
. Then King Sigurd continued on his way until he came to the island called
Ibiza. He fought and won his seventh battle there. As Halldor Skvaldri says:
The famous lord with his 
the viking age: a reader

The treatise
De Administrando Imperio
compiled and written between
by the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (r.
), was intended
as a con dential manual of kingcraft for his son. It has been called the most important
of the Byzantine sources concerned with the Ru
¯s. It contains a detailed account of the
so-called Viking Road to Byzantium—the network of waterways, lakes, and portages
that led from Scandinavia to Byzantium (Constantinople); the Dnieper River was a
key artery of this network.

Source: trans. R.J.H. Jenkins, Constantine Porphyrogenitus,
De Administrando Imperio
, ed. G. Moravesik
(new revised ed.; Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks,
), vol. I, pp.
. The monoxyla [dugout vessels of varying sizes] which come down from
outer Russia to Constantinople are from Novgorod, where Sviatoslav, son of
Igor, prince of Russia, had his seat and others from the city of Smolensk and
from Teliutza and Chernigov and from Vyshegrad. All these come down the
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
. . . . Then King Sverrir ordered his men to take down the awnings and row the
ships into the fjord, close to shore. “I want a cutter to row as rapidly as possible
to Soknadale with orders for our ships there to join us,” said Sverrir. “Then we’ll
one: the scandinavian homelands
one hill and not a single tree. It is hemmed in on all sides by very precipitous
crags that prohibit access except in one place, where also the water is sweet.
All sailors hold the place in awe, especially, however, pirates. Hence it got the
name by which it is called,
[Holy Land, now Helgoland]. From the
of Saint Willebrord we learned that it was called Fosetisland and that it
is situated on the boundary between the Danes and Frisians. There also are
many other islands off Frisia and Denmark, but none of them is so noteworthy.
. Fyn is a fairly important island, lying back of that called Wendila in the
entrance of the Barbarian Gulf [Baltic Sea]. It is close to the region named
Jutland, from every part of which the passage to Fyn is very short. There is
the great city of Odense. Small islands encircle it, all abounding in crops. And
it is to be observed that if you pass through Jutland into Fyn, your route is a
straight way to the north. But your course faces east in going through Fyn
into Zealand. There are two passages to Zealand, one from Fyn, the other
from Aarhus; each place is an equal distance from Zealand. The sea is naturally
tempestuous and full of two kinds of danger so that, even if you have a fair
wind, you can hardly escape the hands of pirates.
. Zealand is an island, very large in extent, situated in an inner bight of
the Baltic Sea. It is very celebrated as much for the bravery of its men as for the
abundance of its crops. It is two days’ journey in length and almost the same
in breadth. Its largest city is Roeskilde, the seat of Danish royalty. This island,
equally distant from Fyn and from Scania, may be crossed in a night. To the
west of it lies Jutland, with the cities of Aarhus and Aalborg, and Wendila; to
the north, where it is also a desert, is the Norwegian strait; to the south, the
aforementioned Fyn and the Slavic Gulf. On the east it faces the headlands of
Scania, where is situated the city of Lund.
. There is very much gold in Zealand, accumulated by the plundering of
pirates. These pirates, called Vikings by the people of Zealand, by our people,
Ascomanni, pay tribute to the Danish king for leave to plunder the barbarians
who live about this sea in great numbers. Hence it also happens that the license
granted them with respect to enemies is frequently misused against their own
people. So true is this that they have no faith in one another, and as soon as
one of them catches another, he mercilessly sells him into slavery either to one
of his fellows or to a barbarian. In many other respects, indeed, both in their
laws and in their customs, do the Danes run contrary to what is fair and good.
None of these points appears to me worth discussing, unless it be that they
immediately sell women who have been violated and that men who have been
caught betraying his royal majesty or in some other crime would rather be
beheaded than 
ogged. No kind of punishment exists among them other than
the ax and servitude, and then it is glorious for a man who is convicted to take
his punishment joyfully. Tears and plaints and other forms of compunction,
three: early religion and belief
So Glam fell out of the door,  at on his back, with Grettir on top of him.
The Moon was shining brightly, but was hidden now and again by thick clouds.
At the very moment when Glam fell out of the house, the clouds cleared and
he glared up 
ercely at Grettir. Grettir himself has said that this was the only
sight that ever terri
ed him. Then everything got too much for Grettir. What
with his own weariness and the horrible rolling of Glam’s eyes, he felt so faint
that he could not draw his short sword but lay there suspended between this
world and the next. Glam showed that he had more evil power than other
ghosts when he spoke these words:
“Grettir, you have put a lot of effort into 
nding me, but don’t be surprised
if it doesn’t bring you much luck. Let me tell you something: you have now
achieved only half the strength and vigor that would have been yours in the
future if you had not met up with me. I can’t take away the strength you
already have, but I can make sure that you will never be stronger than you
are now, though you are quite strong enough, as many will 
nd to their cost.
Until now, your deeds have brought you fame, but in the future they will lead
to outlawry and slaughter, and almost everything you do will bring you bad
luck and misfortune. You’ll be an outlaw, and your fate will be to live shelter-
less and alone forever. And now I lay this curse upon you: these eyes of mine
will always be before you, so you will 
nd it intolerable to be alone, and that
is what will kill you.”
When the creature had 
nished speaking, the weakness that had overcome
Grettir left him. He drew his short sword, beheaded Glam, and placed the head
down at his crotch. Then the farmer came outside. He had got dressed while
Glam was talking, but did not dare come any nearer till he was dead. Thorhall
praised God and thanked Grettir for defeating this foul spirit. Then they went
to work and burned Glam to ashes. Afterwards, they carried the ashes away in
a leather bag and buried them far from pastures and thoroughfares. After that,
they went home in the early dawn.
Grettir lay down as he was very stiff, but Thorhall sent for men from the
nearest farms to show and tell them what had happened. Everyone who heard
about Grettir’s deed was overawed by it. The general opinion was that Grettir
Asmundarson had no equal in the entire country for strength, courage, and
every other accomplishment. Thorhall sent Grettir on his way with costly
gifts. He gave him a good horse and  ne clothes because the ones he had been
wearing had been torn to shreds. They parted on very friendly terms.
Grettir rode to As in Vatnsdale where Thorvald welcomed him warmly and
asked him for all the details of his 
ght with Glam. Grettir told him everything
and said that he had never experienced such a trial of strength as their long
struggle had been. Thorvald told him to behave with restraint.
viking life and death
suggests the possibility of an indigenous domestic drama in Iceland. There is a similar
scene in
Njal’s Saga
in which Hoskuld’s sons re-enact the scene of their uncle Hrut’s
divorce. Again, many of the Eddic poems have a dialogic structure, which suggests the
possibility of dramatic or semi-dramatic presentation.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
viking life and death
the man who answered said his name was Aki. Egil asked him if he wanted
out of the pit, and Aki replied that they were desperate to get out. So Egil and
his men took the rope they had been tied with, lowered it into the pit, and
hauled up three men.
Aki told them that these were his two sons and that they were Danes who
had been captured the previous summer.
“I was treated well during the winter,” said Aki, “for I did much of the
farm management, but my sons were treated like slaves and they didn’t enjoy
that at all. In the spring, we decided to run away, but we were caught and
imprisoned in this pit.”
“You must know how these buildings are laid out,” said Egil. “Where’s the
best place to get out?”
Aki said there was another plank partition. “Break through it, and you’ll be
in the barn, and you can 
nd your way out of that easily enough.”
So Egil and his men broke through the partition into the barn and escaped
from there. The night was pitch black, and Egil’s men wanted to make for the
woods as quickly as possible. But Egil said to Aki, “If you’re familiar with the
farmstead, you should be able to show us the way to something worth steal-
ing.” Aki said that there were lots of valuable items for the taking: “And there’s
a big loft where the farmer sleeps; there’s no shortage of weapons in there.”
Egil told his men to go to the loft. When they reached the top of the stairs,
they saw that the loft was open. There was a light inside and servants were
making up beds. Egil sent some of the group outside to make sure that no one
escaped. Then he leapt into the loft and grabbed some of the many weapons.
He and his men killed everyone in the loft and equipped themselves with
arms. Then Aki pulled open a trapdoor in the  oor and told them to go down
to the room below. So they took a light and down they went. They found
themselves in the farmer’s store room that contained many valuable objects
and a great deal of silver. Each man gathered up an armload of treasure and
carried it off, but Egil picked up a large mead cask and put it under his arm.
Then they headed for the woods.
When they got there, Egil came to a halt and said, “This is no way for
warriors to behave. We’ve stolen the farmer’s property, but he doesn’t know a
thing about it—we should be ashamed of ourselves. Let’s go back to the farm
and tell them what’s been happening.”
Everyone else was against the idea. They said they wanted to return to
the ship, but Egil put down the mead cask and started running toward the
farm. When he got there, he saw manservants carrying serving dishes from
the kitchen to the main room. He also saw a large 
re in the kitchen with
cooking pots over it. He went across to the 
re. Great logs had been brought
in and the 
re had been lit, as was the custom there, by kindling one end of
the viking age: a reader
“There’s no point in giving you advice if you’re afraid of everything,” said
Regin. “You don’t have the courage of your kinsfolk.”
Sigurd rode to the heath, but Regin, who was very frightened, turned
back. Then Sigurd dug a hole, and, as he was doing so, an old man with a
long beard came up to him and asked what he was doing there. Sigurd told
him. “That’s not a great idea,” replied the old man. “You should dig several
holes for the blood to run into; then you can sit in one of them and strike at
the serpent’s heart.”
With that, the old man vanished and Sigurd dug the holes as he had been
When the dragon slithered toward the water, the earth quaked violently
and the ground shook all around him. He blew out poison all over the path
in front of him, but Sigurd was neither frightened nor dismayed by the din.
As soon as the serpent crawled over his hole, Sigurd thrust his sword under its
left shoulder and it went in right up to the hilt. Then Sigurd leapt up from his
hole and pulled out the sword; his arms were bloodied right up to the shoulder.
When the great serpent felt its death wound, it lashed out with head and tail,
and everything in its path was destroyed.
After he had received his death wound, Fafnir asked Sigurd, “Who are you?
Who is your father and who are your kinsfolk that you are brave enough to
take up weapons against me?”
“No one knows who my family is,” answered Sigurd. “I am called ‘Noble
Beast’; I have neither father nor mother and I have come here all alone.”
“If you have neither father nor mother,” said Fafnir, “what miracle produced
you? You know that you are lying, although you won’t tell me your name on
this my dying day.”
“My name is Sigurd,” he replied, “and Sigmund was my father.” “Who
goaded you into doing this deed,” asked Fafnir, “and why did you allow your-
self to be persuaded? Hadn’t you heard that everyone is afraid of me and my
helmet of terror? Bright-eyed youth, you had a brave father.”
“My own 
erce courage incited me to this deed and helped me to carry
it out,” replied Sigurd. “So too did this strong arm and this keen sword with
which you are now familiar. Few men are brave in maturity who have been
timid in their youth.”
“I know that you would have been able to 
ght in anger if you had grown
up surrounded by your family,” said Fafnir, “but I 
nd it strange that a captive
would have had the courage to attack me, for few prisoners-of-war are brave
in a 
“Are you reproaching me for being far from my kinsmen?” said Sigurd.
“I may have been a captive, but I was never in fetters—you yourself have found
out that I was free.”
The conversion of the Scandinavians was a lengthy and complicated process that spanned
virtually the entire Viking Age. It was by no means a linear process: it occurred earlier
in some regions than others, and moved at different paces in different parts of the Viking
world. Saint Anskar (d.
), known as the “Apostle of the North,” was active in Den
mark and Sweden in the early ninth century, and other missionaries are also known, but
the success of these early missions is difcult to gauge. Documentary sources suggest that a
crucial phase in the conversion process occurred when rulers in Scandinavia opted to convert
from the mid-tenth century onward; the extent to which the sources are to be trusted on
this matter is, however, a subject of considerable debate. (Archaeological evidence, outside
the scope of this book, points to a rather different story in some regions.) By the twelfth
century, however, the process had largely run its course in most parts of the Scandinavian
world and the Vikings had joined the mainstream of Christian European peoples. Vikings
became Crusaders and pilgrims, and those who had once attacked churches and monaster
ies became soldiers of Christ, or undertook pilgrimages from Scandinavia to Christendom’s
holiest places.
One signicant problem with understanding conversion relates to the nature of the
sources. There is no coherent contemporary narrative of the conversion of the Northern
peoples, no Scandinavian equivalent to Bede’s
Ecclesiastical History of the English
), to guide any examination. Few contemporary sources come to us from
Scandina-vians, and those that do exist are mostly from Christian writers such as Rim
bert or Adam of Bremen, outsiders looking in, who were hardly unbiased observers. What
Scandinavian sources there are were largely composed long after conversion, though this
does not automatically make them untrustworthy. A related difculty is that these texts are
unevenly distributed across the Viking world: sources for the conversion are sparse in places
such as Ireland, Scotland, Normandy, Russia, and Greenland, while in Scandinavia itself,
fourteen: the end of the viking age
the country could bear. He summoned the whole army to meet him early in
the summer at Bergen. . . . [Hakon then traveled to Scotland and through the
Hebrides; negotiations with the king of Scots were opened.]

. . . . As a result of the discussions and peace negotiations carried on
between his representatives and those of the king of Scots, King Hakon decided
to send messengers to meet the king of Scots face to face. . . . [King Hakon’s
envoys] met the king of Scots in the market town of New Ayr. He received
them civilly, but with no great warmth. When they discussed peace, the king
gave the impression that he would probably come to terms, but said that he
would make up his mind and then send envoys to the king of Norway, with
whatever offers seemed appropriate to himself and his council.
After that, King Hakon’s men went on their way, but it was another day
before the king of the Scots’ envoys reached King Hakon, and peace talks
began. King Hakon had made a list of all the islands off the west of Scotland
which he laid claim to, and the king of Scots named certain islands that he was
unwilling to give up, namely Bute, Arran, and the Cumbraes. Other than that,
there was very little separating the positions of the two kings, and yet no peace
agreement could be reached. As a tactic, the Scots prolonged negotiations so as
to avoid arriving at any agreement at all, for the summer was almost over and
weather conditions were worsening. At this juncture, the envoys went back to
the king of Scots. . . . [Hakon decided to bring matters to a head and prepared
for battle, but a storm drove some of his ships ashore.]
. When the Scots saw that Hakon’s ships were being driven ashore, they
rallied and charged down at the Norsemen, launching weapons at them. But
the Norsemen defended themselves, using the beached cog [a large cargo ship]
as protection. From time to time, the Scots attacked and just as often they
withdrew. Few men were killed there, but many were wounded.
At this point, King Hakon sent some troops ashore in boats, for the storm
was abating a bit. As this poem says:
The battle-blessed
spoiler of bright swords
sent his eager-minded men late
to the battle on the beach;
the prince’s people
brought down the boastful dale-dwellers, won
praise for their prince.
After that, the king, along with Thorlaug Bosi, went back out to his ship in
a small boat rowed by his personal attendants. As soon as King Hakon’s troops
came ashore, the Scots 
ed inland. The Norsemen stayed ashore all evening
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
ready and they could not get round Reykjaness. Then one of the boats broke
loose with Herjolf on board. He landed at a place that is now called Herjolf’s
Haven. Floki spent the winter in Borgarfjord. The following summer, he and
Herjolf met up again and sailed back to Norway. When they were asked about
Iceland, Floki spoke ill of the place, but Herjolf recounted both the good and
the bad. Thorolf said that butter dripped from every blade of grass in the land
they had discovered, and for that reason he was called Thorolf Butter. . . .
. [Two] sworn-brothers, Ingolf and Leif, 
tted out a big ship they owned
and went looking for the land, by now called Iceland, which Floki of the Ravens
had discovered. They found the place and stayed at South Alptafjord in the East-
fjords. They were better pleased with the southern part of the country than with
the north. They stayed in the land for a winter and then sailed back to Norway.
After that, Ingolf laid their property aside for a journey to Iceland, but Leif
went on a Viking raid in the west. When he was raiding in Ireland, he found
a large earth-house. It was dark when he went in, until there was a  ash of
light from a sword that some man was holding. He killed the man and took
the sword and a great deal of money from him. From then on, Leif was called
Hjorleif [the Sword]. Hjorleif raided throughout Ireland and collected a lot of
property. He captured ten slaves there; their names were: Dufthak, Geirrod,
Skaldbjorn, Halldor, and Drafdit; the others are not named. After that, Hjorleif
returned to Norway where he met his sworn-brother, Ingolf. He had already
married Helga Orn’s daughter, the sister of Ingolf.
. That winter, Ingolf prepared a great sacri
ce hoping to 
nd omens regard-
ing his future. But Hjorleif would never make sacri
cial offerings. The omens
directed Ingolf toward Iceland, so each of the kinsmen 
tted out a ship for the jour-
ney. On board Hjorleif’s ship was his plunder from raiding, while on Ingolf’s ship
was the property they owned jointly. When everything was ready, they put to sea.
. That summer, when Ingolf and Hjorleif went off to settle Iceland,
Harald Finehair had been king of Norway for twelve years; six thousand and
seventy three years had passed since the beginning of the world, and eight
hundred and seventy four years had gone by since the birth of Christ.
The sworn-brothers sailed in convoy until they sighted Iceland, but then
they got separated. When Ingolf saw Iceland, he threw his high-seat pillars
overboard, hoping for an omen, and vowed that he would settle wherever the
pillars came ashore. He landed at a place now known as Ingolf’s Headland, but
Hjorleif was driven west along the coast. He ran out of drinking water, so his
Irish slaves began to knead meal and butter together, claiming that this would
slake their thirst: they called the mixture
No sooner was it prepared
than there was a heavy rain, and they collected water in the awnings. When
grew moldy, they tossed it overboard, and it drifted ashore at the
place now called Minnthak’s Shoal.
the viking age: a reader
walked on the rock where he was hidden, calling his name from all sides.
He preferred to endure the wild sea rather than fall into the hands of men
whose savagery outstripped that of monstrous beasts. Though starving, he
made light of the massive waves, and remained in the same place all that day
and the following night. Next day, his enemies stayed in another part of the
island and the force of the sea diminished, no longer reaching the threshold
of his refuge, though sometimes, driven by the wind, it surged right into his
cave. So Findan arose, and, fearing the heathens, crept cautiously through
the scrub in search of an escape-route. He thought, too, that the land around
him had human inhabitants. Reaching the end of the island, however, he
discovered that on one side lay the vast sea while the other side was indented
by a shallow bay.
Robbed of his physical strength and overcome by the terrible weakness
brought on by imprisonment and hunger, Findan did not dare entrust himself
to the sea. With redoubled efforts he scoured the island for three days on end,
subsisting on herbs and water as he sought a way to get off. And so he remained
there until, on the third day, he saw sea monsters and huge dolphins playing
and diving close by the shore. Overcome by divine mercy, he contemplated
these creatures with an untroubled mind and poured out these tearful prayers
from the bottom of his heart:
“God, creator both of these brute beasts and of me, a human being, you
gave them the sea as their element and to me you gave the earth on which to
set my feet. As is your merciful custom, help me in my present troubles. From
this moment, I dedicate my service to you in body and soul, and I shall never
think again of the enticements of this world. I shall seek you in the dwellings
of the apostles. I shall journey into exile and never return to my homeland.
From this moment, I shall serve you with all my strength, and follow you
without a backward glance.”
ed by this strong faith, he plunged fully dressed into the sea. And
what I shall relate now is miraculous! Instantly, divine mercy made his cloth-
ing rigid so that its support kept him from sinking. It seemed to him that his
clothes swam and bore him safely to land through the swollen waves. He climbed
to the hilltops, looking for houses or smoke rising from house roofs. For two
days he lived on a scanty diet of vegetation, but at dawn of the third day he saw
people walking about in the distance. Though he had no idea who they were,
his heart leapt within him, and he went up to them without hesitation. They
welcomed him and took him to the bishop of the neighboring community.
This bishop had studied his letters in Ireland and had a good knowledge of
the language. Findan stayed two years, receiving many kindnesses from this
humane and generous man. . . .
three: early religion and belief
One, “and when Ymir died, such a torrent of blood gushed from his wounds
that they drowned the whole race of Frost-giants in it, all except for one, called
Bergelmir, who escaped with his household. He and his wife boarded their ark
and were saved, and it is from them that the Frost-giant families are descended,
as it says here in
Numberless winters
before the world was created,
Bergelmir was born;
what I recall 
rst is
how that clever giant
took refuge on his ark.”
. “What did Borr’s sons do then to make you regard them as gods?” asked
“There’s a lot to be said about that,” replied the High One. “They picked
Ymir up and carried him to the middle of Ginnungagap where they created
the earth from his body. They made the sea and the lakes from his blood, the
land from his 
esh, and the mountains from his bones; rocks and boulder
were made out of his teeth, his molars, and any broken bones.”
“They made the sea from the blood that 
owed and gushed freely from
his wounds” added Just as High. “Then, when they had formed the earth and
rmed it into shape, they encircled it with the sea, which most men will regard
as impossible to cross.”
Then Third said, “They also took Ymir’s skull and made the sky out of it,
raising it up over the earth at four corners, and setting a dwarf under each of
them. These dwarfs are called: East, West, North, and South. Next, they col-
lected the sparks and glowing embers that had been hurled out of Muspellsheim
and were 
ying about freely. They placed these throughout the vast heavens to
light up the sky above and the earth below. They allotted positions to all these
burning masses. Some were 
xed in the 
rmament, while others moved about,
but it was Borr’s sons who assigned their positions and directed their courses.
And thus, according to ancient lore, it became possible to distinguish one day
from the next and reckon up the years;
tells us that this is what things
were like above the earth before that time,
The sun did not know
where her dwelling was,
the moon did not know
his own might and
the viking age: a reader
They carried the cargo outside and built themselves a house on a lakeside
further inland. They made themselves comfortable there. Freydis, in the mean-
time, had a shipload of timber felled.
Now winter set in and the brothers suggested that they should hold games
and have some entertainments. These amusements continued for a while until
relations became strained and the two parties fell out. The games ceased and
there was no more coming and going between the houses; this situation lasted
for much of the winter.
Early one morning, Freydis got out of bed and put on her clothes except for
her shoes. Outside, a heavy dew had fallen. She dressed in her husband’s cloak
and went to the door of the brothers’ house. Someone had just gone out and
left the door half-open. She opened it fully and stood in the entry for a time
without saying anything. Finnbogi was lying at the far end of the hall. He was
awake and said, “What do you want here, Freydis?”
She replied, “I want you to get up and come outside with me because I’d
like to have a talk with you.” He did as she asked and they walked to a tree
trunk lying near the wall of the house and sat down. “How are things going?”
she asked.
“I like the land well enough,” he answered, “but I don’t like the hostility
between us. In my opinion, it has arisen out of nothing.”
“Very true,” she said. “That’s my opinion too. But my reason for coming
to see you is that I want to swap ships with you and your brother, since yours
is bigger than mine, and I want to leave here.” “That will be 
ne with me if
ne by you,” he said.
On this note, they parted. Finnbogi went back to bed and Freydis went
home. When she climbed into bed, her feet were so cold that Thorvard woke
up and asked why she was so cold and wet. She answered angrily, “I went
to ask the brothers if I could buy their ship as I wanted a bigger one and this
made them so angry that they beat me and treated me abusively. But you,
you miserable creature, won’t avenge either my shame or your own. Now
I know for sure that I’m not in Greenland and if you won’t avenge this, I’ll
divorce you.”
Unable to put up with her abuse, Thorvald ordered his men to get up right
away and fetch their weapons. They did so and went straight to the brothers’
house, bursting in on them while they were still asleep. They seized them, tied
them up, and brought them out one by one. Freydis had each one killed as he
came out. Soon all the men were dead and only the women were left. No one
wanted to kill them. Then Freydis said, “Hand me an ax.”
This was done. She attacked all 
ve women and left them dead. After this
terrible deed, they returned to their own house, and it was only too clear that
Freydis thought she had acted very cleverly.
the viking age: a reader
The king declared that no compensation would be paid for Olvir’s death,
and con
scated all his property. As for the other men, the most blameworthy
were executed, mutilated, exiled, or 
ned. Then King Olaf went back to
Nidaros. . . .

. There was a man called Guthbrand of the Dales who ruled like a king
over the valley where he lived although he was only a Hersir. In terms of power
and property, Sigvat the Skald compared Guthbrand with Erling Skjalgsson,
and this is what Sigvat said about Erling:
I knew only one shield-breaker
who came close to you;
his name was Guthbrand; this guardian
of men governed far and wide.
Gold-giver, I declare that
you two are equally great;
he who boasts he is better
only deceives himself.
Guthbrand had a son who comes into this story. When Guthbrand heard
that King Olaf had come to Loar and that he was compelling people to adopt
Christianity, he sent round a war-arrow and summoned all the Dalesmen to
meet him at a farm called Hundthorp. They all came, and there were a great
many of them, because Hundthorp was near a lake called Lauger and so men
could get there by land or water with equal ease. Then Guthbrand called a
meeting and addressed them, saying,
“A man by the name of Olaf has come to Loar intending to force us to
adopt a new faith, different from the one we have held till now. He wants us
to destroy all our gods, claiming that his god is much greater and stronger. It’s
strange that the earth doesn’t open up under his feet when he says such things
and that our gods allow him to go on living. But Thor has always supported
us, and I’m certain that if we carry him from his place in the temple, here on
this farm, then Olaf, his god, and his men will all vanish into nothing, as soon
as he looks at them.”
They all cheered and said that if Olaf came to Hundthorp, he would never
escape alive. “And he won’t dare go further south through the Dales,” they said.
Then they assigned

men to reconnoiter northwards as far as Breida. This
force was led by Guthbrand’s eighteen-year-old son and many 
rst-rate men
went with him. They came to a farm called Hof and, after they had been there
for three days, they were joined by a large number of people who had 
from Lesjar, Loar, and Vaga because they did not want to become Christian.
twelve: from odin to christ
whether he would be willing to undertake this journey. Why say more? At the
king’s command Anskar was summoned to the palace and the abbot explained
to him everything that had been done and explained the reason for his being
summoned. He replied that as an obedient monk he was ready to serve God
in all things that were commanded of him. He was then led into the presence
of the emperor, who asked him whether on God’s behalf and for the sake of
preaching the Gospel among the Danish peoples, he would become the com-
panion of Harald, whereupon he replied that he was entirely willing. When
the abbot had further stated that he would by no means impose this upon him
as a command, but if of his own free will he chose to do it he would be pleased
and would give him his authoritative consent. He replied that he none the less
chose the task and desired by all means to carry it through.
. . . The two monks [Anskar, and Autbert, who had volunteered to accom-
pany him] were subsequently brought before the king, who was grati
ed by
their willingness and desire to undertake this task and he gave them whatever
was necessary for the performance of their ministerial functions, including
writing cases, tents and other things that would be helpful and which seemed
likely to be needed on their great journey. He bade them go with Harald and
commanded them to devote the utmost care to his profession of faith and by
their godly exhortations to con
rm in the faith both Harald and the compan-
ions who had been baptized together with him, for fear lest at the instigation
of the devil they should return to their former errors, and at the same time by
their preaching to urge others to accept the Christian religion.
Having then been then dismissed by the emperor they had none to render
them any menial service, as no one in the abbot’s household would go with
them of his own accord and he would compel no one to go against his will.
Harald, to whom they had been committed, was as yet ignorant and untaught
in the faith and was unaware how God’s servants ought to behave. Moreover,
his companions, who had been but recently converted and had been trained
in a very different faith, paid them little attention. Having started then with
considerable dif
culty they arrived at Cologne. At that time there was a ven-
erable bishop there named Hadebald. He had compassion for their needs and
presented them with a good boat in which they might place their possessions
and in which there were two cabins that had been suitably prepared for them.
When Harald saw the boat he decided to remain with them in it, so that he and
they could each have a cabin. This tended to promote an increase of friendship
and good will between them; his companions also, from this time forward,
paid careful attention to their wants.
On leaving the boat they passed through Dorestad and, crossing the neigh-
boring territory of the Frisians, came to the Danish border. As King Harald
could not for the time being obtain peaceful possession of his kingdom, the
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
their spoils, they met a large Viking 
eet. They fought the same day and the
Danes won.
At midwinter, Charles [Carloman II], king of the Franks, died, killed by a
wild boar. The year before, his brother [Louis III] had died. He, too, had ruled
the western kingdom and died in the year of the eclipse. He was son of the
Charles whose daughter King Athelwulf of Wessex married [Carloman II was
the son of Louis II; Charles the Bald was actually his grandfather].
That year, the good Pope Marinus died. He had given liberty to the English
College at the request of Alfred, king of Wessex. The pope sent King Alfred
the splendid gift of a fragment of the cross on which Christ suffered. That same
year, the Danish army advanced on East Anglia and broke the peace treaty
with King Alfred.
]. This year, the Danish army which had earlier gone east in the land
of the Franks came back west along the River Seine and took winter quarters
in the city of Paris. That same year, King Alfred occupied London and the
entire English people came to him, except for those who were in the power
of the Danes. Then he entrusted the city to the care of Athelred the alderman.
\n–\t]. This year, the Danish army crossed the bridge at Paris and
followed the Seine as far as the Marne. Then they went along the Marne to
Chézy and the Yonne, and occupied both positions for two winters. . . . In
the same year as the army crossed the bridge at Paris, Athelhelm the alderman
took the alms of the West Saxons and of King Alfred to Rome.
. In this year Beocca the alderman took the alms of the West Saxons
and of King Alfred to Rome. Also, Queen Athelswith, King Alfred’s sister,
died and her body lies in Pavia. . . . In the same year, Archbishop Athelred and
Alderman Athewold died in the same month.

. In this year, no one traveled to Rome except two couriers who were
sent with letters by King Alfred.

. In this year, Abbot Beornhelm of Wessex took the alms of Wessex and
King Alfred to Rome. Guthrum, king of the Northmen, died. His baptismal
name was Athelstan and he was King Alfred’s godson. He lived in East Anglia
where he had 
rst settled. That year, the Danish army on the Seine moved to
Saint-Lô, which is situated between the Bretons and the Franks. The Bretons
fought them and won. The Danes were driven into a river, where many of
them drowned. At this time, Plegmund was chosen as archbishop by the pope
and the whole people.

. This year, the army which we have already spoken about moved back
westwards to Boulogne where they boarded ships and crossed all at once with
their horses and equipment. They arrived at the mouth of the Limne in
ships. The mouth of the Limne is in the east of Kent, at the eastern end of the
great forest we call Anderida. This forest runs from east to west

miles or
the viking age: a reader
peoples from abroad. He imposed everlasting privileges and laws on the people,
authorized and decreed by the will of the chief men, and he compelled them
to dwell together in peace. He raised up churches that had been demolished
to the ground, he rebuilt temples that had been ruined by the visitations of
the heathens, and he made new and extended the walls and defenses of cities.
He subdued the Britons who resisted him, and he amply victualed the whole
of the realm that had been granted to him from the Breton food-renders. . . .
one: the scandinavian homelands
unless it be that his decision, which they sometimes reluctantly follow, seems
preferable. And so they enjoy equality at home. When they go to war everyone
yields perfect obedience to the king or to the one who, more skilled than the
rest, is preferred by the king. Whenever in 
ghting they are placed in a critical
situation, they invoke the aid of one of the multitude of gods they worship.
Then after the victory they are devoted to him and set him above the others.
By common consent, however, they now declare that the God of the Christians
is the most powerful of all. Other gods often fail them, but he always stands
by, a surest “helper in due time in tribulation” [Ps.
. Of these Swedish peoples, the so-called Goths live nearest to us; there are
other Goths known as eastern. Västergötland, indeed, borders on the Danish
territory called Scania, from which they also say it takes seven days to reach
Skara, the great city of the Goths. Thence Östergötland extends along the sea,
the one they call the Baltic, up to Björkö. . . .
. Between Norway and Sweden dwell the Wärmilani and Finns and oth-
ers, who are now all Christians and belong to the Church of Skara. On the
nes of the Swedes and Norwegians toward the north live the Skrite
[Sámi], who, they say, outstrip wild beasts at running. Their largest city is
Hälsingland . . . there are besides countless other Swedish peoples, of whom we
have learned that only the Goths, the Wärmilani, and a part of the Skrite
and those in their vicinity, have been converted to Christianity.
. Let us now proceed to give a brief description of Sueonia or Sweden.
On the west, Sweden has the Goths and the city of Skara; on the north, the
Wärmilani with the Skrite
ngi, whose chief city is Hälsingland; on the south,
the length of the Baltic Sea, about which we have spoken before. There is the
great city of Sigtuna. On the east, Sweden touches the Rhiphaean Mountains,
where there is immense wasteland, the deepest snows, and where hordes of
human monsters prevent access to what lies beyond. There are Amazons, and
Cynocephali, and Cyclops who have one eye on their foreheads; there are those
Solinus calls Himantopodes, who hop on one foot, and those who delight in
esh as food, and as they are shunned, so may they also rightfully be
passed over in silence. The king of the Danes, often to be remembered, told
me that a certain people were in the habit of descending from the highlands
into the plains. They are small of stature but hardly matched by the Swedes in
strength and agility. “Whence they come is not known. They come up unex-
pectedly,” he said, “sometimes once in the course of a year or after a three-year
period. Unless they are resisted with all one’s might, they lay waste the whole
region and then withdraw.” Many other things are usually mentioned, but in
my effort to be brief I have not mentioned them, letting those speak about
them who declare they themselves have seen them. Now we shall say a few
words about the superstitions of the Swedes. . . .
viking life and death
. There are some habits that you must guard against and avoid like the devil
himself—these are drinking, gaming, whoring, brawling, and betting—for
these practices are at the root of the worst evils, and few people can avoid sin
or censure for long unless they guard against these habits.
You must observe the movements of the heavenly bodies, and make a
careful study of how the sky is illuminated, how night is divided from day,
and how day is divided into several time-periods. You must also learn how
to monitor the sea-surge and understand the signi
cance of its ebbings and
swellings, because that is essential knowledge for seafaring men. And you
should make a thorough study of arithmetic, because merchants need to make
frequent use of it. . . .
Don’t hang onto your trade goods too long, if you can get rid of them at
a decent price, for merchants usually buy regularly, and sell on quickly. . . .
If you are getting ready for an overseas trading-trip, and you own your own
ship, tar it thoroughly in the autumn, and keep it tarred all winter if you can.
But if your ship is laid up on blocks too late to be tarred in the autumn, tar it
in the early spring, and then leave it until it dries out completely. Always buy
shares in good ships, or don’t buy them at all. Keep your ship looking smart,
so that able men will choose it, and you’ll have a competent crew. Get your
ship ready early in the summer and sail when the weather is at its best. Always
make sure that the gear on your ship is in good repair, and don’t stay at sea late
into the autumn, if you can help it. . . .
There are one or two minor points still to be mentioned. Whenever you
go to sea, take two or three hundred ells of
[homespun woollen cloth]
with you—the kind suitable for sail-mending—in case it’s needed. Take lots of
needles and a good supply of thread and ropes. It may seem tri ing to mention
these things, but they are often needed on a journey. You should always take
along plenty of nails, both large ones and rivets, in the requisite sizes for your
ship. And you’ll also need good grapnels, adzes, chisels and augers, as well as
all the other tools used in ship-building. Whenever you go on a trading voy-
age in your own ship, you must always remember to take everything I have
mentioned. . . .
If you start making a lot of money, divide it up and form partnerships in
places that you don’t go to yourself, but choose your partners carefully. . . .
If you have a large amount of money invested in trade, divide it into three
parts. Use a third of it to buy partnerships with men who are permanent resi-
dents of market towns; make sure that these men are trustworthy and experi-
enced in trade. Put the other two thirds into several different trading ventures,
for if your money is invested in a variety of ventures, it’s unlikely that you will
suffer losses in everything at once. The more likely outcome is that you will
hold onto your wealth in some of the places where you trade, even though
the viking age: a reader
machines [of war], and battering rams. But with great persistence they begged
God [for help] and were delivered. But in the eight or so months before the
emperor could come to [Paris], the struggle continued in various ways.

Abbo was a monk of St-Germain-des-Prés near Paris and wrote a Latin poem about
the Norse assaults on Paris in

Source: trans. F.A. Ogg,
A Source Book for Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and
Institutions from the German Invasions to the Renaissance
(New York: American Book Company,

; revised by P.E. Dutton,
Carolingian Civilization: A Reader
the viking age: a reader
Thorolf became a wealthy farmer and maintained a large household because
in those days the islands and the sea were an abundant source of food.
, Land-Spirits, are guardians of particular places or countries.
The Book of
the viking age: a reader
stand watch at the prow,
steer my 
ne ship;
I would make for harbor,
cut down one man and another.
At the age of twelve, Egil was so well-developed that few grown men,
however big and strong, could beat him at games. In the winter he turned
twelve, Egil competed frequently in games; he and Thord Granason, a strong
twenty year old, were often pitted against Skallagrim. On one occasion late in
the winter, a ball game [Knattleikr] was held at Sandvik, south of Borg. Egil
and Thord were playing against Skallagrim and the game was going in their
favor because Skallagrim was tiring. However, in the evening, the going got
tougher for Egil and Thord since, after sunset, Skallagrim became stronger.
He grew so strong that he was able to pick Thord up and throw him to the
ground so hard that every bone in his body was broken and he died instantly.
Then Skallagrim seized Egil.
One of Skallagrim’s slave-women, Thorgerd Brak, had nursed Egil in his
childhood. She was a big woman, as strong as a man, and very skilled in magic.
“Skallagrim,” she said, “you’re raging like a berserk against your own son.”
Skallagrim let Egil go and grabbed at her, but she broke away and took to her
heels with Skallagrim right behind her. They ran to the very tip of Digraness
where she leapt from the cliff into the sea. Skallagrim pitched a huge rock at
her. The rock struck her between the shoulder-blades and neither she nor the
rock ever resurfaced. The place is now called Brak’s Sound.
When they got back to Borg later that evening, Egil was in a rage and,
when Skallagrim and the others sat down at the dinner-table, he didn’t take
his place. Then he strode into the room and went straight up to the man who
managed Skallagrim’s workers and estate; this man was very dear to Skalla-
grim. Egil killed him with a blow and then went to his seat. Skallagrim said
nothing and the matter rested there. But afterwards Egil and Skallagrim had
not a word, either good or bad, to say to one another, and this state of affairs
lasted all winter.
(c) Egil Fights a Berserk

Fighting berserks comes to be expected of saga-heroes. Here, Egil obliges. In the sagas,
the berserks are often seen as thugs and bullies rather than as members of a warrior class.
They are little more than social nuisances.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Sigurður Nordal, Íslenzk fornrit
II (Reykjavík,

), pp.

the viking age: a reader


Harald Hárfagri (Finehair) is often credited with the uni cation of Norway. The most
detailed account of his life and reign is his saga in Snorri Sturluson’s
although he is mentioned in many other Icelandic sagas. Snorri describes his campaigns
the viking age: a reader
them at the Norsemen, shouting at them, goading them, and taunting them
with lack of spirit.
King Sigurd now came up with a plan. He had two boats hauled up to the
cliff-top above the mouth of the cave and had them bound securely with thick
ropes under the ribs and at the stem and the stern. The boats were then 
with as many men as they could hold and were lowered to the cave with ropes.
The men in the boats threw weapons and stones at the heathens and forced
them back from the wall. Sigurd and his men then scrambled up the cliff, broke
down the wall, and got into the cave. The heathens retreated and the king had
huge pieces of wood brought to the cave-mouth where he built an immense
re and set it alight. When the 
re and smoke reached the heathens, some
of them died and others charged toward the Norsemen’s weapons; all of them
were cut down or burnt. The Norsemen took the largest amount of plunder
they had got yet in this campaign. As Halldor Skvaldri says:
The battle-bold
breaker of peace
set sail
for Formentera;
the band of black warriors
suffered sword
re, before falling,
enduring death.
And he says this too:
War-lord, you lowered
boats from above
did daring deeds
against the marauding Moors;
peerless prince,
you clambered courageously
up the cliff to the cave
with many men,
Thorarin Stuttfeld says further:
The war-wise prince
bade his men bring
two black boats,
and haul them up the hill;
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
to thrust it in and out between her ribs, now here, now there, while the two
men throttled her with the rope until she died.
Then the deceased’s next of kin approached and took hold of a piece of
wood and set 
re to it. He walked backwards, with the back of his neck to
the ship, his face to the people, with the lighted piece of wood in one hand
and the other hand on his anus, being completely naked. He ignited the wood
that had been set up under the ship after they had placed the slave-girl whom
they had killed beside her master. Then the people came forward with sticks
rewood. Each one carried a stick the end of which he had set 
re to and
which he threw on top of the wood. The wood caught 
re, and then the ship,
the pavilion, the man, the slave-girl and all it contained. A dreadful wind arose
and the  ames leapt higher and blazed 
One of the Ru
¯siyyah stood beside me and I heard him speaking to my inter-
preter. I quizzed him about what he had said, and he replied, “He said, ‘You
Arabs are a foolish lot!’ ” So I said, “Why is that?” and he replied, “Because you
purposely take those who are dearest to you and whom you hold in highest
esteem and throw them under the earth, where they are eaten by the earth, by
vermin and by worms, whereas we burn them in the 
re there and then, so that
they enter Paradise immediately.” Then he laughed loud and long. I quizzed
him about that i.e., the entry into Paradise&#x-14i;&#x-6.1;ˢ.;, ;&#xt-23;&#xh2e ;-7n;&#x-2t-;1r-;Xy ;&#xi-28;&#xn-2t;&#x-12o;&#x P7a;&#x-29r;&#x-24a;&#x-12d;&#x-37i;&#x-22s;&#x-8e-;) and he said, “Because of the
love which my Lord feels for him. He has sent the wind to take him away
within an hour.” Actually, it took scarcely an hour for the ship, the 
the slave-girl and her master to be burnt to a 
ne ash.
They built something like a round hillock over the ship, which they had
pulled out of the water, and placed in the middle of it a large piece of birch
on which they wrote the name of the man and the name of the King of the
¯s. Then they left.
He (Ibn Fad
¯n) said: One of the customs of the King of the Ru
¯s is that in
his palace he keeps company with four hundred of his bravest and most trusted
companions; they die when he dies and they offer their lives to protect him.
Each of them has a slave-girl who waits on him, washes his head and prepares
his food and drink, and another with whom he has coitus. These four hundred
men&#x-20m;&#x-3e-;n-1;怀 sit below his throne, which is huge and is studded with precious stones.
On his throne there sit forty slave-girls who belong to his bed. Sometimes he
has coitus with one of them in the presence of those companions whom we
have mentioned. He does not come down from his throne. When he wants to
satisfy an urge, he satis
es it in a salver. When he wants to ride, they bring his
beast up to the throne, whence he mounts it, and when he wants to dismount,
he brings his beast up to the throne&#x-21u;&#x-1p ;&#xt-12;&#xo t-;#h2; t-;#h-;2r-;on;-30; so that he can dismount there. He has
a vicegerent who leads the army, 
ghts against the enemy and stands in for
him among his subjects.
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
Where Erling and his men had come alongside, there was a huge anchor
hanging down from the dromond. Its 
uke was hooked over the gunwale and
its shank pointed down toward Erling’s ship. His bowsman, Audun the Red,
was lifted up onto the anchor-stock and he hauled up other men until as many
men as possible were crammed onto the stock. There, far above the other ax-
wielders, they hacked at the planking as hard as they could and when they
had cut a big enough hole, they boarded the dromond. The earl and his men
got into the lower hold, while Erling and his men got into the upper one, and
when both groups were aboard, there was much hard 
The men on the dromond were Saracens, whom we call Mohammed’s her-
etics. There were many black men too, and they put up the strongest resistance.
As Erling was jumping aboard the dromond, he received a serious neck-wound
right at the shoulder. This wound healed so badly that he carried his head to
one side ever after, and that’s why he was nicknamed Erling Wry-Neck. As
soon as the earl and Erling joined forces, the Saracens retreated before them
toward the bows, but the earl’s men kept pouring onto the ship one after
another, pressing the enemy hard as their numbers increased. The Norsemen
noticed that one man aboard the dromond was taller and handsomer than the
others and they thought for sure that he must be their leader. Earl Rognvald
ordered them not to use weapons against this man if they could take him some
other way. So the Norsemen hemmed him in with their shields and that is
how he was captured. He and a few of his companions were taken aboard the
bishop’s ship, but everyone else was killed. The Norsemen seized lots of money
and many valuables, and when most of the work was done, they sat down and
rested. The earl recited this verse:
Bloody our banners, when the
ghter, glorious Erling,
strongest spearman, advanced
victorious against the vessel.
Brave were the warriors who bloodied
sharp swords and spilled enemy
blood from stem to stern,
when we felled the black men’s best.
and this:
Desperate to take the dromond,
warriors stained their swords
early in the action;
the viking age: a reader
Ocean as far as the Schlei Sea. The Eider 
ows into the Frisian Ocean, which
the Romans in their writings call the British Ocean. The principal part of
Denmark, called Jutland, extends lengthwise from the Eider River toward the
north; it is a journey of three days if you turn aside in the direction of the island
of Fyn. But if you measure the distance direct from Schleswig to Aalborg, it is
a matter of 
ve to seven days’ travel. That is the highway of the Caesar Otto
unto the farthermost sea at Wendila, which sea is to this day called the Ottin-
sand from the king’s victory [Otto II campaigned against Denmark in
]. At
the Eider Jutland is fairly wide, but thereafter it narrows little by little like a
tongue to the point called Wendila, where Jutland comes to an end. Thence
it is a very short passage to Norway. The soil in Jutland is sterile; except for
places close to a river, nearly everything looks like a desert. It is a salt land
and a vast wilderness. Furthermore, if Germany as a whole is frightful for its
densely wooded highlands, Jutland itself is more frightful in other respects.
The land is avoided because of the scarcity of crops, and the sea because it is
infested by pirates. Hardly a cultivated spot is to be found anywhere, scarcely
a place  t for human habitation. But wherever there is an arm of the sea it has
very large cities. This region the Caesar Otto at one time subjected to tribute
and divided into three bishoprics. One he established at Schleswig, which also
is called Haddeby and is situated on the arm of the Barbarian Sea named by the
inhabitants the Schlei, whence also the city derives its name. From this port
ships usually proceed to Slavia or to Sweden or to Samland, even to Greece.
The second bishopric he founded at Ribe, a city encompassed by another
waterway that 
ows in from the ocean and over which one sails for Frisia, for
England or for our Saxony. The third bishopric he planned to 
x at Aarhus,
separated from Fyn by a very narrow channel that reaches in from the Eastern
Sea and extends in a long winding course between Fyn and Jutland northward
up to this city of Aarhus. Then one sails to Fyn or Zealand, or Scania, or even
to Norway. . . .
. Now the archbishop consecrated from among his own clerics Rudolf
for Schleswig, Wilhelm for Zealand, Egilbert for Fyn. The latter, a convert
from piracy, is said to have been the 
rst to 
nd the island Helgoland, which
lies hidden in a deep recess of the ocean in the mouth of the Elbe River, and,
having built a monastery there, to have made it habitable. This island lies across
from Hadeln. It is barely eight miles long by four miles wide, and its people use
straw and the wreckage of ships for fuel. Report has it that whenever pirates
plunder there, be the booty ever so slight, they never return home unpunished,
either perishing soon after in shipwreck or getting killed by someone. For this
reason they are accustomed with great devotion to offer the hermits who live
there tithes of their booty. This island produces crops in the greatest abundance
and is an exceedingly rich foster mother for birds and cattle. On it there is but
the viking age: a reader
cross-beam. All the bedding had been scattered about, and the place looked
That night, they kept a light burning in the hall. About a third of the way
through the night, Grettir heard a terri
c racket outside. Something climbed
onto the house and rode on the hall roof, beating it with its heels till every
beam in the house groaned. This went on for a long time. Then the something
came down from the roof, moved toward the door, and thrust the hurdle
aside. Grettir saw the creature sticking its head into the house. The head was
a monstrous size with gargantuan features.
Glam advanced cautiously through the doorway, straightening up when
he got inside; he towered all the way to the roof. Turning toward the hall, he
rested his arms on the crossbeam and thrust his head into the room. Thorhall
didn’t make a sound because he thought he’d heard quite enough noise com-
ing from outside. Grettir lay still and didn’t move a muscle. Glam saw some-
thing lying in a heap on the raised 
oor, so he made his way into the hall and
snatched the cloak violently. Grettir braced his feet against the partition and did
not give way. Glam pulled a second time with much more force and still the
cloak did not move. The third time he heaved so hard with both hands that he
pulled Grettir up from the 
oor and the cloak was torn in two between them.
Glam looked at the torn piece in his hand and wondered who could have pulled
against him so strongly. At that instant, Grettir darted under Glam’s arms,
grabbed him around the waist, and pressed against his backbone as hard as he
could, hoping to bring Glam to his knees. But Glam wrestled against Grettir’s
arms so violently that Grettir had to release his grip and retreat. He 
ed from
one bed-space to the next. In the pursuit, all the planking was wrenched from
its place and everything in their path was demolished.
Glam wanted to get outside, but Grettir resisted by digging in his heels
wherever he could. In the end, however, Glam managed to drag him out of
the hall. Then they had a tremendous struggle because the creature wanted
to haul him out of the farmhouse, but Grettir saw that, however dif
cult it
was to deal with Glam indoors, it would be worse outside, so he struggled
with all his strength against going out. When they got to the entry way,
Glam strained with all his might and pulled Grettir toward him. Realizing
that resistance was getting him nowhere, Grettir threw himself as hard as he
could into the creature’s arms, and at the same time thrust with his feet against
a stone embedded in the ground at the doorway. Glam was taken completely
by surprise. He had been pulling hard, trying to drag Grettir toward him,
but now he buckled at the knees and 
ew backwards out through the door.
His shoulders tore the lintel away and the roof fell apart, both the beams and
the frozen thatch.
the viking age: a reader
. King Svein [Svein Forkbeard, king of Denmark, ca
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
refuses to allow him to make this search, the local of
cer shall forfeit his
right of perquisition.
“With respect to the Russes professionally engaged in Greece under
“If a criminal takes refuge in Greece, the Russes shall make complaint
five: viking warriors and their weapons
“You have lost a great deal,” said Sigurd, “and your kinsmen have been
very wicked. But now, if you wish me to kill that mighty dragon, use all your
skill to make me a sword of matchless quality so that I can perform great feats
with it if my courage is equal to the task.” “I’ll do it,” said Regin, “and I’m
dent you’ll be able to kill Fafnir with the sword.”
. Regin forged a sword and placed it in Sigurd’s hands. Sigurd took the
sword and saying, “
is your forging, Regin!,” he struck the anvil and
shattered the sword. Then he threw the sword away and ordered Regin to
forge a better one. So Regin made another sword and brought it for Sigurd’s
“This sword should please you,” said Regin, “even though you’re a hard
taskmaster.” Sigurd tested the sword, but it broke just like the 
rst one. “You’re
just like your kinsmen before you,” said Sigurd to Regin. “You can’t be relied
Sigurd now went to see his mother. She greeted him joyfully, and they
talked and drank together. Then Sigurd asked, “Is the rumor true? Did King
Sigmund give you the sword, Gram, in two pieces?”
“It’s true,” she replied. “Give the pieces to me,” said Sigurd. “I want them.”
So she gave him the sword, saying that he would probably win fame with it.
Sigurd went to Regin and told him to make the best sword he could from
the pieces. Regin was angry—he felt that Sigurd was concerning himself too
much with the forging. Nevertheless, he went into the smithy with the pieces
and made a new sword out of them, and when he drew it from the hearth it
seemed to his workmen that 
re was blazing from its edges. Regin told Sigurd
to take the sword, saying that he didn’t know how else to make him a sword
if this one broke. So Sigurd took it and struck the anvil and split it all the way
down to the base without breaking or shattering the sword itself. Sigurd was
full of praise for the sword. He went down to the river with a lock of wool and
threw it in against the current. The wool sheared in two when it met the sword.
Sigurd went home happy. Then Regin said to him, “Now that I have
made you a sword, you must ful
ll your promise to kill Fafnir.” “I will,” said
Sigurd. . . .
. Now Sigurd and Regin rode across the heath to the path which Fafnir
usually slithered along when he went to the water. People say that the cliff on
which Fafnir lay down to drink was thirty fathoms above the water. “Regin,
you told me that this dragon was no bigger than a heath-snake,” said Sigurd,
“but his tracks seem huge to me.”
“Dig yourself a hole and sit in it,” said Regin, “and when he crawls to the
water, strike him to the heart and kill him. You’ll win a lot of glory that way.”
“But what will happen if I get in the way of the dragon’s blood?” asked
the viking age: a reader
men dear to me were close to killing
one another, when war’s
 ame  ashed before Robery
where many a 
ne man was wounded.
The bright sun will blacken,
earth sink under the dark sea,
the sky will splinter,
seas surge over the mountains,
before a lovelier lord
than Thor
is bred in the Orkney Isles;
God help that guardian of warriors.
the viking age: a reader
but in practical terms they were controlled by neither power, being ruled by autonomous
dynasties of sea-kings descended from Godred Crovan (d.
) and Somerled (d.
based in the Isle of Man and the Hebrides respectively. Con icts between and within
these dynasties and the disorder that they generated were, however, a cause of concern to
Scottish and Norwegian monarchs, who were both showing increased interest in the Heb-
rides in the early thirteenth century. When reports reached the Norwegian king, Hakon
IV Hakonarson (
), that the Scots had attacked the Isle of Skye in the summer
the viking age: a reader
. The story goes that some men set sail from Norway to the Faeroes—
people mention Naddod the Viking by name—but they were driven westward
out to sea and discovered a great land there. They went ashore at Austfjord.
Then they climbed a high hill and gazed all round about, looking for smoke,
or any other sign that the land was inhabited, but they saw nothing at all. In the
autumn, they set out for the Faeroes, and, as they were sailing away from the
land, heavy snow fell on the mountains, so they called the country Snowland.
They were full of praise for it. According to Saemund the Wise, the place in
Austfjord where they landed is now called Reydarfell.
. A Swede called Gard Svavarsson went in search of Snowland at the
suggestion of his mother, who had the gift of prophecy. He landed to the east
of the eastern Horn, where there was a natural harbor in those days. Gard
circumnavigated the land, and discovered that it was an island. He spent the
winter in the north at Husavik in Skjalfandi and built a house there. In the
spring, when he was ready to sail, a man called Nattfari made off in a boat,
along with a slave and a servant-woman, and settled in a place that was after-
wards called Nattfaravik. Then Gard sailed to Norway where he praised the
island highly. . . . After that, it was called Gardarsholm.
. There was a great Viking called Floki Vilgerdarson who went in search
of Gardarsholm. He set sail from Flokarvard [in Norway], which is situated
where Hordaland and Rogaland meet, and sailed 
rst to the Shetlands, where
he anchored in Floki’s Bay. His daughter, Geirhild, perished there in Geirhild’s
Loch. On board ship with Floki was a farmer called Thorolf, and another
named Herjolf; also on board was a man from the Hebrides, called Faxi.
Floki had taken three ravens to sea with him. When he released the 
one, it  ew over the stern, back in the direction they had come from. The
second one  ew straight up into the air, and then returned to the ship. But the
third one took off over the bows and  ew ahead of the ship toward the place
where they found land. They approached Horn from the east and then sailed
west along the south coast. As they rounded Reykjaness, the fjord opened up
before them so that they could see Snaefellsness.
“This land we’ve found must be really big to have such broad rivers,” said
Ever since then, the fjord has been called Faxaoss [Faxi’s river-mouth].
Floki and his men sailed west over Breidafjord and landed at Vatsfjord,
near Bardastrand. In those days, the 
shing in the fjord was so abundant that
they neglected the haymaking and all their animals died over the winter. The
spring was on the cold side, and when Floki climbed a high hill, he saw a
fjord full of drift-ice, to the north beyond the mountains. So they called the
land Iceland, and that is what it has been called ever since. Floki and his men
intended to leave in the summer, but it was almost winter before they were
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
valiant was his defence. With the protection of divine grace, he eluded both
the  ames and his enemies with scarcely a wound. His brother was in the same
house, and they killed him. Not surprisingly, this event caused 
erce enmity
and inexorable feuding between the tribes.
Before long, however, through the intermediacy of some trustworthy men,
Findan and his people were given a large sum of money, and peace was restored
between the two sides. In the very same year, Findan’s enemies began to fear
that grief for his father would quicken again in his heart and that he would
take revenge on them. Equally, they wished to do away with him and were
hatching secret plots to this end. They put their plan into action by preparing
a seaside banquet for Findan. Findan was invited, but Norsemen arrived in
the middle of the feasting, by prior agreement with his enemies, and seized
him. They bound him tightly and immediately made off with him. As was
often the case, his Norse lord, unwilling to return home yet, sold him on to
another, who sold him to a third, and the third to a fourth. This last wanted to
see his homeland again, so gathering his companions together, he led Findan
and some others into captivity.
When they had reached the mid-point of their sea-journey, the Norsemen
chanced to encounter another Norse 
eet. One of these people boarded the
ship where Findan was a captive and started asking about the nature of the
island and how they had fared there. On board the ship, however, was a man
whose brother had been killed by the questioner, who was no sooner recog-
nized than killed. As soon as his companions saw this, they got ready for battle,
and the two ships engaged in a long, bitter 
ght. While the struggle was rag-
ing, Findan, wishing to support his master and his companions, got to his feet
despite his shackles. The crews of the other ships intervened and separated the
combatants; Findan’s ship backed out of danger.
Findan’s master was mindful of the loyalty Findan had shown despite being
in shackles. Wishing to reward such faithfulness, he immediately released
Findan from his chains. Findan showed promise of bringing blessings to him
in the future.
After that, they reached some islands called the Orcades [Orkney], close
to the Pictish race. They disembarked to refresh themselves. As they awaited
a favorable wind, they wandered here and there around the islands. When
Findan saw how free and easy his captors were, he began to explore the
island, wondering anxiously about how to get away safely. In a lonely area,
he found a huge rock and attempted to hide beneath it, but the rising tide
usually reached the rock, and Findan was at a loss as to where he should
go or what he should do. On one side the sea threatened, and on the other
fear of his enemies tormented him, as they ran about the island and even
the viking age: a reader
All seeresses
stem from Vidolf,
all wizards
from Vilmeid,
all sorcerers from
and all giants
from Ymir.
And this is what Vafthruthnir the giant tells us:
When poisonous drops
sprayed up from Elivagar,
they grew until a giant emerged;
our kin are all
descended from him;
and so they are always 
“How did the various races evolve from him?” asked Gangleri, “How did
more men come into being? Or do you believe that Ymir is a god?”
The High One replied, “We do not regard him as a god at all. He was evil
like all his kin, whom we call Frost-giants. The story goes that he fell asleep
and began to sweat, and a man and a woman grew under his left arm, and one
of his legs begot a son with the other. Their offspring are the Frost-giants; but
the original Frost-giant is called Ymir.”
. “Where did Ymir live, and what did he live on?” asked Gangleri.
“The next thing to emerge from the dripping rime was a cow called
Authumla. Four streams of milk 
owed from her udder, and she fed Ymir.”
“What did the cow live on?” asked Gangleri.
“She licked the rime-covered stones, which were salty,” replied the High
One. “On the 
rst day that she licked the stones, a man’s hair emerged toward
evening. On the second day, his head appeared, and on the third day, the whole
man was visible. His name was Buri and he was a big, strong, handsome man.
He fathered a son named Borr, who married Bestla, the daughter of the giant,
Bolthorn. They had three sons: the 
rst was called Odin, the second Vili, and
the third Ve. And it is my belief that this Odin (and his brothers) must be the
ruler of heaven and earth; we think that he should be given the name ruler, for
that is what we call the greatest and worthiest man we know, and you would
be well-advised to call him that too.”
. “How did they get on with one another? Which side was more power-
ful?” asked Gangleri. “Borr’s sons killed Ymir the giant,” replied the High
four: women in the viking age
to achieve sexual satisfaction with the woman you have chosen in Iceland,
though you will be able to perform with other women. Now we’re both going
to be miserable because you weren’t open and honest with me.” Hrut laughed
and went away. . . .
Gunnhild’s spell works: Hrut’s  rst marriage is a disaster and ends in divorce.

Eirik’s ruthless and adventurous spirit reappears in his daughter, Freydis, who becomes
joint leader of an expedition to Vinland the Good (in North America) around the year
. She displays a deviousness and cruelty to equal the major male players in the
sagas—Egil Skallagrimsson, for instance. This passage comes from
The Saga of the
(see docs.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
Eyrbyggja saga
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and
Matthías Þórðarson, Íslenzk fornrit IV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. Once again there was talk of a voyage to Vinland, for such a trip seemed a
great way to gain both riches and reputation. In the same summer as Karlsefni
came back from Vinland, a ship arrived in Greenland from Norway. The skippers
were two brothers, Helgi and Finnbogi, Icelanders by birth, from the Eastfjords.
They wintered over in Greenland.
The story goes on to say that Freydis Eiriksdaughter traveled from her home
in Gardar and went to meet the brothers Helgi and Finnbogi. She asked them
if they would accompany her to Vinland with their ship and share equally with
her all the pro
ts they made there. They agreed to this. Next, Freydis went to
see her brother Leif and asked him to give her the houses he had built in Vin-
land. Leif replied as before that he would lend the houses, but not give them.
Freydis and the brothers agreed that each ship should carry thirty men who
were capable of 
ghting, as well as some women. Immediately, Freydis broke
the agreement by bringing along 
ve extra men whom she hid. The brothers
had no idea of this until they reached Vinland.
So they put to sea after agreeing beforehand to sail in convoy if possible.
However, though they kept close, the brothers arrived a little earlier and
had carried their cargo up to Leif’s houses before Freydis landed. Her men
unloaded her ship and carried the freight up to the houses.
“Why did you put your things in here?” Freydis asked. “Because we thought
that you would honor the whole of our agreement,” they replied.
“Leif lent the houses to me, not you,” she said. “We brothers will never
come close to you in nastiness,” Helgi replied.
twelve: from odin to christ
but traveled to town immediately along with the messengers. The king sum-
moned him for a private conversation.
“Is there any truth to what I’ve been hearing about the conduct of the people
in the Inner Trondelag?” he asked. “Are they turning to heathen sacri
I want you to tell me the facts as you know them. It’s your duty to tell me the
truth, because you are my man.”
“My lord, there’s something I wish to tell you 
rst,” replied Thorald. “I’ve
moved my two sons and my wife into town and I’ve also brought as much of
my portable property as possible. If you want me to tell you what’s going on,
I’ll do as you command. But if I tell you, then you must protect me and my
“Answer my questions truthfully and I’ll see to it that you come to no
harm,” said the king.
“To tell you the truth, sire, nearly everyone from the Inner Trondelag is
heathen, even though some have been baptized,” said Thorald. “It’s their cus-
tom to offer a sacri
ce in autumn to welcome winter, another in midwinter,
and a third to welcome the arrival of summer. And this is the practice of the
people in Eyna, Sparby, Veradal, and Skaun. There are twelve men who make
the arrangements for the sacri
cial banquets, and this spring it’s Olvir’s turn
to organize the feast. At the moment he’s very busy making preparations for it
at Maeren, and all the necessary provisions are being brought there.”
When the king learned the truth, he had trumpets blown to summon his
troops together. Then he ordered them to board their ships. He selected steers-
men and troop-leaders and told each company which ship to board. Everything
was done very quickly; then King Olaf sailed inland along the fjord with
men in 
ve ships. The wind was favorable and the longships made good head-
way. No one had anticipated that the king would reach Maeren so quickly;
he got there during the night and immediately threw a cordon around the
house. Olvir was captured, and King Olaf had him executed along with many
other men. Then the king had his ships loaded with all the provisions for the
feast and all the property—furnishings, clothes, and valuables—that had been
brought there. All this was divided among the king’s men as spoils of war. The
king also ordered an attack on the homes of those farmers who had been most
involved in the affair. Some were captured and put in irons, others 
ed, and
some had their property con
Then King Olaf called the farmers to a meeting. Because the king had cap-
tured so many of the farmers’ leading men and had them in his power, their
relatives and friends decided to promise obedience to him, and there was no
uprising against the king at this time. He converted everyone to the true faith,
settled priests among them, and had churches built and consecrated.
the viking age: a reader
Thormod took the tongs and pulled out the arrow-head, which was barbed.
On the barbs were shreds of 
esh from his heart, some red and some white.
When he saw that, he said, “Our king has fed us well: I have fat even around
my heart.” Then he slumped back and died. Here ends what there is to say
about Thormod.
the viking age: a reader
more night to Eddington where he fought with the whole army and put them
to  ight. Then King Alfred rode after them as far as the fort and stayed there
for a fortnight. Then the Danish army gave hostages and swore many oaths that
they would leave his kingdom. They promised that their king would accept
baptism; they kept that promise. Three weeks later, [Danish] King Guthrum
arrived at Aller [?] near Athelney with thirty of the noblest men in the army.
At that time, the king received baptism; his chrysmal [baptismal] robe was
removed at Wedmore. Guthrum stayed with King Alfred for twelve days, and
King Alfred honored Guthrum’s companions with rich gifts.
]. This year the army moved from Chippenham to Cirencester and
remained there for the winter. That year, a band of Vikings gathered and occu-
pied Fulham beside the Thames. That same year the sun went dark for an hour.

]. In this year, the Danish army moved from Cirencester to East
Anglia which they occupied and divided up. In the same year, the army occu-
pying Fulham crossed the sea to Ghent in the land of the Franks and stayed
there for a year.

. This year, the Danish army moved deeper into the land of the Franks,
and the Franks fought them. After the battle, the Danish army acquired horses.

]. This year, the Danish army traveled up the River Maas in the
land of the Franks and stayed there for a year. That same year, King Alfred
took a 
eet to sea and fought four Danish ships. He captured two and killed
their crews. The other ships surrendered to him, but not before their men were
badly knocked about and wounded.

]. In this year, the Danish army traveled up the Scheldt to Condé
and stayed there for a year. Also, Pope Marinus sent a fragment of the true
cross to King Alfred. In the same year, Sighelm and Athelstan took to Rome
the alms that had been promised by King Alfred. They also took alms for Saint
Thomas and Saint Bartholemew in India. At that time, King Alfred besieged
the Danish army at London, and there, God be thanked, their prayers were
largely ful
lled after they had made their vows.

]. This year, the army went up the Somme to Amiens and stayed
there for a year.

]. This year, the Danish army, mentioned above, divided into two
parts. One part went east while the other went to Rochester and laid siege to
it. The Danes built defensive works for themselves, but the defenders of the
castle held out until King Alfred came up with the host. Then the Danes took
to their ships, abandoning their defensive works. They were also deprived of
their horses there, and soon after went overseas.
That same year, King Alfred sent a  eet from Kent to East Anglia. As soon
as they entered the mouth of the Stour, they encountered sixteen Viking ships
which they fought and captured, killing the crews. Traveling home with
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
Rollo was unwilling to kiss the king’s foot, and the bishops said: “He
who accepts a gift such as this ought to go as far as kissing the king’s foot.”
And he replied: “I will never bow my knees at the knees of any man, and no
man’s foot will I kiss.”
And so, urged on by the prayers of the Franks, he ordered one of his warriors
to kiss the king’s foot. And the man immediately grasped the king’s foot and
raised it to his mouth and planted a kiss on it while he remained standing, and
laid the king  at on his back. So there arose a great laugh, and a great outcry
among the people. Apart from that, King Charles and Duke Robert and the
counts and nobles swore an oath on the Catholic faith to the patrician Rollo,
on their own life and limbs, and by the honor of the whole kingdom, that he
should in addition hand on to his heirs the appointed territory as he himself
held and owned it, and that the lineage of his sons and grandsons should hold
and cultivate it through the course of all time. . . .
And so, in the
th year from the incarnation of Our Lord Jesus
Christ, archbishop Franco baptized Rollo, after he had been instructed in the
Catholic faith of the Holy Trinity; and Robert, duke of the Franks, received
him from the font of the Savior, bestowed his name upon him, and honorably
enriched him with great rewards and gifts. And Robert, also known as Rollo,
had his counts and knights and the whole complement of his army baptized
and instructed in the observances of the Christian faith by preaching.
After that, bishop Franco was summoned and asked which churches within
his land were held in greater respect, and which should be called the more
powerful for the merit and protection afforded by the saints. . . .
So, on the 
rst day of baptism, Robert gave a huge estate to God and to
Saint Mary at Rouen church, to be held by the canons in perpetuity. On the
second day, to the church of Saint Mary at Bayeux. On the third day, to the
church of Saint Mary at Évreux. On the fourth, to the church of the archangel
Michael, which is ringed about by the intermittent 
ooding of the stormy sea,
swollen according to the phases of the moon in seven-day patterns. On the
fth, to the church of Saint Peter and Saint Ouen. On the sixth, to the church
of Saint Peter and Saint Aicard of Jumièges. On the seventh he gave Berneval
with all its dependencies to Saint Denis.
On the eighth day of his expiation, he took off his baptismal and
chrismal vestments, and began to measure out land for his counts by word of
mouth, and to enrich his followers. Then, when preparation for a splendid
wedding had been made, he married the king’s daughter Gisla as his wife, and
so reconciled himself to the Franks and made peace. He placed all the nations
which desired to remain within his land under his protection. He divided that
land among his followers by measure, and rebuilt everything that had been
long deserted, and restored it by restocking it with his own warriors and with
the viking age: a reader
Of these islands, at a short distance from one another, the 
rst is Wendila, at
the head of this strait, the second is Morsö, the third is Thyholm. The fourth,
opposite the city of Aarhus, is Samsö. The 
fth is Fyn, the sixth is Zealand,
which lies close to it. Of these islands we have made mention before. They say
that the seventh, which is very near Scania and Götaland, is called Holm, the
most celebrated port of Denmark and a safe anchorage for the ships that are
usually dispatched to the barbarians and to Greece. There are, furthermore,
close to Fyn on the southeast—although Laaland reaches farther inwards to
the con
nes of the Slavs—seven other smaller islands, which we said above
are rich in crops, that is, Möen, Fehmarn, Falster, Laaland, Langeland, and so
all the others in their vicinity. These fourteen islands belong to the kingdom
of the Danes, and they all are distinguished by the honor of being Christian.
There also are other more distant islands that are subject to the authority of
the Swedes. Of these islands the largest, the one called Courland, takes eight
days to traverse. . . .
. In going beyond the islands of the Danes there opens up another world
in the direction of Sweden and Norway, which are the two most extensive
kingdoms of the north and until now nearly unknown to our parts. About
these kingdoms the very well-informed king of the Danes [Svein Estridson,
] told me that Norway can hardly be crossed in the course of a month,
and Sweden is not easily traversed in two months. “I myself found this out,”
he said, “when a while ago I fought for twelve years in those regions under
King James. Both these countries are shut in by exceedingly high mountains—
higher ones, however, in Norway which encircles Sweden with its alps.” About
Sweden, too, the ancient writers, Lolinus and Orosius, are not silent. They
say that the Swedes hold a very large part of Germany and, besides, that their
highland regions extend up to the Rhiphaean Mountains. There, also, is the
Elbe River to which Lucan appears to have referred. It rises in the alps before
mentioned and courses through the midst of the Gothic peoples into the ocean;
hence, also, it is called the Götaälv. The Swedish country is extremely fertile;
the land is rich in fruits and honey besides excelling all others in cattle raising,
exceedingly happy in streams and woods, the whole region everywhere full
of merchandise from foreign parts. Thus you may say the Swedes are lacking
in none of the riches, except the pride that we love or rather adore. For they
regard as nothing every means of vainglory; that is gold, silver, stately chargers,
beaver and marten pelts, which make us lose our minds admiring them. . . .
. There are many Swedish peoples excelling in strength and arms, besides
being the best of 
ghters on horse as well as on ships. This also accounts for
their holding the other peoples of the North in their power. They have kings
of ancient lineage; nevertheless, the power of these kings depends upon the will
of the people, for what all in common approve, that the king must con

Svein Asleifarson, an Orkneyman of Norse descent, lived a de nitely Viking life. Viking
raids were a part-time and seasonal occupation for him. Following the rhythms of the ag-
ricultural year, he alternated sowing and harvesting with forays as far south as Ireland,
where he died gloriously on his last autumn raid. Raiding and trading also  ow seamlessly
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
the city was built. The tower stood on the present site of the Châtelet.] They
shook it with their engines and stormed it with arrows. The city resounded
with clamor, the people were aroused, the bridges trembled. All came together
to defend the tower. There Odo, his brother Robert, and the Count Ragenar
distinguished themselves for bravery; likewise the courageous Abbot Ebolus,
the nephew of the bishop. A keen arrow wounded the prelate, while at his
side the young warrior Frederick was struck by a sword. Frederick died, but
the old man, thanks to God, survived. For many this was their last moment of
life, but they in icted bitter blows on many of the enemy. At last the enemy
withdrew, carrying off a vast number of Danish dead. Now Apollo, having
followed Olympus, turned toward the west, to further Thule and the southern
regions [i.e., the evening came].
No longer did the tower appear as 
ne as it once did, but its conditions
were still solid and it delighted a little in the windows that had been opened
up to the sun. The people spent the night repairing the holes with boards.
By the next day, on the old citadel had been erected a new tower of wood,
half higher than the former one. In the morning the sun and the Danes fell
on the tower together. They engaged the [Christians] in violent skirmishes.
On every side arrows sped and blood 
owed. With the arrows mingled the
stones hurled by slings and war-machines; the air was 
lled with them. The
tower which had been built during the night groaned under the strokes of
the darts, the city shook with the struggle, the people ran hither and thither,
the bells jangled. The warriors rushed together to defend the tottering tower
and to repel the 
erce assault.
Among these warriors two, a count and an abbot [Ebolus], surpassed all the
rest in courage. The former was the redoubtable Odo who never experienced
defeat and who continually revived the spirits of the worn-out defenders. He
ran along the ramparts and hurled back the enemy. On those who were secret-
ing themselves so as to undermine the tower he poured oil, wax, and pitch,
which, being mixed and heated, burned the Danes and tore off their scalps.
Some of them died; others threw themselves into the river to escape the awful
substance. . . .
Meanwhile Paris was suffering not only from the sword outside but also
from a pestilence within which brought death to many noble men. Within
the walls there was not ground in which to bury the dead. . . . Odo, the
future king, was sent to Charles, emperor of the Franks, to implore help for
the stricken city.
One day Odo, powerful with his arms, suddenly appeared on Montmartre
in splendor in the midst of three bands of warriors. The sun made his armor
glisten and greeted him before it illuminated the country around. The Parisians
saw their beloved chief at a distance, but the enemy, hoping to prevent his
three: early religion and belief
Thor brought the pillars ashore, that’s where he would settle in Iceland. As
soon as he threw the pillars overboard, they drifted toward the western fjord,
seeming to travel more quickly than might be expected. Then a sea breeze
arose and they sailed around Snaefellsness and into the fjord which, they saw,
was very broad and long and surrounded by high mountains. Thorolf called
the fjord Breidafjord [Broadfjord]. Half way along the south side of the fjord,
he made for land and moored his ship in a bay which was afterwards called
Hofsvag [Temple Bay]. They explored the land and discovered that Thor and
the pillars had come ashore at the point of a headland to the north of the bay.
Afterwards, the headland was called Thorsness.
Next, Thorolf carried  re around the boundaries of his land claim, from Stafa
[Staf River] in the west, inland to the river called Thorsa [Thor’s River] in the
the viking age: a reader

Berserkers or berserks were ferocious warriors who were able to fall into a battle-frenzy in
the viking age: a reader
They put their prowess to the
test, but he taught them to turn
and run, the Norse ruler
who has his home at Utstein;
he steered out his sea-steeds [ships],
when the strife started;
shields bore thudding blows
ere Haklang lost his life.
Kjotvi the bull-necked king grew
weary of war with Tanglehair
for lordship of the land,
hoped for a haven on the isle;
with asses in the air,
and heads in the hold,
the casualties crept under
rowers’ benches for refuge.
Their shields shining
on backs beaten
by a rain of rocks
the wiser warriors 
the enemy escaped eastward,
hastened home over Jadar,
back from battle at Hafrsfjord,
their minds on mead-drinking.
. After the battle of Hafrsfjord [

], King Harald faced no more
opposition in Norway. All of his most powerful enemies were dead or had
 ed abroad. They had  ed in large numbers, for vast areas of uninhabited
countryside were settled at this time. Among these areas were Jämtland and
Hälsingland, though both already had a sprinkling of Norse settlers. Dur-
ing this period of unrest, when King Harald was bringing Norway under
his control, outlying places such as the Faeroes and Iceland were discovered
and settled. There was a large exodus to the Shetlands too. Many Norwegian
ed as outlaws from King Harald, and took to the Viking life in the
west. They spent the winters in the Orkneys and Shetlands, and in summer
they raided Norway, in icting a great deal of damage on the country. Many
other chieftains submitted to King Harald, entered his service, and helped him
run the country.
twelve: from odin to christ
at Lisbon when you landed
on that southern shore.
King Sigurd and his 
eet continued to head west along the coast of heathen
[Muslim] Spain and proceeded to the town called Alkasse [Alcacer do Sal]
where he had his fourth battle with heathens. He took the town and killed so
many people that the place was deserted. They got a huge amount of booty
there. As Halldor Skvaldri says:
War-lord, I hear how
eagerly at Alkasse
you fought a fourth
brisk battle and won.
And he says this, too:
I hear that heathen women
sorrowed in a deserted city,
when all the army
was forced to 
. King Sigurd pressed on with his journey and headed for Norvasund [Strait of
Domestic with forty thousand men, Phocas the Patrician with the Macedonians,
and Theodore the General with the Thracians, supported by other illustrious
nobles, surrounded the Russes.
After taking counsel, the latter thr
ew themselves
The Vikings appear in many Islamic sources. Perhaps the most famous, and detailed, is
that of Ibn Fadla
n, a member of an embassy sent by the caliph of Baghdad to the king of
the Bulgars on the Volga River in
. His account, known as the
described the journey and the peoples with whom the embassy came into contact, including
a group called the Ru¯s who were encountered on the upper reaches of the Volga in
The identity of these Ru¯s is the subject of debate: often regarded as Scandinavians, they
were probably undergoing processes of cultural adaptation and assimilation by which they
became Slavicized by the mid-eleventh century.
Source: trans. James E. Montgomery, “Ibn Fadla¯n and the Ru¯siyyah,”
Journal of Arabic and Islamic

), pp.

I saw the Ru¯siyyah when they had arrived on their trading expedition and had
disembarked at the River A
til. I
ve never seen more perfect physiques than
theirs—they are like palm trees, are fair and reddish, and do not wear the qurt
or the caftan. The man wears a cloak with which he covers one half of his body,
leaving one of his arms uncovered. Every one of them carries an axe, a sword
and a dagger and is never without all of that which we have mentioned. Their
the viking age: a reader
“Your best plan would be to grapple the bulwark with battle-axes,” replied
the bishop, “but you’ll 
nd it dif
cult to bring your ships alongside the drom-
ond because they’ll have sulphur and boiling pitch that they can shower you
with from head to toe. A man as wise as you, earl, must see how dangerous it
would be to expose himself and his men to such a great risk.”
Then Erling spoke up. “Lord bishop,” he said, “you’re probably right.
Attacking them may well prove futile. But to my way of thinking, if we get
in close to the dromond, and lie broadside to it, most of their weapons will
fall beyond our ship. And if things don’t work out that way, we can always sail
away quickly, for the people on the dromond aren’t going to chase us.”
“Well said,” declared the earl. “That’s just what I think. Now I want the
captains and crews to be clear about this: every man is to go to his place and
arm himself with his best equipment. Then we’ll attack. If they turn out to be
Christian merchants, we can make peace with them, but if they’re heathens,
as I think they are, then almighty God in his mercy will give us victory. We’ll
give the poor every 
ftieth penny of whatever booty we take.”
At that, the men seized their weapons, put up battle-walls on the bulwarks
of their ships, and made ready as best they could with the equipment they had.
The earl decided where each ship should head. Then they rowed to the attack
as fast as possible.
. When the people aboard the dromond saw ships rowing toward them and
realized that they were under attack, they took their 
ne materials and valuables
and carried them to the sides of the ship. They began shouting loudly as though
goading the earl’s men to approach the dromond. Earl Rognvald positioned his
ship toward the stern of the dromond on the starboard side; Erling was at the
stern, too, but on the port side. Jon and Aslak lay toward the bow, one on either
side of the dromond, while the others were amidships on the port and starboard
sides. All of the ships lay broadside on. When they came alongside the dromond,
it stood so high out of the water that they could not reach the bulwarks with
their weapons. The crew of the dromond began pouring burning sulphur and
pitch over them, but most of it fell beyond the ships as Erling had predicted, and
so they had no need to shield themselves from it.
As they were getting nowhere with their attack, the bishop withdrew his
own ship and two others. They concentrated their archers aboard these ships
and then they moved within range of the dromond and opened 
re. This attack
was very effective. The people on board the dromond were so busy protecting
themselves that they paid little attention to what the Norsemen at the sides of
their ship were up to. Earl Rognvald ordered his men to take their axes and
hack at the side of the dromond where it was least protected by iron-plating,
and, when the crews of the other ships saw what the earl’s men were doing,
they followed suit.
the viking age: a reader
Skiringssal [Kaupang]. He said that a man could not sail there in a month if
he camped at night and had a favorable wind every day. And all the while,
he must sail along the coast, and to his starboard, 
rst there will be Ireland
and then the islands [Orkneys and Shetlands] between Ireland and this land
[Britain]. Then Britain is to starboard until he comes to Skiringssal and, all
the way, Norway is to port. South of Skiringssal, a very large sea cuts deeply
into the land; it is broader than anyone can see across. Jutland is opposite on
the other side and then Sillende [central and southern Denmark]. The sea 
many hundreds of miles into the land. From Skiringssal, he said that he sailed
ve days to the port called Hedeby which stands between the Wends, the
Saxons, and the Angles and belongs to the Danes. When he sailed there from
Skiringssal, Denmark was on his port side for three days and open sea on his
starboard. Then, for two days before he came to Hedeby, Jutland, Sillende,
and many islands lay to starboard—the Angles lived in these places before they
came to this land [England]—and for these two days the islands that belong
to Denmark lay to port.
The Voyage of Wulfstan
Wulfstan said that he traveled seven days and nights from Hedeby before arriv-
ing in Truso and that the ship ran under sail the whole way. Wendland [Pomera-
nia] was to starboard and to port were Langeland, Laaland, Falster, and Skåne.
These lands all belong to Denmark. Next, Bornholm lay to port, and the people
there have their own king. After Bornholm came Blekinge, Möre, Öland, and
Gotland; and these lands belong to the Swedes. Wendland was to our starboard
all the way to the mouth of the Vistula. The Vistula is a very big river which sep-
arates Witland and Wendland, and Witland belongs to the Ests [Estonians]. The
Vistula  ows out of Wendland and into Frisches Haff, and Frisches Haff is about
fteen miles wide. Then the Elbing comes into Frisches Haff from the east,
three: early religion and belief
. Grettir rode to Thorhallsstead. The farmer welcomed him warmly and
asked him where he was off to. Grettir replied that he’d like to spend the night
there if the farmer had no objection. Thorhall said that he would be grateful
for Grettir’s presence.
“Not many people think that staying here for any length of time is a good
idea,” said Thorhall. “You must have heard talk about our misfortune here,
and I don’t want you getting into trouble on my account. Even if you get away
safely yourself, I know for sure that you will lose your horse because no one
who comes here can keep his animal safe.”
Grettir answered that there were plenty more horses, if anything happened
to this one. Thorhall was delighted that Grettir wanted to stay and welcomed
him with open arms. Then Grettir’s horse was locked up securely in the stable
and they both went to bed. The night passed without a visit from Glam.
“Your stay has clearly done some good,” said Thorhall, “because every
night, as you can see, Glam usually rides the roofs or breaks down doors.”
“Then there are two possibilities,” said Grettir. “Either he won’t restrain
himself much longer, or he’ll hold off for more than one night. So I’ll stay on
for another night and see how it goes.” Then they went to check Grettir’s horse,
and found it unharmed. The farmer thought that everything was pointing in
the same direction.
So Grettir stayed for a second night and the creature did not return. Thorhall
thought that this was a promising sign. He went to look at Grettir’s horse,
but when he got to the stable, it had been broken into. The horse had been
dragged outside and every bone in its body was broken. He told Grettir what
had happened and begged him to save himself.
“If you wait for Glam, you’re dead,” said Thorhall.
“A look at the creature is the least I can expect as compensation for my
horse,” Grettir said. The farmer replied that he would gain nothing from see-
ing Glam.
“For he doesn’t look at all human,” said Thorhall. “But every hour you are
willing to stay here is a blessing to me.”
The day passed and when bedtime came, Grettir didn’t take off his clothes
but lay down on the raised wooden 
oor [a low platform used for sitting and
sleeping] opposite the farmer’s closet-bed. He covered himself with a shaggy
fur cloak, tucking one end under his feet and the other end behind his head
so that he could look out through the neck-hole. He braced his feet against a
sturdy plank which ran along the edge of the raised 
oor where he was lying.
The frame of the outer door had been wrenched away and a hurdle had been
tied roughly in place as a makeshift door. The partition which had once divided
the hall from the entry-way had been broken away, both above and below the
the viking age: a reader
All day the foul and smelly
stench from Billing’s wench’s
brutish son’s [that is, Thord’s] gut has
burped and boked in surges;
when the sharer of the serpent’s
store [Thord] forced up belches,
(the stink swamped the benches)
not a single nostril wasn’t stuffed by a 
the viking age: a reader
Greeks or Russes. The victim of the loss shall recover the stolen property.
If the thief surrenders, he shall be taken and bound by the one upon
Series Editor: Paul Edward Dutton
“Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures is in my opinion the most
useful series being published today.”
–William C. Jordan, Princeton University
I – Carolingian Civilization: A Reader, second edition
edited by Paul Edward Dutton
II – Medieval Popular Religion,

: A Reader, second edition
edited by John Shinners
the viking age: a reader
Then he went to Andvari’s falls and cast the net in front of the pike. The pike
leapt into the net and Loki said:
sh is this
that swims in the river
and cannot protect itself?
redeem your head,
from death,

nd gold for me.’
‘I am Andvari;
my father is Oinn;
I frequent waterfalls;
long ago
a wretched norn [one of the Fates]
shaped my fate,
made me swim in water.’
“Then Loki was shown Andvari’s gold, and Andvari handed it all over,
except for one ring. But Loki took this ring from him, too. Then the dwarf
retreated to a cave, warning that the ring and all the rest of the gold as well
would spell death for whoever owned it.
“The Aesir brought the gold to Hreithmar and stuffed the otter’s hide with
it. Then they stood the hide on its feet and covered it up with gold. When
that was done, Hreithmar went over to the skin. He noticed a single whisker
sticking out and ordered the Aesir to cover it up too. So Odin drew the ring,
Andvari’s Gift, from his hand and covered the whisker. Then Loki said:
‘Gold is now given;
you have a large
payment for my head.
But happiness
is not fated for your son;
the gold is death for both of you.’
“Later,” said Regin, “Fafnir murdered his father. I got none of the gold,
for Fafnir became so mean that he took to lying outside and would allow no
one but himself any share in the treasure. Eventually, he became a terrible
dragon and, to this day, still lies on the treasure. After a while, I made my way
to the king and became his smith. The upshot of my story is that I lost both
the inheritance from my father and the compensation for my brother. And it’s
because of this story that gold has been known ever since as ‘Otter’s Ransom.’”
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
B stin þina × iftiR × suin × bruþur × sin × saR × uarþ × tuþr a × iut(
ati × on skulti
C fara × til × iklanþs × kuþ × ialbi × (o)ns × at uk salu × uk| ×| kus
the viking age: a reader
at Scrabster, and when the men of Caithness saw how large Harald’s army was,
they realized that they could not stand up to it. They had also heard that Earl
Harald was in such a foul temper that there was no saying if he would show
them any mercy. Then the bishop said,
“If the earl and I meet on civil terms, then he will spare you.” The bishop’s
view was generally accepted.
The earl’s men rushed from their ships and made for the fort. The bishop
went to meet the earl and greeted him pleasantly, but Earl Harald’s response
was to have the bishop seized, and his tongue cut out, and a knife thrust into
his eyes so that he was blinded.
As he was being mutilated, Bishop John called on the holy maiden, Saint
Tredwell, and when they let him go, he walked to a hillside where he met a
woman and asked her for help. She saw that blood was pouring from his face and
said, “Calm yourself, my lord; I’ll be glad to help you.” She led the bishop to
Saint Tredwell’s resting place and there his speech and sight were both restored.
Earl Harald then advanced on the fort and they surrendered it to him
immediately. He in icted severe punishments and imposed huge 
nes on the
people who had been most prominent in the treason against him. Once more,
he made all the people of Caithness swear allegiance to him whether they liked
it or not. Then he seized all the property that had belonged to the stewards
who had 
ed to the king of the Scots. Afterwards, he stayed on in Caithness
with a large force.

. Now, to return to the stewards, six of them decided to go south to
Scotland. They met the king there at the Yule festival and were able to give
him a clear account of what had happened in Caithness in the course of Earl
Harald’s campaign. The king was very angry about these events, and declared
that he would give the stewards property worth double the value of what
they had lost. On their 
rst day with the king of Scots, each of them received
ve ells [an English ell is

meters] of cloth and one English mark
silver pennies] to cover their expenses. They spent Yule with the king of
Scots in high favor.
Immediately after Yule, the king of Scots sent word to all the chieftains in his
kingdom, and levied a large army from every region of the land. He led this huge
army north to Caithness to attack Earl Harald and halted at Eysteinsdale, which
is on the border between Caithness and Sutherland. The king’s tents stretched
from one end of the valley to the other, and that is a considerable distance.
Earl Harald was in Caithness when he got this news and he called out his
own forces without delay. It is said that he had six thousand men, but even
this force wasn’t large enough to withstand the king of Scots, so he sent rep-
resentatives to the king to explore the possibility of reaching a settlement.
The king responded that there was no point in negotiations, unless he was
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
jot’s foster-brother was said to be Grim Goat’s Hair. On Ul
ot’s advice,
this Grim surveyed the whole of Iceland before the Althing [general assembly]
was established. As payment for this, every man in the country contributed a
penny to him, and afterwards he gave that money to temples.
the viking age: a reader
The Life of Saint Findan the Confessor
three: early religion and belief
Then Just as High spoke, “Many ages before the earth was created, Ni -
heim was formed. In the middle of Ni heim, there is a spring called Hver-
gelmir out of which 
ow the rivers Svol, Gunnthra, Fjorm, Fimbulthul, Slid
and Hlid, Sylg and Ylg, Vid, Leipt, and Gjoll, which is next to the gates of
rst,” said Third, “there was the world in the south, called Muspell—a
bright, hot place, blazing with 
re and inaccessible to outsiders who are not
born there. A being named Surt is stationed at the border to defend the land.
He has a 
ery sword, and, at the end of the world, he will go forth and wage
war, defeating all the gods and destroying the whole world with 
re. Thus
Surt travels from the south
with the scorcher of trees;
from his sword  ashes
the sun of the slaughter-gods;
rocks crash
and witches rove;
men tread Hel’s road
and heaven is split asunder.”
. Gangleri asked, “What were things like before the various races came
into being, and mankind increased and multiplied?”
“There were rivers called the Elivagar [the Ice-waves] and when these rivers
owed some distance from their source, their poisonous streams began to
harden like slag from a forge and turned into ice,” said the High One. “And
when the ice ceased 
owing and came to a stop, the moisture arising from the
poison froze and hardened into rime, and the rime built up layer by layer, in
Ginnungagap [the Yawning Void].”
“The north-facing part of Ginnungagap 
lled up with thick, heavy ice and
rime, and from that direction there came drizzling rain and gusting wind,”
said Just as High. “But the southern part of Ginnungagap was brightened by
the sparks and glowing embers  ying out of Muspellsheim.”
Then Third said, “Just as everything that emerged from Ni heim was cold
and grim, so everything that faced toward nearby Muspellsheim was hot and
bright, and Ginnungagap was mild as a windless sky. And when the warm
breeze met the rime, it began to thaw and drip and, through the power of heat,
owing drops were quickened into life and assumed the shape of a man.
That man was named Ymir, but he is called Aurgelmir by the Frost-giants, and
they are all descended from him, as the
Short Völuspá
tells us,
Then Hrut became a member of the retinue.
“Where shall I
it?” asked Hrut.
“My mother will decide that,” replied the king.
. In the spring, Hrut heard that Soti had traveled south to Denmark, tak
ing the inheritance with him. So he went to Gunnhild and told her about
Soti’s journey.
“I will give you two fully manned longships,” said Gunnhild, “and, in addi
tion, I’ll give you Ulf the Unwashed, who is a very brave man and the head
of our spies. But go and see the king before you leave.”
Hrut did so, and when he came before the king, he told him about Soti’s
movements, and told him too that he intended to go in pursuit of him. “What
assistance has my mother given you?” asked the king.
“Two longships and Ulf the Unwashed to command the force,” replied Hrut.
“That is a splendid gift,” said the king. “Now I
ill give you two more
ships. You will need this large a force.” Later, the king accompanied Hrut
to his ship and wished him farewell. Then Hrut sailed south with his forces.
, Hrut defeats some pirates on his way to Denmark. Soti evades Hrut
and appears in Norway, where he is captured and killed by Gunnhild’s son, Gudrod.
Hrut receives his inheritance from Gunnhild and gives her half of it.
. Hrut spent the winter with the king and enjoyed great favor. But when
the spring arrived, he became very quiet. Gunnhild noticed this and, when
they were alone she asked: “Are you depressed, Hrut?”
“As the saying goes,” said Hrut, “things are always better at home than
“Do you want to go back to Iceland?” she asked. “I
o,” he replied. “Have
you got a woman out there?” she asked. “No,” replied Hrut. “I’m sure you
do,” she said and, at that, they broke off the conversation.
Hrut presented himself to the king and greeted him. The king asked: “What
do you want, Hrut?” “My lord, I
ish to ask you for leave to return to Iceland,”
said Hrut. “Will you be more honored there than here?” asked the king.
“No,” replied Hrut, “but everyone must do what he is destined to do.”
“You’re in a tug-of-war with a strong man,” said Gunnhild. “Give him
permission to travel wherever he wants.” It had been a bad year in Norway,
but even so the king gave Hrut as much our as he wanted.
Then he and Ozur prepared for the journey to Iceland and, when they were
quite ready, Hrut went to see the king and Gunnhild. She led him aside for
some words in private: “Here is a gold ring I
ant to give you,” she said, and
slipped it onto his arm.
“I have received many ne gifts from you,” replied Hrut.
She put her arms around his neck, kissed him, and said, “If I
ave as much
power over you as I
hink I
o, then I
ast this spell on you: you will be unable
the viking age: a reader
to the king on behalf of the farmers. When they met, the king voiced his
charges against the farmers, but Olvir replied on the farmers’ behalf that there
had been no feasts that autumn, only social gatherings and drinking sessions
and friendly get-togethers.
“As for what you’ve been told about what we Trondheimers say when we’ve
been drinking, intelligent men pay no attention to talk like that, and I can’t be
held reponsible for the remarks of fools and drunks,” said Olvir.
Olvir was eloquent and outspoken. He defended the farmers against all these
accusations and, in the end, the king said that the Trondheimers themselves
would have to demonstrate their loyalty to the faith. Then they got leave to
go home and left as soon as possible.

. Later in the winter, the king heard that the people of inner Trondheim
had held a large gathering at Maeren and had offered up huge sacri
ces there
at midwinter to ensure peace and a mild winter. When the king felt he was
quite sure of the facts, he dispatched messengers to the inner districts to sum-
mon the farmers to town. Once again he named those whom he considered
most astute. The farmers met to discuss this message. All those who had gone
earlier in the winter were very reluctant to make the trip but, in response to
the farmers’ entreaties, Olvir undertook the journey.
When Olvir reached town, he went straight to King Olaf and they talked
together. The king charged the farmers with offering midwinter sacri
ces, and
Olvir asserted their innocence.
“We held Yule-tide banquets and drinking parties throughout the district,”
said Olvir, “and the farmers don’t stint when preparing their banquets so there
was plenty of ale left over, and they were still drinking it long afterwards. In
Maeren there is a great estate with a big house and an extensive settlement
around it. People really enjoy having large drinking parties there.”
The king said little in response and appeared to be rather angry for he felt
sure that he wasn’t being told the truth. He ordered the farmers to go home.
“However,” he said, “I’ll get to the bottom of this even though you conceal
the truth and refuse to admit it. And whatever you’ve done in the past, don’t
do it again.”
The farmers went home and gave an account of their journey; they said that
the king was very irate.

. At Easter, King Olaf held a large feast to which he invited many of the
townspeople and farmers, but after Easter, he had his ships launched. Tackle
and oars were taken aboard, decks were laid, and awnings put up, and when
the ships were all 
tted out, they were 
oated at the piers, ready to put to sea.
After Easter, King Olaf sent messengers to Veradal where he had a steward
named Thorald who managed his farm at Haug. The king sent word that
Thorald was to come to him as quickly as possible, and Thorald did not delay,
viking life and death
is what the slim, fair woman prefers.
Few are troubled by my wounds.
What caused this pallor,
Generous gold-giver?
Danish weapons that slashed deep
and a hail of arrows that smarted.
Then Thormod stood up and walked over to the 
re. He stood there for a while
until the woman said to him, “You, fellow, go out and bring me the 
that’s lying outside the door.” He went out and brought in an armful of wood
which he threw on the 
oor. The woman looked at his face and said, “This man
is very pale. Why are you so pale?” Thormod recited:
My paleness surprises you,
swan-white woman.
Few grow fair from wounds;
I faced the arrows’ storm.
The pliant weapon, propelled with force,
pierced me through.
I fear that danger-carrying iron bit keenly,
close to my heart.
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
them and slew them on their march. Two months earlier, they had also killed
Ermenfrid bishop of Beauvais at a certain
, and the previous year they had
slain Baltfrid, bishop of Bayeux.
For fear of those same Danes, the bones of the blessed martyrs Denis, Rus-
ticus, and Eleutherius were removed to Nogent [sur-Seine], one of the

belonging to St-Denis in the Morvois district. There on
September the
bones were reverently placed in reliquaries.
. King Charles, deceived by the empty promises of the Danes on the
Somme, ordered a tax to be levied on the treasures of the churches and on
[small farms] and on traders—even very small-scale ones: even their
houses and all their equipment were assessed so that the tribute could be levied
on them. For the Danes had promised that if
lb of silver, weighed out
under careful inspection, were handed over to them, they would turn and
attack those Danes who were busy on the Seine and would either drive them
away or kill them. . . .
The Danes on the Somme, since the above-mentioned tribute was not paid
to them, received hostages, and then sailed over to attack the Anglo-Saxons
by whom, however, they were defeated and driven off. They then made for
other parts. The Danes who were still on the Rhône got as far as the city of
Valence, ravaging as they went. There they destroyed everything around, and
then returned to the island on which they had made their base. . . .
The Danes who had been on the Rhône made for Italy, where they took
Pisa and other
, sacked them and laid them waste.
. In January, the Danes burned Paris and with it the church of Sts-

Vincent the Martyr and Germain the Confessor. Also, traders who were 
ing back up the Seine by ship were chased and captured. Other Danish pirates
came to the district of Thérouanne and ravaged it. . . .
The Danes had lately come back from the English and burned Thérouanne.
Under Weland’s command, they now sailed up the Seine with over

and besieged the fort built by the Northmen on the island of Oissel with those
Northmen inside it too. To support the besiegers, Charles ordered a levy to
be raised from his realm to bring in
lb of silver and a large amount of
livestock and corn, so that the realm should not be looted. . . .
Meanwhile the other group of Danes with sixty ships sailed up the Seine
and into the
and from there they reached those who were besieging the
fort, and joined up with them. The besieged were forced by starvation, 
and general misery to pay the besiegers
lb made up of gold and silver
and to make an alliance with them. So they sailed away down the Seine as
far as the sea. But they were prevented from putting out to sea by the winter
now coming on. So they split up according to their brotherhoods [possibly
kin-groups] into groups allocated to various ports, from the sea-coast right up
the viking age: a reader
And so at the time agreed they came to the appointed place, which
is called St. Clair. And Rollo’s army sat on this side of the rive Epte, and the
king’s and Robert’s on the other. Without delay, Rollo sent the archbishop
to the king of the Franks, to say to him what had to be said: “Rollo cannot
make peace with you, because the land you wish to give him is untilled by
the plow, altogether bereft of sheep- ocks and herds of cattle, and void of
human occupation. Therein is not to be found the means to support life,
unless by robbery and raiding. Give him some kingdom from which he can
fetch food and clothing for himself until the land which you give him is 
with collected wealth and in time will render to you a harvest in food, men,
and beasts. Moreover, he will not be reconciled to you, unless you swear by
an oath of the Christian faith, you and the archbishops and the bishops and
the counts and abbots of the whole kingdom, that he may hold the land you
give him for himself and for his successors, as if it were his private and allodial
land [land owned absolutely], in perpetuity: that land from the stream of the
Epte as far as the sea.”
Then Robert, duke of the Franks, and the counts and bishops who were
present along with the abbots, said to the king: “You will not have as honorable
a duke as this one, unless you do what he desires. If you will not give him what
he asks of you in return for his service, give it to him at least for his adopting
the Christian religion, in order that so great a people may be won over to
Christ after being ensnared by devilish error; and to prevent the authority of
the whole of your realm and of the church from being brought to nothing by
the assault of a hostile army, when you hold of
ce as its advocate and protec-
tor in lieu of Christ and ought to be the most constant king and advocate.”
Then the king wanted to give him the land of Flanders, so that he might live
off it; but Rollo would not accept it, on account of the obstructive marshes.
Therefore the king undertook to give him Brittany, which was on the fron-
tier of the promised land. Thereupon, Robert and bishop Franco reported
everything back to Rollo, and when hostages had been given, they brought
him to king Charles under the safe conduct of a Christian oath. And when
the Franks gazed on Rollo, who had overrun the whole of Francia, they said
to each other: “Great is the power of this leader, great his valor, and great his
counsel and his wisdom; and great his labor, too, for having waged so many
battles against the counts of this kingdom.”
Urged on by the words of the Franks, he immediately put his hands between
the hands of the king [in the ceremony of homage], which neither his father,
nor his grandfather, nor his great-grandfather had done for any man. And so
the king gave his daughter, Gisla by name, to be the wife of that same duke,
and he gave the speci
ed territory from the river Epte to the sea as an allod
and property; and the whole of Brittany to live off.
one: the scandinavian homelands
have reached Ostrogard in Russia from Denmark in the course of a month. As
to its breadth, he asserts that it is “nowhere more than a hundred miles . . . and
in many places much narrower.” This can be seen at the mouth of that sea, the
entrance of which from the ocean, between Aalborg or Wendila, the headland
of Denmark, and the cliffs of Norway is so narrow that it is an easy trip of
one night across by sail. Likewise, on leaving the bounds of Denmark, the sea
stretches wide its arms, which come together a second time in the region of
the Goths by the side of whom live the Wilzi. The farther one goes, then, the
farther do its coast lines spread apart.
. Many peoples, Einhard says, occupy the shores of this sea. The Danes
and the Swedes, whom we call Northmen, hold both its northern shore and
all the islands off it. The Slavs, the Esths, and various other peoples inhabit
the eastern shore; amongst them the Welatabi, also called Wilzi, are the most
important. The Danes and the Swedes and the other peoples beyond Denmark
are all called Northmen by the historians of the Franks, although the Roman
writers named men of this kind Hyperboreans, whom Martianus Capella
extolled with many commendations.
. At the mouth of the sea mentioned before, on its southern coast facing
us, there live as far as the Schlei Sea the 
rst people, the Danes, who are called
Jutes. There begins the territory of the diocese of Hamburg, which extends
a long way through the midst of the Slavic coastal peoples as far as the Peene
River. There are the limits of our diocese. From that place to the Oder River
the Wilzi and Leutici have their homes. Across the Oder, as we have learned,
live the Pomeranians; beyond them stretches the very extensive country of
the Poles, the boundary of which, they say, joins with that of the kingdom of
Russia. This is the farthest and largest province of the Winuli, and it also is at
the end of that sea.
. Returning now to the northernmost parts at the entrance of the Baltic
rst come the Norwegians; then Scania, which belongs to the Danes,
juts out, and beyond it live the Goths in an extensive domain reaching to
Björkö. After that the Swedes rule over a spacious region extending to the
land of women [the Amazons]. Beyond them, as far as Russia, are said to live
the Wizzi, Mirri, Lami, Scuti, and Turci. In this area that sea again comes to
an end. Thus the Slavs possess the southern litoral of that sea; the Swedes, the
. Those who have a knowledge of geography also assert that some men
have passed by an overland route from Sweden into Greece. But the barbarous
peoples who live between make this way dif
cult; consequently, the risk is
taken by ship.
. In this sea [the Baltic Sea] there are many islands, all of which are under
the dominion of the Danes and Swedes, though a few are held by the Slavs.
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
all their men and rushed to that tower and laid siege to it and they began to
attack before help from the city could arrive. Those men in the tower resisted
bravely and the shouting of the multitude [of them] lifted up to heaven. The
bishop stood on the wall of the city with everyone who was in the city crying
intensely because they could not come to the assistance of their people and
because there was nothing they could do [to help]. [Gauzelin] entrusted them
to Christ’s care. The Northmen approached the gate of that tower in [full]
force and tried to set 
re to it. Those men inside the tower, worn down by
wounds and defeated by 
re, and to the dishonor of Christians, were killed in
various ways and their bodies were 
ung into the river. Then the Northmen
demolished the tower. After these things [had occurred], they did not cease
their attack upon the city.
The bishop’s heart was broken over this grave loss. He sent letters to Count
Herkenger [of Melun], commanding him to go as quickly as he could to eastern
Francia and to search out Henry, the duke of Austrasia, so that he might come
to the assistance of the bishop and the Christian people [as a whole]. What was
commanded, Herkenger at once carried out and he convinced Henry with his
army to come to Paris, but Henry accomplished nothing there and returned to
his own territory. But Gauzelin, who was anxious to help his Christian people
in every way, reached a cordial understanding with Sigfried, the king of the
Danes, to free [Paris] from the siege.
While these things were taking place, the bishop fell gravely ill, died [on
April] and was buried in the city. His death was not a secret to the North-
men who, before the fact was known to the citizens [of Paris], shouted from
outside the city that he was dead. The people, touched by the death of their
bishop and by the siege, were immensely depressed, but the illustrious Count
Odo forti
ed them with his encouraging words. Nevertheless the Northmen
daily attacked the city and many people on both sides were killed, many were
laid low with wounds, and food began to grow scarce in the city.
Then [on
May] Hugh, the venerable abbot, died and was buried in the
monastery of Saint German of Auxerre. But Odo, seeing the people fall into
despair, went out of the city secretly to seek help from the chief man of the
kingdom and to send word to the emperor that Paris would soon perish if it
did not receive assistance. Returning to Paris after his absence, Odo discovered
a great deal of sadness, but he did not enter the city without an astonishing
incident, for the Northmen, knowing in advance of his return, blocked off
the gate of the tower to him. But even with his horse dead, Odo slashed at his
enemies left and right and, entering the city, made his sad people happy. No
one can count the dead, what dangers they faced there, how many thousands
of people on both sides fell there in various skirmishes. For, without any ces-
sation, those [warriors] struck that city with a varying complement of arms,
the viking age: a reader
. For all their gods there are appointed priests to offer sacri
ces for the
people. If plague and famine threaten, a libation is poured to the idol of Thor;
if war, to Wotan; if marriages are to be celebrated, to Frikko. It is customary
also to solemnize in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a general feast of all the
provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no one is exempted.
Kings and people all and singly send their gifts to Uppsala and, what is more
distressing than any kind of punishment, those who have already adopted
Christianity redeem themselves through these ceremonies. The sacri
ce is of
this nature; of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads, with the
blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang
in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the
eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of
the death or putrefaction of the victims. Even dogs and horses hang there with
men. A Christian seventy-two years old told me that he had seen their bodies
suspended promiscuously. Furthermore, the incantations customarily chanted
in the ritual of a sacri
ce of this kind are manifold and unseemly; therefore, it
is better to keep silence about them.

Like several other sagas,
The Saga of the People of Eyri (Eyrbyggja saga)
with the uni cation of Norway under Harald Finehair and ends in the eleventh century
with the death of Snorri Godi (the priest, chieftain) in
. In this passage, an early
settler, Thorolf Mostrarskegg (Bearded Man from Most, Most-Beard), builds a temple.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Eyrbyggja saga
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and Matthías Þórðarson,
Íslenzk fornrit IV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. Thorolf Mostrarskegg offered a great sacri
ce and asked his dear friend Thor
five: viking warriors and their weapons
he could forwards. He swam like a seal and there was no sport in which anyone
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
putting others to  ight. In all, King Harald fought eight or more battles in
the Trondheim district and, with the fall of the eight kings, he took over the
whole Trondelag. . . .
. News spread from the south that the people of Hordaland, Rogaland,
Agder, and Thilir had united in an armed uprising and were assembling ships,
weapons, and large numbers of men. The leaders of the revolt were King
Eirik of Hordaland; Sulki, King of Rogaland; his brother Earl Soti; Kjotvi
the Wealthy, King of Agder; his son, Thorir Haklang; and Hroald Hryg and
Hadd the Hard, two brothers from Telemark.
As soon as King Harald heard this news, he assembled his army and prepared
it for battle. Then he launched his ships and sailed south along the coast with
many men from every district. When King Harald had got as far south as Stad,
King Eirik heard about his approach. He mustered all the troops he could and
headed south to meet the forces that he knew were coming from the east to sup-
port him. The entire 
eet met to the north of Jadar and steered into Hafrsfjord,
where King Harald was already waiting with his forces. Fierce 
ghting broke
out. There was a long, hard battle but, in the end, King Harald was victorious,
and King Eirik, King Sulki and his brother, Earl Soti, were killed. King Harald’s
own ship had been attacked by Thorir Haklang. Thorir was a 
erce berserker
and the 
ghting was frenzied until he was killed. After that, his ship was com-
pletely cleared of men. Meanwhile King Kjotvi 
ed to an island that offered
natural protection, and after that, their entire army 
ed. Some of them escaped
by ship; others leapt ashore and 
ed south across Jadar. As Hornklo
puts it:
Have you heard
how in Hafrsfjord
a king of noble kin fought
Kjotvi the wealthy king?
Keen for con ict, his

eet set forth from the east,
gure-heads gaping,
prows covered with carving.
Massed aboard were men
with white shields and sharp
spears—weapons from the west–
and splendid Frankish swords;
berserkers bellowed,
—Gunnr was with them—
wearers of wolfskins howled,
shook their sharp spears.
the viking age: a reader
ren and unproductive. King Sigurd then led his troops to the earl’s castle, and
the earl  ed since he had few soldiers. The king seized a great deal of food and
other plunder there and had it carried to his ships. Then he got ready to leave
the viking age: a reader
two cows, which they also cut up into pieces and threw on board, and a cock
and a hen, which they slaughtered and cast onto it.
Meanwhile, the slave-girl who wished to be killed was coming and going,
entering one pavilion after another. The owner of the pavilion would have
intercourse with her and say to her, “Tell your master that I have done this
purely out of love for you.”
At the time of the evening prayer on Friday they brought the slave-girl to a
thing that they had constructed, like a door-frame. She placed her feet on the
hands of the men and was raised above that door-frame. She said something
and they brought her down. Then they lifted her up a second time and she
did what she had done the  rst time. They brought her down and then lifted
her up a third time and she did what she had done on the 
rst two occasions.
They next handed her a hen. She cut off its head and threw it away. They took
the hen and threw it on board the ship.
I quizzed the interpreter about her actions and he said, “The 
rst time
they lifted her, she said, ‘Behold, I see my father and my mother.’ The second
time she said, ‘Behold, I see all of my dead kindred, seated.’ The third time
she said, ‘Behold, I see my master, seated in Paradise. Paradise is beautiful and
verdant. He is accompanied by his men and his male-slaves. He summons me,
so bring me to him.’ ” So they brought her to the ship and she removed two
bracelets that she was wearing, handing them to the woman called the “Angel
of Death,” the one who was to kill her. She also removed two anklets that she
was wearing, handing them to the two slave-girls who had waited upon her:
they were the daughters of the crone known as the “Angel of Death.” Then
they lifted her onto the ship but did not bring her into the pavilion. The men
came with their shields and sticks and handed her a cup of alcohol over which
she chanted and then drank. The interpreter said to me, “Thereby she bids
her female companions farewell.” She was handed another cup, which she
took and chanted for a long time, while the crone urged her to drink it and
to enter the pavilion in which her master lay. I saw that she was befuddled
and wanted to enter the pavilion but she had onl&#x-30o;&#xn-43;&#xl-13;&#xy000;y put her head into the
pavilion while her body remained outside it&#xw-6h;&#x-36i;&#x-38l; he;&#x-8r ; -9o;&#x-11d;&#x-18y;&#x r-1;-9;&#xm-30; -33;&#xi-28;&#xne-1;- o;&#xut-3;s-1;id-;Ğ ;&#xit-1;p. The crone grabbed hold of
her head and dragged her into the pavilion, entering it at the same time. The
men began to bang their shields with the sticks so that her screams could not
be heard and so terrify the other slave-girls, who would not, then, seek to die
with their masters.
Six men entered the pavilion and all had intercourse with the slave-girl.
They laid her down beside her master and two of them took hold of her feet,
two her hands. The crone called the “Angel of Death” placed a rope around her
neck in such a way that the ends crossed one another and handed it to two of
the men to pull on it. She advanced with a broad-bladed dagger and began
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
but they showed Shetland’s
lord little loyalty.
Now that the main part of Rognvald’s army had 
ed, Kalf and Earl Thor-
nn attacked his ship together and killed many of his men. When Earl Rogn-
vald realized what straits he was in, and that he could not defeat Thor
nn and
Kalf, he had his ship cut loose from the coupling ropes and 
ed. The day was
far gone by then, and it was growing dark. That very night, Earl Rognvald put
to sea and sailed east to Norway. He did not break his journey until he reached
King Magnus. As before, the king made him welcome and invited him to stay.
Earl Rognvald remained there for some time.
. The following morning, Earl Thor
nn sent his men rowing all around
the Orkneys in search of fugitives. Many of them were killed, while others
were spared. Earl Thor
nn gained control over all the Orkneys and ordered
everyone to accept his authority, even those who had sworn oaths to Rogn-
vald. He established himself in Orkney with a large entourage and brought
provisions over from Caithness. He also sent Kalf Arnason to the Hebrides to
strengthen his position there. . . .
(c) Earl Rognvald Kali in the Mediterranean

In the early
s the Earl of Orkney, Rognvald Kali Kolsson, embarked upon a pilgrim-
age/crusade to Rome and the Holy Land.
Orkneyinga saga
describes an encounter in
the Mediterranean between the Orcadian crusaders and a Muslim vessel called a dromond.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson, Íslenzk fornrit
XXXIV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. . . . One morning, the mist lifted, and the men stood up and looked around
them. They saw two islands but, when they looked again later, one of the islands
had vanished. They told the earl what they had seen.
“It can’t have been islands you saw,” he said. “It must have been ships. The
ships that people have out here in this part of the world look as big as islands;
they’re called dromonds. A sea breeze must have blown up where the one of
the dromonds was lying and now it has sailed away. The people on board must
be traveling men of some sort, probably merchants.”
After that, the earl summoned the bishop and all the captains to a meeting.
“Lord bishop,” he said, “and Erling my kinsman, I’ve called you here to
ask if you can think of any ruse or strategy for defeating the people aboard
the dromond?”
the viking age: a reader

Ohthere, a Norwegian, explores the coastline from Halogaland in northern Norway
to the White Sea and goes on to describe the route from his northern home to the great
market town of Hedeby in Denmark. Wulfstan’s voyage begins where Ohthere’s ends.
He recounts his journey eastward through the Baltic Sea from Hedeby to Estland, in
the northeastern part of Germany. Both narratives are interpolated in the Old English
translations of Orosius’s
Historiae adversum paganos

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan
the viking age: a reader
to every farm as far as the Tung River. Thorhall stayed with relatives for the
rest of the winter. No one dared go up the valley with a horse or a dog, for it
would be killed straightaway.
In spring, when the days grew longer, the hauntings became fewer. Thorhall
wanted to go back to his land and, though he had trouble 
nding servants, he
started farming again at Thorhallsstead. Everything happened exactly as it had
before; when autumn returned, the hauntings increased. The farmer’s daughter
was the main target of the haunting, and  nally she died of it. Many measures
were tried, but none worked. Everyone thought that all Vatnsdale would be
deserted if no remedy could be found.
. Now the story returns to Grettir Asmundarson. He stayed at home in
Bjarg that autumn after he had parted from Killer-Bard at Thoreyargnup.
When winter was very close, Grettir set off north over the ridges to Vididale
and spent the night at Audunarstead. Audun and Grettir settled all their dif-
ferences. Grettir gave Audun a 
ne ax and they agreed to be friends. Audun
lived at Audunarstead for a long time and was blessed with many descendants.
His son was Egil who married Ulfheid, the daughter of Eyolf Gudmundarson.
Their son was Eyolf, who was killed at the Althing; Eyolf was father of Orm,
Bishop Thorlak’s chaplain.
Grettir rode north to Vatnsdale and paid a visit to his maternal uncle, Jokul
Bardarson, who lived at Tung. Jokul was a big, strong man and extremely
overbearing. He was a seafarer, and a man of some importance, but very quar-
relsome. He welcomed Grettir, who stayed there for three nights. Glam’s haunt-
ings were the main topic of conversation. Grettir asked detailed questions about
everything that had happened and Jokul told him that the stories were all true.
“Are you interested in going there?” asked Jokul. Grettir said that he was,
but Jokul asked him not to.
“You would be pushing your luck to the limit, and your relatives have a lot
to lose as well,” said Jokul. “For, at the moment, we don’t seem to have any
young man to equal you. Only evil can come from having to do with the likes
of Glam; it’s much better to take on human beings than monsters like him.”
Grettir said that he really wanted to visit Thorhallsstead to 
nd out what
was going on. “I see there’s no point in trying to stop you,” said Jokul. “But
it’s a true saying that luck and talent don’t always go together.”
“There’s trouble at your own door once it enters your neighbor’s house,”
said Grettir. “You should be thinking about what could happen to you before
this is over.”
“It may be,” replied Jokul, “that we can both see into the future, but neither
one of us can change it.” With that, they parted; neither was pleased with the
other’s prophecies.
viking life and death
The story goes that Ingimund the Priest leaned over to his bench-mate and
spoke to him as if he were answering a question [in verse]:
The stench around the benches?
Stinking Thord’s at dinner.
This caused a great deal of laughter and considerable derision. When it died
down, Thord replied:
An ill-wind from Ingimund
wafts under the rafters.
With these taunts, the entertainment took a nasty turn, and scurrilous verses
were piled on one another. This one was aimed at Thord:
There’s a grumbling in your godi’s [Thord’s]
gizzard and guts; around his air hole
the great man’s skin is sweating,
he groans with the effort.
Thord laughed loudly at this verse and immediately replied:
Bellows-blasts surge
from the bench there;
a pong is wafted
by your putrid wind.
Thorgils smiled, but didn’t respond to the taunt. Ingimund said that one of their
bench-companions should answer Thord. So, someone said this:
No big matter
if we burp,
bench mates,
because of this beef;
Thord belches, though,
Thorvald’s son,
Kjartan’s son,
from consuming his own crap. [that is, regurgitating]
Thord looked toward the source of this verse. . . . He got up from the table and
sighed deeply without speaking. Someone interjected these words:
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
amity which joins Greeks and Russes, in accordance with the desires of
our great princes and at their command, and on behalf of all those Russes
who are subject to the hand of our prince.
“Our serenity, above all desirous, through God’s help, of maintaining


five: viking warriors and their weapons
to admit that you have never seen more gold in one place. You will never need
more even if you live to be the oldest and most famous of kings.”
“I may be young,” said Sigurd, “but I have heard what sort of dragon this
is, and I have also heard that no one dares to attack him because of his size
and his malevolence.”
“That’s not so,” answered Regin, “he’s only about the size of a heathsnake,
but he’s made out to be much bigger than he really is—that’s what your ances-
tors would have thought. But even though you are one of the Volsungs, it
doesn’t look as if you have their spirit and courage, for their reputation for
heroic deeds is unsurpassed.”
“Perhaps I don’t have much of their courage and prowess,” replied Sigurd,
“but there’s no need to taunt me. I’m scarcely more than a child. Why are you
goading me like this?”
“There’s a story about that,” said Regin, “and I’ll tell it to you.” “Let me
hear it,” said Sigurd.
. “The story begins with my father, Hreithmar,” said Regin. “He was a
great man and a wealthy one, and he had three sons: the 
rst was Fafnir, the
second was Otter, and I was the third. I was the least handsome and accom-
plished of the sons, but I knew how to work with iron, silver, and gold, and
I could make a variety of useful items. My brother, Otter, had a different
nature and occupation. He was a 
rst-rate huntsman—much better than any-
one else—for during the day he assumed the shape of an otter and was con-
stantly in the river, catching 
sh and carrying them ashore in his mouth. He
brought his catch to his father, and it was a great help to him. My brother spent
much of his time in otter-shape; then he would come home late and eat alone
with his eyes closed, for he could not see on dry land. Fafnir was by far the
biggest and 
ercest of the three of us, and he coveted everything for himself.
“There was a dwarf named Andvari,” continued Regin, “who spent all his
time in a waterfall called Andvari’s waterfall. There, he took on the shape of
a pike and caught his food, for 
sh were plentiful. Otter, too, was always in
that waterfall, catching 
sh in his mouth and laying them on the bank, one
at a time.
“Odin, Loki, and Hoenir were on a journey and came to Andvari’s water-
fall just when Otter had caught a salmon and was eating it on the river bank
with his eyes closed. Loki hurled a stone at him and killed him. The Aesir
were delighted with their catch and  ayed the otter’s pelt. That evening, they
visited Hreithmar and showed him what they had caught. At the sight of the
skin, he seized them and demanded compensation and ransom for Otter. They
were to 
ll his skin with gold and then cover it up completely with more gold.
Loki was sent to procure the gold, so he went to Ran and stole her 
shing net.
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
splendid feasts in his honor. Then the earl revealed his intention of going on
a pilgrimage to Rome.
When he arrived in Saxony, the earl met the emperor Henry [III] who
received him warmly and gave him many rich gifts. The emperor also supplied
him with many horses for his journey south. Then he traveled to Rome where
he met the pope [Leo IX] and was absolved of all his sins.
After that, he made his way home and got back to his realm safe and sound.
He gave up raiding and turned his attention to governing his people and lands,
and to establishing laws. He resided permanently in Birsay and there he built
Christchurch, a magni
cent church that was the 
rst cathedral in Orkney.
Earl Thor
nn married Ingibjorg Earls’ Mother. They had two sons who
survived childhood. Their names were Paul and Erlend and they were big,
good-looking men who took after their mother’s side of the family. They
were also intelligent and good-natured and the earl loved them dearly, as did
all his people.
. Earl Thor
nn retained control of his realm until the day he died. He was
certainly the most powerful of the earls of Orkney, for his rule extended over
nine earldoms in Scotland as well as the whole of the Hebrides and extensive
lands in Ireland. Arnor Jarlaskald [Poet of Earls] says the following:
The folk obeyed the feeder of
ravens from Thurs Rocks to Dublin;
I tell the people truly
what manner of man was Thor
nn was 
ve years old when his maternal grandfather, Malcolm, king
of Scots, gave him the title of earl, and he remained an earl for seventy [prob-
] more years. He died shortly before Harald Sigurdarson [d.
] and
is buried in Christchurch, which he himself had built. The earl was deeply
lamented in the lands he had inherited, but in the territories he had won by
force, many people felt downtrodden under his rule. So after his death, several
of these territories revolted and the people sought the protection of the chiefs
who were the hereditary owners of the land. It soon became evident what a
serious loss Earl Thor
nn’s death was.
The following verses were composed about the sea-battle between Earl
Rognvald Brusason and Earl Thor
nn [by Arnor Jarlaskald]:
It was a disastrous day when
the earls engaged in battle;
many a man learned to die
in the 
fourteen: the end of the viking age
well-equipped—men such as the bishop’s kinsmen and many of the other
troop leaders. Some time into the battle, Sigurd the Tiny fell 
ghting bravely,
as be
ts a warrior. Lifolf did better than anyone else in the battle; the men of
Caithness say that he went right through Harald the Old’s lines three times,
before dying heroically. When both Lifolf and Sigurd the Tiny were dead, the
young earl’s army took to  ight.
Earl Harald the Young died beside some peat pits, and that night a great
light was seen where his blood had fallen. People claim that the earl was truly
saintly; a church now stands where he died. He is buried on the headland, and,
on account of his virtues, many miracles have been performed there by God, as
an indication that he wanted to cross over to Orkney to be with his kinsmen,
Earl Magnus and Earl Rognvald.
After the battle, Earl Harald brought the whole of Caithness under his con-
trol. Then he went straight to Orkney, boasting of his great victory.

. William, king of Scots, heard that Harald the Young was dead and that
Harald Maddadarson had taken over the whole of Caithness without consulting
him. The king was furious and sent messengers to Rognvald Gudrodarson,
king of the Hebrides. Gudrod’s mother was Ingibjorg, the daughter of Earl
Hakon, who was the son of Earl Paul. In those days, King Rognvald was the
greatest warrior in the British Isles. For three years he had lived aboard his
warships without once coming under a sooty roof.
As soon as the king’s message reached him, Rognvald raised an army from
all over the Hebrides and Kintyre; he also had a large force from Ireland. Then
he headed north for Caithness and established control over the whole area. He
remained in Caithness for some time, while Earl Harald stayed in the Orkneys,
paying no attention to Rognvald’s movements.
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
wood is very meager. On this account the people dwell in underground caves,
glad to have roof and food and bed in common with their cattle. Passing their
lives thus in holy simplicity, because they seek nothing more than what nature
affords, they can joyfully say with the Apostle: “But having food, and wherewith
to be covered, with these we are content.” For instead of towns they have moun-
tains and springs as their delights. Blessed, I say, is the folk whose poverty no one
envies; and in this respect most blessed because all have now adopted Christian-
ity. They have many meritorious customs, especially charity, in consequence of
which they have all things in common with strangers as well as with natives.
They hold their bishop as king. All the people respect his wishes. They hold as
law whatever he ordains as coming from God, or from the Scriptures, or even
the viking age: a reader
A certain island appears in the shores of the Picts, rising above the wave-driven
sea; it is called Iona, and there the saint of the Lord, Columba, rests in the 
To this island came Blathmac, wishing to endure Christ’s scars, because there
many a pagan horde of Danes is wont to land, armed with malignant greed.
And the saint of the Lord purposed in his mind [decided] to tempt these lions,
and stripped his mind of empty dread; but armed with the shield of faith, and
A pendant representing Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, made of silver in ninth-
century Öland, Sweden.
Source: Paul B. du Chaillu,
The Viking Age
vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

, p.

Our knowledge of Norse mythology depends heavily on the work of Snorri Sturluson (see
Introduction). His
four: women in the viking age
“What brought you here to visit us?” the king asked.
“I was anxious to see your magni
cence, my lord,” said Hrut. “Also, I am
laying claim to a large inheritance in this country and I will need your support
if I am to have justice.”
“I have promised justice to everyone in this land,” said the king. “Have
you any other reason for coming to see us?” “My lord,” said Hrut, “I ask your
permission to join your retinue and become one of your followers.” The king
was silent. Then Gunnhild spoke.
“I think that this man is offering you a great honor,” she said. “In my
opinion, if there were many men like him in your retinue, it would be well
“Is he an intelligent man?” asked the king. “He is both intelligent and
energetic,” said Gunnhild.
“I gather that my mother wants you to have the position you asked for.
Out of respect for our dignity and the customs of the land, however, you must
come back again in two weeks time, and then you will become a member of
my retinue—until then, my mother will look after you.”
“Go with them to my house,” said Gunnhild to Ogmund, “and prepare
a splendid feast for them.” They went out with Ogmund, who led them to a
stone-built hall, decorated with the 
nest tapestries. Gunnhild had her high
seat there.
“Now you will see that I told you the truth about Gunnhild,” said Ogmund.
“Here is her high seat. You may sit on it, and you may stay sitting on it even
when she herself comes in.” Then Ogmund provided a feast for them. They
had barely sat down when Gunnhild came in. Hrut was about to leap up and
greet her.
“Sit down,” she said. “As long as you are my guest you must always sit on
this seat.” Then she sat down beside Hrut and they drank together. In the
course of the evening, Gunnhild said, “Tonight you shall lie with me in the
upper chamber—there will be just the two of us.”
“You are the one who must make that decision,” he said. Then they went to
bed and she locked the room from the inside. They slept there that night and in
the morning they drank together. For the whole two weeks, the two of them
lay on their own in the upper room. Then Gunnhild said to the people in her
household, “Your days will be numbered if you say a word about Hrut and me.”
Hrut gave Gunnhild a hundred ells of cloth [a Norwegian ell is
meters] and twelve fur cloaks. She thanked him for the gift. Hrut kissed her
and thanked her. Then she wished him farewell and off he went. Next day,
Hrut came before the king with thirty men and greeted him.
“Now, Hrut,” said the king, “you must want me to make good on my
twelve: from odin to christ
throne in
. He attempted to regain his throne two years later, but was defeated and
killed at the Battle of Stiklestad (see doc.

Source: trans. A. A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
, in
, ed. Bjarni
Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.

. After King Olaf had sent Bjorn and his followers east to Gotland, he dis-
patched other men to the Upplands with instructions to arrange accommoda-
the viking age: a reader
“There is a terrible noise of wailing and howling in here. It’s a real dis-
grace that strong men can’t bear their wounds. The king’s men may well have
advanced bravely today, but they endure their wounds very badly.”
Thormod answered, “What’s your name?” The man said his name was
Kimbi. “Were you in the battle?” asked Thormod.
“I was with the farmers,” he replied, “the better side.” “Are you wounded at
all?” asked Thormod. “Slightly,” said Kimbi. “Were you in the battle?” “I was
with those who had the best of it,” said Thormod.
Kimbi saw that Thormod had a gold ring on his arm. He said, “You must be
one of the king’s men. Give me your gold ring and I’ll hide you. The farmers
will kill you if you get in their way.”
“Take the ring if you can,” answered Thormod. “I have lost more than that.”
Kimbi stretched out his hand to take the ring. Thormod swung his sword
and cut off Kimbi’s hand. The story goes that Kimbi bore his wound no better
than those whom he had criticized earlier.
Kimbi went away, but Thormod sat down in the barn for a while and lis-
tened to what people were saying. The talk was chie
y about what each of
them had seen in the battle and about the bravery of the men involved. Some
praised the courage of King Olaf most, while others mentioned other equally
brave men. Then Thormod recited:
Brave-hearted Olaf made a bloody advance
at Stiklestad. Sword thrust
and steel spear bit.
The king urged bold warriors to battle.
I saw all the tree-tall warriors of Odin
except the courageous king—
seek to shelter from the spear-shower,
where most met a terrible trial.
. Thormod left and entered a small building where there were already
many badly wounded men. A woman was also there, bandaging up their
wounds. On the  oor a 
re was burning, and she was heating water on it to
cleanse the wounds. Thormod sat down beside the door. Men were coming
and going as they cared for the wounded. One of them turned to Thormod,
looked at him, and said, “Why are you so pale? Are you wounded? Why don’t
you ask for treatment?” Thormod recited this poem:
Red I am not, but red and
ruddy health in a man
the viking age: a reader
The Danes who were coming up the Seine ravaged everything unchecked.
They attacked Paris where they burned the church of Sts-Peter and Genevieve
and all the other churches except for the cathedral of St-Stephen, the Church of
Sts-Vincent and Germain and also the church of St-Denis: a great ransom was
paid in cash to save these churches from being burned. Other Danes stormed
called Dorestad and ravaged the whole island of Betuwe and other
neighboring districts. . . .
As the Danes attacked his
, Frotbald bishop of Chartres 
ed on foot
and tried to swim across the river Eure but he was overwhelmed by the waters
and drowned.
. Bjørn, chief of one group of the pirates on the Seine, came to King
Charles at the palace of Verberie, gave himself into his hands and swore 
after his own fashion. Another group of those pirates captured Abbot Louis
of St-Denis along with his brother Gauzlin, and demanded a very heavy 
for their ransom. In order to pay this many church treasuries in Charles’s
realm were drained dry, at the king’s command. But even all this was far from
being enough: to bring it up to the required amount, large sums were eagerly
contributed also by the king, and by all the bishops, abbots, counts and other
powerful men. . . .
The Danes attacked Saxony but they were repulsed. . . .
In July, King Charles came to the island of Oissel in the Seine [ just south
of Rouen], to besiege the Danes ensconced there. There the Young Charles,
his son, arrived from Aquitaine and along with him came Pippin, now a lay-
man. . . . In August too, King Lothar hastened to that same island of Oissel, to
bring help to his uncle. They stayed there till
September, without making
any progress in the siege. Then they went home. . . .
. The Danes ravaged the places beyond the Scheldt. Some of the com-
mon people living between the Seine and the Loire formed a sworn association
amongst themselves, and fought bravely against the Danes on the Seine. But
because their association had been made without due consideration, they were
easily slain by our more powerful people. . . .
Danish pirates made a long sea-voyage, sailed through the straits between
Spain and Africa and then up the Rhône. They ravaged some
monasteries, and made their base on an island called the Camargue. . . .
Danes launched new attacks [in the autumn], and laid waste, by 
ring and
plundering, the monastery of St-Valery [sur-Somme], the
of Amiens,
and other places round about. Others of them also attacked with the same fury
the island in the Rhine called Betuwe.
Those who were still on the Seine made a night attack on the
Noyon. They took captive Bishop Immo along with other nobles, both cler-
ics and laymen, and after laying waste the
carried the prisoners off with
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
and he will not cease to perform service to you, and you will be able with his
help to crush the risings of opponents and rebels against you, and regain your
power much strengthened.”
When these words had been brought back by the bishop, the Franks wished
each other joy, and with one mind proposed to the king that he give his
daughter and the land to Rollo. And the king, urged on by the request of the
Franks, gave his daughter to the bishop as Rollo’s proxy, for a pledge, guar-
anteed by a jointly sworn oath. When the details of these matters had been
Abbo of St-Germain-des-Prés:
Adam of Bremen,
History of the Archbishops
of Hamburg-Bremen
Ælfric of Eynsham,
The Passion of Saint
Edmund, King and Martyr:
Alcuin of York,
Deeds of the First Dukes of Normandy
Gautrek’s Saga:

Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople,
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
with them a great deal of produce, such as vines, berries, and skins. They put
to sea and arrived safely in Eiriksfjord where they spent the winter. . . .
. . . . Then Karlsefni put to sea and arrived at Skagafjord in northern
Iceland where he beached his ship for the winter. In spring, he bought land
at Glaumbaer, set up a home and lived there for the rest of his life. He was a
highly regarded man, and he and his wife, Gudrid, had many distinguished
After Karlsefni died, the management of the farm was taken over by Gudrid
and her son, Snorri, who had been born in Vinland. When Snorri married,
Gudrid left Iceland and traveled on a pilgrimage to Rome. On her return, she
stayed with Snorri, who by then had built a church at Glaumbaer. Afterwards,
Gudrid became a nun and anchoress, and remained there until she died. . . .
the viking age: a reader
was taking place, all those who lived in Neustria and Burgundy assembled and,
when an army had been raised, they approached as if to make war upon the
Northmen. But, though they should have fought, [when] Ragnold, the duke
of Le Mans, fell with a few of his men, they all returned to their own lands in
great sadness, having accomplished nothing useful.
Then the Northmen began to rage with 
re and to thirst for slaughter.
They killed and captured Christians, demolished churches, and no one resisted
them. Once again the Franks prepared themselves to resist, not in war, but
rather by constructing forti cations to impede the progress of their ships. They
constructed a castle on the river Oise at a place [now] called Pontoise, and they
entrusted Aletramnus with guarding it. Bishop Gauzelin built forti
cations at
Paris. But in the month of November, the Northmen set out upon the Oise
and surrounded with a blockade the castle at Pontoise. They stopped those
who were shut up in the castle from drawing water from the river, for they had
no other water to draw upon. But those who were in the castle began to be
pressed by their lack of water. Need I say more? They sued for peace, seeking
only to leave there alive. Once hostages were exchanged on both sides, Ale-
tramnus and his men set out for Beauvais. The Northmen set 
re to the castle
and stole everything that was left there, for those who abandoned the castle
left everything there except for their arms and horses. It was under this condi-
tion that they had been allowed to leave.
Wildly excited by their victory, the Northmen approached Paris and, with
great energy immediately attacked a tower. They thought that they could
take it without any great delay, because it was not yet fully strengthened. But
Christians defended it with great vigor and the battle lasted from morning
till evening. Night interrupted the battle and so the Northmen, that night,
returned to their ships [
November]. Bishop Gauzelin and Count Odo
labored all through the night with their men to fortify the tower in prepara-
tion for [the coming] battle. The following day [
November] the Northmen
again rushed back to the battle at the same tower and a 
erce battle went on
until sunset. But the Danes, having lost many men, returned to their ships.
Then they set up a camp for themselves opposite the city and they laid siege
to the city, constructed machines [of war], employed 
re, and used all their
ingenuity to capture the city. But the Christians 
ghting bravely against them
were superior in everything.
. On the eighth Ides of February [
February] a grave crisis arose for the
inhabitants of the city, since a very serious rise in the water level of the river
smashed the smaller bridge [running to the south from the Ile de la Cité].
When the bishop learned of this event, he selected some strong and noble men
to guard the tower that night so that, in the morning, they might restore the
bridge. None of this was hidden to the Northmen. They rose before dawn with
three: early religion and belief
Then it was the custom to drink toasts. People also drank goblets for relatives
who had died; these were called memorial cups.
Earl Sigurd was a very generous man who is renowned for mounting an
enormous sacri
cial festival at Lade, entirely at his own expense. Kormak
Ogmundarson says this in
Sigurd’s drápa
Sigurd’s Praise-poem
No one brought baskets of food
or vats of ale when visiting
the lordly earl, so lavish with his
The gods deceived Thiazi
[read with line
all must treat the temple’s
priest with due deference,
please the provider
of gold.
Gramr fought for gold
[read with line

Pre-Christian religious activity took place in a wide range of cult-places. According to
Tacitus (
CE), Germanic tribes worshiped in the open air in sacred groves. Worship
could also be conducted in farmhouses or chieftains’ halls. Speci c cult houses are also
known. Here, Adam of Bremen provides a graphic description of what he called a temple
at Uppsala, Sweden, and some of the ritual that occurred there, from Book Four of his

History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
(see doc.
). Adam’s temple has
the viking age: a reader

These excerpts from saga texts illustrate the appearance, accomplishments, and character
of several famous Viking warriors.
(a) Earl Rognvald Kali on Being a Gentleman

Rognvald Kali Kolsson (ca
) became earl of Orkney in
. He began the
construction of St. Magnus’s Cathedral, where he was buried after his assassination in
. He was later canonized. From
Orkneyinga saga
, a history of the earls of Orkney
from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson, Íslenzk fornrit
XXXIV (Reykjavík,
), p.
Kali was a very promising man with many accomplishments. He was middle-
sized and had well-formed limbs and light brown hair. He was very popular and
had more physical abilities than most other men. He composed this verse:
I know nine arts, for
I’m a demon at draughts
and rarely go wrong with runes;
I read at times, use my hands at times;
I can slide on skis,
shoot bows and row boats;
I know how to harp
and how poems are made.
(b) Gunnar Hamundarson, the Ideal Warrior

Gunnar’s strengths and his nobility do not save him from the cycle of violence and revenge
that dominates the saga. From
Njal’s Saga .
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. There was a man called Gunnar Hamundarson who lived at Hlidarend in Fljot-
shlid. Gunnar was tall and strong and more skilled in the use of weapons than any
other man. He could strike or shoot with whichever hand he pleased and he could
swing his sword so rapidly that there seemed to be three swords in the air at once.
Gunnar was a very 
the viking age: a reader
comb my hair until I gain possession of the whole of Norway—with all its
taxes and revenues—and become sole ruler there, or die trying.”
Guthorm Hertogi praised his vow, and said that it was a king’s duty to keep
his word.
. After that, Harald and Guthorm mustered a large army and made for
Uppland. Then they went north through the Dales, and north again over
Dovrefjell [a mountain range]. Whenever the king came down into a settle-
ment, he had the men slaughtered and the buildings burned, and when news
of this spread, everyone who could, 
ed. Some of them went to Orkadal, some
to Gaulardal, and some took to the forests. Others begged for mercy and this
was granted to everyone who came to the king and swore allegiance to him.
King Harald and his uncle Guthorm met no resistance until they reached
Orkadal where an army had been mobilized against them. Their 
rst battle was
against a king called Gryting and King Harald won this battle. Gryting was
captured, and a large part of his army was killed. So he submitted to Harald
and swore allegiance to him. Then the whole population of Orkadal province
submitted to King Harald and became his subjects.
. Wherever King Harald gained control, he imposed a law giving himself
ownership of all ancestral properties and forcing all landholders, both great
and small, to pay him rent. Over every province, he placed an earl whose duty
it was to make legal decisions and to apply the law, to levy 
nes and to collect
rents. Each earl was to have a third of the taxes and dues for his living-costs and
expenses. He was also to have four or more hersirs under him, each of whom
was to have an allowance of twenty marks. The earls were required to provide
sixty men each for the royal army; the hersirs supplied twenty men each.
King Harald increased taxes and land-rents so much that his earls became
more powerful than the former kings had been. When this became known
throughout Trondheim, many in
uential men sought out King Harald and
entered his service.
. History tells us that Earl Hakon Grjotgardsson came from Yrjar [now
Ørland] with a large army to support King Harald. After that, King Harald
advanced into Gaulardal where he fought and killed two kings, and took pos-
session of their territories, Gaulardal and the Strinda district. Harald put Earl
Hakon in charge of the Strinda district.
King Harald went next to Stjordal where he fought and won a third battle
and annexed that district. After this, the people of the Inner Trondheim dis-
trict assembled for battle. Four kings were there with their armies. They were
the kings of Verdal, Skaun, Sparby, and Lower Eyin. The king of Lower Eyin
also ruled Eynafylki. These four kings advanced against King Harald with
their army. Harald engaged them in battle and won, killing some of them and
twelve: from odin to christ
. Four years after the death of Magnus Barelegs, King Sigurd left Norway with
his army [
]. He had sixty ships, as Thorarin Stuttfeld says:
At the wish of the wise
king, there came together
a great force faithful
to the powerful prince,
and sixty sleek-sided
ships took to sea and sped
across the waves by the will
of gracious God.
In the autumn, King Sigurd sailed to England. At that time, the king there was
Henry, the son of William the Bastard. King Sigurd stayed there over the winter,
as Einar Skulason says:
The resolute ruler sailed
west with his warriors;
the sea-strider [ship]
carried the king to England.
The war-wise prince
rested his ship on the shore,
waited out winter; a better
lord never landed there.
. The following spring, King Sigurd sailed west to France with his forces
and in autumn got as far as Galicia [in Spain] where he spent his second winter.
Einar Skulasson says:
The ruler of the greatest realm
beneath the circling sun
spent the second winter
in the homeland of holy St. James;
the people’s prince, I hear,
repaid the evil earl
for his falseness and fed
the black swan of battle.
What happened was this: the earl who ruled that land made an agreement with
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
When their chieftain dies, his family ask his slave-girls and slave-boys,
“Who among you will die with him?” and some of them reply, “I shall.”
Having said this, it becomes incumbent upon the person and it is impossible
ever to turn back. Should that person try to, he is not permitted to do so. It is
usually slave-girls who make this offer.
When that man whom I mentioned earlier died, they said to his slave-girls,
“Who will die with him?” and one of them said, “I shall.” So they placed two
slave-girls in charge of her to take care of her and accompany her wherever she
went, even to the point of occasionally washing her feet with their own hands.
They set about attending to the dead man, preparing his clothes for him and
setting right all he needed. Every day the slave-girl would drink alcohol&#x-32a;&#x-39l; oho;&#xl-17;
and would sing merrily and cheerfully.
On the day when he and the slave-girl were to be burned I arrived at the
river where his ship was. To my surprise I discovered that it had been beached
and that four planks of birch and other types of wood had been erected for it.
Around them wood had been placed in such a way as to resemble scaffolding.
Then the ship was hauled and placed on top of this wood. They advanced,
going to and fro around the boat&#x-31a;&#x-29r;&#x-10o;u-2;n-2; t-;#h2; b-; o-8; -9t;&#x-160; uttering words which I did not under-
stand, while he was still in his grave and had not been exhumed.
Then they produced a couch and placed it on the ship, covering it with
quilts made of &#x-19m;&#x-30a;&#x-12d;&#x-10e;&#x of ;đ ;ᄐ Byzantine silk brocade and cushions made of &#x-19m;&#x-30a;&#x-12d;&#x-10e;&#x of ;đ ;ᄐ Byzantine
silk brocade. Then a crone arrived whom they called the “Angel of Death”
and she spread on the couch the coverings we have mentioned. She is respon-
sible for having his garments&#x-22g;&#x-32a;&#x-29r;&#x-44m;-6n;&#xt-31;&#xs-34; sewn up and putting him in order and it is
she who kills the slave-girls. I myself saw her: a gloomy, corpulent woman,
neither young nor old.
When they came to his grave, they removed the soil from the wood and
then removed the wood, exhuming him still dressed&#x-39s;&#x-9t-;4i-;8l-;Dl ; -34;&#xr-10;-22;&#xs-22;&#xs-9e;&#x-12d;&#x-210; in the iza
¯r [garment] in
which he had died. I could see that he had turned black because of the coldness
of the ground. They had also placed alcohol, fruit and a Pandora [a musical
instrument similar to a lute] beside him in the grave, all of which they took out.
Surprisingly, he had not begun to stink and only his colour had deteriorated.
They clothed him in trousers, leggings, boots, a qurt
aq, and a silk caftan with
golden buttons, and placed a silk qalansuwwah [cap] fringed&#x-18f;&#x-36r;&#x-44i;&#x-28n;&#x-18g;&#x-18e;&#x-11d;&#x-210; with sable on
his head. They carried him inside the pavilion on the ship and laid him to rest
on the quilt, propping him with cushions. Then they brought alcohol, fruit and
herbs and placed them beside him. Next they brought bread, meat and onions,
which they cast in front of him, a dog, which they cut in two and which they
threw onto the ship, and all of his weaponry, which they placed beside him.
They then brought two mounts, made them gallop until they began to sweat,
cut them up into pieces and threw the 
esh onto the ship. They next fetched
the viking age: a reader
you were lurking here like a cat in its den while I was 
ghting to keep both
of us free? Besides, our family ties oblige us to help each other when we’re up
against strangers.”
Goaded into action by Thor
nn, Kalf called his men together and ordered
them into battle beside the earl. Bjarni Gullbrarskald composed this verse:
Kalf, we have heard how
you followed Finn’s kinsman,
sailed your snake-ships
eagerly against the earl:
quelled the rash courage
of Brusi’s bold son;
when, mindful of former malice,
you hastened to help Thor
Now Kalf and Earl Thor nn both rowed to the attack, but by the time they
reached the battle, Thor
one: the scandinavian homelands
were because he did not see anything for himself. It seemed to him that the
Sámi and the Biarmians spoke much the same language.
In addition to exploring the land, he traveled there mainly for the walrus,
because they have very 
ne bone in their teeth—they brought some teeth for
the king—and their hide is very good for ships’ ropes. This whale is much
smaller than other whales, being no more than seven ells long [an English ell
meters]. But the best whale hunting is in his own land where the whales
are forty-eight ells long, and the biggest 
fty ells in length. He said that he and
six other men killed sixty of them in two days.
He was a very well-to-do man, rich in the possessions which comprise their
wealth, namely wild beasts. When he visited the king, he still had six hundred
unsold animals. These animals are called reindeer. Six of them were decoy
reindeer; these are highly prized by the Sámi because they catch wild reindeer
with them. He was one of the most prominent men in that land, yet he had
no more than twenty cattle, twenty sheep, and twenty pigs, and the little that
he plowed, he plowed with horses. Their wealth, however, consists mainly
of the tribute paid to them by the Sámi. This tribute consists of animal hides,
bird feathers, whale bone, and ships’ cables made from whale and seal skins.
Each man pays according to his rank. The highest ranking must give 
marten skins, 
ve reindeer hides, a bear skin, ten ambers of feathers, a bear
or otter skin coat, and two ships’ cables, each sixty ells long, one made from
whale skin and the other from seal skin.
He said that the land of the Norwegians is very long and very narrow.
All the land that can be grazed or plowed lies beside the sea, and even that
is very rocky in places. Above and to the east lie wild, mountainous waste-
lands, stretching all along the length of the inhabited land. Sámi inhabit the
wasteland. The inhabited land is broadest to the east [that is, in the south of
Norway] and the farther north it lies, the narrower it becomes. To the east, it
can be sixty miles broad, or slightly broader, and in the middle, it can be thirty
miles or broader. To the north, where it is narrowest, he said, it might be only
three miles broad before becoming wasteland. In some places the wasteland is
as wide as a man can cross in two weeks; in others, as wide as a man can cross
in six days. Alongside the southern part of the land, on the other side of the
wasteland, Sweden stretches up to the northern part of Norway, and adjacent
to the northern part of Norway is Cwenland [land of the Sámi]. Sometimes,
the Sámi harry the Norwegians across the waste land, and at other times the
Norwegians raid them. There are huge freshwater lakes throughout the waste-
lands; the Sámi carry their boats overland to the lakes and raid the Norwegians
from there. They have very small, light boats.
Ohthere said that the district where he lived is called Halogaland and that
no one lived to the north of him. In the south of that land is a port called
three: early religion and belief
“One thing’s for sure,” said Thorgaut, “you people have had all the nerve
shaken out of you. I’m not going to drop dead some night because of idle
chatter like this.”
Winter passed and soon it was Christmas again. On Christmas Eve when
the shepherd was on his way out to see to his sheep, Thorhall’s wife said, “Let’s
hope there won’t be a repetition of what happened last year.”
“Don’t worry about that,” said Thorgaut. “If I don’t come back, then there
will be something worth worrying about.” After that, he went back to his
The weather was cold and it was snowing heavily. Thorgaut usually returned
at dusk, but on this occasion he didn’t come back at the expected time. The
people went to church as usual, but everyone had the feeling that events were
taking a familiar course. Thorhall wanted to search right away, but the others
refused, saying that they wouldn’t risk falling into the hands of trolls at night.
The farmer didn’t dare go out either, so there was no search.
On Christmas Day, after a meal, searchers went out to look for the shep-
herd. They went 
rst to Glam’s grave, for they thought that the shepherd’s
disappearance must have been his doing. When they reached the grave, they
saw a dreadful sight. There was the shepherd with his neck broken and every
bone in his body shattered. They carried Thorgaut to church, and afterwards
he caused no one any harm. Glam, on the other hand, went from strength to
strength; he caused so much havoc that everyone abandoned Thorhallsstead,
except the farmer and his wife.
Thorhall’s cowherd had been with him for a long time and he didn’t want
to lose him, partly because he liked the man and partly because he did his job
well. The cowherd was old, and thought that moving would be too much of
an effort. He realized, too, that the farmer’s possessions would all be ruined if
no one was there to look after them.
One morning after midwinter, the farmer’s wife went out to the byre to
milk the cows at the usual time. By then it was broad daylight, for no one dared
go outside earlier than that except the cowherd, who went out at 
rst light.
She heard a huge crash and a hideous bellowing in the cowhouse, so she ran
back indoors shrieking that something dreadful was going on in the byre. The
farmer went out and saw that his cattle were goring one another. This looked
bad enough, but when he went into the byre, he found the herdsman lying
on his back with his head in one stall and his feet in another. Thorhall went
over to the cowherd, felt him, and discovered right away that he was dead;
his back had been broken on the stone wall between the stalls. The farmer
now realized that he couldn’t stay there any longer, so he 
ed from his farm
taking with him whatever he could. Glam killed all the livestock that was
left behind and afterwards he traveled around the whole valley, laying waste
the viking age: a reader
deal, the men of Botn had to make themselves lots of shoes. At that time, ox-
hide was used for making shoes, and people thought that Kolgrim had held
the games because he wanted to investigate the loss of the ox. He thought that
the viking age: a reader
Baths shall be prepared for them in any volume they require. When the Rus-
sians return homeward, they shall receive from your emperor food, anchors,
cordage, and sails and whatever else is needed for the journey.”
The Greeks accepted these stipulations, and the emperors and all the court-
iers declared: “If Russes come hither without merchandise, they shall receive
no provisions. Your prince shall personally lay injunction upon such Russians
as journey hither that they shall do no violence in the towns and throughout
our territory. Such Russes as arrive here shall dwell in the St. Mamas quarter.
Our government will send of
cers to record their names, and they shall then
receive their monthly allowance, 
rst the natives of Kiev, then those from
Chernigov, Pereyaslavl, and the other cities. They shall not enter the city
save through one gate, unarmed and 
fty at a time, escorted by agents of the
emperor. They may conduct business according to their requirements, and
without payment of taxes.”
Thus the emperors Leo and Alexander made peace with Oleg, and after
agreeing upon the tribute and mutually binding themselves by oath, they
kissed the cross, and invited Oleg and his men to swear an oath likewise.
According to the religion of the Russes, the latter swore by their weapons and
by their god Perun, as well as by Volos, the god of cattle, and thus con
the treaty.
Oleg gave orders that sails of brocade should be made for the Russians
and silken ones for the Slavs, and his demand was satis
ed. The Russes hung
their shields upon the gates as a sign of victory, and Oleg then departed from
Tsar’grad. The Russes unfurled their sails of brocade and the Slavs their sails
of silk, but the wind tore them. Then the Slavs said: “Let us keep our canvas
ones; silken sails are not made for the Slavs.” So Oleg came to Kiev, bearing
palls, gold, fruit, and wine, along with every sort of adornment. The people
called Oleg “the Sage,” for they were but pagans, and therefore ignorant.
A Treaty with Byzantium,
) . . . Oleg despatched his vassals to make peace and to draw up a treaty be-
tween the Greeks and the Russes. His envoys thus made declaration:
“This is the copy of the treaty concluded under the emperors Leo and
Alexander. We of the Rus nation: Karl, Ingjald, Farulf, Vermund, Hrollaf,
Gunnar, Harold, Karni, Frithleif, Hroarr, Angantyr, Throand, Leithulf, Fast,
and Steinvith, are sent by Oleg, Great Prince of Rus, and by all the serene
and great princes and the great boyars [nobles] under his sway, unto you,
Leo and Alexander and Constantine, great autocrats in God, emperors of
the Greeks, for the maintenance and proclamation of the long-standing

The Decline of the Earls of Orkney

The Battle of Largs,

Advice from Odin



the viking age: a reader
or physique. He was brought up by King Hjalprek with great affection, and
whenever the noblest men and kings are named in the old sagas, Sigurd always
rst for his strength, his accomplishments, his energy, and his valor; he
was more highly endowed with these qualities than anyone else in the north-
ern regions of the world. So, Sigurd grew up with King Hjalprek and King
Hjalprek betrothed Hjordis to his son, King Alf, and paid the bride-price.
Regin, son of Hreithmar, was Sigurd’s foster father. He taught Sigurd the
accomplishments that were expected of kings’ sons: how to play chess, how
to read runes, how to speak several languages, and many other things as well.
One day when they were together, Regin asked Sigurd if he knew how much
property his father had owned and who was managing it. Sigurd replied that
the kings were looking after it.
“Do you trust them completely?” asked Regin. Sigurd answered, “It’s only
right that they should look after it until I am 
t to do so, for they know how
to take care of it better than I do.”
On another occasion, Regin approached Sigurd and said, “It’s odd that you
don’t mind being the kings’ stable boy and going about like a tramp.” “That’s
not how things are,” said Sigurd. “We talk over everything together, and I get
whatever I want.” “Ask for a horse, then,” said Regin. “I’ll get one the minute
I want it,” answered Sigurd.
Then Sigurd went to the king. “What do you want?” asked Hjalprek.
“I would like a horse to ride,” replied Sigurd. “Then choose yourself a horse
and anything else of mine that you’d like,” said the king.
So next day, Sigurd went to the forest where he met an old man with a
long beard. The stranger asked Sigurd where he was off to. “I have to choose
a horse,” said Sigurd. “Can you give me any advice?”
“Let’s go and drive the horses to the river Busiltjorn,” said the old man.
So they drove the horses deep into the river. All but one of them returned to
land, and that was the one Sigurd chose. The horse was a young gray, big and
handsome—no one had ever ridden him.
“This horse is descended from Sleipnir,” said the bearded man, “and he must
be carefully reared, for he will be better than any other horse.” With that, the
man vanished. Sigurd called the horse Grani, and it was the best horse ever. . . .
Odin was the old man whom he had met.
On another occasion, Regin said to Sigurd, “You haven’t got nearly enough
money, and it upsets me to see you running about like a peasant boy. But I can
tell you where there’s a great treasure to be found; you’ll gain fame if you go
looking for it, and even more if you get hold of it.” Sigurd asked where it was
and who was guarding it.
“The guardian of the treasure is called Fafnir,” replied Regin, “and he lives
not far from here at a place called Gnitaheath. When you get there, you’ll have
the viking age: a reader
So they separated into groups and went to look for him. Thorkel the Fos-
terer was searching along the seashore when a dog was heard barking among
the rocks beside the sea—Rognvald had taken his lap-dog with him, and the
dog had given him away. They killed him there and then among the rocks,
and the story goes that it was Thorkel the Fosterer who killed him. No one
else would do it, but Thorkel had taken an oath to do anything that would
help Thor
nn regain his power. Thor
nn and his men spent the night on the
island; all the men who had gone there with Rognvald were slain.
In the morning, they loaded a cargo ship with malt. When they boarded
the ship, they did not remove Rognvald’s shields from the bow and they made
sure that no more men were visible than had gone with Rognvald to the island.
They rowed to Kirkwall and the people there thought that Earl Rognvald was
coming back. So they went to meet him and most of them were unarmed. Earl
nn had thirty men seized and executed. Most were retainers and friends
of King Magnus of Norway, but the earl spared one of them and ordered him
to go back to Norway and tell King Magnus what had happened.
. Earl Rognvald’s body was taken to Greater Papey where it was buried.
The general opinion was that he had been the most popular and accomplished
of all the earls of Orkney, and many people mourned his passing. . . . After
that, Earl Thor
nn brought all of the Orkneys under his control, and no one
put up any resistance. Early in the spring, news of these events reached Nor-
way. King Magnus was greatly upset by the loss of Earl Rognvald and said that
he would avenge him as soon as he could. But at that particular time, he was
involved in hostilities against Svein Ulfsson, who had recently become king
of Denmark. At that time too, he had just given half his kingdom to his uncle
Harald Sigurdarson who had returned to Norway. . . .
. Earl Thor
nn now had undisputed authority over the Orkneys and all
the rest of his territories. . . . Occasionally, he went on Viking expeditions to
the west, pillaging in Scotland and Ireland. He also spent some time in England
where he was in charge of the royal bodyguard for a while.
When Earl Thor
nn heard of King Magnus’s death, he sent messengers to
Norway to assure King Harald of his good will and to ask him for his friend-
ship. King Harald received the message favorably and promised Thor
nn his
friendship. As soon as he received this reply, Earl Thor
nn got ready for a
voyage and set off from the Orkneys with two twenty-bench longships and
more than a hundred well-chosen men. He sailed east to Norway and met the
king in Hordaland. Harald welcomed him warmly and gave him many 
gifts when they parted.
From there, the earl sailed south along the coast and kept going until he
reached Denmark. He traveled across the country and met King Svein at
Alaborg [Aalborg]. The king invited Thor
nn to stay with him and held
the viking age: a reader
Caithness and set about gathering troops. He was joined by his brother-in-law,
Lifolf the Bald, who had many noble kinsmen in the area. Lifolf was married
to Ragnhild, the sister of Earl Harald the Young; he was called “Harald the
Young” to distinguish him from Harald Maddadarson, who was nicknamed
“the Old.”
Lifolf had more in
uence over Harald the Young than anyone else. He and
Harald sent messengers to Earl Harald the Old in the Orkneys asking him to
hand over half of the islands, in ful
llment of King Magnus’s promise to Earl
Harald the Young. When Harald the Old heard about this, he  atly refused
to divide his territory on any terms. Lifolf the Bald took part in this mission,
and, before he left, Harald the Old spoke to him in a very threatening manner.
After that, Earl Harald the Old mustered a large army. Meanwhile, Harald
the Young and his followers were in Caithness and they had assembled a small
number of troops. When they heard that Harald the Old was gathering an
army together, they dispatched Lifolf north once again across the Pentland
Firth to reconnoiter the enemy. He headed west to Ranaldsey and climbed a
hill where he came across three of Harald the Old’s lookouts. They killed two
of them but kept the third for interrogation. Then Lifolf caught sight of the
earl’s forces—he had many ships, most of them big. So Lifolf returned to his
ship and told his companions what he had found out.
He declared that Earl Harald’s army was so large that it would be folly to
take him on. “To my way of thinking,” said Lifolf, “we should head north
today for Thurso where lots of people will join us. But if you insist on 
Earl Harald, it is bound to be disastrous.”
Then Sigurd the Tiny spoke up: “It’s a black day when the earl’s brother-
in-law crosses the Pentland Firth and leaves his nerve behind,” he said, adding
that it would be a sorry outlook if they were all to lose heart as soon as they
saw Harald the Old’s army.
“When push comes to shove, Sigurd,” replied Lifolf, “it’s hard to tell who
will keep his nerve. And I’m pretty sure that if it ever came time for me to des-
ert Harald the Young, you 
ne fellows would be hard put to it to stay behind.”
The trip to Thurso did not take place, and a little later on they saw Harald
the Old’s 
eet sailing off Ranaldsey, so they prepared for battle. Harald the Old
came ashore and drew up his considerable forces, while Sigurd the Tiny and
Lifolf got the young earl’s army into position. Sigurd the Tiny was wearing a
scarlet tunic with the front skirts tucked up under his belt. Some of his men
suggested doing the same at the back, but he told them not to bother: “For
I’ve no intention of turning tail today,” he said.
Sigurd and Lifolf were each with their own wings of the army and, as soon
as they had drawn up their troops, a 
erce battle began. In Harald the Old’s
force, there were many tough men who were really hard 
ghters and unusually
the viking age: a reader
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
. The heathens won a battle against the men of Foirtriu, and Eóganán son of Aengus,
Bran son of Óengus, Aed son of Boanta, and others almost innumerable fell there.
. Ferna and Corcach were burned by the heathens.
] . Lugbad was plundered by the heathens from Loch nEchach and they led
captive bishops and priests and scholars, and put others to death.
. In this year below the Norsemen 
rst came to Ireland, according to the senchus
Senchus Fer n-Alban
History of the Men of Scotland
), written in the tenth century].

. The heathens were still on Loch nEchach.
. There was a naval camp [longport] at Linn Duachaill from which the peoples
two: scandinavian society
was sitting on her own, close to the edge of the tent. She was poorly dressed,
but, from what he could see of her, Hoskuld thought she was beautiful.
“How much would you want for this woman if I decided to buy her?” asked
Hoskuld. “She would cost you three marks of silver,” answered Gilli.
“I would say you’re charging rather a high price for this servant,” said
Hoskuld. “You could get three for that price.”
“You’re right,” answered Gilli. “I do value her more highly than the rest.
Choose one of the eleven others and you can have her for a mark of silver; I’ll
hang on to this one.”
“First I’ll have to 
gure out how much silver I have in this purse at my belt,”
said Hoskuld. He asked Gilli to fetch his scales while he looked into his purse.
“I’m not going to defraud you, Hoskuld,” said Gilli. “This woman has a
defect, and I want you to know about it before we strike a bargain.”
Hoskuld asked what it was. “The woman is mute,” replied Gilli. “I’ve tried
many different ways of making her speak, but I’ve never managed to get a word
out of her. It’s my 
rm belief that she doesn’t know how to speak.”
“Bring out your scales,” said Hoskuld, “and let’s see how much this purse
of mine weighs.” Gilli did so; he weighed the silver and the weight came to
three marks.
“Then we’ve got a deal,” said Hoskuld. “You take the money, and I’ll take
the woman. I must say that you have behaved honorably in this affair, because
you didn’t try to cheat me at all.”
Then Hoskuld returned to his booth. That night he slept with the slave-
woman. Next morning when it was time to get dressed, Hoskuld said, “Gilli
the Rich didn’t give you very much in the way of clothing, but I dare say
it was more of a problem for him to clothe twelve women than for me to
clothe one.”
Then Hoskuld opened a chest and took out some  ne clothing, which he
gave to her. Everyone agreed that she looked good in the clothes. When the
chieftains had concluded the business that the law demanded, the assembly
came to an end. Then Hoskuld went to see King Hakon and addressed him
with respect, as was 
tting. The king looked at him and said, “We would have
accepted your greeting, Hoskuld, even if you had delivered it a little sooner,
but we shall accept it even now.”

Erling Skjalgsson was a powerful Norwegian landowner and political operator in the
reigns of Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haraldsson [Saint Olaf]. His life and political career
ended in
when he was captured and killed by Olaf Haraldsson’s men. From
Olaf’s Saga
. A hersir was a local chieftain, or lord.

the viking age: a reader
. Harald Greycloak [Harald II, d.
] was king of Norway. He was the son of
Eirik Bloodax [r.
, d.
], the son of Harald Finehair. His mother was
Gunnhild, the daughter of Ozur Toti. Harald and Gunnhild had their residence
at Konungahella [King’s Rock, near Viken] in the east of the country.
Now word spread that a ship from the west had arrived in Vik. As soon as
Gunnhild heard the report, she asked what Icelanders were aboard. She was
told that one of the Icelanders was a man called Hrut, the nephew of Ozur.
“I know what he’s here for,” Gunnhild said. “He wants to claim his inheri-
tance, which has been seized by a man called Soti.”
She called for her servant, Ogmund: “I’m sending you to Vik to meet Ozur
and Hrut,” she said. “Tell them that I’m inviting both of them to spend the
winter with me and that I wish to be their friend. If Hrut follows my advice,
I’ll take care of his 
nancial business and anything else he undertakes. I shall
also bring him to the notice of the king.”
Ogmund left and went to meet Ozur and Hrut who received him warmly
when they learned that he was one of Gunnhild’s servants. Ogmund gave them
Gunnhild’s message in secret and, afterwards, Ozur and Hrut discussed their
options in private. Ozur remarked to Hrut, “I think, kinsman, that our minds
have been made up for us because I know what Gunnhild is like. If we don’t go
to her, she will quickly drive us out of the country and seize all our property,
but if we do go to her, she will treat us honorably just as she has promised.”
Ogmund returned home and when he met Gunnhild, he told her that his
errand had been successful; Hrut and Ozur would come. “That is just what
I expected,” said Gunnhild, “for Hrut is said to be a clever and sensible man.
Now keep a lookout and tell me when they reach town.”
Hrut and his men traveled east to Konungahella. When they arrived, their
kinsfolk and friends came to meet them and gave them a friendly welcome.
They asked if the king was in residence and were told that he was. A little
later, they met Ogmund, who passed on Gunnhild’s greetings, adding that
she would not invite them to her house until they had met the king, for fear
that people would gossip and say that she was making too much of them. She
would, however, do whatever she thought 
t on their behalf and Hrut, for his
part, should speak boldly to the king and ask to be one of his retainers.
“Here are some splendid robes that she has sent you, Hrut,” said Ogmund.
“You must wear them when you go before the king.” Then he went away.
Next day, Hrut said, “Let’s go before the king.” “Right,” replied Ozur.
Twelve men, all kinsmen and friends, went together in a group. When they
reached the hall where the king sat drinking, Hrut led the way and greeted
him. The king looked carefully at this well-dressed man and asked him his
name. Hrut told him.
“Are you an Icelander?” asked the king. Hrut answered that he was.
twelve: from odin to christ
that they should be on their guard against Olaf and urged Eyvind to join him
as soon as possible.
When he received these messages, Eyvind realized that the most press-
ing business was to work out how they could avoid falling into King Olaf’s
clutches. So he set off hurriedly in a light boat with only a few men aboard.
When he reached Thjota, Harek welcomed him warmly and immediately
afterwards they left the farmhouse by another way and had a talk together.
But they hadn’t been talking for long when King Olaf’s men—the ones who
had accompanied Harek to the north—seized Eyvind, led him to their ships,
and sailed off with him.
They did not interrupt their journey until they reached Trondheim and
found King Olaf in Nidaros. There Eyvind was brought before the king,
who urged him to be baptized like other men, but Eyvind refused. The king
and the bishop both spoke to him courteously and tried to persuade him to
accept Christianity, giving him many good reasons for doing so, but Eyvind
would not be moved. Then the king offered him gifts and great revenues,
but Eyvind refused them all. At length, the king threatened him with torture
and death, but still Eyvind would not be moved. So the king had a basin
full of red-hot embers brought in and placed on Eyvind’s stomach. Soon his
stomach burst open.
“Take the basin away,” said Eyvind. “I want to say a few words before I die.”
This was done, and the king asked, “Now will you have faith in Christ, Eyvind?”
“No, I cannot accept baptism,” replied Eyvind, “for I am a spirit, given
human life and shape by the magic of the Finns. Before then, my father and
mother could not have a child.” Then Eyvind died; he had been a great sorcerer.
the viking age: a reader
“You’re counting among the dead a man who got away,” said Geirmund.
“I know because I talked to him this morning.”
“Who is that?” asked Flosi.
“Kari Solmundarson,” replied Geirmund. “My neighbor Bard and I met
him, and Bard gave him his horse. His hair and clothes had been burnt off.”
“Was he armed?” asked Flosi.
“He had the sword Fjorsvafnir [Taker of Life],” answered Geirmund. “One
edge had turned blue and we said that it must have lost its temper. But he
replied that he would restore its temper in the blood of the Sigfussons and the
other arsonists.”
“Did he mention Skarphedin or Grim?” Flosi asked.
“He told us that they were both alive when he parted from them, but that
they would be dead by now,” said Geirmund.
“There’s little hope of peace in what you’ve told us,” said Flosi, “for the man
who has just escaped is the one who comes closest, in every respect, to being
a match for Gunnar of Hldarend. You Sigfussons, and the rest of us as well,
must understand that the aftermath of this burning will be so serious that many
men will lose their heads, and others will forfeit everything they own. I suspect
that none of you Sigfussons will dare stay in your own homes now, and for
good reason, so I’m inviting all of you to come east with me. Let’s face our fate
together.” They thanked him. Then, Motholf Ketilsson composed this poem:
Out of all the gold-givers
a single man survives the
bright blaze of Njal’s house,
set by the Sigfussons.
Now, Njal, the murder
of the hero Hoskuld is paid for
re burning brightly,
by  ames 
ooding the house.
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
through March without needing to feel the least anxiety: they ravaged, burned
and took captives all the more savagely for being completely unrestrained. . . .
In July the Danes left the Seine and went to the Loire where they sacked
the town of Nantes and the monastery of St-Florent and its neighborhood. . . .
November Danish pirates from Nantes heading further inland bra-
zenly attacked the town of Tours and burned it, along with the church of St-
Martin, and other neighboring places. But because the attack had been known
about beforehand with complete certainty, the body of St-Martin had already
been taken away to the monastery of Cormery and the treasures of his church
to the
of Orléans.
. The Danes stayed on the Loire. They sailed up as far as the stronghold of
Blois which they burned. Their aim was to reach Orléans and wreak the same
havoc there. But Bishop Agius of Orléans and Bishop Burchard of Chartres
got ready ships and warriors to resist them; so the Danes gave up their plan
and headed back to the lower waters of the Loire. Other Danish pirates also
laid waste the part of Frisia next door to Saxony.
The Danes fought amongst themselves in a civil war. They battled like
madmen in a terribly stubborn con ict lasting three days. When King Horic
and other kings with him had been slain, almost the entire nobility perished
too. Pirates of the Northmen came up the Loire again and burned the

of Angers.
. Lothar gave the whole of Frisia to his son Lothar, whereupon Roric
and Godefrid headed back to their native Denmark in the hope of gaining
royal power. . . .
The Northmen attacked Bordeaux, a
in Aquitaine, and moved about
all over the countryside at will. . . .
The Northmen sailed up the Loire. They left their ships and tried to reach
Poitiers on foot. But the Aquitanians came up to meet them and beat them
so soundly that hardly more than

of them escaped. Roric and Godefrid,
on whom success had not smiled, remained based at Dorestad and held sway
over most of Frisia.
. On
April, Danish pirates came to Orléans, sacked it and went away
again without meeting any opposition. . . .
In mid-August, other Danish pirates again sailed up the Seine. They rav-
aged and plundered the
, monasteries and
[farms] on both banks of
the river, and even some
further away. Then they chose a place on the
bank of the Seine called Jeufosse, an excellent defensive site for a base camp,
and there they quietly passed the winter.
. On
December [
] Danish pirates attacked Paris and burned it.
Those pirates who were based in the region of the lower Loire sacked Tours
and all the surrounding districts as far as the stronghold of Blois. . . .
the viking age: a reader
to remain in this land as a man of great wealth. The most long-suffering King
Charles, led by the advice of his men, is willing to give you this coast-land too
often laid waste by Hastings and by you. Moreover, so that peace and agree-
ment and 
rm, stable, and continuous friendship may endure between you and
him for all times, he will give you his daughter, called Gisla, in marriage as
your wife. If you will have the joy of offspring through this union, you will
hold the kingdom in perpetuity.”
When he had heard this, he called together the Danish chiefs, and
told them what the bishop had said to him. And the Danes remembered the
interpretations of the dream, and said to Rollo: “This utterly desolated land,
bereft of warriors and untilled by the plow, is full of good trees, is intersected
by rivers stocked with various sorts of 
sh; it teems with game, is not unfa-
miliar with vines, bears fruit in soil worked by the plow, is hemmed in on one
side by a sea which will afford an abundant wealth of different commodities,
and on the other by the out
ow of waters carrying all sorts of goods by ship.
It is virtually distinct from the kingdom of Francia, and if it were occupied
by a dense population it would be mightily fertile and very rich, suf
and suitable for us to inhabit. The girl whom he is promising you is lawfully
born of the seed of either parent. She is tall enough, and her shape, we have
heard, is most rare; she is a most unsullied virgin, provident in counsel, care-
ful in her public dealings, most pleasant in her manner, most affable in her
speech, highly skilled in handiwork. Indeed, she is the most outstanding of
all virgins, and it is right that she be joined to you in wedded affection. And
so the plan which seems to us the best, the most pro
table, and proof against
any misguided quarreling, is that you should have the king’s daughter joined
to you in marriage.
“Remember the interpretation of the dream, and its mystical meaning. As
we see it, things will turn out better for us within this territory. Enough have
we battled and beaten the Franks; it seems right to us that we should take our
ease, and quietly enjoy the fruits of the earth. Send the bishop back to the king,
so that he may say that you are ready to be at his service if he gives you what
he has promised. Give him three secure months of peace, as well, so that if
he wants, he may come within the period of truce to meet you in public, and
make entirely sure of his words and promises.”
Rollo told the bishop forthwith that he was sending him back to the king
to say these things to him. When he came to the king, and when the bishops
had been convoked with a gathering of counts and abbots, he said: “Rollo, the
leader of the Northmen, will offer you his hands in submission as a token of
fealty, and he pledges love and inviolable friendship toward you, and even his
service, if you will give him your daughter, as you have said, to be his wife,
and the coast-land as a perpetual possession for the progeny of his progeny;
fourteen: the end of the viking age
and died unwounded. By late in the day, most of the Norwegian leaders were
dead. As might be expected, not everyone shared the same fate: many 
ed and
many were lucky enough to escape in a variety of different ways. The evening
was dark before the slaughter was completely over.


By the end of the twelfth century, the earls of Orkney—who a century earlier had been
all but independent rulers in the Northern Isles and mainland of Scotland with a far-
reaching sphere of in uence (see doc.
)—were beginning to experience the abridgement
of their power by both Norwegian and Scottish monarchies bent on consolidation of their
own in uence. Earl Harald Maddadarson (d.
) was the son of Maddad the earl
of Atholl and his second wife, a daughter of Earl Hakon Paulsson of Orkney. Harald
came to power amid a maelstrom of dynastic strife in
, at the age of  ve, and took
sole control of the earldom in
. From then until the end of his life he pursued a policy
of expansion and consolidation of power in the north of Scotland that brought him into
direct con ict with the Scottish kings. The chief source of information on Earl Harald is

Orkneyinga saga
, the later chapters of which recount the earl’s con icts with the Scottish
king William I the Lion (r.
). The dating of these clashes with the Scottish
king must be worked out from other sources, but they occurred in the period between
the viking age: a reader
“Well, I don’t know if it’s a skerry or a ship that I’m seeing,” said Leif. Now
the crew saw something too, and said that it was a skerry. However, Leif was
further-sighted than the rest and he could make out people on the skerry.
“I’m going to sail close to the wind so that we can reach these people,” said
Leif. “If they need our help, we have no choice but to give it to them. And if it
turns out that they’re unfriendly, the advantage is all on our side, not on theirs.”
They approached the skerry, lowered their sail, and anchored; then they
launched another small boat they had with them. Tyrkir asked who was in
charge of the group. Their leader replied that his name was Thorir and his
family was Norwegian.
“And what’s your name?” asked Thorir. Leif told him who he was. “Are you
the son of Eirik the Red from Brattahlid?” said Thorir. “Yes, I am,” replied
Leif. “And I’d like to invite all of you aboard my ship with as many of your
possessions as the ship can hold.”
They accepted his offer and then they all sailed to Eiriksfjord with the
cargo. When they reached Brattahlid, they unloaded the ship, and afterwards
Leif invited Thorir, Gudrid his wife, and three other men to stay with him.
He also found lodgings for all the other men, both his own and Thorir’s. Leif
fteen people from the skerry; he was known after that as Leif the
Lucky. He had now become both rich and respected. That winter Thorir and
his companions came down with a serious illness and Thorir died along with
many of his men. Eirik the Red also died that winter.
There was now a great deal of talk about Leif’s journey to Vinland. His
brother, Thorvald, thought that the land had not been well enough explored,
so Leif said to him,
“If you want to go to Vinland, brother, you can take my ship, but 
I want to send it to fetch the wood Thorir salvaged on the skerry.” And that
is what happened.

Thor nn Karlsefni made a serious attempt to settle in Vinland, possibly in what is
now the Gaspé region of Canada. His wife, Gudrid, was perhaps the best-traveled
woman in the Viking age. She was an Icelander who traveled  rst to Greenland and
then to Vinland. Later in life, she went on a pilgrimage to Rome. From
The Saga of
the Greenlanders

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
Eyrbyggja saga
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and
Matthías Þórðarson, Íslenzk fornrit IV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
kingdom. He undertook to ful
ll the assignment given to him and went to
Amiens. [There] he repeated his mission to the chiefs of his people who were
present. After a lengthy discussion, delayed in part by much back and forth
activity, by repeating now these things, now those, in the end [the North-
men] imposed on the king and the Franks a tribute of
pounds of silver
calculated according to their way of weighing things. Once hostages had been
exchanged, those who lived beyond the Oise began to feel safer. Thus from the
day of the Puri
cation of Saint Mary [
February] until the month of October

] this freedom from attack was granted to them.
But the Northmen, raiding as usual beyond the Scheldt, devastated with 
and sword churches, monasteries, cities and villages, and slaughtered people.
After holy Easter [
April] the [people] began to pay the tribute. Churches
and church properties were ruthlessly stripped [of wealth]. Finally, when the
tribute had been paid, the Franks gathered together to resist the Northmen
in case they intended to break their agreement. The Northmen burned down
their camps and withdrew from Amiens. The king and the Franks pursued
them on a slow march beyond the Oise. The Danes on their journey came to
Boulogne-sur-Mer and there deliberated what they should do. A group of
them crossed the sea, another group came to Louvain in the kingdom that
once belonged to Lothar and there they set up camps in order to spend the
winter. The Franks who were with Carloman returned to their own land; a
few young men remained with him to hunt in the Bezu forest [where he was
killed in a hunting accident].
. The emperor Charles, having received the news [of Lothar’s death],
made a rapid march and came to Ponthion, and there all the men who lived
in Carloman’s kingdom came to him and placed themselves under his rule.
Thus the emperor Charles returned to his own land, ordering those who
lived in the kingdom [that was formerly] Carloman’s to proceed to Louvain
ght the Northmen. On the agreed upon day both armies came together
at that place, except Abbot Hugh, who held back from this outing because of
a foot ailment. But [these armies] accomplished nothing successful there, and
returned to their own lands in great shame. The Danes laughed at the Franks
who came from Carloman’s kingdom: “So why did you come to [see] us? It
was not necessary. We know how you are and [what] you want, so let us visit
you. Let us do that [for you].”
At the same time [in May] Godefrid the Dane, because he was undertaking
to break his pledge with the crafty help of his vassal, Gerulf [of Frisia], was
killed by Duke Henry. . . . On the eight Kalends of July [
June] [the North-
men] with their entire army entered Rouen and the Franks pursued them to
the same place. Since their ships had still not come there, they crossed the Seine
in ships found along the river and then they forti
ed a camp there. While this
the viking age: a reader

Ax from a grave in Mammen, Denmark, late tenth century. The blade has
an elaborate silver and gold inlay. The Mammen style of Viking art takes its name from
this piece.

Source: Paul B. du Chaillu,
The Viking Age
vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

, p.

thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
. After these battles, King Harald and Guthorm Hertogi assembled their
available forces and made for Uppland, traveling mainly by forest paths. They
found out where the Uppland kings had arranged to meet and arrived there
in the middle of the night. Before the sentries were aware of what was hap-
pening, the king’s army had reached the houses where Hogni Karuson and
Guthbrand were sleeping and set them alight. Hogni and Frodi got out with
their men and defended themselves for a while but eventually they were both
killed. With the deaths of these four kings, and through the might and prowess
of his kinsman Guthorm, King Harald had now gained possession of Ringarik,
Hedmark, Gudbrand’s Dale, Hadeland, Toten, Romarik, and the whole of
north Vingulmark. King Harald and Guthorm Hertogi were still at war with
King Gandalf, but when King Gandalf died in the 
nal battle, the 
ended and King Harald gained possession of the kingdom as far south as the
Raum River.
. King Harald sent envoys to a maid called Gyda, the daughter of Eirik,
King of Hordaland, who was being brought up in the house of a rich land-
owner in Valdres. Harald wanted her as his mistress because she was a very
beautiful and high-spirited girl. When the envoys arrived, they delivered their
message to the young woman, and she replied to the effect that she wouldn’t
waste her maidenhood on a king who ruled only a couple of provinces.
“I think it’s extraordinary,” she said, “that there is no king with enough
ambition to conquer Norway and make himself sole ruler of the country, like
King Gorm in Denmark and Eirik at Uppsala [in Sweden].”
The envoys thought that she answered arrogantly, and asked her what she
meant by such an answer, adding that Harald was a powerful king, and a wor-
thy match for her. But though she hadn’t given them the sort of answer they
wanted, they recognized that there was no immediate possibility of carrying
her off against her will, so they prepared for the return journey. When they
were ready and people were seeing them off, she told the envoys to take this
message to King Harald: she would agree to be his lawful wife only if, for
her sake, he would 
rst conquer the whole of Norway and rule there autono-
mously, like King Eirik in Sweden, or King Gorm in Denmark. “For only
then, I think, could he be called a sovereign,” she said.
. The envoys made their way back to King Harald and told him what the
girl had said. They told him too that she was impudent and foolish and that the
king would be completely justi
ed in sending a large force to carry her off in
disgrace. King Harald replied that the girl had neither said nor done anything
to merit punishment but, instead, deserved thanks for her words.
“She has reminded me of something which, strange to say, I haven’t thought
about before now,” he said. Then he added, “I call on God, who created me
and who rules the universe to witness this solemn oath: I shall neither cut nor
Saga of the People of Eyri
Eyrbyggja saga
Saga of the People of Ljosavatn
Saxo Grammaticus,
History of the Danes
Snorri Sturluson,

Sturla Thordarson,

Sverrir’s Saga:
Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan:
Walafrid Strabo,
Martyrdom of Blathmac:
War of the Irish against the Foreigners
Yngvar runestones:
the viking age: a reader
so many slave-girls priced at&#x-24p;&#x-2r-;Ei2;Î-1; a;&#x-9t-;6 such and such per head and so many sables
priced at&#x-23p;&#x-2r-;Ei2;Î-1; a;&#x-9t-;6 such and such per pelt.” He continues until he has mentioned all
of the merchandise he has brought with him, then says, “And I have brought
this offering,” leaving what he has brought with him in front of the piece of
wood, saying, “I wish you to provide me with a merchant who has many d
and dirhams and who will buy from me whatever I want to sell&#x-25t;&#x-11o;&#x s-8;-3l;&#x-43l;&#x-160; without
haggling over the price I 
x.” Then he departs. If he has dif
culty in selling
his goods&#x-14h;&#x-36i;&#x-22s;&#x g-1; o-8;&#xo-11; -33;&#xs-35; and he has to remain too many days, he returns with a second
and third offering. If his wishes prove to be impossible he brings an offering
to every single one of those 
gurines and seeks its intercession, saying, “These
are the wives, daughters and sons of our Lord.” He goes up to each 
gurine in
turn and questions it, begging its intercession and grovelling before it. Some-
times business is good and he makes a quick sell, at which point he will say,
“My Lord has satis
ed my request, so I am required to recompense him.” He
procures a number of sheep or cows and slaughters them, donating a portion of
the meat to charity and taking the rest and casting it before the large piece of
wood and the small ones around it. He ties the heads of the cows or the sheep
to that piece of wood set up in the ground. At night, the dogs come and eat it
all, but the man who has done all this will say, “My Lord is pleased with me
and has eaten my offering.”
When one of them falls ill, they erect a tent away from them and cast him
into it, giving him some bread and water. They do not come near him or speak
to him, indeed they have no contact with him for the duration of his illness,
especially if he is socially inferior or is a slave. If he recovers and gets back to
his feet, he rejoins them. If he dies, they bury him, though if he was a slave
they leave him there as food for the dogs and the birds.
If they catch a thief or a bandit, they bring him to a large tree and tie a
strong rope around his neck. They tie it to the tree and leave him hanging there
until the rope&#x-25t;&#x-22h; r-; o-3;&#xp-7e;&#x-290; breaks, rotted aw&#x-16r;&#x-9ot;&#x-31t;&#x-12e;&#x-10d;&#x a7w;&#x-5ay;ay by exposure to the rain and the wind.
I was told that when their chieftains die, the least they do is to cremate
them. I was very keen to verify this, when I learned of the death of one of
their great men. They placed him in his grave and erected a canopy over
it for ten days, until they had 
nished making and sewing his funeral
garmen ts.
In the case of a poor man they build a small boat, place him inside and burn
it. In the case of a rich man, they gather together his possessions and divide
them into three, one third for his family, one third to use for his funeral&#x-14h;&#x-36i;&#x-22s;&#x f-3;u-2;ne-;r-2;J-3; l-1;p
garments, and one third with which they purchase alcohol which they drink
on the day when his slave-girl kills herself and is cremated together with her
master. (They are addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day. Some-
times one of them dies with the cup still in his hand.)
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
and raised troops in Scotland and the Hebrides. Earl Rognvald immediately
forwarded King Magnus’s message to Kalf Arnason [that Kalf’s property would
be restored and he would be permitted to live in Norway], and Kalf was satis
with everything the king had said.
Earl Rognvald gathered his army together in the Orkneys, intending to
cross over to Caithness, and he had thirty large ships when he came into the
Pentland Firth. There he came up against Earl Thor
nn with sixty ships, most
of which were small; they met off Robery, and the 
ghting began immediately.
Kalf Arnason turned up with six large ships, but did not join the battle. The
ghting grew ferocious as the earls urged on their men, but after a while, the
casualties began to mount on Earl Thor
nn’s side, mainly because of the dif-
ference in height of their ships. Thor
nn himself had a large, well-equipped
ship and he pressed forward courageously, but, when his smaller ships had been
disabled, his own ship was attacked from both sides. This was a perilous situa-
tion; many of his crew were killed or seriously wounded. Then Earl Rognvald
exhorted his men to board Thor
nn’s ship, but when Thor
nn realized the
danger he was in, he gave orders for his ship to be cut loose from the others
and rowed ashore.
There, he had seventy bodies carried from his ship. He also put ashore all
those who were too badly wounded to 
ght. Then he asked Arnor Jarlaskald
[Poet of Earls] to disembark too; Arnor was one of his retainers and was held
in high regard. So Arnor went ashore and composed this poem:
Unwilling is this warrior
to battle with Brusi’s son;
It is excellent to serve one’s earl,
—I do not deny that;
so when earls are eager
to attack each other,
it’s a hard choice I have
—A tough trial of friendship.
nn manned his ship with the best men he had left. Then he went to
Kalf and asked for his help. He told Kalf that he was unlikely to win back King
Magnus’s friendship after being driven out of Norway.
“If you weren’t safe while you were on good terms with the king,” said
nn, “do you think that you’ll be welcome here if Rognvald defeats me,
and he and King Magnus extend their authority to this side of the western
sea? But if we are victorious, you won’t lack for anything that it’s in my power
to give you, and if we’re both of one mind, we won’t be at anyone’s mercy on
this side of the sea. Surely you won’t want to have it on your conscience that


The people we call the Vikings originated in the Scandinavian Peninsula, in modern
Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, though these political divisions did not exist at the start
of the Viking Age. (Finland is not considered a Viking homeland.) This vast region, which
exhibits a great diversity of landscape and environment, covers an area of over three-quarters
the viking age: a reader
“Good, well-born norns shape good lives,” said the High One, “but the
people who suffer misfortune are controlled by evil norns.”
. “Is there anything else of note to be said about the ash?” asked Gangleri.
“There is still a great deal to be said,” replied the High One. “In the
branches of the ash sits an eagle, which is knowledgeable about many things,
and between its eyes sits a hawk, called Vedrfolnir. A squirrel named Rata-
tosk runs up and down the ash, carrying insults between the eagle and
Nidhogg. Four harts called Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr, and Durathror run among
the branches, eating the leaves. And, in Hvergelmir, there are so many ser-
pents in addition to Nidhogg that no tongue can count them. As

puts it,
The ash, Yggdrasil,
endures more anguish
than humankind knows;
above, a hart bites,
at the side, it rots; Nidhogg
gnaws from below.

also says,
More serpents
squirm under Yggdrasil
than old fools imagine;
Goin and Moin
—they are the sons of Grafvitnir—
Grabbak and Grafvollud,
Ofnir and Svafnir
will forever, I think, tear
at the tree’s twigs.
“It is said also that the norns who live beside Urd’s well take water from
it every day, along with some of the surrounding clay, and pour it over the
ash tree so that its limbs will not wither or decay. The water is so holy that
whatever comes into contact with it becomes as white as the skin that lines
the inside of an eggshell. As
puts it here,
There stands an Ash,
Yggdrasil by name,
a tall tree, sprinkled
with moist, white soil;
viking life and death
side of him sat Kolbjorn from Breidsdal, then Glam and Am, and on the other
side sat Geir and Gapi.
The tables were set up and splendid food was served. There was a great
deal of heavy drinking and everyone got drunk. After the meal, Hit and the
giants asked Bard what sort of entertainment he would like; they told him that
everyone would go along with his decision. Bard asked for the skin-throwing
game. Then Bard, Surt, Kolbjorn, Gudlaug, and Gljufra-Geir all stood up to
play the game. There was a lot of pushing and shoving, but Bard was obviously
the strongest, even though he was an old man. They used a large bear-hide as
the skin. They made it into a bundle and four of them began throwing it from
one to the other. The 
fth was ‘it’ and had to try and get hold of the skin. It
was a bad idea to get in the way of their kicking and shoving, so most people
stood up on the benches. But not Gest: he sat quietly in his place. When Kol-
bjorn was ‘it’, he sprang forward quickly and tried to seize the skin from Bard.
Seeing this, Gest stuck out his foot in front of Kolbjorn who fell on the rock
oor so hard that his nose was broken and blood gushed all over him. There
followed a ferocious riot of kicking and shoving because Kolbjorn wanted to
get his own back on Gest.
Bard said that no one should make trouble in the home of his friend, Hit.
“Especially,” he said, “when she has invited us out of affection.”
Bard’s wishes were respected, though Kolbjorn took it badly that he did not
get his revenge. Everyone now went home. It seemed, as it often had before,
that all the giants were afraid of Bard.
When they parted, Hit gave Gest a great big dog with a gray face called
Snati. He was a very useful dog because of his strength and intelligence. Hit
said that he would be more help in a 
ght than four brave men. Then Bard
went home, and he and Gest stayed there for some time.
(d) Games at Sand from
Hord’s Saga

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni Vilhjálmsson,
Íslenzk fornrit XIII (Reykjavík,

), pp.
. Kolgrim the Old, son of Alf the Hersir [military commander] from Trond-
heim, lived at Ferstikla in those days. He was one of the 
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
rose, confusing the boats of the godless Russes, it threw them upon the shore
and broke them up, so that few escaped such destruction. The survivors then
returned to their native land.
Prince Oleg’s Campaign against Constantinople

) . . . Leaving Igor [Igor’] in Kiev, Oleg attacked the Greeks. He took
with him a multitude of Varangians, Slavs, Chuds, Krivichians, Merians, Poly-
anians, Severians, Derevlians, Radimichians, Croats, Dulebians, and Tivercians
who are pagan. All these tribes are known as Great Scythia by the Greeks. With
this entire force, Oleg sallied forth by horse and by ship, and the number of his
vessels was two thousand. He arrived before Tsar’grad, but the Greeks forti-
ed the strait and closed up the city. Oleg disembarked upon the shore, and
ordered his soldiery to beach the ships. They waged war around the city, and
accomplished much slaughter of the Greeks. They also destroyed many palaces
and burned the churches. Of the prisoners they captured, some they beheaded,
some they tortured, some they shot, and still others they cast into the sea. The
Russes in icted many other woes upon the Greeks after the usual manner of
soldiers. Oleg commanded his warriors to make wheels which they attached to
the ships, and when the wind was favorable, they spread the sails and bore down
upon the city from the open country. When the Greeks beheld this, they were
afraid, and sending messengers to Oleg, they implored him not to destroy the
city, and offered to submit to such tribute as he should desire. Thus Oleg halted
his troops. The Greeks then brought out to him food and wine, but he would
not accept it, for it was mixed with poison. Then the Greeks were terri
ed and
five: viking warriors and their weapons
They tried to smooth the notch in Skofnung, but the more they tried, the
larger it grew. Then he went back to Reykir and threw the sword at Skeggi’s
feet and recited this verse:
I bring back to you,
Skeggi, this sword
broken-edged, blunt-toothed;
truly, their might outdid mine;
no fault falls to me
who fought 
for the girl guarded
by the singing of swords.
) Thorkel Eyolfsson and Skofnung

Thorkel reaps the bene ts of Skofnung’s magic properties. From
The Saga of the
People of Laxdale.
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), pp.

. . . . At that time, there was a man named Thorkel Eyolfsson who was in-
volved in trading voyages. He was a well-known man of noble family and a
great friend of Snorri Godi. When he was in Iceland, he always stayed with his
kinsman, Thorstein Kuggason.
Once, when Thorkel had a ship laid up at Vail on Bard strand, the son of
Eid of As was killed in Borgarfjord by the sons of Helga of Kropp. Grim was
the man who did the killing along with his brother, Njal. Njal drowned in
the Hvita [White River] shortly afterwards and Grim, who was condemned
to outlawry for the killing, hid out in the hills after he was outlawed. Grim
was a big, strong man when all this happened, but Eid was very old and that
is why the case was not followed up vigorously. However, people were very
critical of Thorkel Eyjolfsson for not pursuing the case.
In the spring, after he had 
tted out his ship, Thorkel traveled south across
Breidafjord. There, he got himself a horse and rode alone without stopping
until he reached the home of his relative Eid at As; Eid gave him a warm wel-
come. Thorkel explained that he intended to 
nd the outlaw, Grim, and asked
Eid if he had any idea where Grim’s hideout was.
“I don’t like this one bit,” replied Eid. “I think you’re risking a great deal
taking on a devil like Grim. But, if you’re determined to go, take plenty of
men with you, so that you’ll have the upper hand.”
five: viking warriors and their weapons
they were, and the answer was given by the maid-servant, who recounted
the deaths of King Sigmund, King Eylimi, and many other great men; she
explained, too, who had done this. King Alf asked if they knew where the
treasure of King Sigmund was hidden.
“It is to be expected that we would know,” replied the maid-servant. She
showed the way to the treasure, and they found it was a vast amount of wealth.
No one recalled ever having seen so large a treasure or so many precious objects
gathered together in one place. All of this property was carried to Alf’s ships;
Hjordis and the maid-servant followed too. He traveled home to his own king-
dom and said that the most famous kings had fallen there. The king stayed at
the steering oar, while the women sat just before the quarter deck. He talked
to them, and found their opinions worth listening to.
King Alf, the most accomplished of kings, arrived back in his own king-
dom with the treasure. When they had been there for a little while, the king’s
mother asked, “Why has the more beautiful of these women fewer rings and
inferior clothes? In my estimation, you have ranked the better woman as
“I have suspected,” he replied, “that she did not have the bearing of a
maid-servant, and when we met, she greeted honorable men with ease. We’ll
put them to the test.” One day, when they were drinking, the king started a
conversation with the women and asked, “How do you recognize that it is
daybreak and the night has gone if you see no sun in the sky?”
The servant answered, “When I was young, I used to drink a great deal
at dawn; I’ve given up the habit, but I still waken because of it, and that is
how I recognize morning.” The king laughed at that answer and said, “Poor
behavior for a King’s daughter!”
He turned to Hjordis and asked her the same question. “My father gave me
a little ring,” she answered, “and it had the property of turning cold on my
nger at dawn.”
“A lot of gold for a maid-servant to carry,” he said. “You have hidden
yourself from me for long enough. I would have treated you as if we had been
children of the same king if you had told me this from the beginning. But
I shall treat you even more honorably, for you will be my wife and I shall pay
you a dower when you bear me a child.” In reply, she told him the whole truth
about her condition and she stayed there in great honor and seemed the most
worthy of women.
. At this point in the story, Hjordis gave birth to a boy, and the child was
taken to King Hjalprek. The king was delighted when he saw the boy’s bright
eyes and declared that there would never be anyone like him, or equal to him
in any way. The child was sprinkled with water and named Sigurd. Every-
one had the same opinion: that there was no one to match him in character
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
resistance because they couldn’t get outside. Before long the house was ablaze,
so Thor
nn told his men to ask the earl to let them out. Rognvald allowed
all the women and slaves to leave but, as for the men, he said he would prefer
most of them dead. Then the people who had been spared were pulled from
the building and after that the house was quickly engulfed by 
nn tore away a
piece of wainscotting from the house and jumped
out with his wife Ingibjorg in his arms. The night was pitch-dark, so he got
under cover of the smoke, without Earl Rognvald’s men noticing him. That very
night, he rowed across to Caithness, alone in a small boat. Earl Rognvald burned
down the entire building along with all the men who had not been allowed out.
It didn’t occur to anyone that Earl Thor
nn had not died there.
After that, Earl Rognvald traveled the length and breadth of the islands and
brought all of them under his control. He sent word across to Caithness and
also to the Hebrides that he was claiming all the land that had belonged to Earl
nn; no one made any objection. Earl Thor nn hid with friends in various
parts of Caithness and not a whisper got out that he had escaped the burning.
. Earl Rognvald took up residence in Kirkwall and laid in all the provi-
sions that he would need for his winter quarters. He had a large crowd of fol-
lowers and lived in great state. Shortly before Yule, Earl Rognvald and many of
his men went over to Little Papey to fetch the malt for the Yule brewing. Late
in the evening, as they sat around a roasting 
re on the island, the man who
was looking after the 
re remarked that they were running out of 
Then the earl made a slip of the tongue. What he said was, “We’ll be very old
before these 
res burn out.” What he meant to say was, “We’ll be very well-
roasted before these 
res burn out.” He noticed his slip immediately and said,
“As far as I can recall, I’ve never misspoken before, but I do remember what
my foster-father, King Olaf, said to me at Stiklastad, when I caught him out in
a slip of the tongue. He told me that if I ever happened to mis-speak I should
be prepared to die soon afterwards. So perhaps my uncle Thor
nn is still alive.”
At that very moment they realized that the house had been surrounded. Earl
nn had arrived. Straightaway, he and his men set 
re to the house and
piled up wood in front of the doors. Earl Thor
nn allowed everyone to leave
except Rognvald’s men. After most of the people had been brought out, a man
dressed in a linen garment appeared in the doorway. Thor nn told his men to
lend the deacon a hand, but the man pressed down with his hands on the wood
at the doorway, and vaulted over both the wood and the men encircling the
door. He landed well beyond them and quickly disappeared into the darkness.
Earl Thor
nn ordered his men to catch him.
“It must have been Rognvald who got away,” he said. “No one else is strong
enough to do that.”
the viking age: a reader
King Harald Sigurdarson was struck in the throat by an arrow, and that was
his death-wound. He fell, and all the men who had advanced with him were
killed too, except for the men who retreated with the standard. Once again
there was heavy 
ghting. Then Earl Tostig took up position under the king’s
standard, and there was a long pause in the battle while both sides drew up
their lines for a second time. Thjodolf said:
Men paid a terrible price.
And now the troops were trapped.
King Harald had caused them
to make a meaningless journey west.
The much praised prince
lost his life,
and the death of the daring lord
left his people in peril.
Before the battle began again, King Harold Godwinsson offered peace to
Tostig, his brother, and to all the other survivors of the Norse army, but the
Norsemen cried out as one man that they would all fall dead beside one another
before they would accept quarter from Englishmen. Then they raised a war-
cry, and the battle started all over again. Arnor Jarlaskald says:
Ill luck led to
erce king’s fall.
Gilded spear-points did not spare
the lord of our land.
Not tempted by a truce,
all the army
of the courageous king
chose to perish by their prince.
. At that moment, Eystein Orri came up from the ships with his men; they
were wearing their chain mail. Then Eystein seized the king’s standard, Land-
Ravager, and the third and 
ercest phase of the battle began. Many Englishmen
died in the heavy 
ghting and the others were on the verge of running away.
ght was called Orri’s Attack. Eystein and his men had come from the
ships with such haste that they were exhausted before the battle began and
were scarcely 
t to 
ght. Afterwards, though, they fought with such fury that
they didn’t even protect themselves with their shields as long as they could
stand upright. Finally, they threw off their chain-mail, making it easy for the
English to 
nd their vulnerable spots. Some simply collapsed with the exertion
the viking age: a reader
On the Greenland Sea
the contrary, night in the wintertime, when the sun is withdrawn. And Pytheas
of Marseilles [Greek explorer, ca

BCE] writes that this happens on the island
of Thule, six days’ sail distant from Britain toward the north. This Thule is now
called Iceland, from the ice which binds the ocean. About this island they also
report this remarkable fact, that the ice on account of its age is so black and dry
in appearance that it burns when 
the viking age: a reader

. Dúnadach son of Scannlán, king of Uí Fhidgeinte, won a battle against the
heathens, in which many fell.
. Glenn dá Locha was plundered by the heathens. Sláine and Finnubair Abae
were plundered by the heathens.
. Ferna and Cluain Mór Maedóc were plundered by the heathens.
. Mungairit and other churches of Iarmumu were burned by the heathens.
. The foreigners plundered Druim Ing.
 \n] \b. Cell Dara was plundered by heathens from Inber Dea, and half of the church
was burned.
. The 
rst prey was taken by the heathens from southern Brega, i.e. from Telcha
Dromáin and Dairmag of the Britons; and they carried off many prisoners, and
killed many and led
away very many
. A most cruel devastation of all the lands of Connacht by the heathens. The
heathens in icted a slaughter in a battle won over the Déis Tuaisceirt.
 \t] . A naval force of the Norsemen sixty ships strong was on the Bóinn, and an-
other one of sixty ships on the river Life. Those two forces plundered the plain of
Life and the plain of Brega, including churches, forts, and dwellings. The men of
Brega routed the foreigners at Deoninne in Mugdorna of Brega, and six score
of the Norsemen fell.
. The heathens won a battle at Inber na mBárc against the Uí Néill from the
Sinann to the sea, in which an uncounted number were slaughtered, though the
principal kings escaped.
. Inis Celtra was plundered by the heathens.
. The churches of all Loch Éirne, including Cluain Eóis and Daiminis, were
destroyed by the heathens.
. Saxolb, chief of the foreigners, was killed by the Cianacht.
 ] . The heathens won a battle against the Connachta, in which Mael Dúin son of
Muirgius and many others fell.
. A raiding party of the foreigners were on Loch nEchach, and from there they
plundered the states and churches of the north of Ireland.
the viking age: a reader
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
, in
, ed. Bjarni
Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, p.
. In his household, Erling always had thirty slaves as well as other servants. He
allotted day work to his slaves, but allowed time later on to anyone who wanted
to work for himself in the twilight or at night. He gave them arable land to sow
with corn for their own use and to produce crops for pro
four: women in the viking age
Unn slept longer than usual, but she was up and about when the wedding
guests arrived. She went out to meet them and welcomed her relatives and
friends honorably. She said that those who had come a long way had shown
her particular affection.
“I single out Bjorn and Helgi for this, but I thank all of you who have come.”
Then Unn went into the hall with a large company. When the hall was full,
everyone was amazed at the splendor of the feast. Then Unn said, “I call on you
my brothers, Bjorn and Helgi, and my other relatives and friends, to witness
that I am handing over to my kinsman, Olaf, the possession and management
of this dwelling and of all the household goods that you can see.”
After that, Unn stood up and said that she was going to her sleeping cham-
ber. She bade them enjoy themselves in whatever way they pleased, and said
that there should be enough ale to give everyone a good time. People say that
Unn was both tall and stout. She walked quickly along the hall and people said
that she was still a splendid woman.
They drank throughout the evening until they thought it was bedtime.
Next day, Olaf went to his grandmother Unn’s sleeping chamber. When
he entered the room, she was sitting upright against the pillows, and she
was dead. Olaf returned to the hall and announced what had happened.
Everyone thought it was wonderful how Unn had retained her dignity
until her dying day. Now they celebrated both the wedding of Olaf and the
funeral feast of Unn. On the last day of the feast, Unn was moved to the
burial mound that had been prepared for her. In the mound, she was placed
in a ship and much valuable property was laid beside her. Then the burial
mound was closed up.
Olaf Feilan took over the possession and management of Hvamm with the
consent of all the relatives who had come to visit. When the feast came to an
end, he presented expensive gifts to the most important guests before they
went away. Olaf became a great man and a powerful chieftain. He lived at
Hvamm till his old age.
Njal’s Saga
is marked by the presence of strong women such as Queen Gunnhild, the
widow of Eirik Bloodax, king of Norway. Her sons are frequently referred to as the

rather than as the
. In this selection, she dominates her
son, King Harald Greycloak, and uses her power to the advantage of Hrut, an Icelander
with whom she has an affair.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII
), pp.
the viking age: a reader
The farmers realized that they did not have the forces to oppose the king, so
they asked for peace, and offered to submit to him. It was agreed among them
that all the farmers who had come to Hlad would be baptized and would
promise on oath to observe the true faith and give up making sacri
ces. The
king kept all these men at his banquet until they had surrendered their sons,
or brothers, or other close relatives as hostages.
. King Olaf advanced with his army further into the Trondheim area.
By the time he arrived at Maeren, all the chiefs from the Trondelag who were
rmly opposed to Christianity had gathered there. With them were all the
important farmers who had formerly offered up sacri
ces in that place. There
was just as big a crowd here as at the meeting in Frosta. Then the king called for
an assembly, and both sides attended fully armed. When the meeting got under
way, the king spoke and asked them to adopt Christianity. Jarnskeggi answered
the king’s speech on behalf of the farmers, saying that the farmers’ wishes were
still the same and they did not want the king to overturn their laws.
“We want you to sacri ce here, king,” said Jarnskeggi, “just as other kings
have done before you.” The farmers cheered his speech loudly and declared that
what Skeggi had said was what they wanted. The king replied that he would
enter the temple to see how they performed their sacri
ces. The farmers were
pleased, and both sides entered the temple.
. King Olaf went into the temple with a few of his men and some of the
farmers. He came to where the gods were sitting, and saw Thor, the most
honored of them all, adorned with gold and silver. King Olaf raised a gold-
mounted staff he was carrying and struck Thor so that he fell from his pedestal.
Then the king’s men rushed forward and knocked all the gods down from their
pedestals. While the king was in the temple, Jarnskeggi was killed outside the
temple doors by the king’s men. When the king rejoined his troops, he offered
the farmers two choices: to become Christian, or to 
ght him. After the death
of Jarnskeggi, the farmers had no leader to raise their standard against King
Olaf, so they made the choice to go to the king and do his bidding. Then King
Olaf had everyone who was there baptized and took hostages from the farmers
to ensure that they would stay Christian. After that, King Olaf sent his men
all over the Trondheim district. No one opposed Christianity and everyone
in the area was baptized.
. Harek from Thjota left town [Nidaros] at the  rst opportunity, but Hauk
and Sigurd stayed with the king and were both baptized. Harek went on his
way until he arrived back home in Thjota. He sent word to his friend, Eyvind
Kinnrifa, that Harek from Thjota had met King Olaf but hadn’t allowed him-
self to be bullied into becoming Christian. He also informed him that King
Olaf intended to lead an army against them in the summer. Harek advised
viking life and death
the log from the roof and it landed on the people outside. They leapt out of the
way. By this time, all of Kari’s clothes and his hair had caught 
re. He threw
himself down from the roof and stumbled away under cover of the smoke. One
of the men outside said, “Was that a man jumping from the roof?”
“No,” replied one of the others. “It was Skarphedin throwing a burning
log at us.”
After that, they suspected nothing.
Kari ran till he reached a stream; he threw himself in and doused the 
Then, he ran on, hidden by the smoke, until he reached a hollow where he
rested. Ever since, the hollow has been called Kari’s Hollow.
. Now the story tells us that Skarphedin ran up the crossbeam right
behind Kari. But when he reached the most badly burnt section, it collapsed
under him. Skarphedin landed on his feet. Immediately, he had another try,
scrambling up the wall this time, but the main beam gave way and he tumbled
back again.
“Now it’s clear how things will be,” said Skarphedin. Then he walked along
by the side wall. Gunnar Lambason jumped onto the wall and saw Skarphedin.
“Are you weeping now, Skarphedin?” he asked.
“Not at all,” replied Skarphedin, “though it is true that my eyes are smart-
ing. You seem to be laughing; am I right?”
“I am indeed,” said Gunnar, “and I haven’t laughed once since you killed
“Well here’s something to remember him by,” said Skarphedin. From his
purse, he took out a molar that he had hacked from Thrain’s mouth and threw
it at Gunnar’s eye. The eye popped from its socket and landed on his cheek.
Then Gunnar fell off the roof.
Skarphedin went to his brother, Grim. They joined hands and beat down
re with their feet. But when they reached the middle of the hall, Grim
fell down dead, and when Skarphedin got to the end of the hall, the whole
roof collapsed with a huge crash. He was trapped between the fallen roof and
the gable and could not move an inch.
Flosi and his men stayed by the  re until well after dawn. Then a man came
riding up and Flosi asked his name. He said his name was Geirmund, and he
was a relative of the Sigfussons. “You have done great things,” he said.
“People will call them evil as well as great,” replied Flosi. “But there’s noth-
ing to be done about it now.”
“How many well-known people died here?” asked Geirmund.
“Njall and Bergthora died here,” replied Flosi. “So did the Njalssons,
Helgi, Grim, and Skarphedin, as well as Thord Karason, Kari Solmundarson,
and Thord the freedman. We’re not sure about others whom we don’t know
so well.”
the viking age: a reader
. The Danes came to the western region of Gaul where the Bretons live,
defeated them in three battles, and completely overpowered them. Nominoë
[leader of the Bretons], beaten, 
ed with his men; later he softened up the
Danes with bribes and got them out of his territories. . . .
The Irish, who had been attacked by the Northmen for a number of years,
were made into regular tribute-payers. The Northmen also got control of the
islands all around Ireland, and stayed there without encountering any resistance
from anyone. . . .
Danes attacked and plundered the coastal regions of Aquitaine. They laid
siege to the town of Bordeaux for a long time. Another group of Danes occu-
pied and took possession of the
[trading center, market town] called
Dorestad and the island of Betuwe [ just south of Dorestad].

. Charles attacked the contingent of Northmen who were besieging
Bordeaux and manfully defeated them. . . . In Aquitaine some Jews betrayed
Bordeaux to the Danes: having taken the town, they ravaged and burned it.
. Horic, king of the Northmen, was attacked by two of his nephews and
war ensued. The nephews were induced to make peace by a partition of the
realm. Roric, the nephew of Harald, who had recently defected from Lothar,
raised whole armies of Northmen with a vast number of ships and laid waste
Frisia and the island of Betuwe and other places in that neighborhood by sailing
up the Rhine and the Waal. Lothar, since he could not crush Roric, received
him into his allegiance and granted him Dorestad and other counties. Another
band of Northmen plundered the inhabitants of Mempisc, Thérouanne and
other coastal districts, while yet others attacked the island of Britain. . . .
. . . . Danish pirates ravaged Frisia and the inhabitants of Betuwe. Run-
ning amok right up to the monastery of St-Bavo which they call Ghent, they
burned the monastery and then after reaching Rouen they proceeded on foot
as far as Beauvais which they burned. On their way back, they were intercepted
by our forces and some of them were killed [these events are dated to
other sources].
. Godefrid, son of Harald the Dane who had once been baptized at
Mainz in the emperor Louis’s time [
], now defected from Lothar and took
himself off to his own people. He collected a strong force from among them,
and attacked Frisia with a large number of ships, then went to the area around
the River Scheldt, and 
nally to the Seine. Lothar and Charles came up to meet
him with their whole army, and blockaded him from either bank of the Seine.
. During this blockade they celebrated Christmas. But the men in
Charles’s contingent did not want to 
ght, so he had to withdraw having
achieved no advantage at all. Charles got Godefrid to make peace with him on
certain agreed conditions. But the rest of the Danes settled down there right
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
As the Franks were unable to put up any resistance to the pagans, and saw
that the whole of Francia was verging on annihilation, they came to the king
with one accord, and said to him:
“Why will you not come to the aid of the kingdom which you ought to
‘preside over and pro
t’ with the scepter? Why not buy peace through con-
ciliation, since we are unable to get it either through war, or by any sort of
defensive precaution? The king’s honor and the king’s power are brought low,
and the insolence of the heathen is raised up. The land allotted to the Franks
is considered no better than a desert, for its population is either dead through
famine or the sword, or is perhaps in captivity. Protect your kingdom: if not
by arms, then by counsel.”
Then was King Charles enraged, and he spoke these words: “Then give me
the counsel which will be salutary and appropriate for the kingdom and for us.”
Then said the Franks: “If you will trust us, we will give you advice 
and wholesome for you and for the kingdom, so that the people, who are all
Alcuin (Anglo-Saxon monk):
Alfeah (Saint Alphege, martyr):

Alfred the Great, king of England:
Anskar (saint and missionary):
Athelred the Unready, king of England:

Atlantic Ocean:
land battles:

sea battles:


missionary activity:


Edmund, king of East Anglia, saint and
Egil Skallagrimsson:
Eirik Bloodax, king of Norway:
Eirik the Red:

Faeroe Islands:
feud and revenge:
Findan (saint):
Frankish kingdoms:
funerary practices:
Godofrid, king of the Danes:
Gorm the Old, king of Denmark:

Great (Danish) Army, the:
Topics are listed by document number and, in some cases, by books and sections or chap
ters within that document. Thus,
is a reference to document
, which is drawn
from the
Annals of St-Bertin
refers to the annal for the year
CE. If the topic sur
faces several times within a document, no section or chapter number is given.
the viking age: a reader
Early in the second winter, the Skraelings came back again. This time there
were many more of them and they brought the same sorts of goods as before.
Then Karlsefni said to the women, “Take out the kind of food that was most
popular last time, but don’t take out anything else.” The moment they saw it,
the Skraelings threw their bundles in over the fence.
Gudrid was sitting just inside the doorway beside her son Snorri’s cradle.
A shadow darkened the doorway and in came a woman wearing a black tunic
with a ribbon around her light chestnut hair. She was rather short and pale
and had the largest eyes ever seen in a human head. She walked to where
Gudrid sat.
“What are you called?” she asked.
“I’m called Gudrid. What’s your name?”
“I’m called Gudrid [too,” she answered.]
Then Gudrid, Karlsefni’s wife, stretched out her hand to the woman, invit-
ing her to sit beside her, but at that precise moment there was a great outburst
of noise and the woman vanished. At that same moment, a Skraeling was killed
by one of Karlsefni’s men for attempting to make off with some of their weap-
ons. The Skraelings cleared off as fast as they could, leaving their clothes and
trade-goods behind. No one except Gudrid had seen the woman.
“Now we need to come up with a plan,” said Karlsefni, “for I think they’ll
come back for a third visit, and this time they’ll be hostile and more numerous.
What we must do is this. Ten men should go over to the headland and show
themselves plainly. The rest of us should go into the woods and cut a clearing
where we can keep our cattle when the Skraelings come out of the forest. We
should take our bull and let him go ahead of us.”
The place where they planned to 
ght the Skraelings was protected by water
on one side and by forest on the other.
Karlsefni’s plan was adopted. Before long, the Skraelings came to the place
Karlsefni had selected for the 
ght and many of them were killed in the ensuing
battle. Amongst the Skraelings, there was a tall, handsome man, and Karlsefni
concluded that he must be their chief. One of the Skraelings had picked up
an ax. He looked at the ax for a moment, brandished it at one of his comrades
and then struck him with it. Instantly he fell down dead. The tall man took
the ax and scrutinized it. Then he threw it into the sea as far as he could. After
that, the Skraelings 
ed into the forest as quickly as possible, and that was the
end of the hostilities.
Karlsefni and his companions remained there for the whole winter, but in
spring, Karlsefni announced that he didn’t want to stay there any longer and
wished to return to Greenland. So they got ready for the journey and took
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
Meanwhile Northmen on the Loire joined forces with Bretons and attacked
Le Mans. They sacked it without opposition, and sent back to their ships. The
Aquitanians fought with Northmen based on the Charente under their leader
Sigfrid, and slew about

of them: the rest 
ed back to their ships.

The Annals of St-Vast
, written at that monastery near Corbie, are an important
window into the events of the late ninth century. The entries for this period are particu-
larly concerned with the activities of the Northmen and recount the siege of Paris by the
Vikings in
; they may be compared with Abbo’s poem on this event (see doc.

Source: trans. P.E. Dutton,
Carolingian Civilization: A Reader
three: early religion and belief
“Fine,” replied Starkad. “You must now send King Vikar to me,” said Grani
Horsehairs, “and I’ll tell you what to do.” Starkad agreed, and Grani Horsehairs
put a spear in his hand, saying that it would look like a reed to everyone else.
They returned to the  eet at daybreak.
In the morning, the king’s advisers held a meeting to consider the problem
and they all thought that the sacri
ce should be symbolic. Starkad told them
what to do. Nearby grew a solitary 
r tree and near that stood a tall tree stump.
Low on the 
r tree was a thin branch which reached up into the foliage. It was
the time of the day when the servants prepared food for the men, and a calf
had been slaughtered and disemboweled. Starkad had the calf’s guts fetched.
Then he mounted the tree stump, pulled the thin branch down, and tied the
calf’s guts to it. He addressed King Vikar:
“Your gallows is ready, king, and it doesn’t seem all that dangerous. If you
come over here I’ll put the noose around your neck.”
“If this contraption is no more dangerous than it appears,” said the king, “it
won’t do me any harm. But if things turn out differently, so be it.”
The king mounted the tree stump, and Starkad placed the halter around
his neck. Then Starkad stepped down from the stump to the ground, thrust at
the king with the reed, and saying, “Now I give you to Odin,” let go of the
r branch. The reed turned into a spear and went right through the king. The
tree stump fell away from under his feet. The calf’s entrails became a strong
rope, and the branch sprang up and lifted the king to the top of the tree. The
islands are now called Vikar’s Islands.
This piece of work did not go down well with most of the people, and
Starkad was exiled from Hordaland. He 
ed from Norway and went east to
Sweden, where he stayed for a long time with the kings of Uppsala, Eirik and
Alrik, the sons of Agni Skjalfarbondi, and went on raids with them.
four: women in the viking age
As for Ingjald, he turned back to Goddastead when he and Thorolf had
parted company. By that time, no fewer than forty-two men from neighboring
farms had shown up at the request of Vigdis. When Ingjald and his men got
back to the farm, Ingjald called Thord over to him.
“You haven’t behaved like a gentleman about our agreement,” said Ingjald.
“We know for sure that you got the man away.” Thord replied that he truly
had no part in the affair, but the whole story of the agreement between Ingjald
and Thord came out. Now Ingjald wanted to get back the money he had given
to Thord. Vigdis was standing nearby during their conversation and remarked
that they had got what they deserved. She told Thord it was unmanly to keep
the money. “Because, Thord, you got hold of the money dishonorably,” she
said. Thord said that she should do whatever she wanted with it.
With that, she went indoors to Thord’s chest and found a fat money-bag
at the bottom of it. She picked up the bag and took it out to Ingjald and told
him to take the money. Ingjald brightened up with that and stretched out his
hand toward the money-bag. Vigdis heaved up the bag and struck him on the
nose with it, and immediately his blood gushed to the ground. Along with
the bag, she hurled a few choice epithets at him, said that he would never get
his money back again, and told him to be on his way. Ingjald saw that the best
idea was to be off as soon as he could and that’s what he did, without stopping
till he got home. He wasn’t happy about his trip.
. As soon as Asgaut got back home, Vigdis gave him a warm welcome and
asked him how good the hospitality had been at Saudafell. He reported that it
had been excellent and repeated Thorolf Raudnef’s parting words to her. She
was very pleased about that and said to Asgaut,
“You have shown real guts and loyalty, and I’ll tell you right now what your
reward is going to be: I am giving you your freedom, and from today you will
be called a free man; you will have the money Thord accepted in return for the
life of my kinsman; the money has found a better home.” [The grateful Asgaut
moves to Denmark where he becomes a successful farmer.] . . .
Vigdis felt such hostility because of the plot between Ingjald and Thord
Goddi that she declared herself divorced from Thord. She went back to her
relatives and told them what had happened. Thord Gellir, their chief, was not
happy about the divorce, but there was no fuss. Vigdis took no more from
Goddistead than her own valuables. The people of Hvamm announced that
they intended to take half the property owned by Thord Goddi. . . .
(c) How Aud Dealt with Her Humiliating Divorce

Gudrun Osvifrsdaughter becomes involved with Thord Ingunnarson, who, unfortunately,
the viking age: a reader
Mikligard all the way to the most splendid of the royal palaces, where every-
thing had been prepared for their reception. After King Sigurd had stayed at
Mikligard for some time, the emperor Kirjalax sent messengers to ask him what
he would prefer: to receive six ship-pounds of gold, or to have the emperor
hold games for him at the Hippodrome. King Sigurd opted for the games and
the messengers told him that the games would cost the emperor just as much
as the value of the gold that had been offered.
The emperor arranged for the games in the customary manner. He and the
empress held the games jointly, and their men competed against one another
in everything. On this occasion, the games turned out better for the emperor
than for the empress. The Greeks say that when the emperor wins more games
in the Hippodrome than the empress, then he will be victorious if he goes on
. After that, King Sigurd got ready for his journey home. He gave all his
ships to the emperor, and the gilded 
gureheads that had decorated the king’s
ship were installed in Saint Peter’s Church. The emperor Kirjalax gave King
Sigurd a great many horses and provided him with guides for his journey
through the empire. Then King Sigurd left Mikligard, but many of his men
stayed behind and entered military service.
King Sigurd traveled through Bulgaria 
rst and then through Hungary,
Pannonia [part of Hungary], Schwaben, and Bavaria. There he met the Roman
emperor, Lothar [Lothar III,
, then still duke of Saxony], who made
him very welcome and provided him with men to guide him through the
entire kingdom. Lothar also set up markets so that Sigurd and his men could
buy whatever they needed. At midsummer, King Sigurd reached Schleswig in
Denmark, and Earl Eilif gave him a splendid banquet.
In Hedeby, he met King Nikolas of Denmark [
], who welcomed
him and accompanied him north to Jutland. There he gave him a fully equipped
ship on which he sailed to Norway. King Sigurd arrived back in his kingdom
to a joyful reception. It was the general opinion that there had never before
been a more splendid expedition from Norway than this one. King Sigurd was
twenty years old at this time and had spent three years on the journey. His
brother Olaf was twelve years of age.

Sometime in the early
s the Icelander Nikolas Bergsson, abbot of the Benedictine
monastery of Thvera in northern Iceland, made a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy
Land. His trip is detailed in a text called the
Leiðarvísir (

, the only known com
Vikar, king of Agder:

berserkers and berserk rage:

Jomsburg Vikings:

weapons and dress:
Yngvar the Far-Traveler:
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
Each woman has, on her breast, a small disc, tied ar r30;&#xound;&#x her;&#x nec;&#xk000;ound her neck, made of
either iron, silver, copper or gold, in relation to her husband’s 
nancial and social
worth. Each disc has a ring to which a dagger is attached, also lying on her breast.
Around their necks they wear bands of gold and silver. Whenever a man’s wealth
reaches ten thousand dirhams [an Islamic silver coin], he has a band made for his
wife; if it reaches twenty thousand dirhams, he has two bands made for her—for
the viking age: a reader
gaped and grinned with iron-mouth.
There was the clash of swords on the sea,
and ravenous eagles ripped men’s 
The worthy leader of warriors
fought, but many 
However, the Wendish longship with Astrid’s men on board rowed straight
back to Wendland. Immediately, a rumor sprang up that Olaf Tryggvason had
struggled out of his mail shirt in the sea and had swum underwater away from
the longships out to the Wendish vessel, which took him to land. Afterwards,
many tales were told about King Olaf’s travels; Hallfred says this:
Shall I praise a living lord,
or praise the raven’s prey?
Shall I praise the shield-warrior
alive, or lost to death?
Men talk of both as true,
but truth is hard to tell.
Whatever fate befell him,
the warrior was surely wounded.
But, whatever the truth of the matter, King Olaf Tryggvason never returned
to his kingdom in Norway.
(b) Rognvald and Thor nn the Mighty Fight It Out in the Orkneys

For many years, Earl Thor nn the Mighty (
) was sole ruler of the Orkneys.
Late in the
s, his nephew, Rognvald Brusason, with the support of Magnus the Good
(king of Norway
), claimed his father’s share of the Orkneys. Thor
nn was obliged
to accept the claim, and the two ruled side by side until the arrival of Kalf Arnason (uncle
of Thor nn’s wife) caused strain between them. In the ensuing war, Rognvald was sup-
ported by Magnus the Good, who provided him with ships and men. From
a history of the earls of Orkney from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson, Íslenzk fornrit
XXXIV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. Earl Rognvald sailed west from Norway to the Orkneys. He landed in the
three: early religion and belief
“What is known about this place?” asked Gangleri.
Just as High answered him, “The ash is the greatest and best of all trees. Its
limbs spread out over the whole world and stretch across the heavens. The tree is
supported by three of its roots and these extend for a very long way: one reaches
to the Aesir, a second to the Frost-giants, in what was once Ginnungagap [the
Yawning Void], and the third extends over Ni
heim [Land of Fog]. The serpent
Nidhogg gnaws at the base of that root and under it is a spring called Hvergelmir.
But under the root which stretches toward the Frost-giants lies Mimir’s Well, in
which wisdom and understanding are kept. The well-keeper is called Mimir; he
is full of wisdom because he drinks well-water from the Gjallarhorn [Bellow-
ing Horn]. All-father went there and asked for a single drink from the well, but
he did not get it until he had laid down his eye as a pledge. Thus says
Odin, I know all about
where you hid your eye
in Mimir’s famous well;
every morning, Mimir drinks
mead from Odin’s forfeit.
Do you wish to know more? And what?
The third root of the ash reaches to heaven and beneath it is a very holy well
called Urd’s [Fate’s] well, where the gods have their court. Every day the Aesir
ride there over Bifrost, which is also known as the Aesir’s bridge. . . .”
Then the High One said, “Under the ash, beside the well, there stands
a beautiful hall, and out of this hall come three maidens, whose names are
Urd [What Has Been], Verdandi [What Is], and Skuld [What Will Be]. These
maidens, who shape the course of men’s lives, are called norns. There are also
other norns, who come to each man at birth to shape his life. These norns
are descended from the gods, but others are of elf origin, and a third group is
descended from dwarfs, as it says in
The norns, I know,
have numerous origins,
are not of the same family;
some are descended from gods
and some are from the elf-tribe,
some are daughters of dwarfs.”
Then Gangleri said, “If the norns control the fates of men, then they allot these fates
the viking age: a reader
and, in the other, held the stick he used to goad the horse. Odd stood near
the front of his horse, and it wasn’t clear whether or not he was stabbing at
Atli’s horse to make it loosen its hold. Grettir pretended not to notice. By
now, the horses were coming close to the river. Then Odd thrust at Grettir
with his goad and stabbed him in the shoulder-blade just as Grettir was turn-
ing towards him. Odd struck hard enough to raise a welt, but Grettir was not
seriously wounded. Just then the horses reared. Grettir dived underneath his
horse and drove his goad into Odd’s side with such force that three of his ribs
were broken. Odd was 
ung into the pool along with his horse and all the
mares that were tethered on the river bank. Some men swam out to save him,
and dragged him from the river. The incident caused an uproar. Kormak and
his followers seized their weapons and so did their opponents, the men from
Bjarg. The men from Hrutfjord and Vatnsness came between them and kept
them apart.
Then they went home. There was threatening behavior on both sides, but
they kept the peace for a while. Atli didn’t say much about the business, but
Grettir was rather boastful and declared that they would meet again, if he had
any say in the matter.
(c) A Throwing Game from
Bard’s Saga

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and Bjarni
Vilhjálmsson, Íslenzk fornrit XIII (Reykjavík,

), pp.

. In those days, Hit the troll-woman was still alive and her home was at Hun-
dahellir [Dogs’ Cave] in the valley now known as Hitardal. Hit planned a big
Yule-feast. First of all she invited Bard Snaefell’s As; along with him came his son,
Gest, and Thorkel Skinnvefja. Also invited were Gudrun Knapekkja and Kalf her
son, Surt of Hellis tjar, and Jora from Jorukleif. The giant Kolbjorn was invited
too; he lived in a cave at Breiddalsbotnar, near Brattagil, which is at the southern
end of Hrutafjardardal, where the valley becomes wide and shallow to the west
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
This conjectural transcription is the work of Carl Christian Rafn, a
the viking age: a reader
“Kormak, you have challenged me to a formal duel, but I’m offering you
single combat instead,” said Bersi. “You are a young and inexperienced man,
and duels are a complicated business, but single combat is straightforward.”
“Fighting in single combat won’t be any better,” said Kormak. “I’ll take
my chances and consider myself your equal in everything.” “Just as you like,”
said Bersi.
The laws of dueling required that the cloak laid on the ground should be
ve ells square and have loops at each corner. Pegs with heads at one end should
then be driven into each loop: these pegs are called
Whoever sets this
up must approach the pegs in such a way that he can see the sky between his
legs and he must hold the lobes of his ears while saying the prayer used later in
the sacri
ce called the
ce. Three squares, each a foot wide, must
be measured around the cloak and, at the outer edges of these squares, there
must be four poles, called
When these steps are complete, the 
eld is
called a “hazeled 
Each man was to have three shields and when all three were destroyed, he
was to get onto the cloak, even if he had been driven from it before, and from
then on he was to defend himself there using his weapons alone. The one who
had been challenged was to strike the 
rst blow and if either was wounded
so that blood fell on the cloak, there was no obligation to go on 
ghting. If a
man stepped outside the hazel poles with one foot, he was said to be “falling
the viking age: a reader
with his enemies’ army that no one could tell how the con ict would turn out.
Many spears and arrows were in the air, but his guardian spirits protected him
so that he was unwounded and no one could tell the number of those who fell
at his hands; both his arms were bloodied to the shoulder.
After the battle had gone on for some time, a man with a broad hat and a
blue cloak entered the battle. He was one-eyed and carried a spear. The man
approached King Sigmund and thrust his spear at him. When King Sigmund
swung hard, his sword struck the spear and broke in two. Then the tide of
battle turned, for King Sigmund’s luck had deserted him, and many of his
men fell all around him. Yet the king defended himself and urged on his men
but, as the saying goes, there’s no arguing with numbers. In this battle, King
Sigmund and King Eylimi, his father-in-law, fell at the head of their troops,
most of whom perished.
. Now King Lyngvi went to the king’s residence, intent on capturing
Hjordis there, but he was disappointed for he found neither the woman nor the
treasure. He traveled all over the country and divided the kingdom among his
followers. He thought that he had exterminated the whole race of the Volsungs
and that there was no cause to fear anything from that direction.
That night, after the battle, Hjordis searched among the dead and found
where King Sigmund was lying. She asked whether he would recover. “Many
who are hardly expected to live survive,” he answered, “but my luck has
deserted me, so I won’t allow myself to be healed and Odin doesn’t want me to
raise the sword that has been broken. I won battles as long as it pleased him.”
“I would be happy,” she replied, “if you got better and avenged my father.”
“That’s another man’s destiny,” answered Sigmund. “You are carrying a man-
child. Raise him well and carefully, and the boy will be noble and the foremost
of our family. Take care of the sword-fragments, for a good sword called Gram
may be made from them and our son will carry it. The many great deeds he
performs with Gram will never be forgotten, and his name will be renowned
while the world lasts. Let that satisfy you for now. I am exhausted by my
wounds and I’m going to visit our relatives who have gone before me.”
Hjordis sat with him until he died and by then it was daybreak. She saw that
many ships had reached land and said to her maid-servant, “We must change
clothes, and you will go by my name and say that you are the king’s daughter.”
They did so. The Vikings were looking over the many dead when they saw
two women heading for the forest. The Vikings realized that great events had
taken place and leapt from their ships.
The leader of this force was Alf, son of Hjalprek, king of Denmark, who
was sailing along the coast with his army. Then they arrived where the dead
lay, and they saw that there had been a great slaughter. The king gave orders
for the women to be brought before him, and this was done. He asked who
the viking age: a reader
who was reckoned in
Orkneyinga saga
as the most powerful earl. During his long
tenure of the earldom, Thor nn gained a reputation as a formidable warrior and was
said to have subjugated nine Scottish earldoms, the Hebrides, and part of Ireland, though
modern scholarship regards these claims as exaggerated. Thor nn was also the  rst earl
of Orkney who was brought up as a Christian. He went on a pilgrimage to Rome ca
and established the  rst bishopric in Orkney at Birsay on the west mainland, his
principal residence. The latter part of his reign was given over to the administration of
the earldom. His career is outlined in the  rst part of
Orkneyinga saga
Source: trans. A. A. Somerville, from
, ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson, Íslenzk fornrit
XXXIV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. Earl Thor nn became a great leader. He was very tall and had immense
strength. In appearance, he was ugly, with black-hair, sharp-features, a long nose,
fourteen: the end of the viking age
my head high
in the brunt of battle,
where sword shatters skull.
Then Thjodolf recited:
Though our prince himself perish,
—that will be as God wills—
I shall not be shaken,
shall not abandon his young heirs;
the sun does not shine
on two 
ner future kings;
these avenging sons of strong-willed
Harald are two young hawks.
. The battle began with an English cavalry charge on the Norsemen,
who resisted strongly. It wasn’t easy for the English to charge directly at the
Norsemen because of the hail of weapons, so they rode around them instead.
rst, there was no close 
ghting. As long as the Norsemen held their forma-
tion, the English cavalry just charged up 
ercely and turned back immediately
since they could make no inroads. When the Norsemen saw that the charges
were ineffectual, they went on the attack and tried to put the English to  ight.
However, as soon as the Norsemen broke their shield wall, the English charged
them from all sides hurling spears and other missiles at them. When Harald
Sigurdarson saw what was happening, he hurried to where the 
ghting was
ercest. Many men died on both sides in the bitter 
ght that followed. King
Harald Sigurdarson became so enraged that he ran out in front of his troops
and began laying about him with both hands. Neither helmet nor mail shirt
was protection against him, and all those nearest him 
ed. At that moment,
the English were on the verge of running away. Arnor Jarlaskald [Earls’ poet]
says this:
The daring prince did not
wear war-gear,
yet the battle-bold king
did not tremble in terror.
The soldiers saw
the blood-stained sword
of their powerful prince
killing King Harold’s men.
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
Of Iceland’s Fire and Ice
. As for the ice that is a feature of Iceland, I tend to think that it’s the price
Iceland has to pay for its proximity to Greenland; and it’s no wonder that bit-
ter cold emanates from Greenland, given that it is much more ice-covered than
any other land. It is because Iceland absorbs so much cold from Greenland and
receives so little warmth from the sun that it has so much ice on its mountain
ranges. But I’m not so sure what to say about the surfeit of 
re that is to be
found there, because it is a strange phenomenon. I have heard that there is a
in the 
res, for the amount of ice and frost in Iceland is as excessive as that
of the 
re. . . . There are springs and streams of boiling water. . . . There are
also ice-cold streams which 
ow from beneath the glaciers. These streams are
so powerful that they cause the earth and nearby mountains to tremble, for
when water 
ows so rapidly and with such force, mountains quake because
of the overwhelming violence of the torrent. . . . I am certain that there must
be places of torment wherever such great turbulence manifests itself and takes
on such strange forms. God has shown men such fearful phenomena openly
here on earth . . . as a sign . . . that men must expect torments when they leave
this world unless they shun evil deeds and wrong-doing while they are alive.
. . . . In Iceland there is a great deal of the ore from which iron is made.
Icelanders call it “red ore” in their own language, which is what we call it
ourselves. This ore has been found in large quantities one day, only to vanish
without trace the following day when people were ready to smelt it and make
iron. No one knows what happens to it and, in Iceland, this is called the red-
ore mystery.
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
. An encampment of the Laigin was overwhelmed by the heathens, and
Conall son of Cú Chongalt, king of the Fortuatha, and countless others fell
] . A great slaughter of porpoises on the coast of Ard Cianachta by the foreigners;
and the violent death of the anchorite Teimnén.
. The mortal wounding of Cinaed son of Cumuscach, king of Ard Cianachta,
by the foreigners; and Lann Léire and Cluain Mór were burned by them.
the viking age: a reader
The Saga of the People of Laxdale
traces the fortunes of the settlers in this region of
northwest Iceland and their descendants from the late ninth to the early eleventh century.
In this episode, Hoskuld Dala-Kollsson—a godi, or chieftain, in the district—is away
from home, in Norway, and casually buys an Irish slave, Melkorka, and takes her as
his concubine.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), pp.
. Early in the summer, King Hakon [King Hakon I, the Good, of Norway, ca
] went on a naval expedition east to the Brenney Isles. There, as required
by law, an assembly was held every third summer to con
rm the peace through-
the viking age: a reader
The Saga of the People of Laxdale
contains some of the most vivid female characters in
all of Icelandic literature. The saga begins with the adventures of Unn the Deep-Minded,
the daughter of Ketil Flatnose, a nobleman who  ed to Scotland rather than submit to
Harald Finehair. After the deaths of her male relatives in Scotland and Ireland, Unn cou-
rageously gathers together her household and followers for a migration to Iceland. Unn the
Deep-Minded presents an alternative to the largely masculine tales of Iceland’s foundation.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), pp.
twelve: from odin to christ
and stone monuments were erected, which are still standing. The cow was
placed in another mound nearby.” Such tales he told, and many others about
kings and events from the past.
When they had sat long into the night, the bishop reminded the king that
it was high time to go to bed. The king did so. But after he had undressed
and got into bed, the guest sat on the footboard and again talked for a long
time. It seemed to the king that as soon as one word had been spoken, he was
anxious to hear the next. Then the bishop said to the king that it was time to
sleep. The king did so, and the guest left. A little later, the king woke up and
inquired about his guest. He gave orders for him to be called to his presence,
but the guest was nowhere to be found.
Next morning, the king summoned his cook and the man who was in
charge of the drink and asked them if they had seen any stranger. They replied
that, while they were preparing the meal, a man came in and said that they
were cooking very poor meat for the king’s table. Then he gave them two
thick, fat sides of beef that they cooked along with the other meat. King Olaf
said that all the food must be destroyed because his guest was probably not a
human being, but must have been Odin, whom heathens had worshipped for
a long time. Odin, he said, would not manage to deceive them. . . .
. King Olaf anchored his 
eet in the river Nid. He had thirty ships and
ne, large army; the king himself spent much of his time at Hlad with his
retinue. When the time was approaching for the sacri
ce at Maeren, King Olaf
prepared a great feast at Hlad and sent invitations to Skind, and up to Gaulardal,
and out to Orkadal inviting the chiefs and other great men to come and visit
him. On the  rst evening, when the guests had arrived, there was a splendid
feast with plenty to eat and drink. People got very drunk, and afterwards
everyone slept peacefully through the night. Next morning, the king dressed
and heard mass, after which he had the horns blown to summon everyone to
a meeting. All his men came ashore from the ships and made their way to the
meeting and when everything was ready, the king stood up and spoke.
“We held an assembly at Frosta where I invited the farmers to have them-
selves baptized,” said King Olaf, “but, in response, they invited me to sacri
with them, just as King Hakon, Athelstan’s foster-son, used to do. So we agreed
to meet at Maeren and offer up a great sacri
ce there. But if I am to hold a sac-
ce with you, I will make it the most important kind of sacri ce that is ever
offered: I will sacri
ce men. Moreover, I am not going to pick slaves or villains.
I will choose the noblest men as gifts for the gods. To this end, I nominate
Orm Lygra from Medalhus, Styrkar of Gimsar, Kar from Gryting, Asbjorn,
Thorberg from Ornes, Orm from Lyxa, and Halldor from Skerdingstead.”
He named 
ve more of the noblest men and said that he would sacri
them too for a good year and peace; then he had the men seized on the spot.
the viking age: a reader
Then she carried the boy to the bed.
Njal said to his steward, “Pay attention to where we lie down and how
we settle ourselves so that you’ll know exactly where to 
nd our remains,
for I don’t intend to stir from here, no matter how much I’m bothered by the
smoke and 
The steward replied that he would do so. An ox had been slaughtered and
its hide was lying close by. Njal told the steward to spread the hide over them,
and he promised that he would. Then Njal and Bergthora lay down in the
bed with the boy between them. They crossed themselves and the boy, and
entrusted their souls to God’s hands. Not another word was heard from them.
The steward picked up the hide and covered them with it. Then he left the
house. Ketil of Mark grabbed hold of him and hauled him out. He questioned
the steward closely about his father-in-law, Njal, and the steward told him the
whole story. “Terrible sorrow has befallen us; we have so much misfortune to
share,” said Ketil.
Skarphedin had noticed when his father lay down and what preparations
he had made. “Our father has gone to bed early,” he said, “and that’s only to
be expected since he is an old man.”
Skarphedin, Kari, and Grim picked up burning fragments as quickly as they
fell and hurled them at the people outside. This went on for a while. Then the
attackers threw spears at them, but they caught them all in  ight and threw
them back. Flosi ordered his men to stop the spear-throwing: “Exchanging
weapons with them will only go badly for us. It will be better to wait till the
re overcomes them.” And so they did. Then huge beams began to fall from
the roof.
“My father must be dead by now,” said Skarphedin, “and not a groan or a
cough has been heard from him.” Then they went to the end of the hall where
the crossbeam had fallen down at a slant; it was badly burnt in the middle.
Kari said to Skarphedin, “Run up here and jump out. I’ll give you a hand
and come right behind you. This way we’ll both get away, because all the
smoke is blowing toward us.” “You jump 
rst, and I’ll follow you straight-
away,” Skarphedin replied.
“That’s not a good idea,” said Kari, “because I’ll 
nd another way out, if
I don’t get out here.”
“I’m not having that,” said Skarphedin. “You go 
rst, and I’ll be hard on
your heels.” “Every man has a duty to save his own life, and that’s what I’m
going to do,” said Kari. “After we part, we’ll never see each other again, for if
I once escape from this 
re, I won’t feel like jumping back in again, and we’ll
each have to go our own way.”
“It’s a consolation, brother-in-law, that you will avenge us if you get away,”
said Skarphedin. Kari seized a burning log and ran up the crossbeam. He 
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
. Northmen pirates attacked Nantes, slew the bishop and many clergy and lay
people of both sexes, and sacked the
[city]. Then they attacked the western
parts of Aquitaine to devastate them too. Finally they landed on a certain island
[probably Noirmoutier], brought their households over from the mainland and
the viking age: a reader
Isle of Man, these late Norse crosses constitute a very important source. Among other
things, the mixture of Gaelic and Norse personal names in the inscriptions has attracted
the attention of scholars, as has the proportion of crosses erected in memory of women.

index of topics
Rollo (Hrolf
), count or duke of Nor
Rorik, Danish king:
runic inscriptions:
Saint Olaf:

Spain and Portugal:


Jelling (Denmark):

Svein Estridson, king of Denmark:

Svein Haraldsson Forkbeard, king of Den
mark and England:

Sverrir Sigurdarson, king of Norway:
Thornn Karlesefni:
Thule (Iceland):
towns, trading-centers: (
London, Mikligard, Paris)

Skiringssalr (Kaupang):


tribute-taking (by Vikings):
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
. That same summer, a ship came to Greenland from Norway and the steersman
of the ship was called Thor nn Karlsefni. He was the son of Thord Horsehead
who was the son of Snorri Thordarson from Hofdi. Thor
nn Karlsefni was a
very prosperous man. He spent the winter with Leif Eiriksson at Brattahlid.
Soon, he directed his attentions to Gudrid, and asked her to marry him. She
asked Leif to answer for her. Before long, she was engaged to Karlsefni and the
wedding took place that winter.
There was the same talk as before about travel to Vinland, and people were
eager for Karlsefni to go, Gudrid among others. At length, he decided to
undertake the voyage and hired a crew of sixty men and 
ve women. He and
his crew agreed that whatever goods they acquired would be shared equally.
They took all kinds of livestock with them as they meant to settle the land if
they could. Karlsefni asked Leif for the houses he had built in Vinland, and
Leif said that he would lend them, but not give them.
Then they put to sea and arrived safe and well at Leif’s houses and carried
their hammocks up to them. Soon, they got their hands on rich and plentiful
provisions when a large, fresh
[whale] was stranded on the beach. After
they had cut it up, there was no shortage of food. They put their livestock out
to pasture and soon the males became ill-tempered and intractable. They had
brought a bull with them.
Karlsefni had timber felled as a cargo for his ship. The wood was hewn up
and laid on a rock to dry. They had their choice of the available resources of
the land—grapes and all kinds of game and produce.
rst winter passed into summer. They became aware that there were
Skraelings [Native Americans] about when a large group of them came out
of the woods quite close to Karlsefni’s cattle. The bull began to bellow and
roar furiously, and this so terri
ed the Skraelings that they took to their heels,
carrying their packs full of gray fur, sable, and all kinds of skins. They made
for Karlsefni’s settlement and tried to get into the houses, but Karlsefni had
the doors bolted against them. Neither side understood the other’s language.
The Skraelings put their bundles down, opened them and offered to trade,
especially for weapons, but Karlsefni forbade his men to part with weapons.
Instead, he came up with the following plan. He told the women to take out
milk and as soon as the Skraelings saw it, they wanted to buy the milk and
nothing else. The upshot of the trading trip was that the Skraelings carried
their goods away in their bellies while Karlsefni and his companions kept the
bags of skins. After this the Skraelings left. Then Karlsefni had a sturdy fence
built around his settlement and they made themselves comfortable there.
About this time, Karlsefni’s wife, Gudrid, gave birth to a boy whom they
named Snorri.
the viking age: a reader
killed by the sword or by hunger or they were sold abroad, and the inhabitants
of the countryside were killed. No one resisted them.
Abbot Hugh [of St-Martin of Tours], hearing of these things, raised an
army and came to the king. The Northmen were returning from the region
of Beauvais where they had been plundering. Hugh and the king chased them
into the woods of Vicogne [near Condé], but the Northmen scattered here and
there and, few of them having been killed, they returned to their ships. . . .

. Fulk, an admirable man in all things, succeeded Hincmar in the
episcopal see [of Rheims]. After this the Northmen set the monastery and
church of Saint Quentin a
re. At the same time they set 
re to the church
of the Mother of God in the city of Arras. Again Carloman pursued the
Northmen, but he did nothing either successful or useful [against them].
At this time Rotgarius, the bishop of Beauvais, died and was succeeded by
Honoratus. In the springtime the Northmen departed from Condé and sought
out lands along the sea. Returning there through the summer, they forced
the Flemings to  ee from their own lands. All around they furiously laid
waste to things with their swords and with 
re. Around autumn, in order to
protect the kingdom, King Carloman established his army in the region of
Vithmau at the villa of Miannay [near Abbeville] opposite to Lavier. At the
end of October the Northmen came to Lavier with cavalry and infantry and
supplies. Ships also entered the Somme by the sea and forced the king and
all his army to 
ee and made them pass over the Oise. Then the Northmen
prepared to winter at the city of Amiens. Next, with no one resisting them,
they devastated all the land up to the Seine and around the Oise and they
burned both the monasteries and churches of Christ. Then the Franks, seeing
that things grew ever better for the Northmen, sent a certain Christian Dane
by the name of Sigfried, who carefully worked to save the kingdom, to [the
Northmen]. He came to Beauvais and then proceeded to Amiens to do the
business enjoined upon him.

. Then Engelwin, the bishop of Paris, died and Abbot Gauzelin replaced
him. The Northmen did not stop from capturing and killing Christians or
from destroying churches, pulling down forti
cations, or putting villas to 
The corpses of clerics, laymen, nobles, women, young people and children
were lying in every street. There was no street or place in which the dead
did not lie and lamentation and sadness 
lled everyone, seeing that Christians
were massacred.
Meanwhile, because the king was still a young man, all the magnates gath-
ered in Compiègne to determine what they should do. After they had discussed
the matter, they sent Sigfried, the Danish Christian, who was loyal to the
king and the nephew of Rorik, [to the Northmen]. He was supposed to deal
with the chiefs of his people to see if they would accept tribute and leave the
the viking age: a reader
the council. This passage contains a grim account of the Norse gods and their very human
capacity for vindictiveness. Adam of Bremen also writes of human sacri ce at Uppsala (see

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda
, ed. Guðni Jónsson,
vols. (Reykjavík,
), vol.
, pp.
. . . . King Vikar sailed north from Agder to Hordaland with a large 
the viking age: a reader
(b) Vigdis Divorces Thord Goddi

When a relative, Thorolf, seeks Vigdis’s protection from the consequences of a murder,
her husband, Thord, fails to act as she thinks a man ought to, and she declares herself
divorced from him, in this selection from
The Saga of the People of Laxdale.
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), pp.
. . . . The news of Hall’s murder spread throughout the islands and was taken
very seriously because, although he was not a lucky man, Hall belonged to a
noble family. Now Thorolf 
ed from the islands, for he knew no one there who
would shelter him after such a terrible deed. He had no relatives from whom he
could hope for protection, whereas there were powerful men in the neighbor-
hood who could certainly be expected to plot against his life, men like Ingjald
the Godi [chieftain] of the South Islands, the brother of Hall.
Thorolf got a passage to the mainland. He traveled wearing a large hood on
his head and there is no account of his journey until he arrived at Goddastead
one evening. Vigdis, the wife of Thord, was some sort of relation of Thorolf’s
and that is why he turned up at that house. Thorolf had already heard about
how things stood there, in particular that Vigdis was more tough-minded than
her husband Thord. On the evening of his arrival, Thorolf went straight to tell
Vigdis his troubles and ask for her help.
Vigdis gave him this answer: “I won’t deny our kinship, and what you
have done does not seem to me to have made a worse man of you. I think that
anyone who protects you will risk both his life and property considering the
stature of the men who will be in pursuit of you. But,” she said, “my husband
Thord isn’t much of a 
ghting man, and the advice of us women is always
wanting in judgment, if anything is needed. But I can’t bring myself to turn
you away out of hand, since you have decided to come here for help.”
After that, Vigdis led him to a farm building and told him to stay there. She locked
the door when she left. Later, she approached Thord. “A man has come here looking
for a place to stay for the night,” she said. “His name is Thorolf, and he has some sort
of kinship with me. I think that he will need to stay for longer, if you’re willing.”
Thord answered that he didn’t like having people to visit, but said that he
could stay for the next day, so long as he wasn’t in trouble. Otherwise he should
be on his way as soon as possible.
Vigdis answered, “I have already offered to let him stay and I won’t go
back on my word even though he may not be equally friendly with everyone.”
Then she told him about the murder of Hall and that his murderer, Thorolf,
was the man who had arrived at their house. Thord was angry about this, and
the viking age: a reader
From Utrecht, it is one day’s journey to Cologne, where St. Peter’s Church
is the cathedral of the archbishopric. It is the duty of the bishop of Cologne
to consecrate the emperor in the church at Aachen. From Cologne it takes
three days of travel along the Rhine to reach Mainz, where the archbishop’s
cathedral is the Church of Saints Peter and Paul. From there it is a one-day
journey to Spiers, with its cathedral, St. Mary’s Church. Then it takes three
days to reach Selz and one more to reach Strassburg, where the bishop’s seat is
St. Mary’s Church. From there it is three days to Basle. Here, the route turns
away from the Rhine and heads for Solothurn, a one-day journey. Then it is
another day’s travel to Wi isburg, which was a large town until the sons of
Ragnar Hairy-Breeches destroyed it; now it is a small town. After that it is
a day’s journey to Vevay which stands beside Martin’s Lake [Lake Geneva].
This is the junction of all the routes taken by everyone who crosses the Alps
for the south: Franks, Flemings, French, Angles, Saxons [probably Germans],
and Norsemen. From Vevay, it takes a day to get to Saint-Maurice, where Saint
Maurice and his entire army of
men lie buried. The castle of St. Pierre
is also located here. From Saint-Maurice the route leads in two days to the
hospice of St. Bernard, which is situated in the mountains. Also up in the
Alps is the hospice of St. Peter, where in summer, on the Feast of Saint Olaf
 July], the rocks are often snow-covered and the lake iced over.
To the south of the Alps is Etroubles. Then comes Aosta, a 
ne city with a
cathedral called the church of St. Ursus, where Saint Ursus is buried. Next is
Pont St. Martin and, after that, Ivrea which is a two-day journey from Aosta.
A day later, the route reaches Vercelli, where Saint Eusebius lies in the cathe-
dral that bears his name. Milan is a day’s journey to the east of the road for
Rome and, if you keep heading for Rome, a day will get you to Pavia, where
St. Syrus’ Church is located. There is an imperial throne in this church, and
the saint is buried there too. Pavia is also the town where Bishop Martin grew
up; he has an important church there. A day further on is Piacenza, with its
cathedral, St. Mary’s Church. Between Pavia and Piacenza 
ows a wide river
called the Po, and it is here that those who travel from Saint Gilles-du-Gard
join the route. From Piacenza, it is a day’s travel south to Borgo San Donnino,
and between these two towns is Eirik’s hospice [Eirik I, king of Denmark,

]. Then comes the river Taro which is wide and clear. It is never
polluted or contaminated because all the dirt that is thrown into it sinks imme-
diately to the bottom. South of this is Borgo di Val di Taro.
From there, the route crosses the mountains known as the Appenines.
Lombardy is the name of the region lying to the south of the Appenines and
stretching north to the Alps. The western end of the Alps reaches the sea [Gulf
of Genoa] in the Stura region, while the eastern end extends to the Venetian
Lagoons. In the Appenines, are the towns of Santa Croce, Villa Franca, and
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
thee! O thou who hast erected many trophies over enemies in Europe, Asia
and Libya, see how a barbarous and lowly hand has thrust its spear against thee,
making bold to bear in triumph victory over thee! Everything with thee has
come to such a pitch of misfortune, that thy unassailable strength has sunk to
the dregs of extreme in
rmity, and thy enemies, beholding thy in
rmity and
subjection, display the strength of their arm against thee, and try to bedeck
themselves with a glorious name. O queen of queenly cities, who hast saved
many others from dangers by thy alliance, who hast with thy arms raised up
many that had been forced down to their knees, now lying a prey deprived
of helpers! O grace and splendor, size and beauty, elegance and adornment of
venerable shrines, O sanctuary of bloodless victims, place inviolate and holy of
the dread sacri
ce and the mystical table, see how enemies’ feet are threatening
lement! O pure veneration, stainless faith, unde
led worship, see how the
mouth of the impious and the arrogant is opened wide against us! O white
hairs, unction and ministry of the priests! O me, holy shrine of God and God’s
Wisdom, sleepless eye of the universe! Wail ye virgins, daughters of Jerusalem.
Weep ye young men of the city of Jerusalem. Mourn ye also, mothers. Shed
tears, ye babes, shed tears; for the magnitude of the calamity forces even you
to awareness. Shed tears, for our ills have been multiplied, and there is none
to deliver, none to help. . . .

One of the most important sources relating to the Scandinavians in the East is the so-called

Russian Primary Chronicle
, in modern critical literature commonly termed the
Tale of
Bygone Years
, after the opening sentence of the text. It covers the period from about
to the early twelfth century, but it was compiled only after the mid-eleventh century, and the
value of its information before about
is debated. It draws on earlier documents, interweav-
ing historical and legendary material, and its account of the “Calling of the Varangians” is
hotly contested. Indeed, the extent to which the Scandinavians had an impact on processes of
state-formation in what is today Russia has been vigorously debated by scholars for decades.

six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
all around the enemy of the Wends [Olaf]
was the deadly din of battle.
. Kolbjorn, the king’s marshal, who was the best and bravest of men,
went up to the quarter-deck and approached King Olaf. The two men were
similarly clothed and armed. Ferocious 
ghting was still going on in the stern.
As many of Earl Eirik’s men as could  nd room on the
had now boarded
her, and his ships had surrounded her. So, although the defenders were both
strong and brave, they were too few in number to resist such a large force, and
most of them fell in a very short time. King Olaf and Kolbjorn both jumped
overboard, one on each side of the ship. The earl’s men had positioned small
boats around the
Long Serpent
and were killing everyone who took to the water.
But when the king himself jumped overboard, they tried to capture him and
take him to Earl Eirik. King Olaf, however, held his shield above his head and
plunged down into the water. Kolbjorn, on the other hand, thrust his shield
beneath him to protect himself against spears thrown from the surrounding
ships. He landed in the water with his shield beneath him so that he stayed
on the surface long enough for them to seize him and pull him aboard a boat.
Thinking he was the king, they took him to Earl Eirik, but Eirik recognized
him as Kolbjorn and spared his life. At the same moment, all of King Olaf’s
men who were still alive jumped over the side of the
Hallfred says that
Thorkel Nefja, the king’s brother, was the last to dive overboard:
Heroic Thorkel, happy
to have bloodied his spear in battle,
saw the
Long Serpent
, the
Short Serpent
and the
, empty and adrift.
Then the wise warrior Thorkel,
brave in battle,

rm in 
swam away from the

. As has been written, Earl Sigvald joined King Olaf in Wendland. The
earl had ten ships at Svold, as well as an eleventh aboard which his wife, Astrid,
King Burislaf’s daughter, had her men. When King Olaf jumped overboard,
the whole army raised a shout of triumph. Then Earl Sigvald and his men put
their oars into the water and rowed toward the battle. Halldor the Heathen says:
The Wendish warships came
from afar to the 
Then the sharp ax, the shield’s foe,
In the headings of chapters and sections of chapters, the titles of Norse texts
are given in their original form in parentheses after the customary English
translation: for example,
Egil’s Saga
Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar
Where placenames have well-known English forms, these are generally
used: for example, York replaces Jórvík, and Reykjavik replaces Reykjarvík.
Only two symbols from Old Norse are likely to cause confusion on the
rare occasions when they are used here: Ð, ð: pronounced
as in
; Þ,þ:
as in
the viking age: a reader
“It is two wolves,” replied the High One, “The one pursuing her is called
Skoll. She is terri
ed of him, and he will catch her. The one running ahead of
her is called Hati Hrodvitnisson. He is eager to seize hold of the Moon; and
that too will happen.”
“What family do the wolves belong to?” asked Gangleri.
The High One replied, “A giantess lives to the east of Midgard in a forest
called Ironwood; in that forest live trollwomen, called the Ironvidjur. The old
giantess bears many giant sons, all of whom are shaped like wolves, and it is from
this line that these wolves are descended. It is said that this family will produce
a mighty wolf called Managarm [Hound of the Moon], who will 
ll himself
up with the blood of everyone who dies. Then he will gulp down the Moon
and shower all the heavens and the sky with blood, causing the Sun to lose
its brightness, and blustery winds to blow hither and thither. As
The old woman lives eastward
in Ironwood
and there gives birth to
Fenrir’s brood;
one will emerge,
one from among them all,
who, in troll’s skin,
will snatch the Moon.
He devours the 
of doomed men;
he reddens the gods’ home
with crimson gore;
the Sun’s rays will grow black
in the summers that follow,
the weather will always be wretched.
Do you wish to know more? And what?”
. Then Gangleri asked, “What is the route from earth to heaven?”
“That question isn’t too clever,” answered the High One, with a laugh.
“Hasn’t anyone told you that the gods built a bridge called Bifrost between
earth and heaven? You must have seen it; maybe it’s what you call a rainbow. It
is tri-colored and very strong, for it was fashioned with more skill and knowl-
edge than other constructions. But strong as it is, the bridge will collapse when
Muspell’s men come riding across it. . . .”
. Then Gangleri said, “Where is the chief holy place of the gods?”
“It’s at the ash tree called Yggdrasil,” answered the High One. “That’s where
the gods must sit in judgment every day.”
viking life and death
Gunnar’s horse so hard that its eye 
ew out, and Gunnar hit Thorgeir with his
prod, knocking him senseless.
Gunnar walked over to his horse and said to his brother, Kolskegg, “Kill
the horse. He’s not going to live his life maimed like that.”
Kolskegg beheaded the horse. Then Thorgeir got to his feet and seized his
weapons. He wanted to attack Gunnar, but a great throng of people came
crowding around, and he was thwarted.
“I can’t stand all this pushing and shoving,” Skarphedin said. “Brave men
ght with weapons.”
Gunnar stood by so quietly that it took only one man to hold him; he said
nothing at all to stir things up. Njal suggested coming to terms or making a
truce, but Thorgeir declared that he would neither give nor accept a truce and
would rather see Gunnar dead because of the blow.
“Gunnar has always stood 
rm in the face of threats,” said Kolskegg, “and
he won’t cave in now.” Then everyone rode home from the horse
ght. . . .
(b) A Horse-
ght from
the viking age: a reader
, the Piraeus Lion was looted from Greece and removed to its pres-
five: viking warriors and their weapons
Kormak answered that he would have a big, sharp ax. Dalla suggested that
he should visit Skeggi of Midfjord and ask him for the loan of his sword, Skof-
nung. So Kormak went to Reykir, and explained his predicament to Skeggi.
He asked him to lend Skofnung, but Skeggi was reluctant, saying that Kormak
and Skofnung had entirely different temperaments.
“Skofnung is slow and deliberate whereas you are rash and impatient,” said
Skeggi. Kormak rode away; he wasn’t very pleased. When he got home to Mel,
he told his mother that Skeggi would not lend the sword. Now, Skeggi looked
after Dalla’s business affairs and there was a warm friendship between them.
“He will lend the sword,” said Dalla, “though he may not give in quickly.”
“It’s not fair if he’ll lend the sword to you, but not to me,” said Kormak.
Dalla said that her son was an ill-tempered man. Some days later, Dalla told
Kormak to go to Reykir. “Skeggi will lend you the sword now,” she said. So
Kormak went to see Skeggi and asked for Skofnung.
nd the sword dif
cult to handle,” said Skeggi. “There’s a pouch
attached to it, and you must leave that alone. The sun mustn’t shine on the
pommel, and you must never carry the sword unless you’re getting ready for a
ght. When you get to the scene of the 
ght, wait until you are sitting alone
before drawing the sword; then hold the blade out in front of you, blow on
it and a little serpent will wriggle out from under the pommel; then turn the
sword over to allow the serpent to wriggle back under the pommel.”
“You sorcerers put on quite a show,” said Kormak. “Nonetheless,” said
Skeggi, “everything must be done just so.”
After this, Kormak rode home and told his mother how he had got on,
remarking that her wishes carried great weight with Skeggi. He showed her
the sword and tried to draw it, but it wouldn’t come out of the scabbard.
“You’re too headstrong, my son,” said Dalla. Then Kormak put his feet on
the hilt of the sword and tore off the pouch. Skofnung howled, but stayed in
the sheath.
Time passed and the appointed day arrived. Kormak rode from home with
fteen men, and Bersi, too, rode to the island with an equal number of men.
Kormak arrived 
rst and told Thorgils that he wanted to sit on his own. Then
he sat down and took off the sword. However, he made no effort to keep
the pommel out of the sunlight, and had actually been wearing it outside his
clothes. He tried to draw the sword but wasn’t able to until he stood on the
hilt. The little serpent came out, but it wasn’t handled properly. So, the spell
was broken, and the sword came from the sheath groaning.
. After that, Kormak rejoined his companions. By then, Bersi and his men
had arrived, and many others had come to watch the 
ght. Kormak picked up
Bersi’s shield and hacked at it so that sparks 
ew. A cloak was now spread on
the ground for them to stand on.
five: viking warriors and their weapons
offered three times its weight in gold for the sword, but Sigmund replied, “You
could have taken the sword from its place just as I did, if it had been 
tting for
you to carry it, but you will never do that now that the sword has come into
my possession, even if you offer all the gold you possess.” . . .
. Once there was a king called Eylimi, a ruler both powerful and noble.
His daughter, Hjordis, was the most beautiful and wisest of women. King
Sigmund heard that she was a match for him, if anyone was, so he went to the
home of King Eylimi who wished to honor Sigmund with a feast, provided
that he was not coming to make war. Messages passed between them, and it
was established that Sigmund’s journey was peaceful and that he had no hostile
intentions. King Eylimi had only the best provisions for his banquet, which
was attended by a large number of guests. Markets were set up everywhere for
King Sigmund and he was provided with whatever provisions or equipment
he needed for his journey.
They arrived at the feast, and the two kings shared one hall. Also at the feast
was King Lyngvi, the son of King Hunding, and he, too, wanted to marry
King Eylimi’s daughter, Hjordis. King Eylimi saw that they had come on a
single errand and he also knew that there would be dif
culties with the loser.
So, the king spoke to his daughter. “You are a wise woman,” said Eylimi,
“and I have told you that you must choose whom you marry. Choose between
these two kings; your decision will be mine.”
“This seems a dif cult problem,” she answered. “However, I choose the
more famous king, and that is Sigmund, though he is stooped with age.”
Accordingly, she was promised to Sigmund and Lyngvi went away. Then
Sigmund married Hjordis and from one day to the next the festivities grew
better and more splendid.
Later, Sigmund, accompanied by his father-in-law, returned to Hunland
and took care of his kingdom. But King Lyngvi and his brothers gathered an
army against King Sigmund because they had always come off worst, and the
present instance was even more irritating, so they wanted to humble the glory
of the Volsungs. They advanced into Hunland and sent word to King Sigmund
that they did not want to take him unawares, and that they did not expect him
ee. King Sigmund said that he would meet them in battle and gathered his
army. Hjordis was moved to the forests with a maid-servant and a great deal
of treasure. She remained there while the 
ghting continued.
An overwhelming army of Vikings leapt from their ships. King Sigmund
and King Eylimi set up their standards and horns were sounded, but King
Sigmund had sounded his father’s horn to encourage his men; Sigmund had by
far the smaller army. A 
erce battle developed and, though he was an old man,
Sigmund fought hard and was always at the forefront of his men. Neither shield
nor mail-shirt could withstand him and, that day, he was so constantly engaged
had a fair complexion and thick blond hair. His eyes were more beautiful than
other people’s and his eyesight was keener. He was a generous man and a great
soldier; he was gallant, victorious, and exceptionally fortunate in everything
concerning power and wealth. But he was not a very reective man, and the
same is true of Svein, Harald, and Gorm before him. None of them were great
runestones record expeditions to England. The runestones date mainly
from the reign of Knut the Great (see doc.
) and provide fascinating details of Danish
activities in England. Most of the England runestones commemorate the achievements
of Swedish warriors.
Source of transcriptions and translations: Samnordisk runtextdatabas: University of Uppsala. The
entire database is available for download at
a. The following inscription is found on one of a group of stones commemorating Ulf of
Borresta, a Viking who lived in Uppland in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries.
Ulf proted from distribution of the Danegeld (a tribute paid by the Anglo-Saxons) under
three leaders: Skoglar Tosti, from Västergötland (in Sweden), who raised his rst Danegeld
; Thorkell the Tall, who levied a large Danegeld in
the troops who martyred Saint Alfeah (see doc.
); and Knut the Great, who became
U (Uppland Sweden)

in ulfr haR o| |onklati ‘ þru kialt| |takat þit uas fursta þis tusti ka-t ‘
þ(a)——(þ)urktil ‘ þa kalt knutr
And Ulfr has taken three payments in England. That was the rst that

R × uki × urika × uk
þiR bryþr × aliR × litu × risa ×
the viking age: a reader
secure. If I accept this deal, what will he offer King Harald Sigurdarson for
his pains?”
“He did say something about how much of England he would give King
Harald,” replied the horseman. “Seven feet of English earth, or a bit more,
since he’s taller than other men.”
“Go and tell King Harold to get ready for battle,” said the earl. “Norse-
men will never be able to say that Earl Tostig deserted Harald Sigurdarson
and joined his enemies when he came west to 
ght here in England. We are
all determined to die with honor, or to conquer England.” With that, the
horsemen rode away.
“Who was that well-spoken man?” King Harald Sigurdarson asked the earl.
“That was King Harold Godwinsson,” replied Earl Tostig.
“You kept that fact from me for too long,” said the king. “Having come so
close to our army, this Harold should now be beyond talking about the deaths
of our men.”
“True, my lord,” replied Tostig. “He acted incautiously for a chief, and it
might have turned out as you say. I saw that he wanted to offer me peace and
great power; but I would have been his killer if I had given away his name,
and I would rather he killed me than I killed him.”
“He was a small man,” said King Harald to his men, “but he stood proudly
in his stirrups.”
People say that King Harald Sigurdarson recited this poem:
Let’s advance
In battle array
Without body-armor
Against blue-edged swords.
Helmets shine, but
I don’t have a mail-shirt;
Our armor lies
Useless at the ships.
His mail coat was called Emma. It was so long that it hung to the middle of his
calf and so strong that no weapon had ever pierced it. “That was a terrible poem,”
the viking age: a reader
proper behavior in foreign lands, descriptions of Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland, and
information on the weather.

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Speculum Regale. Konungs-Skuggsjá
, ed. R. Keyser, P.A. Munch,
the viking age: a reader
King of Loch Léin.

. The slaughter at Umall by the heathens in which fell Coscrach son of Flan-
nabra and Dúnadach, king of Umall.

. Étar was plundered by the heathens, [and] they carried off a great number of
women into captivity.

. Heathens invaded Bennchor the great [Bangor, Co. Down].

] . The heathens plundered Bennchor at Airtiu [?], and destroyed the oratory, and
shook the relics of Comgall from their shrine. . . .
. Étgal of Scelec [Skellig Michael, a tiny, jagged, mountain of rock off the
southwest coast of Co. Kerry on which was a small monastic community] was
carried off by the heathens, and died shortly afterwards of hunger and thirst.
two: scandinavian society
Bard and his wife had a son named Grim. Thorolf remained with the king
and enjoyed great honors.
. King Harald assembled a great naval force, gathering together men and
ships from far and wide. He left Trondheim and traveled south along the coast.
He had found out that a great army had been gathered from Agder, Rogaland,
and Hordaland as well as from many other areas of the country, including the
inland regions and Vik in the east. Many men of consequence had assembled
there intending to defend their land against King Harald. The king headed
south with his army, he himself sailing in a large ship manned by his own
retainers. In the prow stood Thorolf Kveld-Ulfsson and Bard the White along
with Olvir Snubnose and Eyvind Lamb, the sons of Kari of Berle. Behind them
in the fore part of the ship were twelve of the king’s berserks. The battle took
place in the south at Hafrsfjord in Rogaland [ca
]. It was the most terrible
battle King Harald had ever fought and there was great loss of life on both sides.
The king placed his ship in a forward position and that’s where the battle
ercest. It ended in victory for King Harald. Thorir Long Chin, king
of Agder, was killed there but Kjotvi the Wealthy 
ed along with all of his
surviving followers who had not surrendered after the battle. When King
Harald’s troops were counted, many were dead and many were seriously
injured. Thorolf was badly wounded and Bard’s injuries were even worse. No
one on the king’s ship forward of the sail was unhurt, except for the berserks,
whom weapons did not penetrate.
Then the king had the wounds of his men bound up. He thanked them
for their courage and gave them gifts, bestowing most praise on those he
thought most deserving and promising to increase their honor. In particular,
he mentioned the steersmen, and then the men in the prows and the others
stationed forward in the ships. This was the last battle King Harald fought in
his own lands. After that he met with no resistance and gained control of the
entire country.
The king ordered treatment for those of his men who seemed likely to live
and provided burial for the dead, according to the custom of the time. Both
Thorolf and Bard lay wounded, but while Thorolf’s wounds began to heal,
Bard’s became life-threatening. So he asked the king to come to him.
“If I die of these wounds,” he said, “then I’d like your permission to dis-
pose of my inheritance myself.” When the king had agreed, Bard continued,
“I want Thorolf, my companion and kinsman, to inherit everything I own,
both land and money. I also want him to have my wife and to bring up my
son, because I trust him in these matters more than any other man.” He settled
these arrangements according to the laws and with the king’s leave. Then Bard
died. He was prepared for burial and was greatly mourned.
the viking age: a reader
given freedom to Erp, the son of Earl Meldun, for the last thing I want is that
a man of such a noble family should bear the name of slave.”
Then Unn gave him land at Saudafell between the Tungu River and the
Mid River. His children were Orm and Asgeir, Gunnbjorn and Halldis whom
Alf of the Dales married. To Sokkolf she gave Sokkolfsdale, and he lived there
till old age. One of Unn’s freedmen was a Scot called Hundi. She gave him
Hundadale. Vi
l was Unn’s fourth slave, and he received Vi
The fourth daughter of Thorstein the Red was Osk. She was the mother
of Thorstein the Black, known as the Wise. It was he who inserted an extra
week to correct the calendar [since the solar year and the calendar had got out
of step]. Thorstein the Red’s 
fth daughter was Thorhild. She was mother of
Alf of the Dales from whom many men trace their ancestry. His daughter was
Thorgerd, the wife of Ari Masson, son of Atli, son of Ulf the Squint and Bjorg
Eyvindsdaughter, sister of Helgi the Lean. From this line come the people of
Reykjaness. The sixth daughter of Thorstein the Red was Vigdis from whom
are descended the people of Hofdi in Eyjafjord.
. Olaf Feilan was the youngest of Thorstein the Red’s children. He was
a big, strong man, good-looking, and very accomplished. Unn thought more
highly of him than of any other man and declared publicly that she intended
Olaf to inherit all her property at Hvamm after her death. When Unn was
becoming very weary with age, she called Olaf Feilan to her and said to him,
“It strikes me, kinsman, that you should settle down and get married.”
Olaf was amenable and said that he would trust her judgment in the mat-
ter. Unn replied, “I really think that your wedding should take place late this
summer, because it’s easiest to get hold of all the necessary provisions at that
time of year and I’m sure that a great crowd of our friends will be there as this
is the last feast I intend to give.”
“That is generously said,” answered Olaf. “However, I won’t marry any
woman who will rob you of either your property or your authority.”
The same autumn, Olaf Feilan married Alfdis and their wedding took place
at Hvamm. Unn spent a great deal on the feast as she had sent invitations to
well-born men of other districts far and wide. She invited her brothers Bjorn
and Helgi and they came with many followers. Her grandson-in-law, Koll of
the Dales, came as did Hord of Hordadale and many other prominent men.
There were a great many wedding guests, though nowhere near as many
showed up as Unn had invited because it was a long journey for the people
of Eyjafjord.
Old age had taken its toll on Unn so that she didn’t get up before the middle
of the day and went to bed early. She allowed no one to consult her from
the time she went to bed till the time when she was up and dressed and she
answered irritably if anyone asked how she was. On the day of the wedding,
the viking age: a reader
his magical lore, he would behave exactly as he had done before. When these
men met King Olaf, they told him what Eyvind had asked them to say. The
king was very annoyed that Eyvind was not dead.
. In the spring, King Olaf traveled out along the Vik and was enter-
tained at his large estates in the area. He sent word throughout the Vik that
he intended to call out an army in the summer and travel to the north of the
country. Afterwards, he went west to Agder. When Lent was almost over,
King Olaf went north to Rogaland and on Easter-eve he arrived at Ogv-
aldsness on Kormt Island where an Easter feast was prepared for him. He was
accompanied by almost three hundred men. That same night, Eyvind Kelda
came to the island in a longship manned entirely by sorcerers and other kinds
of magicians. Eyvind and his men went ashore and began using their magic
spells. Eyvind covered them in darkness with a fog so thick that the king
and his men would not be able to see them, but when they came close to the
dwelling at Ogvaldsness, it became as bright as day. Then things turned out
very differently from what Eyvind had intended. The darkness which he had
created by magic descended on Eyvind and his men so that they could see no
more with their eyes than they could with the backs of their heads and went
round and round in circles.
The king’s watchmen saw them, but did not know who they were. The
king was told and he and all his companions rose and got dressed. When the
king saw Eyvind and the others wandering around, he ordered his men to
arm themselves and go to 
nd out who these people were. The king’s men
recognized Eyvind, so they seized him and all the others and led them before
the king. Eyvind gave him an account of everything that had happened on his
journey. Then the king had them all taken to a skerry which was covered by
the sea at high tide and had them tied up there. That is how Eyvind and his
men lost their lives and, ever since, the skerry has been called Sorcerers’ Skerry.
. The story goes that while King Olaf was being entertained at Ogv
an old man arrived there one evening. He wore a hood pulled down low over
his face and had only one eye. He spoke very wisely and had something to say
about every land. When he started talking, the king found his conversation
most entertaining and questioned his guest extensively. The old man had an
answer for every question, and King Olaf sat up late into the evening with him.
Then the king asked if he knew anything about that Ogvald after whom
the headland and the farm had been named. The guest replied that Ogvald
had been a great king and warrior and that he had worshipped a certain cow
more than anything else. He used to take this cow with him wherever he
went because he thought that drinking her milk every day was good for him.
“King Ogvald fought against a king called Varin and fell in the battle,”
continued the guest. “He was then placed in a mound here close to his farm,
viking life and death
reassurance he gave them, and he made other remarks, too, that were even
more encouraging.
Now the whole house began to burn. Njal went to the door and said, “Is
Flosi close enough to hear what I have to say?” Flosi said that he could hear,
and Njal continued, “Would you make terms with my sons, or let some people
Flosi answered: “I won’t make a settlement with your sons. We’re going to
nish with them now, and we won’t leave until they are all dead. But I will
allow women, children, and man-servants to get out.”
Njal went in and spoke to his household: “Everyone who has permission to
leave must go now. You must go too, Thorhalla Asgrim’s daughter, and take
with you everyone who is allowed out.”
“I never expected to part from Helgi like this,” replied Thorhalla, “but I’ll
persuade my father and brothers to avenge the lives lost here.”
“You’ll do well,” said Njal, “because you are a good woman.” Then she
went out and many people went with her.
Astrid from Djuparbak said to Helgi, “Come out with me; I’ll throw a
woman’s cloak over you and cover your head with a hood.” At 
rst, he was
reluctant, but at length he gave in to their entreaties. Astrid wrapped his head
in a hood while Thorhild put the cloak over him. He walked out between
them accompanied by his sisters, Thorgerd and Helga, and several other people.
When Helgi came out, Flosi said, “Look how tall that woman is, and how
broad her shoulders are. Grab her and hang onto her.”
When Helgi heard this, he threw off the cloak. He had concealed a sword
under his arm and he struck out with it, cutting off the point of a man’s shield
and his leg as well. Then Flosi came up and slashed at Helgi’s neck, beheading
him instantly.
Flosi went up to the door and asked Njal and Bergthora to come and talk
to him. They did so. Flosi said, “I want to offer you safe passage, because you
don’t deserve to be burnt in there.”
“I’m not coming out,” replied Njal, “because I’m an old man, and scarcely
t to avenge my sons, and I don’t want to live in shame.”
Then Flosi said to Bergthora, “Why don’t you come out, Bergthora? The
last thing I want is to burn you with the house.”
Bergthora replied, “I was young when I was given to Njal, and I promised
him that we would share the same fate.” Both went back into the house. “What
shall we do now?” asked Bergthora. “We’ll go to bed and lie down,” said Njal.
Then Bergthora said to the boy, Thord Karason, “Someone will take you
outside; you mustn’t burn in here.”
“Grandmother,” said the boy, “you promised that we would never be parted,
and that’s how it will be, because I think it’s much better to die here with you.”
the viking age: a reader
Then they headed for Ekrey. When they entered the harbor and dropped
anchor, the momentum of the ship was so great that 
re broke out in the
windlass around which the cable was wound. The fear was that the rope would
burn, so they soaked an awning, intending to sti
e the 
re with it, but Prince
Magnus was much quicker and more resourceful. He lifted up a tub full of
drink, poured it over the windlass, and cooled down the cable.
When the
was berthed alongside the other ships, her sides were as
high as the awning pole of the
The sides of the
stood nine
ells [a Norwegian ell was
cm] above sea-level, and she was by far the big-
gest of all the ships there. The general opinion was that this number of great
ships had never been seen together in one harbor. Many terrible tales about
this levy and 
eet spread all over Danish territory, and resistance seemed out
of the question. Sturla puts it this way:
Sea-King, I speak of how you repaid
the strife of the Danes in the south.
Far and wide from 
your people launched lithe ships;
many conscripts were called out
by your freemen, ruler of 

Tryggvason at the Battle of Svold

Rognvald and Thornn the Mighty Fight It Out in the

Earl Rognvald Kali in the Mediterranean

The Battle of Fimreite (Norafjord),


On the Causes of the Viking Expansion

Viking Raids on England,

An English Gospel Book Ransomed from the Vikings

Viking Raids on Ireland,

The Martyrdom of Blathmac,

Irish Resistance to the Norsemen

Franks and Vikings,

The Northmen in France,

The Annals of St-Vast,

An Account of the Siege of Paris,

Vikings in the Iberian Peninsula

Ibn al-Kutia
Ibn Adhari


Viking Activities in England,

The Martyrdom of Saint Edmund

The Vikings in Ireland,


Earl Sigurd and the Establishment of the Earldom of Orkney

Runic Inscriptions from Maes Howe
, Mainland, Orkney

Runic Inscriptions from the Isle of Man

Rollo Obtains Normandy from the King of the Franks


The Ru¯s

fourteen: the end of the viking age
awarded a quarter of the income from Caithness. On receiving this message,
Earl Harald called a meeting of landowners and other leading men and asked
for their advice. In view of their situation, the men of Caithness agreed to pay
a quarter of their property to the king of Scots; those who had sought out the
king earlier in the winter were exempted.
Earl Harald went back to the Orkneys with an agreement that he was to
rule all of Caithness just as he had before Harald the Young received it from
the king of Scots. During the hostilities, Thor
nn, the son of Harald, had been
taken hostage by the king of Scots and blinded. Once peace terms had been
agreed, the king traveled south to Scotland and Earl Harald remained as sole
ruler of the Orkneys.
Toward the end of Earl Harald’s life, Olaf, his son-in-law, and John Hallkels-
son raised troops in the Orkneys and headed east to Norway to oppose King
Sverrir [ca

]. The man they had chosen for king was Sigurd, the son
of King Magnus Erlingsson. Many high-born men from the Orkneys joined
their force, which was an exceedingly strong one. At 
rst, they were called
the Islanders and then, for a while, the Gold-Legs. They fought against King
Sverrir at Floravoe [in

] and lost. Both John and Olaf were killed there,
along with their king and most of their army.
After that, King Sverrir grew very hostile toward Earl Harald, claiming
that it was all his fault that an army had been raised in the Orkneys. As a
consequence, the earl and Bishop Bjarni went east to Norway, where Harald
submitted to King Sverrir and asked him to settle their differences. Then King
Sverrir took the whole of Shetland away from Earl Harald, along with all its
taxes and dues. The earls of Orkney have never regained those islands.
Harald was 
ve years old when he was given the title of earl. For twenty-two
years he was joint-earl of Orkney with Earl Rognvald the Holy and, after
Rognvald’s death, he was sole earl for forty-eight years. He died in the second
year of the reign of King Ingi Bardarson [in
], and after his death, his sons
John and David inherited the earldom; his son Henry ruled Ross in Scotland.
According to some writers, the most powerful earls of Orkney were Sigurd
Eysteinsson, Earl Thor
nn Sigurdarson, and Earl Harald Maddadarson. After
their father’s death, the brothers John and David held the earldom jointly until
David died of an illness in the same year as Hakon the Mad died in Norway

]. After that, John became sole ruler of the Orkneys.


By the middle of the thirteenth century, both Scottish and Norwegian monarchs were
increasingly concerned with tightening their grip on the Hebrides, the islands off the west
coast of Scotland. These islands had technically been under Norwegian control since
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
When they had 
nished building their houses, Leif said to his men, “Now
I want to divide our company into two groups so that we can explore the
country. Half of you will stay at the houses while the other half explores the
land. But don’t go so far that you can’t get back in the evening, and don’t
split up.”
This is what they did for a time. Leif alternated between staying at home
and exploring. He was a big, strong man, very impressive in appearance. He
was intelligent, too, and moderate in all things.
. It happened one evening, that a man went missing, and that man was
Tyrkir the southerner. Leif was particularly upset because Tyrkir had lived with
him and his father for a long time and had been very fond of Leif when he was
a child. Leif gave his men an angry talking to and got ready to go looking for
Tyrkir along with twelve of his men. No sooner had they left the house than
they met Tyrkir coming toward them. They greeted him warmly, and Leif
soon realized that his foster-father was in very good spirits. Tyrkir was a small
man with a bulging forehead and squinting eyes in an insigni
cant little face.
He was a poor-looking creature, but expert in all sorts of crafts.
“What kept you, foster-father?” asked Leif. “How did you get separated
from the others?” At 
rst Tyrkir spoke only in German, rolling his eyes in all
directions and making peculiar grimaces, and for a long time, they couldn’t
understand a word of what he was saying. Eventually, however, he started
speaking in Norse.
“I didn’t go much further than you,” he said, “but I have something aston-
ishing to tell you: I have found vines and grapes.”
“Are you sure about that, foster-father?” asked Leif. “Of course I’m sure,”
replied Tyrkir. “Where I was brought up there were lots of vines and grapes.”
They spent the rest of the night asleep, and, in the morning, Leif said to
his men,
“We’ve got two jobs to do at the moment and we’ll work on them day
about. One day we’ll gather grapes and cut vines; the next we’ll cut down trees,
to make a cargo for my ship.” And that’s what they did. The story goes that the
ship’s boat was crammed with grapes and the ship itself had a cargo of timber.
When spring arrived, they got ready to set sail. Leif named the land Vinland
[Wineland] for its produce. After that they put to sea and had a favorable wind
until they saw the glacier-clad mountains of Greenland. Then one of the crew
said to Leif, “Why are you sailing so close to the wind?”
“I’m watching where I’m going,” answered Leif, “but I’m watching some-
thing else as well. Do you see anything unusual?” They replied that they
couldn’t see anything at all out of the ordinary.
the viking age: a reader
away; the other larger group attacked from behind, and Robert was wounded,
and having lost a few of his men, he decided to withdraw. . . .
. . . . Northmen based on the Loire made their way up the river with
a favorable wind, divine judgment thus making it easy for them, to launch a
fullscale attack. They reached the monastery of St-Benedict known as Fleury
and burned it. On their way back they burned Orléans and the monasteries
both in the
and round it, except for the church of the Holy Cross which,
despite great efforts on the part of the Northmen, the  ames proved unable to
consume. So they sailed back down the river and after ravaging all the neigh-
boring districts they returned to their base. . . .
From Attigny [in mid-July] Charles marched to resist the Northmen who
had sailed up the Seine with 
fty ships. . . .
The Northmen on the Loire made their way on foot to Poitiers without
meeting any resistance, burned the
and returned to their ships unscathed.
But Robert slew more than
of these Northmen based on the Loire, with-
out losing any of his own men, and sent to Charles the standards and weapons
captured from the Northmen.
Charles, for his part, came up to the place called Pîtres where the North-
men still were. Now there were bridges over the Oise and the Marne at two
places called Auvers and Charenton, but the local people who had built them
long ago could not repair them because of the attacks of the Northmen. On
the advice of his faithful men, Charles therefore ordered these bridges to be
repaired by men drafted from more distant regions to perform labor services
three: early religion and belief
. I began to bear fruit,
and welcome wisdom,
began to burgeon and 
word after word
led me to more words,
work after work
led me to more works.

. Learn to recognize runes,
cleverly ordered characters,
signs with great signi
characters of colossal power
woven by the wisest one,
made by the greatest gods,
engraved by Odin the god.

. Odin cut them for the Æsir
Dain etched them for the elves
Dvalin for the dwarfs
Asvid etched them for the giants,
I myself made some [for mankind?].

. Do you comprehend how runes are cut?
how to comment on the characters?
how the characters must be colored?
how to test their truth?
how prayer is to be practiced?
do you understand how offerings are made?
how the sacri
ce is sent on its way?
how the sacri
ce is slaughtered?
(a) The Death of King Vikar

Part of the legendary
Gautrek’s Saga
tells the strange story of the hero Starkad and his
involvement in the sacri ce to Odin of Vikar, king of Agder. Starkad is led to a council
of the gods by his foster-father, Grani Horsehairs, who turns out to be Odin in disguise.
the viking age: a reader
Next day, as people were making their way to the law court, the brothers
saw some well-dressed women outside the booths of the men from the Rang
river valley. Hoskuld said to Hrut, “There’s Unn now, the one I was talking
to you about. How does she look to you?”
“She looks 
ne,” said Hrut, “but I don’t know if we’ll get on well together.”
So they went on to the law court where Mord Fiddle was discussing legal
business as usual and when he 
nished, he returned to his booth. Hoskuld and
Hrut got up, went over to Mord’s booth, and entered. Mord was sitting on
the innermost seat of the booth, and when Hoskuld and Hrut addressed him,
he stood up to meet them. He took Hoskuld’s hand and placed him in the
seat next to his own, while Hrut sat next to Hoskuld. They discussed various
matters before they got down to Hoskuld’s business.
“I want to talk business with you,” said Hoskuld. “Hrut wants to be your
son-in-law, and pay the price for your daughter. I’ll do all I can to make sure
the deal happens.”
“I know you’re an important chieftain,” answered Mord, “but I don’t know
a thing about your brother.”
“Hrut’s got more going for him than I have,” replied Hoskuld.
“You’ll have to pay out a lot for him because she’ll inherit everything
I have,” said Mord.
“You won’t have to wait long to hear what I’ll promise with him,” answered
Hoskuld. “He’ll have Kambsness and Hrutstead, and the land as far up as
Thrandargils. He also has a trading ship at sea.”
“Mord,” said Hrut, “my brother has given me far too much credit out of
his affection for me. Bearing that in mind, if you want to make an agreement,
I want you to decide the terms of the deal.”
Mord replied, “I’ve considered the terms. She will have six hundreds [of
homespun cloth, used as a means of exchange] outright, and a third of that in
your house. If the pair of you have heirs, you and she will have equal shares
in the property.”
Hrut answered, “I accept these terms, and now we have to witness the deal.”
Afterwards, they stood up and shook hands and Mord betrothed his daugh-
ter Unn to Hrut. The wedding feast was to be held at Mord’s house two weeks
after midsummer. Then both parties rode away from the Thing. . . .
(a) How Gudrun Divorced Thorvald

While surviving (Christian) law codes are ambivalent about divorce, the sagas
suggest a situation in which divorce appears to have been easily available to either
twelve: from odin to christ
manuscripts. Abbot Nikolas provides a detailed itinerary with over
and the narrative is enlivened with anecdotes and details about the places he visited or
heard about. This extract accompanies the abbot as far as northern Italy and rejoins him
in the Holy Land.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Alfraeði íslenzk
, ed. Kristian Kålund,
Samfund til Udgivelse
af gammel nordisk Litteratur

), vol.
, pp.
It is said that it takes seven days to sail right around Iceland if there is a favor-
able wind and if it shifts as necessary, for winds from more than one direction
the viking age: a reader
no law among them, but tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among
them, and they began to war one against another. They said to themselves: “Let
us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to the Law.”
They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes: these particular
Varangians were known as Russes, just as some are called Swedes, and others
Normans, English, and Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the
Slavs, the Krivichians and the Ves then said to the people of Rus [Rus’]: “Our
land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over
us.” They thus selected three brothers with their kinfolk, who took with them
all the Russes and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod;
the second, Sineus, in Beloozero; and the third Truvor, in Izborsk. On account
of these Varangians, the district of Novgorod became known as the land of
Rus. The present inhabitants of Novgorod are descended from the Varangian
race, but aforetime they were Slavs.
After two years, Sineus and his brother Truvor died, and Rurik assumed
the sole authority. He assigned cities to his followers, Polotzk to one, Rostov
to another, and to another Beloozero. In these cities there are thus Varangian
colonists, but the 
rst settlers were, in Novgorod, Slavs; in Polotzk, Krivich-
ians; at Beloozero, Ves; in Rostov, Merians; and in Murom, Muromians. Rurik
had dominion over all these districts.
With Rurik there were two men who did not belong to his kin, but were
boyars [nobles]. They obtained permission to go to Tsar’grad [Constantinople]
with their families. They thus sailed down the Dnieper, and in the course of
their journey they saw a small city on a hill. Upon their inquiry as to whose
town it was, they were informed that three brothers, Kiy, Shchek, and Khoriv,
had once built the city, but that since their deaths, their descendants were
living there as tributaries of the Khazars. Askold and Dir remained in this
city, and after gathering together many Varangians, they established their
dominion over the country of Polyanians at the same time that Rurik was
ruling at Novgorod.
) . . . Askold and Dir attacked the Greeks during the fourteenth
year of the reign of the Emperor Michael. When the emperor had set forth
against the in
dels [Muslims] and had arrived at the Black River, the eparch
[governor] sent him word that the Russes were approaching Tsar’grad, and
the emperor turned back. Upon arriving inside the strait, the Russes made a
great massacre of the Christians, and attacked Tsar’grad in two hundred boats.
The emperor succeeded with dif
culty in entering the city. He straightaway
hastened with the patriarch Photus to the Church of Our Lady of the Blacher-
nae, where they prayed all night. They also sang hymns and carried the sacred
vestment of the Virgin to dip it in the sea. The weather was still, and the sea
was calm, but a storm of wind came up, and when great waves straightaway
the viking age: a reader
were essentially used as  oating  ghting platforms. The aim was to grapple enemy vessels
with hooks and anchors and drag them closer for hand-to-hand  ghting on board ship.
(a) Olaf Tryggvason at the Battle of Svold

In response to Olaf’s territorial ambitions, Svein Forkbeard, king of Denmark, Olaf
Eiriksson, king of Sweden, and Eirik, earl of Lade, formed a confederation against him,
though Snorri suggests that Svein Forkbeard encouraged the alliance for more personal
reasons. In
, as he sailed home from an expedition to Wendland (Pomerania), Olaf
was intercepted by the combined  eets of his enemies. The location of Svold is uncertain,
but most authorities place it in the western Baltic Sea. From
Olaf Tryggvason’s Saga

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar
, in
, ed.
Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.

. King Olaf traveled south along the coast [of Norway] with his 

This book provides a comprehensive and accessible one-volume collection of
primary documents that will be of use to instructors and students as well as to
the general reader interested in the Viking Age. In assembling, translating, and
arranging the materials presented here we have been guided by the principle of
providing as much breadth as possible, both in the types of sources presented
and in the geographic and chronological coverage of the work. Of course,
the vast amount of material available, particularly the corpus of Icelandic saga
texts, means that it is impossible to include everything, and we are conscious
of omissions. Nevertheless, we hope that the documents presented here will
encourage readers to delve further into primary texts dealing with the Vikings
and the Viking Age.
The second edition of
he Viking Age: A Reader
largely preserves the struc-
ture and content of the 
rst edition, while adding both depth and breadth
to its coverage. This is accomplished through the revision of some texts that
were included in the 
rst edition, as well as the addition of new materials that
enhance existing themes and topics or else add new ones. In some instances
these new materials introduce types of evidence that were under-represented
in the 
rst edition, particularly the lives of saints, translations of relics and
Who, When, and Where Were the Vikings?
In the popular imagination, the Vikings are shaggy, unkempt, ax-wielding
thugs in horned helmets who raped, pillaged, and plundered their way across
Europe in the Early Middle Ages, nearly destroying Western civilization in
the process. They have been blamed for everything from a decline in learning
(thanks to the burning of monasteries, places of learning) to the break-up of
the Carolingian empire that dominated Europe in the ninth century. So is the
Viking stereotype of the burly, destructive barbarian even remotely accurate?
As usual, the myth is far removed from reality. The shaggy Vikings were not
the unkempt louts of popular 
ction, but a proud people who were careful
about their appearance. The horned helmets associated with the Vikings in
popular culture are a romantic invention of the nineteenth century, and no
helmets with horns are known from the Viking Age anywhere in Europe. And,
while a very small minority of early medieval Viking Age Scandinavians might
well have resembled the warriors and bandits of the stereotype, their fellow
Norsemen were also renowned merchants, seamen, explorers, mercenaries,
and poets, who contributed much to early medieval European civilization.
three: early religion and belief
“In Asgard, there is a place called Hlidskjalf and when Odin sat there in
his high-seat, he looked out over the whole world and saw what everyone
was doing, and understood everything that he saw. His wife was called Frigg
Fjorvins-daughter, and from their family line come the Aesir, a race of divine
descent that lived in old Asgard and the kingdoms belonging to it. Thus Odin
may truly be called All-Father for he is the father of all the gods and of men,
and of everything else that was brought into being by him and his might.
Earth was both his daughter and the wife by whom he sired his 
rst son, Thor
of the Aesir. Through his power and strength he is master of all living things.
. “Nor
or Nar
was a giant who lived in Jotunheim [Giant-Land]. He
had a daughter called Night who was swarthy and dark like all her family. She
was given in marriage to a man called Naglfari and they had a son called Aud.
Next she was married to someone named Annar [Second] and their daughter
was called Earth. Her last marriage was to Delling, who was one of the Aesir.
Their son was Day and, like his father, he was bright and beautiful. Then
All-Father took Night and her son Day and gave them two horses and two
chariots and set them in the heavens to ride around the Earth every day. Night
rides ahead with the horse called Hrimfaxi [Frost-Mane] and every morning
he bedews the Earth with the foam from his bit. Day’s horse is called Skinfaxi
[Shining-Mane] and he lights up all the Earth and the sky with his mane.”
. Then Gangleri asked, “How does All-Father regulate the course of the
sun and the moon?” The High One replied, “There was a man named Mundil-
foeri who had two children. They were so beautiful and fair that he called
his son Mani [Moon] and his daughter Sol [Sun]. The gods, infuriated by his
arrogance, seized the brother and sister and placed them in the heavens. They
made Sol drive the horses that pulled the chariot of the Sun. The gods had
fashioned this chariot from the glowing embers that 
ew out of Muspellsheim,
in order to illuminate the worlds. The horses are called Arvak [Early-Waker]
and Alsvid [All-Burning]. To keep them cool, the gods placed two bellows
under their shoulder-blades; in some sources these are called ‘iron-coolers.’
Mani directs the course of the Moon and controls its waxing and waning. From
earth, he carried off two children named Bil and Hjuki as they were leaving a
well called Byrgir, carrying between them on their shoulders a bucket called
Soeg, on a pole called Simul. These children, the offspring of Vid
n, can be
seen from earth as they follow Mani.”
. Then Gangleri said, “Sol travels fast, almost as if she were afraid; indeed,
she could not hurry along her course any faster even if she were in fear of
“It’s hardly surprising that she moves so quickly,” replied the High One,
“for she has a pursuer hard on her heels and  ight is her only means of escape.”
“Who is causing her this anxiety?” asked Gangleri.
the viking age: a reader
“I would dare,” said Gunnar, “but I think that was a malicious remark.”
“Shall we agree on the 
ght then?” they said.
“An agreement will give some point to your journey,” replied Gunnar.
“However, I want to make it a condition that we 
ght our horses to provide
sport for others, not trouble for ourselves, and that you won’t treat me dis-
honorably. But if you treat me as you treat others, you can be sure that I’ll
get back at you in ways you’ll 
nd hard to bear. I’ll give you as good as I get.”
The men from Thrihyrning rode back home. When Starkad asked them
how their journey had gone, they replied that Gunnar had made their trip
“He promised to give us a horse 
ght, and we settled where and when it
should take place,” they said. “But it was plain that he felt at a disadvantage
and was trying to get out of it.”
“Gunnar is usually reluctant to get into quarrels,” said Hildigun, “but he’s
hard to control if he can’t avoid them. . . .”
. . . . Crowds of people rode to the horse ght. Gunnar, his brothers, and
the Sigfussons were there. Njal and his sons were there. Starkad and Egil, his
brother-in-law, came with all their sons. They suggested to Gunnar that it was
time to bring the horses together, and he agreed.
“Gunnar, my kinsman,” said Skarphedin Njalsson, “do you want me to
goad your horse forward in the 
“No, I don’t” said Gunnar.
“It would be better if I did the goading,” said Skarphedin. “for then there
would be quick-tempered men on both sides.”
“You lot wouldn’t have to say or do much before trouble started,” said Gun-
nar. “With me, the trouble will brew more slowly, though it will all come to
the same thing in the end.”
The horses were brought out. As Gunnar got ready to goad his horse,
Skarphedin led the animal forward. Gunnar was wearing a red tunic and a
broad silver belt. He carried a prod in his hand. Then the horses attacked one
another and bit at each other for a long time. They didn’t even have to be
goaded. It was splendid sport.
After a while, Starkad’s son, Thorgeir, and Kol Egilsson, his nephew, came
up with a plan. They decided that, as soon as the animals attacked one another,
they would push their horse forward and try to knock Gunnar over. The horses
attacked again. Thorgeir and Kol got behind their horse and pushed, but Gun-
nar pushed back with his horse and, in an instant, Thorgeir and Kol fell  at
on their backs with their horse on top of them. They leapt back up and ran
at Gunnar. He jumped out of their way, grabbed hold of Kol, and threw him
to the ground with such force that he was knocked out. Thorgeir then struck

Scandinavian expansion in the East, dominated by the Swedes, was an outgrowth of pre-
Viking Age activities in the southeastern Baltic. From about the second half of the eighth
century, Scandinavians were living at the trading center at Staraya (Old) Ladoga (known
by the Scandinavians), just off Lake Ladoga on the river Volkhov. With
the viking age: a reader
entire retinue had fallen—not one was left on his feet—and most of the cham-
pions had been fatally wounded, as was only to be expected.
Now such a great storm was brought about by spells that the champions
began to fall one on top of the other. Hrolf himself was outside the shieldwall,
almost dead from exhaustion. There is no need to prolong the story: King
Hrolf and all his champions died there with great glory. A burial mound was
built for King Hrolf, and the sword Skofnung was laid beside him. A mound
was also raised for each of the champions, and each had his weapons beside
him. Here ends the saga of King Hrolf Kraki and his Champions.
The Book of Settlements (Landnámabók)
the viking age: a reader
(c) Sigmund, Sigurd, and the Sword Gram
The Saga of the Volsungs
is a prose version of the history of the Volsung family, the
descendants of King Volsung, the legendary great-grandson of Odin. The saga includes
the legends of Sigurd, Brunhild, and the Nibelungs. The tale of the Nibelung family is
the focus of Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle
The Ring of the Nibelungs.
This excerpt
culminates in the slaying of Fafnir by Sigurd.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda
, ed. Guðni Jónsson,
vols. (Reykjavík,
), vol.
, pp.

. Once there was a king called Siggeir who ruled over Gothland in Sweden. He
was a powerful king with a large following. He went to visit King Volsung and
asked for the hand of his daughter, Signy. The king and his sons were pleased by
the proposal, but Signy was reluctant, though she asked her father to decide this
matter as he did everything else that concerned her. The king thought that it was
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
“My lord,” he said, “I’m asking you again to listen to my poem; it won’t
take long for there aren’t many stanzas.”
Knut looked at him rather angrily and answered, “No one but you has
ever insulted me by composing a ‘drápling’ [little drápa] about me. Now get
this clear: at breakfast time tomorrow, you will come here and recite a drápa
[praise-poem of
stanzas or more] in praise of me. You will compose it in
the time I have allowed you, or you’re dead.”
Thorarin went away and started working on a drápa about King Knut, sal-
vaging whatever he could from the poem he had brought with him; the drápa
is called
Next morning, he recited the poem before the king
and it went over very well. The king rewarded him for the poem with a gift
fty marks of pure silver. Afterwards, Thorarin composed another drápa,
, for King Knut. Part of it went like this:
I have richly
fty marks I got
from war’s master,
which he gave,
—Great bringer of death—
for my poem,
when I visited the prince.
King Knut presented two gold arm-rings, each weighing a mark, and a
gold-mounted sword to Bersi, son of the Skald-woman, Torfa. Sigvat the
skald puts it thus:
Bersi, King Knut,
so distinguished in deeds,
enriched our arms splendidly
when we met the great man;
in his wisdom, he awarded you
a gold mark or more, and a sharp sword;
there was half a mark for me;
great God himself rules all.
When King Knut died in England, there died with him the liberality of genera-
tions of Danish kings, each of whom had a more extensive kingdom than his
. Knut was extremely tall and strong. He was an outstandingly handsome
man, except for his nose, which was thin, high-set, and slightly crooked. He
fourteen: the end of the viking age
tell them to come and help us right away. For the Englishmen must expect a
ght, before we admit defeat.”
The earl responded that the king must decide this as he did everything
else, and added that he himself had no wish to 
ee. Then King Harald had his
standard, Land-Ravager, raised. It was carried by a man called Frirek.
. King Harald drew up his army in a long, thin line and then drew the
wings back until they met to form a large circle with an even depth all the
way round. The men stood with their shields interlocking and inside the circle
was the king’s standard and his retinue of hand-picked men. Earl Tostig and
his troops were also positioned inside the circle and he had his own standard.
The king had chosen this formation because he knew that the horsemen usu-
ally charged up in small groups and then turned back immediately. The king
now ordered both his own men and the earl’s men to intervene wherever they
were most needed.
“And our bowmen will go with us,” said Harald. “If the enemy charge us,
the men standing in the front rank of the circle will anchor their spear shafts
in the ground and direct the points at the chests of the horsemen; the men in
the second rank will aim for the chests of their horses.”
. King Harold Godwinsson had arrived there with a very large army of
both horsemen and foot-soldiers. King Harald Sigurdarson then rode around
his army inspecting their formation. He was mounted on a black horse with a
white  ash on its forehead. The horse lost its footing and the king fell off, but
he got up quickly and said, “A fall is good luck for a journey.”
Then King Harold of England asked the Norsemen who were with him,
“Do you recognize the big man who fell off his horse, the one with the black
tunic and 
ne helmet?”
“That’s the king himself,” they answered.
“He’s a tall, powerful-looking man,” said the King of England, “but it looks
as if his luck has deserted him.”
. Twenty of the English housekarls [king’s bodyguard] rode toward the
Norse army. Both the men and their horses were armored. One of the horse-
men said, “Is Earl Tostig in this army?”
“Yes, you’ll 
nd him here,” replied Tostig. “There’s no secret about that.”
Then one of the riders said, “Your brother, King Harold, sends his greet-
ings and this message: he is willing to make peace with you and give you the
whole of Northumberland; he would rather give you a third of his kingdom
than have you refuse to side with him.”
“That’s slightly different from the hostility and disgrace he offered me in
the winter,” replied the earl. “If this had been on offer then, many a man
now dead would still be alive, and the kingdom of England would be more
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
. There is another set of small islands, nearly separated by narrow stretches
of water; in these for nearly a hundred years hermits sailing from our country,
Ireland, have lived. But just as they were always deserted from the beginning
of the world, so now because of the Northman pirates they are emptied of
anchorites, and are 
lled with countless sheep and very many diverse kinds of
seabirds. I have never found these islands mentioned in the authorities.

Scholars are in general agreement that instruments and charts were not used in Viking
navigation. Instead, an understanding of the sun and stars, landmarks, prevailing wind
and wave systems, cloud formations, and the habits of birds and sea mammals was impor-
tant in aiding navigation. The following passage from the
manuscript of

Book of Settlements [Landnámabók]
(see doc.
b) identi
es landmarks for navigation
across the North Atlantic as well as sailing times between destinations.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Jakob Benediktsson, Íslenzk fornrit I (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. Knowledgeable men say that it is seven days’ sailing west from Stad, in Nor-
way, to Horn in eastern Iceland. From Snaefellsness [Iceland], it takes four days at
sea to reach Hvarf [Cape Farewell] in Greenland. From Hernar in Norway it is
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
of God Almighty and all his saints that no one should be so bold as to give
away or remove
these holy books from Christ Church as long as baptism is
performed there.
Alfred. Werburg. Alhthryth their daughter.

Annals of Ulster
is one of the most important sources of early Irish history. It is
a record of medieval Irish affairs, covering the period from the  fth to the early sixteenth
centuries, surviving in two late manuscripts. The annals drew on earlier sources, and by
the Viking period they were contemporary with the events they chronicle; they have been
described as “substantially accurate accounts” of Viking activity, though this is debated.
The chronology of the annals is off by one year for the section reproduced here; corrected
dates are provided in parentheses. Because of limited space, only entries pertaining to
the Vikings are reproduced here; the culling of the text in this manner has the effect of
the viking age: a reader
service—and what a 
ne-looking man Thorolf is, as you can see. We all join
Kveld-Ulf in asking you to treat Thorolf honorably and give him an important
The king replied favorably to this speech and said that he would do what
they asked, “as long as I 
nd that Thorolf has the manly qualities his brave
appearance suggests.”
So Thorolf became one of the king’s retainers and joined his household,
while Kari of Berle and Eyvind Lamb his son went south in the ship that
Thorolf had brought north. After that, Kari returned to his estate and so did
Eyvind. Thorolf stayed behind with the king who assigned him a seat between
Olvir Snubnose and Bard. The three of them became very close friends. It was
the general opinion that Thorolf and Bard were evenly matched for good looks,
strength, stature, and abilities, and both of them were now on the friendliest
terms with the king.
When winter was over and summer had arrived, Bard asked the king for
permission to go and fetch the bride who had been promised to him the
previous summer. As soon as the king knew that Bard had urgent business,
he allowed him to go home. When he had received this permission, Bard
asked Thorolf to travel north with him, declaring that he would meet many
noble relatives whom he had never met before or even been aware of. Thorolf
thought this was a good idea, so they got the king’s consent and out
themselves for the journey with a 
ne ship and crew. Once their preparations
had been made, they went on their way.
They arrived at Torgar where they sent a message to Sigurd that Bard
would come north to ful
ll the promises they had made the previous summer.
Sigurd replied that he would honor all their agreements and a date was set
for the wedding. Bard and his men were to go to Sandness for the marriage.
At the appointed time, Brynjolf and Bard set out and with them went many
important people, their relatives by birth and marriage. As Bard had predicted,
Thorolf met many relations whom he had not known before. They traveled
until they reached Sandness where a most splendid feast was held. When the
feast was over, Bard went home with his wife and both he and Thorolf stayed
there that summer. In autumn, they went south to join the king and passed
another winter with him.
That winter, Brynjolf died. When Bard found out that he had come into
his inheritance, he asked leave to go home and the king granted it. Before
they parted, Bard was made a landed man, as his father had been, and the
king granted him the rights to all the revenues that Brynjolf had enjoyed.
Bard went home to his estates and soon became a great leader. Meanwhile the
Hildiridarsons received no more of the inheritance than they had got before.
four: women in the viking age
Olof; from her marriage are descended the Gotuskeggjar, the best known
family in the Faeroes.
. Unn prepared to leave the Faeroes and announced to her crew that
she intended to head for Iceland. Along with her went Olaf Feilan, the son
of Thorstein the Red, as well as Olaf’s unmarried sisters. She put to sea and,
after a good voyage, arrived at Vikrarskeid in the south of Iceland, where they
suffered shipwreck, but all hands survived and no property was lost.
With twenty of her men she went to visit her brother Helgi. When she
arrived, he came out to meet her and invited her to stay along with nine of her
men. Angrily, she answered that she hadn’t known he was so mean-spirited.
She left, intending to visit her brother Bjorn at his home in Breidafjord. When
Bjorn heard about her approach, he went to greet her with a large band of men.
He welcomed her warmly and invited her to stay with him and to bring her
entire company, for he understood his sister’s expansive nature. This pleased
her and she thanked him for his generosity. She remained there all winter and
was treated splendidly as provisions were abundant and no expense was spared.
In spring, she crossed Breidafjord and arrived at a headland where she and
her companions had their morning meal,
Thereafter, the place was
called Dogurness; it juts out from Medalfellsstrand. Then she sailed in along
Hvammsfjord and came to another headland where she rested for a while and
lost her comb. Since then the headland has been called Kambsness. Next, she
traveled all over the Breidafjord Valleys and took as much land as she pleased.
She sailed to the head of Breidafjord. Her high-seat pillars had been washed
ashore there, so she thought this was clearly where she should make her home
[high-seat pillars were decorated pillars  anking the master of a household’s
seat; they had religious signi
cance]. Then she built the farm that was after-
wards known as Hvamm and settled there. In the same spring as Unn estab-
lished herself at Hvamm, Koll married Thorgerd, the daughter of Thorstein
the Red. Unn met the costs of the wedding and gave Thorgerd the whole of
Laxdale for her dowry. Koll built a farm to the south of the Lax River and was
a very important man. Their son was Hoskuld.
. Then Unn gave some of the land she had taken to other people. To
Hord she gave all of Hordadale as far as the Skramuhlaup River. He lived at
Hordabolstad and was a man of considerable note as well as being fortunate in
his offspring. His son was Asbjorn the Wealthy who settled at Asbjornstad in
Ornolfsdale. He married Thorbjorg, the daughter of Skeggi from Midfjord.
Their daughter was Ingibjorg who married Illugi the Black and their sons
were Hermund and Gunnlaug Serpent’s Tongue. This family is known as the
Gilsbekki clan.
Unn addressed her men: “You must have a reward for your work now that
we have the means to repay your efforts and good will. You know that I have
twelve: from odin to christ
one since Erling was well-born and likely to distinguish himself, but said that
the decision would be up to Astrid. Later, the king discussed the affair with
his sister.
“There’s not much advantage for me in being the daughter of a king and
the sister of a king,” she said, “if I’m to be given in marriage to a commoner.
I would rather wait a few years for another offer.” With that, they ended the
. King Olaf had one of Astrid’s hawks stolen. Then he had its feathers
plucked and sent it back to her.
“My brother is angry now,” said Astrid. So she rose and went to see the
king, who greeted her affectionately. Astrid said that she would like the king
to make the decision on her behalf as he thought best.
“I would have thought,” said the king, “that in this land I had the power to
raise any man I wanted to the nobility.” The king summoned Olmod, Erling,
and all their kinsmen for a discussion. They talked over the marriage offer and,
as a result, Astrid was engaged to Erling. Then the king called the assembly
together and ordered the farmers to adopt Christianity. Olmod, Erling, and
their kinsmen were prominent in supporting the king’s cause and no one had
the con
dence to oppose them, so the whole population was baptized and
converted to Christianity. . . .
. Then King Olaf went to North Møre with his army and converted
that district to Christianity. Afterwards, he sailed into Hlad where he had
the temple demolished. He removed all the treasure and ornaments from the
temple and from the god; from the temple door, he took down the great gold
ring which had been made on Earl Hakon’s orders. Then King Olaf had the
temple burned down. . . .
. King Olaf went to Tunsberg and convened an assembly at which he
decreed that all men who were sorcerers and were known to be guilty of
practicing witchcraft and magic had to leave the country. Then the king had
the neighboring settlements searched for such men and summoned them all
before him. Among those who came was a man called Eyvind Kelda. He was
the grandson of Rognvald Rettilbein [Straight-Leg] who was the son of Harald
Finehair. Eyvind was a sorcerer and very knowledgeable about magic.
King Olaf had all these men put in one room which had been made ready
for them. He had a feast prepared for them and they were given strong drink.
When they were drunk, Olaf had the building set alight and the room was
destroyed by the 
re along with everyone inside, except for Eyvind Kelda,
who got out through the smoke-hole and escaped. When he had gone a good
distance, he met some men who were on their way to see King Olaf. He told
them to let the king know that Eyvind Kelda had escaped from the 
re and that
he would never again fall into the hands of King Olaf. Moreover, as regards
the viking age: a reader
nished now that they’ve gone indoors,” said Flosi. “Let’s get to
the house quickly and form up as closely as possible around the doors. That
way we can make sure that no one escapes, neither Kari nor the Njalssons—
otherwise we’ll end up dead.”
Flosi and his followers advanced and surrounded the house in case there
was a secret exit. Then Flosi and his own men went up to the front of the
house. Hroald Ozurarson ran up to Skarphedin and thrust at him with a spear.
Skarphedin chopped the head off the spear-shaft, leapt at Hroald, and swung
at him with his ax. The ax struck Hroald’s shield and slammed it against his
body. The upper point of the ax sliced into Hroald’s face and immediately he
fell back dead.
“No one gets away from you, Skarphedin,” said Kari. “You’re the bravest
of us all.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Skarphedin and drew back his lips in a grin.
Kari, Grim, and Helgi kept thrusting with their spears and wounded many
men. Flosi and his men got nowhere.
Flosi said, “Our men have taken a lot of punishment. Many are wounded
and the man we can spare least is dead. Several of our men are not 
as boldly as they said they would and, clearly, we’re not going to defeat them
with weapons. Now we need to adopt another plan. We have two choices, and
neither is attractive. Either we turn back, and that will be the death of us, or
we burn them in their house, and for that we’ll have to answer to God, for we
are Christians. However, that’s the step we have to take.”

. Then they laid a 
re and built a huge blaze in front of the door.
Skarphedin said, “So you fellows are lighting a 
re now. Are you planning to
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
Sturluson. Hakon’s son, Prince Magnus, is said to have commissioned the saga from
Sturla. This saga is the main source for Norwegian history from
. Sturla’s
historical writings are unusual in that they frequently record events contemporary with
the writer (see doc.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
the viking age: a reader
Left side of the lion:
hakun : van : þir : ulfr : auk : asmudr : auk : aurn : hafn : þesa :
þir : men : lagþu : a : uk : haradr : hafi : uf iabuta : uprarstar :
vegna : grikiaþiþs : varþ : dalkr : nauþugr : i : fiari : laþum :
egil : var : i : faru :
miþ : ragnarr : til : rumaniu. . . . auk :
armeniu :
hakon, along with ulf and asmund and orn, won t
his seaport.
these men, with harald the tall, imposed a fine because of the
uprising of the greeks. dalk remains against his will [captive]
in distant lands. egil went on a journey with ragnar to
romania. . . . and armenia.


The Carolingian
Annals of St-Bertin
(see doc.
), in its entry for the year
contains the  rst reference in a European source to the people called the Ru
¯s, and it
links them with Sweden. This excerpt relates how the Byzantine Emperor Theophilus
) sent envoys to the emperor Louis the Pious.

Hakon I
the Good, king of Norway:
Hakon IV Hakonarson the Old, king of

Halfdan the Black, king of Norway:

Harald Finehair (Fairhair), king of Nor

military history:


Nikolas Bergsson (Icelandic abbot and

Tryggvasson, king of Norway:
Olaf II Haraldsson, king of Norway (Saint
Olaf Skotkonung, king of Sweden:

old age:
Orkney Islands (Earldom of Orkney):

earls of Orkney:
Harald Maddadarson:

Rognvald Brusason:

Rognvald Kali:
Sigurd the Stout:
Thornn Sigurdarson the Mighty:

(Irish hermits in the North Atlan

the viking age: a reader
“I’m not destined to discover any other lands than the one where we are
living now,” said Eirik. “This is as far as we’ll be traveling together.” Eirik
returned to Brattahlid while Leif and his crew of thirty-
ve carried on to the
ship. One of the crew was a southerner, a man called Tyrkir.
When their ship was ready, they set sail, and the 
rst land they came to was
the one that Bjarni had discovered last. They made for the coast and dropped
anchor. Then they launched a boat and went ashore. There was no grass to be
seen, only great glaciers stretching inland with what seemed like a single slab
of rock between the glaciers and the shore; this land didn’t look as if it would
be much use. “At least we’ve come ashore here, which is more than Bjarni
did,” said Leif. “Now I’m going to give the land a name. I’ll call it Helluland
[Flat-Rock Land: Baf
n Island?].”
Then they went back to the ship, put to sea, and found a second land. Once
again, they sailed toward it, anchored, launched a boat, and went ashore. This
land sloped gently to the sea; it was  at and tree-covered, and, wherever they
went, there were extensive beaches of white sand. “I’m going to name this land
for its resources,” said Leif, “and call it Markland [Forest-Land: Labrador?].”
They hurried back to their ship and sailed away with a north-easterly wind
behind them. After two days at sea, they sighted land. They sailed toward it
and came to an island which lay to the north of the land itself. The weather
ne and they went ashore. Looking about them, they noticed that there
was dew on the grass. The 
rst thing they did was to collect the dew on their
hands and put it in their mouths; they thought that they had never tasted
anything so sweet. Then they returned to their ship and sailed into the sound
which separated the island from a headland that stretched north from the
mainland. They steered west around the headland, but the water there was
very shallow at low tide. Before long they ran aground, and the sea retreated
so far that it could hardly be seen from the ship. They were so anxious to get
to land, however, that they didn’t wait for the sea to  oat their ship, but ran [a
boat] ashore by way of a river that 
owed into the sea from a lake. As soon as
the tide 
oated their ship, they rowed out to it in their boat and moved it up
the river and into the lake, where they anchored. Then they carried their hide
sleeping bags ashore and built sod huts.
Later on, they decided to spend the winter there and built some large
houses. There were plenty of salmon in the river and the lake, and they were
bigger than any they had ever seen. The land seemed fertile too, and they didn’t
think they would need winter fodder for their livestock, because there was no
frost in the winter and the grass scarcely withered. Day and night were more
equal in length than in Greenland or Iceland, for on the shortest day the sun
was visible from

seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
Andelle from one side and the Eure from the other 
ow into the Seine [Pont-
de-l’Arche, dep. Eure]. By constructing forti
cations on the Seine, he closed
it off to ships sailing up or down the river. This was done because of the
Northmen. . . .
. In January Danes sailed up the Rhine toward Cologne, after sacking
called Dorestad and also a fairly large
at which the Frisians
had taken refuge, and after slaying many Frisian traders and taking captive
large numbers of people. Then they reached a certain island near the fort of
Neuss [near Xanten]. Lothar came up and attacked them with his men along
one bank of the Rhine and the Saxons along the other and they encamped
there until about the beginning of April. The Danes therefore followed Roric’s
advice and withdrew by the same way they had come. . . .
October] two Northmen who had recently left their ships with
Weland and come asking to be baptized as Christians now revealed—and it
afterwards turned out to be true—that this had been a trick, and they accused
Weland of bad faith. So, according to the custom of their people, one of the
Northmen challenged him to single combat in King Charles’s presence, and
killed him in the 
Meanwhile he [King Charles] received news that the Northmen had come
to Poitiers, and though the city was ransomed, they had burned the church of
the great confessor Saint Hilary. . . .
. Charles arranged his troops and ordered the Aquitanians to advance
against the Northmen who had burned the church of St-Hilary. . . .
The Northmen got to Clermont where they slew Stephen, son of Hugh,
and a few of his men, and then returned unpunished to their ships. Pippin, son
of Pippin [II, king of Aquitaine], who had changed back from being a monk
to become a layman and an apostate, joined company with the Northmen and
lived like one of them [he was later captured and executed].
Lothar, son of Lothar, raised
[denarius, a silver coin] from every
manse in his whole kingdom, and handed over the sum in cash, plus a large
quantity of  our and livestock and also wine and cider, to the Northman
Rodulf, son of Harald, and his men, all this being termed a payment for ser-
vice [these were probably the Northmen who sailed up the Rhine in
]. . . .
Northmen sailed to Flanders with a large 
eet, but when they met with
resistance from the local people, they sailed up the Rhine and laid waste the
neighboring regions of the kingdoms of Lothar and Louis on both banks of
the river. . . .
Then Charles ordered forti
cations to be constructed there [at Pîtres] on
the Seine to prevent the Northmen from coming up the river. . . .
Robert, count of Anjou, fought against two companies of Northmen who
were based on the Loire. Of one, he slew every man, except for a few who got
the viking age: a reader
. Eirik said:
“Five kings
follow; I’ll tell you
All their names.
I am the sixth.”
Sayings of the High One (Hávamál)
is a wisdom-poem that forms part of the
The poem contains Odin’s advice on various topics, including suggestions on how
to survive in a dangerous world, how to behave as a guest, and how to behave as a host.
four: women in the viking age
Hoskuld told him to do as he pleased. Olaf got dressed in the scarlet clothes
given to him by King Harald [Greycloak], and he wore the gilded helmet and
sword which he had received from King Myrkjartan. Now Hoskuld and Olaf
went to Egil’s booth, with Hoskuld in the lead and Olaf right behind him. Egil
gave them a warm welcome. Hoskuld sat down beside Egil, but Olaf remained
standing, looking about him. He saw a woman sitting on the bench at the end
of the booth. She was beautiful, distinguished in appearance, and well-dressed.
Olaf was sure that she must be Thorgerd, the daughter of Egil, so he walked
over to the bench and sat down next to her. She greeted him and asked him
who he was. Olaf gave his own name and his father’s. “You must think it’s
bold of a slave-woman’s son to dare sit beside you,” said Olaf.
“And you must be thinking,” she answered, “that you’ve done things you
consider braver than talking to a woman.” Then they fell into conversation
with one another. They talked for the whole day, but no one could hear what
they were talking about. Before they ended their conversation, Hoskuld and
Egil were called over to them, and discussion of Olaf’s offer of marriage began
afresh, for Thorgerd had come around to her father’s way of thinking. The
negotiations were quickly concluded, and they were betrothed on the spot.
Out of respect for the family at Laxdale, the bride was to be brought to their
home, and not the other way around. They announced that the wedding would
take place at Hoskuldstead after the seventh week of summer.
twelve: from odin to christ
their troops got the rest of the plunder. King Sigurd turned over the whole of
the city to King Baldwin. As Halldor Skvaldri says:
Feeder of 
erce wolves,
you took the town
—the home of heathens—
and, great-hearted, gave it away.
Einar Skulason also speaks of this;
The warrior will remember that
the Dales-men’s prince prevailed
at Saet, as catapults crashed
in a storm that shook the city;
the reddener of the raven’s beak [Sigurd]
brought down the mighty defenses
and swords were smeared with
blood as the bold prince triumphed.
the viking age: a reader
being relieved of it, and seeking death they 
nd it not. For it is much preferable
to die once than to expect continually to die, to be constantly grieved by the
sufferings of one’s neighbors, and to have one’s soul lacerated.
. Where is now the Christ-loving emperor? Where are the armies? Where
are the arms, the engines, the military deliberations and preparations? Is it not
an attack of other barbarians which has removed and drawn to itself all these
things? The emperor endures long labors beyond the frontier, and the army
has marched away to toil with him: whilst we are worn down by the ruin
and slaughter before our eyes, which have overtaken some and are about to
overtake others. As for this 
erce and barbarous Scythian tribe, having crawled
out of the very outskirts of the city, like a wild boar it has devoured all round
about. Who then will defend us? Who will array himself against the foe? We
are deprived of everything, we are helpless on all sides. What lament may
equal our misfortunes? What tears will be able to suf
ce for the magnitude
of the calamities that surround us? Come unto me, O most compassionate of
prophets, bewail Jerusalem with me—not the ancient one, the metropolis
of one nation, which grew up from a root with twelve offshoots, but the
metropolis of the entire universe, as much of it as is adorned by the Christian
creed, which lords it in antiquity, in beauty, size, splendor, in the multitude
and magni
cence of its inhabitants. Bewail with me this Jerusalem, not yet
captured and fallen down, but standing nigh to being captured, and rocked by
the calamities we behold. Bewail with me the queen of the cities, not as she is
led away captive, but whose hopes of salvation are in captivity. Seek water for
the head and fountains of tears for the eyes, pity her and mourn for her, since
she weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks, and there is none
to comfort her; since Jerusalem has sinned a sin; therefore has she come into
tribulation and those who have been awed by her might have sneered at her;
since the Lord has sent 
re into her bones, and has made heavy his yoke on our
neck, and has laid pains on our hands which we shall be unable to withstand.
Weep with me since mine eyes have failed with tears, my belly is troubled, and
my heart is turned within me for I am embittered with much bitterness; abroad
the sword has bereaved me; and the enemy has opened his mouth against me,
and gnashed his teeth, and said: I shall swallow her up. O queenly city, what a
throng of evils has poured around thee, as the depths of the sea and the mouth
re and sword have cast lots according to barbarian custom for the children
of thy belly, yea, those settled so splendidly outside the town, and are devouring
them. O fair hope of many men, what a calamitous threat and what a mass of
horrors have inundated thee all round, and have humbled thy celebrated glory!
O city reigning over nearly the whole universe, what an uncaptained army,
equipped in servile fashion, is sneering at thee as at a slave! O city adorned with
the spoils of many nations, what a nation has bethought itself of despoiling
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement

“That will be true which I say, that treasure was carried away. Treasure was
carried away three nights before they broke this mound.”
“Ingibjörg, the fair widow. Many a woman has gone stooping in here. A great
show-off. Erlingr.”
“Þorny fucked. Helgi carved.”
“Jerusalem men [crusaders] broke this mound.”
“The man who is most skilled in runes west of the ocean carved these runes
with that ax which Gaukr Trandilssonr owned in the south of the country
“Ingigerðr is the most beautiful. . . .”
“Benedikt made this cross.”
“This mound was built before Loðrók’s. Her sons, they were bold; such were
men, as they were of themselves [i.e., they were the sort of people you would
really call men].”
“Jerusalem-travelers [crusaders] broke Orkhaugr. Hlíf, the Earl’s housekeeper,
“It was long ago that great treasure was hidden here.”

the viking age: a reader
frequently overlap, and this has tempted many to 
nd in the sagas a greater
degree of historical factuality than is justi
ed. Nonetheless, the sagas are among
the major ways in which thirteenth-century Icelanders constructed their own
and the wider Scandinavian pasts. They were closer to the events than we
are, and we must concede to their writing, if not factuality, a high degree of
Two texts appear often in this reader:
Egil’s Saga
and Snorri Sturluson’s
a History of the Kings of Norway.
In order to provide cohesiveness
across the volume, many topics in the reader are examined in part using
, the biography of Egil Skallagrimsson, a notable tenth-century Icelandic
Viking and poet. Snorri Sturluson (d.

) was a thirteenth-century Icelander
of outstanding ability, at once lawyer, diplomat, scholar, and poet. Snorri’s
covers much of Viking Age history, and does so with both clarity
and drama. In addition, Snorri interlaces his prose with extensive quotations
from court poets contemporary with the events he narrates. While

is no longer regarded as an absolutely reliable historical source, it is important
as a highly skillful blend of history and popular legend. His
, too, is an
indispensable source for the study of Norse mythology and skaldic poetry. It
has also been suggested that he wrote
Egil’s Saga.

European and Scandinavian material is complemented by documents from
the neighboring civilizations of Byzantium and Islam; in fact, Islamic texts
provide some of the most important descriptions of Scandinavians and their
customs in the tenth century. Understanding the Vikings, then, necessarily
involves the study of many texts and documents from many different regions
and periods, and written in many different languages. An important aim of this
collection is to highlight this geographic, historical, and linguistic diversity of
primary-source materials relating to the Viking diaspora.
Some Notes on the Translations
Unless otherwise noted, all Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon texts are newly
translated for this reader. As is usual, the names of persons are anglicized: for
example, Egill appears as Egil, and Guðrún as Gudrun.
In Old Norse texts, an individual is often identi
ed as the son or daughter of
his or her father: for example, Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir, anglicized here as Gudrun
Osvifrsdaughter, or Egill Skalla-Grímsson, anglicized as Egil Skallagrimsson.
A few names, such as Hákon or Sigurðr, have a different form and are angli-
cized as Hakonarson and Sigurdarson when used to express the patronymic,
as in Hakon Hakonarson or Harald Sigurdarson.
the viking age: a reader
the stars did not know
where they should stand.”
“These are important events I’m hearing about,” said Gangleri. “The heav-
ens are an astonishingly large creation, and skillfully made. How was the earth
The High One replied, “The earth is circular. Around it lies the deep sea,
and along the shore of this sea, Borr’s sons gave the giants lands to live on. But
further inland, they built a forti
cation around their world as a defense against
attack by the giants. They made this forti
cation out of Ymir’s eyebrows and
called it Midgard. They also tossed Ymir’s brains into the sky and made clouds
from them, as is said in
From Ymir’s 
the earth was formed,
from his blood the sea,
from his bones the mountains,
from his hair trees,
and from his skull the heavens.
And from his brows
the blessed gods
made middle-earth
for the sons of men;
and from his brains
all the sullen clouds
were created.”
. “It seems to me that Borr’s sons achieved a great deal when heaven and
earth were created, and the sun and the stars put in place, and day divided
from night. Now where did the people who live in the world come from?”
asked Gangleri.
The High One answered, “When Borr’s sons were walking along the
shore, they found two trees and created people from them. The 
rst son
gave them breath and life, the second gave them intelligence and feeling,
and the third gave them form, speech, hearing, and sight. They also gave
them clothes and names. The man was called Ash, and the woman Elm,
and they begot the human race, which was given a home in Midgard. Next
Borr’s sons built themselves a city in the centre of the world and named
it Asgard, though we call it Troy. The gods and their descendants settled
there and from then on many incidents and events took place both on earth
and in heaven.
viking life and death
(a) A Horse-
ght from
Njal’s Saga

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII
), pp.
. There was a man called Starkad who farmed at Thrihyrning. He was a mar-
ried man, and his wife’s name was Hallbera. Their sons were Thorgeir, Bork,
and Thorkel. Their daughter was Hildigun the Healer. The sons were arrogant,
violent, quarrelsome men who rode roughshod over the rights of others. . . .
. . . . Starkad had a  ne, red stallion; he and his sons thought there was no
horse that could get the better of it in a 
ght. On one occasion, Starkad’s nephews
were at Thrihyrning. They chatted for a while about the various farmers in Fljot-
shlid and, at length, they got to wondering whether anyone would compete with
them in a horse
ght. Some men who wished to 
atter them said that not only
would no one dare to take them on, but nobody had a horse to equal Starkad’s.
“I know a man who would dare take you on,” responded Hildigun.
“Name him,” they said.
“Gunnar from Hlitharend has a brown stallion,” said Hildigun, “and he’ll
give you or anyone else a 
“You women,” they replied. “You think there’s no one like Gunnar. But
just because Geir the Godi and Gizur the White were put to shame by him,
there’s no reason to think that we’ll do so badly.”
“You’ll do much worse,” she said.
Her words led to a 
erce argument.
“Gunnar is the last man I’d want you to antagonize,” said Starkad, “because
you won’t 
nd it easy to counter his good luck.”
“You will let us challenge him to a horse
ght, won’t you?” they asked.
“I will,” replied Starkad, “as long as you play fair with him.”
They said that they would.
Then the men from Thrihyrning rode to Hlitharend. Gunnar was at home
and came out to meet them, along with his brothers, Kolskegg and Hjort. They
gave the visitors a warm welcome and asked where they were going.
“This far and no further,” they replied. “We have been told that you have
ne stallion, and we want to challenge you to a horse
“You can’t have heard much about my horse,” answered Gunnar. “He is
young and completely untested.”
“But surely you’ll give him the chance to 
ght,” they said. “Hildigun said
that you’d welcome the idea of a horse
“Why were you talking about that?” asked Gunnar.
“Some men were saying that no one would dare pit his horse against ours,”
they answered.
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
\n] . Ainnle son of Cathán, king of Uaithne of Cliú, was put to death by the for-
eigners of Loch dá Chaech.
. The foreigners of Loch dá Chaech continued to harry Mumu and Laigin.
five: viking warriors and their weapons
(b) The Sword Skofnung
) Hrolf Kraki and Skofnung

Hrolf Kraki belonged to the Danish Scylding dynasty. He was nephew of King Hrothgar
in whose hall Beowulf killed the monster Grendel. This passage from
The Saga of Hrolf
recounts Hrolf’s last battle and his burial with his sword, Skofnung.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Hrólfs saga kraka
, in
Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda
, ed. Guðni
vols. (Reykjavík,
), vol.
, pp.
. King Hrolf leapt up from the high seat after he and his champions had been
drinking for a while. They left their good drink and went outside at once, all
except Bothvar Bjarki. No one saw him and they wondered about his absence;
they thought that he had probably been captured or killed somewhere else.
As soon as they got outside, a dreadful battle broke out. King Hrolf himself
rushed forward with the standards and on either side of him were his cham-
pions; the entire garrison was there but, though they were numerous, they
contributed little to the battle. Terrible blows could be seen there, striking
helmets and mail-shirts. Many swords and spears could be seen in the air, and
there were so many dead that they covered the entire battle
Brave-hearted Hjalti spoke: “Though many a mail-shirt has been shredded,
many a weapon broken, many a helmet shattered, and many a brave horseman
has been thrust from the saddle, our king is in great spirits, for he is just as happy
now as when he was drinking his 
ll of ale. He always attacks with both hands,
and he is very different from other kings in battle, for it seems to me he 
with the strength of twelve kings and kills many brave men. Now King Hjorvard
[a legendary Danish king] can see that Skofnung bites, and that it clangs against
their skulls, for it is Skofnung’s nature to sing aloud whenever it tastes bone.”
The battle grew so hot that nothing could stand against King Hrolf and his
champions. It was wonderful to see how King Hrolf wielded Skofnung; they
wrought such havoc on King Hjorvard’s army that his soldiers fell in heaps. . . .
. King Hrolf defended himself as a warrior should and his bravery was
incomparably greater than the courage of other men. The best troops of Skuld
[wife of Hjorvard] and King Hjorvard surrounded the king and pressed him
hard. Skuld now arrived at the battle and eagerly urged her ruf
ans to attack
King Hrolf, for she saw that his champions were not near him. Bothvar Bjarki
was enraged because he could not help his lord, and the other champions shared
Bjarki’s rage since they were now as eager to die with their king as they had
been to live with him in the 
ower of their youth. By this time, King Hrolf’s
five: viking warriors and their weapons
. Early in the morning of Maundy Thursday [Thursday before Easter],
Thorkel got ready for his journey, but Thorstein tried his best to dissuade
him. “The weather looks unsettled,” he said. Thorkel replied that the weather
would suit him just 
ne. “You’re not going to stop me, kinsman,” said Thorkel,
“because I want to get home for Easter.”
Thorkel launched the ferry and loaded it with timber, but Thorstein
unloaded the cargo just as quickly as Thorkel and his crew got it aboard.
“Give it up, Thorstein,” said Thorkel. “Stop trying to delay our journey; you
won’t get your way this time.”
“Then,” said Thorstein, “the person least suited to make the decision will
get his way, and this journey will have terrible consequences.” Thorkel and
his crew sailed along Breidafjord all that day; there were ten men aboard. The
weather blew up a gale which became a major storm before letting up again,
but being very brave men they pressed on regardless. Thorkel had Skofnung
with him in a chest. They sailed on until they came to Bjarnarey [Bjorn’s
Island]—people were watching them from both shores—but when they got
to the island, a squall caught the sail and capsized the ship. Thorkel and all
the men with him were drowned, and the cargo of timber was driven far and
wide among the islands. Skofnung, which had got stuck in the ribs of the ship,
came ashore at Skofnung’s Island.
) Gellir Thorkelsson and Skofnung

Skofnung  nally disappears from history. From
The Saga of the People of Laxdale
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), p.
. . . . Thorkel’s son Gellir lived at Helgafell until his old age and many remark-
able stories are told about him. He appears in many sagas though he is not much
mentioned in this one. He built a  ne church at Helgafell, which Arnor Jarlas-
the viking age: a reader
Knut himself, however, was over-king and was called Knut the Great, or Knut
the Old. Of all the Scandinavian kings, Knut was the most powerful and had
the most extensive lands.
King Knut traveled abroad on a pilgrimage to Rome and his expenditure
on the journey was so vast that no one could calculate the cost in marks, and
only with dif
culty in pounds. As well as bringing money from his own king-
dom, he also made use of the emperor’s property freely wherever he wished.
While King Knut was on his pilgrimage to Rome, no one who met him
needed to beg for his food, for he gave everyone so much money to spend.
King Knut traveled on foot from Flanders to Rome, as Sigvat the skald says:
Few gold-givers
will set out for the south,
fare on foot like you,
peerless prince.
King Knut founded a hostel where any Danish-speaker who turned up could
get food and lodging for the night and, wherever he went, he distributed large
amounts of money to monasteries and other important religious establishments.
. When he returned to his kingdom in England, he came down with an
illness, which showed up 
rst as jaundice. He lay ill for a long time during
the summer and in the autumn he died on
November [
] in the great
city of Winchester, where he is buried. He was thirty-seven years old and had
been king of Denmark for twenty-seven years, England for twenty-four, and
Norway for seven. It is generally agreed that Knut had more power and more
extensive territories than any other Scandinavian king.
. Knut was the most open-handed of all northern kings for, in truth, not
only was he more generous than other kings in the gifts he showered on his
friends every year, but also he received much more annually in taxes and dues
from three kingdoms than anyone who ruled only one kingdom. Added to
that, England was the richest kingdom in the Northlands.
An example of his generosity was the case of the Icelander, Thorarin Lof-
tunga [Praise-Tongue]. He was an excellent skald who had been in the service
of kings and other great men for much of his long life. When he was an old
man, he went to see King Knut because he had composed a poem about him.
He came before the king, paid his respects, and asked the king if he would
listen to a poem composed in his honor. It so happened that the king was
seated at table after dinner, and several men were standing in front of the table
presenting their suits. The king listened to them 
rst, and when they had 
ished talking, Thorarin said his piece, for he was not overawed by kings and
had often spoken before great men.
the viking age: a reader
his ships, very pleased with his easy victory. It had been arranged that there
would be a meeting in the town early on Monday morning so that Harald
could appoint governors for the city and distribute land and privileges.
That same evening after sunset, King Harold Godwinsson [king of England]
entered York from the south with an overwhelming army; he rode into the
town with the consent and approval of all the inhabitants. The city gates were
closed and so were all the roads so that the Norsemen would not get word that
the English army was in the city. The army stayed there overnight.
. After breakfast on Monday morning, Harald Sigurdarson had the trum-
pet sounded for disembarking. He got the army ready and divided it into two
parties, one of which was to go to the city while the other stayed behind with
the ships. In each company, two out of every three men went ashore, and the
third remained behind. Earl Tostig got ready to accompany King Harald ashore
with his division. Those left to guard the ships were: Olaf, the king’s son, Pal
and Erlend, the earls of Orkney, and Eystein Orri, the son of Thorberg Arna-
son, who was the noblest of all the landed-men and dearest to the king. King
Harald had promised him his daughter Maria in marriage.
As the weather was remarkably 
ne and the sunshine was hot, the men left
their coats of mail behind, and went ashore taking only their shields, helmets,
halberds, and swords. Many also had bows and arrows; they were all very
But, as they approached the city, a large force came riding toward them.
They saw the dust-cloud raised by the horses’ hooves and, under it, they saw
ne shields and bright chain mail. Then King Harald brought his army to a
halt and summoned Earl Tostig to his side. The king asked him what army
this could be. The earl answered that it was probably a hostile army, although
it could be some of his relatives seeking mercy and friendship from the king,
in return for their loyalty and support. Harald declared that they had better
stay put until they could get some information about the other army; they
did so. The army loomed larger the nearer it came, its weapons glittering like
broken ice.
. Then King Harald Sigurdarson spoke. “We must now come up with
a good, workable plan,” he said, “for there’s no doubt that these are hostile
forces, and that the king himself is with them.”
rst thing to do,” replied Earl Tostig, “is to turn back to our ships as
quickly as possible, and pick up the rest of our army and weapons. Then we’ll
give the enemy as hot a reception as we can, or we’ll take shelter on our ships
where the horsemen won’t be able to get at us.”
“I have a different idea,” answered King Harald. “Let’s put three brave
warriors on our fastest horses and have them ride post haste to our men and
the viking age: a reader

The Irish monk and scholar Dicuil wrote the important geographical work
Liber de
Mensura Orbis Terrae [The Book on the Measurement of the Earth]
This work includes a discussion of the islands in the northern ocean, some of which Dicuil
says he had visited himself, while for others he had his information from priests who had
visited them. Dicuil’s work thus seems to demonstrate that Irish hermits had visited and
seasonally inhabited the Faeroe Islands as well as Iceland. Thule is generally regarded
as Iceland; the modern name Faeroe Islands derives from Faereyjar, “Sheep Islands.”

Source: ed. and trans. J.J. Tierney,
Dicuili Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae
(Dublin: Dublin Institute for
Advanced Studies,
), pp.
. We do not read of islands being found in the sea west or north of Spain.
There are islands around our own island Hibernia, some small and some very
small. Near the island Britannia are many islands, some large, some small, and
some medium-sized. Some are in the sea to her south, and some in the sea to
her west, but they abound mostly to the north-west and north. Among these
I have lived in some, and have visited others; some I have only glimpsed, while
others I have read about.
. Plinius Secundus [Pliny the Elder, d.
CE] in his fourth book informs
us that Pytheas of Marseilles states that Thule lies six days’ sail to the north
of Britain.
. About the same island, which was always uninhabited, Isidorus [Isidore
of Seville, d.
\n \n
] says in the same fourteenth book of his
the viking age: a reader
God’s gift; give heed to the keeping of his commands, that you may have him
as a preserver whom you had as a benefactor. Obey the priests of God; for they
have an account to make to God, how they admonish you; they as interceders
for you, you as defenders of them. But, above all, have the love of God in your
hearts, and show that love by keeping his commandments. Love him as a father,
was made with pure gold. We did this for the love of God and the good of our
souls, and because we did not want these holy books to remain any longer in
the possession of heathens. And now we wish to present these books to Christ
Church for the praise, glory, and honor of God, and in thanks for his suffer-
ings, and for the use of the religious brotherhood who offer praise to God in
Christ Church every day—on condition that they are read every month, as
long as God sees  t that baptism should be performed in this place, for the
the viking age: a reader
and outdid him in knowledge.
Then he gained his inheritance,
and the right to be called Rig
and understand runes.
. Young King’s Kin rode
through brushwood and forest,
launched a bolt,
silenced the birds.
. Alone on a branch,
a crow spoke:
“Why, young King’s Kin,
must you silence birds?
You could instead
be riding on horses,
slaying an army.
. “Danr and Danpr
have splendid halls,
ner inheritance
than you have.
They are very skilled
at sailing a ship,
at handling a sword,
and in icting wounds.”
Egil’s Saga

The legal and social position of women was not straightforward in the Viking Age. The rise
the viking age: a reader
Fyn, Zealand, and Scania and in Sweden. This was done in the archbishop’s
twelfth year [
]. And indeed, such increase followed these beginnings of
heavenly mercy, God working with them, that the churches of the Danes are
seen to abound in the manifold fruits of the northern peoples from that time
even to this day. . . .
. Harald [Bluetooth], the king of the Danes, noted for his piety and
bravery, had long before benignantly admitted Christianity to his kingdom
and held it 
rm until the end. Hence, also, he strengthened his rule by holiness
and justice and extended his authority beyond the sea over the Norwegians and
the Angles. Emund, Eric’s son, then ruled in Sweden. Since he was allied with
Harald, he was favorably disposed toward the Christians who came there. In
Norway, Haakon [the Bad, ca
] was the ruler. When the Norwegians
drove him from the realm because he had acted haughtily, Harald valorously
restored him and made him well-disposed to the worshippers of Christ. . . .

Olaf Tryggvason’s reign (
) was brief but eventful. His conversion of Norway to
Christianity was undertaken for both political and religious reasons, and however pious
Olaf himself may have been, he was in exible in the mercilessness with which he car-
ried out his attempt to recall Norwegians to Christianity. Nonetheless, the old gods still
haunted Norway and sometimes attempted to win back the men who had deserted them.

Source: trans. A. A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar
, in
, ed.
Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.

. When King Harald Gormsson, king of Denmark, adopted Christianity, he
sent word throughout his entire kingdom that everyone should be baptized and
turn to the true faith. He himself backed the order by authorizing force and
punishment when nothing else worked. He also sent two earls to Norway with
a large army. They were to proclaim Christianity in Norway. This was successful
in the Vik, which was under Harald’s authority, and much of the population was
After Harald’s death, his son, Svein Forkbeard, went raiding both in Saxony
and Frisia, and 
nally in England. In his absence, the Norwegians who had
accepted baptism went back to making heathen sacri
ces as they had done
before, and as was the practice in the north of the country. When Olaf Tryg-
gvason became king of Norway, he stayed in the Vik for much of the summer,
and many of his relatives and in-laws joined him there. Many of them had been
great friends of his father, and they gave him a very warm welcome.
viking life and death
on which Njal’s farm stands. They rode into the valley, tied up their horses,
and stayed there until late in the evening.
“Now we’ll go to the farm,” said Flosi. “Let’s stay close together, and
advance slowly until we see what they do.”
Njal was standing outside with his sons, and Kari, and all the man-servants;
there were nearly thirty men altogether drawn up in the yard in front of the
Flosi came to a halt.
“Now we’ll have to wait and see what they intend to do,” he said, “because
I don’t think that we’ll ever get the upper hand if they stay outside.”
“If we don’t dare attack them, we’ve had a wasted journey,” said Grani.
“It won’t come to that,” said Flosi. “We will attack them even if they do stay
outside, but we’ll pay dearly because not many of us will live to say who wins.”
Njal said to his men, “What do you think? How many men have they got?”
“They have a good-sized force of tough-looking men,” said Skarphedin.
“Even so, they’ve come to a halt because they think we’ll be hard to beat.”
“That’s not why they’ve halted,” said Njal. “I want everyone to go inside
the house, because the men who attacked Gunnar at Hlidarend had a hard
time overpowering him, even though he was on his own. The house here is
just as well-built as the one at Hldarend, so they won’t be able to defeat us.”
“That’s not the way to go about things,” said Skarphedin. “The chieftains
who attacked Gunnar were honorable men who would have turned back rather
than burn him in his house. But this lot will use 
re if they can’t defeat us any
other way, because they will do anything to get the better of us. They will
think, and rightly so, that we’ll kill them if we escape. Besides, I’m not keen
on being suffocated like a fox in its den.”
“As usual, my sons,” said Njal, “you’re going to ignore my advice and show
me no respect. You didn’t behave like this when you were younger, and things
went better for you then.”
“Let’s do as our father wishes,” said Helgi. “That will be our best plan.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” replied Skarphedin, “for he’s a doomed man now.
But, nonetheless, I’ve no objection to humoring him and being burned inside
the house with him, because I’m not afraid of death.”
He spoke to Kari, “Let’s stick together, kinsman, so that we don’t get sepa-
rated from one another.”
“That’s what I had in mind,” said Kari, “but if fate decrees otherwise, then
so be it; there’s nothing to be done about it.”
“Avenge us,” said Skarphedin, “and we’ll do the same for you if we survive.”
“Agreed,” said Kari. Then they all went into the house and took up posi-
tion at the doors.
the viking age: a reader
can wear when he is splendidly dressed for solemn feasts, treasures 
t for the
service of God. I hope that she will look favorably on these gifts and grant
support and good fortune to the ship, the crew, and everyone on board.”
The king had holy relics inserted in the carved prow and stern of the ship.
He distributed the vestments, sending the cope to the Mariakirk, the gown to
Helgaset, and everything else to Nunnaset at Bakki.
was not an elegant ship. The prow and the stern were small in
proportion to the mid-section, mainly because the ship had been lengthened.
The king had repairs done to the damage caused by the launch. During the
winter, he had more longships built and others re
tted. All the work was car-
ried out to the highest standards. Thorolf Rympill’s ship, the
, was built
at this time. It had twenty-six rooms [rowers’ benches]. Ulf from Laufness’s
ship, the
, was also built at this time, and had almost as many rooms as

. After Easter, King Sverrir got ready to travel south from Kaupang with
thirty-three ships, most of which were large. With him went his brother Eirik,
Ulf from Laufness, Ulf Fly, Bard Guthormsson, Ivar Selki, and Havard Earls-
son. Together, they made up a large and splendid force. The king commanded
with two hundred and eighty men aboard. He had three chests
sent out to the ship and each chest had to be carried by four men; no one knew
what was in them. The king’s son Eirik was in command of the
, a ship
which had about twenty-
ve rooms. . . .
They headed to the Herey Islands and there the king held another council
at which he said exactly the same things as he had said before. From the Herey
Islands, he sailed south past Stad, but a sharp wind blew up and they ran into
rough weather. This put a great strain on the
, causing its seams to
open, so the king turned in to Ulf’s Sound. When they anchored there, the
men found out what was in the big chests, for ship’s nails were taken out of
them and distributed among the ships. The king gave nails to the men in each
half-room [rowing space] and told them to keep their eyes open and use the
nails whenever necessary. Then Sverrir sailed on his way to Sogn. . . .

By the middle of the thirteenth century, Norwegian politics had grown more tranquil,
and the demand for the construction of massive ships like the
dwindled. How-
ever, for campaigns in Denmark and an expedition to Scotland in
, King Hakon
IV had three great ships built which were said to have been the biggest ever constructed
in Norway.
The Saga of Hakon the Old
was written in the
s by the Icelandic
historian and chieftain Sturla Thordarson (
), nephew and pupil of Snorri
twelve: from odin to christ
object for which the bishop had come and all that had been said and done at
the previous assembly by divine providence, the hearts of all became as one,
so that they adopted the resolution passed by the former assembly and declared
that they too would give their entire and complete assent.
. When this had been done the king summoned the bishop and told him
what had occurred. The king accordingly, with the good will and approval of all,
determined that churches might be built among the people and that priests might
come to them and that whoever so desired might become a Christian without
objection or hindrance. Our lord and pastor then commended to the care of the
king, Erimbert, the nephew of the venerable Bishop Gautbert, in order that,
with his help and protection, he might there perform the sacred mysteries and
to him the king granted permission to build a hall to serve as a place of prayer
in the town already mentioned; the bishop also bought another courtyard,
together with a house in which the priest might live. The king displayed further
his affectionate regard for the lord bishop and promised that in every district
he would show the utmost kindness to his companions who were concerned
with the observance of the Christian religion. When, then, by the Lord’s grace
everything had been duly accomplished the bishop returned to his own house.
. Meanwhile [in
] it happened by divine judgment that King Rorik
was killed in war in a disturbance caused by pirates while his kinsman were
attempting to invade his kingdom. Together with him all the chief men of
that land, who had formerly been acquaintances and friends of the bishop,
perished by the sword. When at length the younger Rorik had been estab-
lished in the kingdom, some of those who were then his chief men and had
not been so well known to the bishop, tried to persuade him that the church
that had been built among them should be destroyed and that the Christian
religion should be abolished. For they said that their gods were angry and that
these great evils had come upon them because they had accepted the worship
of another and an unknown god. Accordingly the headman [or count] of the
village of Sliaswich, whose name was Hovi, who was particularly opposed to
this religion, urged the king to destroy the Christian faith, and he ordered the
church that had been built there to be shut and prohibited the observance of
the Christian religion. On this account the priest, who had been [in charge]
there, was forced to withdraw because of the bitter persecution.
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
You ask what they live on since they don’t sow grain. Well, man can live
on more than bread alone. Greenland is said to have good pastures and large,
productive farms where they raise many cattle and sheep, and make a great deal
of butter and cheese. This food accounts for a large part of their diet, along
with meat and various kinds of game, such as the 
esh of reindeer, whales,
seals, and bears. That’s what the Greenlanders live on. . . .

Adam of Bremen’s
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
contains the
earliest historical reference to Vinland, an area of eastern North America. Norse explorers
found grapes growing there and named it “Vine Land.” The precise location of Vinland
is uncertain, but the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence are a strong possibility.

Source: trans. F.J. Tschan, Adam of Bremen,
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
, with new
introduction by T. Reuter (New York: Columbia University Press,

), pp.

Book Four: A Description of the Islands of the North
. He [Svein Estridson, king of the Danes, r.
, one of Adam’s infor-
the viking age: a reader
to Paris. Weland with his company came up the Seine to the fort of Melun.
Former occupants of the besieged fort, with Weland’s son, now occupied the
monastery of St-Maur-des-Fossés.
. . . . Charles arrived at Senlis, where he waited, expecting the people to
assemble there so that troops could be positioned along both banks of certain
rivers, namely the Oise, Marne, and Seine, and defensive measures taken to
stop the Northmen from coming up to plunder. But Charles now received
word that a select force of Danes, picked from amongst those encamped at
Fossés, was making for Meaux with a few ships. Charles made all speed in
that direction with those men whom he had with him. But he could not catch
up with them, because the bridges had been destroyed and the ships taken
over by the Northmen. He therefore followed some indispensable advice
and rebuilt the bridge across to the island by Trilbardou, thereby cutting the
Northmen’s access to the way down the river. He also assigned squadrons
to guard both banks of the Marne. The Northmen, now tightly hemmed in
by these moves, gave hostages chosen by Charles, and on his orders: the condi-
tions were that they should return without any delay all the captives they had
taken since sailing up the Marne, and either, on some prearranged assembly-
date, should withdraw from the Seine with the other Northmen, and should
seek the open sea, or, if the others would not withdraw with them, should
unite with Charles’s army to attack those who refused to go. Thus, when ten
hostages had been given, they were allowed to return to their own people.
About twenty days later, Weland himself came to Charles and commended
himself to him, while he and the men he had with him swore solemn oaths
in their own way. Then he returned to the ships and with the whole Danish
eet sailed down the Seine to Jumièges, where they decided to repair their
ships and await the Spring equinox. When the ships had been repaired, the
Danes made for the open sea, and split up into several 
otillas which sailed
off in different directions according to their various choices. Most of them
made for the Bretons, who live in Neustria with Salomon as chief; and these
Danes were joined by the ones who had been in Spain. Salomon hired twelve
Danish ships for an agreed fee, to use against Robert. These Robert captured
on the river Loire and slew every man in the 
eet, except for a few who 
into hiding. Robert, unable now to put up with Salomon any longer, made
an alliance against Salomon with the Northmen who had just left the Seine,
before Salomon could ally with them against him. Hostages were exchanged,
and Robert paid them
lb of silver.
Weland with his wife and sons came to Charles, and he and his family
became Christians.
. . . Charles caused all the leading men of his realm to assemble about
June, with many workmen and carts, at the place called Pîtres, where the
three: early religion and belief
. Odin said:
“Don’t talk nonsense,
wise Bragi; you know
very well that all
this uproar is for Eirik,
who’s on his way here
to be a warrior in Odin’s hall.
. “Sigmund and Sinfjotli,
rise swiftly, and go
to meet the king.
Make him welcome
if it is Eirik;
I’m anxious to see him.”
. Sigmund said:
“Why hope to meet Eirik
rather than other kings?”
Odin said:
“Because in many countries
he has carried and reddened
his blood-crimsoned sword.”
. Sigmund said [?]:
“Why rob him of victory
if you think him valiant?”
Odin said:
“Since no one can tell
when the gray wolf
will look grimly
at the home of the gods.”
. Sigmund said:
“Hail to you, Eirik,
welcome here!
Enter the hall, wise king;
I must hear
what warriors follow you,
fresh from the 
the viking age: a reader
talking about what a handsome and distinguished man he was. He was well
provided with weapons and clothes.
. One day, Hoskuld and Olaf left their booth to pay a visit to Egil Skal-
lagrimsson. Egil gave them a warm welcome as he and Hoskuld were old
acquaintances. Hoskuld opened the courtship on behalf of Olaf and asked for
Thorgerd as his son’s wife. She herself was at the Althing. Egil was delighted
by the offer, saying that he had heard good things about the father and son.
“I know, Hoskuld,” said Egil, “that you are of an excellent family and
very worthy in your own right, and Olaf’s journey [to Ireland] has made him
famous. It’s only natural that men like you should aim high, and Olaf has
both family and good looks. But now this has to be discussed with Thorgerd,
because she’s not going to fall into any man’s hands unless she wants to.”
“Then I want you to discuss this with your daughter, Egil,” said Hoskuld.
Egil agreed and went to have a talk with Thorgerd.
He said, “There’s a man called Olaf—he’s the son of Hoskuld and he’s very
well-known. His father has brought up the question of marriage on his son’s
behalf, and has asked for your hand. I’ve put the whole business completely in
your hands, and I want your answer now; I think an approach like this deserves
a favorable response, because it’s an excellent match.”
“I’ve heard you say that you love me best of your children,” answered
Thorgerd. “But now I think that you weren’t telling the truth, if you want to
give me to a slave-woman’s son, even if he is good-looking and dressy.”
“You aren’t as well-informed about him as you are about other things,”
said Egil. “Haven’t you heard that his mother is the daughter of Myrkjartan,
king of Ireland? He is much better born on his mother’s side than on his
father’s, and even that would be a good enough match for us.” But Thorgerd
didn’t let herself be persuaded and they parted, with rather different views
on the subject.
Next day, Egil went to Hoskuld’s booth and Hoskuld gave him a friendly
welcome. They began talking together, and Hoskuld asked how the courtship
business had gone. Egil spoke unhappily about it and told him how things
developed. Hoskuld said that the business looked impossible, “But I think
you’ve behaved well.”
Olaf didn’t take part in the conversation, but when Egil left, he asked how
the marriage negotiations had gone. Hoskuld said that they were going slowly
on her side.
“Father,” said Olaf, “I told you I would be upset if I got an embarrassing
reply, and that’s just how it is. This was begun mostly on your advice, but now
I’m going to manage the courtship myself to make sure that it doesn’t collapse
here. It’s true what they say: ‘Wolves make a hash of hunting for another.’ So
now I’m going straight over to Egil’s booth.”
the viking age: a reader
Kirjalax [Kurios Alexius, Alexius II Komnenos,
]. [This genealogy
contains inaccuracies.]
. In the summer, King Sigurd sailed across the Greek Sea to Palestine.
Then he rode to Jerusalem where he met Baldwin, the king of Jerusalem

]. Baldwin gave Sigurd a very warm welcome; he rode with him to
the River Jordan and back. Einar Skulason says:
The skald must not scant
his praises for the prince
whose sea-cold keel
sailed south to the Greek Sea;
our king came
to anchor at Acre;
all the prince’s people
made merry that morning.
Einar also says this:
The courageous king
journeyed to Jerusalem;
no nobler prince is known
under the high heavens;
the gracious gold-giver
with praiseworthy purpose
went to wash in the
pure water of wide Jordan.
King Sigurd stayed in Palestine for a long time during the autumn and early winter.
. King Baldwin held a splendid banquet for Sigurd and his large following
and presented Sigurd with many holy relics. A fragment was taken from the
true cross on the orders of the king and the patriarch, both of whom swore on
the holy relic that this wood came from the holy cross on which God himself
had suffered. This holy relic was given to Sigurd on condition that he, along
with twelve of his men, swore to do everything in his power to spread Chris-
tianity and to establish an archbishopric in his kingdom if he could. He swore,
too, that the fragment of the cross would be kept where King Olaf rested.
Finally, he swore to promote the payment of tithes and to pay them himself.
Then King Sigurd returned to his ships at Acre. At that time, King Bald-
win was preparing his army for an expedition to a heathen town called Saet
[Sidon?] in Syria, and King Sigurd went on the expedition with him. After a
short siege, the heathens surrendered; the kings took possession of the city, and
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
priesthood, for its murmuring, its rebelliousness, its ingratitude, and similar
trespasses, being lashed and humbled by the foe it had defeated, and over whom
it had itself triumphed—diminished, falling, perishing. Often have I admon-
ished you: be on your guard, mend yourselves, convert yourselves; do not
wait for the sword to be furbished: the bow is being bent. Do not take

long-suffering as an occasion for contempt; do not act wickedly in the face of
his extreme gentleness. But why do I irritate your hearts which are already
in amed? Surely it is better to castigate you as you are now sorrowing, than
to send you away unreproached to suffer punishment from above, and to use
the present misfortune as a helper in convicting you, rather than, respecting
your plight, leave the disobedient and the sinners unreproved. What now?
We have admonished and threatened you, using the name of God: our God is
jealous and long-suffering, but when he is angered, who shall withstand him?
. These things have I been saying, but, it seems, it was like carding

into the 
re—a proverb that is timely for me to quote now (would it were not
so!). For you have not been converted, nor have you repented, but you have
made your ears heavy so that you should not hear the word of the Lord. For
this reason his wrath has been poured upon us, and he has kept watch over
our sins, and he has set his face against us. “Woe is me, that my sojourning has
been too long,” will I cry out with the psalmist David, short as it has been. It
has been too long because I have not been heard in my entreaties, because I see
a cloud of barbarians deluging with blood our city which has been parched
by sins. Woe is me that I have been preserved to see these evils, that we have
become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are
round about us, that the unbelievable course of the barbarians did not give
rumor time to announce it, so that some means of safety could be devised, but
the sight accompanied the report, and that despite the distance, and the fact
that the invaders were sundered off from us by so many lands and kingdoms,
by navigable rivers and harborless seas. Woe is me, that I see a 
erce and sav-
age tribe fearlessly poured round the city, ravaging the suburbs, destroying
everything, ruining everything, 
elds, houses, herds, beasts of burden, women,
children, old men, youths, thrusting their sword through everything, taking
pity on nothing, sparing nothing. The destruction is universal. Like a locust in
a corn
eld, like mildew in a vineyard, or rather like a whirlwind, or a typhoon,
or a torrent, or I know not what to say, it fell upon our land and has annihilated
whole generations of inhabitants. I deem them happy who have fallen prey
to the murderous barbarian hand, because, having died, they have avoided
sooner the awareness of the calamities which have seized us unexpectedly. If
the departed had any consciousness of these things, then they too would have
bewailed with me those who are still left behind for the things they are suffer-
ing continually, and because they have taken their 
ll of so great pain without
the viking age: a reader
together they conquered the whole of Caithness as well as Sutherland, Moray,
and Ross. He built a fortress in the south of Moray.
Sigurd and Maelbricht Tooth, earl of the Scots, agreed to hold a meeting at
an appointed place to settle their differences. Each of them was to bring forty
men. But on the day of the meeting, Sigurd re
ected that the Scots were not
to be trusted, so he mounted eighty men on forty horses. When Maelbricht
noticed this, he said to his men:
“Sigurd has tricked us. I can see the feet of two men on the  anks of every
horse, so there must be twice as many men as horses. Let us muster our cour-
age, so that each of us may kill a man before dying ourselves.” Then they
prepared for battle.
But Sigurd saw what the Scots were up to and said to his men, “When the
ghting starts, half of us will dismount and out ank the Scots from the left.
Meanwhile the rest of us will ride at them as hard as possible and break up
their formation.”
And that’s what they did; there was some 
ghting and before long
Maelbricht and his men were slain. Sigurd had their heads hung from his
horses’ cruppers as a sign of his triumph. Then they rode home, boasting of
their victory. But on the way, as Sigurd was attempting to spur on his horse,
he struck his calf against Maelbricht’s protruding tooth and scratched himself.
The wound grew swollen and painful, and that’s what caused his death. Sigurd
the Powerful is buried in a mound beside the River Oykel. . . .

Maes Howe is a Neolithic chambered tomb built some
years ago on the mainland
of Orkney. Although it passed out of use as a burial mound three millennia before the
beginning of the Viking Age, Norsemen and women broke into it in the middle of the
twelfth century. These visitors left a unique series of some
runic inscriptions and
by which they are still known. Around the year

, Norsemen were the 
Europeans to reach North America, exploring the region they called Vinland
the Good, probably the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Indeed, Norse
maritime activity of all kinds was at its height during the so-called medieval
warm period of ca

, and exploration of the North Atlantic was at
least partly facilitated by the comparative lack of pack ice in those years.
The end of the period is harder to place. The uni
cation and centraliza-
tion of the Scandinavian states in the tenth and eleventh centuries have been
simultaneously blamed for increases in Viking activity and credited with its
cessation. However, a case could be made for regarding some point during
the eleventh century as bringing the Viking Age to a close. The Battle of
Clontarf (
) emphasized the waning power of Norsemen to do as they
pleased in Ireland. The North Sea empire of Knut (Cnut/Canute) the Great
disintegrated with his death in
, and his conquests might be seen as the last
great expedition of the age of the Vikings. Another possibility is
, when
King Harald Hardradi of Norway failed disastrously in an attempt to invade
England. Harald was killed, and his army destroyed, at the Battle of Stamford
Bridge in the north of England. Raiding in England was never more than half-
hearted after the death of Harald and the arrival of William the Conqueror.
All of these events may be regarded as stages in a slow process of change.
However, Norse activity in the British Isles continued until the death of Hakon
IV the Old (d.
). His doubtfully successful punitive raid on Scotland was
the last serious Scandinavian intervention in the British Isles.
How Do We Know?
One major challenge is the dearth of literary materials from the Vikings them-
selves in the early part of the Viking Age. It is not quite fair to say, as is
sometimes done, that the Vikings were illiterate at the time the Scandinavian
expansion began, since they did possess a runic alphabet, the futhark, which
was used in carving inscriptions on stone, wood, bone or metal. Runic inscrip-
tions are, by their very nature, not suited to long narrative, however, and their
study requires a highly specialized background. Until recently, therefore, our
knowledge of the Vikings and their culture was shaped by the accounts of
their European enemies, who gave them a very bad press. English and French
chronicles are a major source of contemporary narratives of Viking incursions.
However, from the nineteenth century onwards, translation into English
of medieval Icelandic sagas added another dimension to the study of the Vik
ing Age, allowing the Vikings to be appreciated from the perspective of their
own culture—or at least the culture of their Christianized descendants in
thirteenth-century Iceland. The narratives of history and saga-literature
two: scandinavian society
father’s inheritance, but Hildirid was Hogni’s heir, so she and her sons inher-
ited his property. They dwelt at Leka and prospered there. Bard Brynjolfson
was around the same age as the Hildiridarsons. For years, Brynjolf and his
father Bjorgolf had held the right to travel among the Lapps and levy tribute
from them.
North, in Halogaland, there is a fjord called Vefsnfjord and in this fjord lies
Alost, a large, fertile island on which there is a farm called Sandness. There
lived Sigurd, the richest man in that part of the north. He was a landed man
of shrewd intelligence. His daughter, Sigrid, was regarded as the best match in
Halogaland as she was an only child and would be her father’s heir.
Bard Brynjolfson set off from home with a ship and thirty men. He traveled
north to Alost and paid a visit to Sigurd at Sandness. There he made a formal
proposal asking for Sigrid’s hand in marriage. His suit was well received and
Bard was promised the girl. The wedding was arranged for the following sum-
mer when Bard was to go north again to fetch his bride.
. That summer king Harald had sent word to the chief men of Halogaland,
summoning to his presence all those who had not yet been to meet him. Bryn-
jolf made up his mind to go and his son Bard went with him. In the autumn,
they traveled south to Trondheim where they met the king, who gave them a
warm welcome and made Brynjolf a landed man. The king granted him great
revenues in addition to those he already had. He gave him the right to travel
and trade among the Lapps as well as the stewardship of the mountain areas.
Afterwards, Brynjolf went home to his estate, but Bard remained behind and
became one of the king’s retainers.
Of all his retainers, the king valued his skalds most highly, and they were
assigned a place of honor on the second high seat. Closest to the center of the
seat sat Audun the Plagiarist, who was the oldest among them and had been
skald to Halfdan the Black, King Harald’s father. Next to him sat Thorbjorn
and his neighbor was Olvir Snubnose. Bard was assigned the place
next to Olvir and came to be known as Bard the White or Bard the Strong.
Everyone thought well of him and he and Olvir Snubnose became great friends.
That same autumn, Thorolf Kveld-Ulfsson and Eyvind Lamb, Kari of
Berle’s son, visited King Harald and got a warm welcome. They came in a fast
well-manned ship of twenty benches [forty oars]—a ship they had used on
Viking raids. They and their followers were assigned places in the guest hall.
They stayed there until they thought it was time to meet the king. Kari of
Berle and Olvir Snubnose went with them. They greeted the king and Olvir
Snubnose informed him that Kveld-Ulf’s son had arrived:
“I told you in the summer that Kveld-Ulf would send him to you,” said
Olvir. “Kveld-Ulf is a man of his word and you can be sure that he will
be an excellent friend to you now that he has sent his son here to enter your
The Ru¯s Attack Constantinople

On the Arrival of the Varangians

River Routes to Constantinople

Norwegian Soldier of Fortune in the East

Ru¯s Expeditions to the Middle East

The Yngvar Runestones


The Islands in the Northern Ocean, ca

Sailing Directions and Distances in the North Atlantic

The Western Ocean

Adam of Bremen on Iceland

Icelandic Accounts of the Discovery and

The Saga of the People of Eyri

Skallagrim’s Landtake in Iceland

The King’s Mirror
on Greenland

Adam of Bremen on Vinland

The Norse Discovery of Vinland

Thornn Karlsefni in Vinland


Advice for Sailors and Merchants

Svein Asleifarson’s Viking Life

Egil in Youth and Old Age


Children Mimic Adults

The Child is Mother of the Woman

Games and Entertainment

Horse-ght from
Njal’s Saga

the viking age: a reader
They were amazed by the wolf’s guardianship and carried the head home with
them, thanking almighty God for all his miracles. The wolf, too, followed the
head until they came to the town as though it was tame, and then turned back
in the direction of the woods.
Afterwards, the people placed the head beside the holy body and buried it
hastily as best they might. They raised a church above the body. Later, after a
period of many years, when the raiding had ceased and peace was granted to
the af icted people, they joined together to build a church worthy of the saint,
for frequent miracles had occurred at his tomb in the chapel where he had
been buried. They intended to accompany the holy body with public honour
and lay it in the church. To general amazement he was in as good condition as
if he were alive. His body was unblemished and his neck was healed where it
had been severed. Around it was something like a red silken thread as a sign
to mankind of how he had been killed. Similarly, the wounds in icted by
the missiles of the heathens had been healed by the God of heaven. He lies
uncorrupted to the present day, awaiting the resurrection and eternal glory. . . .


Unn the Deep-Minded Takes Control of Her Life

Queen Gunnhild Has Her Way with Hrut

The Prowess of Freydis, Daughter of Eirik the Red

Gudrun Drives Her Sons to Take Revenge

Gudrun Osvifrsdaughter’s Incitement of Her Sons

How Unn Mordsdaughter Found Herself

Divorces from the Sagas

How Gudrun Divorced Thorvald

Vigdis Divorces Thor

How Aud Dealt with Her Humiliating Divorce


The Accomplishments of a Viking Warrior

Earl Rognvald Kali on Being a Gentleman

Gunnar Hamundarson, the Ideal W

Tryggvason, King of Norway

Berserkers and the Berserk Rage

Odin’s Berserks

The Rage of Skallagrim and Egil

Egil Fights a Berserk


King Magnus Barelegs Dresses to Kill

The Sword Skofnung

Sigmund, Sigurd, and the Sword Gram

Saint Olaf’s Sword,

Viking Age Swords


Tryggvason Builds the
Long Serpent

Harald Sigurdarson’s Splendid Ship

King Sverrir’s

The Great Ships of King Hakon IV

Animal Heads on the Prows of Ships

the viking age: a reader
“I don’t think there’s much glory in taking a whole body of men against a
single man,” said Thorkel. “I’d like you to lend me the sword Skofnung and then
I’m sure I’ll be able to deal with a lone outlaw, no matter how resourceful he is.”
“Have it your own way,” said Eid. “It won’t surprise me, though, if you
come to regret your willfulness. But, since you seem to think you’re doing
this for my sake, I won’t refuse your request, for I’m sure that Skofnung will
be in good hands when it’s with you. However, Skofnung has special proper-
ties because of which the sun must never shine on the hilt, and it must never
be drawn when there are women present. Also, if someone is wounded by the
sword, the wound won’t heal unless it’s rubbed by the healing stone that is
mounted on the sword.”
Thorkel said that he would be careful to bear all these instructions in mind.
Then he took up the sword and asked Eid to show him the way to Grim’s
hideout. Eid thought that Grim had a den in the north at Tvidag [Two-Day
Heath] near Fiskivatn [Fish Lake]. So Thorkel rode north across the heath,
following Eid’s directions, and when he had traveled quite a distance into the
heath, he saw a shed near a large lake and headed toward it.
. Thorkel approached the shed and saw a man with a cloak over his head
shing at the mouth of a stream which  owed into the lake. He dismounted,
tethered his horse by the wall of the shed, and walked over to the lake where
the man was sitting. Grim saw Thorkel’s re
ection in the water and leapt up
quickly, but by then Thorkel had got very close to Grim and struck him. The
blow caught Grim on the arm just above the wrist, but the wound was not
serious. So right away, Grim ran at Thorkel and they started wrestling. The dif-
ference in strength told immediately and Thorkel fell with Grim on top of him.
Grim then asked him who he was, but Thorkel replied that it didn’t matter.
“Things haven’t gone quite as you intended,” said Grim, “for your life is
in my hands now.” Thorkel answered that he would not ask for mercy. “It’s
just my bad luck,” he said.
Grim replied that he had enough problems already without looking for more.
“Your fate lies elsewhere; you’re not going to die here in a 
ght with me,
for I’m going to give you your life, and you can repay me however you like.”
They both got up and walked back to the shed. Thorkel noticed that Grim
was becoming weak from loss of blood so he rubbed Grim’s wound with
Skofnung’s healing stone and then tied it to his arm. Immediately, the stone
removed all the pain and swelling from the wound. They stayed there over-
night; in the morning Thorkel got ready to leave and asked Grim if he wanted
to come with him. Grim said yes.
The story of Skofnung and Thorkell is resumed after a considerable absence from
the saga.
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
King Knut paid a powerful man called Eadric Strjona to betray King Edmund
and murder him, and that was how he died, even though Eadric was his foster-
father and was trusted by King Edmund as he trusted himself. Afterwards, King
Knut drove all the sons of King Athelred out of England. Many battles were
fought because of this, but they could never raise a strong enough force to resist
King Knut after the death of King Edmund. Sigvat the skald says in
Soon King Knut
struck at the sons
of Athelred,
ousting them from England.
Then the sons of Athelred went to France and stayed in Normandy for a long
time with their uncles Robert and William, as the saga of Saint Olaf recounts.
Earl Eirik, son of Hakon, died in England just when he was on the point
of making a pilgrimage to Rome. He died when his uvula was removed and
the bleeding could not be stopped.
King Knut and Queen Emma had three children. Harald was the eldest,
second was Harda-Knut, and their daughter was Gunnhild, who later mar-
ried the emperor Henry the Gentle, the third of his line with that name. King
Knut’s third son was called Svein, but his mother was Al
fa the Wealthy, the
daughter of Earl Alfrun.
. In the days when King Knut ruled England and Denmark, Olaf Haralds-
son [later Saint Olaf ] was king of Norway. When Olaf came to the throne,
Earl Svein, son of Hakon, and Earl Hakon Eiriksson, Knut’s nephew,  ed
the country. Earl Hakon Eiriksson traveled to England and visited his uncle,
King Knut, who received him warmly. Later, hostilities broke out between
King Olaf and King Knut, and Knut and Earl Hakon invaded Norway with
an overwhelming force; this happened near the end of King Olaf’s life. They
subdued the whole country and King Knut installed his nephew, Hakon, as
ruler of Norway, while he himself returned to Denmark.
When King Olaf 
ed Norway, he went east to Russia. Two years later, he
returned to Norway and fought a terrible battle at Stiklastad [
], against
the landowners, who had broken faith with him and become his enemies. As
most people know, King Olaf died there and is now sancti
ed; he lies in a
shrine at Nidaros.
The year before the death of the king, Saint Olaf, Earl Hakon Eiriksson died
in the English Sea [North Sea]. Then Svein, the son of King Knut and Al
went to Norway and was appointed king of the whole country by order of his
father. King Knut, also made his son, Harda-Knut, king of the Danish empire,
and appointed his son, Harald, king of his considerable territories in Scotland.
fourteen: the end of the viking age
People perished in the river,
soldiers sank and drowned;
many of young Morcar’s

nest warriors fell by his side.
The powerful Prince Olaf
drove foes to  ight;
they ran from the brave ruler.
Stein Herdisarson composed this poem in honor of King Harald’s son, Olaf. We
are told in the poem that Olaf was with his father in this battle. We hear about
the same events in Harald’s Stanzas:
The fallen lay
in the fen,
Waltheow’s warriors
cut down by weapons;
and so the Norse band
keen in battle,
could cross the fen,
on a bridge of corpses.
Earl Waltheow and the rest of the survivors  ed to the city of York. There had
been terrible slaughter in the battle, which took place on the Wednesday before
St. Matthew’s Day [
. As soon as King Harald arrived in England, Earl Tostig [Harold God-
winsson’s brother] came north from Flanders to join him, and so the earl took
part in all these battles. As Tostig had foretold when he and Harald had met
previously, many people joined their ranks in England. These were Tostig’s
relatives and friends, and they reinforced King Harald’s army considerably.
After this battle, the entire population of the neighboring districts submitted
to King Harald, except for a few who 
Then Harald set off to capture York, positioning his army at Stamford
Bridge. Since Harald had won such a great victory against powerful leaders
and overwhelming opposition, the English were afraid and had little hope of
resisting him. Accordingly, the townspeople decided to send a message to King
Harald, offering to place themselves and their city in his hands. An agreement
was reached, and King Harald and his entire army advanced toward the city on
the Sunday. King Harald held a meeting outside the city, which both the king’s
men and the townsmen attended. The townspeople agreed to submit to King
Harald and gave him the sons of the leading men of the town as hostages—Earl
Tostig knew all the townspeople. In the evening, King Harald went down to

The colonization of the North Atlantic islands, commonly referred to by modern writers as
the North Atlantic Saga, was a signi cant and lasting accomplishment of the Viking Age.
The Faeroes, Iceland, and Greenland may seem bleak and uninviting to modern travelers,
but they had much to offer Viking colonists. Apart from some Irish monks in the Faeroes
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
Truly signs of this misery preceded it, some through unaccustomed things,
some through unwonted practices. What portends the bloody rain, which in
the time of Lent in the church of St. Peter, prince of the apostles, in the city of
York, which is the head of the whole kingdom, we saw fall menacingly on the
north side from the summit of the roof, though the sky was serene? Can it not
be expected that from the north there will come upon our nation retribution
of blood, which can be seen to have started with this attack which has lately
befallen the house of God?
Consider the dress, the way of wearing the hair, the luxurious habits of the
princes and people. Look at your trimming of the beard and hair, in which
you have wished to resemble the pagans. Are you not menaced by terror of
them whose fashion you wished to follow? What also of the immoderate use
of clothing beyond the needs of human nature, beyond the custom of our
predecessors? The princes’ super
uity is poverty for the people. Such customs
once injured the people of God, and made it a reproach to the pagan races, as
the prophet says: “Woe to you, who have sold the poor for a pair of shoes,” that
is, the souls of men for ornaments for the feet. Some labor under an enormity
of clothes, others perish with cold; some are inundated with delicacies and
feastings like Dives clothed in purple, and Lazarus dies of hunger at the gate.
Where is brotherly love? Where the pity which we are admonished to have for
the wretched? The satiety of the rich is the hunger of the poor. That saying of
our Lord is also to be feared: “For judgment without mercy to him that hath
not done mercy.” Also we read in the words of the blessed Peter: “The time is
that judgment should begin at the house of God.”
Behold, judgment has begun, with great terror, at the house of God, in
which rest such lights of the whole of Britain. What should be expected for
other places, when the divine judgment has not spared this holy place? I do not
think this sin is theirs alone who dwell in that place. Would that their correc-
tion would be the amendment of others, and that many would fear what a few
have suffered, and each say in his heart, groaning and trembling, “If such great
men and fathers so holy did not defend their habitation and the place of their
repose, who will defend mine?” Defend your country by assiduous prayers to
God, by acts of justice and mercy to men. Let your use of clothes and food be
moderate. Nothing defends a country better than the equity and godliness of
princes and the intercessions of the servants of God. Remember that Hezekiah,
that just and pious king, procured from God by a single prayer that a hundred
and eighty-
ve thousand of the enemy were destroyed by an angel in one night.
Likewise with profuse tears he averted from him death when it threatened him,
and deserved of God that 
fteen years were added to his life by this prayer.
Have decent habits, pleasing to God and laudable to men. Be rulers of the
people, not robbers; shepherds, not plunderers. You have received honors by
the viking age: a reader
Olvir Snubnose saw Solveig and paid court to her. After a while, he asked for
her hand in marriage, but the earl would not give his consent because of the
difference in their ranks. After that, Olvir composed many love poems about
Solveig and became so obsessed with her that he gave up raiding. Only Thorolf
and Eyvind Lamb continued going on raids.
. Harald, son of Halfdan the Black, succeeded his father in Vik [region
around Oslo Fjord], in the east. He had sworn not to cut or comb his hair until
he became sole king in Norway and so he was nicknamed Harald Matted-Hair.
First he fought and defeated the neighboring kings; there are long accounts
of this. Next, he took possession of Oppland and from there advanced north
toward Trondheim, 
ghting many battles before he became sole ruler of the
Trondelag. After this, he decided to go north into Naumdal against the broth-
ers Herlaug and Hrollaug who were kings there. When the brothers heard of
his advance, Herlaug and eleven of his men entered a burial mound which
they had spent three years building. The mound was then closed up. King
Hrollaug, however, gave up his kingdom and adopted the rank of earl. He
submitted to the power of King Harald and relinquished his authority. So King
Harald came into possession of Naumdal and Halogaland and appointed men
to oversee these provinces.
King Harald set out from Trondheim with a naval force and journeyed south
to Møre. There he fought and won a victory against King Hundjof who fell
in the battle. Then Harald took possession of North Møre and Raumsdal, but
Solvi Cleaver, Hundjof’s son, escaped to South Møre where he asked King
Arnvid for help, saying,
“Though this trouble has befallen us now, it won’t be long till the same
thing happens to you. For I think that Harald will get here quickly, as soon as
he has subdued and enslaved all the people of North Møre and Raumsdal, as

he will. You will have the same choice on your hands as we did: either you
can defend your property and freedom by risking all the forces you can raise—
and I, for my part, will volunteer my men to help against this tyranny and
injustice—or your other choice is to follow the example of the men of Naum
dal by going voluntarily into bondage and making yourselves Harald’s slaves.
My father thought it glorious to die with honor on his own throne, rather
than to become the underling of another king in his old age. I think that you
and other proud and spirited men will think the same.”
Convinced by these persuasive words, the king determined to muster troops
and defend his kingdom. He and Solvi formed an alliance and sent word to
Audbjorn, king of Fjordane, asking for his support. When the messengers
reached him and delivered their message, Audbjorn took counsel with his
friends. They all advised him to gather together his forces and join up with
the viking age: a reader
“If you do, you’ll be alright; if you don’t, you’ll come to grief.”
Grettir said that his temper hadn’t improved; he had less self-control than
before and took offence more readily now. In this way, too, he was changed:
he was so afraid of the dark that he didn’t dare go anywhere alone at night,
for all sorts of monsters appeared to him then. Since that time, it has become
a common saying that people are “lent Glam’s eyes” or “given Glam’s sight”
when they see things otherwise than as they are.
the viking age: a reader
. As soon as he arrived in Rogaland, King Olaf called an assembly and,
when the farmers received the summons, they gathered fully armed and in
great numbers to discuss what to do. They designated the three most eloquent
men of their number to speak against King Olaf at the assembly and tell him
that they would not submit to injustice even if the king ordered them to do so.
When the farmers had assembled and the meeting had begun, King Olaf
stood up and at 
rst spoke graciously to them. However, it was clear from his
speech that he intended to make them Christians. He began by asking them
pleasantly, but concluded by saying that anyone who opposed him and refused
to submit to his commands would incur his anger and suffer punishment and
harsh treatment, wherever he could lay hands on them.
After King Olaf had 
nished speaking, the most eloquent of the farmers
chosen to answer him stood up. However, when he tried to speak, he began
to cough and became so choked up that he could not get a word out, so he sat
down again. Then the second farmer stood up, determined not to make a mess
of his answer, even though the 
rst man had not done too well. But when he
began his speech, he stammered so much that he could not get a word out.
Everyone who heard him started to laugh, and so the farmer sat down. Then
the third man stood up to oppose King Olaf, but when he began speaking he
was so hoarse and husky that no one could hear what he was saying, and so he,
too, sat down. Then there was no one to speak out against the king, and when
there was no opposition from the farmers, there was no uprising against him.
In the event, everyone obeyed the king’s orders and they were all baptized
before the king went on his way.
. King Olaf summoned his troops to the Gulathing because the farm-
ers had sent word to him that they would respond to his demands there. But
when both sides arrived at the assembly, King Olaf expressed a wish to confer
with the chieftains 
rst. When they had all assembled, King Olaf stated his
purpose and required them to be baptized as he had ordered. Then Olmod
the Old replied.
“We kinsmen have discussed this matter among ourselves,” he said, “and
we have all agreed on the same course of action. If it’s your intention, king, to
compel us to violate our laws and to force us into submission, we will oppose
you with all our strength, and let fate award the victory. If, however, you are
willing to do something to further our interests, then you will succeed in win-
ning us over to your side and we’ll be your faithful subjects.”
“What are you demanding of me in return for a complete reconciliation?”
asked the king.
“First, that you give your sister, Astrid, in marriage to our kinsman, Erling
Skjalgsson, whom we regard as the most promising young man in Norway,”
replied Olmod. King Olaf replied that the marriage would probably be a good
the viking age: a reader
By then, everyone had turned up except Ingjald from Keld. The Vigfussons
had harsh words for him, but Flosi asked them not to malign Ingjald in his
absence. “However,” he said, “we’ll make him pay later.”
. Now the tale turns to Njal’s farm at Bergthorshval. The brothers Helgi
and Grim left Bergthorshval and went to Holar where their children were
being fostered. They told their father, Njal, that they would not be back that
night. The brothers spent the whole day at Holar. Some beggar women turned
up there, saying that they had come a long way. Grim and Helgi asked them
if they had any news. The women said they had no real news, but they could
tell something unusual was going on. The brothers asked the women what
they meant and entreated them not to hide anything. The women said they
“When we were coming down from Fljotshlid,” they said, “we saw all the
Vigfussons riding fully armed. There were 
fteen of them altogether and they
were heading up to Thrihyrning Ridge. We also saw Grani Gunnarson and
Gunnar Lambason in a group of 
ve all riding in the same direction. It could
be said that the whole countryside is on the move at the moment.”
“Then Flosi must have arrived from the east,” said Helgi Njalson, “and
all the others are going to join him. Grim, we should be at home with our
brother Skarphedin.”
Grim agreed and they returned home.
Meanwhile at Bergthorshval, Bergthora, Njal’s wife, spoke to her house-
hold, “You must all choose your own food tonight and everyone is to have what
he likes best, for this is the last evening I will serve food to my household.”
“That won’t happen,” said the people standing near. “It will happen,” she
answered, “and I could tell you about a lot more if I wanted to. But this will
be a sign: Grim and Helgi will come home this evening before people have
nished eating. If this comes true, so will the rest of what I say.” Then she
carried food to the table.
“This is very strange,” said Njal. “It seems to me that I can see all around
the room, and it looks as if both gable walls have collapsed; and the table and
the food are soaked in blood.” This seemed ominous to everyone but Skarphe-
din. He told them not to despair or indulge in any discreditable behavior that
people could talk about. “We have a greater obligation to behave well than
other people do,” said Skarphedin, “and that’s only to be expected.”
To everyone’s astonishment, Grim and Helgi returned home before the
tables had been cleared away. When Njal asked why they had come back so
soon, they told him what they had heard. Njal told everyone not to go to bed
that night.

. Now the story turns to Flosi. He said to his men, “We’ll ride to Berg-
thorshval now and get there before supper-time.” There is a valley in the knoll
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
it moves under oars
like an eagle with wings spread wide. . . .

Great ships took on new signi cance in the turbulent era of Norwegian politics of the
late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. King Sverrir of Norway had the
constructed in the early
s, and the ship played an important role in the battle of
Fimreite (Norafjord) in
(see doc.
d). From
Sverrir’s Saga .
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Sverris saga
, ed. Þorleifur Hauksson, Íslenzk fornrit XXXV
), pp.

. During the summer in which King Sverrir captured the ships in Bergen,
the building of the
Horse-ght from

Throwing Game from
Bard’s Saga

Games at Sand from
Hord’s Saga

Entertainment at a Wedding Feast at Reykjaholar from

Mock Lawsuits from
The Saga of the People of Ljosavatn

The Burning of Njal

Thormod Kolbrunarskald


Early Missions to the North: The Life of Saint Anskar

Tryggvason and the Conversion of Norway

The Christianization of Norway under Saint Olaf

The Conversion of the Icelanders

The Conversion of Greenland

The Conversion of Orkney

Christianity in Sweden

Christianity and the Church in Norway

The Travels of King Sigurd, Jerusalem-Farer

The Journey of Abbot Nikolas Bergsson from Iceland
to Jerusalem

Harald Finehair and the Unication of Norway

State-Making in Denmark: The Jelling Stone

State-Making in Denmark: Unication and Expansion

The Martyrdom of Alfeah (Saint Alphege)

Knut the Great and the North Sea Empire

The Earldom of Orkney at Its Zenith


The Battle of Clontarf,

The Battle of Stamford Bridge,


Gautrek’s Saga

ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
They sailed on for two days after that until they saw land for a second time.
Again they asked if Bjarni thought this was Greenland. He replied that he
thought this was no more Greenland than the last place. “For there are said to
be massive glaciers in Greenland,” he said.
They quickly approached this place and saw that it was  at and wooded.
At that point, the favorable wind died away. After some discussion among
themselves the crew announced that it would be a good idea to go ashore here,
but Bjarni refused. The crew thought that they needed both wood and water.
“You’ve no shortage of either,” said Bjarni and gave his crew the rough side
of his tongue. They obeyed his orders to raise the sail and turned the prow
out to sea, away from land. For three days they sailed with a southwesterly
wind and saw land on the third. This land was high and had a glacier, so they
asked Bjarni if he would let them go ashore here, but he said no. “I think this
land looks unpromising,” he said. They didn’t lower the sail and followed the
coastline only to discover that it was an island.
Once again they headed out to sea with the same wind behind them. But
the wind blew more and more strongly, so Bjarni ordered the sail to be reefed
and not to be raised so much that either the ship or its rigging was in danger.
They sailed four more days and sighted land on the fourth. Then the crew
asked if he thought this was Greenland or not.
“This place is most like what I’ve been told about Greenland, and we’ll head
for shore here,” said Bjarni. They did so and made land beside a headland in
the evening. There was a ship at the headland. Herjolf, Bjarni’s father, lived
by the headland which took its name from him and ever since has been called
Herjolf’s Ness. Bjarni went to his father’s house. He gave up sailing and stayed
with his father while Herjolf lived. After his father’s death, he continued liv-
ing there.
. Bjarni Herjolfsson traveled from Greenland to meet Earl Eirik. The
earl made him welcome, and Bjarni told him about his journey and about the
lands he had seen. However, he had no real information about these places,
so people thought he was lacking in curiosity, and he attracted some criticism
for this. Bjarni became one of the earl’s retainers, and the following summer
he returned to Greenland.
Everyone was now talking about voyages of exploration. Leif, the son of
Eirik the Red from Brattahlid, went to see Bjarni Herjolfsson and bought his
ship. He assembled a crew of thirty-
ve and invited his father to lead the expe-
dition. Eirik was reluctant, saying that he was getting on in years and could no
longer bear the hardships of seafaring as he had done in the past. Leif answered
that his father still brought better luck than any of his kinsmen, so Eirik gave
in. When everything was ready, he left home on horseback, but a short dis-
tance from the ship, his horse stumbled and he was thrown, injuring his foot.

the viking age: a reader
the county of Rüstringen, so that he would be able to 
nd refuge there with
his possessions if he were ever in danger. . . .
. . . . In the meantime the kings of the Danes, that is, the sons of Godo-
frid, deprived Heriold of his share in the kingship and forced him to leave
Nordmannia. . . .

. . . . Near the border of Nordmannia in the meantime negotiations were
planned to ratify the peace between Norsemen and Franks and to discuss the
affair of Heriold. For this business counts and margraves came from almost all of
Saxony. But Heriold was too thirsty for action. He broke the peace that had been
agreed upon and con
rmed by hostages, and burned and pillaged some small
villages of the Norsemen. Upon hearing this the sons of Godofrid immediately
gathered troops. Our people were stationed on the bank of the River Eider,
not expecting any trouble. The sons of Godofrid advanced toward the march,
crossed the river, and attacked the Franks, driving them out of their castle and
putting them to  ight. They took everything from them and retreated with all
their forces to their camp. Then they deliberated how to ward off revenge for
this action. They dispatched an embassy to the emperor and explained that need
had compelled them against their will to do this, that they were now ready to
give satisfaction, and that it was entirely up to the emperor how amends should
be made in order to preserve the peace between the two parties. . . .

. . . . The emperor, delayed by various affairs, remained at Aachen until
nally decided to depart with his retinue for the general assembly to
be held at Worms in August. But before he left he received the news that the
Norseman planned to invade Saxony on the far side of the Elbe and that their
army was approaching our borders. On hearing this he sent into all parts of
Francia, ordering the general levy of his people to follow him as fast as they could
to Saxony. He announced at the same time that he planned to cross the Rhine
at Neuss about the middle of July. . . . But when he found out that the rumor
about the Norsemen was false, he came to Worms in the middle of August, as
had been planned before. . . .

Annals of St-Bertin
covers the years
and is an important source for the
three: early religion and belief
who came closest to equaling him in wisdom and witchcraft. But many other
people took up sorcery too, and the practice of witchcraft spread far and wide
and survived for a long time. People sacri
ced to Odin and the twelve chief-
tains [the Æsir]; they regarded them as their gods, and believed in them for a
long time afterwards. The name Audun is derived from Odin, and many men
give their sons that name, just as the name Thor is the basis for Thorir and
Thorarin, or is combined with other words, as in Steinthor or Hafthor, or is
altered in a variety of ways.

Odin is presented in “Eirik’s Poem” (“Eiríksmál”) as the ruler of Valhalla, where he
welcomes warriors slain in battle. The warrior welcomed here is Eirik Bloodax, king of
Norway and son of Harald Finehair. Eirik was deposed by his brother Hakon and later
became king of Northumbria in England. The poem was probably commissioned by
Queen Gunnhild, Eirik’s wife, after his death at the Battle of Stainmore in England
. The poem is incomplete, but it offers a contemporary glimpse of pre-Christian
beliefs. Both Eirik and Gunnhild were at least nominally Christian.

Ágrip af Noregskonunga Sögum: Fagurskinna—Noregs Konunga Tal
, ed. Bjarni Einarsson, Íslenzk
fornrit XXIX (Reykjavik,
), pp.
. Odin said:
“What are these dreams?
At dawn, I saw myself
clearing Valhalla
for the coming of the slain;
I awoke the Einherjar,
told them to get up,
to put straw on benches,
and to wash out beer-mugs,
told Valkyries to bring wine,
as if a warlord was coming;
from the home of man
I await heroes,
noble-hearted men
to gladden my heart.”

. Bragi said:
“What thunders there
four: women in the viking age
Flosi was so infuriated that his face was by turns red as blood, pale as ashes,
and black as hell. He and his men went to their horses and rode off. He rode
to Holtsvad where he waited for the Sigfussons and some other friends. . . .

. . . . Flosi said, “Now I’ll tell you all I have in mind: when we’ve gath-
ered there, we’ll all ride in a group to Bergthorshval and attack the Njalssons
re and iron. . . .”
the viking age: a reader
the viking age: a reader
it not the apprehension of us all, nay the sight before the eyes of each, that not
one will have been left any longer to survive, so that not even the 
can escape the calamity to tell the tale? Verily, sins diminish tribes, and sin is
like a two-edged sword for those who indulge in it. We were delivered from
evils which often had us held; we should have been thankful, but we showed
no gratitude. We were saved, and remained heedless; we were protected, and
were contemptuous. For these things punishment was to be feared. O cruel
and heedless minds, worthy to suffer every misfortune and distress! From
those who owed us small and tri ing things we made relentless exaction;
we chastised them. We forgot to be grateful when the bene
t had gone by.
Nor did we pity our neighbors because we had been pardoned ourselves. But
in being freed from the impending fears and dangers, we became yet more
cruel to them, and we neither considered the number and magnitude of our
own debts which the Savior had forgiven, nor did we respect the debt of our
fellow-servants, tiny as it was, and not to be weighed against our own even
in the measure of speech. Having been ourselves mercifully delivered from
many great debts, we unmercifully enslaved others for little ones. We enjoyed
ourselves, and grieved others; we were glori
ed, and dishonored others; we
grew strong and throve, while waxing insolent and foolish. We became fat,
gross and thick, and although we do not forsake God as Jacob of old, yet like
the beloved one, we have been 
lled and we kicked, and like a maddened heifer
we raged against the Lord’s commandments, and we disdained his ordinances.
For this reason there is a sound of war and great destruction in our land. For
this reason the Lord hath opened his treasury and brought forth the weapons
of his anger. For this reason a people has crept down from the north, as if it
were attacking another Jerusalem, and nations have been stirred up from the
end of earth, holding bow and spear; the people is 
erce and has no mercy;
its voice is as the roaring sea. We have heard the report of them, or rather we
have beheld their massed aspect, and our hands have waxed feeble; anguish
has seized us, and pangs as a woman in travail. . . .
. . . I am far from enumerating all the thefts and robberies, the fornications
and adulteries, and all those other unspeakable deeds, excellent and durable
fuel for this 
re that has been kindled and poured around us. I know that
now as you revolve these matters, you mourn and look downcast. But time is
pressing, the Judge incorruptible, the danger terrible, the mass of sins great,
and the repentance insuf
cient. Often I have sown words of reproof, words of
threat in your ears, but, it seems, they grew up amidst thorns. I implored you,
I castigated you. Often have I pointed out to you the ashes of the Sodomites,
and the 
ood that went before, when the earth was covered with the waters,
and the universal destruction of the human race was effected. Often have
I represented the Jewish people, the chosen one, the beloved one, the royal
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement

Scandinavian settlement in Orkney and Shetland is undocumented in contemporary
the viking age: a reader
Understanding the Vikings begins with understanding the word “Viking”
itself. In Old Norse (ON), the noun
means a sea-borne pirate or raider;
means a sea-borne raid. The word Viking is, then, in the technical sense,
a job description, and it was a part-time job at that, since Viking expeditions
were undertaken seasonally by farmers, 
shermen, merchants, and the like, as
a means of supplementing their income. Few Scandinavians of the Viking Age
would have thought of themselves, or would have been described by others,
as Vikings. In fact, out of all those who suffered at the hands of marauding
Scandinavians, only the Anglo-Saxons actually named them
designations in contemporary British and Irish, and European, records include
the terms “Northmen,” “foreigners,” and “heathens,” the latter a reference to
the fact that at the dawn of the Viking Age the Scandinavians had yet to be
converted to Christianity. It was not until the nineteenth century, following
the “rediscovery” of the Icelandic sagas and eddas and their translation into
English, that the term Viking passed into common English use. Today the
usefulness of the term is a subject of debate among academics. In this collec-
tion, however, we adopt the term in its widely accepted sense as a descriptor
for the peoples of Scandinavia in the period from the late eighth to the eleventh
centuries, not just for those who undertook sea-borne raiding; we use the terms
“Norse” and “Norsemen” in the same sense.
Vikings, then, were raiders, traders, farmers, and, later, settlers; the activi-
ties were closely intertwined. In the course of the Viking diaspora, Norsemen
(and women) traveled westward across the North Atlantic to North America
and eastward down the Russian river systems to Constantinople (modern-
day Istanbul) and into the Islamic world. Scandinavian trade 
owed through
Hedeby in Denmark, Visby and Birka in Sweden, Kaupang in Norway,
Novgorod in Russia, Kiev in the Ukraine, York in England, and Dublin in
Ireland. Scandinavians were thus important traders from the Caspian Sea to
Greenland. Accordingly, this text aims to capture the astonishing geographic
scope of the Viking world by including materials relating to all of these regions.
The Viking Age is generally considered to have begun in the late eighth
century with the dramatic explosion of Scandinavian raiding parties onto the
European stage. The destruction of Lindisfarne Abbey in Northumbria in the
summer of
ed Europe and, along with other raids like it, shaped the
European perception of the Vikings for many centuries. For several decades
Viking raiding parties terrorized most of northern Europe, using hit-and-run
tactics to target monasteries where they could lay hands on easily portable
wealth, along with captives who could be enslaved or ransomed. But, within
years of the earliest recorded raids, raiding gave way to permanent
settlement in Britain, Ireland, and the Continent, as well as the North Atlantic
islands of the Faeroes, Iceland, and Greenland, which were given the names
the viking age: a reader
make up your own mind, Thorolf. I am quite con
dent that if you join up
with Harald’s retainers you will prove yourself up to the mark and equal to
any test of courage. Just take care not to be too headstrong, and don’t compete
with men greater than yourself, though you mustn’t give in to them either.”
When Thorolf was ready to leave, Kveld-Ulf saw him to his ship. He
embraced him, and wished him a fond farewell and a safe reunion.
. At Torgar in Halogaland there lived a man called Bjorgolf, a landed man,
powerful and rich. By descent, he was half mountain-giant, as was clear from
his strength and size. He had a son just like himself, Brynjolf by name. Bjorgolf
was old and his wife was dead. He had transferred control of all his affairs to
his son and had sought a wife for him. Brynjolf married Helga, daughter of
Ketil Trout from Hrafnista. They had a son named Bard who, from an early
age, was well-built and handsome and developed into a man of outstanding
One autumn Bjorgolf and his son held a feast at Torgar. Many people came,
but the father and son were the most distinguished men present. Every evening,
as was the custom, people were paired by lot for drinking. At the feast there was
a man called Hogni who farmed on Leka. He was very rich, handsome, and
clever, but he was of humble birth, a self-made man. He had a very beautiful
daughter called Hildirid who drew the lot to sit beside Bjorgolf. They found
plenty to talk about in the course of the evening and he thought her an attrac-
tive girl. Shortly afterwards, the feast ended.
That same autumn, old Bjorgolf and thirty of his men set sail from home
in a ship he owned. He arrived at Leka and went up to the house with twenty
men while the other ten guarded the ship. When they reached the farm, Hogni
came out to meet him and welcomed him warmly. He invited Bjorgolf and his
crew to stay there. Bjorgolf accepted and they went into the living room. When
they had taken off their outdoor clothes and put on tunics, Hogni had a large
vessel of ale brought in and Hildirid the farmer’s daughter served the guests.
Bjorgolf called Hogni to him and said, “I’m here to take your daughter
home with me and I want to have an informal wedding with her right now.”
Hogni could see no other choice than to let Bjorgolf do what he wanted.
So Bjorgolf bought her for an ounce of gold and they went to bed together.
Then Bjorgolf took Hildirid home to Torgar. Brynjolf had nothing good to
say about the business.
Bjorgolf and Hildirid had two sons, Harek and Hroerek. Then Bjorgolf
died and, no sooner was he carried out for burial, than Brynjolf sent Hildirid
and her sons on their way. She went back to her father on Leka and her sons
were brought up there. They were handsome men, small in stature and intel-
ligent like their mother’s kin. Everyone referred to them as the Hildiridar-
sons. Brynjolf had little regard for them and allowed them nothing from their
the viking age: a reader
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
its badly wounded crew. That summer, no fewer than twenty ships and their
crews were lost along the south coast. . . .
]. In this year, Alfred Athul
ng [son of Athelwulf ] died six days
before All Saints’ Day. He was king over all England except for the part under
Danish control. He ruled that kingdom for twenty-eight and a half years. . . .

, King Edmund of East Anglia was martyred by the Great Army under the leader-
ship of Ivar the Boneless and Ubbi, sons of Ragnar Hairy-Breeches.The event was noted
in the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
(see above), but the saint’s life was written by Abbo,
abbot of Fleury (ca
), and translated into elegant English prose by Ælfric, abbot
of Eynsham (ca
), an Anglo-Saxon scholar and teacher second only to Bede.

Source: Ælfric of Eynsham, “The Passion of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr,”
Ælfric’s Lives of Saints

The Voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan

Description of the Islands of the North


The Lay of Rig (Rígsþula)
Politics in Harald Finehair’s Norway

Hoskuld Buys a Slave

How the Hersir Erling Treated His Slaves


The Norse Creation-Myth


Odin’s Wisdom and Arts
Odin Welcomes Eirik Bloodax to Valhalla

Odin Hangs on Yggdrasil

Odin and Human Sacrice

Sigurd, the Earl of Lade, Sacrices to the Gods

The Temple at Uppsala

Temple in Iceland

King Harald Gormsson and the Land-Spirits

Norse Funeral Practices

Snorri’s History of Burial Practices

Odin Orders Cremation and Becomes a God

Gunnar’s Burial Mound

The Living Dead

Gunnar’s Posthumous Poem

the viking age: a reader
“They’re blunt and badly hacked,” someone replied. The king got down
from the quarter-deck and opened the chest under the high seat. He took many
sharp swords from it and handed them out. But when he reached down with
his right hand, his men noticed that blood was running out from under his
mail sleeve. No one knew where he was wounded.

. Aboard the
Long Serpent
, the 
ercest and bloodiest defense came from
the men stationed just below the quarter-deck and from those 
ghting in the
bow, for in both places the men were specially selected, and the ship was high
above the water. The men amidships had fallen  rst. When only a few of them
were left standing around the mast, Earl Eirik decided to board the
, and
fourteen men went with him. They were attacked by Hyrning, King Olaf’s
brother-in-law, and a group of his followers. The ensuing 
ght was 
erce and
ended with Eirik’s retreat to
Some of the men who accompanied him
were killed, others were wounded. Thord Kolbeinsson says:
Blood-showered were the shields
of the helmeted host. . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Protecting his prince
with his steel sword,
Hyrning gained glory that will last
till the hall of the high hills [heaven] falls.
ght grew even more bitter and many men died aboard the
When the defenders of the
had been thinned out, Earl Eirik
decided to board for the second time, but again he met with stiff resistance.
When the men at the bows of the
saw the boarding, they made their
way aft and mounted a desperate defense against the earl. Aboard the
Long Ser-
, so many men had fallen that the sides of the ship were almost undefended.
Seeing this, the earl’s men boarded in large numbers, while all the defenders
of the
who were still on their feet joined the king in the stern. Halldor
the Heathen says that Earl Eirik urged on his men:
Olaf’s men 
ed aft,
back among the benches,
as Earl Eirik urged on
his battle-tough band.
Eirik the gold-giver’s 
the viking age: a reader
The Gold-giver got ready
for war, west of London;
the famous sea-farer
ercely for land;
blue-edged blades shivered
over the housekarls’ heads
when Ulfkell endured
a staggering stroke.
Earl Eirik fought another battle against the English at Ringmere. As Thord Kol-
beinsson says:
Often, the bold shield-shaker scarred
soldiers’ limbs with the sword edge,
glutted grim ravens
with bloated bodies;
to the English, bold Eirik
dealt death,
reducing their ranks,
and reddening Ringmere Heath.
Earl Eirik won this battle. Thord Kolbeinsson says more about his campaign in
The raven-rewarders [Danes],
long loathed in the land,
came ashore early from their ships,
entered England.
The farmers raised a force
to defend their dwellings;
the soldiers of the sword-prince [Knut]
braved them in battle.
. King Knut besieged London. King Emund and his brothers defended it
while messengers went to and fro between them. King Knut had married their
mother, Queen Emma, and so hostages were exchanged and a truce was called
to allow for discussion and the negotiation of a more permanent treaty. In the
consultations that followed, an agreement was reached to the effect that the
kingdom would be divided in two and that each of them would have half as long
as they were both alive, but if one of them died childless, the survivor would
inherit the whole kingdom unopposed. This treaty was con
rmed by oaths.
the viking age: a reader
the viking age: a reader
“Tóla had this stone raised in memory of her son Haraldr, Ingvarr’s
brother. They traveled valiantly far for gold, and in the east gave (food)
to the eagle. (They) died in the south in Serkland.”
+ a—itr: auk * ka(r) auk: kiti: auk: -[
]isi: auk * tiarfr: ris[t]u: stain: þena:
aftir: kunlaif: foþur sin is u[a]s nus(t)(r) * m[i](þ) ikuari: tribin kuþ:
hialbi: o(t) þaira al-ikr| |raistik * runar is kuni + ual * knari stura
“Andvéttr and Kár&#xkiti;r and kiti and Blesi and Djarfr raised this stone
in memory of Gunnleifr, their father, who was killed in the east with
Ingvarr. May God help their spirits. Alríkr(?), I carved the runes. He
could steer a cargo-ship well.”
sun sin × is ati × ain × sir × skib × auk × austr × stu[rþi ×] i × ikuars
× raist
and Holmlaug had all of these stones raised in memory of Banki/
Baggi, their son, who alone owned a ship and steered to the east in Ing-
the viking age: a reader
two: scandinavian society
. There was a man called Ulf Bjalfason. His mother was Hallbera, daughter of
Ulf the Fearless. She was the sister of Hallbjorn Halftroll from Hrafnista, father
five: viking warriors and their weapons
let’s bathe swords in blood;
we’ll dock Ljot’s life,
play harshly with the pale one,
silence the bold warrior with our weapons,
let the eagle feed on his 
Then Ljot stepped forward into the dueling ground and they attacked one
another. Egil slashed at Ljot, who parried with his shield, but Egil’s blows came
so fast that Ljot couldn’t get in a return blow. He drew back to give himself
room to strike, but Egil stayed right with him, delivering blows ferociously
until Ljot 
ed beyond the marker stones and ran far into the 
eld. That is how
rst round went. Then Ljot asked for a break, and Egil acquiesced. So they
stopped and, while they rested, Egil recited:
Greedy for gain, Ljot,
the scatterer of sword’s 
the hapless hero
falls back in fear;
bloodied, he balks at battle,
fails to stand 
 ees far a
eld from
the bald-headed bard.
According to the rules of dueling in those days, when one man challenged
another, the challenger would receive whatever was in dispute as the prize of
victory if he won. But, if he lost, he had to pay an agreed amount as ransom.
If he died in the duel, he forfeited all his property and the man who had killed
him inherited it. It was also the law that if a foreigner died without heirs in
the country, his inheritance went into the king’s treasury.
Egil told Ljot to get ready. “Let’s 
ght this duel to a 
nish,” he said. Then,
Egil ran at Ljot, struck him, and pressed up so close to him that he fell back,
and his shield slipped to the side. Immediately, Egil struck Ljot just above the
knee and cut off his leg. Ljot fell down dead on the spot. Egil went over to
Frithgeir and the others and they thanked him profusely for what he had done.
Then Egil recited:
The skald severed Ljot’s leg;
the doer of evil deeds died,
fell to feed wolves.
The poet gave Frithgeir peace;
I sought for myself
twelve: from odin to christ
Then Olaf summoned his maternal uncles, his step-father, Lodin, and his
kinsmen Thorgeir and Hyrning. He suggested to them very earnestly that they
should join him and give him their full support in establishing Christianity
throughout his kingdom. He said that he would bring about the Christianiza-
tion of Norway or die in the attempt.
“I shall make you important and powerful men,” said Olaf, “for I have
the greatest trust in you because of our kinship and our other ties.” They all
agreed that they—and everyone willing to follow their advice—would do
whatever he asked and support him in whatever he proposed. Olaf immedi-
ately informed all his people that he would impose Christianity on everyone
in his kingdom. Those who had been Christians before were the 
rst to accept
the king’s bidding. They were also the most powerful of those present, and
everyone followed their example.
When everyone in the eastern part of the Vik was baptized, King Olaf
moved to the northern part and ordered the population there to accept Chris-
tianity. He in icted terrible punishments on those who opposed him: some
were killed, some were mutilated, and others were driven from the country.
So it came about, as King Olaf had ordered, that Christianity was accepted
by all the people throughout the territory formerly ruled by his father, King
Tryggvi, and also in the territory of his kinsman, Harald Grenski. Thus, in
the course of that summer and the following winter, everyone in the Vik was
converted to Christianity.
. In early spring, King Olaf set out from the Vik with a large army and
headed west to Agder. Wherever he held a meeting with the farmers, he gave
orders for everyone to be baptized. The people submitted to Christianity
because none of the farmers dared rebel against King Olaf and so, wherever
he went, everyone was baptized.
In Hordaland, there were many noble men descended from Horda-Kari. He
had four sons: 
rst was Thorleif Spaki [the Wise]; second came Ogmund, the
father of Thorolf Skjalg [the Squinter] who was the father of Erling from Soli;
the third son was Thord, the father of Klypp the Hersir [local chieftain, lord]
who killed Sigurd the Snake, the son of Gunnhild; the fourth was Olmod, the
father of Askel, the father of Aslak Fitjaskalli. This family was the greatest and
noblest in Hordaland in those days.
Now, when these kinsmen heard the troubling news—that the king was
making his way through the country from the east with a large army, abolish-
ing the old laws, and that everyone who resisted him had to endure punishment
and harsh treatment—then they set up a meeting to work out their strategy,
because they knew that the king would soon be upon them. They agreed
among themselves that they should all go in a great body to the Gulathing and
that they should arrange to meet King Olaf Tryggvason there.
viking life and death
“Is it true,” she asked, “that you have sworn to attack Njal and his sons and
kill them?” “It is true,” he replied.
“What a vile wretch you are,” she said, “considering that Njal has saved you
from outlawry three times.” “But as things stand now,” he responded, “I’ll pay
with my life if I don’t keep my word.”
“That’s not true,” she said. “You’ll go on living and be reckoned an honor-
able man if you don’t betray the man who deserves most from you.”
Then, she took a tattered and blood-stained linen hood from her purse.
“Hoskuld Njalsson was wearing this hood when they killed him,” she said.
“I think it re
ects badly on you to help the people responsible.”
“Alright,” replied Ingjald. “I won’t take sides against Njal whatever the
consequences. But I know that they will make trouble for me.”
“You could help Njal greatly if you warned him about their plans,” said
“I won’t do that,” he answered, “because I would be despised by everyone
if I revealed what was told to me in con
dence. I can, though, in all honor
pull out of this business, since I know they will take revenge. But tell Njal and
his sons that it would be a good idea to be on their guard this summer and to
have plenty of men on hand.”
After that, Hrodny went to Bergthorshval and related the entire conversa-
tion to Njal. Njal thanked her and said she had done well: “For it would be
especially wicked for him, of all men, to be against me.” She returned home
and Njal told his sons what she had said. . . .
. Two months before winter, Flosi got ready to travel west and sum-
moned all the men who had promised to go with him. Each of them had two
horses and good weapons. They all came to Svinafell and stayed there over-
night. Early on Sunday, Flosi had prayers said and then he sat down to eat. He
told his servants what work each of them was to do in his absence. After that,
he went to his horses.
Flosi and his men rode west to Lomagnup Sand. He ordered them not to
ride too fast at 
rst, but told them they would speed up toward the end of the
journey. He said that if anyone had to stop, the others should all wait. They
rode west to Skogahverf and arrived at Kirkjubae where Flosi asked all his men
to come to church and say their prayers. They did so.
Then they mounted their horses and rode uphill as far as Fish Lakes. They
rode to the west of the lakes, and then headed west for Maelifell Sand. Keep-
ing Eyjafell Glacier on their left, they made their way down to Godaland, and
on to Markar
jot. At the hour of nones [
pm] on the second day of the
week, they arrived at Thrihyrning Ridge and waited there until midevening.
the viking age: a reader
. That winter, King Harald called up a full levy throughout Norway and,
when spring came, a large army assembled. Then King Harald had the great
ship launched in the River Nid and had the dragon carvings mounted in place.
Thjodolf the skald [poet, court poet] said:
Fair maid, I saw the ship slide
from the river’s side to the sea.
Behold the planks of the proud dragon
lying off the land.
Over the ship shines the
serpent’s mane, streaming light;
bow and stern bore pure gold
as she sped from the slipway.
Then King Harald  tted out the ship and, when everything was ready for his
journey, he steered the ship out of the river. The men rowed in perfect unison,
as Thjodolf says:
The army’s leader cast the long
awning aside that Saturday;
the proud serpent-ship sails
as women watch from the town.
West, the powerful young warrior
steered his shining new ship
from the river; the rowing warriors
sliced their oars through the sea.
Lord Harald’s army lifts
the straight oars from the sea;
the women stand and wonder at the
men’s mastery of the oars.
We’ll pull pitch-blackened oars
until they split asunder,
or oars may rest from rowing
when peace prevails.
The army will suffer sorrows
before oars rest, raised
from the swift sea where
the seventy-oared ship sails.
Norsemen row the iron-nailed
serpent over hail-swept seas;
fourteen: the end of the viking age
In the Hebrides, Earl Gilli dreamt that a man came to him, saying that his
name was Her
nn and that he had come from Ireland. The earl asked him
what news there was from Ireland, and he answered thus:
I was there, in Ireland,
when brave men battled;
swords sang out, shield met shield,
weapons clashed in the din of war;
I heard the 
ghting was 
Sigurd fell in the spear-storm,
battle-wounds bled,
Brian fell but won the 
Flosi and the earl spent a good deal of time talking about this dream.
A week later, Hrafn the Red arrived and told them what had happened at
the Battle of Clontarf. He told them about the deaths of King Brian, and Earl
Sigurd, and Brodir, and all the Vikings.
“What can you tell me about my men?” asked Flosi.
“They all died,” replied Hrafn, “except for your brother-in-law Thorstein.
He was spared by Kerthjalfad and is with him now. Halldor Gudmundarson
died there too.”


When King Edward the Confessor of England died without heirs in January of
three contenders emerged for his throne: Harold Godwinsson, earl of Wessex; William,
duke of Normandy; and Harald Sigurdarson, king of Norway. The English chose Harold
Godwinsson as king, but William and Harald began preparations to take the throne by
force. Harald of Norway struck  rst, landing in the north of England with
defeating the English at Fulford Gate and capturing York on
September. Five days
later, Harold Godwinsson surprised Harald and his Scandinavians at Stamford Bridge,
near York, and in icted a crushing defeat upon them. The death of King Harald Sigur-
darson of Norway at Stamford Bridge is often seen as symbolizing the end of the Viking
Age. It was not the last major Viking expedition overseas, but it was the end of Viking
in uence in England and was the last Viking expedition with a real chance of success.
The Saga of Harald Sigurdarson
Source: trans A.A. Somerville
from Snorri Sturluson,
Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar
ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.
Anderson, A.O.,
ed. and trans.
“Martyrdom of Blathmac,” from
Early Sources of
Scottish History
Oliver and Boyd,
. Stamford: Paul Wat-

Christiansen, E., ed. “Causes of Viking Expansion” and “Normandy Granted to
Rollo,” from
History of the Normans
by Dudo of St. Quentin. Woodbridge:

. Reprinted by permission of Boydell & Brewer Ltd.
Cross, S.H. and O.P. Sherbowitz
imary Chronicle Laurentian Text.
Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of

. Reprinted by permission of
The Mediev
al Academy of
Dutton, P.E., ed. “Annals of St
aast,” from
Carolingian Civilization: A Reader
onto Press.
Holman, K. Excerpt from
Scandinavian Runic Inscriptions in the British Isles: Their
Historical Context.
Trondheim: Tapir,

. Reprinted by permission
Tapir Pub
Jenkins, R.J.H., trans. “
,” from
De Administrando Imperio, Volume I
Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Edited by G. Moravesik. New revised ed.,
Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks,

. Reprinted by permission of
the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.
MacNiocaill, G., trans. Excerpts from
The Annals of Ulster (To
by S. MacAirt. Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies,

. Reprinted
by permission of the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Ad
vanced Studies.
Mango, Cyril, trans. Excerpts from “Homily III,” from
The Homilies of Photius Pa
triarch of Constantinople.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,

Copyright ©

by the Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard University Press.
the viking age: a reader
of these Viking voyages to North America.
The Saga of the Greenlanders
relates a
total of 
ve successful voyages and one abortive voyage to Vinland, while
Eirik the Red’s
recounts two successful journeys and one abortive attempt. As well as the family
of Eirik the Red, the family of Thor nn Karlsefni and Gudrid Thorbjarnardaughter
(see doc.
) are the principal characters involved in the exploration and exploitation of
Vinland. Both sagas mention the descendants of Thor nn and Gudrid and are thought
to re ect family tradition.

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
Eyrbyggja saga
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and
Matthías Þórðarson, Íslenzk fornrit IV (Reykjavík,
), pp.

seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
the sea, made friends with the sons of Godofrid, and coaxed them to send an
army into Saxony beyond the Elbe. Their 
eet came up the Elbe as far as the
castle of Esesfeld and ravaged the entire bank of the River Stör. Gluomi, com-
mander of the Norse border, led his foot soldiers overland with the Obodrites
to the same castle. But since our people offered them violent resistance, they
gave up the siege of the castle and departed.

. . . . On the emperor’s order Heriold was taken to his ships by the
Obodrites and sailed back to his homeland to take over the kingdom. Two of
the sons of Godofrid are said to have made an alliance with him to share the
throne; two others were driven out of the country. But this is believed to have
been done by trickery.

. . . . From the land of the Norsemen . . . thirteen pirate vessels set out
and tried to plunder on the shores of Flanders, but were repelled by guards. But
because of the carelessness of the defenders, some wretched huts were burned
down and a small number of cattle taken away. When the Norsemen made
similar attempts on the mouth of the River Seine, the coast guards fought back,
and the pirates retreated empty-handed after losing 
ve men. Finally, on the
coast of Aquitaine they met with success, thoroughly plundered a village by
the name of Bouin, and then returned home with immense booty.

. Everything was quiet on the Danish front in this year, and Heriold was
received as partner in the rule by the sons of Godofrid. This is believed to have
caused peaceful relations among them at this time. . . .

. . . . Also Heriold came from Nordmannia, asking for help against the
sons of Godofrid, who threatened to drive him out of his country. To explore
this matter more thoroughly Counts Theothari and Hruodmund were sent
to the sons of Godofrid. Traveling ahead of Heriold they carefully studied
the dispute with the sons of Godofrid as well as the condition of the whole
kingdom of the Norsemen and informed the emperor of all that they could
nd out in those lands. They returned with Archbishop Ebbo of Reims, who
had gone to preach in the land of the Danes on the counsel of the emperor
and with the approval of the Roman pontiff and had baptized many converts
to the faith during the previous summer.
. . . . the emperor left Aachen in the middle of May and arrived at
Ingelheim about June
. He held an assembly there that was heavily attended,
receiving and dismissing many embassies from various countries. . . . The
envoys of the sons of Godofrid, king of the Danes, had also been sent there to
make peace and clinch an alliance. . . .
At the same time Heriold came with his wife and a great number of Danes
and was baptized with his companions at St. Alban’s in Mainz. The emperor
presented him with many gifts before he returned home through Frisia, the
route by which he had come. In this province, one county was given to him,
the viking age: a reader
as though thousands are on the move,
as though a mighty host comes?
Benches creak and groan
as if Baldr is coming home
to Odin’s hall.”

Odin rides to Valhalla on Sleipnir. Picture stone from Tjängvide, Gotland,
eighth century. Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, was borne by the god Loki while he
was disguised as a mare.
Source: Paul B. du Chaillu,
The Viking Age
vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

, p.
the viking age: a reader
he shoved the high seat onto the  oor. “I’m not a king or an earl,” he said,
“so I don’t need to have a high seat under me. And there’s no need to make
fun of me either.”
Hildigunn was standing nearby and replied, “It’s a pity you’re not pleased,
because we acted with the best of intentions.”
Flosi answered, “If you mean well, your good intentions will speak for
themselves: if you mean ill, your evil intentions will condemn themselves.”
Hildigunn laughed bitterly. “This is just the beginning,” she said. “We’ll
grapple more closely before this is over.” She sat down beside Flosi and they
talked quietly for a long time.
After a while the tables were set up, and Flosi and his men washed their
hands. Flosi looked at the hand towel; it was in tatters and torn at one end.
Not wishing to dry himself with it, he 
ung it down on the bench. Then he
hacked a piece from the tablecloth, dried himself on that, and threw it to his
men. After that, Flosi sat down at the table and told his men to eat.
Hildigunn came into the room. She walked over to Flosi, pushed the hair
back from her eyes and wept. Flosi said, “You are downcast, kinswoman, so
you are crying. But it is good to weep for a good man.”
“What legal action will you take on my behalf?” she asked. “What help
will you give me?”
“I will prosecute the case to the full extent of the law,” Flosi said, “or I’ll arrange
a settlement which good men will regard as being honorable in every respect.”
Hildigunn replied, “If Hoskuld had been obliged to take up your cause, he
would have avenged you.”
“You’re a cruel woman,” answered Flosi. “It’s clear what you want.” Hil-
digunn replied, “Arnor Ornolfsson from Forsarskogar committed less of an
offence against Thord Freysgodi [priest of Frey], your father, yet your brothers,
Kolbein and Egil, killed him for it at the Skaftafell Thing.”
Hildigunn went into the hall and opened up her chest. She took out the
cloak which Flosi had given to Hoskuld, the cloak he had been wearing when
he was killed. She had kept it there with all its dried blood. She returned to the
main room with the cloak and walked up to Flosi without saying a word. He
had eaten his 
ll and the table had been cleared. Hildigunn draped the cloak
around Flosi’s shoulders; the blood showered all over him. Then she said, “You
gave this cloak to Hoskuld, Flosi, and now I give it back to you. He was killed
in it. In the name of God and good men I urge you to avenge all the wounds
he suffered in death—or be known by everyone as the lowest of the low. I urge
this by all the powers of your Christ and by your manhood, and your courage.”
Flosi tore off the cloak and threw it in her face. “You are a real monster,”
he said. “You want us to do things that will turn out very badly for all of us.
The counsels of women are cold.”
twelve: from odin to christ
easily persuaded the pagans of the faith so that they believed in him who made
the blind see.
Impelled by these miracles, our metropolitan, forthwith obedient to the say-
ing that runs, “Look up, and lift up . . . with your eyes and see the countries;
for they are white already to harvest,” consecrated for those parts the younger
Adalward, whom he took from the choir at Bremen, a man who shone in let-
ters and for moral probity. Through legates of the most illustrious King Stenkil
he also 
xed Adalward’s see in the city of Sigtuna, which is a day’s journey
distant from Uppsala. But the way is such that, sailing the sea from Scania of
the Danes, you will arrive at Sigtuna or Björkö on the 
fth day, for they are
close together. If, however, you go by land from Scania, through the midst of
the Gothic peoples and the cities Skara, Södertelege, and Björkö, it will take
you a month to reach Sigtuna.
. Glowing with fervor, then, Adalward entered Sweden to preach the
Gospel and in a short time led to the Christian faith all in Sigtuna and round
about. He also secretly agreed with Egino, the most saintly bishop of Scania,
that they should go together to the pagan temple called Uppsala to see if they
could perhaps offer Christ some fruit of their labors there, for they would
willingly undergo every kind of torture for the sake of destroying that house
which was the seat of barbarous superstition. For, if it were torn down, or
preferably burned, the conversion of the whole nation might follow. Observ-
ing that the people murmured about this design of the confessors of God,
the most pious king Stenkil shrewdly kept them from such an undertaking,
declaring that they would at once be punished with death and he be driven
from the kingdom for bringing malefactors into the country, and that every-
one who now believed would quickly relapse into paganism, as they could see
had lately been the case in Slavia. The bishops deferred to these arguments
of the king and going through all the cities of the Goths, they broke up idols
and thereafter won many thousands of pagans to Christianity. When Adal-
ward later died in our midst, the archbishop appointed in his place a certain
Tadico of Ramelsloh, who out of love for his belly preferred even to starve at
home rather than be an apostle abroad. Let these remarks about Sweden and
its rites suf

The fourth book of Adam’s
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
includes the following discussion of Christianity in Norway.

Source: trans. F.J. Tschan, Adam of Bremen,
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
, with new
introduction by T. Reuter (New York: Columbia University Press,

), pp.

nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
He suspected that they had really been sent as spies to this kingdom of ours
rather than as seekers of our friendship, so he decided to keep them with him
the viking age: a reader
under the year
, while others doubt this association. The Icelandic saga tradition is
not entirely in agreement on his role either, but the various sagas that mention him agree
that he participated in an expedition to the Western Isles and established himself there.
On Ketil and his descendants see doc.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Eyrbyggja saga
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and Matthías Þórðarson,
Íslenzk fornrit IV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
two: scandinavian society
Then Olvir went to Kveld-Ulf and told him that the king was angry. The
only way out, he said, was for either father or son to go to the king who would
honor them greatly if they paid homage to him. Olvir spoke at length, saying
truly that the king was generous to his men and rewarded them with both
wealth and honor. Kveld-Ulf said that he had a presentiment, “that neither my
sons nor I will have much luck with this king so I won’t go to meet him. But
if Thorolf comes home in the summer, he will be easily persuaded to go to the
king and become his man. Tell the king that I will maintain friendly relations
with him and so will all the men who obey me. And if the king wants me to,
I shall keep the same right to rule on his behalf as I had from the last king.
We’ll see later how the king and I get along.”
Olvir returned and told the king that Kveld-Ulf would send one of his
sons, but that the one who was better suited was not at home. The king let the
matter rest. In summer he went across to Sogn, and in autumn he got ready
to travel north to Trondheim.
. In autumn, Thorolf Kveld-Ulfsson and Eyvind Lamb came home from
a Viking voyage and Thorolf went to live with his father. While father and
son were talking together, Thorolf asked Kveld-Ulf what Harald’s men had
wanted. Kveld-Ulf replied that the king had sent word that either he or one
of his sons should become the king’s man.
“What was your answer?” asked Thorolf.
“I said what was on my mind. I made it clear that I would never enter King
Harald’s service and that neither would you two if it were up to me. I think
that we’ll all end up dead because of that king.”
“It won’t go that way at all,” said Thorolf. “I have high hopes of earning
great honor from him, so I’m determined to go and meet the king and become
his man. I know for certain that his court is 
lled with men of the greatest valor
and I am really keen to join that company if they will have me, for those men
are better off than anyone else in this land. I have heard that the king is very
liberal with gifts of money to his men and that he’s quick to bestow advance-
ment and power on those who seem 
t for it. I’m told also that those who turn
their backs on him and refuse his friendship never amount to anything. Some
end up 
eeing the country, and others become hired workmen. You are a wise
and ambitious man, father, and I’m astonished that you are not delighted to
accept the honor the king has offered you. And if you think you can foresee
that this king will be our enemy and bring us misfortune, why didn’t you 
against him alongside the king you used to serve? I don’t think there’s any
honor at all in being neither his friend nor his enemy.”
“My predictions came true,” replied Kveld-Ulf. “Those who fought Harald
Matted-Hair north in Møre did not have a successful campaign. Likewise you
can be sure that Harald will in ict great harm on my kin. But you’ll have to
viking life and death
They repeated these remarks several times causing uproarious laughter
among the people of the household. Hoskuld was furious and struck the boy
playing Mord with a switch; it caught him in the face and broke the skin.
“Get out of here, and don’t make fools of us,” he said to the boy.
Hrut said, “Come over here to me,” and the boy did so. Hrut drew a gold
ring from his arm and gave it to the boy.
“Go now,” he said, “and don’t offend like that ever again.”
“Your generous behavior will be an example to me forever,” replied the
boy as he left.
Hrut was much praised for his behavior. They traveled west on their way
home, and the quarrels with Mord and his family were now over.
(c) The Child Is Mother of the Woman

In all of these passages, children are a disturbing presence on the edge of the adult world.
The young Hallgerd’s eyes betray the disastrous effect she will have on all around her in
the later parts of the saga.

, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk Fornrit XIV (Reykjavík,
), pp.
. . . . On one occasion, Hoskuld held a feast. His brother Hrut was there and
was seated next to him. Hoskuld had a daughter called Hallgerd, and she was
playing on the  oor with some other girls. She was tall and beautiful with 
silken hair that fell to her waist.
“Come over here to me,” Hoskuld called out to her.
She did so, and Hoskuld took her by the chin and kissed her. After she had
gone away again, Hoskuld said to Hrut, “How does the girl strike you? Don’t
you think she’s beautiful?”
Hrut sat in silence, and Hoskuld asked his question again.
This time, Hrut answered. “Certainly the girl is beautiful, and many men
will pay for it, but I don’t know how thief’s eyes got into our family.”
Hoskuld was furious and the brothers had little to do with one another for
a while.
(d) Choosing Sides in a Game

Children played the same games as adults, but separately from them. In addition to the
following passags, see doc.
b where the young Egil plays a murderous game.

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, in
, ed. Þórhallur Vilmundarson and
Bjarni Vilhjálmsson, Íslenzk fornrit XIII (Reykjavík,

), pp.

the viking age: a reader

three: early religion and belief
Preferred to fall in the 
Then the burial mound closed up again.
“Would you have believed this if anyone had told you about it?” asked
Skarphedin. “I would have believed it if Njal had told me,” replied Hogni,
“for it is said he never lies.”
“An apparition like this has great signi
cance,” said Skarphedin. “When
Gunnar himself appears and tells us that he would rather die than give in to
his enemies, he is teaching us what we should do.”
“I won’t manage to do anything unless you help me,” said Hogni. “I won’t
forget how Gunnar acted after the death of your kinsman, Sigmund,” said
Skarphedin. “I’ll give you all the help I can. My father promised Gunnar that
he would give you or Rannveig whatever help you needed.” Then they went
back to Hlidarend.
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
grew so frantic that they leapt up onto the sides of their ship, trying to kill their
antagonists with sword strokes. But few of the enemy ships lay close enough to
for sword 
ghts and most of Olaf’s men, behaving as though they
ghting on dry land, simply kept on going and went over the side and
sank under the weight of their weapons. Thus says Hallfred:
Warriors wounded in the spear-
sank down from the
Long Serpent
but they did not  inch from the 
mighty in their ringed-mail;
wherever the
Long Serpent
even guided by the greatest of steersmen,
she will long lack
king and crewmen like these.

. Einar Thambarskelf, the strongest archer there, was wielding his bow
just below the quarter-deck of the
Long Serpent.
He shot at Earl Eirik and hit
the top of the rudder just above his head with such force that the arrow-head
was completely embedded. The earl looked in Einar’s direction and asked if
anyone knew who had 
red the arrow. He had no sooner spoken than another
ew between his side and his arm and struck the steersman’s headboard
so hard that the point came through on the other side. Then the earl spoke to
a man called Finn who was a 
rst-rate archer:
“Shoot that big man standing next to the quarter-deck.” Finn shot and the
arrow hit the middle of Einar’s bow just as he was drawing it for a third time.
The bow split in two.
“What broke with so much noise?” asked King Olaf.
“Norway from your grasp, king,” answered Einar.
“It wasn’t as big a break as that,” said the king. “Take my bow and use it.”
The king threw the bow to Einar who caught it. But the moment he drew it,
the wood of the bow  exed beyond the arrow-point. “Too weak, too weak
for a king’s bow,” he cried. He threw the bow back and fought with his sword
and shield.

. King Olaf Tryggvason stood on the quarter-deck of the
Long Serpent

and spent most of the day shooting, sometimes with his bow and sometimes
with spears, which he always threw two at a time. He cast his eye the length
of his ship and noticed that his men were swinging their swords and slashing
vigorously, but the swords were not in icting many wounds.
“Why are you striking so feebly with your swords?” asked the king in a
loud voice. “I can see that they aren’t doing much damage.”
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
before Easter, which fell on the Ides of April [
April]. They remained
there until after Easter when the entire tribute was paid; the tribute was
forty-eight thousand pounds [weight in silver].
On the Saturday [
April], the [Danish] army became very angry with
the [arch]bishop because he would not promise them money and would
not allow anyone to make payments on his behalf. In addition, they were
very drunk as wine had been brought in from the south. They seized the
[arch]bishop and dragged him off to their assembly on Saturday, the octave
of Easter [the seventh day after Easter], which fell thirteen days before the
Kalends of May [
April]. At the assembly, they killed him in a shame-
ful manner. They pelted him with bones and the heads of cattle; one of
the Danes struck him on the head with the back of an ax and dispatched
his blessed soul to God’s kingdom. That blow knocked him down and his
blood poured onto the ground.
The next morning, his body was transported to London where the bishops
Eadnoth and Alfun and the citizens received him with every honor; they buried
him at St. Paul’s Cathedral where God now reveals the powers of the holy martyr.
When the tribute had been paid and the peace sealed with oaths, the
army scattered just as far and wide as it had been a compact formation
before. Then forty-
ve of the army’s ships came over to the king and prom-
ised to guard this land if he fed and clothed them.

Knýtlinga saga (The Story of the Family of Knut)
records the exploits of Knut (also
the viking age: a reader
the battle
eld blood red;
tidings of death and disaster
will spread from land to land.
. Now it is loathsome
to look around as
clouds, crimson with blood,
spread over the sky;
the high heavens will be
deep-died with men’s blood,
when the women of war [the Valkyries]
sing their songs.
. We have spoken 
ne words
concerning the young king,
we have sung him songs
of victory, Valkyries’ songs.
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
however, all give
as the date of Yngvar’s death. The Icelandic
Saga of Yngvar
the Far-Traveler (Yngvars saga víðförla)
is much less trustworthy than the evidence
of Arab history and the runestones themselves.
Source: Samnordisk runtextdatabas: University of Uppsala. The entire database is available for down

× tula: lit: raisa: stain: þinsa| |at: sun: sin: haralt: bruþur: inkuars: þaiR
furu: trikila: ari: at: kuli: auk: a:ustarla| |ar:ni: kafu: tuu: sunar:la: a

Copyright (c)

, Bengt A. Lundberg. Used under the Creative Commons
license CC-BY.
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
left in possession of the battle
eld. Hereferth and Wigferth, two bishops, died
as did the aldermen Duda and Osmod.
]. This year, a great Danish 
eet came to the West Welsh [Cor-
nishmen]. The Welsh and the Danes joined forces and began 
ghting against
Ecgbriht, king of the West Saxons. He moved against them and fought them
at Hingston. There he put to  ight both the Welsh and the Danes.

]. This year, Alderman Wulfheard fought against the men from
thirty-three ships at Southampton. He slaughtered a great number and won
the victory, but he died the same year. Alderman Athelhelm fought the Danes
at Portland in Dorset. The alderman was slain and the Danes won control of
the battle

]. In this year, there was much slaughter in London, Canterbury,
and Rochester.

]. This year, King Athelwulf fought the men from thirty-
ve ships
at Carhampton, and the Danes won possession of the battle

]. In this year, Alderman Ceorl with the men of Somerset, Bishop
Ealhstan, and Osric with the men of Dorset fought the Danes at the mouth of
the Parret and won the battle there with great slaughter.
]. In this year, Alderman Ceorl and the men of Devonshire
fought against heathens and, after huge slaughter, defeated them. The heathens
stayed in Thanet over the winter. The same year, three hundred and 
fty ships
arrived at the mouth of the Thames. The heathens stormed Canterbury and
routed Brihtwulf, king of the Mercians, and his army. Next, the heathens went
south across the Thames where King Athelwulf [of Wessex] and Athelwulf his
son with the West-Saxon host fought them at Oakley. This battle was the great-
est massacre of a heathen army we have ever heard tell of. King Athelwulf and
his forces were victorious there. That same year, King Athelstan and Alderman
Ealhere fought in their ships and massacred a large heathen force at Sandwich.
They captured nine ships and drove off the rest.
two: scandinavian society
she put on the bridal veil.
the viking age: a reader
eld where the duel was to take place. The dueling ground itself was marked
out by stones which were laid around it. Now Ljot arrived with his men and
prepared for the duel. He was a huge, strong-looking man, armed with a sword
and shield. As he advanced through the  eld to the dueling ground, he went
into a berserk’s rage, uttering terrible howls, and biting his shield. Frithgeir
was a small, slender man, handsome but not strong, and he had no experience
ghting. When Egil saw Ljot, he recited this poem:
We shall go to the island, warriors,
defend the maiden from this man;
Frithgeir must not 
battle against the shield-biter
who gives offerings to the old gods,
battle against the storm-
who rolls his eyes unnervingly
and is doomed to death.
Ljot saw Egil standing there and heard his words. “If you’re so keen to 
me, big man,” said Ljot, “come on over to the 
eld and we’ll put one another
to the test. It will be much fairer than 
ghting Frithgeir, for my self-esteem
won’t be improved even if I send him to his grave.”
Then Egil recited:
It’s wrong to reject
Ljot’s little request;
I’ll swing my sword against
the wan-faced warrior;
ready for the 
I’ll mete out no mercy;
here in Møre, warlike man,
you and the skald will skirmish.
Then Egil got ready for the duel with Ljot. He was carrying the shield he
always used; at his waist he was wearing the sword called Adder, and in his
hand he held Dragvandil [Slicer, a sword given to Egil by Arinbjorn]. When
Egil entered the dueling ground, Ljot was not yet ready, so Egil brandished
his sword and recited this poem:
Let cutting swords clash,
let steel strike shield,
and test its toughness;
twelve: from odin to christ
to Christ that, although he himself had not yet received the sacrament of
baptism, he permitted the public profession of Christianity which his father
always hated.
And so, after the saint of God had ordained priests for the several churches
in the kingdom of the Danes, he is said to have commended the multitude of
believers to Harald. Seconded also by his aid and by a legate, Unni went into
all the islands of the Danes, preaching the Word of God to the heathen and
comforting in Christ the faithful whom he found captive there. . . .
. As soon as he was freed from the plots of his brothers, King Otto [I of
Germany, r.
] with the support of divine help executed judgment and
justice unto his people. Thereupon, after he had brought into subjection to his
empire nearly all the kingdoms which had seceded after the death of Charles,
he took up arms against the Danes, whom his father had previously subdued
by war. Bent upon 
ghting, they had murdered at Haddeby Otto’s legates and
the margrave and had utterly wiped out the whole colony of Saxons. To avenge
this deed the king at once invaded Denmark with an army. Crossing the Danish
frontier, which had formerly been 
xed at Schleswig, he devastated the whole
region with 
re and sword, even unto the furthermost sea which separates the
Northmen from the Danes and which to this very day is called the Ottensond
for the victory of the king [Adam here attributes a campaign of Otto II in
to Otto I]. As he was leaving, Harald [Bluetooth] met him at Schleswig and
offered battle. In this con ict, manfully contested on both sides, the Saxons
gained the victory, and the vanquished Danes retreated to their ships. When
conditions were at length favorable for peace, Harald submitted to Otto and,
on getting back his kingdom from the latter, promised to receive Christianity
into Denmark. Not long after Harald himself was baptized together with his
wife, Gunnhild, and his little son, whom our king raised up from the sacred
font and named Svein Otto. At that time Denmark on this side of the sea,
which is called Jutland by the inhabitants, was divided into three dioceses and
subjected to the bishopric of Hamburg. In the church at Bremen are preserved
the royal edicts which prove that King Otto held the Danish kingdom in his
jurisdiction, so much so that he would even bestow the bishoprics. And it can
be seen in the privileges of the Roman See that Pope Agapetus, in congratulat-
ing the Church of Hamburg upon the salvation of the heathen, also conceded
to Adaldag everything that had been granted to the archbishopric of Bremen
by his predecessors, Gregory, Nicholas, Sergius, and others. To him also was
conceded by virtue of apostolic authority the right to consecrate bishops as
papal legates to Denmark as well as to the other peoples of the north.
. Our most blessed father [Archbishop Adaldag], then was the 
rst to con-
secrate bishops for Denmark: Hored for Schleswig, Liafdag for Ribe, Regin-
brund for Aarhus. To them he also commended the churches across the sea in
viking life and death
of his men were tied up and taken ashore. Then Thorkell Leire approached
Vagn and said:
“You took an oath to kill me, Vagn, but it looks more likely that I’ll kill you.”
Vagn and his men sat together on a fallen tree. Thorkell had a great ax and
he beheaded the man sitting at the end of the tree-trunk. Vagn and his men
were bound together by a rope tied around their legs, but their hands were
free. One of them said:
“I have a cloak-pin in my hand. I’ll stick it in the earth if I know anything
when my head is cut off.” When his head was off, the pin fell from his hand.
Next to him sat a handsome man with a 
ne head of hair. He swept his
hair forward over his head and stretched out his neck, saying, “Don’t get my
hair all bloody.”
A man grasped his hair and held it fast. As Thorkell swung the ax, the
Viking jerked his head back sharply and the man holding his hair was left in
the way. The ax cut off both his hands and embedded itself in the ground.
Then Earl Eirik came up and asked: “Who is this good-looking fellow?”
He replied, “I am called Sigurd and I am Bui’s illegitimate son. Not all the
Jomsvikings are dead yet.”
“For sure, you are a true son of Bui,” said Eirik. “Will you accept a pardon?”
“That depends on who’s offering it,” replied Sigurd.
Eirik answered, “The man offering it is the man with the power to do
so—Earl Eirik.” “I’ll accept,” said Sigurd, and he was released from the rope.
Then Thorkell Leire asked: “Earl, even if you mean to give all these men
quarter, Vagn Akason isn’t going to leave here alive.” He rushed forward with
his ax raised, but a Viking called Skathi threw himself over the rope and fell
in front of Thorkell’s feet. Thorkell fell over him,  at on his face. Vagn seized
the ax, raised it, and dealt Thorkell his death wound. Eirik said, “Vagn, will
you accept a pardon?”
“I will,” he replied, “if we all receive one.” “Free them from the rope,” said
the Earl, and it was done. Eighteen men were killed and twelve were pardoned.
. Earl Hakon and many of his men were sitting on a fallen tree when
a bowstring twanged on Bui’s ship. The arrow struck Gizur from Valdres, a
splendidly dressed landowner, who was sitting next to the earl. Some men
boarded the ship and found Havard Cutter standing on his knees by the ship’s
side, for the lower parts of his legs had been cut off. He held a bow and when
the men reached the ship, he asked, “Who fell off the log?”
They answered that it was a man called Gizur. “Then I wasn’t as lucky as
I wished to be,” said Havard. “You’ve done quite enough damage, and you’ll
do no more,” they replied, and killed him.
Afterwards, the dead were searched, and twenty-
ve of the Jomsvikings’
ships were stripped. The booty was carried off and divided. As Tind says:
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
“I’ll tell you who did it, king,” repeated Thorberg. “I did it.” “Then you’ll
make it as good as new,” said King Olaf, “or pay for it with your life.”
Thorberg went and shaved down all the planks to the same depth as his ax-
cuts. The king and everyone else agreed that the ship was much more elegant
on the shaved side, and King Olaf asked Thorberg to 
nish the other side in
the same way. Then he thanked Thorberg profusely and appointed him head
shipwright until construction was completed.
The ship was a warship built on the same lines as the
, which King
Olaf had brought from Halogaland, but the new ship was much bigger and
more splendidly 
nished throughout. King Olaf named it the
Long Serpent
called the other one the
Short Serpent.

Long Serpent
had thirty-four rooms, or rowers’ benches [giving a total
of sixty-eight oars]. The dragon’s head at the prow and the coiled tail at the
stern were both heavily gilded and the sides stood as high above the water as
those of ocean-going ships. The
Long Serpent
was the best and most costly ship
ever built in Norway.

Another famous saga-ship was the one constructed in the early
s by King Harald
Sigurdarson Hardradi. It was modeled on King Olaf’s
Long Serpent
and was con-
structed for an expedition against Denmark. From
Harald Sigurdarson’s Saga
trans. A.A. Somerville, fr
om Snorri
Haralds saga Sigurðarsonar
, in
, ed.
Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk
fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.
. King Harald spent the winter in Nidaros and, that same winter, he had a
ship built out at Eyrar. The ship was of the
type [a large, broad warship].
It was as large as the
Long Serpent
the viking age: a reader

The Battle of Clontarf was fought on Good Friday (
, in what is now
a suburb of Dublin. The combatants were the Irish High King Brian Boru, with his
Munster army, opposed by an alliance of Sigtrygg Silkenbeard of Dublin, Máelmórda
mac Murchada of Leinster, and Sigurd Hlodvisson of the Orkneys, with forces drawn
from the Orkneys, Hebrides, Isle of Man, and northern England, as well as Dublin and
Leinster. The battle had its roots in a rebellion against Brian’s ascendancy. The battle has
long been regarded as signi cant for breaking Viking power in Ireland—a view prevalent
since the Middle Ages, and fostered by the
Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib (The War of the
Irish against the Foreigners
[see doc.
but modern scholars are inclined to regard
it as an Irish political struggle into which Scandinavians were drawn on both sides. From

Njal’s Saga
Several of the men involved with the burning of Njal died in this battle.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII
), pp.
. . . . Then King Sigtrygg got down to business and asked Earl Sigurd to join
forces with him against King Brian. The earl resisted the idea for a long time, but
in the end he agreed on condition that he could marry Sigtrygg’s mother and
become king of Ireland if they killed Brian. His men all tried to dissuade him,
but to no avail. And so they parted company with Earl Sigurd promising to join
the expedition, and King Sigtrygg promising him his mother and the kingdom.
It was also agreed that Earl Sigurd would come to Dublin with his entire army
on Palm Sunday.
Sigtrygg traveled south to Ireland and told his mother that the earl had
undertaken to join them; he told her, too, what he had promised in return.
She expressed her approval but declared that they would have to muster a
much larger force. Sygtrygg asked where this was to come from. “There are
two Vikings lying off the Isle of Man with thirty ships,” replied Kormlod
[Sygtrygg’s mother]. “One of them is called Ospak and the other Brodir and
they are so 
erce that no one can stand up to them. Go and 
nd them and do
your best to persuade them to join you, whatever their conditions.”
Sigtrygg went looking for the Vikings and found them off the Isle of Man.
He brought up the reason for his visit at once, but Brodir declined to get
involved until King Sigtrygg promised him the kingdom and his mother. This
arrangement was to be kept secret so that Earl Sigurd wouldn’t 
nd out about
it, and Brodir, too, was to come to Dublin on Palm Sunday. Then Sigtrygg
went home to his mother and told her everything.
Afterwards, Brodir and Ospak conferred together, and Brodir told Ospak
all about his conversation with Sigtrygg. He asked Ospak to join him in the
war against King Brian, saying that he had a great deal riding on it. Ospak
Minorsky, V. trans.
A History of Sharva¯n and Darband in the
th Centuries
Cambridge: Heffer & Sons,

Montgomery, James A., trans. “Ibn Fadla¯n and the Ru¯siyyah.”
Journal of Arabic



J., ed. and trans Excer
pts from
Dicuili Liber de Mensura Orbis Terrae.
lin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies,

. Reprinted by permission
of the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
Tschan, F.

J., trans. “Descr
iption of the Islands of the North,” “Temple at Uppsala,”
“On Iceland,” “Vinland,” “Conversion of the Danes under Harald Blue
tooth,” “Christianity in Sweden” and “Christianity in Norway,” from
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
by Adam of Bremen. New
York: Columbia University Press,

. Reprinted by permission of Co
lumbia University Press.
Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders; in the event of an omission or
error, please notify the publisher.
The following sources are translated by A.A. Somerville:
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Ari Þorgilsson,
The Passion of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr
Bard’s Saga
the viking age: a reader
Hvalseyarfjord and all the people of that district are descended from him. He
was a very powerful man. Once, when he wanted to entertain his relative,
Eirik, and there was no seaworthy boat available, he swam out to Hvalsey
[Whale Island] for an old wether and returned with it on his back. The distance
is over half a mile. Thorkel was buried in the home-
eld at Hvalseyarfjord and
he has haunted the place ever since.

The thirteenth-century Norwegian text
The King’s Mirror (Konungs-Skuggsjá)
) contains one of the most important medieval descriptions of Norse Greenland.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Speculum Regale. Konungs-Skuggsjá
, ed. R. Keyser, P.A. Munch,
the viking age: a reader
brother, who had been sent from the emperor, the sons of King Godofrid
gathered troops from everywhere and made war upon the kings. The sons of
King Godofrid were assisted by not a few of the Danish nobles who for some
time after leaving their homeland had been in exile with the Swedes. Since
hosts of their countrymen joined the sons of Godofrid from all over the land
of the Danes, they easily drove the kings from the kingdom after a battle.

. [The annals record the death of Charlemagne, the succession of Louis,
and summarize diplomatic affairs.] Heriold and Reginfrid, kings of the Danes,
had been defeated and expelled from their kingdom the year before by the sons
of Godofrid, against whom they regrouped their forces and again made war.
In this con ict Reginfrid and the oldest son of Godofrid were killed. When
this had come to pass, Heriold despaired of his cause, came to the emperor,
and put himself under his protection. The emperor [Louis] received him and
told him to go to Saxony and wait for the proper time when he would be able
to give him the help which Heriold had requested.
. The emperor commanded that Saxons and Obodrites should prepare for
this campaign, and twice in that winter the attempt was made to cross the Elbe.
But since the weather suddenly turned warm and made the ice on the river
melt, the campaign was held up. Finally, when the winter was over, about the
middle of May, the proper time for the march arrived. Then all Saxon counts
and all troops of the Obodrites, under orders to bring help to Heriold, marched
with the imperial emissary Baldrich across the River Eider into the land of the
Norsemen called Silendi [in eastern Schleswig]. From Silendi they went on
nally, on the seventh day, pitched camp on the coast at. . . . There they
halted for three days. But the sons of Godofrid, who had raised against them a
large army and a 
eet of two hundred ships, remained on an island three miles
off the shore and did not dare engage them. Therefore, after everywhere laying
waste the neighboring districts and receiving hostages from the people, they
returned to the emperor in Saxony, who at that time was holding the general
assembly of his people at Paderborn. . . .
. . . . Because of Heriold’s persistent aggression, the sons of Godofrid,
king of the Danes, also sent an embassy to the emperor, asked for peace, and
promised to preserve it. This sounded more like hypocrisy than truth, so it
was dismissed as empty talk and aid was given to Heriold against them. . . .
When the news of the revolt of the Obodrites and of Sclaomir arrived, he
ordered through his envoys that counts be stationed for the defense on the
River Elbe to protect the borders assigned to them. The cause of the revolt was
that Sclaomir was to share with Ceadrag, son of Thrasco, the royal power over
the Obodrites which Sclaomir had held alone after the death of Thrasco. This
matter exasperated Sclaomir so much that he solemnly declared he would never
again cross the Elbe and come to the palace. He at once sent an embassy across
the viking age: a reader
The Saga of the Ynglings
opens Snorri’s
and tells of the arrival
of the gods in Scandinavia from their former home in the east. The gods are treated
euhemeristically as a noble tribe with an uncommon knowledge of the magical arts. They
were worshipped because of the power that their magical skills gave them. The following
passage introduces some of Odin’s attributes and powers.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
, in
, ed. Bjarni Aðal-
bjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.
. Odin was a shape-shifter. When he changed shape, his body lay as if he were
asleep or dead, while he took on the form of a bird, or a deer, or a 
sh, or a ser-
pent and went, in the twinkling of an eye, to distant lands on his own or other
men’s business. . . .
With words alone he was able to quench 
re, calm the sea, and turn the
winds in whichever direction he pleased. . . . Odin possessed Mimir’s head
which told him a great deal about what was happening in other worlds.
Sometimes, he raised the dead from the earth or sat down under men who
had been hanged. For that reason, he became known as Lord of the Ghosts,
or Lord of the Hanged. He had two ravens, which he had trained to speak.
ew far and wide over the world and brought him many reports of
events elsewhere.
By these means, he grew immensely wise, and he taught all these arts
with the aid of runes and songs called
, or magical chants. And that is
why the Æsir are known as Galdrar-makers. Odin also knew and practiced
the most powerful of the arts, which is called
, or sorcery. By means of
sorcery, he could foresee men’s fates and predict the course of future events.
He could also in ict death, ill fortune, or sickness on people, and take one
person’s intelligence or strength and give it to someone else. Since the per-
formance of this kind of witchcraft brings on an effeminate weakness, it is
considered shameful for a man to practice the art, and it is usually priestesses
who are taught it.
Odin knew the whereabouts of every hidden treasure and he also knew
spells that would open up the earth, hills, rocks, and burial mounds. He could
x whoever was inside with spells and then he was free to enter and take
whatever he wanted.
Through the practice of these arts he became very famous. His enemies
feared him, but his friends trusted him and had faith in him and his powers.
He taught most of his arts to his sacri cial priests, and they were the ones
four: women in the viking age
Hardbeinsson, the berserk [see doc.
], who lives on his farm at Skorradal
and is not afraid of anything.”
Thorgils answered, “It makes no odds to me whether he goes by the name
of Helgi or has some other name, because I don’t think it’s beyond my powers
to deal with Helgi or anyone else. This will be my last word on the subject,
so long as you promise before witnesses that you will marry me if I help your
sons get their revenge.”
Gudrun said that she would honor any agreement she made, even if there
were few people to witness it. She said, too, that Thorgils’s terms would be
acceptable. Gudrun asked to have Thorgils’s foster-brother Halldor and her
sons called as witnesses. Thorgils asked for Ornolf to be called too, but Gudrun
said there was no need for this. “I have more suspicions about Ornolf’s loyalty
to you than you seem to have yourself,” she said.
Thorgils left the decision to her. The brothers then arrived to join Gudrun
and Thorgils; Halldor was there talking to them. Gudrun now explained to them
how things stood: “Thorgils has promised to lead my sons in a foray against Helgi
Hardbeinsson as vengeance for Bolli. He has stipulated that, in return, I will marry
him. Now I call upon you to witness my promise to Thorgils that I will marry
no man in this land except him, and I don’t plan to marry in another country.”
This seemed quite satisfactory to Thorgils and he didn’t see through it. The
parley broke up with full agreement that Thorgils was to take on the exploit.
He prepared to leave Helgafell with Gudrun’s sons. First they went to Thorgils’s
home at Tung and afterwards they rode into the Dalir district.

Hildigunn had not long been married to Hoskuld, Njal’s foster son, when he was mur-
dered by Njal’s own sons in the seemingly endless chain of revenge that overshadows

Njal’s Saga
. In this passage, Hildigunn attempts to shame Flosi Thordarson, her kins-
man, into taking revenge on Hoskuld’s murderers.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII
), pp.

. Hildigunn was outside in the yard. “I’d like all my menfolk to be waiting out
here when Flosi arrives,” she said. “The women are to clean the house, hang up
the viking age: a reader
Olaf sailed east with 
ve ships until he reached the Orkneys. There he met
up with Earl Sigurd at Osmundwall, near South Ronaldsay. Sigurd, who had
three ships, was just setting off on a Viking raid, but King Olaf summoned
him aboard his ship, saying that he had something to discuss with him. When
they met, King Olaf said to Sigurd,
“I want you and everyone who owes you allegiance to be baptized. If you
don’t, you will die right here, right now, and I will devastate every one of the
islands with 
re and  ame.”
When Earl Sigurd realized what a precarious situation he was in, he put
himself in the king’s hands. King Olaf had him baptized and took his son,
Whelp, or Hound, as a hostage, and had him christened with the name Hlodvir.
Then all the Orkneys became Christian.
King Olaf sailed east to Norway, taking Hlodvir with him, but Hlodvir
did not live long and after his death Earl Sigurd refused to obey King Olaf.
He married the daughter of Malcolm, king of the Scots, and their son was
Earl Thor

Included in the fourth book of Adam of Bremen’s
History of the Archbishops of
is the following account of a Swedish convert to Christianity and
Christian missions to the Swedes.

Source: trans. F.J. Tschan, Adam of Bremen,
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
, with new
introduction by T. Reuter (New York: Columbia University Press,

), pp.
. In that country [Sweden] there took place lately an event worth remember-
ing and widely published because it was noteworthy, and it also came to the
archbishop’s attention. One of the priests who was wont to serve the demons
at Uppsala became blind and the help of the gods was of no avail. But as the
man wisely ascribed the calamity of blindness to his worship of idols, by which
superstitious veneration he had evidently offended the almighty God of the
Christians, behold, that very night a most beautiful Virgin appeared to him and
asked if he would believe in her Son, if to recover his sight he would put aside
the images he had previously worshiped. Then he, who for the sake of this boon
would refuse to undergo nothing that was hard, gladly promised he would. To
receive the light of your eyes in the name of Christ, who is my Son.” As soon
as the priest recovered his sight, he believed and, going to all the country about,
the viking age: a reader
established there. When this happened, one of the chief men, who was a friend
of the bishop, told him at once and advised him to be comforted, and said, “Be
strong and act with vigor, for God has not denied your wish nor rejected your
mission.” He was then full of courage and rejoicing in spirit exulted in the
Lord. When the day for the assembly which was held in the town of Birka drew
near, in accordance with their national custom the king caused a proclamation
to be made to the people by the voice of a herald, in order that they might be
informed concerning the object of their mission. On hearing this, those who
had before been led astray into error, held discordant and confused opinions.
In the midst of the noise and confusion one of the older men among them said:
Listen to me, O king and people. In regard to the worship of this God it is
well known to many of us that he can afford much help to those who place
their hope in him. For many of us have proved this to be the case on sev-
eral occasions when in peril from sea and in other crises. Why, then, do we
reject that which we know to be both needful and serviceable? Some of us
who have on various occasions been to Dorestad have of our own accord
adopted this form of religion, believing it to be bene
cial. Our way there is
quently proved that the help afforded by this God can be useful to us. Why
should we not gladly agree to continue as his servants? Consider carefully,
O people, and do not cast
that which will be to your advantage. For,
inasmuch as we can not be sure that our gods will be favorably disposed,
it is good for us to have the help of this God who is always and under all
circumstances able and willing to succor those who cry out to him.

When he had 
nished speaking all the people unanimously decided that
the priests should remain with them and that everything that pertained to the
performance of the Christian mysteries should be done without objection or
hindrance. The king then rose up from among the assembly and forthwith
directed one of his own messengers to accompany the bishop’s messenger and
to tell him that the people were unanimously inclined to accept his proposal
and at the same time to tell him that, while their action was entirely agreeable
to him, he could not give his full consent until, in another assembly, which was
to be held in another part of his kingdom, he could announce this resolution
to the people who lived in that district.
Once again, then, our good father sought, as was his custom, for divine
assistance, and eagerly besought God’s mercy. When the time for the assembly
came and the king had caused to be proclaimed by the voice of a herald the
the viking age: a reader

] . Ímar’s son came again to Ireland.
. Ard Macha was plundered by the foreigners of Áth Cliath, i.e. by Glún Iarainn,
and they took away seven hundred and ten persons into captivity.
Alas, o holy Patrick
That your prayers did not protect [it]
[When] the foreigners with their axes
Were smiting your oratory!
. Sitriuc son of Ímar was killed by other Norsemen.
. A slaughter of the foreigners by the Conaille and Laigne’s son, in which Am-
laíb son of Ímar fell.
. Flannacán son of Cellach, king of Brega, was killed by the Norsemen.

. The heathens were driven from Ireland, i.e. from the fortress of Áth Cliath,
by Mael Finnia son of Flannacán with the men of Brega and by Cerball son of
Muiricán, with the Laigin; and they abandoned a good number of their ships,
and escaped half dead after they had been wounded and broken.

. Ímar, grandson of Ímar, was killed by the men of Fortriu [in Pictland/Alba],
and there was a great slaughter around him.

Our first debt of gratitude is to the many students who have taken our courses
over the years and who have provided us with the impetus to produce this
We would also like to thank Cathy Bouwers, Erin Hodson, and Trudy Tat-
tersall for their assistance with the preparation of some of the texts, Dr. Behnaz
Mirzai for assistance with Arabic texts, and Loris Gasparotto for producing
the maps.
We are grateful to the Humanities Research Institute at Brock University
for providing funds in support of this project.
At University of Toronto Press we thank Paul Dutton for helpful comments
and suggestions, and Natalie Fingerhut for expert editorial assistance.
We are grateful to University of Toronto Press for the opportunity to pre-
pare a second edition of the reader, and we would like to thank all those who
have offered suggestions for its improvement. In particular, we have bene
greatly from the many helpful suggestions we have received from students and
colleagues who have utilized the text in the classroom, as well as from the
anonymous reviewers of the proposal for UTP.
Unquestionably, however, our biggest debt is to our respective families, who
have had to put up with the Vikings for many years. This book is for them:
Barbara, Anna, and Clare; Jacqueline, Emma, and Colin.
the viking age: a reader
After that, Kari of Berle joined Rognvald with a fully manned longship and
they both sailed north to Møre. Rognvald commandeered all the ships that
King Vemund had owned along with whatever goods he could get his hands
on. Then Kari from Berle continued north to Trondheim where he met King
Harald and became his man.
The following spring, King Harald sailed southwards along the coast with a
large naval force. He subdued Fjordane and Fjalir and appointed his own men
to oversee them, putting Earl Hroald in charge of Fjordane province. After he
had taken possession of the districts which had newly come under his sway,
King Harald kept a watchful eye on the landed men and prominent farmers
and anybody else he suspected might rise up against him. Everyone was given
three choices—they could enter his service, leave the country, or face harsh
treatment, even loss of life. Indeed, some had their hands or feet cut off.
In every district, King Harald took possession of all the inherited estates
and all the land, inhabited and uninhabited. He took over the sea and the lakes
as well. All farmers had to become his tenants. All foresters, saltworkers, and
hunters both on sea and land had to pay him tribute. Because of this oppres-
sion, many 
ed the country and settled in uninhabited places both to the east
in Jämtland and Hälsingland, and in Vestrland [British Isles], the Hebrides,
the Dublin shire, Ireland, Normandy in France, Caithness in Scotland, the
Orkneys, Shetlands, and Faeroes. It’s at this time that Iceland was discovered.
. King Harald remained with his army in Fjordane. He sent representatives
throughout the land to contact those who had not joined him but whom he felt
should. The king’s messengers came to Kveld-Ulf and were well received. They
delivered the message that the king wanted Kveld-Ulf to come and meet him.
“He has heard tell,” they said, “that you are a distinguished man of 
lineage. You will have the opportunity to receive great honors from the king,
for he is keen to surround himself with men who are famed for their strength
and valor.”
Kveld-Ulf answered that he was old and no longer capable of going out in
warships. “It’s time for me to stay at home and leave off serving kings,” he said.
“Then your son should go to the king,” replied the messenger. “He is a big,
brave fellow. The king will make him a landed man if he enters his service.”
“I don’t want to be a landed man while my father is alive,” said Grim, “for
he will be my overlord as long as he lives.”
The messengers returned to the king and told him what Kveld-Ulf had said.
The king lost his temper and spoke out in no uncertain terms. He said they
must be arrogant men and wondered what they were up to. Olvir Snubnose
was standing nearby and begged the king not to be angry. “I will go and see
Kveld-Ulf,” he said. “He’ll want to meet you when he knows how much it
means to you.”
the viking age: a reader
Grettir closed the stable and went home. Asmund asked where the horses
were, and Grettir replied that he had taken care of them in the stable as usual.
Asmund remarked that a storm must be on the way if the horses would not
stay outside in the current good weather.
Grettir said, “Wisdom fails many who expect better.”
Night passed, and no storm came. Grettir drove the horses from the stable,
but Kengala could not bear to stay out in the pasture. Asmund thought it
strange that the weather failed to change.
On the third morning, Asmund went to see the horses, Kengala in particular.
“The horses don’t seem to have done well in this lovely weather, but I can
at least enjoy stroking your back, Bleikala [Kengala],” said Asmund.
“The expected happens,” said Grettir, “and so does the unexpected.”
Asmund stroked the horse’s back and the hide came away in his hand.
Asmund thought this bizarre and said that Grettir must be responsible. Grettir
grinned and answered not a word.
The farmer went home and gave vent to a foul-mouthed tirade. As he entered the
hall, he heard his wife say, “My son’s horse-husbandry must have worked out well.”
(b) Children Mimic Adults

Viking children, like their modern counterparts, acquired much of their learning by
imitating their elders. In
Brennu-Njáls saga
, two young boys take on the roles of Mord
and his son-in-law, Hrut, and act out the shameful incident where Mord refuses to  ght
Hrut, thus failing to secure his divorced daughter’s dowry. (In doc.
f, adults perform
similar dramatic parodies of legal procedings.)

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk Fornrit XIV
), pp.
. . . . . Then Mord declared that he would not 
ght Hrut. At the law rock, a
huge whoop went up; there was a lot of shouting, and Mord was utterly shamed.
Afterwards, everyone rode home from the Thing.
The brothers, Hoskuld and Hrut, rode west to Reykjadale and put up at Lund,
the home of Thjostolf, son of Bjorn Gullbera. There had been a great deal of
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
went to Rome and lived there. His body lies in the church of Saint Mary in
the English College. The same year, the Danes gave the throne of Mercia to a
foolish king’s thane called Ceolwulf. He gave them hostages and swore oaths
that the kingdom would be theirs whenever they wished. He swore, too, that
he and all who followed him would be ready to meet the army’s needs.
]. This year, the army moved from Repton. Halfdan led part of the
army to Northumbria and settled for the winter beside the River Tyne. The
army overran that district and often carried out raids on the Picts and the Welsh
of Strathclyde. The three Danish kings, Guthrum, Oscytel, and Anwend, left
Repton for Cambridge, which they occupied for a year with a large army. That
summer, King Alfred went to sea with a 
eet and fought against seven Danish
ships, capturing one and putting the rest to  ight.
]. In this year, the Danish army stole into Wareham, a fort belong-
ing to the West Saxons. Later, the king made peace with the army. They gave
King Alfred as hostages the 
nest men in the army, and swore oaths on their
holy ring—something they had never before done for any people—that they
would leave his kingdom immediately. Taking advantage of this, their cavalry
left the fort surreptitiously and entered Exeter. That year, Halfdan divided up
the land of Northumbria; the raiders became tillers of the land as well. Rollo
and his men invaded Normandy and he ruled for 
fty-three years.
]. In this year, the Danish army arrived at Exeter from Wareham.
eet sailed round the west coast and ran into a powerful storm at sea.
They lost

ships at Swanage. King Alfred pursued the cavalry with his
forces as far as Exeter but could not overtake them before they reached the fort
where no one could get at them. They gave King Alfred as many prominent
hostages as he wanted and swore many oaths to keep the peace. The army
moved into Mercia at harvest time; they took some of the produce and gave
some to Ceolwulf.
. In this year, the Danish army moved surreptitiously to Chippenham in
the middle of winter, after twelfth night. They reached Wessex and occupied
it. They drove many of the people overseas, but subdued most of them, except
for King Alfred and a small body of men, who were, despite hardships, keeping
to the forests and areas protected by marshes. The same winter, the brother
of Ivar and Halfdan entered Wessex and Devonshire where he and

were killed. This year the battle-standard called the Raven was captured. At
Easter, King Alfred, with his small force, built a fort at Athelney from which
he attacked the Danish army with support from the part of Somerset which is
closest. In the seventh week after Easter, King Alfred rode to Ecgbrihtesstone
[?] to the east of Wealwudu [Selwood?] and he was met there by all the people
of Somerset, Wiltshire, and the part of Hampshire on this side of the sea; they
were all happy to see him. He traveled for one night to Æglea [Hey?] and one
the viking age: a reader
of blood dotted the trail. They concluded that Glam had been killed by the
creature which had haunted the farm earlier, and that he had wounded it. The
wound must have been fatal for the creature was never seen again.
On the second day of Christmas, they made another attempt to move Glam’s
body to the church. Draft animals were harnessed to the corpse, but when the
land leveled off and ceased to slope downwards, they couldn’t move it at all.
Again, they left the body where it was and went home.
On the third day of Christmas a priest went with them but, though they
searched all day, they couldn’t 
nd Glam. The priest wouldn’t go looking a
second time and, as soon as he left, the shepherd was found. So they gave up
the struggle to carry him to the church and buried him where he was under
a pile of stones.
Before long, people became aware that Glam was not resting in peace. This
had terrible repercussions; many men fainted at the sight of him, and some
were driven out of their minds. Soon after Christmas, the farm-folk thought
that they saw Glam around the farm again. They were terri
ed, and many 
from Thorhallsstead. Next, he took to sitting astride the roofs at night and
riding them so violently that he nearly wrecked them with his heels. Then he
started walking about both by day and night. People hardly dared go up the
valley, even if they had urgent business. The local people thought that this
was a great af iction.
. In the spring, Thorhall hired new servants and started farming his land
again. As the days lengthened Glam appeared less frequently; and so time
passed until midsummer. That summer, a ship put in at Hunavatn. On board,
was a foreigner called Thorgaut who was big and powerful, with the strength
of two men. He was alone in the world, with nothing to tie him down, and
he was also penniless, so he was looking for work. Thorhall rode to the ship
and asked Thorgaut if he would work for him. Thorgaut said he would, and
added that he wasn’t choosy about the kind of work he did.
“You’ll have to be ready to encounter the ghosts who have been hanging
around my farm for some time,” said Thorhall. “I don’t want to mislead you;
this job isn’t for weaklings.”
“I can’t see myself being upset by a few little ghosts,” replied Thorgaut. “If
afraid, then no one’s going to 
nd this an easy job. I won’t break my agree-
ment just for that.” So they quickly struck a deal and Thorgaut was hired to
look after the sheep during the winter. The summer passed and winter began.
Thorgaut took charge of the sheep and everyone liked him. Glam kept coming
back and riding the roofs, but Thorgaut thought this was hilarious.
“The rogue will have to come closer if I’m to be frightened,” he said.
Thorhall warned him not to say too much. “It will be best if the two of you
avoid confrontation,” he said.
the viking age: a reader
Meanwhile, Earl Eirik laid his ship, the
, alongside the outermost
ship in Olaf Tryggvason’s line. He cleared the ship of men and cut it free
from the ropes connecting it with the 
eet. Then he moved on to the next
ship and fought until it, too, was cleared. Now the men began to leap from
the small ships to the larger ones, and the earl cut loose each ship as soon as
it was put out of action. Then the Danes and the Swedes moved back into
shooting range on all sides of Olaf Tryggvason’s ships. But Earl Eirik was
constantly alongside the enemy ships and was always engaged in close 
ing, and, as soon as men died on his ships, they were replaced by Danes and
Swedes. As Halldor says:
The clash of keen swords
spoke loud on the
Long Serpent
gold-worked spears sang out
while warriors tore peace apart;
Earl Eirik led,
Danes and Swedish forces followed
into close combat
in the south, at Svold.
Then the battle reached its crisis, and many men fell. Finally, all of King Olaf’s
ships were cleared except the
Long Serpent
, and all his men who were still able
to  ght gathered on board this one ship. Then, Earl Eirik brought the

Long Serpent
ghting broke out. As Halldor says:
Last year, the
Long Serpent

encountered cruel trials;
sword struck sword,
shields were shattered.
Earl Eirik laid

alongside the
Long Serpent
he won the war of weapons,
at Svold in the south.
. Earl Eirik was standing near the stern of his ship where he and his
men were protected by a shield-wall. They were 
ghting with swords and
axes; they were throwing spears and anything else that could be employed as
a missile. Some used bows; others used their hands to hurl weapons. The
was now completely surrounded by warships and there was such a hail
of weapons and spears, and such a dense rain of arrows that the men on the
could scarcely protect themselves with their shields. King Olaf’s men
the viking age: a reader
no pleasure for you, prince,
in the leisurely life;
Jutes’ general, you destroyed
Edgar’s line on that expedition.
King’s kin, your
stubborn strength crushed them.
He says this too:
Prince, while yet a youth
you set farms a ame,
and the 
re forced men
into the ways of war.
The local inhabitants assembled an army, marched on the Danes and engaged
them in battle, as Thord Kolbeinsson says:
The raven-rewarders [Danes],
long loathed in the land,
came ashore early from their ships,
entered England.
The farmers raised a force
to defend their dwellings;
the soldiers of the sword-prince [Knut]
braved them in battle.
Lindsey was the site of King Knut’s 
rst battle in England and there was great
slaughter. Then Knut captured Hemingborough and, again, many people were
killed. Ottar says:
In Lindsey’s green 
elds you gave
battle, brave prince.
Danes did as they pleased
with the conquered country.
Slayer of Swedes,
you made the English endure
much misery in Hemingborough
out to the west of the Ouse.
After that, he fought major battles in Northumberland near the Tees. Many
people died there, and some escaped only to perish in the nearby fens and
fourteen: the end of the viking age
. Let us wind, wind,
the web of war,
which the young king fought
in former days;
the viking age: a reader
him. With them he went to the Tower of the Vault and amir Maymu
¯n also took
a vow not to drink (wine). Matters went on in such a way that the preacher got
control of all government affairs. He requested the amir to surrender his Ru
[armed retainers] to him so that he might offer them Islam, or kill them.
As the amir refused to do so, disturbances broke out and in

the amir
ed himself in the citadel against the preacher. Tu
¯ and the people of al-Ba
besieged him there for twenty-eight days and matters came to such a pass that
he asked the preacher for safe-conduct, [on condition] that he should surrender
the citadel to him and himself, with his
, depart for Tabarsara
¯n. . . .
. . . . In

the amir Mansu
¯r with the gha
¯s of the Islamic “Cen-
tres” led a great expedition. This was because the Ru
¯s had raided the territo-
ries of Sharvan, ruined and plundered them, and murdered or made prisoner a
great mass of the inhabitants. As they were returning, their hands full of booty
and captives, the gha
¯s of al-Ba
¯b and the Marches, with the amir Mansu
at their head, occupied the de
les and the roads and put them to the sword
so that few escaped. They took from their hands all the booty, animate and
inanimate, which they had captured in Sharvan. Then the Ru
¯s and the Ala
[returned] with the intention of revenge. They gathered together and jointly
set off in the direction of al-Ba
¯b and the Marches. First of all, in

moved to al-Karakh where there was only a small group [of warriors] with
Khusrau and Haytham b. Maymu
¯n al-Ba
¯ (?) chief of the tanners. And [the
latter?] fought (them) with the help of the people of Karakh, and God let vic-
tory descend on the Muslims and they wrought great havoc among the Ala
and the Ru
¯s. The lord of the Ala
¯ns was beaten off from the gate of Karakh, and
the in
dels’ greed for these Islamic “Centres” was extinguished absolutely. . . .

In the vicinity of Lake Mälaren (Sweden),
runestones bear direct witness to the
expedition to Serkland of Yngvar the Far-Traveler (Yngvarr hinn víðförli). Ten more
runestones have some connection with the event, which is otherwise unrecorded in Swed-
ish historical sources. The evidence of the runestones indicates that Yngvar was probably
a member of the royal house at Uppsala. Arab sources suggest that Yngvar’s expe-
dition took place between
. One runestone, Vs (Västmanland)
tains the placename karusm, evidence that Yngvar’s expedition got as far as Khwa
(now Khiva), an oasis city located on the Amu Daria, a little south of the Aral Sea.
Arab sources suggest that the expedition ended in a disastrous defeat at As
¯b on
. The Ru
s warriors on this expedition were probably acting as mercenaries.
Another suggestion is that Yngvar met defeat in the Battle of Sasireti (Georgia) in
The Icelandic
Annales Regii
Lögmanns annáll
, and the
Flateyarbók Annaler
the viking age: a reader

One of the most important sources for this period is the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
which records the annals of England from
BCE until
CE. The
is not the title of a single document, but refers collectively to a group of nine
manuscripts, none of which is the original copy. The following translation relies mainly
on the version known as the
Peterborough Chronicle
This selection covers the period
from the  rst appearance of Vikings off the south coast of England to the year
, in which
the “great army” of the Danes wintered in England instead of heading back home. Dates
in the chronicle are often out by one or more years. Correct dates are supplied in brackets.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from David Dumville and Simon Keynes, general eds.,
Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition
(Cambridge: D.S. Brewer,

–), vol.
; MS E, ed. Susan
Irvine (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer,

), pp.
\t]. This year, King Beorhtric [of Wessex] married Eadburg, Offa’s daugh-
ter. And in his days there came for the 
rst time three ships of Northmen, from
the viking age: a reader
taught him runes,
gave him his own name,
recognized him as his son,
bade him seize
freehold lands,
freehold lands,
Long since settled.
. More:
he rode from there
through dark wood
and rime-clad hills
till he reached a hall.
He brandished his shield,
shook his spear-shaft,
urged on his horse.
He drew his sword,
and stirred up battle.
He reddened the ground,
felled the doomed,
battled for lands.
. Alone he ruled eighteen estates,
shared out wealth,
gave to all
gifts and treasures,
slim-ribbed horses.
He distributed rings,
cut armlets asunder.
. Over wet roads
drove messengers,
arrived at the hall
where Hersir [Chieftain] dwelt.
He had a maiden,
ngered, white-skinned, and wise,
named Erna.
. They asked for her hand,
drove her back home,
gave her in marriage to Jarl;
five: viking warriors and their weapons
. . . . All evening, Egil was very cheerful but Frithgeir and his household were
a bit subdued. Egil saw an attractive, well-dressed girl there and was told that she
was Frithgeir’s sister. The young woman was miserable and cried incessantly all
evening. Egil and his men thought this was really odd.
They stayed there overnight. Next morning the wind was so strong that
putting to sea was out of the question. Moreover, to leave the island, they
needed a ship. Both Frithgeir and Gytha, his mother, went to Egil and invited
him to stay there with his men until the weather was favorable for sailing.
They also offered to give him whatever transport and provisions he needed for
the journey. Egil accepted the offer and he and his men stayed there, weather
bound, for three nights. They were treated very hospitably.
Then the weather improved, so Egil and his men got up early in the morn-
ing and prepared to leave. They gathered their things together, and then sat
down to have something to eat and ale to drink. After the meal, Egil rose and
thanked Frithgeir and Gytha for their hospitality. Then everyone went outside.
The farmer and his mother came to see them on their way. Then Gytha
began a whispered conversation with her son, Frithgeir. While Egil stood
waiting for them, he spoke to the young woman.
“Why are you crying, my girl?” he asked. “I have never seen you looking
She couldn’t answer, and cried all the more. Frithgeir said to his mother
in a loud voice, “I’m not going to ask them to do this now that they’re ready
for their journey.”
So, Gytha went over to Egil and said, “I’ll tell you what’s happening here,
Egil. There’s a man called Ljot the Pale, a berserk and a duelist, whom every-
one dislikes. He came here and asked to marry my daughter, but we gave him
short shrift and turned down his offer. So he challenged my son, Frithgeir, to
a duel and tomorrow he’s coming to 
ght him on Valdero island. Egil, I’d like
you to go to the duel with Frithgeir. If my brother, Arinbjorn [a close friend
of Egil], were here in Norway, we certainly wouldn’t have to put up with
bullying from the likes of Ljot.”
“Lady,” said Egil, “for Arinbjorn’s sake, I’m duty bound to go with your
son, if he thinks I can help at all.”
“You’re doing a 
ne thing, Egil,” she replied. “Let’s go back inside and
spend the day together.” Egil and his men went into the living room and sat
there drinking all day. In the evening, they were joined by some of Frithgeir’s
friends who had volunteered to go with him. The house was crowded that
night and there was a splendid feast.
Next morning, Frithgeir got ready for the journey. With him, he had Egil
and a large crowd of men. The weather was perfect for sailing, so they went
on their way and got to Valdero island. Close by the sea, there was a pleasant
the viking age: a reader
Bluetooth, whose achievements are related  rst and foremost on the runestone that he had
erected at Jelling (see doc.
). Adam of Bremen also recounted the events surrounding
the conversion of the Danish royal house to Christianity in the mid-tenth century. Very
little is known of King Gorm, and it is uncertain to what extent Adam’s depiction of
him as hostile to Christianity should be accepted.

Source: trans. F.J. Tschan, Adam of Bremen,
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen
, with new
introduction by T. Reuter (New York: Columbia University Press,

), pp.
. . . . Over the Danes there ruled at that time Harthacanute Gorm [d.
the viking age: a reader
was stripped from the earl;
(the lord of men still
bears the marks of it).
The warrior threw it off, and the ships
of the mail-clad Danes were cleared.
. The Jomsvikings’ ships were bigger and had higher sides than Hakon’s,
but both sides fought bravely. Vagn Akason attacked Svein Hakonson’s ship so
violently that Svein backed up and was on the verge of  ight. At that moment,
Earl Eirik pressed forward into the battle line against Vagn, who retreated. Now
the ships were in the same position as they had been at 
rst. Then Eirik returned
to his own ranks where his men had pulled back. Bui had cut the ropes binding
his ship to the others in his formation and was bent on pursuing Eirik’s men as
ed. Earl Eirik laid his ship broadside to Bui’s and a 
erce, closely fought
battle broke out. Two or three of Eirik’s ships came alongside Bui’s single vessel.
Then foul weather set in with a hailstorm so severe that a single hailstone
weighed an ounce. Sigvald cut the ties between his ship and the others. Then
he turned his ship around, intending to 
ee. Vagn Akason shouted to him
and begged him not to go, but Earl Sigvald paid no attention to what he said.
Then Vagn threw a spear at him, but hit the steersman. Earl Sigvald rowed off
with thirty-
ve ships, leaving twenty-
ve behind. Then Earl Hakon brought
his ship to the other side of Bui’s. Incessant blows fell on Bui’s men. Vigfuss,
son of Killer Glum, lifted up a pointed anvil which lay on the deck and which
someone had just used to rivet the hilt of his sword. Vigfuss was immensely
strong. He hurled the anvil with both hands and drove it into Aslak Holms-
kalli’s head so that the point penetrated his brain. Aslak had not been wounded
till this moment, but had struck blows to left and right. Aslak was Bui’s foster
son and was entrusted with the bow position on Bui’s ship. Another man there
was Havard Cutter. He was the strongest and bravest of men.
During this attack, Eirik’s men boarded Bui’s ship and headed aft to the
raised deck where Bui stood. Then Thorstein Midlang gave Bui a terrible
wound across the forehead, shattering his nose-guard. Bui struck Thorstein in
the side and sliced him in two at the waist. Then Bui grabbed up two chests
lled with gold and shouted loudly:
“Overboard, all Bui’s men!”
Bui plunged overboard with the chests and many of his men leapt after
him. Many men died aboard the ship because there was no point in asking for
mercy. Bui’s ship was cleared of men from stem to stern and afterwards the
other ships were cleared too, one after another.
Next, Earl Eirik came alongside Vagn’s ship. There was fearsome resistance,
but, at length, the ship was cleared and Vagn was taken prisoner. He and thirty
the viking age: a reader

One of the most famous ships of the entire Viking Age is King Olaf Tryggvason’s
, constructed near Nidaros/Trondheim, Norway, in the winter of
Long Serpent
was probably about
meters in length, belonging to the class of
vessels known as
. The
Long Serpent
was King Olaf’s ship at the
battle of Svold in
, where the most intense  ghting of the entire battle took place
on the fore- and after-decks of this ship (see doc.
a). From
The Saga of Olaf Tryg-
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from Snorri Sturluson,
Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar
, in
, ed.
Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson, Íslenzk fornrit XXVI–XXVIII (Reykjavík,

), vol.
, pp.
the viking age: a reader
intended to kill Ospak and all his men next morning. When Ospak saw what
they were doing, he swore to adopt Christianity and join King Brian and fol-
low him to the death. He came up with a plan to camou
age his ships and have
them poled along the shore so that his men could cut the mooring cables of
Brodir’s ships. The ships then drifted into one another while the crews slept.
Meanwhile, Ospak and his men sailed out of the fjord and went west to Ireland;
they did not stop until they reached Kincora. There, Ospak told King Brian
everything he had learned. He accepted baptism from the king and entered
his service. King Brian then mustered troops from all over his kingdom; this
army was to come to Dublin the week before Palm Sunday.
. Earl Sigurd Hlodvisson got ready to leave the Orkneys. Flosi [respon-
sible for the burning of Njal] volunteered to go with him, but the earl would
not hear of it because Flosi had still to make his pilgrimage to Rome. So Flosi
fteen of his men for the expedition, and the earl accepted his
offer. Then Flosi went with Earl Gilli to the Hebrides, while Thorstein Halls-
son, Hrafn the Red, and Erling of Straumey went with Earl Sigurd to Ireland.
The earl did not want Harek to go with him, but promised he would be the
rst to hear what happened.
On Palm Sunday, Earl Sigurd and his entire army arrived in Dublin. Brodir
and his troops were there already. Brodir tried to predict how the battle would
go by means of sorcery. His prediction was that if the battle took place on
Good Friday, King Brian would be killed though he would win the victory,
and if the battle took place before Good Friday, all Brian’s opponents would
be killed. So Brodir advised them not to 
ght before Friday.
On the Thursday of that week, a man with a halberd in his hand rode up
on a dapple-grey horse. He had a long talk with Brodir and Kormlod [the
mother of Sigtrygg].
King Brian and his troops reached Dublin, and, on Good Friday, the Norse
army came out of the town and both sides drew up in battle formation. Brodir
was on one wing of the army and Sigtrygg was on the other, with Sigurd in
the middle. King Brian was unwilling to 
ght on Good Friday, so a shield
wall was thrown up around him and his army was drawn up in front of it. Ulf
the Unruly was in the wing facing Brodir, while Ospak and King Brian’s sons
were on the other wing facing Sigtrygg. Kerthjalfad was in the centre and in
front of him were the standards.
Now the two armies fell upon one another and a ferocious battle ensued.
Brodir charged through the opposing ranks, killing everyone in his path; no
weapons could harm him. Then Ulf the Unruly turned toward him and struck
him three times with such force that he fell on his face each time and could
scarcely get up again. As soon as he regained his footing, he 
ed into the forest.
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
in Eiriksey [Eirik’s Island], near the middle of the Western Settlement. The follow-
ing spring, he sailed to Eiriksfjord where he established his home. During the sum-
mer, he traveled in the uninhabitable lands in the west, and gave names to places
throughout the area. He passed the next winter at Eirik’s Holm, near Hvarfsgnip.
In his third summer, he went all the way north to Snaefell and into Hrafnsfjord.
He claimed that he had then reached the head of Eiriksfjord. He turned back from
there and spent his third winter on Eiriksey at the mouth of Eiriksfjord.
The next summer, he sailed to Iceland and arrived at Breidafjord. He spent
the winter with Ingolf at Holmslatr. The following spring, Eirik and Thorgest
fought and Eirik had the worse of it. Afterwards, there was a reconciliation
between them. The same summer, Eirik set off to settle the land he had dis-
covered. He called it Greenland because, he said, people would be much more
eager to go there if he gave it an attractive name.
. Knowledgeable men say that twenty-
ve ships set out for Greenland
from Breidafjord and Borgarfjord, but that fourteen made it out there. Some
were driven back, while others were lost. This was 
fteen years before Chris-
tianity became the law in Iceland.
. There was a man called Herjolf, son of Bard, who was son of Herjolf,
who was a kinsman of Ingolf the settler. Ingolf gave Herjolf and his people
land between Vag and Reykjaness. Herjolf the younger went to Greenland
when Eirik the Red settled there. Aboard his ship with him was a Hebridean
who was Christian. He composed the “Sea-Hedges” poem [see doc.
]; this
is the burden of the poem:
Sinless master of monks,
safeguard my sea-journey;
prince of earth’s high hall, hold
your hand, the hawk’s rest, over me.
Herjolf settled Herjolfsfjord and lived at Herjolfsness. He was the 
nest of
. Then Eirik settled Eiriksfjord and lived at Brattahlid, as did Leif his son
after him. The following men went out to Greenland with Eirik and settled
there. Herjolf settled Herjolfsfjord; he lived at Herjolfsness; Ketil settled Ketils-
fjord; Hrafn settled Hrafnsfjord; Solvi settled Solvadal; Helgi Thorbrandsson
settled Alptafjord; Thorbjorn Glora settled Siglufjord; Einar, Einarsfjord;
Hafgrim, Hafgrimsfjord and Vatnahver
; Arnlaug settled Arnlaugsfjord, and
some went to the Western Settlement.
. There was a man called Thorkel Farserk. He was the son of Eirik the
Red’s sister and traveled to Greenland with him. He settled Hvalseyarfjord
and extensive territory between Eiriksfjord and Einarsfjord. He lived at
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
After the death of Godofrid, king of the Danes, Hemming, the son of his
brother, succeeded to his throne and made peace with the emperor.

. . . . The peace announced between the emperor and Hemming, the king
of the Danes, was only sworn on arms because of the severity of the winter,
which closed the road for traveling between the parties. Only with the return
of spring and the opening of the roads, which had been closed because of
harsh frost, did twelve magnates of each party and people, that is, of Franks
and Danes, meet on the River Eider at Heiligen and con
rm the peace by an
exchange of oaths according to their customs. . . .
[Following a general assembly at Aachen and campaigns beyond the Elbe,
in Pannonia, and Brittany] the emperor himself went to the port city of Bou-
logne in order to inspect the 
eet whose construction he had ordered the year
before. There the ships in question had assembled. At Boulogne he restored
the lighthouse constructed a long time ago to guide the course of sailors and
had a 
re lit on its top at night. From Boulogne he came to the River Scheldt
at Ghent and inspected the ships built for the same 
eet. About the middle of
November he came to Aachen. The envoys of King Hemming, Aowin and
Hebbi, came to meet him and brought presents and assurances of peace. . . .

. Not much later the news arrived that Hemming, king of the Danes,
had died. Sigifrid, the nephew of King Godofrid, and Anulo, the nephew of
Heriold and of the former king, both wished to succeed him. Being unable to
agree on who should be king, they raised troops, fought a battle, and were both
killed. The party of Anulo won, however, and made his brothers Heriold and
Reginfrid their kings. The defeated party of necessity had to go along with
Anulo’s party and did not reject the brothers as their kings. They say that ten
thousand nine hundred and forty men died in that battle. . . .
Also a 
eet of the Norsemen landed in Ireland, the island of the Scots, and
in a battle with the Scots many of the Norsemen were killed, and the 
three: early religion and belief
her to the seat that had been prepared for her. He asked her to run her eyes
over his household, herd, and house. She hadn’t much to say about anything.
The tables were set up in the evening and this is the food that was prepared
for the prophetess. She had porridge made from kid’s milk and, as a meat dish,
she had hearts from all the various kinds of beasts on the farm. She ate with
a brass spoon and a knife with a walrus-tusk handle, mounted with a double
ring of brass; the knife had a broken point.
When the tables were put away, Thorkel the Farmer went over to Thorbjorg
and asked her whether the house and the manners of the household were to
her liking. He asked how quickly she would know the answer to his question,
adding that everyone wanted to know. She replied that she would not speak
until the following morning, after she had slept the night there.
Late in the following day, she was supplied with everything she needed
to perform her magic. She asked for women who knew the chants called
[spirit summoners] that she needed for her witchcraft. However, no
such women were to be found. So a search was made throughout the farm for
anyone with this knowledge.
Then Gudrid said, “I’m neither skilled in magic nor a prophetess, but Hall-
dis, my foster-mother in Iceland, taught me chants that she called

“Then you know more than I thought,” said Thorbjorg. “I have no inten-
tion of taking part in this sort of ceremony,” said Gudrid, “because I am a
Christian woman.”
“Maybe you could help the people here and be no worse a woman for it,”
said Thorbjorg. “Anyway, I will leave it to Thorkel to provide what’s needed.”
Thorkel now pressured Gudrid and she agreed to do as he wished. Thorbjorg
sat on the witch’s dais and the women formed a circle around it. Then Gudrid
sang the songs so well and beautifully that none of those present thought that
they had ever heard 
ner singing.
The prophetess thanked Gudrid for her songs and said that there were now
many spirits present who had listened to them with pleasure. “Before this,”
she said, “these spirits wanted nothing to do with us and would not obey us.
Now many things are clear to me which before were concealed both from me
and from others. I can tell you that this famine won’t last much longer and the
year will improve with the spring. The sickness that has lasted so long will
clear up faster than expected.
“I’ll reward you right away, Gudrid, for the help you have given us, for
your whole future is now clearly visible to me. You will make a most honor-
able match here in Greenland, though the marriage won’t last long, for your
path in life points toward Iceland. There, your lineage will be long and dis-
tinguished and on your descendants a bright light will shine. Now, daughter,
go safely and well.”
the viking age: a reader

A tenth-century Gudrun follows her namesake’s example in
The Saga of the People
of Laxdale.
Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit V (Reyk-
), pp.
twelve: from odin to christ
Leif and his men sailed from the Hebrides and reached Norway in the
autumn. Leif became one of King Olaf Tryggvason’s retainers and was well
thought of by the king, who regarded him as a highly accomplished man. On
one occasion, the king fell into conversation with Leif and asked, “Do you
mean to go to Greenland in the summer?”
“I do,” replied Leif, “if that is acceptable to you.”
“I think it may well be,” said the king, “if you go there on my business and
preach Christianity.” Leif said that the king should decide, but he thought that
it would be a dif
cult task to carry out in Greenland. The king replied that he
could see no one better suited than Leif.
“And you’ll bring good luck to the undertaking,” said the king.
“It will work,” said Leif, “only if I have your good luck with me.”
Leif set out and, after a long time at sea, he came across land that he had not
previously known. There were  elds of self-sown wheat, full-grown vines, and
trees of the sort known as maple. They brought back proof of all this, includ-
ing some logs so big that they were used in house-building. Leif found some
men who had been shipwrecked, and took them back home with him [and
put them up for the winter]. In this, and in many other ways, he showed the
greatest generosity and nobility when he introduced Christianity to Greenland.
Forever after, he was called Leif the Lucky.
Leif made land at Eiriksfjord and went home to Brattahlid where everyone
gave him a great welcome. Straight away, he began to preach Christianity and the
Catholic faith. He made public King Olaf Tryggvason’s message and explained
how many splendid achievements and what great glory belonged to this religion.
Eirik reacted coldly to the suggestion that he should abandon his religion, but
Thjodhild submitted quickly and had a church built at a considerable distance
from the houses. The church was called Thjodhild’s Church and there she used
to pray along with the others who adopted Christianity. After she adopted the
faith, Thjoldhild would not sleep with Eirik, and that was not much to his liking.

Once again, Olaf Tryggvason is the moving force in the conversion of a faraway land.

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Finnbogi Guðmundsson, Íslenzk fornrit XXXIV
), p.
twelve: from odin to christ
ready to submit to torments and to suffer death for his name.” Being in great
uncertainty in regard to this matter, he acted on the advice that he received,
and invited the king to partake of his hospitality. Then, as a fellow-guest, he
offered what gifts he could and gave him the things with which he had been
entrusted, for the cause of his coming had already been explained to the king
by Rorik’s messenger and by the bishop’s friends who resided there. The king
was delighted with his kindness and liberality, and said that he gladly agreed
to what he had proposed. He said:
In former times there have been clergy who have been driven out by a
rising of the people and not by the command of the king. On this account
I have not the power, nor do I dare, to approve the objects of your mission
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
. The Picts encountered the dark foreigners in battle, and a great slaughter of
the Picts resulted.
. Oistín son of Amlaíb, king of the Norsemen, was deceitfully killed by
Albann. . . .
. Rhodri son of Merfyn, king of the Britons, came in 
ight from the dark for-
eigners to Ireland.
two: scandinavian society
the men of Møre as requested. So King Audbjorn had a war-arrow sent around
his entire realm as a call to war and he summoned his leading men to him by
When the messengers reached Kveld-Ulf and gave him the message that the
king had sent for him and all his men, he answered thus:
“If there’s a raid on Fjordane province, the king will think it my duty to
go with him and defend his land. However, I consider it no part of my duty
to go north to Møre and 
ght for the defense of their land. Tell your king as
soon as you meet him that Kveld-Ulf will sit out this call to arms at home and
won’t call up his troops or go off to 
ght against Harald Matted-Hair. For, in
my opinion, Harald has a great deal of good luck while our king hasn’t even a
handful.” The messengers returned to the king and told him how their errand
had turned out. Kveld-Ulf stayed at home on his farm.
. King Audbjorn and his followers journeyed north to Møre and met up
with Arnvid and Solvi. Together they had a large force. By then, King Harald
had arrived from the north with his army, and they met opposite Solskel
Island where a great battle took place with heavy loss of life on both sides.
Harald lost two earls, Asgaut and Asbjorn, as well as Grjotgard and Heralaug,
the two sons of Earl Hakon of Lade, and many other important men. Both
King Arnvid and King Audbjorn from the army of Møre were killed, but
Solvi Cleaver escaped and afterwards became a great Viking. He frequently
in icted extensive damage on King Harald’s kingdom, thus earning himself
the nickname Solvi Cleaver.
After that, King Harald subdued South Møre, but Vemund, Audbjorn’s
brother, hung onto power in the Fjordane district and made himself king
over it. Since it was late in the autumn, King Harald’s men advised him not
to advance south beyond Stad at that time. King Harald put Earl Rognvald in
charge of North and South Møre and Raumsdal. He himself returned north
toward Trondheim with a large band of followers.
That same autumn, Atli’s sons launched a raid against Olvir Snubnose,
intending to kill him. They had so large a force that Olvir could not resist and
had to take refuge in  ight. He traveled north to Møre where he met King
Harald and entered his service. In the autumn, he went north to Trondheim
with the king and they developed a close friendship. Olvir stayed with the king
for a long time and became his skald.
That winter, Earl Rognvald took the inland route across Eid, and south to
Fjordane where he received intelligence about King Vemund’s movements. One
night when Vemund was at a feast in a place called Naustdal, Earl
went there, attacked the house and burned the king inside with ninety of
his men.
viking life and death
about this because he had little self-control. Soon after that, some vagrants
found the goslings dead and the geese with their wings broken. Asmund was
furious and asked Grettir if he had killed the fowls. Grettir grinned and said:
Come winter time, for sure
I’ll twist the goslings’ necks;
and if the parents show up,
I’ll take care of them too.
“You’ll take no more care of them,” said Asmund.
“It’s a friend who warns another of misfortune,” replied Grettir. . . .
Some time later, Asmund told Grettir to take care of his horses. Grettir said
he thought that would be better than scratching his father’s back beside the 
“You’ll do as I ask you,” said Asmund. “I have a light brown mare with a
dark stripe along her back and I call her Kengala. She knows how the weather
will turn out and when there will be rain storms. Whenever she refuses to
go out to graze, there is a storm on the way for sure. You must look after the
horses in the stable and keep them to the north of the ridge when there is
dirty weather. I should think you’ll do better with this than the other work
I have given you.”
“It’s cold work and worthy of a man,” replied Grettir, “but it seems silly to
me to trust a mare; as far as I know no one has had faith in her before.”
Grettir started looking after the horses and kept at it until after Yule when
heavy cold and snow storms set in, making grazing very dif
cult. Grettir didn’t
have many clothes and wasn’t accustomed to harsh conditions. He began to
suffer from the cold, but Kengala always stayed in the most exposed places,
however bad the weather. She never came back to the pasture in time to get
home before nightfall. Grettir thought a lot about how he could play a trick
on Kengala and get even with her for her wandering.
Early one morning, Grettir came to open the stables. There he found Ken-
gala standing in front of the manger. Enough fodder had been provided for
all the animals, but only Kengala had had any food. Grettir leapt onto her; in
his hand he had a very sharp knife and with this he slashed across the mare’s
shoulders and down both sides of her back. The horse, well-fed and angry,
shied violently and kicked out so hard that her hind hooves crashed against
the walls. Grettir fell off but got back to his feet and tried to remount. They
had a vicious struggle which ended when Grettir had  ayed Kengala all along
the dark stripe on her back as far as the croup. Then he drove the horses out
to pasture, but Kengala was interested only in biting at her back and shortly
after noon she took off and ran back to the stable.
the viking age: a reader
]. In this year, the heathen army rode to Reading in Wessex. Three
days later, two earls arrived. Alderman Athelwulf encountered them at Engle-
eld where he fought and beat them. One of the Earls, Sidrac by name, was
killed there. Four days later, King Athelred and his brother Alfred arrived at
Reading, leading a large host. They fought with the heathen army and there
was great carnage on both sides. Alderman Athelwulf was killed and the Danes
remained in possession of the battle
Four days later, King Athelred and his brother Alfred fought against the
entire army at Ashdown. The Danish army was drawn up in two divisions, in
one of which were Basecg and Halfdan, the heathen kings, while the two earls
were in the other. King Athelred fought against the division of the two kings
and King Basecg was killed. Alfred took on the earls’ division. Earl Sidrac the
Elder and Sidrac the Younger were both killed there, as were the earls Osb-
jearn, Fræna, and Harold. Both divisions of the army were put to  ight and
many thousands were slain. Fighting continued until nightfall.
A fortnight later, King Athelred and his brother Alfred fought the heathen
army at Basing, where the Danes won. Two months after this, King Athelred
and his brother Alfred fought the heathen army at Marden [?]. The armies
were arranged in two divisions, and each side drove back the other, and both
had successes for a long time during the day; there was much slaughter on both
sides, but the Danes were left in possession of the battle
eld. Bishop Hæhmund
was killed along with many good men. After this battle, the men from a large
Danish summer-
eet came to Reading.
After Easter, King Athelred died after a reign of 
ve years; his body rests in
Wimborne Minster. Then his brother, Alfred son of Athelwulf, ruled Wessex.
A month later, King Alfred, with a small force, met the whole Danish army
in battle at Wilton, and he had them on the run for much of the day, but the
Danes remained in possession of the battle
eld. During this year, nine major
battles were fought against the Danish army in the kingdom to the south of
the Thames, not to mention minor raids carried out by Alfred, aldermen, or
king’s thanes which were not regarded as important. Nine earls and a king
were killed in this year. Also, the West Saxons made peace with the Danish
army in the same year.
]. This year, the Danish army moved from Reading to London,
where they established winter quarters. The Mercians made peace with the
army in the same year.
]. [This year, the Danish army went to Northumbria and] set up
winter quarters in Torksey.
\t ]. This year saw the army move from Lindsey to Repton, where they
stayed for the winter. And they drove King Burgred [of Mercia] overseas after
he had ruled for twenty-two years. They overran the country, while Burgred
three: early religion and belief
farm. The farmer greeted him warmly, but no one else took to him, least of all
Thorhall’s wife. Glam took charge of the sheep. This wasn’t much of an effort
for him, since he had a deep, resonant voice and the sheep 
ocked together
whenever he shouted “hoh.”
There was a church at Thorhallsstead, but Glam wouldn’t go near the place,
because he disliked the chanting and was not a believer. He was ill-tempered
and malicious and was universally detested.
Now, when Christmas Eve came around, Glam got up early and demanded
his food. “It’s not customary for Christians to eat today,” replied Thorhall’s
wife. “Tomorrow is the 
rst day of Christmas, and so today it’s our duty to fast.”
“You have lots of superstitions that don’t add up to anything, as far as I can
see,” said Glam. “And people don’t seem to be doing any better now than they
were before when they didn’t bother with this sort of stuff. In my opinion,
our way of life was better when people were called heathens. I want my food
now, so don’t give me the runaround.”
“I know for certain,” said Thorhall’s wife, “that you’re in for something
terrible today if you commit this sin.” Glam told her to bring the food imme-
diately or it would be the worse for her. She didn’t dare say no. Afterwards,
when he had eaten, he stormed out.
The weather was poor. There was a general gloom and the air was 
with blowing snow, driven by a howling gale. Conditions got worse as the
day went on. The shepherd’s voice could be heard in the morning, but less
clearly later on. The snow began to drift and in the evening a blizzard blew
up. People went to mass and night fell, but there was no sign of Glam. They
talked about mounting a search for him, but because of the snowstorm and the
utter darkness, no search took place.
Glam failed to come home on Christmas Eve. So, when the service was over
and there was suf
cient daylight, some men set out to look for him. They found
sheep scattered far and wide in the snow drifts; some had been injured in the
storm, while others had run off into the hills. High up in the valley, they came
across a large area where the ground had been trampled. It seemed as though
there had been a violent struggle, for rocks and earth had been kicked up all
over the place. They looked around carefully and saw Glam lying a short way
off. He was dead. His body was as black as hell, and bloated to the size of an
ox. They were repelled by the sight and shuddered with horror. Even so, they
tried to carry him to the church, but they could get no further than the edge
of a gully a little way down.
So they left the body where it was and went back to tell the farmer what
had happened. He asked them what could have killed Glam. They said that
they had followed some footprints as big as barrel bottoms. The footprints led
from the trodden area to the crags at the head of the valley, and large splatters
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
in under a hail of weapons to attack the
,” said Olaf Tryggvason. “But
who owns those large ships on the port side of the Danes?”
“Earl Eirik Hakonarson,” was the answer. “He must certainly think he has
good reason to 
ght us,” said King Olaf, “and we can expect a 
erce battle
with that lot, for they are Norsemen, like ourselves.”
. Then the kings prepared for the attack. King Svein steered his ship
toward the
Long Serpent.
King Olaf of Sweden sailed out to one side and
engaged the outermost ship in Olaf Tryggvason’s line, while Earl Eirik attacked
on the other side. A savage  ght broke out, but Earl Sigvald just moved his ships
to and fro and did not join the battle. Skuli Thorsteinsson, who was with Earl
Eirik at that time, says this about the battle:
I followed Eirik, the Frisians’ foe,
and Sigvald to where spears sang out;
we brought bloody swords
south to Svold
to meet the wielder of iron weapons
in the deadly din of battle.
Young then, I found fame,
but now all see I’m growing old.
Hallfred also speaks about this event:
Many turned tail
and you, who brought on the battle,
sorely missed the support
of Trondheim’s troops;
a single brave sovereign
battled two bold kings,
and Earl Eirik as a third;
it is a 
ne custom to tell such tales.
. This 
ght was very bitter and bloody. The men at the bows of the
, the
Short Serpent
, and the
threw anchors and grappling hooks into
King Svein’s ships. They hurled weapons down on the men below them and
cleared everyone off the ships they grappled. King Svein and the survivors of his
army  ed to other ships and got themselves out of weapon range as quickly as
they could. And so Svein’s army fared just as badly as King Olaf Tryggvason had
said it would. Then King Olaf of Sweden moved into King Svein’s place but, as
soon as he came close to the great ships, his force suffered as badly as Svein’s had
done. They lost many men and some of their ships and, given the circumstances,
they withdrew.
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
While yet young,
king, conqueror of 
the viking age: a reader
part in the burning of Njal died in Brian’s Battle. Halldor Gudmundarson and
Erling of Straumey fell there too.
On that Good Friday morning, a strange thing happened in Caithness.
A man called Darrud went out and saw twelve 
gures riding toward a cabin and
disappearing inside. He went over to the cabin and looked through a window.
He saw that there were women inside and they had set up a loom. Its weights
were men’s heads; its weft and warp were men’s entrails; the slay was a sword,
and the rod was an arrow. The women were reciting these verses:
“Darradarljod” (“Song of the Spear”)
. Wide is the warp
of slaughtered souls,
blood rains red
from the cloth-cloud;
now Valkyries weave
a web of war,
this warp of warriors,
grey like spear-steel,
with a red weft.
. The web is warped
with human guts
the warp is weighted
with human heads;
blood-spattered spears are
the heddle rods, the shed rod
is bound with iron bands,
the shuttle is shaped from arrows;
with our sword-beaters we strike
the wide web of victory.
. Hild and Hjorthrimul,
Sangrid and Svipol
weave the web
with unsheathed swords;
spears will splinter,
shields shatter,
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
composed in the late eleventh century, of three Muslim lands in the eastern Caucasus, in
what today roughly corresponds to Azerbaijan: al-Ba
b (Ba
b al-Abwa
b or Darband);
n, north of the Kur River; and Arra
n, south of the Kur. On the frontiers of the
Islamic world, the northern neighbors of these regions included, from the
s, the Ru
The  rst reference to the Ru
s in this text occurs in the chapter on al-Ba
b under the dates
, with further episodes related in
, and

Source: trans. V. Minorsky,
A History of Sharva
th Centuries
Heffer & Sons,
), pp.
Of the Kings of Sharva
b al-Abwa
b in Two Sections
. . . . Later in the same year [
] the Ru¯s entered Sharva¯n and the sharvan-
the viking age: a reader

Dudo, dean of St. Quentin (d. before
), wrote his
De moribus et actis primorum
Normanniae ducum (On the Customs and Deeds of the First Dukes of Nor-
at the behest of Count Richard I (d.
). The work was composed between
and covered events between the
s and the death of Count Richard.
The  rst book includes one of the few attempts by a medieval writer to explain the sudden
advent of the Northmen as anything other than the wrath of God. Modern scholarship
is quite skeptical about the historical value of the work, but it is important as an early
formulation of the Norman origin myth.

Source: trans. E. Christiansen, Dudo of St. Quentin,
History of the Normans
(Woodbridge, Suffolk:

), pp.
Now the cosmographers who have surveyed the world’s whole mass, and
the viking age: a reader

The incomplete Eddic poem known as
Rígsþula, The Lay of Rig
relates the mythical
origins of the different social orders. Though preserved in a thirteenth-century manuscript, the
poem is considerably older. The brief prose introduction to the poem identi es Rig as
the Norse god Heimdall, who is said, in
(see docs.
), to be the father of
the human race. “Rig” is related to the Celtic word for king.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Gustav Neckel;
th rev. edition,
ed. Hans Kuhn (Heidelberg: Carl Winter,

), pp.

In old tales, men say that one of the Æsir [gods], Heimdall by name, journeyed
along a sea-coast, and that he came to a farmhouse, where he went by the name
of Rig. This poem tells the story.
. They said that
long ago,
Rig went striding
along green paths,
a wise god,
powerful, old,
strong and vigorous.
. More:
he kept
to the middle of the paths,
came to a house,
the door was wide open.
In he went.
re burned on the 
a gray-haired couple
sat by the hearth:
Greatgrandfather, and
Greatgrandmother in
her old-fashioned head-gear.
. Rig knew
how to give them advice.
he sat
himself down
five: viking warriors and their weapons
. Skallagrim took great delight in trials of strength and sports and he loved
talking about them. Ball-games were played in those days. At that time there
were plenty of strong men, but no one came near Skallagrim in strength, even
when he was advanced in years.
Grani of Granistead had a young and very promising son called Thord who
was deeply attached to Egil Skallagrimson. Egil was a great one for wrestling
as well as being extremely headstrong and hot-tempered. Everyone knew to
warn their sons not to win against Egil.
At the beginning of winter, a large number of people held a ball-game at
Hvitarvellir; they came from all over the district, including many from Skal-
lagrim’s household. Thord Granison was the most eager amongst them. Egil
asked Thord if he could go with him to the game; he was seven years old then.
Thord agreed and carried Egil on his back.
When they arrived, the men were divided up for the game. Lots of boys had
come as well. They set up another game, and they formed groups for that too.
Egil drew as his opponent a boy called Grim, son of Hegg from Heggstead.
Grim was eleven or twelve years old, and strong for his age. When they played,
Egil proved the weaker and Grim put all that he had into the effort. Egil lost
his temper, raised the bat, and struck him with it. Grim seized him and gave
him a really bad fall; he said that he would hurt Egil seriously if he didn’t
behave himself.
When Egil got to his feet, he left the game, and the boys laughed at him.
Egil went looking for Thord Granison and told him what had happened. Thord
said, “I’ll go with you and we’ll get our own back on him.” Thord handed him
a skeggax [one-handed ax] which he had with him. They walked to where the
boys were playing. Grim had the ball and was running off with it; the other
boys were in pursuit. Egil leapt at Grim and drove the ax into his head so that
it penetrated the brain. Egil and Thord immediately returned to their people.
The men from Myrar seized their weapons; indeed, both sides did so. Oleif
Hjalti ran with his followers to join the men of Borg, so that they were much
the larger group; then the two sides separated.
This caused bad blood between Oleif and Hegg and they fought at Lax
near Grimsa [Grim’s River]. Six men died there; Hegg was mortally wounded
and his brother, Kvig, died too.
When Egil came home, Skallagrim paid little heed, but Bera said that he
was likely to become a great Viking and that a warship would be in store for
him when he was old enough. Egil recited a poem:
She would buy me, said my mother,
a fast ship with splendid oars;
I would travel away with Vikings,
the viking age: a reader

Saint Anskar (d.
), known as the “Apostle of the North,” conducted missionary
work in Denmark and Sweden and became the  rst Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen
. His hagiographer, Rimbert (d.
), is a shadowy  gure about whom little is
known, but he was a pupil of Anskar and probably accompanied him on some of his
travels. Rimbert’s
Life of Anskar
was written soon after Anskar’s death and provides
important glimpses of early missions to the Scandinavian peoples.

Source: Trans. C.H. Robinson,
Anskar: The Apostle of the North,
, translated from the Vita Ans-
karii by Bishop Rimbert his fellow missionary and successor (London

); revised by P.E. Dutton,
viking life and death
from Gimsar. On one wing of Sigvald’s 
eet were Bui Digri and Sigurd his
brother, with twenty ships. Opposite them Earl Eirik, Hakon’s son, took up
position with sixty ships, and with him were the chieftains Guthbrand the
White from the Uplands and Thorkell Leira from Vik. On the other wing of
eet, Vagn Akason positioned himself to the fore with twenty ships,
and opposing him was Hakon’s son Svein with sixty ships. Among his troops
were Skeggi from Uphaug in Yrjar and Rognvald from Ærvik in Stad. As it
is told in
Slender ships glided
to sea-battle with the Danes;
eet sped
along the sea-coast;
at Møre the earl disabled many
ships of the gold-rich Danes;
the ships drifted,
heaped with the warm dead.
Eyvind Skaldaspillir also says this in
The meeting was miserable,
the morning grim for the Ynglings’ [Norwegians’]
foes, when the earls urged their 

fourteen: the end of the viking age
replied that he did not want to 
ght against such a good king. Both of them
grew very angry; they divided up their forces, with Ospak taking ten ships
and Brodir twenty.
Ospak was a heathen and the wisest of men. He steered his ships into the
bay while Brodir lay at anchor outside it. Brodir had been a Christian and an
ordained deacon, but he had abandoned his faith and renounced God. Now he
ced to heathen devils. He was more skilled in sorcery than anyone else
and had a mail shirt which no weapon could pierce. He was a big, strong man
and his black hair was so long that he could tuck it under his belt.
. One night a great din broke out above Brodir and his men. Awakened
by the noise, they all leapt up and got dressed. Then, along with the din,
came a shower of boiling blood. They protected themselves against it with
their shields, but many of them were scalded. This strange happening lasted
until daybreak, and one man died on every ship. Then they slept for the rest
of the day.
The next night, the noise returned and once more they all sprang up. This
time swords leapt out of their sheaths, and axes and spears 
ew up into the air
above them and started 
ghting. The weapons attacked the men so 
ercely that
they had to use their shields for protection, but many of them were wounded
and again one man died on every ship. This wonder went on till dawn and
once again they slept all the next day.
On the third night, the uproar erupted again. This time, ravens came 
down at the men, attacking them so 
ercely with their iron-like beaks and
claws that the men had to defend themselves with their swords and protect
themselves with their shields. This onslaught continued until daybreak, and
again, one man died on every ship. Then they slept.
When Brodir awoke, he sighed deeply, and ordered his men to launch a
boat, saying that he wanted to see his foster-brother, Ospak. He boarded the
boat with some of his men, and when he met Ospak, he told him about all
the strange things that had happened to them and asked him to explain their
cance. Ospak refused to tell him until he had agreed to a truce. Brodir
gave his word, but, even then, Ospak put off telling him until nightfall, for
Brodir never killed at night.
Then Ospak said: “When the blood rained down on you, it was a sign that
you will shed a great deal of blood, both your own and other men’s. When
you heard a great noise, it was a sign that the world is falling apart, and you
will all die soon. When the weapons attacked you, they portended a battle.
And when the ravens 
ew at you it was a sign that the devils you trusted will
drag you down to the torments of hell.”
Brodir was too enraged to speak. He rushed back to his men and had them
line up his ships across the sound and moor them to the shore with cables. He
cover the coarsest thoughts,
charming even the wisest women.
. I advise you, Loddfafnir,
listen to my advice,
you’ll bene
t if you take it,
and only good will befall you;
I advise you to be wary,
but not too wary;
be wariest with ale
and another man’s wife;
and third, be wary
that thieves don’t outwit you.
the viking age: a reader
the viking age: a reader
Supported by the Saxons, he attacked the neighboring Wilzi and laid waste
elds with 
re and sword. Returning home with immense booty and
with even more help from the Saxons, he conquered the largest city of the
Smeldingi. By these successes he forced all who had defected from him to join
him again. . . .
Since he had heard much of the arrogance and pride of the Danish king, the
emperor decided to build a castle on the other side of the Elbe and to garrison it
with a Frankish force. For this purpose he gathered men in Gaul and Germany
equipped with arms and all other necessities, and ordered them to be taken
by way of Frisia to their destination. In the meantime Thrasco, duke of the
Obodrites, was treacherously killed by Godofrid’s men at the trading place of
Reric. When the location for the founding of a castle had been explored, the
emperor appointed Count Egbert to be responsible for this matter, ordering
him to cross the Elbe and to occupy the site. This place is located on the River
Stör and is called Esesfelth. Egbert and the Saxon counts occupied it and began
to fortify it about March

. . . . While the emperor was still at Aachen, considering an expedition
against King Godofrid, he received the news that a 
eet of two hundred ships
from Denmark had landed in Frisia, that all the islands off the coast of Frisia
had been ravaged, that the army had already landed and fought three battles
against the Frisians, that the victorious Danes had imposed a tribute on the
vanquished, that already one hundred pounds of silver had been paid as tribute
by the Frisians, and that King Godofrid was at home. That, in fact, is how
things stood. This information aroused the emperor so much that he sent out
messengers everywhere to gather an army. Leaving the palace without delay,
he decided 
rst to go and meet the 
eet, then to cross the Rhine at Lippeham
and wait for the troops which had not yet arrived. . . . When the troops had
nally assembled, the emperor hastened to the Aller at the greatest possible
speed, set up camp where it  ows into the Weser, and then waited for what
would come of King Godofrid’s threats. In ated by the vain hope of victory,
this king boasted that he wished to 
ght the emperor in open battle.
But while the emperor had his quarters in the place mentioned, news of
various matters was brought to him. It was reported that the 
eet which rav-
aged Frisia had returned home and King Godofrid had been murdered by
one of his retainers; that the castle of Hohbuoki on the Elbe, with Odo, the
emperor’s envoy, and a garrison of east Saxons had been captured by the Wilzi;
that his son Pepin, the king of Italy, had died on July
, and that two embassies
to make peace had arrived from different countries, one from Constantinople,
the other from Cordova. When the emperor had received all these reports, he
settled the affairs of Saxony as far as circumstances at that time permitted and
returned home. . . .
the viking age: a reader
. There  ies the dusky dragon,
darkly gleaming,
up from the moonless mountains;

ying over the moors,
Nidhogg carries
corpses among his feathers.
And so she will now
sink down.
four: women in the viking age
when those gleaming snakes
slithered toward Gunnar
to end his life.
And the sharpest
when they cut to the heart
the fearless king
while he still lived.
. “I remember
many misfortunes. . . .
Sigurd, harness
your black horse,
the viking age: a reader
to exhort them not to let this happen, saying that it would lead to trouble and
that there was a strong likelihood of civil unrest, which would ruin the country.
He pointed to the kings of Norway and Denmark who had carried on hostilities
until their subjects made peace between them, though the kings themselves
did not want to. That agreement turned out so well that, in a short time, the
kings were exchanging splendid gifts and the peace held as long as they lived.
“And I think it would be a good idea,” said Thorgeir, “not to leave the
decision to the extremists, but to arrive at a compromise, so that each side gets
something and we all have one law and a single faith. For sure, if we tear up
the law, we tear up the country.”
He ended his speech, and both sides agreed that they would all have a single
law code, which would be what he decided to announce.
Then it was passed into law that everyone was to be Christian and that
baptism was to be given to anyone in the country who was still unbaptized.
From among the old laws were preserved the right to expose infants and the
eating of horse
esh. Private sacri
ce was still allowed, but there would be a
penalty of lesser outlawry if there were any witnesses. A few years later this
heathen practice was abolished like the others.
Teit told us that this was how Christianity came to Iceland. That same
summer, Olaf Tryggvason died, according to Saemund the priest. Olaf fought
against Svein Haraldsson, king of Denmark, Olaf Eiriksson, the Swede, and
Hakon’s son, Eirik, who was later earl in Norway. That was one hundred and
thirty years after the killing of King Edmund, and one thousand after the birth
of Christ, as it is generally reckoned.

Leif Eiriksson was charged by Olaf Tryggvason with the conversion of Greenland. On
his way to introduce Christianity to Greenland, Leif Eiriksson was driven off course
and saw Vinland for the  rst time.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
Eiriks saga Rauða
, in
Eyrbyggja saga
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson and
Matthías Þórðarson, Íslenzk fornrit IV (Reykjavík,
), pp.

. Eirik’s wife was called Thjodhild. He had two sons by her, named Thorstein
and Leif, both of whom were promising men. Thorstein was at home with his
father, and no one in Greenland was so highly regarded. Leif had sailed to Nor-
way and was with King Olaf Tryggvason.
However, when Leif sailed from Greenland in the summer, he and his crew
were blown off course to the Hebrides. A favorable wind was a long time com-
ing to them, and they stayed there for much of the summer. . . .
the viking age: a reader
they had agreed among themselves and, on his part, entrusted to the bishop
injunctions addressed to the king of Sweden as his father had done previously.
. As he was then about to set out on this journey he took with him the
message and the token given him by King Rorik, who directed him to give the
message to the Swedish king named Olaf and to say that the messenger whom
King Louis had sent to his kingdom was well known to him and that he had
never before in his life seen so good a man, nor had he ever found any other
human being so trustworthy. In recognition of his goodness he had allowed
him to do whatever he wished in his kingdom in the interests of the Christian
religion and King Louis begged that he would permit him to establish the
Christian religion in his own kingdom, as he desired, for he would do nothing
that would not be good and right.
Anskar accomplished the journey on which he had set out and after spend-
ing nearly twenty days in a ship, he arrived at Birka where he found that the
king and many of the people were perplexed by grievous errors. It happened,
at the instigation of the devil, who knew beforehand of the coming of this
good man, that someone had come there and said that he had been present at
a meeting of the gods, who were believed to be the owners of this land, and
had been sent by them to make this announcement to the king and the people:
You, I say, have long enjoyed our good will, and under our protection the
land in which you dwell has long been fertile and has had peace and prosper-
ity. You have also duly sacri
ced and performed the vows made to us, and
your worship has been very pleasing to us. But now you are keeping back
the usual sacri
ces and are slothful in paying your voluntary offerings; you
are, moreover, displeasing us greatly by introducing a foreign god in order to
supplant us. If you want to enjoy our good will, offer the sacri
ces that have
been omitted and give greater vows. And do not receive the worship of any
other god, who teaches that which is opposed to our teaching, nor pay any
attention to his service. Furthermore, if you desire to have more gods and we
do not suf
ce, we will agree to summon your former king, Eric [III] to join
us so that he may be one of the gods.
This devilish announcement, which was publicly made on the arrival of
the bishop, disturbed the minds of all and their hearts were deceived and dis-
quieted. For they had resolved to have a temple in honor of the late king and
had begun to render votive offerings and sacri
ces to him as to a god. When,
then, the bishop came there, he asked his friends, the ones he had formerly
known there, how he might speak to the king on this matter. They all, with
one accord, disagreed with him doing so and said that for the time being this
mission could effect nothing, and that if he had anything of value with him he
should give it to the king so that he might escape with his life. He replied, “For
the saving of my life would I give nothing, for, if my Lord shall so ordain, I am
the viking age: a reader
. The dark foreigners won a battle over the northern Saxons at York, in which
fell Aelle, king of the northern Saxons.
. Amlaíb’s fort at Cluain Dolcáin was burned by Gaíthíne’s son and Mael Ciaráin
son of Rónán, and the aforesaid commanders caused a slaughter of a hundred of
the leaders of the foreigners in the vicinity of Cluain Dolcáin on the same day. . . .
. Aed son of Niall won a battle at Cell Ua nDaigri against the Uí Néill of Brega,
and the Laigin, and a large force of the foreigners, i.e. three hundred or more;
Barbara, Anna, and Clare
Jacqueline, Emma, and Colin
two: scandinavian society

sh, bacon and
roast fowl.
There was wine in a jug
and mounted goblets.
They drank, they talked;
the day passed.
. Rig knew how
to give them advice.
He rose then,
prepared for bed.
Three nights in all
he was there.
then he went on his way
in the middle of the paths.
then nine months passed.
. Mother gave birth to a boy,
wrapped him in silk;
they sprinkled him with water,
called him Jarl [Earl].
Blond of hair, bright of cheek,
he had eyes as piercing
as a young serpent’s.
. Jarl grew up there in the hall:
he learned to
brandish a shield,
put on bowstrings,
bend the elm-bow,
make shafts for arrows,
make javelins quiver,
ride horses,
hunt with dogs,
draw swords,
and swim.
. Rig came walking, walking
from the grove,
the viking age: a reader
There has been much speculation about where Egil hid his treasure. To the
east of the farm at Mosfell, a gully runs down the mountainside, and it has
been noticed that whenever there is 
ooding following a sudden thaw, English
pennies have turned up in the gully after the water has subsided. Some people
conclude from this that Egil must have hidden his treasure there. Below the
homestead at Mosfell are large and very deep bogs. Many people are convinced
that Egil must have thrown his treasure into them. To the south of the river
there are hot springs, and close by the springs there are deep pits in the earth.
Some think that this is where Egil must have hidden his money, for the 
that  ickers over buried treasure is often seen there. Egil admitted that he had
killed Grim’s slaves and also that he had hidden his treasure, but he told no
one where he had hidden it.
Later that autumn Egil fell ill, and the illness carried him off. When he
was dead, Grim had him dressed in 
ne clothes and moved down to Tjalda-
ness where he had a burial mound built. Egil was laid there with his weapons
and clothes.

In the Viking Age, boys could inherit at
and girls could marry at
. It is hardly
surprising that children were expected to share in the work of a household from a fairly
early age. Tasks such as animal minding and goose herding were particularly suitable
for children since they did not require much physical stamina. Presumably most children
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
eet arrived and ravaged Winchester. Alderman Osric with the Hamp-
shire host, and Alderman Athelwulf with the force from Berkshire took on
the army and put it to  ight; they were left in possession of the battle
Athelbriht reigned for 
ve years and his body rests at Sherborne.
. In this year, the heathen army occupied Thanet and made peace with
the people of Kent. The Kentishmen promised money in return for peace.
Taking advantage of the promise of money, the heathen army stole up by night
and raided the whole of east Kent.
]. In this year, Athelred, Athelbriht’s brother, took over
the rule of the West Saxons. That year, too, a great heathen army invaded the
land of the Angles and established winter quarters and procured horses there.
They made peace with the East Anglians.
]. This year, the heathen army advanced from East Anglia across the
mouth of the River Humber as far as York in Northumbria. The Northum-
brians were seriously at odds with one another. They had recently overthrown
their king, Osbriht, and had accepted as king, Ella, a man with no claim to the
throne. However, late in the year they submitted again to Osbriht and then
fought against the heathen army. They gathered an immense host and attacked
the heathens at York. They penetrated the forti
cations and some of them got
inside. There was a huge slaughter among the Northumbrians, some inside the
city and others outside. Both Northumbrian kings were killed. The survivors
made peace with the heathen army. The same year, Bishop Ealhstan died after
holding the bishopric of Sherborne for 
fty years. He is buried in the town.
\n\t]. In this year, the heathen army moved to Nottingham in Mercia
and took up winter quarters there. King Burgred of Mercia and his council
begged King Athelred of Wessex and his brother Alfred to help them in their
ght against the great army. They led the West Saxon host into Mercia as far
as Nottingham where they encountered the heathen army at the forti
and laid siege to the city. However, there was no serious 
ghting, so the Mer-
cians made peace with the army.
. In this year, the heathen army returned to York and stayed there for
a year.
]. In the course of this year, the Danish army crossed Mercia on its
way to East Anglia where they took up winter quarters at Thetford. The king
of East Anglia, Saint Edmund, fought them, but the Danes won the battle and
killed the king. They overran the whole land and destroyed all the monasteries
they came to. At that time, they stormed and burned Medeshamstede, where they
killed the abbot and the monks. They destroyed everything they found there

and reduced to nothing a place that had formerly been very prosperous. Arch-
bishop Ceolwulf died this year.
the viking age: a reader
Thorhall went into Skapti’s booth. Skapti knew that Thorhall was a prosper-
ous man, so he welcomed him warmly and asked for his news. “I want your
advice,” said Thorhall. “I’m not too great at giving advice,” replied Skapti.
“But what’s your problem?”
“My problem is this,” said Thorhall. “I don’t have much luck keeping shep-
herds. Some get hurt; others don’t stay to 
nish their contracts. Now, no one
who’s aware of the situation will take on the job.”
“There must be some threatening presence about the place if men are more
reluctant to look after your cattle than other people’s,” said Skapti. “But since
you’ve asked my advice, I’ll get you a shepherd. His name is Glam and he’s a
Swede from Sylgsdale who came to Iceland last summer. He’s big and strong,
but not very popular.”
Thorhall said that that wasn’t a problem as long as Glam looked after the
sheep properly. Skapti added that there wasn’t much prospect of 
nding another
shepherd if someone as strong and brave as Glam didn’t work out. After that,
Thorhall left the booth; this was toward the end of the Althing.
Thorhall noticed that two of his pale-colored horses were missing, so he
went out looking for them and because he went himself, people thought he was
a man of little importance. His search took him up toward the Sletha Ridge
and then south along Armannsfell mountain. There he saw a man coming
down from Godi’s Wood with a load of 
rewood on his horse. When they met,
Thorhall asked him his name and the man said he was called Glam. He was
a big, odd-looking man with gray, staring eyes, and wolf-gray hair. Thorhall
was taken slightly aback when he saw him, but he realized that this was the
very man who had been recommended to him.
“What kind of work are you best at?” asked Thorhall. Glam answered that
he was good at taking care of sheep in winter.
“Will you look after my sheep?” asked Thorhall. “Skapti has placed you
at my disposal.”
“You’ll get the best work out of me if I’m my own boss,” said Glam, “for
I’m bad-tempered when I don’t get my way.”
“That won’t bother me,” said Thorhall. “I’m anxious for you to come to my
farm.” “That’s 
ne by me,” said Glam, “but are there any problems?”
“The place seems to be haunted,” replied Thorhall. “I’m not afraid of
ghosts,” said Glam. “Besides, they’ll make life more interesting.”
“That’s the sort of attitude you’ll need,” said Thorhall. “And it’s just as well
you’re not a weakling.” They agreed that Glam would come at the beginning of
winter and with that they parted. Thorhall found his horses just where he had
been looking for them. Then he rode back and thanked Skapti for his assistance.
As summer passed, Thorhall heard not a word of his shepherd, and no one
knew anything about him, but at the agreed time he showed up at Thorhall’s
the viking age: a reader
“Lower the sails. My men will never think of 
eeing, and I have never 
from a battle. God may do as he wants with my life, but I’ll never run for it.”
The king’s orders were carried out. Hallfred relates it thus:
Let me recall the king’s words:
it is said the mail-clad man,
spoke spiritedly
on the brink of battle;
the conquering King Olaf
forbade the thought of  ight;
the prince, beloved of his people,
spoke warrior’s words that endure.
. King Olaf Tryggvason had the trumpets blown to summon his ships
together for battle. The king’s ship was in the center of the line, with the
on one side, and the
on the other. When they began to tie the
ships together for battle, they lashed the prows of the
Long Serpent
and the
Short Serpent
together. Seeing this, King Olaf called to his men in a loud voice
and ordered them to position the big ship further forward, so that it wouldn’t
stretch out behind the other ships. Ulf the Red replied,
“If we line up the sterns, then the
Long Serpent
will jut out far in front of
the other ships, and we’ll have a rough time of it in the bows.”
“I didn’t know that I had a man in the bows as yellow as he’s red,” said
King Olaf.
“Just you make sure to defend the stern, as well as I will defend the bow,”
replied Ulf the Red. The king laid an arrow to his bow and aimed at Ulf.
“Shoot it somewhere else where it will do more good,” said Ulf. “What I do,
I do for you, king.”

. King Olaf stood on the quarter-deck of the
Long Serpent.
He was a
gure. His gilt shield and helmet made him clearly recognizable,
as did the short scarlet tunic that he wore over his chain mail. He noticed that
the enemy ships were forming up and that the chiefs opposing him had raised
their standards.
“Who is leading the group directly opposite us?” he asked. One of his men
told him that it was King Svein Forkbeard with the Danish army. “We’re not
afraid of these cowards,” said King Olaf. “The Danes are not noted for their
courage. But whose standards are those to the right of the Danes?”
He was told that they belonged to King Olaf of Sweden. “He and his men
would be better off at home licking their sacri
cial bowls instead of rowing
the viking age: a reader
, in
, ed. Bjarni Guðnason, Íslenzk fornrit XXXV (Reykja-

), pp.
. After King Svein’s death, Danish chieftains held on to the part of England they
had conquered. Then 
ghting started again because, as soon as King Svein died,
Athelred [King Athelred the Unready, ca
] came back and re-entered
his kingdom with the support of Saint Olaf [king of Norway]. This is recounted
fourteen: the end of the viking age
Earl Sigurd had a hard 
ght against Kerthjalfad who advanced so forcefully
that he killed everyone before him. He fought his way right through Earl
Sigurd’s force as far as the standard and killed the standard bearer. The earl
got another man to carry the standard and the battle continued just as 
Kerthjalfad immediately cut down the replacement standard-bearer. Then he
killed all those who were near him, one after another. Earl Sigurd ordered
Thorstein Hallsson to carry the standard, and Thorstein was just about to pick
it up when Amund the White said: “Don’t touch the standard, Thorstein.
Everyone who carries it is killed.”
“You carry the standard,” said the earl to Hrafn the Red.
“Carry the accursed thing yourself,” replied Hrafn.
“You’re right,” said the earl. “A beggar should carry his own bag.” So he
took the standard from its pole and put it under his clothes. Shortly afterwards,
Amund the White was killed, and then the earl, too, was skewered by a spear.
Ospak had fought his way through the opposing wing; he was badly
wounded, and Brian’s sons were both dead. King Sigtrygg 
ed before him and
after that the whole Norse army took to  ight. But while everyone else was
running away, Thorstein Hallsson stopped to tie his shoelace. When Kerth-
jalfad asked him why he wasn’t running away, Thorstein replied, “Because
I won’t make it home this evening since I live out in Iceland.” Kerthjalfad
spared his life.
Hrafn the Red was pursued into a river. He thought he could see the tor-
ments of hell below him and devils threatening to drag him down, so he said,
“Saint Peter, this dog of yours has run to Rome twice already, and will run
there a third time if you let him.”
Then the devils let him go, and he got across the river.
Brodir saw that King Brian’s army was in hot pursuit of the 
eeing soldiers
and that there was hardly anyone near the shield wall. So he ran out of the
woods, broke through the shield wall, and struck at King Brian. The boy Tatk
thrust his arm in the way, but the stroke cut off his arm and the king’s head too.
The king’s blood splashed onto the stump of Tatk’s arm, and it healed immedi-
ately. Then Brodir shouted loudly, “Spread the word. Brodir has killed Brian.”
Some men sped off and told the pursuing troops that King Brian had fallen.
Ulf the Unruly and Kerthjalfad turned back at once. They surrounded Brodir
and his men, threw tree branches over them, and took Brodir prisoner. Ulf
the Unruly cut open his stomach and unwound his entrails by leading him
round and round an oak tree. He did not die until all of his guts were pulled
out. Brodir’s men were all killed too.
When they took King Brian’s body to prepare it for burial, they found that
his head had grown back onto his body. Fifteen of the men who had taken
the viking age: a reader
over in the east
the lord of Agder left
a cruel mark on a manly king;
rough was the Greek king’s road.
In these two
, and in many other poems about Harald, it is clearly
stated that he himself blinded the Greek king. A chieftain, or an earl, or some
other high-born man would have been named if it had been known for sure
that he had done it. But this story was spread by Harald himself and by the
men who were there with him.
. The same night, Harald and his men went to the house where Maria
slept and abducted her. Then they went to the Varangian galleys, took two of
them, and rowed into the Golden Horn until they reached the point where iron
chains are stretched across the sound. Harald ordered the crews of both galleys
to ply their oars and told all the men who were not rowing to run toward the
stern, carrying their leather bags. In this way, they ran the galleys up onto the
iron chains, where they stuck fast. Harald immediately ordered his men to
run to the bows. This movement tipped Harald’s galley forward and pitched
it free of the chains with a shudder, but the other galley remained hung up on
the chains and broke apart. Some of the crew were pulled from the water, but
many of them drowned there.
That is how Harald escaped from Mikligard and entered the Black Sea, but
before he sailed away, he put the young woman ashore and provided her with
several attendants to escort her back to Mikligard. Harald told her to point out
to Zoe how little control she had over him and how, with all her power, she
was unable to prevent him from abducting the girl. Then he sailed north to the
mouth of the Dnieper and from there he traveled all over the eastern realm. . . .
. When Harald came to Holmgard [Novgorod], King Jarizleif [ca
] gave him a splendid welcome. He stayed there for the winter and took
charge of all the gold and the many other treasures that he had sent from
Mikligard. No one in the Northlands had ever seen so much wealth in the
possession of one man for, while he was in Mikligard, Harald had participated
in “palace-pillaging” three times. It was the law there that when a Greek king
died, the Varangians had pillaging rights at his palaces. They were permitted
to go through all the king’s treasuries and each man could help himself freely
to whatever he could lay his hands on.
. R

Among the otherwise unknown sources incorporated into the historical compilation of the
Ottoman writer Ahmad b. Lutfulla
h (d.
) is an anonymous local history, originally
seven: “sudden and unforeseen atta
cks of northmen”
as they please; and so, by mingling together in illicit couplings, they generate
innumerable children.
When these have grown up, they clamor  ercely against their fathers and
their grandfathers, or more frequently against each other, for shares of property;
and, as they are over-many, and the land they inhabit is not large enough for
them to live in, there is a very old custom by which a multitude of youths is
selected by lot and expelled into the realms of other nations, to win kingdoms
for themselves by 
ghting, where they can live in uninterrupted peace. That is
what the Getae did, who are also called Goths, after they had laid waste almost
the whole of Europe as far as where they live now.
Besides, at one time they used to complete their expulsions and exits
by making sacri
ces in honor of their god Thor. And to him they would offer
no single beasts, nor herds of cattle, nor “gifts of Father Liber, nor of Ceres,”
but men’s blood, which they deemed to be the most precious of all holocausts;
because him whom a soothsaying priest would determine beforehand, they
struck with one fatal blow on his head, [as with] a pair of oxen. And then,
when the head of the one chosen by lot had been struck a single blow by each
man, he was laid out on the ground, and they would search for “the tube of
the heart” on the left-hand side; that is, for the aorta. And it was their custom
to smear their own and their followers’ heads with the blood that was drained
out; and then they would quickly hoist the sails of their ships into the winds,
thinking to placate those [winds] by such a procedure, and would briskly ply
the oars of their ships.
But if, on the other hand, the lot they drew was for going out on horseback,
they would raise the martial standards of battle, and so escape from their own
nes and pursue the policy of “falling upon other nations with” deadly
“force.” For they are exiled by fathers, boldly to batter kings. They are sent
away without wealth from their own people, that they may enrich themselves
out of the plenty of foreigners. They are deprived of their own lands, that
they might be settled undisturbed on those of others. They are expelled as
exiles, that they may be rewarded as warriors. They are thrust out by their
own people, that they may share with aliens. They are separated from their
own nation, that they may rejoice in possessing others. They are abandoned
by their fathers, perhaps never again to be seen by their mothers. The ferocity
of the young men is aroused, and the nations are destroyed. The native land is
liberated, having been purged of its own numerous enemy. So they lay waste
everything which stands in their way. Along the sea-shores they sail, to win
for themselves the despoiling of lands. What they seize from one kingdom
they remove to another. They make for “peace-protected” ports in order to
make a pro
t from their loot.
the viking age: a reader
sprinkled him with water,
named him Thrall.
. He grew and 
On his hands he had
wrinkled skin,
knobbly knuckles,
Ill-favored was his face,
stooped his back,
long his heels.
. More:
he began
to exert his strength
binding bast [hemp, jute],
bundling up loads,
carrying home faggots
all the weary day.
. To the dwelling came
a footloose girl
with muddy soles,
sunburnt arms,
and hooked nose.
Her name was
Thir [Thrallwoman].
. More:
in the middle
of the seating area
she sat herself down,
the son of the house
sat beside her.
They talked and whispered,
made their bed,
Thrall and Thir,
lived crowded days.
. They had children,
settled down and were happy.
the viking age: a reader
When Aud arrived home at dawn, her brothers asked where she had been.
She answered that she had been to Laugar and told them what she had done
there. They were delighted but said that she had not gone far enough. Thord’s
wounds kept him in bed for a long time. Though the injuries on his chest
healed well, his arm was never the same again. . . .
viking life and death
for the spirited warrior in the spear-shower.
Spears sing in  ight,
trusty friends of wounded 
strong in spirit I advanced.
Edges cut; in showers fell wound-giving shafts.
“Do you think Skarphedin was dead or alive when he recited that poem?”
asked Grani Gunnarsson. “I’m not going to speculate about that,” replied Flosi.
“Let’s look for Skarphedin and the others who were burned alive in here,”
said Grani.
“No,” said Flosi. “Only a fool like you would think of something like that
at a time when men must be assembling forces all over the district. Anyone
who hangs about now will be so scared later on that he won’t know which
way to run. My advice is that we all ride away as fast as we can.” Flosi and all
his men went in haste to their horses.

Olaf Haraldsson (Saint Olaf;
), was king of Norway from
, and
he uni ed the kingdom more effectively than Harald Finehair had been able to do. His
harshness brought rebellion in
, and his attempt to regain the throne ended with his
defeat and death at the Battle of Stiklestad in
. Before the battle, the king called the
the viking age: a reader
Then, traveling day and night, the earl rowed into every fjord, going in
on one side and coming out by the other. He sent spies to the uplands around
Eid, and south to the Fjords, and also to the north where Eirik had gone with
his army. It is told thus in
The war-wise earl
had longships at sea,
launched high prows,
threats to Sigvald.
Oars quivered, but the prey
of the predatory raven
feared no death,
divided foam with their oarblades.
Earl Eirik hurried south with his army as fast as he could.
. Earl Sigvald steered his 
eet north to the Stad area. The 
rst place he
came to was the Herey Islands. Even though the Vikings came across local
people, the locals never told them the truth about what Hakon and Eirik were
up to. The Vikings laid waste wherever they went. They lay off Hod, went
ashore there and raided. They herded both people and cattle to their ships and
killed all the men who were able to bear arms. As they were returning to their
ships, an old farmer approached them and drew near to Bui’s men. The farmer
said: “Driving cows and calves to the shore isn’t very warlike behavior. You’d
do better to trap the bear, now that you’re almost at its den.”
“What’s the fellow saying?” they asked. “Can you tell us anything about
Earl Hakon?”
“He rowed into Hjorundarfjord yesterday. He had only one or two ships,
three at the most, and he hadn’t heard anything about you,” the farmer replied.
At once, Bui and his men rushed to their ships, abandoning all their plunder.
Bui said, “Let’s put this information to good use; we’re on the brink of victory.”
They reached their ships and rowed out immediately. Earl Sigvald called
to them and asked what was up. They replied that Earl Hakon was there in
the fjord. Sigvald immediately weighed anchor and they rowed north around
the island of Hod.
. The earls Hakon and Eirik lay in Hallkelsvik where their entire 
eet of
ships had assembled. They had got word that the Jomsvikings had sailed
around Hod. So the earls rowed north in search of them. The two sides met at
a place called Hjorungavagr and drew up their 
eets for the battle. Earl Sigvald
raised his standard in the middle of his troops and Earl Hakon marshaled his
eet for the attack. Earl Sigvald had twenty ships, and Hakon had sixty. In
Hakon’s army were the chieftains Thorir Hjort from Halogaland and Styrkar
the viking age: a reader
. It’s better being alive
than lying lifeless;
the living man keeps his cow;
I saw a 
burn bright for a rich man
while he lay dead out of doors.
. Cattle die,
kin die
self dies too;
a good name,
if you get one,
goes on forever.
. Praise the day when it’s done,
a wife placed on her pyre,
a sword after service,
a maid when married,
ice when you’re over it,
ale when you’ve emptied the cup.
. Cut wood in a wind,
row boats in a breeze,
save sex for the darkness,
the eyes of day are everywhere;
sail a ship for its swiftness,
use a shield for shelter,
use a sword for severing
and a cutie for kissing.
. A man mustn’t trust
the virgin’s voice,
or the woman’s words;
on a whirling wheel
their feelings are formed,
their breasts founded on 
. I put it plainly
—for I know both—
nd only fraud in men:
our well-formed words
ten: into the western ocean: the faeroes, iceland
owed from a glacier before and they were astonished by the color. They
carried on along the Hvita until they reached a river that 
owed down from the
hills to the north. They named this river the Northra and followed it till they
came to a smaller river, which they crossed. Proceeding along the Northra,
they soon saw that the small river 
owed from a gorge, so they called it the
Gljufra, or Gorge River. Then they crossed the Northra, returned to the Hvita
and followed the Hvita upstream. Shortly afterwards, another river crossed
their path and 
owed into the Hvita. This river they named the Thvera, or
Cross River. They noticed that every river was full of 
sh. After this, they
went back to Borg.
. Skallagrim was a very hard worker. He always had numerous men in
his household, and they had to collect large amounts of local produce to feed
themselves, because they didn’t have enough livestock at 
rst to meet the needs
of so many people. What animals he had fended for themselves in the woods
over the winter.
Skallagrim was an excellent shipbuilder and there was plenty of driftwood
west of Myrar. He established a farm and built another dwelling at Alptaness
and from there his men rowed out to catch 
sh, hunt seals, and gather eggs, all
of which were plentiful. They also brought him great quantities of driftwood.
Whales were grounded here in large numbers and could be shot at will; and
all the wildlife in the hunting ground was tame at this time for it was unused
to man. He established a third farm by the sea in the western part of Myrar.
This was an even better place to look for driftwood. He planted crops there
and called the farm Akrar [Corn
elds]. Offshore, there lay some islands where
whales gathered; they called these islands Hvalseyjar [Whale Islands].
Skallagrim also sent his men up river to 
sh for salmon and settled Odd the
Lone-dweller at the Gljufra river to look after the salmon- shing. Odd lived
at the foot of Einbuabrekkur [Lone-Dweller’s Slopes] and Einbuaness is named
after him. Skallagrim settled a man called Sigmund by the Northra river. He
lived at Sigmundarstead, which is now called Haugar, and Sigmundarness is
named after him. Later on, Sigmund moved to Munodarness because it was
more convenient for the salmon-
As Skallagrim’s livestock increased in number, the animals started going
up to the mountains for the summer. Skallagrim discovered that this made a
big difference, for the cattle grew better and fatter when they went up onto
the heaths, and the sheep could survive the winter in the mountain valleys
without being brought down. So Skallagrim had a dwelling built close to
the mountains and set up a sheep farm there. Since a man called Griss was
in charge of the farm, Grisartungu is named after him. And so, Skallagrim’s
owed from many sources.
the viking age: a reader

Royal Frankish Annals
covers the period
. Written at the royal Frankish
court, it has been described as the single most important source for the reign of Char-
lemagne (
). It is regarded as an of cial court source and demonstrates detailed
knowledge of contemporary events. Military activities are to the forefront, and the annals
provide contemporary evidence of relations between the Carolingians and the Northmen;
later entries are very well informed on Scandinavian affairs.

Source: trans. B.W. Scholz and B. Rogers,
Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
), pp.
, excerpts.

. [Charlemagne] left the palace of Aachen in the middle of March and tra-
three: early religion and belief
from it come the dews
that fall in the dales;
evergreen, the Ash stands
above the well of Urd.
The dew which falls from the tree to the earth is known among men as honey-
dew and bees feed on it. Two birds feed in Urd’s well. They are called swans, and
all the birds of that species are descended from them.”

Poetic Edda
(sometimes called the
Elder Edda
) is a collection of mythological and
heroic poems put together in thirteenth-century Iceland. The manuscript, the Codex
Regius, is considerably later than the arrival of Christianity in Iceland, though much of
the material is certainly older than the Codex itself. The following passage comes from

Völuspá [The Seeress’s Prophecy]
. The poem is the seeress’s reply to Odin’s implicit
questions about the future. Snorri used a version of this poem as a source for his

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Gustav Neckel;
th rev. edition,
ed. Hans Kuhn (Heidelberg: Carl Winter,

), pp.
. The golden-combed cock
crowed above the Æsir,
waking the warriors
at the Warfather’s home;
and another crows
under the earth,
in the halls of Hel,
a cock dark red in hue.
. Loud barks Garm
before Gnipahel [Gnipa Cave],
fetters will break
and the wolf run free;
she knows much old lore,
but I see further into the future
to the doom of the gods,
the bitter doom of the victorious gods.
. Brothers will 
brothers to the death,
the viking age: a reader
I wished to be rid
of their grievous af ictions;
but high waves bore me,
did not drown me,
so I set foot on land,
obliged to live.
. “For the third time
—I had intended better for myself—
I went to the bed
of a great king.
I bore children,
rightful heirs,
rightful heirs,
Jonakr’s sons.
. “Then still round Svanhild
sat her maidservants;
I loved her best
of my children.
In my hall,
Svanhild was as
glorious to look upon
as a ray of the sun.
. “I bestowed on her gold
and splendid clothes,
before I gave her
to the Gothic people.
For me the cruelest
of my griefs
is over Svanhild’s
blond hair;
they trampled it in mud
under their horses’ hooves.
. “But the sorest was
when they killed my Sigurd,
robbed of victory,
in his bed.
And the most terrible
the viking age: a reader
Then the king had the farmers called back, saying that he wanted to talk to
them. So the farmers returned and the meeting began again. The king stood
up and spoke.
“I have no idea what all this noise and running to and fro is about,” said King
Olaf. “But now you can see what power this god of yours has. You gave him
gold, silver, food, and provisions, and look at what sort of creatures have enjoyed
it all—mice, lizards, adders, and toads. Anyone who has faith in such stuff, and
won’t abandon his foolishness, is making a bad mistake. Take your gold and valu-
ables that are strewn about this 
eld; carry them home to your wives, and never
again offer them to idols of wood or stone. And now we can settle this business
in one of two ways: either you adopt Christianity today or we resort to battle
and let the god in whom we trust award victory to whichever side he pleases.”
Then Guthbrand stood up and spoke. “We’ve suffered a great deal of harm
because of our god and, since he couldn’t help us, we will now believe in the
god that you believe in.”
Everyone was converted to Christianity. The bishop baptized Guthbrand
and his son and left priests in the district. So the former enemies parted as
friends; and Guthbrand had a church built in the Dales.

The conversion of the Icelanders was a largely political event, carried out as a response
to Norwegian pressure. This conversion was remarkably peaceful in comparison with
others in Scandinavia.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Jakob Benediktsson, Íslenzk fornrit I (Reykja-
), pp.
. King Olaf, the son of Tryggvi, the son of Olaf, the son of Harald Finehair,
introduced Christianity to Norway and Iceland. He sent here the priest called
Thangbrand, who instructed people in Christianity and baptized everyone who
adopted the faith. Hall Thorsteinsson from Sida was baptized early on, and so
were Hjalti Skeggjason from Thjorsardal, Gizur the White, the son of Teit, the
twelve: from odin to christ
freely sought to visit this place, and an opportunity was afforded for doing
much good there. And while many who were baptized there have survived,
an innumerable host of those who were clothed in white [those who delayed
baptism until the hour of death] have ascended to the heavenly kingdom. For
they were willingly marked with the sign of the cross in order to become cat-
echumens, and that they might enter the church and be present at the sacred
ces; but they deferred the reception of baptism, as they judged that it was
to their advantage to be baptized at the end of their lives, so that, having been
cleansed by water unto salvation, they might without any delay enter the gates
of eternal life as those who were pure and spotless. Many also among them,
who were overcome with sickness, when they saw that their sacri
ces offered
to idols in order to secure their recovery were of no avail and when their neigh-
bors despaired of their getting well, took refuge in the Lord’s mercy and vowed
that they would become Christians. When a priest had been summoned and
they had received the grace of baptism, by divine help they forthwith recovered
their health. In such a manner did the divine compassion spread in that place
and a multitude of people were converted to the Lord.
. Meanwhile our lord and master Anskar, being greatly distressed on
behalf of the Swedish race because it was at that time without a priest, begged
King Rorik, who was his intimate friend, to help him make an effort to reach
this kingdom. The king received this request with the utmost good will and
promised that he would do everything to help. Accordingly the bishop began
to negotiate with Bishop Gautbert saying that a further attempt must be made
to discover whether this race, having been divinely admonished, would per-
mit priests to dwell among them, so that the Christian faith, which had been
established in those parts, might not perish in consequence of their neglect.
Bishop Gautbert, who is also called Simon, replied that, as he had been expelled
from that country, he would not venture to go there again and that the attempt
could not be advantageous, but would on the contrary be dangerous, should
those who remembered what happened before raise a disturbance about him.
He said that it seemed to him to be more 
tting that he should go who was
the  rst to undertake this mission and who had been kindly treated there, and
that he would send with him his nephew [Erimbert] who might remain there,
should he 
nd an opportunity for preaching, and might perform the duties
of a priest among the people. When they had so decided, they came to King
Louis and told him the reason for their action and begged that he would permit
them to do this. He asked whether they themselves had come to an agreement,
whereupon the venerable Bishop Gautbert replied: “We are in the service of
God and always have been united and it is our unanimous desire that this
should be done.” Accordingly, the king, who was ever ready to further God’s
work, enjoined this mission upon our holy father in accordance with the terms
eight: “the heathens stayed”: from raiding to settlement
. Horm, chief of the dark foreigners, was killed by Rhodri son of Mervyn, king
of Wales. . . .
. Ímar [Ivar] and Amlaíb in icted a rout on Caitil the Fair and his Norse-Irish
in the lands of Munster.
. Amlaíb and Ímar and Cerball led a great army into Mide.
. Mael Guala, king of Mumu, was killed by the Norsemen.
. Mide was invaded by Aed son of Niall with foreigners.
\n] . Aed son of Niall went with [?] the kings of the foreigners into Mide, and
plundered Mide with Flann son of Conaing.
\n ] . Muirecán son of Diarmait, king of Nás and eastern Life, was killed by the
. The caves of Achad Aldai, and of Cnodba, and of Boadán’s Mound above Dubad,
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the viking age: a reader
gazing into one another’s eyes,
Father and Mother
. The man of the house sat
and twisted bow-strings,
bent the elm-bow,
made shafts for arrows.
The woman gazed at her arms,
smoothed the linen,
pleated the sleeves.
. Her head-dress rose high;
she wore a brooch at her breast,
a long, trailing gown
and a blue-colored blouse.
Brighter was her brow,
fairer her breast
whiter her neck
than new-fallen snow.
. Rig knew how
to give them advice.
he settled himself
in the middle of the seating area,
on either side,
sat the couple
from the homestead.
. Mother took
an embroidered cloth
of white linen,
covered the table.
She took thin loaves,
white and wheaten,
and covered the cloth.
. She brought to the table
silver-mounted dishes
heaped with
viking life and death

. Next morning, Svein and his men got up, armed themselves, and
set off for Dublin. When the Orkneymen entered the town, the Dubliners
formed a lane of men from the gate to the pits. Svein and his men didn’t notice
anything amiss and ran straight into the pits. Some of the townsmen immedi-
ately stationed themselves in front of the gate while others ran up to the pits,
turning their weapons on Svein and his men, who had a hard time defending
themselves. And so Svein Asleifarson died there in the pits along with all the
other Orkneymen who had entered the town.
The story goes that Svein was last to die and that he spoke these words
before his death. “Whether I die today or not, let all men know that I am a
retainer of the holy Earl Rognvald and I intend to place my trust in him now
that he is with God.”
The rest of Svein’s men returned to their ships and sailed away. There is
nothing more to say about their journey except that they reached Orkney. Now
Svein’s story is ended. It is the general view that, except for men of higher rank
than himself, he was the most outstanding of all the men in the Westlands,
either past or present.

This passage from
Egil’s Saga
makes clear the connection between trading and raiding
in the sagas. Whatever the historicity of this account, it is a splendid example of the
narrative art of the saga.

trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Sigurður Nordal, Íslenzk fornrit
II (Reykjavík,

), pp.

Egil in Youth
. Thorolf and Egil spent the winter with Thorir and were treated very hospita-
bly, but in the spring, they got a large longship ready and gathered a crew. Dur-
ing the summer, they raided in the east where they fought a good many battles
and acquired a great deal of plunder. Then they made for Courland where they
moored offshore and traded peacefully for a couple of weeks. But when they
were done with trading, they started raiding again, going ashore at a number of
different places.
One day they put in at a broad river mouth close to a huge forest. They
decided to land there and then split up into groups of twelve. They went into
the forest and before long they came across some settlements where they began
looting and killing. The inhabitants 
ed, so they met with no resistance. Late
in the day, Thorolf had the trumpets sounded to recall the men to the beach.

By the middle of the ninth century, chroniclers in Ireland and England began to observe
with a certain amount of surprise and shock that parties of Vikings were beginning to
overwinter in those regions. This ushered in the beginning of a new phase of activity charac-
terized by the establishment of a permanent Scandinavian presence in the British Isles and
the viking age: a reader
was to have the land and farmstead at Hlidarend and Grani was to have the
land that was rented out.
(a) Gunnar’s Posthumous Poem

Although he stays in his mound, Gunnar appears to have a ghostly afterlife. From

Njal’s Saga

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII
), pp.

. . . . On one occasion, a strange event occurred at Hlidarend. A shepherd and
a servant-woman were driving livestock near Gunnar’s burial mound; it seemed
to them that Gunnar was in good spirits and reciting verses in the mound. They
went home and told Gunnar’s mother, Rannveig, what had happened. She asked
them to tell Njal. So they went to Bergthorshval and told him and he made
them repeat the story three times. Afterwards, he and Skarphedin spoke in pri-
vate for a long time.
Then Skarphedin picked up his ax and returned with the servants to Hlidar-
end. Hogni and Rannveig were delighted to see him and welcomed him warmly.
Rannveig invited him to pay a long visit and he promised that he would. He
and Hogni were always together, both indoors and out. Hogni was a 
ne, bold
man. He was also skeptical, so they did not dare tell him about the apparition.
One evening, Skarphedin and Hogni were outside, to the south of Gunnar’s
mound. The moon shone brightly though, from time to time, it was hidden
by clouds. The burial mound appeared to be open and Gunnar had turned so
that he was looking directly at the moon. They thought they saw four lights
burning in the mound, and these lights cast no shadows. They saw that Gunnar
was happy and cheerful-looking. He recited a poem so loudly that they could
have heard it clearly even if they had been further away.
The great-hearted gold-giver,
Bold in bloody battles,
Daring in deeds, Hogni’s
Splendid father spoke:
The shade of the shield-warrior
Called yielding cowardly,
Preferred to fall in the 
A hero in his helmet,
six: fjord-serpents: viking ships
“Earl Eirik won’t 
ght to avenge his father,” many men said. “That is a
disgrace, for everyone will hear about it if we sit here with such a large 
the viking age: a reader
(Laud) Chronicle
show the increasing stylistic and historiographical sophistication of
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Source: trans. A. A. Somerville, from David Dumville and Simon Keynes, general eds.,
Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition
(Cambridge: D.S. Brewer,

–), vol.
; MS E, ed. Susan
Irvine (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer,

), pp.

In this year, the king [Athelred II, the Unready = having no policy, ca
] and his council sent word to the [Danish] army and begged for peace.
They promised tribute and food on condition that the Danes ceased their
pillaging. By then they had overrun East Anglia, Essex, Middlesex, Oxford-
shire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, half
of Huntingdonshire, and much of Northamptonshire. South of the Thames,
they had taken all of Kent, Sussex, Hastings, Surrey, Berkshire, Hampshire,
and much of Wiltshire.
All of these catastrophes befell us because of badly conceived policies:
we were reluctant to offer tribute in good time and unwilling to 
against them. Not until they had in icted immense damage did we make
peace with them and arrange a truce. Despite the truce and the tribute,
thirteen: state-building at home and abroad
Bows sang loud, swords bit,
your attack went well against
weapon-bearing warriors
when your forces assaulted the fort.
The wolf’s teeth well know,
sailor of the dark ships,
that you gained no less glory
in the shallows and shoals of the Thames.
. King Knut led his whole army to London and, having set up camp, made
an assault on the town, but the townsmen defended it, as is related in this poem
composed by the Danish soldiers who were present:
Day after day, on the banks
of the Thames, the triumphing Valkyrie sees

esh-tearing swords stained with blood,
and the hanged god’s ravens replete;
sees the victory-seeking
prince pursuing brave townsmen,
and bloodied swords, bright as ice,
beating against British armor.
And this too:
For this day’s dueling,
many an eager man
puts on the rusty, old ring-mail
we’ve been born and bred to;
still, we feed Odin’s fowl,
the raven, with red English blood;
the skald slips swiftly
into his hammered mail-shirt.
King Knut fought many battles there, but he failed to take the town.
. Earl Eirik led part of the army and some of the housekarls inland against
the English army commanded by a great chieftain, Ulfkell Snilling. In the
battle that followed, Eirik won and Ulfkell 
ed. Thord Kolbeinsson says in
nine: austrveg: the viking road to the east
. When Harald got back to Mikligard from Palestine, he grew anxious
to return to his ancestral estates in the Northlands, for he had heard that his
nephew Magnus Olafsson had become king of both Norway and Denmark.
He declared his intention of ending his service with the king, but when Queen
Zoe heard about this, she was furious. She accused Harald of misappropriating
valuables, which had been seized as plunder when he was in command of the
army, but which rightfully belonged to the Greek king.
Harald had asked for the hand of a beautiful, young girl—Queen Zoe’s
niece, Maria—but the queen had refused. According to Varangians here in the
north who had served as mercenaries in Mikligard, it was the opinion of people
in the know there that the queen wanted to marry Harald herself. This, they
said, was the real reason for her accusations against him when he wanted to
leave Mikligard—though people were led to believe something different. And
this explains why the Greek king had Harald arrested and thrown into a dark
dungeon. The king at that time was Constantine Monomach [ca

who ruled together with Queen Zoe.
. As Harald approached the prison, King Olaf the saint appeared to him
and said that he would help him. Afterwards, a chapel was built in that street
and dedicated to Saint Olaf. It has stood there ever since. The prison consisted
of a tall tower, open at the top, and with a door leading into it from the street.
Harald was thrown into this prison, along with Halldor and Ulf [two Iceland-
ers], but the very next night, a rich lady and two of her servants climbed up
ladders to the top of the tower. Then they lowered a rope into the prison and
pulled up Harald and his men. King Olaf the saint had once cured this lady of
a sickness and had appeared to her and asked her to free his brother [Harald].
King Harald went straight to the Varangians, and they all got up and wel-
comed him. Then they armed themselves and went to the king’s bedchamber.
There they seized the king and put out both his eyes. Thorarin Skeggjason
says in his
Our king came by
much gold in Greece;
but the emperor is eyeless
after terrible torture.
Thjodolf the skald says:
The healer of wolves’ woes,
our great lord, gouged
out the emperor’s eyes
—that was the start of the strife;
As the eighth century waned, Europe began to experience what one contemporary de
scribed as “sudden and unforeseen attacks of Northmen.” The ninth-century
Saxon Chronicle
describes what may be the earliest recorded raids in its entry for
when three ships of Northmen landed in the south of England and killed a king’s ofcer,
and when Lindisfarne was sacked on
. Irish annals recorded the rst appearance
of the Northmen in the islands off the west coast of Britain and in Ireland from
, and
there is the rst reference to Viking activity off the Continent. By the
s and
two: scandinavian society
in the middle
of the seating area;
on either side
sat the couple
from the homestead.
. Then Greatgrandmother took
a lumpy loaf,
thick and heavy,
full of bran.
she brought it
placed in the center
of dishes.
There was broth in a bowl;
she placed it on the table.
He rose up from there and
got ready for sleep.
. Rig knew
how to give them advice.
he lay down
in the middle of the bed.
On either side
lay the couple
from the homestead.
. He stayed there
three whole nights.
he traveled on
in the middle of the paths.
then nine months passed.
. Greatgrandmother
gave birth to a dark-skinned baby;
they wrapped him
in linen,
four: women in the viking age
and Thord and Gudrun were happy in their marriage. The only reason that
Thorkel Whelp and Knut [Aud’s brothers] did not bring a lawsuit against Thord
Ingunnarson was that they had no support for it.
The following summer Aud and the men of Hol were at their shieling [a
summer pasture, usually with a cottage] in Hvammsdal. The men of Laugar
had their shieling in Lambadal, which runs west into the mountains from
Saelingsdal. Aud asked the fellow who looked after their sheep how often he
ran into the shepherd from Laugar. He said that was always happening, not
surprisingly, as only a single ridge separated the shielings. Aud said,
“Go and meet the shepherd from Laugar today and 
nd out for me who is
at the shieling and who has stayed behind at the main farm. Talk about Thord
in a very friendly fashion, just as you ought to.”
The boy promised to do as she asked and when he came home in the eve-
ning, Aud asked for his news. The shepherd replied, “I’ve heard news you’re
going to like. There’s quite a distance just now between the beds of Thord and
Gudrun, for she’s at the shieling and he’s working himself to death building a
house. He and Osvifr are the only two at the home farm.”
“What a great job of spying you’ve done!” said Aud. “When everyone goes
to bed, have two horses saddled.”
The shepherd did as she asked and shortly before sunset Aud mounted her
horse. On this occasion she was de
nitely wearing breeches. She pressed on so
hard that the shepherd on the other horse could barely keep up with her. She
rode south across Saelingsdal Heath and didn’t come to a halt until she got to
the fence around Laugar farm. There she dismounted and told the shepherd
to watch the horses while she made her way to the house. Aud went up to the
entry and found the door open. She entered the main room and walked toward
the bed closet where Thord lay asleep. The door was shut but not bolted. She
entered the bed-closet and found Thord sleeping on his back. Then Aud woke
Thord and he turned toward the door when he realized that a man had come
in. She drew a short sword and thrust at Thord, wounding him seriously in
the right arm and cutting across both nipples. She thrust so hard that the sword
lodged itself in the wooden bed. After that, Aud went back to her horse, leapt
into the saddle, and rode home.
Thord tried to spring to his feet when he was wounded, but he couldn’t
as the loss of blood had weakened him. Awakened by the noise, Osvifr asked
what had happened and Thord told him that he had been wounded. Osvifr got
up and saw to Thord’s wounds. He asked him if he knew who had done this
to him. Thord said he thought that Aud had done it. Osvifr offered to ride in
pursuit of her. He said she was likely to have come without many companions
and so her punishment would be assured. Thord declared he was far from
wishing any such thing and that Aud had just done what she had to do.
viking life and death
however, they killed him. Thorkel Elfaraskald made up this poem about
Gunnar’s defense:
They say how the seafaring
Gunnar, great-spirited in battle,
hewing with his halberd,
defended himself to the death;
sixteen he wounded sorely,
bearers of shields in battle,
two he doomed to death,
killed them south of Kjol.
Gizur said, “We have brought down a great warrior and it has been hard work
indeed. His defense will be remembered as long as this land is inhabited.”
He walked over to Rannveig and said, “Will you give us some ground here
where we can bury our two dead?”
“I’d rather provide ground for all of you, not just for two,” she replied.
“You have every excuse for speaking like this,” said Gizur. “You have suf-
fered a great loss.” He gave orders that there should be no pillaging or destruc-
tion. After that, they left.
Then Thorgeir, son of Starkad, spoke, “We can’t stay at home on our farms for fear
of the Sigfussons unless you, Gizur, or you, Geir, stay here in the south for a while.”
“So be it,” said Gizur.
They drew straws and it fell to Geir’s lot to stay behind in the south. He went
to Oddi and settled there. Geir had a son called Hroald. Hroald was illegitimate;
his mother was Bjartey, sister of Thorvald the ailing, who was killed near Hes-
tlok in Grimsness. Hroald boasted that he had given Gunnar his death wound.
He stayed at Oddi with his father. Thorgeir, son of Starkad, boasted that he
too had wounded Gunnar. Gizur remained at home in Mosfell. The killing of
Gunnar was denounced in every district. He was deeply mourned by many men.

The alacrity with which Njal’s assailants decide to use  re contrasts markedly with Gizur
the White’s honorable refusal to deal that way with Gunnar. Flosi Thordarson’s quarrel
is with Njal’s sons, and he is willing to let Njal go free, but Njal elects to stay and share
their death by  re. Only Kari Solmundarson, a friend of Njal’s sons, escapes from the
burning. His revenge is the motivating force for the rest of the saga.

Source: trans. A.A. Somerville, from
, ed. Einar Ól. Sveinsson, Íslenzk fornrit XII
), pp.
viking life and death
From the south there traveled afar

erce rumors of war
and of armored men. Farm-folk
feared disaster.
The sea-warrior [Hakon] heard
of long-planked ships in the south,
dragged down from the beaches,
Danish ships sent to sea.
. Earl Hakon and Earl Eirik sent a war arrow through the whole Trondelag
and dispatched messages to both the Møre provinces and Raumsdal, as well as
north to Naumadal and Halogaland. They called for a full levy of both men
and ships, as is told in
The skald’s praise-poem swells.
The shield-warrior has spread on the sea
his serpent-ships,
his swift vessels under sail;
when the great warrior
went in haste to protect
his father’s land with his shield,
many ships lay off the coast.
Earl Hakon immediately headed south to Møre to scout and gather troops,
while Earl Eirik assembled the army and moved south.
. The Jomsvikings made for Limafjord with their 
eet and from there
they sailed out to sea with sixty ships. They arrived at Agder and immediately
steered north to Rogaland. As soon as they reached Earl Hakon’s territory, the
Jomsvikings began to pillage. They sailed north along the coast, plundering
as they went.
A man called Geirmund, traveling with a few men in a fast boat, headed
north to Møre where he met Earl Hakon. Presenting himself to the earl, he
told Hakon the news that there was an army from Denmark in the south of
the country. The earl asked if he knew this for certain and Geirmund stretched
out one of his arms, which was severed at the wrist. This, he said, was clear
evidence that there was an army in the country. Then the earl asked detailed
questions about the army. Geirmund said that they were Jomsvikings and that
they had killed many people and pillaged far and wide.
“But they are moving quickly and aggressively,” he said. “I’m afraid that it
won’t be long till they show up here.”
five: viking warriors and their weapons


At the beginning of the Viking Age, Scandinavia was dominated by numerous small
kingdoms or chiefdoms, although by the last period of the Scandinavian Iron Age (roughly
) fairly powerful regional kingdoms had started to emerge around Lake Mälaren
in Sweden, in Jutland in Denmark, and in Vestfold in Norway. As the Viking Age pro-
gressed, these nascent kingdoms were forged into the medieval states of Denmark, Norway,
and Sweden. We know most about state-building in Denmark, where by about
the Danes had already created a kingdom that embraced most of modern Denmark and
parts of southern Sweden and the Vestfold region of Norway. Early ninth-century Norway
was divided into a number of chiefdoms and regions, and parts of southern Norway (like
Vestfold) were under the control of Danish rulers. The medieval Icelandic saga tradition
associates the uni cation of Norway with the Vestfold king Harald Finehair at the end
of the ninth and beginning of the tenth century. For the most part, the kings who uni ed
their kingdoms were also Christian and were, ostensibly at least, responsible for converting
(or beginning the conversion of ) their respective peoples. In Norway, Christianization had
little place, so far as we can tell, in Harald Finehair’s agenda, but Harald’s role in state-
building there is downplayed by modern scholars, who point instead to the Christianizing
kings Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf Haraldsson (Saint Olaf ) as being responsible for creating
a strong unitary kingship. The fact that these so-called Vikings for Christ were also state-
the viking age: a reader
of country between the mountains and the shore, Skallagrim found exten-
sive moorlands and wide forests. Both the seal-hunting and the 
shing were
excellent. When they explored southwards along the coast, they came to a
large fjord. They turned into the fjord and kept walking up it until, to their
great joy, they came across their companions, Grim from Halogaland and his
Grim and his men told Skallagrim that Kveld-Ulf had come ashore there
and that they had buried him. They led Skallagrim to the grave, and he thought
that the locality would be a good place to build a homestead. Then Grim went
back to his crew and the two groups spent the winter where they had come
Skallagrim took the land between the mountains and the sea: all of Myrar
[Moorland] district, west as far as Selalon [Seal Inlet], north to Borgarhraun
[Borgar Lava Field], and south to Hafnar Fells; that whole area is divided up
by rivers 
owing to the sea. The following spring, he moved his ship south to
the fjord, and entered the inlet closest to where Kveld-Ulf had come ashore.
There Skallagrim established a farm, and called it Borg. The fjord he named
Borgarfjord and the surrounding district was called after it. He gave Grim
from Halogaland a farm to the south of Borgarfjord; it was called Hvanneyri.
Nearby a narrow inlet cut into the land. They found lots of ducks there and
so they called the place Andakil [Duck Inlet] and the river 
owing into the
sea there they named Andakilsa [Duck River]. Grim’s land extended from
Andakilsa up to Grimsa [Grim’s River].
That spring, when Skallagrim was having his cattle driven along the coast,
he and his men came to a small headland where they caught swans and so they
called the place Alptaness [Swans’ Ness].
Skallagrim distributed land to his crew. Ani was given the land between
Langa river and Hafs Creek and he lived at Anabrekka; his son was Onund
Sjoni [Keen-Sighted]. Grimolf settled 
rst at Grimolfsstead, and the meadow
and stream there are named after him (Grimols
t and Grimolfsloek). Grim,
his son, settled south of the fjord and Grim’s son, Grimar, made his home at
Grimarstead. Grani settled at Granastead on Digraness. Thorbjorn Krum and
Thord Beigaldi got land along the Gufa River. Thorbjorn settled at Krum
Hills, and Thord at Beigaldi. The land above Einkunnir as far west as the river
Langa was given to Thorir Thurs [the Giant] and his brothers. Thorir Thurs
made his home at Thursstead and later on his daughter, Thordis Stang [the
Thin], settled at Stangarholt. Thorgeir lived at Jarthlangsstead.
Skallagrim explored the whole district. First, he traveled right to the head
of Borgarfjord. Then he and his companions followed the west bank of the
river they called Hvita, or White River, because they had never seen water

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