Vol. 1, 383 — — ed. Diana Whaley
Diana Whaley 2012, ‘(Biography of) Óláfr Tryggvason’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 383.
On Óláfr (ÓTr; r. c. 995-c. 1000) see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume. Only two stanzas are attributed to him. ÓTr Lv 1V (Hallfr 6) is preserved within Hallfreðar saga and is edited in SkP V.
Óláfr Tryggvason was born c. 968, the son of Tryggvi Óláfsson, a petty king in south-eastern Norway, and Ástríðr Eiríksdóttir. According to the sagas Óláfr was also the great-grandson of Haraldr hárfagri (q. v.), though some doubt has been expressed about this (Krag 2002; Krag 2003a). Tryggvi was killed by the Eiríkssynir (see Biography of Haraldr gráfeldr above) shortly before Óláfr was born, and the boy is said to have grown up in hiding, first in eastern Norway and Sweden, then in Hólmgarðr (Novgorod) under the protection of Valdamarr (Vladimir, r. 970-1015). For the tradition of Óláfr’s fostering in Garðar (Russia), see Note to HSt Rst 2/2, and for questioning of this, see Introduction to HSt Frag 1. What is relatively certain (not least from Hfr Óldr) is that he spent his youth as a highly successful viking in the Baltic, northern Europe and the British Isles. The Anlaf who features in the ASC s. a. 991 and 994, winning Danegeld alongside the Danish king Sveinn tjúguskegg (q. v.), is probably to be identified with Óláfr. The ASC says that Óláfr accepted Christian baptism from the English King Æthelred in 994 and promised never to raid England again. He set out for Norway in 995 well resourced and with a strong army, and was acclaimed king in Þrándheimr (Trøndelag), where a rebellion had already undermined the power of Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (q. v).
Between 996 and 999 Óláfr Christianized, and extended his power over, the coastal areas of western Norway. He is credited with the founding of churches (see Krag 2003b, 192), strategic marriages including that of his sister Ástríðr to the Rogaland chieftain Erlingr Skjálgsson (see ‘Biographies of other dignitaries’ below) and targeted killings, included that of Járn-Skeggi, possibly his father-in-law. He sent the German missionary Þangbrandr to Iceland, and the Icelanders accepted Christianity at the Alþingi c. 1000. Early prose sources say Óláfr converted Shetland, Orkney and the Faroes, and twelfth-century skalds add Greenland, but probably in error (on the conversion of Scandinavia, see Sawyer 1987).
Óláfr’s ambitions brought him into conflict with powerful enemies, an alliance of whom brought his short reign to an end. Óláfr’s hold on Vík (Viken) threatened the overlordship of Sveinn tjúguskegg, and Óláfr appears to have sided with the Wends rather than the Danes in the Baltic. Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (q. v.), exiled son of the murdered Hákon jarl, aspired to reclaim his family lands in Trøndelag, together with his brother Sveinn jarl Hákonarson (q. v.); Eiríkr was married to Sveinn tjúguskegg’s daughter Gyða. Moreover, Óláfr sœnski ‘the Swede’ Eiríksson, Sveinn tjúguskegg’s stepson and ruler of the Svíar (Svear), was interested in extending his power in Gautland (Västergötland; Andersen 1977, 104). The result was the famous battle of Svǫlðr, in 1000 or possibly 999; the prose sources agree on September, specifying the 9th (which came to be widely celebrated as Óláfr’s anniversary), 10th or 11th (ÍF 25, 352 n.). Óláfr fought a spirited defence from his flagship Ormr inn langi ‘the Long Serpent’, but Sveinn, Eiríkr and Óláfr sœnski defeated him and his Gautish and Wendish allies. The location of the battle is the subject of a classic debate in Scandinavian historiography: it is placed either off the southern Baltic coast, or in the Øresund between Sjælland and Skåne (for summaries see Andersen 1977, 104-5; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 74-5; Rasmussen 2000; Andersson 2003, 147; and see Notes to Hfr ErfÓl 4/6 and Skúli Svǫlðr 2/7III). The name Svǫlðr is sometimes given in modern sources as Svolder but in the absence of a secure identification ‘Svǫlðr’ is used throughout this volume. Legends sprang up very soon after the battle of how Óláfr had miraculously escaped by swimming underwater and had travelled to the Holy Land. Óláfr is credited with marriages to the daughter of Járn-Skeggi (mentioned above) and to three princesses, but only a minor role in the subsequent history was played by the man claiming to be his son Tryggvi (see Sigv Tryggfl; Anon Sveinfl). After Svǫlðr, Norway was under Danish overlordship until 1015, with the jarls of Hlaðir (Lade) Eiríkr Hákonarson and Sveinn Hákonarson controlling the major part (the western coast and its hinterland). See Anon Nkt 19-22II (c. 1190); Theodoricus (MHN 13-21; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 10-18); HN (MHN 111-19; Kunin and Phelpstead 2001, 18-23); Ágr (ÍF 29, 19-24; Ágr 2008, 26-35); Fsk (ÍF 29, 141-162; Finlay 2004, 112-29); ÓTOdd (ÍF 25, 125-362); ÓTHkr (ÍF 26, 225-372; Hollander 1964a, 144-244); ÓT 1958-2000, I-III. According to Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 253, 261, 274), Hallfreðr vandræðaskald (Hfr) and Bjarni skáld (BjHall, specified as gullbrárskáld in U) were Óláfr’s poets. Ms. U also adds Gizurr gullbrá (probably Gizurr svarti or gullbrárskald, Gizsv) and Sigvatr skald (presumably Þórðarson, Sigv), while one redaction of ÓTOdd (ÍF 25, 370, 372) claims one ‘Sóti skald’ as an additional poetic source for Óláfr’s last moments. Only Hallfreðr’s poetry survives, though HSt Rst 34/8 credits ‘Bjarni’ with a drápa for Óláfr; there is no other evidence that Gizurr or Sigvatr were his skalds.
Events documented in poetry: Viking campaigns against the Jamtr, Wends and Gotar (Hfr Óldr 1-2), in Skáney (Skåne) and near Heiðabý (Hedeby, Hfr Óldr 2), against the Saxar and Frísar (Hfr Óldr 3), in ‘Hólmr’ (Bornholm (?)), Garðar (Russia), against the Valkerar and Flæmingjar (Hfr Óldr 4), in the British Isles (Hfr Óldr 5-6); arrival in Norway and departure of Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson to the Swedish court (ÞKolb Eirdr 6, 7); the battle of Svǫlðr c. 1000 (Hfr ErfÓl 1-24; Skúli SvǫlðrIII; Stefnir Lv 1; OSnorr Lv; Eþsk Cpt; Hókr Eirfl; ÞKolb Eirdr 8); consequences of the battle (ÞKolb Eirdr 9-10); desolation at Óláfr’s death (Hfr ErfÓl 25, 26a, 28). Óláfr as unequalled king (Hfr ErfÓl 27); Óláfr’s ban on heathen sacrifices (Hfr Lv 10V (Hallfr 13)); resistance by the pagan Bárðr (Bárðr Lv); an incident involving a missionary to Iceland during Óláfr’s reign (Anon (´ÓT) 1); Óláfr’s encounter with a mysterious man in a boat (Anon (´ÓT) 2-3). Events of a more informal or individual kind: Óláfr’s dealings with the poet Hallfreðr (Hfr Lv 4-5 V, 11V (Hallfr 5, 8, 14)); in a comic incident, Óláfr rows while his dog steers (Þór Lv). Óláfr himself is credited with two lausavísur: ÓTr Lv 1V (Hallfr 6), a response to Hfr Lv 4V (Hallfr 5), and ÓTr Lv 2 about a guest drinking from a horn. Historical (i.e. non-contemporary) poetry: Óláfr’s fostering in Garðar and command of a fleet there (HSt Rst 2); his departure from Garðar (HSt Rst 3; HSt Frag; Anon Óldr 4); his harrying in the west (HSt Rst 3); his revenge for his father’s death (HSt Rst 4); his attacks on the English (HSt Rst 4; Anon Óldr 5-6), the Wends (HSt Rst 5), the Irish and Scots (HSt Rst 6; Anon Óldr 6-7); his return to Norway and acceptance there (HSt Rst 7-8; Anon Óldr 8-9); his defeat of vikings (Hst Rst 8); his suppression of paganism and promotion of Christianity in Norway (HSt Rst 9; Anon Óldr 9-10; Anon Ól 2); his Christianization of five lands (HSt Rst 10-11; Anon Óldr 11-16); Óláfr’s generosity, hospitality and vigour (HSt Rst 12-14); the battle of Svǫlðr (HSt Rst 15-23; Anon Óldr 17-24); the desolation of the land under Eiríkr jarl (Anon Óldr 25); Óláfr’s marvellous skills (HSt Rst 25; Anon Ól 1); his rescue of a man from a crag (HSt Rst 26-8); Þorkell spies on Óláfr’s marvellous nocturnal visits ashore (Anon Ól 3-4); Óláfr pitches Þorkell overboard, then restores him and his clothes (Hst Rst 29-30; Anon Ól 5-7); Óláfr appears with angels in a building (HSt Rst 31); desolation at Óláfr’s death (HSt Rst 32); Óláfr summoned to bliss by Christ (HSt Rst 33). See also poetry about Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson.
Óláfr Tryggvason (ÓTr)
Skj AI, 152; BI, 144-145
main editor: Diana Whaley