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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 8. Volume Introduction 4. Biographies

4. Biographies

Kate Heslop 2012, ‘Biographies’ 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 [check printed volume for citation].

This section offers a brief overview of the lives of the kings and jarls of Norway, and of other Scandinavian rulers and dignitaries who lived in the period to c. 1035 and are commemorated in the poetry edited in SkP I; the Biographies are in alphabetical order. (A chronological list of rulers of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and England is given in Section 2 of this Introduction.) Section 4.1 ‘Ruler biographies’ presents lives of all the Norwegian rulers from Rǫgnvaldr heiðumhæri Óláfsson in the late ninth century to c. 1035; for the still more shadowy figures who preceded Rǫgnvaldr, see Þjóð Yt, Yng (ÍF 26, 9-83) and HN (MHN 97-103). Biographies of kings of Denmark and Sweden follow; only those who figure significantly in the events, and the skaldic poetry, of the period are covered. Section 4.2 then provides ‘Biographies of other dignitaries’; here only individuals about whom extant poems were composed are included. The focus in the biographies is primarily on events recorded in the poetry, above all major battles such as those at Hafrsfjǫrðr (Hafrsfjorden, c. 885-c. 890), Fitjar (c. 961), Svǫlðr (c. 1000), Nesjar (1016), Á in helga (Helgeå, c. 1026), and Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad, 1030). The biographies are far from exhaustive, and the nature of the sources is such that a great deal remains highly uncertain, including crucial dates and the extent and depth of territorial control attained by individual rulers. Much of what follows must therefore be taken more as a summary of traditions than as established fact. On problems of chronology, see Ólafía Einarsdóttir (1964), and summary in Andersen (1977, 80-3). Following each biography, references to primary Norse sources are given, then the skalds listed for each ruler in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 251-86), and finally ‘Events documented in poetry’, a list of stanzas or part-stanzas describing particular events or topics. Included here is a small amount of relevant poetry preserved outside the kings’ sagas, and hence to be found in other volumes of SkP, which are indicated with a superscript Roman numeral (e.g. Skúli SvǫlðrIII, preserved chiefly in SnE and edited in SkP III). The caveat should be noted that, while the poetry contains a wealth of proper names and specific details, in many cases other evidence is needed to attach a stanza to a particular event. For instance, Gsind Hák 8 describes a fierce advance by a warrior king, but the hero is only identified as Hákon góði by the (justifiable) assumption that the stanza is from the poem Hák, and the enemy are only identified as Gamli Eiríksson and his brothers by the medieval prose context. Further historical and cultural information is provided in the Introductions, Contexts, and Notes to the respective stanzas, and in the Indices at the end of this volume. For the sigla of the individual sagas and compendia, see ‘General Abbreviations’ above.

The Biographies are greatly indebted to the primary sources and to modern sources from which further information, and especially bibliography, can be obtained. Among these are Andersen (1977), Krag (2003b), and entries for the individual kings in RGA, MedS and Auty et al. (1977-99). Hkr 1991, III (the Lykilbók ‘Key’) contains a number of useful maps and genealogical tables.

In accordance with the overall practice of SkP, and reflecting the Old West Norse dialect of most of the written sources, personal names are normalised to their standardised Old Icelandic forms of c. 1200, irrespective of the date or provenance of the subject. For instance, the name of Kálfr Árnason (d. c. 1050-1) appears thus, although the vowel lengthening in Icelandic that produced Kálfr did not take place until c. 1200, and the names of Sveinn tjúguskegg and Eiríkr Eymundarson appear thus, although Danish and Swedish respectively. The names of poets listed in Skáldatal are given in the normalised form used throughout SkP, which may or may not be identical to that given in the Skáldatal manuscripts. For translations of poets’ nicknames, see the skald Biographies preceding the editions in this volume, and for the nicknames of rulers, see their Biographies in this section. Place names are normally given both in the form found in the Old Norse sources and in their modern form, where this is known and differs from the Old Norse.


  1. Bibliography
  2. SnE 1848-87 = Snorri Sturluson. 1848-87. Edda Snorra Sturlusonar: Edda Snorronis Sturlaei. Ed. Jón Sigurðsson et al. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Legatum Arnamagnaeanum. Rpt. Osnabrück: Zeller, 1966.
  3. MedS = Pulsiano, Phillip et al., eds. 1993. Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. New York and London: Garland.
  4. RGA = Beck, Heinrich and Holger Arbmann, eds. 1973-2008. Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde. 37 vols. Berlin: de Gruyter. 2nd rev. edn of Hoops 1911-19.
  5. MHN = Storm, Gustav, ed. 1880. Monumenta historica Norvegiæ: Latinske kildeskrifter til Norges historie i middelalderen. Kristiania (Oslo): Brøgger. Rpt. 1973. Oslo: Aas & Wahl.
  6. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  7. Hkr 1991 = Bergljót S. Kristjánsdóttir et al., eds. 1991. Heimskringla. 3 vols. Reykjavík: Mál og menning.
  8. Andersen, Per Sveaas. 1977. Samlingen av Norge og kristningen av landet 800-1130. Handbok i Norges historie 2. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget.
  9. HN = Historia Norwegiæ. In MHN 69-124.
  10. SkP = Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols.
  11. SkP I = Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Ed. Diana Whaley. 2012.
  12. SkP III = Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Ed. Kari Ellen Gade in collaboration with Edith Marold. 2017.
  13. Krag, Claus. 2003b. ‘The Early Unification of Norway’. In Helle 2003, 184-201.
  14. Internal references
  15. Edith Marold 2017, ‘Snorra Edda (Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skáldskaparmál)’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  16. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar (Hák)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  17. Not published: do not cite (YngII)
  18. Kate Heslop 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Skúli Þorsteinsson, Poem about Svǫlðr’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 360.
  19. Edith Marold with the assistance of Vivian Busch, Jana Krüger, Ann-Dörte Kyas and Katharina Seidel, translated from German by John Foulks 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Þjóðólfr ór Hvini, Ynglingatal’ 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. 3.
  20. R. D. Fulk (ed.) 2012, ‘Eyvindr skáldaspillir Finnsson, Hákonarmál 8’ 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. 183.
  21. Not published: do not cite ()

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