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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Gunnhildr konungamóðir — GunnhI


Vol. 1, 149 —  — ed. R. D. Fulk



R. D. Fulk 2012, ‘(Biography of) Gunnhildr konungamóðir’ 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. 149.

Gunnhildr (Gunnh) was the wife of Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-axe’ (d. c. 954; see ‘Ruler biographies’ in Introduction to this volume) and mother of several kings, including Haraldr gráfeldr ‘Grey-cloak’, Erlingr, Guðrøðr, and Sigurðr slefa ‘Saliva’, hence her designation as konungamóðir ‘mother of kings’, and her sons’ designation as Gunnhildarsynir (alternating with Eiríkssynir; see Ættartal [Genealogy] II.c in ÍF 28). She is a figure of fascination and loathing in the sagas. According to Icelandic sources such as Hkr (ÍF 26, 135), she was of humble origin, the daughter of one Ǫzurr lafskegg ‘Wag-beard’, or Ǫzurr toti ‘Snout’ (?), from Hálogaland (Hålogaland) in Norway. Eiríkr, smitten by her beauty, won her by helping her to kill two Finnar (Saami) from whom she had learned sorcery. But in the less fanciful HN (MHN 105) she is called the daughter of the Danish king Gormr inn gamli ‘the Old’. In Fsk it is said that she was universally blamed for the ills suffered in Norway under her husband’s rule (ÍF 29, 76); a similar attitude is expressed in Ágr (ÍF 29, 7). Snorri portrays her as a scheming inciter in Hkr (ÍF 26, 135-6, 204-5) and (supposing Snorri is the author) as a Xanthippe in Egils saga (ÍF 2, 180-3); further scenes in Njáls saga (ÍF 12, 21), Laxdœla saga (ÍF 5, 52), and Egils saga (ÍF 2, 176) show her manipulating situations through seduction and sorcery. Whether she was in fact disliked in her own day or whether her legend simply attracted the venom so often directed against powerful women, it is impossible to say (see further Sigurður Nordal 1941; Olsen 1945b, 190-2, with references). Gunnhildr is credited with only the single helmingr below.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Ágr = [Anonymous] Ágrip af Nóregs konunga sögum.
  3. MHN = Storm, Gustav, ed. 1880. Monumenta historica Norvegiæ: Latinske kildeskrifter til Norges historie i middelalderen. Kristiania (Oslo): Brøgger. Rpt. 1973. Oslo: Aas & Wahl.
  4. ÍF 2 = Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar. Ed. Sigurður Nordal. 1933.
  5. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  6. HN = Historia Norwegiæ. In MHN 69-124.
  7. ÍF 5 = Laxdœla saga. Ed. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson. 1934.
  8. ÍF 12 = Brennu-Njáls saga. Ed. Einar Ólafur Sveinsson. 1954.
  9. ÍF 29 = Ágrip af Nóregskonunga sǫgum; Fagrskinna—Nóregs konungatal. Ed. Bjarni Einarsson. 1985.
  10. Olsen, Magnus. 1945b. ‘Skaldevers om nods-år nordenfjells’. In Festskrift til Konrad Nielsen på 70-årsdagen, 28. august 1945. Studia Septentrionalia 2. Oslo: Brøgger, 176-92.
  11. Sigurður Nordal. 1941. ‘Gunnhildur konungamóðir’. Samtíð og saga 1, 135-55.
  12. Internal references
  13. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ 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].
  14. Not published: do not cite (LaxdV)
  15. Not published: do not cite (NjV)
  16. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘Fagrskinna (Fsk)’ 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, pp. clix-clxi.

other information

Gunnhildr konungamóðir (Gunnh)

10th century

Skj AI, 61; BI, 54

volume 1

main editor: R. D. Fulk


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