3. Harald Harfager's Saga

1. Harald’s Strife With Hake And His Father Gandalf.

Harald [1] was but ten years old when he succeeded his father (Halfdan the Black). He became a stout, strong, and comely man, and withal prudent and manly. His mother’s brother, Guthorm, was leader of the hird, at the head of the government, and commander (`hertogi’) of the army. After Halfdan the Black’s death, many chiefs coveted the dominions he had left.

Among these King Gandalf was the first; then Hogne and Frode, sons of Eystein, king of Hedemark; and also Hogne Karuson came from Ringerike. Hake, the son of Gandalf, began with an expedition of 300 men against Vestfold, marched by the main road through some valleys, and expected to come suddenly upon King Harald; while his father Gandalf sat at home with his army, and prepared to cross over the fiord into Vestfold.

When Duke Guthorm heard of this he gathered an army, and marched up the country with King Harald against Hake. They met in a valley, in which they fought a great battle, and King Harald was victorious; and there fell King Hake and most of his people. The place has since been called Hakadale. Then King Harald and Duke Guthorm turned back, but they found King Gandalf had come to Vestfold.

The two armies marched against each other, and met, and had a great battle; and it ended in King Gandalf flying, after leaving most of his men dead on the spot, and in that state he came back to his kingdom. Now when the sons of King Eystein in Hedemark heard the news, they expected the war would come upon them, and they sent a message to Hogne Karuson and to Herse Gudbrand, and appointed a meeting with them at Ringsaker in Hedemark.

[1]:The first twenty chapters of this saga refer to Harald’s youth and his conquest of Norway. This portion of the saga is of great importance to the Icelanders, as the settlement of their Isle was a result of Harald’s wars. The second part of the saga (chaps. 21-46) treats of the disputes between Harald’s sons, of the jarls of Orkney, and of the jarls of More. With this saga we enter the domain of history.


2. King Harald Overcomes Five Kings

After the battle King Harald and Guthorm turned back, and went with all the men they could gather through the forests towards the Uplands. They found out where the Upland kings had appointed their meeting-place, and came there about the time of midnight, without the watchmen observing them until their army was before the door of the house in which Hogne Karuson was, as well as that in which Gudbrand slept.

They set fire to both houses; but King Eystein’s two sons slipped out with their men, and fought for a while, until both Hogne and Frode fell. After the fall of these four chiefs,

King Harald, by his relation Guthorm’s success and powers, subdued ;

  • Hedemark,
  • Ringerike,
  • Gudbrandsdal,
  • Hadeland,
  • Thoten,
  • Raumarike,
  • and the whole northern part of Vingulmark.

King Harald and Guthorm had thereafter war with King Gandalf, and fought several battles with him; and in the last of them King Gandalf was slain, and King Harald took the whole of his kingdom as far south as the river Raum.


3. Of Gyda, Daughter Of Eirie

King Harald sent his men to a girl called Gyda, daughter of King Eirik of Hordaland, who was brought up as foster-child in the house of a great bonde in Valdres. The king wanted her for his concubine; for she was a remarkably handsome girl, but of high spirit withal. Now when the messengers came there, and delivered their errand to the girl, she answered, that she would not throw herself away even to take a king for her husband, who had no greater kingdom to rule over than a few districts.

"And methinks,"

said she,

"it is wonderful that no king here in Norway
will make the whole country subject to him, 
in the same way as Gorm the Old did in Denmark, 
or Eirik at Upsala."

The messengers thought her answer was dreadfully haughty, and asked what she thought would come of such an answer; for Harald was so mighty a man, that his invitation was good enough for her. But although she had replied to their errand differently from what they wished, they saw no chance, on this occasion, of taking her with them against her will; so they prepared to return.

When they were ready, and the people followed them out, Gyda said to the messengers,

"Now tell to King Harald these my words. 
I will only agree to be his 1awful wife 
upon the condition that he shall first, 
for my sake, 
subject to himself the whole of Norway, 
so that he may rule over that kingdom 
as freely and fully as King Eirik 
over the Swedish dominions, 
or King Gorm over Denmark; 
for only then, 
can he be called the king of a people."


4. King Harald’s Vow

Now came the messengers back to King Harald, bringing him the words of the girl, and saying she was so bold and foolish that she well deserved that the king should send a greater troop of people for her, and inflict on her some disgrace. Then answered the king,

"This girl has not spoken or done 
so much amiss that she should be punished,
 but rather she should be thanked for her words. 
She has reminded me,"

said he,

"of something which it appears to me 
 I did not think of before. And now,"

added he,

"I make the solemn vow, 
and take God to witness, 
who made me and rules over all things,
that never shall I clip or comb my hair 
until I have subdued the whole of Norway, 
with scat [1], 
and duties, and domains; 
or if not, 
have died in the attempt."

Guthorm thanked the king warmly for his vow; adding, that it was royal work to fulfil royal words.

[1]: Scat was a land-tax, paid to the king in money, malt, meal, or flesh-meat, from all lands, and was adjudged by the Thing to each king upon his accession, and being proposed and accepted as king.


5. The Battle In Orkadal

After this the two relations gather together a great force, and prepare for an expedition to the Uplands, and northwards up the valley (Gudbrandsdal), and north over Dovrefjeld; and when the king came down to the inhabited land he ordered all the men to be killed, and everything wide around to be delivered to the flames.

And when the people came to know this, they fled every one where he could; some down the country to Orkadal, some to Gaulardal, some to the forests. But some begged for peace, and obtained it, on condition of joining the king and becoming his men. He met no opposition until he came to Orkadal.

There a crowd of people had assembled, and he had his first battle with a king called Gryting. Harald won the victory, and King Gryting was made prisoner, and most of his people killed. He took service himself under the king, and swore fidelity to him. Thereafer all the people in Orkadal district went under King Harald, and became his men.


6. King Harald S Laws For Land Property

King Harald made this law over all the lands he conquered, that all the udal property should belong to him; and that the bondes, both great and small, should pay him land dues for their possessions. Over every district he set an earl to judge according to the law of the land and to justice, and also to collect the land dues and the fines; and for this each earl received a third part of the dues, and services, and fines, for the support of his table and other expenses.

Each earl had under him four or more herses, each of whom had an estate of twenty marks yearly income bestowed on him and was bound to support twenty men-at-arms, and the earl sixty men, at their own expenses. The king had increased the land dues and burdens so much, that each of his earls had greater power and income than the kings had before; and when that became known at Throndhjem, many great men joined the king and took his service.


7. Battle In Gaulardal

It is told that Earl Hakon Grjotgardson came to King Harald from Yrjar, and brought a great crowd of men to his service. Then King Harald went into Gaulardal, and had a great battle, in which he slew two kings, and conquered their dominions; and these were Gaulardal district and Strind district. He gave Earl Hakon Strind district to rule over as earl. King Harald then proceeded to Stjoradal, and had a third battle, in which he gained the victory, and took that district also.

There upon the Throndhjem people assembled, and four kings met together with their troops. The one ruled over Veradal, the second over Skaun, third over the Sparbyggja district, and the fourth over Eyin Idre (Inderoen); and this latter had also Eyna district.

These four kings marched with their men against King Harald, but he won the battle; and some of these kings fell, and some fled. In all, King Harald fought at the least eight battles, and slew eight kings, in the Throndhjem district, and laid the whole of it under him.


8. Harald Seizes Naumudal District

North in Naumudal were two brothers, kings, — Herlaug and Hrollaug; and they had been for three summers raising a mound or tomb of stone and lime and of wood. Just as the work was finished, the brothers got the news that King Harald was coming upon them with his army.

Then King Herlaug had a great quantity of meat and drink brought into the mound, and went into it himself, with eleven companions, and ordered the mound to be covered up. King Hrollaug, on the contrary, went upon the summit of the mound, on which the kings were wont to sit, and made a throne to be erected, upon which he seated himself.

Then he ordered feather-beds to be laid upon the bench below, on which the earls were wont to be seated, and threw himself down from his high seat or throne into the earl’s seat, giving himself the title of earl. Now Hrollaug went to meet King Harald, gave up to him his whole kingdom, offered to enter into his service, and told him his whole proceeding.

Then took King Harald a sword, fastened it to Hrollaug’s belt, bound a shield to his neck, and made him thereupon an earl, and led him to his earl’s seat; and therewith gave him the district Naumudal, and set him as earl over it ((A.D. 866)). [1]

[1]: Before writing was in general use, this symbolical way of performing all important legal acts appears to have entered into the jurisprudence of all savage nations; and according to Gibbon, chap. 44,

"the jurisprudence of the first Romans 
exhibited the scenes of a pantomime; 
the words were adapted to the gestures, 
and the slightest error or neglect 
in the forms of proceeding was sufficient 
to annul the substance of the fairest claims."


9. King Harald’s Home Affairs

King Harald then returned to Throndhjem, where he dwelt during the winter, and always afterwards called it his home. He fixed here his head residence, which is called Lade. This winter he took to wife Asa, a daughter of Earl Hakon Grjotgardson, who then stood in great favour and honour with the king.

In spring the king fitted out his ships.

In winter he had caused a great frigate (a dragon) to be built, and had it fitted-out in the most splendid way, and brought his house-troops and his berserks on board. The forecastle men were picked men, for they had the king’s banner.

From the stem to the mid-hold was called rausn, or the fore-defence; and there were the berserks. Such men only were received into King Harald’s house-troop as were remarkable for strength, courage, and all kinds of dexterity; and they alone got place in his ship, for he had a good choice of house-troops from the best men of every district. King Harald had a great army, many large ships, and many men of might followed him.

Hornklofe, in his poem called “Glymdrapa”, tells of this; and also that King Harald had a battle with the people of Orkadal, at Opdal forest, before he went upon this expedition.

"O'er the broad heath the bowstrings twang,
While high in air the arrows sang.
The iron shower drives to flight
The foeman from the bloody fight.
The warder of great Odin's shrine,
The fair-haired son of Odin's line,
Raises the voice which gives the cheer,
First in the track of wolf or bear.
His master voice drives them along
To Hel — a destined, trembling throng;
And Nokve's ship, with glancing sides,
Must fly to the wild ocean's tides. 
Must fly before the king who leads
Norse axe-men on their ocean steeds."


10. Battle At Solskel

King Harald moved out with his army from Throndhjem, and went southwards to More. Hunthiof was the name of the king who ruled over the district of More. Solve Klofe was the name of his son, and both were great warriors. King Nokve, who ruled over Raumsdal, was the brother of Solve’s mother.

Those chiefs gathered a great force when they heard of King Harald, and came against him. They met at Solskel, and there was a great battle, which was gained by King Harald (A.D. 867).

Hornklofe tells of this battle:

"Thus did the hero known to fame,
The leader of the shields, whose name
Strikes every heart with dire dismay,
Launch forth his war-ships to the fray.
Two kings he fought; but little strife
Was needed to cut short their life.
A clang of arms by the sea-shore,
And the shields' sound was heard no more."

The two kings were slain, but Solve escaped by flight; and King Harald laid both districts under his power. He stayed here long in summer to establish law and order for the country people, and set men to rule them, and keep them faithful to him; and in autumn he prepared to return northwards to Throndhjem.

Ragnvald Earl of More, a son of Eystein Glumra, had the summer before become one of Harald’s men; and the king set him as chief over these two districts, North More and Raumsdal; strengthened him both with men of might and bondes, and gave him the help of ships to defend the coast against enemies.

He was called Ragnvald the Mighty, or the Wise; and people say both names suited him well. King Harald came back to Throndhjem about winter.