7. Saga Of Olaf Haraldson

1.Of Saint Olaf’s Bringing Up

Olaf, Harald Grenske’s son, was brought up by his stepfather Sigurd Syr and his mother Asta. Hrane the Far-travelled lived in the house of Asta, and fostered this Olaf Haraldson. Olaf came early to manhood, was handsome in countenance, middle-sized in growth, and was even when very young of good understanding and ready speech.

Sigurd his stepfather was a careful householder, who kept his people closely to their work, and often went about himself to inspect his corn-rigs and meadowland, the cattle, and also the smith-work, or whatsoever his people had on hand to do.


2. Of Olaf And King Sigurd Syr

It happened one day that King Sigurd wanted to ride from home, but there was nobody about the house; so he told his stepson Olaf to saddle his horse. Olaf went to the goats’ pen, took out the he-goat that was the largest, led him forth, and put the king’s saddle on him, and then went in and told King Sigurd he had saddled his riding horse.

Now when King Sigurd came out and saw what Olaf had done, he said

"It is easy to see that thou wilt little regard my orders; 
and thy mother will think it right 
that I order thee to do nothing 
that is against thy own inclination. 
I see well enough that we are of different dispositions, 
and that thou art far more proud than I am."

Olaf answered little, but went his way laughing.


3. Of Ring Olaf’s Accomplishments

When Olaf Haraldson grew up he was not tall, but middle-sized in height, although very thick, and of good strength. He had light brown hair, and a broad face, which was white and red. He had particularly fine eyes, which were beautiful and piercing, so that one was afraid to look him in the face when he was angry.

Olaf was very expert in all bodily exercises, understood well to handle his bow, and was distinguished particularly in throwing his spear by hand: he was a great swimmer, and very handy, and very exact and knowing in all kinds of smithwork, whether he himself or others made the thing.

He was distinct and acute in conversation, and was soon perfect in understanding and strength. He was beloved by his friends and acquaintances, eager in his amusements, and one who always liked to be the first, as it was suitable he should be from his birth and dignity. He was called Olaf the Great.


4. King Olaf’s War Expedition

Olaf Haraldson was twelve years old when he, for the first time, went on board a ship of war (A.D. 1007). His mother Asta got Hrane, who was called the foster-father of kings, to command a ship of war and take Olaf under his charge; for Hrane had often been on war expeditions.

When Olaf in this way got a ship and men, the crew gave him the title of king; for it was the custom that those commanders of troops who were of kingly descent, on going out upon a viking cruise, received the title of king immediately although they had no land or kingdom. Hrane sat at the helm; and some say that Olaf himself was but a common rower, although he was king of the men-at-arms. They steered east along the land, and came first to Denmark.

So says Ottar Svarte, in his lay which he made about King Olaf:

"Young was the king when from his home
He first began in ships to roam,
His ocean-steed to ride
To Denmark o'er the tide.

Well exercised art thou in truth 
In manhood's earnest work, brave youth!
Out from the distant north
Mighty hast thou come forth."

Towards autumn he sailed eastward to the Swedish dominions, and there harried and burnt all the country round; for he thought he had good cause of hostility against the Swedes, as they killed his father Harald.

Ottar Svarte says distinctly that he came from the east, out by way of Denmark:

"Thy ship from shore to shore,
With many a well-plied car,
Across the Baltic foam is dancing. 
Shields, and spears, and helms glancing!

Hoist high the swelling sail
To catch the freshening gale!
There's food for the raven-flight
Where thy sail-winged ship shall light;

Thy landing-tread
The people dread;
And the wolf howls for a feast
On the shore-side in the east."


5. Olaf’s First Battle

The same autumn Olaf had his first battle at Sotasker, which lies in the Swedish skerry circle. He fought there with some vikings, whose leader was Sote.

Olaf had much fewer men, but his ships were larger, and he had his ships between some blind rocks, which made it difficult for the vikings to get alongside; and Olaf’s men threw grappling irons into the ships which came nearest, drew them up to their own vessels, and cleared them of men. The vikings took to flight after losing many men.

Sigvat the skald tells of this fight in the lay in which he reckons up King Olaf’s battles:

"They launch his ship where waves are foaming 
To the sea shore
Both mast and oar,
And sent his o'er the seas a-roaming.

Where did the sea-king first draw blood?
In the battle shock
At Sote's rock;
The wolves howl over their fresh food."


6. Foray In Svithjod

King Olaf steered thereafter eastwards to Svithjod, and into the Lag (the Maelar lake), and ravaged the land on both sides. He sailed all the way up to Sigtuna, and laid his ships close to the old Sigtuna. The Swedes say the stone-heaps are still to be seen which Olaf had laid under the ends of the gangways from the shore to the ships.

When autumn was advanced, Olaf Haraldson heard that Olaf the Swedish king was assembling an army, and also that he had laid iron chains across Stoksund (the channel between the Maelar lake and the sea), and had laid troops there; for the Swedish king thought that Olaf Haraldson would be kept in there till frost came, and he thought little of Olaf’s force knowing he had but few people.

Now when King Olaf Haraldson came to Stoksund he could not get through, as there was a castle west of the sound, and men-at-arms lay on the south; and he heard that the Swedish king was come there with a great army and many ships.

He therefore dug a canal across the flat land Agnafit out to the sea. Over all Svithjod all the running waters fall into the Maelar lake; but the only outlet of it to the sea is so small that many rivers are wider, and when much rain or snow falls the water rushes in a great cataract out by Stoksund, and the lake rises high and floods the land. It fell heavy rain just at this time; and as the canal was dug out to the sea, the water and stream rushed into it.

Then Olaf had all the rudders unshipped and hoisted all sail aloft. It was blowing a strong breeze astern, and they steered with their oars, and the ships came in a rush over all the shallows, and got into the sea without any damage. Now went the Swedes to their king, Olaf, and told him that Olaf the Great had slipped out to sea; on which the king was enraged against those who should have watched that Olaf did not get away.

This passage has since been called King’s Sound; but large vessels cannot pass through it, unless the waters are very high. Some relate that the Swedes were aware that Olaf had cut across the tongue of land, and that the water was falling out that way; and they flocked to it with the intention to hinder Olaf from getting away, but the water undermined the banks on each side so that they fell in with the people, and many were drowned: but the Swedes contradict this as a false report, and deny the loss of people.

The king sailed to Gotland in harvest, and prepared to plunder; but the Gotlanders assembled, and sent men to the king, offering him a scat. The king found this would suit him, and he received the scat, and remained there all winter.

So says Ottar Svarte:

"Thou seaman-prince! thy men are paid:
The scat on Gotlanders is laid;
Young man or old
To our seamen bold
Must pay, to save his head:
The Yngling princes fled,
Eysvssel people bled;
Who can't defend the wealth they have
Must die, or share with the rover brave."


7. The Second Battle

It is related here that King Olaf, when spring set in, sailed east to Eysyssel, and landed and plundered; the Eysyssel men came down to the strand and grave him battle. King Olaf gained the victory, pursued those who fled, and laid waste the land with fire and sword.

It is told that when King Olaf first came to Eysvssel they offered him scat, and when the scat was to be brought down to the strand the king came to meet it with an armed force, and that was not what the bondes there expected; for they had brought no scat, but only their weapons with which they fought against the king, as before related.

So says Sigvat the skald:

"With much deceit and bustle
To the heath of Eysyssel
The bondes brought the king,
To get scat at their weapon-thing.

But Olaf was too wise
To be taken by surprise;
Their legs scarce bore them off
O'er the common test enough."


8. The Third Battle

After this they sailed to Finland and plundered there, and went up the country. All the people fled to the forest, and they had emptied their houses of all household goods.

The king went far up the country, and through some woods, and came to some dwellings in a valley called Herdaler, where, however, they made but small booty, and saw no people; and as it was getting late in the day, the king turned back to his ships. Now when they came into the woods again people rushed upon them from all quarters, and made a severe attack.

The king told his men to cover themselves with their shields, but before they got out of the woods he lost many people, and many were wounded; but at last, late in the evening, he got to the ships. The Finlanders conjured up in the night, by their witchcraft, a dreadful storm and bad weather on the sea; but the king ordered the anchors to be weighed and sail hoisted, and beat off all night to the outside of the land.

The king’s luck prevailed more than the Finlanders’ witchcraft; for he had the luck to beat round the Balagard’s side in the night. and so got out to sea. But the Finnish army proceeded on land, making the same progress as the king made with his ships.

So says Sigvat:

"The third fight was at Herdaler, where
The men of Finland met in war
The hero of the royal race,
With ringing sword-blades face to face.

Off Balagard's shore the waves
Ran hollow; but the sea-king saves
His hard-pressed ship, and gains the lee
Of the east coast through the wild sea."


9. The Fourth Battle In Sudervik

King Olaf sailed from thence to Denmark, where he met Thorkel the Tall, brother of Earl Sigvalde, and went into partnership with him; for he was just ready to set out on a cruise. They sailed southwards to the Jutland coast, to a place called Sudervik, where they overcame many viking ships.

The vikings, who usually have many people to command, give themselves the title of kings, although they have no lands to rule over. King Olaf went into battle with them, and it was severe; but King Olaf gained the victory, and a great booty.

So says Sigvat:

"Hark! hark! The war-shout
Through Sudervik rings,
And the vikings bring out
To fight the two kings.

Great honour, I'm told,
Won these vikings so bold:
But their bold fight was vain,
For the two brave kings gain."


10. The Fifth Battle In Friesland

King Olaf sailed from thence south to Friesland, and lay under the strand of Kinlima in dreadful weather. The king landed with his men; but the people of the country rode down to the strand against them, and he fought them.

So says Sigvat:

"Under Kinlima's cliff,
This battle is the fifth.
The brave sea-rovers stand
All on the glittering sand;

And down the horsemen ride
To the edge of the rippling tide:
But Olaf taught the peasant band
To know the weight of a viking's hand."


11. Death Of King Svein Forked Beard

The king sailed from thence westward to England. It was then the case that the Danish king, Svein Forked Beard, was at that time in England with a Danish army, and had been fixed there for some time, and had seized upon King Ethelred’s kingdom. The Danes had spread themselves so widely over England, that it was come so far that King Ethelred had departed from the country, and had gone south to Valland.

The same autumn that King Olaf came to England, it happened that King Svein died suddenly in the night in his bed; and it is said by Englishmen that Edmund the Saint killed him, in the same way that the holy Mercurius had killed the apostate Julian. When Ethelred, the king of the English, heard this in Flanders, he returned directly to England; and no sooner was he come back, than he sent an invitation to all the men who would enter into his pay, to join him in recovering the country.

Then many people flocked to him; and among others, came King Olaf with a great troop of Northmen to his aid. They steered first to London, and sailed into the Thames with their fleet; but the Danes had a castle within. On the other side of the river is a great trading place, which is called Sudvirke.

There the Danes had raised a great work, dug large ditches, and within had built a bulwark of stone, timber, and turf, where they had stationed a strong army.

King Ethelred ordered a great assault; but the Danes defended themselves bravely, and King Ethelred could make nothing of it. Between the castle and Southwark (Sudvirke) there was a bridge, so broad that two wagons could pass each other upon it. On the bridge were raised barricades, both towers and wooden parapets, in the direction of the river, which were nearly breast high; and under the bridge were piles driven into the bottom of the river.

Now when the attack was made the troops stood on the bridge everywhere, and defended themselves. King Ethelred was very anxious to get possession of the bridge, and he called together all the chiefs to consult how they should get the bridge broken down.

Then said King Olaf he would attempt to lay his fleet alongside of it, if the other ships would do the same. It was then determined in this council that they should lay their war forces under the bridge; and each made himself ready with ships and men.


12. The Sixth Battle

King Olaf ordered great platforms of floating wood to be tied together with hazel bands, and for this he took down old houses; and with these, as a roof, he covered over his ships so widely, that it reached over the ships’ sides. Under this screen he set pillars so high and stout, that there both was room for swinging their swords, and the roofs were strong enough to withstand the stones cast down upon them.

Now when the fleet and men were ready, they rode up along the river; but when they came near the bridge, there were cast down upon them so many stones and missile weapons, such as arrows and spears, that neither helmet nor shield could hold out against it; and the ships themselves were so greatly damaged, that many retreated out of it.

But King Olaf, and the Northmen’s fleet with him, rowed quite up under the bridge, laid their cables around the piles which supported it, and then rowed off with all the ships as hard as they could down the stream. The piles were thus shaken in the bottom, and were loosened under the bridge.

Now as the armed troops stood thick of men upon the bridge, and there were likewise many heaps of stones and other weapons upon it, and the piles under it being loosened and broken, the bridge gave way; and a great part of the men upon it fell into the river, and all the ethers fled, some into the castle, some into Southwark. Thereafter Southwark was stormed and taken.

Now when the people in the castle saw that the river Thames was mastered, and that they could not hinder the passage of ships up into the country, they became afraid, surrendered the tower, and took Ethelred to be their king.

So says Ottar Svarte:

"London Bridge is broken down. 
Gold is won, and bright renown.
Shields resounding,
War-horns sounding,

Hild is shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mail-coats ringing 
Odin makes our Olaf win!"

And he also composed these:

"King Ethelred has found a friend:
Brave Olaf will his throne defend 
In bloody fight
Maintain his right,

Win back his land
With blood-red hand,
And Edmund's son upon his throne replace 
Edmund, the star of every royal race!"

Sigvat also relates as follows:

"At London Bridge stout Olaf gave
Odin's law to his war-men brave 
'To win or die!'
And their foemen fly.

Some by the dyke-side refuge gain 
Some in their tents on Southwark plain!
The sixth attack
Brought victory back."


13. The Seventh Battle

King Olaf passed all the winter with King Ethelred, and had a great battle at Hringmara Heath in Ulfkel’s land, the domain which Ulfkel Snilling at that time held; and here again the king was victorious.

So says Sigvat the skald:

"To Ulfkel's land came Olaf bold,
A seventh sword-thing he would hold.
The race of Ella filled the plain 
Few of them slept at home again!

Hringmara heath
Was a bed of death:
Harfager's heir
Dealt slaughter there."

And Ottar sings of this battle thus:

"From Hringmara field
The chime of war,
Sword striking shield,
Rings from afar.

The living fly;
The dead piled high
The moor enrich;
Red runs the ditch."

The country far around was then brought in subjection to King Ethelred: but the Thingmen [1] and the Danes held many castles, besides a great part of the country.

[1]: Thing-men were hired men-at-arms; called Thing-men probably from being men above the class of thralls or unfree men, and entitled to appear at Things, as being udal-born to land at home.


14. Eighth And Ninth Battles Of Olaf

King Olaf was commander of all the forces when they went against Canterbury; and they fought there until they took the town, killing many people and burning the castle.

So says Ottar Svarte:

"All in the grey of morn
Broad Canterbury's forced.
Black smoke from house-roofs borne
Hides fire that does its worst;

And many a man laid low
By the battle-axe's blow,
Waked by the Norsemen's cries,
Scarce had time to rub his eyes."

Sigvat reckons this King Olaf’s eighth battle:

"Of this eighth battle I can tell
How it was fought, and what befell,
The castle tower
With all his power

He could not take,
Nor would forsake.
The Perthmen fought,
Nor quarter sought;

By death or flight
They left the fight.
Olaf could not this earl stout
From Canterbury quite drive out."

At this time King Olaf was entrusted with the whole land defence of England, and he sailed round the land with his ships of War. He laid his ships at land at Nyjamoda, where the troops of the Thingmen were, and gave them battle and gained the victory.

So says Sigvat the skald:

"The youthful king stained red the hair
Of Angeln men, and dyed his spear
At Newport in their hearts' dark blood:
And where the Danes the thickest stood 

Where the shrill storm round Olaf's head

Of spear and arrow thickest fled.
There thickest lay the Thingmen dead!
Nine battles now of Olaf bold,
Battle by battle, I have told."

King Olaf then scoured all over the country, taking scat of the people and plundering where it was refused.

So says Ottar:

"The English race could not resist thee,
With money thou madest them assist thee;
Unsparingly thou madest them pay
A scat to thee in every way;

Money, if money could be got 
Goods, cattle, household gear, if not.
Thy gathered spoil, borne to the strand,
Was the best wealth of English land."

Olaf remained here for three years (A.D. 1010-1012).


15. The Tenth Battle

The third year King Ethelred died, and his sons Edmund and Edward took the government (A.D. 1012). Then Olaf sailed southwards out to sea, and had a battle at Hringsfjord, and took a castle situated at Holar, where vikings resorted, and burnt the castle.

So says Sigvat the skald:

"Of the tenth battle now I tell,
Where it was fought, and what befell.
Up on the hill in Hringsfjord fair
A robber nest hung in the air:

The people followed our brave chief,
And razed the tower of the viking thief.
Such rock and tower, such roosting-place,
Was ne'er since held by the roving race."


16. Eleventh, Twelfth And Thirteenth Battles

Then King Olaf proceeded westwards to Grislupollar, and fought there with vikings at Williamsby; and there also King Olaf gained the victory.

So says Sigvat:

"The eleventh battle now I tell,
Where it was fought, and what befell.
At Grislupol our young fir's name
O'ertopped the forest trees in fame:

Brave Olaf's name — nought else was heard
But Olaf's name, and arm, and sword.
Of three great earls, I have heard say,
His sword crushed helm and head that day."

Next he fought westward on Fetlafjord, as Sigvat tells:

"The twelfth fight was at Fetlafjord,
Where Olaf's honour-seeking sword
Gave the wild wolf's devouring teeth
A feast of warriors doomed to death."

From thence King Olaf sailed southwards to Seljupollar, where he had a battle. He took there a castle called Gunvaldsborg, which was very large and old. He also made prisoner the earl who ruled over the castle and who was called Geirfin. After a conference with the men of the castle, he laid a scat upon the town and earl, as ransom, of twelve thousand gold shillings: which was also paid by those on whom it was imposed.

So says Sigvat:

"The thirteenth battle now I tell,
Where it was fought, and what befell.
In Seljupol was fought the fray,
And many did not survive the day.

The king went early to the shore,
To Gunvaldsborg's old castle-tower;
And a rich earl was taken there,
Whose name was Geridin, I am sure."


17. Fourteenth Battle And Olaf’s Dream

Thereafter King Olaf steered with his fleet westward to Karlsar, and tarried there and had a fight. And while King Olaf was lying in Karlsa river waiting a wind, and intending to sail up to Norvasund, and then on to the land of Jerusalem, he dreamt a remarkable dream — that there came to him a great and important man, but of a terrible appearance withal, who spoke to him, and told him to give up his purpose of proceeding to that land.

"Return back to thy udal, 
for thou shalt be king over Norway for ever."

He interpreted this dream to mean that he should be king over the country, and his posterity after him for a long time.


18. Fifteenth Battle

After this appearance to him he turned about, and came to Poitou, where he plundered and burnt a merchant town called Varrande.

Of this Ottar speaks:

"Our young king, blythe and gay,
Is foremost in the fray:
Poitou he plunders, Tuskland burns, 
He fights and wins where'er he turns."

And also Sigvat says:

"The Norsemen's king is on his cruise,
His blue steel staining,
Rich booty gaining,
And all men trembling at the news.

The Norsemen's kings up on the Loire:
Rich Partheney
In ashes lay;
Far inland reached the Norsemen's spear."


19. Of The Earls Of Rouen

King Olaf had been two summers and one winter in the west in Valland on this cruise; and thirteen years had now passed since the fall of King Olaf Trygvason. During this time earls had ruled over Norway; first Hakon’s sons Eirik and Svein, and afterwards Eirik’s sons Hakon and Svein. Hakon was a sister’s son of King Canute, the son of Svein. During this time there were two earls in Valland, William and Robert; their father was Richard earl of Rouen.

They ruled over Normandy. Their sister was Queen Emma, whom the English king Ethelred had married; and their sons were Edmund, Edward the Good, Edwy, and Edgar. Richard the earl of Rouen was a son of Richard the son of William Long Spear, who was the son of Rolf Ganger, the earl who first conquered Normandy; and he again was a son of Ragnvald the Mighty, earl of More, as before related.

From Rolf Ganger are descended the earls of Rouen, who have long reckoned themselves of kin to the chiefs in Norway, and hold them in such respect that they always were the greatest friends of the Northmen; and every Northman found a friendly country in Normandy, if he required it. To Normandy King Olaf came in autumn (A.D. 1013), and remained all winter (A.D. 1014) in the river Seine in good peace and quiet.


20. Of Einar Tambaskelfer

After Olaf Trygvason’s fall, Earl Eirik gave peace to Einar Tambaskelfer, the son of Eindride Styrkarson; and Einar went north with the earl to Norway. It is said that Einar was the strongest man and the best archer that ever was in Norway. His shooting was sharp beyond all others; for with a blunt arrow he shot through a raw, soft ox-hide, hanging over a beam. He was better than any man at running on snow-shoes, was a great man at all exercises, was of high family, and rich.

The earls Eirik and Svein married their sister Bergliot to Einar. Their son was named Eindride. The earls gave Einar great fiefs in Orkadal, so that he was one of the most powerful and able men in the Throndhjem country, and was also a great friend of the earls, and a great support and aid to them.