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20. Denmark History - Sweyn Forkbeard

Introduction - Sweyn Forkbeard - Setback for the Knytlings - War against the Wends - The Jomsvikings - Sweyn Forkbeard's arve-beer after his Father - Battle of Hjørungavaag - Vikings return to England - Battle of Maldon - Sweyn Forkbeard's 1. invasion in England - Sweyn Forkbeard marries Sigrid the Haughty - Battle of Svold - The Massacre of St. Brices Day - Sweyn Forkbeard's 2. invasion in England - Thorkell the Tall's invasion in England - Sweyn Forkbeard conquers all England - Sweyn Forkbeard's death and burial - Ships and Sailing - Links and Litterature

Introduction

The Knytlinge-king Sweyn Forkbeard led a rebellion against his father, Harald Bluetooth. After some difficult years he made true the Knytlings' old dream also to rule England.
Timeline of the history of Denmark
Timeline of history of Denmark based on Royal dynasties - They all descend from "Hardegon, the son of a certain Sven" that captured at least part of Denmark around the year 917. It is of advantage to divide the list of kings and thereby Denmark's history into some manageable groups or dynasties, as it gives a good overview. The Knytlings have got their navn from Hardecnut, son of Hardegon. He is called Knud I and was father of Gorm the Old. The main character of Knytlinga Saga is Knud IV the Holy. His brothers and Erik Emune, who was the son of his brother Erik Ejegod are all described in Knytlinga Saga, and it seems natural to include them in the Knytling Dynasty. Erik Lam was the son of Svend Estridsen's daughter and the Norwegian Hakon Jarl, as mentioned in Heimskringla. The rivaling kings, Sven, Knud and Valdemar were all royal candidates from the Knytlinga royal line, but the period nevertheless appears as an interregnum to the period of the Valdemars. Many historians, probably most, considers only Valdemar I the Great, his son Knud VI and Valdemar II Sejr (Victorious) as the Valdemars. But no one has a patent on that definition, and it seems the author natural and appropriate also to include their direct male descendants - including Erik IV Plovpenning, Abel and Christoffer I - until Christoffer II, who was the last king before the period without king. Valdemar IV Atterdag was not a union king, but it was his daughter Margrete I and his grandson Oluf. You could say that Valdemar IV Atterdag laid the foundations of the Kalmar Union with Norway and Sweden. The first kings of the dynasty of the Oldenborgs were also Union kings but only for short periods. The Oldenborg line died out with the childless Frederik VII in 1863. The throne was then taken over by Christian IX of Glücksborg.

The Knytlings The royal line of the Knytlings - Adam recounts Hardegon, son of Sven, and a little later Hardecnudt Wurm. Some historians believe that a "filius" are omitted from Adams text, so that it should have been Hardecnudt filius Wurm, meaning Wurm, Hardecnudt's son. It is supported by that Canute IV the Holy in his donation letter to the cathedral in Lund from 1085 calls himself Knud IV, from which it follows that there must have been a Knud I or a Hardeknud I, prior to Gorm, which Adam also tells. The author believes that the names Hardegon and Hardecnudt is different and not the same person.
Magnus the Good was a son the Norwegian saint Olaf the Holy and thus not a memeber of the Knytlinge line.

Around the year 987 Sweyn made rebellion against his father, Harald Bluetooth, along with the kingdom's leading men - allegedly because of the new religion, which his father had introduced, and the extensive forced labor that he had commanded the people to do for building viking ring fortresses, bridges and defense ramparts.

In some years after his father's death Sweyn stayed in England and maybe in Scotland, in Viking raids it is said. Adam of Bremen quotes Svend Estridsen for that the Swedish king Eric the Victorious ruled Denmark, or at least a part of the country during this period.

Eric the Victorious died around 995. Sweyn Forkbeard got his political breakthrough, when he married his widow, Sigrid the Haughty, in so doing he took over Eric the Victorious' position as the Nordic region's dominant king.

Coin with a portrait of Sweyn Forkbeard
Coin with a portrait of Sweyn Forkbeard from Kungliga Myntkabinettet in Stockholm. We must not hope for him that it looks alike. Claus Deluran thinks he can see that he has his hair arranged in a in a thick plait. From Niels Jørgen Jensens and Mogens Skjoldager's Danske Mønt.

Sweyn Forkbeard's great achievement was the realization of the Knytlings' old dream of conquering England. It was a political as well as military achievement. He managed to unite internal national contradictions between the original Knytlinge kingdom in Jutland and eastern Denmark, which the merchant Ottar had called Denemearce. He reconciled with the Jomsvikings, who had been his father's loyal supporters in the civil war. He eliminated his Scandinavian rival Olaf Tryggvason in the battle of Svold. He collaborated with the Danish great men and united their powers for the benefit of Denmark. With his marriage to Sigrid the Haughty he became stepfather to the Swedish King Olof Skötkonung, which family tie he exploited to create good relations and security for the home realm, so that he was free to turn his attention towards England.

However, he was not allowed to enjoy his triumph long. Just five weeks after he was elected as king of England, he died - 2. of February 1014 - quite suddenly.

Sweyn Forkbeard

Many sagas and chronicles - indeed most - report that Sweyn had a pronounced bad relationship with his father. We must believe that when so many sources tell, there must have been something about it. All Harald's buildings were very geometrically correct, and one can get the idea that he was a perfectionist type, and may also have been difficult to satisfy as a father.

Edward the Confessor on the Bayeux tapestry
Edward the Confessor on the Bayeux tapestry with "forkbeard". It was very fashionable in late Viking period to arrange the beard in this way. Sweyn Forkbeard was openminded to the new fashion a generation before Edward the Confessor. This suggests an open and flexible personality.

The British tribute written to Queen Emma, Encomium Emmae Reginae, also called Cnutonis Regis Gesta, says that Sweyn was loved by everybody: "Sveinn, king of the Danes, was, I declare, as I have ascertained from truthful report, practically the most fortune of all kings of his time," - " The Divine Power granted him such great favour that even as a boy he was held by all in close affection, and was hated only by his own father. No fault of the boy deserved this: it was due only to envy. When he grew to be a young man, he increased daily in the love of the people, and accordingly, his fathers envy increased more and more, so that he wished not in secret, but openly, to cast him out, affirming by oath that he should not rule after him."

Also Saxo says Sweyn was far more popular than his father had been: "As much hate the people had had for Harald, just as much love they had to Svend, and while they had loathed him, who introduced Christianity, they loved the one, who despised it." Especially the women loved Sweyn, Saxo says, because they three times collected the ransom in the form of jewelry of gold and silver to redeem him from captivity. "He proved also grateful to the women" - "for he gave women the legal right of inheritance, what they previously had not had."

Encomium writes that his men were ready to go through fire and water for his sake: "Not one of them would have recoiled from danger owing to fear of death, but, unafraid would have gone out of loyality to him against innumerabe enemies alone."

Sweyn Forkbeard quickly became a Christian. He probably realized that this development was inevitable, and that it was not wise to fight against. Sven Aggesen says that around the time that Sweyn took the new religion, it was renounced by his father during his last time in Jomsborg: "In his exile they chose his son Svend surnamed Forkbeard as king in his place. The belief in the Holy Trinity God that the father during his exile had rejected, he assumed by a sincere heart." This reinforces the perception that there was an emotional conflict between father and son.

Palnatoke and Sweyn Forkbeard
Palnatoke and Sweyn Forkbeard made by Louis Moe. It must be Palnatoke left, who holds the gold-wrapped arrow, with which they plan to kill Harald Bluetooth.

But Sweyn was by no means fanatical Christian, such as Olaf Tryggvason and Olaf the Holy were. He therefore had no problems with marrying Erik the Victorius' widow, Sigrid the Haughty, who did not want to become a Christian.

Knytlinge Saga tells of father and son, "King Harald Gormson's son, Svend, demanded a part of the kingdom of his father King Harald, but since he did not like him very much because he was illegitimate, he would not give him any kingdom to rule."

Olaf Tryggvasons Saga totally agrees, here Hakon Jarl says to Gold-Harald: "Now, first receive this kongdom. King Harald is old and has only one son, whom he is not particularly fond of, and he is also born out of wedlock."

However, the long saga of Olaf Tryggvason simply says: "King Harald's son Svend, who since earned the nickname Forkbeard, in his youth was raised by a mighty chieftain named Palnatoke, who ruled over Fyn." Which sounds like a likely connection between Sweyn and Palnatoke.

The silver cup from Fejø
The silver cup from the island of Fejø. In 1872 Farmer Rasmus Pedersen's was plowing his field near Sletteren on Fejø and found a silver cup from the Viking period with 4-5 small drinking cups. In July 2016 the detector operator Torben Christiansen organized a weekend for 18 detector people on the historical finding place, where they found additional 8 silver drinking cups. Photo: Folketidende.dk.

In Jomsvikinge Saga Harald sleeps with a mannish peasant girl on Funen named Sy-Esa, with the result that she becomes pregnant. It turned out to be an able boy, who got the name Sweyn. Harald denies fatherhood, and Palnatoke accept the boy as foster son and raise him as his own. When Sweyn as a young man went to his biological father, he repeatedly got a cold shoulder.

Encomium Emmae Reginae finds it necessary to emphasize that Sweyn came from the most distinguished families: "He, then derived his descent from a most noble source, a thing of foremost importance among men, and the government of the empire, which he adminstrated brought him great wordly honour."

Adam of Bremen have much bad to say about Sweyn; he calls him "a hostile man" driven by envy, who "launched the great persecution of Christians in the Danes' countries" and raged in his "cruelty and faithlessness". If he had known the unfortunate rumor, that Sweyn's mother in fact was the peasant girl Sy-Esa from Funen, he would certainly not have hesitated to bring it forward. Much of the bad press that Sweyn got comes from Adam.

The drinking cups from Fejø
A selection of drinking cups from Fejø. Photo: fejoe.info

Several historians believe that Adam's implacable hostility toward Sweyn came from that the king - and moreover later kings - preferred priests and monks from England instead of Hamburg-Bremen.

Thietmar of Merseburg considered Sveyn as a regular monster: "I was quite often told that Angles, whose name comes from angelic or beautiful face, or maybe from the fact that they live in the angle of this earth, suffered unspeakable sorrows from the cruel king of the Danes, Harald's son Svein. That ruler made them, who had earlier been tributaries of Peter the prince of apostles and spiritual children of their holy father Gregory, pay annual enforced tribute to those unclean dogs and give them against their will a large part of the country for their abodes, after they had killed or taken into captivity many its inhabitants." Then he continues in the same groove as Adam of Bremen.

We must believe that the story of the peasant girl Sy-Esa as Sveyn's mother was a weapon in the political intrigues of the time. One can easily imagine that there was political opposition to the Knytlings, especially in the eastern part of the country, which the merchant Ottar had called Denemearce. Some influential families on Sjælland may have looked down on Sweyn and his kin as Vikings and parvenus. They had only accepted Harald Bluetooth, because he was "Thyra's son", as Saxo calls him.

Meal on the Bayeux Tapestry
In the viking period they did not always drink from horn. Motif on the Bayeux Tapestry showing the Norman's first meal in England after the victory at Hastings in the year 1066. The tapestry is woven around 1070. In front of the person on the right, who raises his hand, is a drinking cup, similar to those found on Fejø. The person to the left is holding a similar cup in hand. Most Normans are clean shaved, only one has "forkbeard" - Photo Bayeux Museum.

Jomsvikinge Saga brings a fantastic story about how the jomsviking Sigvalde abducted Sweyn by pretending to be ill and thus lured the king out on his ship, which then set off against Jomsborg. Here Sigvalde asked as a condition of his release that he married the Wendic King Burislav's daughter Gunhild, while Sigvalde should have her little sister Astrid, whom he himself was enchanted with. Sweyn and Sigvalde then held a great feast in Jomsborg, where they married respectively Gunhild and Astrid.

In line with several other sources Olaf Tryggvasons Saga recounts: "So King Sweyn went home to Denmark with Gunhild - his wife. Their sons were Harald and Canute the Mighty." The marriage is in general confirmed by Thietmar of Merseburg, who mentions in his chronicle from around the year 1015 Sveyn's wife as Duke Mieszko's daughter, the sister of his successor Boleslav.

Around the year 997 Sweyn chose for political reasons to marry Sigrid the Haughty, who was the widow of the Swedish king Erik the Victorious. With Sigrid he got the daughter Estrid. Only Thietmar and Saxo also let Canute be the son of Sigrid. Gunhild traveled in all probability back to Wendland.

New Viking Site in Newfoundland
New Viking Site in Newfoundland. During Sweyn Forkbeard's reign, while Vikings attacked England, Leif Eriksson in 1002 sailed out from Greenland and discovered Vinland, that is America. Until this year, the only known Viking site in the new world has been L'Anse aux Meadows. However, the archaeologist Sarah Parcak - using satellite photos - has found, what is believed to be another site, which is called Point Rosee. Photo: National Geographic.

Anyway Encomium Emmae Reginae tells that after Sweyn's death the brothers Harald and Canute went to Wendland and brought back their mother: "Moreover, they did together an expedition to the the Wendic country and brought home their mother, who stayed there." Several other sagas report that Gunhild died before Sveyn married Sigrid the Haughty. But the English report was written by a person, who in all probability had met descendants of Sweyn and people, who had known him. Therefore it must be true that Sweyn repudiated Gunhild, she went home to Wendland and came back after Sveyn's death. This also supports that Canute was the son of Gunhild and not of Sigrid the Haughty, as Saxo wrote.

Harald was the eldest of Gunhild's two sons. When Sweyn died, he was elected king of Denmark after his father as Harald II. It is known with reasonable certainty that already in 1013 he was entrusted the leadership of Denmark, when Sweyn sailed to England at the head of the great army. After Sweyn's death in 1014, he was elected king of Denmark, which position he held until his early death in the year 1018.

Harald's younger brother, Canute, accompanied around perhaps 14-18 years old his father on the expedition to England. While Sweyn subjugated England, Knud guarded the ships and the many hostages, whom the Englishmen delivered. Canute became king of England, Denmark and Norway. He is in Scandinavia known as Knud or Knut and in England as Canute. As his father and his older brother he did not become very old, he died in the age of only about 40 years.
Sweyn Forkbeard, his wives and children
Sweyn Forkbeard, his wives and children. However, there is some disagreement about who was Canute's mother. The sagas and Encomium say that he was a son of Gunhild, while Thietmar of Merseburg, who lived at the same time as Sweyn says that Canute's mother was Sigrid the Haughty. Similarly, Saxo: "When some time had passed, Sigrid gave birth to a son, Knud."

Knytlinga Saga informs that: "King Sweyn had also a daughter, named Gyda, who was married to Earl Erik Hakonsøn in Norway." This is confirmed by, among other sources, Olaf Tryggvason Saga.

Saxo is talking about: "Sweyn was defeated by him (Eric the Victorious) in Scania, where he left an extremely fair daughter Thyra, whom he had named after her grandmother." Moreover, he speaks of a Thyra that Sweyns agents tried to make Olaf Tryggvason interested in instead of the elderly widow Sigrid the Haughty. It looks like a confusion with Sveyn's sister Thyra, who ran away from her husband, the king of Wendland, and married instead Olaf Tryggvason without her brother's permission.

Woman dress from the Viking period
Woman dress from the Viking period on display in the Museum Ribe's Vikings. The princesses Gyda and Estrid may have been dressed like this. The Viking in the background is dressed in a kind of plusfours trousers, a fashion that still existed in the 1950's. Photo: www.arild-hauge.com

Magnus the Good's Saga in Heimskringla says that Sweyn and Sigrid the Haughty had a daughter named Astrid, who became the mother of that Svend that was nicknamed Estridsen: "There was a man named Svend - son of Earl Ulf, son of Thorgils Sprakeleg. Svends's mother was Astrid - daughter of King Sweyn; she was same-father sister of Canute the Mighty, and she had the same mother as the Swedish King Olaf Erikson - their mother was queen Sigrid the Haughty, daughter of Skøgul-Toste."

Many other sources confirm that Sweyn had a daughter named Estrid, however, without mentioning the mother. Adam of Bremen relates that Estrid married Duke Richard of Normandy, who, however, quickly divorced from her, after which he went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, during which he died. Sweyn then gave her to Ulf Jarl: "As I said earlier, the Danish king Chnut gave his sister, whom Count Richard had separated from to his Duke Ulf. She gave birth to the children Svein, Toste and Harold." Svend Estridsen became father and ancestor of many Danish kings.

Setback for the Knytlings

The nine years from Harald's death in the year 987 to Sweyn married Erik the Victorious' widow, perhaps around the year 996, was a very critical period for the Knytlinge lineage. All Harald's achievements were temporarily lost.

Shoe from the Viking Age
Shoe from the Viking Age. Photo: www.arild-hauge.com

Thietmar of Merseburg, who was a contemporary with Sweyn, wrote: "His rule thus fell a prey to his enemies, and he changed the safe life in his fatherland to homeless wandering, peace to war, his own countries to foreign lands." It sounds like Sweyn for a period not at all was king of Denmark.

Adam tells pretty clear that Eric the Victorious was King of Denmark : "Heric had, he said, two kingdoms, the Danes' and Sveones'."

Although Adam is clearly hostile in relation to Sweyn, we can not completely ignore his statement, he refers directly to his grandson Svend Estridsen, who should know: "Then the mighty king Heric of the Sveones gathered an army so numerous, as there are sand on the beach, and invaded the land of the Danes. Sweyn, who was abandoned by God, set in vain his hope to his idols. In many naval battles - in that way they usually fight one another - all the Danes' forces were spread. The victor, king Heric, won the land of the Danes. Sweyn, who was driven from his kingdom, got his deserved reward of the zealous God."

However, there is some ambiguity about, what was meant by Denmark by this time.

Proposal for a political map of Denmark in early part of Sweyn Forkbeard's time
Proposal for a political map of Denmark in early part of Sweyn Forkbeard's time. A hundred and fifty years before the merchant Ottar sailed from Skiringssal in Norway to Hedeby; He recounted that he had Denemearce to port and Gotland to starboard. Harald Bluetooth united his own Knytlinge kingdom with eastern Denmark, that is Denemearce. The author can not prove that Denmark was still divided into several political entities. But I can just say that it gives a good explanation of the events.

Harald Bluetooth, Thyra's son, as Saxo calls him, ended up ruling over both his own Knytlinge kingdom in Jutland and eastern Denmark that Ottar and Wulfstan called Denemearce. He "won the whole of Denmark," as he wrote on the Jelling Stone. A likely interpretation of this statement may be that he was Knytlinge-king in Jutland, and then he was elected king also in the whole Denemearce, meaning Zealand and neighboring islands and Scania and Halland.

Thorleifr Jarlsskald Raudfeldarson's drapa on Svein Tjuguskegg sounds:

Heid gave Heaven's Ray's
Chieftain often Jutes'
King to on England
Swords red to color.


The merchant Ottar called Jutland for Gotland around the year 850. Some hundred years later Adam of Bremen talked on Jutland and "the Danes, called Jutes". One can get the idea that the names Jutland and Jutes are connected to the Knytlings and their arrival around the year 917.

It was not self-evident that the Knytlings should rule also Denemearce. As other nations at this time it was an elective monarchy. They had chosen Harald, because he was of royal Danish blood after his mother, Thyra. Perhaps they considered the Knytlings in general to be Vikings and parvenus, who were not worthy to lead an ancient and noble kingdom as "Denemearce". They may have thought that there had also been problems with these Knytlings. Under Harald the whole country was imposed extensive forced labor to build viking ring fortresses and defense ramparts in order to withstand a possible crusade from Emperor Otto 2. and huge resources of oak wood had been used for this purpose; and then it turned out that it had not been necessary, since the emperor died in Italy, and his empire then fell into impotence during the rule of his three year old son.
The original ax from Langeid The magnificent sword from Langeid
Left: The original ax from Langeid in Aust-Agder. Photo Historisk Museum in Oslo.
Right: The magnificent sword from Langeid. Photo museum-of-artifacts.

Today Denmark is allied with the World's strongest military power, the United States, and we wish that they come, when we call. The nobles and the thing-peasants of Denemearce may have chosen the experienced and victorious Swedish King Eric rather than the young Sweyn, because they wanted to have Sweden behind them in a possible conflict with the empire.

The reconstructed long-ax from Langeid
The reconstructed long-ax from Langeid. In a grave from the late Viking Age at Krokå-Langeid in Aust-Agder a magnificent sword and a battle ax were found. Vegard Vike and Anders Helseth Nilsson have reconstructed the ax from bog iron-ore with that time technique. Photo Historical Museum in Oslo.

The sagas tell that Sweyn became king after his father, Harald, while Adam of Bremen, who refers to his grandson, Svend Estridsen, says that Eric the Victorious became king after Harald. These are two conflicting piece of information, we think.

However, if we believe that Sweyn succeeded his father as King of the Knytlings original kingdom in Jutland, but in competition with Erik the Victorious he failed to be elected in Denemearce, then both statements can be true.

In an attempt to be elected king on Sjælland and surrounding areas Sweyn most likely had to fight off rumors and gossip that his mother was in fact a mannish peasant girl from Fyn, and he probably was exposed to ferocious resistance and constant vilification from the clergy of the Hamburg Bremen archbishopric seat. The story of his simple descent is found in Jomsvikinge Saga.

Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry
Detail of the Bayeux Tapestry. The scene shows two English messengers, who have come to Normandy and demand Harold Godwinson released from Norman captivity. One of the Englishmen is armed with a typical long ax, which he apparently is threatening to use.
The Normans on the right are dressed in knee-short trousers over tights or the like. It looks like a kind of jumpsuit. The English representatives are different. The front one with the ax has long cross-striped stockings and a sort of tartan kilt and a cape that allows the right arm free. The rear one is dressed in a red robe with a belt. One can imagine that the man with the ax is from Danelaw, and the rear one is an Angel-Saxon. They are all clean-shaven.
Under them are shown peasants, who work the land with a wheel plow and harrow. The wheel plow prepared the land much more effectively than the ancient ard did, as it turned the soil contrary to the ard, which only made furrows in the field. It has been the cause of much higher returns than before. It was already known in Central Europe in the 600's. In Denmark the characteristic long high-backed fields have been found back from the Viking age and maybe earlier. Its prevalence has been preconditioned by a land redistribution, whereby the fields became long and narrow - because the wheel plow was difficult to turn around. Agricultural production became more abundant and it must have been a major reason, why the Viking raids gradually petered out, and it was no longer necessary to expell groups of young people because of overpopulation; as Dudo writes - "to be expelled to foreign peoples and kingdoms, for that they by fighting could win land, where they could live in continuous peace."

Adam of Bremen apparently knew no limits in his immoderate criticism of Sweyn Forkbeard: "King Sweyn got the punishment for the crimes, he had committed against God's churches. He was defeated and abandoned by his people because God had forsaken him. During his wanderings he came helpless to the Nortmans, where Thrucco, Haccos son, at that time was king. As he was a heathen, he did not become moved with compassion toward the exile. The unfortunate man, who was abandoned by the whole world, sailed over to Anglien to get help from his enemies. At that time Adelrad, Edgar's son ruled the Brittanions. He had not forgotten the abuses that the Danes from ancient times had done to the Angles, and expelled the exiled. Eventually the king of the Scotians of pity for his unhappy lot received king Sweyn favorably - " It sounds incredible that Adam should have heard all this from Sweyn Forkbeard's grandson Svend Estridsen.

Comb from the Viking Age
Comb from the Viking Age. In films Vikings are often depicted as dirty, shoddy and untidy people with a "natural", disheveled and dirty hair. It is perhaps a perception we have from Rousseau's "return to nature". But most likely it has always been good manners to have a well combed hair. Photo: Pinterest.com

Saxo has a very similar derogatory description of Sweyn's hardships. He has probably read it by Adam.

War against the Wends

Sweyn Forkbeard also tried to regain his father's rule in Wendland, "but King Boleslaus confederated with Eric the Victorious, and Sweyn achieved merely to be captured, so that he had to be bought free for a large amount of gold and silver", Saxo recounts.

A skolie in Adam of Bremen says: "The Sveon king Heric made a pact with the Polanians' mighty king Bolizlaus, who gave Heric his sister or daughter. For this brother in law relationship the Danes were attacked by Slavs and Sveons together." Skolier is later noted comments in Adam's manuscript, perhaps by Adam himself or later copy writers.

The war against the Slavs is confirmed once again by Adam, as he writes: "But the Lord's punishment strucked the faithless king. In the war against the Slavs, he was twice captured and twice ransomed against a large amount of gold."
Sweyn is redeemed from captivity with his weight in silver and gold
The women bestow their jewelry to ransom Sweyn with his weight in silver and gold. Drawing by Lorenz Frølich from 1877. From the DPU collection of illustration pictures.

The Jomsvikings

Palnatoke was the son of the noble Palner Tokesen on Fyn. Saxo calls him Toke, probably he was Toke, son of Palner. He was Sweyn Forkbeard's foster father. Jomsvikinge Saga lets him establish Jomsborg, which is unlikely, since several other sources mention the stronghold already in Harald's time. Probably he was put in charge of Jomsborg as Sweyn's trusted man.

Saxo tells that Harald Bluetooth asked so many unreasonable demands on him - like shooting an apple from his son's head and go skiing down the steep cliffs of Kullen - that finally "he began in the service of his son Sweyn for letting his skills benefit him." All this should probably explain and apologize that he was a main character in the group of the nation's leading men, who betrayed their king and led a revolt against him together with that Sweyn, who later earned the epithet Forkbeard. Perhaps Harald really had been a bit eccentric in his old age.

Palnatoke's master shot
Saxo calls Palnatoke for Toke, which supports that he really was named Toke and was the son of Palner. Drawing by Louis Moe.

Admittedly, Heimskringla tells in Olaf Tryggvasons Saga that Palnatoke led the Jomsvikings already in Harald's time: "When his whole fleet had come, and furthermore Palnatoke of the Jomsvikings to help him, Sweyn sailed to Sjælland and into the fjord Isefjorden. There was King Harald, his father, with his ships, he intended to go out viking. Sweyn positioned himself for combat against him, it came to a big battle." But all other sources say that Harald's professional warriors in Jomsborg was his most loyal supporters. For example, Saxo: "Then he left Denmark and went exiled to Julin, which was completely full of Danish warriors, and so to say, was the womb of his most reliable war strength."

Therefore we must believe that the Jomsvikings supported Harald to the very end. After the civil war Sweyn reconciled with them, and only then he put his trusted man, Palnatoke, as a sort of supreme leader and overseer of Jomsborg. Jomsvikinge Saga says, "then Palnatoke after advice of wise men gave laws in Jomsborg, so that there could be assembled more, than there were before." His task was to attract more experienced fighters and expand the force of Jomsborg.

Same Olaf Tryggvasons Saga says that Sigvalde Jarl was the leader of Jomsborg, when Harald died: "There Harald got so serious wounds that he died. Since Svein was taken to king of Denmark. By that time Sigvalde was Earl of Jomsborg." Sigvalde Jarl seems to have been the operational leader of the Jomsvikings all the time, both during the reigns Harald and Sweyn, and probably also while Palnatoke was supreme leader of Jomsborg.
Schlossberg northeast of Altstadt von Usedom Extension of the fortification, allegedly from 1000 century after the Ronny Krüger 2015
Left: Schlossberg northeast of Altstadt von Usedom. Photo Andreas Koehler-Balden.
Right: Extension of the fortification - allegedly from the 1200's - after Ronny Krüger 2015. Northeast of Altstadt von Usedom are remnants of walls from a large Slavic fortress. The old castle-area is called today "Bauhof". With about 380 meters in diameter, it is one of the largest Slavic castles in today's Vorpommern. The origin of this fortification is assumed to be from around the 1000's. It was originally built on a natural promontory that was protected by sea and lakes, which, however, today are heavily sanded. A nearby natural harbor was connected with Peene, the Szczecin Lagoon (Stettiner Haff) and the Baltic Sea. Around the year 1200 a small castle was built in the southern part of the fortress; today the castle-Hill is called "Schlossberg".
Some authors believe that this fortress may have been Jomsborg - though it does not match the description in Jomsvikinge Saga.

Apart from Palnatoke and Vagn Ågesøn, who was from Fyn, all named Jomsvikings came from Sjælland, Scania and Bornholm. There is no mention of any jomsvikings from Jutland. The great Saga of Olaf Tryggvason says in connection with Sweyn Forkbeard arve-beer for his father: "The Jomsvikings had 40 Ships from Wendland and 20 ships from Scania," suggesting that Jomsvikings had a special connection to Scania, or at least to eastern Denmark.

Graphic reconstruction of Jomsborg
Graphic reconstruction of Jomsborg after the description in Jomsvikinge Saga. It is reminiscent of Hedeby, but was presumably larger. Drawing: Historienet.

In the Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvasons Sigvald Jarl and his brother Thorkell the Tall are described. Thorkell the Tall was also jomsviking and later played a major role in England: "In that time Harald Jarl, who was called Strut-Harald, ruled Scania in Denmark; his sons were Sigvald, Heming, and Thorkell the Tall. Sigvald was tall, had longish face, a crooked nose, a pale face color and beautiful eyes; Thorkelll was the tallest of men, beautiful of appearance and strong."

Harvard the Huggende and Aslak Holmskalle also came from Sjælland.

The king of Bornholm had two sons, who also were Jomsvikings: "At that time a chief named Vesete ruled Bornholm, his wife was Hildegun, their sons: Bue hin Digre (the portly) and Sigurd nicknamed Kappe (giant)."

The prehistoric Wolin
The early medieval Wolin freely after: "Bericht der Römisch-Germanischen Kommission 69". Also the old Wolin had a semicircle rampart just as Hedeby, Aros and other cities. Some have suggested that Jomsborg was here. Photo: Stefan Bollmann - wikipedia.

Om Bue Digre hed det: "About Bue Digre it is said: "Bue was not pretty, but tough in mind, he was both tall and thick and so strong that you never knew examples that anything was too much for him." About Sigurd it is said: "His brother Sigurd Kappe was a beautiful man, he spoke very little and was very modest, but of strong character."

Bue and Sigurd's nephew, Vagn Ågesøn, was also a jomsviking: "Vesetes daughter was named Thorgunna, she was married to Åge in Fyn, their son was named Vagn; he was early both big and strong and beautiful in appearance, but very vicious to come to terms with and hefty in mind as he grew up."

Sweyn Forkbeard's Arve-beer after his Father

As we remember, Knytlinge Saga tells that Harald Bluetooth "ordered Jomsborg to be built and put there a significant crew, to which he gave wages and laws." It seemed like they were a military elite corps, a small standing army.

Hall in Lofoten Viking Museum
Hall in Lofoten Viking Museum in Norway. Sweyn Forkbeard's Inherit-beer after his Father could have been held in such a hall. Photo: Jon Olaf Eikenes.

The Jomsvikings had been Harald's loyal supporters to the very end, which very naturally led to that they had a tense relationship with his son, Sweyn, whom they initially had fought against.

Håkon Jarl in Norway was convinced heathen, and he had disapproved Harald's approach to Christianity. Already in the later part of Harald's time, he stopped sending taxes to Denmark. Harald had not done anything about it, probably in recognition of the Norwegian support in the war against Otto 2. After Harald's death Håkon ruled most of Norway on his own and recognized by all accounts not Sweyn Forkbeard's supremacy.

Sweyn wanted to send the Jomsvikings against Håkon Jarl to bring him to order. However, the elite corps should suffer a serious defeat in the battle in Hjørungavaag.

Sweyn Forkbeard vow to conquer England at the arve-beer after his father Harald Bluetooth.
Sweyn Forkbeard vow to conquer England at the arve-beer after his father Harald Bluetooth. Drawing by Lorenz Frølich.

Notwithstanding that the majority of Jomsvikings came from eastern Denmark, which the merchant Ottar called Denemearce, they needed a king, who would appreciate and reward them for their bravery, experience and skills, and they must have seen that the knytling Sweyn was a clever, energetic and winning person. Sweyn in turn had big plans and needed good men.

"King Sweyn made a great feast, and summoned to him all the chiefs, who were in his kingdom," the long saga of Olaf Tryggvason says, "he would in fact make arve-beer after his father King Harald. To this arve-beer came many people."

In the Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvason and other sagas the still tense relationship between the Jomsvikings and Sweyn is recounted: "On the feast's first day king Sweyn drank, before he stepped up in his father's high seat, his father's minde (memory), and did then the promise that before three winters have passed, he would come to England with his army, and either kill Kong Adelraad, or drive him out of the country. This minde should everybody, who were present at the arve-beer, drink."

Thereafter, several other mindes were drunk, and the and the atmosphere in the hall became quite cheerful.

The Jomsvikings make promises at Sweyn Forkbeard's arve-beer
The Jomsvikings make promises at Sweyn Forkbeard's arve-beer for his father. Drawing by Eilif Petersen in Heimskringla.

Then Kong Sweyn spoke: "Now you Jomsvikings!" he said, "so much more about your fame, as you are more renowned than most men all over the Nordic region."

The Jomsvikings would like to prove their worth. They did not want to be outdone by the king, they gave costly promises: "Sigvald Jarl then drank his father's minde, and made the promise that before three winters had passed, he would have visited Norway, and either have killed Håkon Jarl or driven him out of the country. Next, Thorkell the Tall made the promise that he would follow his brother Sigvald to Norway, and not flee from the battle as long as Sigvald continued to fight. Bue Digre went on to make the promise that he would go to Norway with them, and not flee from the fight with Håkon Jarl."

The other Jomsvikings followed suit some mindes later: "Since Sigurd Kappe made the promise that he would go to Norway, and not flee from the fight as long as the majority of Jomsvikings still were fighting. Then did Vagn Aagesøn the promise that he would go with them to Norway, and not come back until he had killed Thorkell Lejra, who was govenor in east in Viken, and gone to bed with his daughter Ingeborg."

The Dragon ship Harald Fairhair crossing the Atlantic
The Dragon ship Harald Fairhair crossing the Atlantic in May 2016. Such it can have looked like, when Jomsvikings sailed across the North Sea to Norway. They departed very late in the year: Photo Iceland Magazine.

The long saga of Olaf Tryggvason continues: "But when the Jomsvikings next morning after had slept it off, they thought, that they had used too big words. They then talked with each other and considered, how they should handle the expedition; and then they agreed to make themselves ready as fast as it was possible. Immediately after the feast the Jomsvikings equipped their ships and crews." - "It was near the beginning of winter. This was now told far and wide. It happened two winters after King Harold Gormson's fall."

Battle of Hjørungavaag

The Jomsvikings sailed to Norway immediately after they had made their promises at Sweyn Forkbeard's arve-beer, though it was very late in the year. "They had a sharp wind, and the ships made a fast speed." They must have have hoped to confront Håkon Jarl, before he managed to assemble a fleet from Norway's vast fjords. But their haste proved futile. After a long search among the Norwegian islands, reefs and fjords, they found themselves face to face with a very large Norwegian fleet in the small fjord Hjørungavaag.

Hjørungavaag
The fjord Hjørungevaag at the island Hareidlandet south of Ålesund in Norway. After Google Map - There is discussion whether it is the right place, because Jomsvikinge Saga says: "It is said here that Hjørungavaag face with the innermost of the fjord to the east, and the mouth to the west", and that is not the case here. Google map.

There were twice as many ships on the Norwegian side, than on the Jomsvikings', but their ships were large with higher side depth over the waterline than the Norwegians', which was a big advantage. There were probably many more Norwegians than Jomsvikings, but the Norwegians were ordinary peasants, who probably could use weapons, but in their everyday life had much else to do. The Jomsvikings on the other hand, were chosen professional warriors.

The Norwegian fleet was led by Håkon Jarl, his sons Erik and Sweyn Jarl and several chiefs, including Tore Hjort from Hålogaland and Torkel Leira from Viken.

Olaf Tryggvason's Saga says: "Since they put the ships together, and now the toughest battle was fought, and many fell on both sides, but many more of Håkon's army, for the Jomsvikings beat both hard and often and shot right through the shields."

Håkon Jarl sacrifices his son Erling to victory
Håkon Jarl sacrifices his son Erling to victory. In the Jomsvikinge drapa in the Long Olaf Tryggvasons Saga is told that Håkon sacrificed his seven-year-old son, Erling in the midst of the battle for victory:

"Evil against humans Håkon
(Gruesome deed happened!)
Grimly his son was sacrificed."


And the Valkyrie Hølge's daughter then sent the hailstorm, which turned the tide of battle:

I heard then that the hard
Hølge's daughter's storm."


Thorgerd Hölgabrud is mentioned in several sagas. Some believe that she is named after the Finn king Guse's daughter, in some places called Thora, who against his father's will was married to King Hölgi, who gave name to Haalogaland, which is northern Norway. During the late Viking Age and the Middle Ages Thorgerd Hölgabrud was reduced to a sorceress on an island in the far north.

In Jomsvikinge Saga it is Håkon's thrall, Tormod Kark, who handles the knife.
Several historians believe that the sacrifice is a post-rationalization, which is not true. The purpose of the story was to explain and apologize for that the Jomsvikings could not keep their promise and conquer Norway; Because: against gods humans are struggling in vain. Drawing Lorenz Frølich.

Vagn Ågesen attacked Svend Jarl's section so hard and uncompromisingly that he made preparations to flee, but then he was assisted by his brother Erik Jarl. Bue Digre, had already released his ships from the battle formation to pursue the assumed fleeing, thereby, Erik Jarl could put his ships all around his, and there was a bitter struggle.

"Since it became an ugly weather, and a hailstorm with hail so ugly that the shots were weighing an øre" (26.7 gram). - "The storm was blowing the Jomsvikings right into their faces and hampered them very much."

"Then Sigvalde cut the ropes and turned his ship and would flee. Vagn Ågesen yelled at him and asked him not to flee, but Sigvalde paid no heed to, what he said, then Vagn shot a spear at him and hit the man, who sat at the rudder."

The Jomsvikings got a hailstorm against them in Hjørungavaag
The Jomsvikings got a hailstorm against them in Hjørungavaag. Illustration by H. Egedius in Olaf Tryggvasons Saga.

Sigvalde rowed away with the majority of the Jomsvikings' ships. Vagn Ågesen would not fail his promise; he refused to flee and fought fiercely on to the end. Bue Digre's ship, which no longer was placed in the Jomsvikings' battle formation, was already surrounded by several of Erik Jarl's ship, and he could not get free.

The Norwegians boarded Bue Digre's encircled ship from all sides and an epic battle was fought.

Jomsvikinge Saga says that a Norwegian named Thorkel Midlang jumped upon Bue's ship "- and this happened now in an instant, and he cut his lip and chin all the way through, so that the pieces immediately fell upon the ship, and the teeth leapt Bue out of the mouth by the blow. When Bue got this wound, he said: "only little the Danish maids on Bornholm will now like to kiss us, if we ever will come thither." - "Immediately after this Bue took his gold chests, one in each hand, and then he jumped overboard with both chests, and none of them came up any more." - "When Bue stepped up, and intended to jump over board, which he then did, he, according to some statements, said these words: "Overboard, all Bue's men!" and then he jumped immediately overboard."

"Since Erik Jarl laid against Vagn's ship, and there he got hard resistance. But in the end, the ship was cleared, and Vagn was captured along with 30 of his men."

The surviving Jomsvikings were bound to a tree trunk.
The surviving Jomsvikings were bound to a tree trunk to be executed. Illustration by H. Egedius in Olaf Tryggvasons Saga.

The long Olaf Tryggvasons Saga says: "As soon as Vagn and his men had come ashore, they were all bound in this way that a rope was laced around the feet of them all, but their hands were free. They all sat on a tree trunk." - "Then Thorkell Lejra went forward, and spoke thus:" That promise you did, Vagn! to kill me, but now it seems to me more probable that I will kill you." Thorkelll had a big ax; he slew first the one, who sat on the end of the trunk, and then one after the other."

It did not look good for the remaining Jomsvikings, but they all wanted to leave a good reputation and fully follow Jomsborg's law: " - No one is allowed to say an anxious word or anything fear, how dangerous it may look like." Had James Bond lived thousand years before, he would have been a fully qualified jomsviking.

The saga recounts: "They say that all Jomsvikings spoke manhood words, before they were killed, so one of them said: "I have a stick in my hand, and I will put it into the ground, if I know something of myself, after the head is off me." - "Then he was beheaded and the stick fell to the ground from his hand, as one might expect. Eighteen Jomsvikings were killed."
Vikingship on journey across the North Sea.
Viking ship on journey across the North Sea.

"But when eighteen were killed, a very handsome man sat with a wonderful long hair. He wrapped the hair forward over his head, stretched his neck out and said: "Do not make my hair bloody!" One of Håkon Jarl's court-people then took the hair with both hands and held on to it. Thorkell swung the ax high in the air, and chopped hard. The Vikings moved the head so quickly that he, who kept the hair, came with it. The ax then hit him on the arms and took both hands off."

"Then Erik Jarl stepped forward and said," Who are you beautiful man?" "They call me Sigurd," he said,"I am Bue's natural son, and yet not all Jomsvikings are dead." "Yes, this can be seen", the Jarl said, "that you are Bue's son; will you receive peace?" - "So I will", said Sigurd."

Then Thorkel Lejra said:"Although you, Jarl! will let all these men have peace, then Vagn Ågesøn should not get away with his life;" and in the same moment he jumped forward and raised the ax in the air; but Bjørn hin Bretske made himself fall in the rope and fell down flat in front of Thorkell Lejra's feet; Thorkelll fell because of him, and lost the ax of hand, which Vagn grip and with this gave Thorkell a deadly blow."

Later in the saga is told that Erik Jarl married Thorkel Lejras daughter Ingeborg with Vagn. Thus Vagn Ågesøn fulfilled his promise, although the future for some time looked quite bleak for him. It is stated: "Then Vagn came with his wife Ingeborg home to Denmark, and settled in Fyn, and became a famous chief, and from him are descended many great men."

Vikings return to England

In 800's Scandinavian Vikings - led by Ragnar Lodbrog's sons, Guthrum and Gudred and others - were close to destroying all the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England. They established a permanent presence in eastern England in the area that became known as Danelaw, and in areas bordering to the Irish Sea, including the north-west of England. They were stopped by determined resistance led by King Alfred of Wessex. In the first half of the 900's Alfreds descendants little by little regained control over England, including the Danelaw area, and in the year 954 the last Viking king, Eric Bloodaxe, was driven from York. Thus all England was united under King Edgar, who was named "the Peaceable", because there were no major invasions in his time, and the country experienced a period of peace and prosperity.

Comb from 900's found in York
A contemporary depiction of King Edgar in New Minster Charter. Scanned from the book: The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson. Wikipedia.

But precisely this prosperity worked like a magnet for new Viking fleets. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells of the year 980: "- Southampton was robbed by a pirate army and most of the population was killed or imprisoned. And the same year, Isle of Thanet was caught off guard, and the County of Chester was robbed by a pirate army from the North." The year 981 continued along the same path: "In this year St.Petroc'stow was plundered; and in the same year was much damage done anywhere along the coast, both in Devonshire and Wales"; and 982: "In this year came to Dorsetshire three ships with pirates and plundered in Portland." Florence of Worcester noted for the year 988: "Wecedport was plundered by the Danish pirates who also killed a thane of Devonshire named Goda, Strenwold, a very brave soldier, and several others -"

But England came under attack not only because of the country's wealth, but also because it was easy to get hands on the riches. The country was poorly managed and militarily weak, it also was an island with an extensive coastline, which offered many landing options.

In England's more recent history, it has been beneficial to the country that it is an island; as potential attackers have feared that an invasion-army would be attacked on the sea, so that their ships would be sunk so that all the soldiers would drown. It was for example the German general's fear during World War II. But in the the Viking period they did not have the means to sink a ship as quickly and efficiently - as it is now possible with guns, bombs and topedoes - one had to sail close to the enemy ship, enter it and try to defeat the crew by hand to hand close combat.

In addition, an English fleet was almost nonexistent. Æthelred "sent messengers to the Duke of Normandy, to intreat for counsel and aid" on how to create a navy. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells of the ships Æthelreth got built, "there were so many of them that there never was in England in any king's days as books tell us." They were all stationed in Sandwich, "that they should lie there, and defend this land against any out-force".

However, Brihtric, brother of Ealdorman Eadric, accused one Wulfnoth from Sussex of treason. Wulfnoth fled with twenty ships, "with which he plundered everywhere by the south coast, and wrought every kind of mischief." Brihtric "thought that he should acquire for himself much reputation", and gave chase in eighty ships. Unfortunately, "a storm blew up and drove Brihtric's ships aground. Wulfnoth appeared and burned the grounded ships".

Treasure with 5,248 silver coins from Æthelred the Unready's time
In December 2015 detector operator Paul Coleman found a treasure of 5,248 silver coins from Æthelred the Unready's time near Lenborough in Buckinghamshire in England. Perhaps they were buried in the ground, when Vikings approached.
England was a rich country with a highly developed currency system and tax collection procedures system. Photo Mail Online.

After this Æthelreth gave up the idea of creating a navy, the remaining ships were allowed to decay in London by themselves.

The German-Roman emperors had fought against the Maygars and learned the value of cavalry, which they then used with success. Olaf Tryggvasons Saga in the Heimskringla mentions for example that Emperor Otto used cavalry against Harald Bluetooth's forces probably with success. Vikings could attack Saxony and Friesland as hit-and-run attacks, but if they did expeditions farther inland, they risked being attacked by cavalry. The Normans on the other side of the Channel were lively interested in everything that had something to do with war and weapons, and they were already in the process of getting cavalry, but King Æthelreth did not have the thought, or perhaps it remained a thought, and that was one reason why England became a preferred target for Viking attacks.

For that a warrior should be able to wage war on horseback, he and his horse were required to spend many hours with training. The horse should be trained to be controlled by the rider's legs, so that he had his hands free to use weapons. Common horses are easily frightened by sudden noises and movements; a cavalry horse should be trained to be obedient even in the turmoil of battle.
Cavalry on the Bayeux Tapestry
Cavalry on the Bayeux Tapestry. Surrounded Anglo-Saxon infantry are attacked by Norman cavalry in the Battle of Hastings. In fact, in Harald Hårderåde's Saga is described that the Norwegian forces were attacked by the Thingmen's riders in the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but we hear nothing about them in the subsequent Battle of Hastings.

The usual small Icelandic horses that also were used in England, were not suitable as cavalry horses. Such had to be big and strong, so they could carry a warrior with his weapons and armor. But these big horses that are common today, are some sensitive animals; they can only eat oats, and they can not stand to go out in the winter, also they do not live as long as Icelandic horses. On the whole it was expensive and difficult to breed cavalry horses, and this was probably why it was not done in Æthelred's England.

An important reason for the Englishmen's lack of success was undoubtedly king Æthelred's personality; He was an anxious and neurotic person, who easily was influenced by changing advisers. That must be why he was nicknamed "the unready". He never led his armies himself in the field. One can not ignore that treachery and incompetence of the men, who Æthelred appointed to lead his armies, played a role in the defeat. He lacked "that", the king's luck, the aura of authority, courage and determination, which makes men love to follow a leader

Vikingegruppen Freja
Vikingegruppen Freja on tour on Icelandic horses. Most Icelandic horses today measure 130-140 cm measured at the withers, it is said. In Viking times they also averaged 135 cm. Modern horses like Holsteiners and Oldenborgers are 160-170 cm tall. Photo Vikingegruppen Freja.

Vilhelm of Malmesbury wrote: "I have read that when he was ten years of age, hearing it noised abroad that his brother was killed, he so irritated his furious mother by his weeping, that, not having a whip at hand, she beat the little innocent with some candles, she had snatched up; nor did she desist till herself bedewed him, nearly lifeless, with her tears. On this account he dreaded candles, during the rest of his life, to such a degree that he would never suffer the light of them to be brought into his presence."

Æthelreth did everything right. He sought to establish a navy. He instructed each district to put up with a man in armor. He divided his enemies with a divide and rule policy, as he invented Olaf Trygvesson and sent him home to Norway, he got the the competent Danish chieftain Thorkell the Tall to combat his country men, and he later sent Olaf the Holy home to Norway with the Christian message. He used much to offer attackers payment to refrain from attacking, a method that Alfred the Great also had used. But yet it did not really work out for him.

Comb from 900's found in York
Comb of antler with holder from the 900's found in York exhibited in the British Museum. Photo: archaeology.wiki.

Many places in the chronicles are described how the Angel-Saxons avoided direct combat against the Vikings, they paid the invaders to retreat, they failed to fight or even fled. The Angles and Saxons were Christians and had been in hundreds of years, they paid homage to the pacifist elements of Christianity as being kind to his fellow human, offering the other cheek, put everything in God's hands, the ultimate requirement for irresponsible goodness here and now and so on. While the Vikings came from a culture that measured men on their courage, strength and skills in use of arms.

Battle of Maldon

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells of the year 991: "In this year the Danes, under the command of Justin and Guthmund, the son of Stercan, laid waste Ipswich. Byrthnoth, the bold ealdorman of the East Saxons, shortly afterwards fought a battle against them near Maldon; but, after great slaughter on both sides, the ealdorman fell, so the Danish fortune prevailed." The Battle of Maldon is described in the poem "The Song of Maldon" which celebrates Ealdorman Brithnoth's bravery and he and his hird's heroic death.
Battle of Maldon
Battle of Maldon. Maldon is located about 50 km northwest of London.

Another manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 991 writes: "In this year Olaf came with a 93 ships to Folkestone, and swept around it, and from there went to Sandwich, and then from there to Ipswich, and caught them all by surprise, and then to Maldon. And Ealdorman Brihtnoth met him there with his army and fought against him; and they killed the Ealdormand there and kept the battle ground."

Florence of Worcester's Chronicle mentions leaders like Justin and Guthmund, son of Stercan. Another part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions: "The army that Olaf and Jostein and Gudmund, Steitas son were with."

Ealdorman Brihtnoth army was probably mostly conscripted local peasants from Essex, who had been mobilized after the Viking raid on Ipswich. A Viking fleet had landed on Northey Island east of Maldon, and Brihtnoths army had cut them off there. It was high tide and there was a debate over the fjord that separated them. The song of Maldon tells:
Battlefield at Maldon
The Battle Field seen from the air. Ealdorman Brithnoths forces were positioned on the bank in the top of the image, and the Vikings stood on the island of Northey Island below in the picture; The Vikings crossed the fjord-arm along the ebb-road from Northey Island to the mainland. Photo Terry Joyce - Wikipedia.

Then on the riverbank, stoutly shouting,
stood a viking messenger who made a speech,
broadcast the boast of the seafarers
to the earl where he stood on the shore:
"Bold seamen have sent me to thee,
commanded me to say that thou must quickly
send us rings for protection; and it is better for you
to buy off this spear-storm with tribute
than for us to share such a hard battle.
We needn't ruin one another, if you're rich enough;
we'll call a truce in exchange for gold.
If thou, the richest here, agree to this,


Angel-Saxon sword found in Norway
Handle of Angel-Saxon sword found in Heggestrøa Steinkjer municipality in Norway with a typical Angel-Saxon silver inlay - The Song of Maldon tells how Brithnoth mortally wounded defended himself against the advancing Vikings:

Too soon one of the seafarers stopped him
with a wound in the earl's arm.
The bright-edged sword fell to earth;
he could no longer hold the hardened blade,

Photo: The Norse Mythology Blog.


Brithnoth refused to pay the attackers to turn back, instead he challenged them to fight.

As the tide declined Vikings tried to cross the causeway, but a small group of Saxons held them back.

Astonishingly enough Brithnoth chose to pull his army back and allow the Vikings to come unhindered to the mainland. The Song of Maldon says:

"Then the earl in his overconfidence began
to allow too much land to that hateful people.
Over the cold water he called out then,
the son of Byrhthelm, while the soldiers listened:
"Here is room enough - now come quickly to us,
bring on the battle; God alone knows
who will hold this place of slaughter.'
On came the slaughter-wolves, not minding the water,
the Viking troop went west over the Panta,
carried their shields over the shining water,
the seamen bore their linden shields to land.


The Nørremølle treasure from Bornholm
The Nørremølle treasure was found in a field near Nørremølle near Nexø on Bornholm in 2006 by amateur archaeologist Finn Jensen and was excavated by Bornholm Museum. It consists of 1,168 silver coins and 254 pieces broken silver, in total 2.5 kg silver. It is buried in the ground about the year 1000. It contains many English coins from around 27 different English mints - The English silver coins may well be acquired as Danegeld during Viking raids, for example from the area around Maldon. Photo Pinterest.

Brithnoth retreated and arranged his army and awaited the Viking attack. The archers fired their arrows, and the rest of his men let the spears fly, as the enemy approached.

Finally, the armies were locked to each other in the melee, they were fighting with spears and stabbing with swords. The battle turned against the Saxons, when their leader fell. Then many fled to the woods behind them, but Brihtnoth own bodyguard continued to fight around their fallen chieftain and killed many enemies before they were cut down too.

Many Vikings fell, some sources say, but there were still enough left to motivate the East Saxons to pay a large sum of money to get them to sail away as Florence of Worcester writes: "Moreover in this year, first of all, and that by the advice of Siric, archbishop of Canterbury, and the ealdormen Aethelward and Alfric, a tribute of ten thousand pounds was paid to the Danes, as the price of their cessation from the frequent plunderings, burnings, and slaughters, which they used to make on the sea coast, and their concluding a lasting peace."

It is a great mystery that Ealdorman Brihtnoth allowed the entire enemy army to cross the causeway without interfering. A more modern and logical tactic would have been to attack, when about half of the enemies had come over.

Bronze Statue of Ealdorman Brithnoth in Maldon
Bronze Statue of Ealdorman Brithnoth in Maldon in Essex created by John Doubleday in 2008. Photo Oxyman - Wikipedia.

Brithnoth is said to have been about sixty years old with a long military career behind him. His decisions may not have been quite baseless.

Let us remember Clausewitch's thesis that the goal of war is the destruction of the enemy forces and thus their ability to continue to wage war. If Brihtnoth had not allowed the Vikings to cross the fjord-arm Panta, they would have sailed to somewhere else and plundered there, and then he could start all over. Therefore, if he wanted to kill and destroy them, he had to allow them to cross the fjord that separated the island Northey from the mainland.

But it does not explain, why he did not attack them, while they were crossing the water. The Song of Maldon explains it by his arrogance, but one can imagine another explanation. Namely, that his troops were of such poor quality and with a such bad moral that they were not able to make a decisive attack on the feared Vikings. Therefore, he may have thought that the only way to overcome the Vikings was to wear them out in an attack against a strong defensive position. The Song of Maldon says:

"Then Byrhtnoth began to array the troops,
ordered, instructed, and showed the soldiers
how they should stand and hold the field,
told them to hold their shields securely,
firm in their fists, and never be afraid."

"Against the attackers Byrhtnoth and his men
stood ready; he ordered them to raise
the battle-wall with their shields, and stand
fast against the foe. The fight was near,
glory in combat; the time had come
when fated men should fall.
The cry was raised, ravens circled,
the eagle longed for prey, and panic was on earth."


And when Byrhtnoth had given up his weapons, because he was badly injured:

"But still the old warrior
said what he could, encouraged the young men
and bid them go forth as good companions."


Magnificent English sword found in Scania
Magnificent English sword found in Scania. Today it is exhibited in Stockholm Historical Museum. The Song of Maldon says that the Vikings were eager to take Byrhtnoth's noble sword, when he lay wounded and powerless:

"Then an armored man went to the earl,
he wanted to plunder the warrior's gear,
his robes and rings and decorated sword"


Photo: Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History University of Oslo.

Which usually is interpreted in terms that he arranged his army in a strong defensive shield-wall. But it can further be interpreted to mean that most of his soldiers were inexperienced young men, who needed to be instructed in how to keep their shields, using their weapons and support each other in battle.

A large part of Byrhtnoths warriors fled, when the Vikings approached. It is said in the song:

"the son of Odda was the first in the flight,
Godric left the battle, and abandoned the good man,
who had often given him many horses;
he leapt on the horse that belonged to his lord"

"Godric, wretched son of Odda, has betrayed us all.
When he rode off on that horse, that proud steed,
too many men thought that it was our lord;
and so our forces were divided on this field,
the shield-wall broken. Shame on his deed,
by which he caused so many men to flee!"

Sweyn Forkbeard's 1. invasion in England

The historian Ian Howard sees Sweyn Forkbeard stay in England in the period between the death of Harald Bluetooth around the year 987 to Eric the Victorious' death in 995 as Sweyn Forkbeard's first invasion, although he most likely did not take part in the Battle of Maldon.

Æthelred 2.
King Æthelred II, from The Life of King Edward the Confessor. Cambridge University Library.

However, both Adam of Bremen and Saxo write in their immoderate criticism of Sven Forkbeard that he stayed among other places in England: "During his wanderings he came helpless to the Normanns, where Thrucco, Haco's son, at that time was the king. As he was a heathen, he did not let himselv be moved with compassion toward the exile. The unfortunate man, who was abandoned by the whole world, then sailed over to Anglien to seek help from his enemies. At that time Adelrad, Edgars son, reigned over the Brittanions. He had not forgotten the abuses that Danes from ancient times had done to the Angles and expelled the exile." Many historians believe therefore that Sweyn must have been in England around the time of the Battle of Maldon, but almost no English sources of this time mention him.

Only king Æthelred's approval of the nobleman Æthelric of Bocking's Testament suggests that Sweyn was active in England in this period. Æthelric had at one time been suspected of having taken part in a plot that was to receive Sweyn, when he invaded England. Therefore it was necessary to obtain king Æthelred approval of his will, which approval says: "It was many years before Æthelric dead, that the king was told that he was involved in the treacherous plan that Swegn should be received in Essex, when he first came there with a fleet." The probable date for this conspiracy is a time before September year 993.

We note that no one was in doubt that there was a conspiracy, only Æthelric was acquitted of taking part in it. The existence of such a conspiracy shows that Sweyn was a skilled politician, good in winning people's trust and creating alliances.
Olaf Tryggvason baptism
Olaf Tryggvason baptism told by Claus Deleuran in Danmarkshistorie for folket 8. Ekstrabladets forlag. When Olaf Tryggvason had received his share of the collected Danegeld, he went to Norway with Æthelred's help and support."

In 994 Sweyn really came. On September 8. a fleet of 94 ships arrived to London. They were commanded by Olaf Tryggvason and Sweyn Forkbeard, it is said. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that Olaf and Sweyn: " - closely besieged the city, and would fain have set it on fire; but they sustained more harm and evil than they ever supposed that any citizens could inflict on them. The holy mother of God on that day in her mercy considered the citizens, and ridded them of their enemies. Thence they advanced, and wrought the greatest evil that ever any army could do, in burning and plundering and manslaughter, not only on the sea-coast in Essex, but in Kent and in Sussex and in Hampshire. Next they took horses, and rode as wide as they would, and committed unspeakable evil. Then resolved the king and his council to send to them, and offer them tribute and provision, on condition that they desisted from plunder. The terms they accepted; and the whole army came to Southampton, and there fixed their winter-quarters; where they were fed by all the subjects of the West-Saxon kingdom. And they were paid 16,000 pounds in money."

Sweyn Forkbeard marries Sigrid the Haughty

In 995 Eric the Victorious died - The Svears' king, about whom Adam of Bremen says that he was also King of Denmark in his last years. Sweyn Forkbeard's marriage to his widow was a turning point in his career. It was a political master move. In one stroke, he took over Eric the Victorious' role as the Nordic region's dominant king.

Sigrid the Haughty was not a woman for sissies. Harald Grenske, the father of Olaf the Holy, proposed to her, but she burned him with another suitor in the house where they stayed, because, she said, such petty kings, who had traveled to propose to her, had to learn to stick to their own level in society.

Olaf Tryggvason arrives in Norway
Olaf Tryggvasons arrival to Norway with English priests and monks. The historian Niels Lund is convinced that he was supported by the English King Æthelreth with the aim to weaken his worst enemies, namely the Danes. Drawing by Peter Nicolai Arbo - wikipedia.

Olaf Tryggvasons Saga in Heimskringla tells of Harald Grenske's suitor travel: "Then he sailed to Svitjod and sent message to Queen Sigrid that he wanted to meet her. She rode down to him and they talked. He soon came to the matter, and asked if Sigrid would marry him. She said it was just a figment of his and that he was already so well married that it was fully good enough for him." - "They did not say much more words to each other, and then the queen rode away." - "Now King Harald Grenske was very heavy in his mind; he would ride up into the country and talk to Queen Sigrid again. Many of his men advised him against it, but he went anyway on his way with a large following, and came to the farm that the Queen owned. The same evening another king came to there; he was named Vissavald and was from the east in Gardarike; he came to propose to her."

"Then, Queen Sigrid ordered people to attack them at night, both with fire and weapons, the house burned together with all the men, who were inside; and those, who came out were killed. Sigrid said that such she would learn petty kings that they should not come from other countries and propose to her. After this she was called Sigrid the Haughty."

This did not discourage Olaf Tryggvason, he was by all accounts a tall and handsome man, and he also wanted to get political benefits of marrying Sigrid. The Long Saga says that she welcomed his suitor-travel. But when he asked her to be a Christian, things went wrong, "Then when King Olaf said that Sigrid had to be baptized and accept the true faith, she replied:" I will not leave the faith that I have had and kept so far, and my kinsmen have had before me; But I will not say anything against, if you believe in the idol that you like. "King Olaf became very angry at her answer; he beat her pretty precipitately with his glove in the face and said:" Do you shriveled bitch think that I want you, that is so old and also pagan like a dog; forget it, and do not make yourself so bold that you again in front of me blaspheme my Lord's name with your pagan expressions so that you call the highest heavenly king, in whom I believe, an idol." Then Sigrid said: "All these insults and mockery that you do to me, Olaf! could well become your death."

Sigrid the Haughty and Olaf Tryggvason
Sigrid the Haughty and Olaf Tryggvason staring angrily at each other, the latter with his glove in hand.

But Sweyn was clever and flexible, for him it was no problem that Sigrid was not a Christian. The saga continues: "So they parted from the conversation, both very angry. King Olaf then went north up to Viken, but the Queen eastward into Sweden to her estades, and shortly after she married the Dane King, Sweyn; for then his previous queen, Gunhild, a daughter of the Wendish king Burislaf, had died. This marriage created very close friendship between the Danes' King Sweyn and the Swedish's King Olaf, Queen Sigrid's son."

Sweyn utilized wisely the marriage and the son-in-law relation to create friendly relations with Sweden, which first showed its value by Olaf Tryggvasons defeat at Svold, and in the longer term gave peace in Scandinavia, so that he could turn his attention to England.

Battle of Svold

Olaf Tryggvason's Saga in Heimskringla tells that the Battle of Svold was inspired by two women's intrigues.

Thyra in Norway persuaded Olaf Tryggvason to undertake an expedition to Wendland to get her estates there back. "You do not dare go through the reign of the Danes for my brother, King Sweyn" she told him.

Gold jewelery from Hiddensee
One of the Viking's periods most magnificent jewelry is found on the island Hiddensee west of Rugen as part of a golden treasure. Photo: Gyldendal og Politikkens Danmarkshistorie.

Queen Sigrid in Denmark "was very hostile towards Olaf Tryggvason, for which the reason was that King Olaf had interrupted the intended connection with her and hit her in the face." - Because she refused to become a christian. She said to Sweyn: "It is a big disgrace for you that he has taken your sister Tyra as a mistress and lover, and does not respect you so much that you can arrange for her marriage."

Olaf Tryggvason had taken Viken, which traditionally was subjected to the Danish king, he had killed Håkon Jarl and expelled his sons Erik Jarl and Svend Jarl. Sweyn may have wanted to eliminate his rival, who also wanted to become the dominant king in the North, in a way that did not put him in contradiction to his stepson, Olaf Skotkonung in Sweden.

Then Sweyn allied with Olaf Skotkonung and Erik Jarl from Norway with the intention to attack the Norwegian king on his return journey from Wendland to Norway.

Olaf went to the Wendland with all his vessels, among them his pride, the great ship, Ormen Lange. In Wendland he was received by King Burislav, the husband, whom Thyra had abandoned in favor of Olaf. Strangely enough, he simply agreed to Olaf's requirements.

Sigvalde Jarl, the Jomsvikings leader also came to Wendland. He had agreed to be the agent of King Sweyn by making himself a friend of Olaf Tryggvason and lure him in ambush.

The kings stand on the island of Svold and see Olaf Tryggvason's ships sail by
Kings Sweyn Forkbeard, Olaf Skotkonung and Erik Jarl stand on the island of Svold and see Olaf Tryggvasons ships sail by as they are waiting for Ormen Lange. Illustration by H. Egedius in Olaf Tryggvasons Saga.

Olaf Tryggvasons fleet sailed from Wendland in some disarray, the small ships that sailed fastest, came first, and the big ships including Ormen Lange came last. The Long Saga about Olaf Tryggvason recounts: "But when Sigvalde Jarl sailed to the island Svølder, people rowed against him on a ship, they reported the earl that the Danish and Swedish king's fleet lay in the harbor in front of them. Then the earl ordered the sails on his ships to be lowered, and they led the ships with oars very quietly to near the island."

At the sight of the enemy fleet some of the Norwegian ship let their sails fall and waited for King Olaf on Ormen Lange. The saga continues: "But when King Olaf sailed to the islet, and he saw that his people had lowered their sails and waited for him; he steered straight at them and asked why they did not continue; they said to the king that there was a hostile fleet in front of them and asked him to escape. At these news the king arose in the lifting (the bow), and told his men: "Hurry up and lower the sails, but some had to put the oars out and take the speed of the ship; I would like to fight rather than flee;" Perhaps Olaf was aware that Ormen Lange was good in battle, but a poor sailor.

The Hiddensee treasure
Golden Treasure from the Viking Age found on the island of Hiddensee west of Rugen not far from Jomsborg. From exhibition in the National Museum. Photo Wikipedia.

Most of the smaller Norwegian ships had long since passed the island Svold unaware of the hostile fleet behind the island: "King Olaf let the eleven ships, which he had there, blow to be put together; the Royal ship was in the middle of the fleet."

They now prepared for battle by tying the ships together: "King Olaf's men laid the ships together, as he commanded, but when the king saw that they began to tie bows and sterns together at Ormen Lange and Ormen Korte, he shouted aloud: "Place the large ship more forward, I do not want to be most behind of all my men in this army, when the battle starts." Ormen Lange was longer than the other ships, and when they were tied together side by side, either bow or stern would stick out in front of the others. The king wanted that Ormen Lange's high bow should protrude from the together-bound fleet.

Then Ulf the Red, the king's standard-bearer, said: "If Ormen must protrude so much, as it is larger and longer than other ships, then the bow will be very exposed to attacks." This the king rejected accusing Ulf for cowardice.

Soon the battle began. Sweyn Forkbeard's and Oluf Skotkonung's ships headed straight to Ormen Lange's high bow, where Olaf Tryggvason stood high above everyone else dressed in a red robe over his armor. One time after another they ran storm against Ormen and Olaf Tryggvason, but in vain. Olaf and his men had the great advantage of towering over the attackers hurling spears and other weapons down on them. Ormen Lange had a great depth over the waterline, and in the bow it was extra high and impossible to enter from ordinary ships. Sweyn and Oluf Skotkonung suffered big losses in this attack.

Einar Tambeskælver tests the king's bow
"Too soft, too soft is the king's bow", Einar Tambeskælver exclaimed. Illustration by H. Egedius in Olaf Tryggvasons Saga.

On Ormen Lange Einar Tamberskælver stood and shot with bow "he shot most hard of all." Erik Jarl asked his men, if they knew, who shot so hard; and just at that moment another arrow came so close to the Earl that it flew between his arm and his side. "The earl had a master archer named Find Eyvindssøn, who was of Finnish descent. He said to him: "Shoot the big man on the fore deck!"-"Then Find shot an arrow that hit the middle of Einar's bow, as he pulled it on the hardest third time. The bow broke to pieces with a loud burst. Then King Olaf said: "What bursted so loudly?" "Norway of your hand, Konning!" Einar said. "No, the burst was not so loud," the king said, "for my kingdom is in God's hand, and does not depend of your bow; now take my bow and shoot with it!" The king tossed then the bow to him. Einar picked up the bow, and pulled it immediately longer than to the arrowhead; he said: "Too soft, too soft is the king's bow;" he tosed then the bow back to the king, and took his shield and his sword and fought with manliness."

While Sweyn Forkbeard and Oluf Skotkonung attacked Ormen Lange, Erik Jarl put his ship alongside the utmost of Olaf Tryggvason's ships " - cleared it and cut it immediately free from the others; he put alongside the next, and fought, until it was cleared, the crews began to run from the small ships up to the large ships, but the earl cut them loose one by one, as they were cleared." - "As people fell on his ships, others went immediately up there instead, Danish and Swedish."

Erik Jarl's men enter Ormen Lange
Erik Jarl's men enter Ormen Lange. Illustration by H. Egedius in Olaf Tryggvasons Saga.

The Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvason continues: "- so far it came in the end that all his ships were cleared without Ormen Lange; all the Norwegian king's warriors, who still were able to fight, had gathered there". Erik Jarl tried to board the ship, but was repulsed with heavy losses.

He sought advice from the jomsviking Thorkell the Tall, who replied: "Not I can give an advice thereto, which can be perfectly certain, but I will say, what seems to me most reasonable to help, you need to take large trees and place them from your Ship up to Ormen, so it's going to heel, then it will be easier for you to climb it, when its board is not higher than other ships." It sounds like something of an engineering challenge, but the saga says that Erik Jarl did so, and then he managed to conquer Ormen Lange. Olaf Tryggvason jumped into the sea wearing full armor, and no one has seen him since.

The Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvason says that "It is said that this battle was on the second day of the week, September 9. it is one night after the last Maria Mass; then 1,000 years had passed by since our Lord Jesus Christ's birth; it was in the 38. year of king Adelraad's government in England, in the 8. year of the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard's government; in the same year Otto died, who was the third emperor of that name, and Henrik came to the government." It can not be misunderstood. The Icelandic sagas believe that the island of Svold was located near Rugen, while Adam believes that "it happened in the waters between Sconien and Seland".
Rannveig's jewelry box
In the national museum is a small shrine with a runic inscription on the bottom: "Rannveig owns this shrine." It comes from the Royal Art chamber, and it is noted that it ihas been found in Norway. Technical features and shrine design show that it is manufactured in Ireland or Scotland around the year 600. It is probably a reliquary chest, which is brought home by Norwegian Vikings, who precisely came much in these areas. Only in 1980 a Norwegian researcher found that the seemingly random scratches in the bottom next to the runic inscription, a kind of graffiti, imagined ships. The grafitti maker must have dreamed of ships, long voyages and adventures. Here the ships are visualized by coloring. - pinterest.com

Some historians believe that the scaldic verses in the sagas are the oldest and most original, while the prose text is largely later Icelandic attributions. In this case it is important that Hallarsteins drapa in the Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvason is talking about:

"The last time by favorable
Wind at Svølders mouth;"


Also later in Skule Thorstejnssøns drapa:

Completely in the uproar of the fight
South in front of Svølders mouth."


It sounds like Svølder is a stream, river or fjord and not an island.

Moreover, in Olav the Holy's Saga is told that Olav had been on expedition in the Baltic Sea. It was close to winter, and his men wanted to sail home to Norway, but King Canute of Denmark kept watch in the Øresund. His men said that the Danes would not dare to attack them, but Olav was wiser: "He knew that it had happened differently for Olaf Tryggvason, when he went into battle with few people than the Danes did not dare to fight." Olaf the Holy decided to leave his ships in Sweden and walk home overland to Norway. Only Hårik from Tjøtta thought he was too old to walk so far and insisted to sail home. He took the mast down, camoflaged his ship with gray cloth and rowed past the Danes' guard-men at night.

Denmark after the Battle of Svold
Denmark after the Battle of Svold with earl ruled areas and allies. After Olaf Tryggvasons fall Sweyn regained the rule of Viken, as the Danish kings had traditionally had. Håkon Jarl's sons, Erik and Sweyn Jarl ruled in the fjords as earls under Sweyn. Based on many marital relations Danes had good relations with both the king Burislav of Wendland and the independent kingdom on the island of Bornholm. With his marriage to Sigrid the Haughty Sweyn became related to the Swedish king, which he exploited to the full to create peace and cooperation with Sweden. Map from Wikipedia.

Therefore, we can believe that it was in the Øresund that the Danes could put the plug in the hole, and Svold or Svølder may have been the island of Amager or an inlet or river mouth near the Sound's narrowest point at Helsingør, which Adam also mentions.

The saga ends the story of the Battle of Svold: "The Danes' and Swedes' kings and Erik Jarl divided Norway between them" - "The Danish king Sweyn got Viken alone, as he had had before, but he handed Erik Jarl Rommerige and Hedemarken. Erik Jarl and Svend Jarl both let themselves be baptized and assumed the true faith, but while they ruled over Norway, they allowed everyone to do as he would, in terms of Christian worship, but they were well loyal to the old laws and all the country's customs; they were easy going, though decisive men. Erik Jarl was mostly the one, who governed it all, but Svend Jarl was the most beautiful man, you had ever seen."

The Massacre of St. Brices Day

One of Ethelred the Unready's unwise decisions was his order to "kill all Danish men, who were in England," on St. Brices Day, 13. of November 1002.

The Nørremølle treasure from Bornholm
A mass grave found in St John's College in Oxford, which possibly can be linked to the massacre of St. Brices day in St Frideswide's church in Oxford. The 34 to 38 skeletons of young men aged 16 to 25 were found disrespectful dumped in a ditch. They were more robust and higher than average, some carrying older scars, which are indicating that they were professional warriors. The skeletons have been radiocarbon dated to the year 1002. Chemical analysis of teeth have shown that they in their life have got more marine protein than the typical local Oxfordshire population, they have also had a quantity of shellfish in their diets. The skulls are mostly broken or fractured. Osteo-archaeologist Ceri Falys believe that: "You get cut marks on the forearms as they raise their arms to defend themselves, but we have minimal evidence of this on these skeletons, it seems that whoever was attacking them, it is likely that they were just trying to run away.." - "We found evidence of charring on some of the bones, but not in the soil surrounding them. This ties in nicely with the documentary sources that the bodies may have been partially burnt prior to burial." "It was obvious at the time of excavation that many of the skulls had been fractured or crushed, but after piecing these skulls back together, she found that many of them were covered in blade and puncture wounds mostly to the back of the head." Photo: Thames Valley Archaeological Services.

The Anglo-Saxon chronicles do not write much about this year: "This year the king and his council agreed that tribute should be given to the fleet, and peace made with them, with the provision that they should desist from their mischief. Then sent the king to the fleet Ealdorman Leofsige, who at the king's word and his council made peace with them, on condition that they received food and tribute; which they accepted, and a tribute was paid of 24,000 pounds. In the meantime Ealdorman Leofsige slew Æfic, high-reeve of the king; and the king banished him from the land. And that same spring the Lady, daughter of Richard, came here to this country. That same summer Archbishop Ealdulf died. And in that year the king ordered to be killed all the Danes, who were among the English people, on St Brice's Day, because the king was told that they were plotting to take his life and then those of all his advisers, and after that have his kingdom."

Beheaded Vikings in Dorset
Mass grave in Dorset in southern England, which possibly can be attributed to St. Brices day. In 2009, in connection with the construction of a road at Weymouth in Dorset in southern England, the skeletons of about 50 young men between 18 and 25 years old were found. The heads and the rest of the skeletons were placed separately, which clearly indicates that they were decapitated. Cut marks on shoulders, arms and hands showed that the beheading had been rather chaotic, and some of the victims had tried to protect themselves with arms and hands. Also, there was no trace of textiles in the tomb, suggesting the victims were naked, when they were executed. Radio-carbon analysis show that the massacre took place in the period 970-1025. Analysis of the teeth show that none of the men came from the British Isles, having eaten a larger quantity of marine protein in their lives than the local English population. The analysis has been compared with similar analysis from the mass grave in St. John's College, Oxford, by which it is rendered probable that those executed in Dorset had the same origin as those killed in Oxford. Photo Oxford Archaeology.

King Æthelred himself wrote about his order two years later, when he explained the need to rebuild St. Frideswide's Church in Oxford: " - a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death, those Danes who dwelt in the afore-mentioned town, striving to escape death, entered this sanctuary of Christ, having broken by force the doors and bolts, and resolved to make refuge and defence for themselves therein against the people of the town and the suburbs; but when all the people in pursuit strove, forced by necessity, to drive them out, and could not, they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books. Afterwards, with God's aid, it was renewed by me."

Historian Henry of Huntingdon, who wrote about 130 years later, tells what he had heard about the day: "King Æthelred's pride increased and his faithlessness grew: in a treacherous plot, he ordered all the Danes, who were living peacefully in England to be put to death on the same day, namely the feast of St Brice. Concerning this crime, in my childhood I heard very old men say that the king had sent secret letters to every city, according to which the English either maimed all the unsuspecting Danes on the same day and hour with their swords, or, suddenly, at the same moment, captured them and destroyed them by fire."

The Massacre of St. Brices Day
The Massacre of St. Brices Day. From English Historical Fiction Authors. Drawing by A. Pearge.

The order was from the beginning unrealistic because there lived many thousands of people of Scandinavian descent in the Danelaw, the Northumberland and the North-west of England along the Irish Sea, probably hundreds of thousands, who had lived there for several generations - since the early Viking invasions. It would have been impossible to kill "all Danes among the English." Historians have long debated how many and who were killed. We do not know for sure if it was mainly mercenaries, whom Æthelred did not trust, or the order also was a signal to progoms against freemen of Danish descent everywhere in rural areas.

Among the murdered was Sweyn Forkbeard's sister Gunhild and her husband Pallig. William of Malmesbury says that when Sweyn invaded England: " - his chief purpose was to avenge his sister Gunnhild. Gunnhild, who was a woman of some beauty and much character, had come to England with her husband the powerful jarl Pallig, adopted Christianity, and offered herself as a hostage for peace with the Danes. Eadric in his disastrous fury had ordered her to be beheaded with the other Danes, though she declared plainly that the shedding of her blood would cost all England dear. And for her part, she faced death with presence of mind; she never grew pale at the prospect, nor did she change expression after death, even when her body was drained of blood, though her husband had been killed before her eyes, and her son, a very likely child, pierced by four lances."

The Massacre of St. Brices by Claus Deluran
The Massacre of St. Brices Day depicted by Claus Deluran in Danmarkshistorie for Folket 8. Ekstrabladets Forlag.
William of Jumièges describes atrocities, such as that women were buried to the waist, so their breasts could be torn bitten by dogs, children, who got their brains smashed against doorframes. He says that some young people managed to flee from London to Denmark and tell Sweyn about the injury suffered by his people. William wrote that Æthelred had no reason to order the massacre, but was "seized by a sudden rage." Roger of Wendover, however, claims that Æthelred was responding to the concerns of a certain Huna, who is said to be Æthelred's "chief military commander, an undaunted and warlike man". This Huna: "beholding the insolence of the Danes, who after the establishment of peace had grown strong throughout the whole of England, presuming to violate and insult the wives and daughters of the nobles of the kingdom, came in much distress to the king and made his doleful complaint before him." It sounds like this Huna thought that the Danes were too popular with the English women, and therefore the problem should be addressed.

We notice that William of Malmesbury explicitly says that the Danes were beheaded, which fits with the state of the discovered skeletons at least in Dorset.

Sweyn Forkbeard's 2. invasion in England

Viking weapons in London Museum Viking weapons in London Museum. Photo London Museum.

Not only Sweyn Forkbeard, but all those killed must have had relatives in Scandinavia, all of which must have felt it their duty to take revenge. The massacre of St. Brice day was a milestone in history, from then on Sweyn Forkbeard considered Æthelreth 2. as his implacable enemy, which was an important reason for the wave of invasions in the years 1003-1005, which the historian Ian Howard calls Sweyn Forkbeard second invasion. These attacks were characterized by that the Danish king often led them personally.

Sweyn's revenge was not long in coming. In the following year 1003 Florence of Worcester recounts that he: " - broke into the city of Exeter through the stupidity, carelessness, and surrender of Hugo, a Norman earl, whom queen Emma had set in command over Devonshire; and he plundered it, broke down the wall from the eastern to the western gate, and having gotten great booty went back to his ships."

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that Sweyn's army continued to Wiltshire: "Then was collected a very great force, from Wiltshire and from Hampshire; which was soon ready on their march against the enemy: and Ealdorman Ælfric should have led them on; but he brought forth his old tricks, and as soon as they were so near, that either army looked on the other, then he pretended sickness, and began to retch, saying he was sick; and so betrayed the people that he should have led: as it is said, "When the leader is sick the whole army is hindered." When Sweyn saw that they were not ready, and that they all retreated, then led he his army into Wilton; and they plundered and burned the town. Then went he to Sarum; and thence back to the sea, where he knew his ships were."

Nävelsjö-rune stone in Småland
Nävelsjö-rune stone in Småland saying: "Gunnkell placed this stone in memory of Gunnarr, his father, Rode's son. Helgi, his brother, laid him in a stone coffin in Bath in England." There are about 30 rune stones in southern Scandinavia, which refers to England, often a relative who fell there. Photo: Bengt A. Lundberg.

Not all English resistance was so hopeless. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that in the year 1004 Sweyn ravaged Norwich: "Then Ulfcytel agreed with the council in East-Anglia, that it were better to purchase peace with the enemy, ere they did too much harm on the land; for that they had come unawares, and he had not had time to gather his force. Then, under the truce that should have been between them, stole the army up from their ships, and bent their course to Thetford. When Ulfcytel understood that, then sent he an order to hew the ships in pieces; but those he thought of frustrated his design. Then he gathered his forces, as secretly as he could. The enemy came to Thetford within three weeks after they had plundered Norwich; and, remaining there one night, they spoiled and burned the town; but, in the morning, as they were proceeding to their ships, came Ulfcytel with his army, and said that they must there come to close quarters. And, accordingly, the two armies met together; and much slaughter was made on both sides. There were many of the veterans of the East-Angles slain; but, if the main army had been there, the enemy had never returned to their ships. As they said themselves, that they never met with worse hand-play in England than Ulfcytel brought them." It did not quite succeed for Ulfcytel, but unlike Ealdorman Ælfric he was a brave man, and he did not flee.
Anglo-Saxon illustration to a story in the Bible
Anglo-Saxon illustration to a story in the Bible, showing the king with sword and staff surrounded by his courtiers and advisors. They all have "forkbeard", it must have been the height of fashion. To the right a man is hanged.
When the Vikings suddenly returned in 980, they found a peaceful and prosperous England ripe for looting. It was certainly a well managed, or at least a very managed kingdom, where the state had effective mechanisms for the maintenance of order and collection of taxes. But one should not confuse bureaucratic efficiency with military force. King Æthelred England was effective in collection of money for paying Danegeld, but ineffective to defend itself militarily.

However, Henry of Huntingdon wrote about the year 1006: "In the sixth year the daring Sweyn again showed up out of Sandwich with a strong fleet. He was followed by his three companions, fire, slaughter and pillage, and all England trembled for him, like the sound of a bundle of reeds shaken by the western wind."

Florence of Worcester tells that in July 1006: " - an immense fleet of the Danes came over to England, landed at the port of Sandwich, destroyed everything that lay in their way with fire and sword, and took large booty, sometimes in Kent and sometimes in Sussex."

Because of his military powerlessness Æthelred resorted to ever bigger payments of Danegeld.

Danegeld is paid to King Sweyn
Danegeld is paid to King Sweyn. Drawing by Lorenz Frøhlich.

Æthelred called out forces from Wessex and Mercia in the year 1006. They spent the autumn with an unsuccessful campaign against the Danes, who undaunted continued their "business as usual". As winter approached the English forces went home, and the Danes, following to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: " - retired after Martinmas to their quarters in the Isle of Wight, and provided themselves everywhere there with what they wanted. Then, about midwinter, they went to their provision dumps, out through Hampshire into Berkshire, to Reading. And they did according to their custom - they lighted their camp-beacons as they advanced. Thence they marched to Wallingford, which they entirely destroyed, and passed one night at Cholsey. They then turned along Ashdown to Cwichelm's Barrow [Cuckamsley Knob, near East Hendred, Berkshire], and there awaited the boasted threats; for it was often said, that if they sought Cwichelm's Barrow, they would never get to the sea. But they went another way homeward. Then was the army collected at the Kennet; and they came to battle there, and soon put the English force to flight; and afterwards carried their spoil to the sea. There might the people of Winchester see the proud and intrepid foe, as they passed by their gates to the sea, fetching their meat and plunder over an extent of fifty miles from sea. Then was the king gone over the Thames into Shropshire; and there he fixed his abode during midwinter. Meanwhile, so great was the fear of the enemy, that no man could think or devise how to drive them from the land, or hold this territory against them; for they had terribly marked each shire in Wessex with fire and devastation. Then the king began to consult seriously with his council, what they all thought most advisable for defending this land, ere it was utterly undone. Then advised the king and his council for the advantage of all the nation, though they were all loth to do it, that they needs must bribe the enemy with a tribute. The king then sent to the army, and ordered it to be made known to them, that his desire was, that there should be peace between them, and that tribute and provision should be given them. And they accepted the terms; and they were provisioned throughout England."

And so it went in quick succession. In the introduction to Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1007 is recorded: "In this year was the tribute paid to the hostile army; that was, 36,000 pounds. In this year also was Eadric appointed ealdorman over all the kingdom of the Mercians".

Thorkell the Tall's invasion in England

In August 1009 a large fleet arrived to Sandwich led by Tkorkell the Tall, who was a known leader of Jomsvikings.

One of Orkesta rune stones
One of Orkesta rune stones raised by Ulf. It stands now at the church in Orkesta north of Stockholm in Uppland in Sweden. The text says: "And Ulfr has taken three payments in England. That was the first that Tosti paid. Then Thorketill paid. Then Knutr paid." Ulf was a veteran from the fighting in England, and by all accounts he lived several years after home in Uppland, since it is not mentioned that he fell in England. Photo: Berig wikipedia

It is not known whether the men, who followed him, were Jomsvikings. But Jomsborg existed before Sweyn Forkbeard invaded England, and it existed many years after, therefore we must believe that Jomsborg and Jomsvikings also existed in the meantime. The invasion of England went on for many years and it is inconceivable that an elite corps like the Jomsvikings should not have been part of the fighting. Torkel the Tall is in several sagas mentioned as a leader in Jomsborg, and when he arrives at Sandwich at the head of an army, we must logically believe that it includes Jomsvikings.

We recall the statement in The Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvason that the Jomsvikings arrived at Sweyn Forkbeard's arve-beer for his father, accompanied by ships also from Scania: "The Jomsvikings had 40 Ships from Windland and 20 ships from Scania." One can imagine that the Torkel the Tall's fleet that arrived at Sandwich in the year 1009, included the the Jomsvikings themselves accompanied by hang-arounds from Scania, Zealand and Bornholm, from where most named Jomsvikings also came.

A young Norwegian called Olaf Digre was also in Torkels army. He should later be known as Olaf the Holy.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle beretter for året 1009 at "Turkill, a Danish earl, came over to England with his fleet; afterwards, in the month of August, another countless fleet of Danes, under the command of Hemming and Eiglaf, came over to the Isle of Thanet, and without delay joined the other fleet. Thence both fleets went to Sandwich, where the troops landed, marched in battle array to the city of Canterbury, and began to attack it. The citizens of Canterbury, with the inhabitants of East Kent, soon sued for peace, and obtained it, giving three thousand pounds as a consideration" - "Immediately thereafter, the army turned around until it came to the Isle of Wight and there, both in Sussex and Hampshire and also in Berkshire, torn and burned, as is their custom."

Rune stone from Västanåker in Vastergotland
Rune stone from Västanåker in Vastergotland. It says: " - erected this stone in memory of Gudmar, his son, who died in England". Photo: Berig wikipedia

Part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says further for 1009: "In the month of August, another countless fleet of Danes, under the command of Hemming and Eiglaf, came over to the Isle of Thanet, and without delay joined the other fleet. Thence both fleets went to Sandwich, where the troops landed, marched in battle array to the city of Canterbury, and began to attack it. The citizens of Canterbury, with the inhabitants of East Kent, soon sued for peace, and obtained it, giving three thousand pounds as a consideration."

It is mentioned in several sagas that Thorkell and Sigvalde Jarl had a brother named Hemming. Many historians assume that this Hemming, whom they met, was Thorkells brother, and that was why the armies immediately joined without problems.

The Chronicle writes that Thorkell and Hemmings united armies: "marched in battle array to the city of Canterbury, and began to attack it." It sounds pretty disciplined and brings to mind a military elite corps.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that in desperation King Æthelred tried to moblisere the whole people: "Then the king ordered the whole nation to be called out, so that they should be withstood on every side. But, for all that, they travelled however they wishd. Then on a certain journey the king got in front of them with all the national army, when they wanted to return to their ships ; and all the army was ready to capture them, but it was hindered because of Ealdorman Eadric, as it always was."

The English, however, was easily persuaded to refrain from fighting against the feared Vikings. Florence of Worcester provides additional information: "Then their fortune changing, whilst they were away as usual raiding far from the sea and were returning laden with booty, the king occupied the road by which they were returning to their ships, with many thousand armed men, and he was ready as was his whole army, to cobquer or die. But the treacherous duke Eadric Streona, the kings son in law, for he had married his daughter Edith, strove in every way by speeches both treacherous and cunning, that they should not engage in battle, but should permit their enemies to go on their way. He urged and persuadede so that, like a traitor to the country, he rescued the Danes from the hands of the English and allowed them to get away. they in fact turning away from them, returning to their ships with great rejoicing."

The brave and famous Ulfcytel in East Anglia tried to stop them, but in vain. After Easter, 1010, the Danes attacked Ipswich. Ulfcytel gathered an army, from both East Anglia and Cambridgeshire, on a place called Ringmere. The Danes marched to meet Ulfcytel's forces. The battle took place, and the East Anglians soon fled. For a long time, the Cambridgeshire men held their ground, but in the end they were overcome, and the Danes were victorious. After providing themselves with horses, the Danes spent three months plundring East Anglia.

In Olaf the Holy's Saga tells of Olaf's seventh fight, which according to the saga took place after Sweyn Forkbeard's death: "King Olaf was during the winter with King Adalråd; because they had a great battle on Ringmare-heath in Ulvkjelsland; this kingdom had Ulvkjel Snilling by that time; there the kings got victory." It is known that Olaf Digre was in Thorkell the Tall's army, when it ravaged England, may be the saga has little disorder in the chronology so that this case really is about the battle of Ringmere.

The battle field Ringmere in East Anglia
The battle between Thorkell the Tall's Vikings, which probably included Jomsvikings and forces from East Anglia and Cambridgeshire, led by the famous Ulfcytel, stood according to Peterborough Chronicle on a place called Hringamere or Ringmere in May, year 1010. The Vikings prevailed and then spent three months plundering East Anglia. It is proposed that the site Ringmere, where "mere" probably means lake, was Rymer Point, near Honington. This location is also highly unusual by that nine parishs are located in a ring around the old lake, presumably to provide irrigation, or fishing rights for every parish in an area otherwise devoid of open water. This would have been a wellknown place, which may have been the gathering point for the army, which was to meet Thorkell's Vikings. The rest of the lake can still be seen at this old photograph. Photo St Edmundsbury Chronicle.

Thorkell's Vikings pillaged, killed and burned everywhere in Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and the cities Northampton, Ipswich, Chilterns, Oxford, Reading, Thetford, Bedford og Temsford: " - and then proceeded further into the wild fens, slaying both men and cattle, and burning throughout the fens. Thetford also they burned, and Cambridge; and afterwards went back southward into the Thames; and the horsemen rode towards the ships. Then went they west-ward into Oxfordshire, and thence to Buckinghamshire, and so along the Ouse till they came to Bedford, and so forth to Temsford, always burning as they went. Then returned they to their ships with their spoil." The English were in complete disarray and confusion.

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle begins the year 1011 with: "This year sent the king and his council to the army, and desired peace; promising them both tribute and provisions, on condition that they ceased from plunder"

But the Danes were not completely finished: "And nonetheless, for all this peace and amity and tribute, they went everywhere in troops; plundering, and spoiling, and slaying our miserable people"
Siege of Canterbury
Siege and massacres in Canterbury told by Claus Deleuran in Danmarkshistorie for folket 8. Ekstrabladets Forlag.
Between 8 and 29 September of the year 1011, the Danes besieged Canterbury. Florence of Worcester says that "on the twentieth day of the siege", a fire was started, "by the treacherous contrivance" of an archdeacon, which enabled the Danes to gain entry to the city. Following Florence, they committed terrible atrocities: " - some were slain by the sword, some were burned in the flames, many were hurled from the walls, and some were hung up by their private parts, and so died. Matrons were dragged by their hair through the streets of the city, and then flung into the fire. Infants torn from their mother's breasts were caught on the points of spears, or ground to pieces by chariots driven over them. There Christ's church was pillaged and burned, and all the monks and laity, both men, women, and children, were decimated; nine out of every ten being slain, and the tenth kept alive." - Although they let Abbot Ælfmær go free, they took prisoner: Bishop Godwine, abbess Leofrun, the King's Count Ælfweard and Ælfheah, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

During the Easter period in 1012 Ealdorman Eadric was in London overseeing the payment of 48,000 pounds to the Danes.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Ælfheah was still a prisoner. The Danes demanded that he paid 3,000 pounds for his freedom, and they became angry, when he refused to be ransomed.
The killing of Archbishop Ælfheah The killing of Archbishop Ælfheah
Claus Deluran's depiction of The killing of Archbishop Ælfheah in Danmarkshistorie for folket 8. Ekstrabladets Forlag. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells: "They were also much drunken; for there was wine brought them from the south. Then took they the bishop, and led him to their hustings, on the eve of the Sunday after Easter, which was the thirteenth before the calends of May; and there they then shamefully killed him. They overwhelmed him with bones and ox-heads; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God."

The murder of Ælfheah was carried out contrary to Thorkell the Tall's wish. According to the German chronicler, Thietmar of Merseburg, Thorkell tried to save Ælfheah by offering all of his possessions except his ship, in exchange for the Archbishop's life. Thorkell apparently had trouble controlling his men.

It came as a surprise that when the Danes departed after receiving their nice payments Thorkell and perhaps Olaf Digre with forty-five ships remained and went into Æthelred's service "- and promised him, that they would defend this land, and he should feed and clothe them." following Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Sweyn Forkbeard conquers all England

Sweyn Forkbeard final conquest of the whole of England was more a political than a military achievement. It lasted less half a year from his fleet arrived at Sandwich, to Æthelred fled to Normandy, and London surrendered. The campaign was conducted without a single major battle; only around London were some minor skirmishes.

King Sweyn and his allies' victory over the Norwegian King Olaf Tryggvason in the year 1000 and his good relations with Sweden allowed him to feel sufficiently sure of his control over Denmark to embark on an overseas campaign in England.

William of Malmesbury wrote that the invasion in the years 1013-1014 was motivated by Sweyn's desire for revenge for the massacre of Danes in the year 1002.

Celtic cross
In Pickering in Yorkshire is a Celtic cross, where on the lower part is pictured a Viking chieftain with conical helmet and nose protection and on his right side spear and on the left side sword and ax. The bullet over his left shoulder is a high seat endings - M. Firby - The Danish in Yorkshire.

Thorkell's service of King Æthelred may well have been a trigger for Sven's decision to invade England. His collaboration with Æthelred may not have been welcomed by King Sweyn. The forty-five ship-crews, which remained in England was effectively under Torkels leadership, and they were all on Æthelred's payroll. Thorkell and his men's presence in England was not only a threat to Sweyn's possible ambitions in England, it also represented a potential threat to Denmark and Scandinavia itself. Twenty years before Olaf Tryggvason had been a mercenary for Æthelred and was subsequently sent back to Scandinavia with English support; it must have been easy to imagine that Thorkell the Tall and Olaf Digre may in similar way may have been sent back to Scandinavia with English support - which actually later happened to Olaf, who later became known with the epithet "the Holy".

Thorkel the Tall and the Jomsvikings already had an association to eastern Denmark, which the merchant Ottar had called Denemearce and had still their own things and own idendity, which a returning Viking fleet could exploit.

According to Encomium Emmae Reginae Sweyn's warriors addressed him: "Thorkell," said they, "your military commander, Lord King, having been granted licence by you, has gone to avenge his brother, who was killed there, and leading away a large part of your army, exults that he has conquered. Now, as a victor, he has acquired the south of the country, and living there as an exile, and having become an ally of the English, whom he has conquered through your power, he prefers the enjoyment of his glory to leading his army back, and in submission giving you the credit of his victory. And we are cheated of our companions and forty ships, which he led with him, manned from among the best Danish warriors. Let not our lord suffer so grave a loss, but go forth leading his willing army, and we will subdue for him the contumacious Thorkell, together with his companions, and also the English who are leagued with them, and all their possessions. We are certain that they cannot resist long, because our countrymen will come over to us readily. If they are willing to do so, the king, sparing his commander and the Danes shall advance them with honours ; but if they are unwilling, they shall know whom it is that they have despised. Deprived of country both here and there, they shall pay the penalty among the foremost enemies of the king."

Thorkell the Tall went to England in 1009 at the head of "the best Danish warriors", which must have been the Jomsvikings, whom Thorkell also was leader of. As we know, he took his revenge in full, and then went into the service of King Æthelred, as "- an ally of the English -" as Sweyn's men said.

Furthermore, Sweyn Forkbeard must have remembered that his own kind, the Knytlings came from Viking areas in England and established themselves in Jutland only a few hundred years before.

The river Trent, which flows through Gainsborough
The river Trent, which flows through Gainsborough. Sweyn placed his fleet in Gainsborough and made the city his headquarter in England. Trent is one of England's most water-rich rivers and Gainsborough has a long history as a major inland port. Photo BBC.

An important reason for the English dislike of King Æthelred was the advisors around him, who controlled and influenced him greatly. Particularly hated was Ealdorman Eadric of Mercia called Streona, who in 1006 influenced the king to get Ealdorman Ælfhelm of Northumbria murdered and his two sons blinded. When Sweyn arrived at Gainsborough with his fleet, it was precisely in cooperation with the Ælfhelm family. The solidarity between the two lineages was sealed by that Sweyn Forkbeard's young son Canute immediately upon arrival married Ælfhelm's daughter Ælfgifu. It is said that Ælfgifu means "Elfs' gift".

His fleet arrived at Sandwich in late July 1013, and already at Christmas, half a year after, Æthelred fled to Normandy, and London surrendered as the last major city.

Probably to great confusion of Æthelred forces Sweyn did not not land at Sandwich, but continued to the Humber estuary. Anglo Saxon Chronicle writes: " - before the month August, came King Swegen with his fleet to Sandwich; and very soon went about East Anglia into the Humber-mouth, and so upward along the Trent, until he came to Gainsborough."

Sweyn took his fleet far into the country to camp in Gainsborough; it should have been a dangerous strategy to take the fleet so far into enemy territory without first to deliver a defeat to the forces that should have been brought against him. He could only have chosen this strategy, because he was reasonably confident that there would not be significant resistance. This indicates that the agreements were already in place - and thus the hostages delivered to him - before he sailed to the Humber estuary and up the river Trent.

Sweyn Forkbeard's march to the south was a march of triumph. Everywhere the towns surrendered without a fight and hailed him as king. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle continues: "Then soon submitted to him Earl Uhtred, and all the Northumbrians, and all the people of Lindsey, and afterwards the people of the Five Boroughs, and soon after all the army to the north of Watling Street; and hostages were given him from each shire."

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells: "When he understood that all the people were subject to him, then ordered he that his army should have provision and horses; and he then went southward with his main army, committing his ships and the hostages to his son Cnut."

Areas which recognized Sweyn as king in August year 1013
The shaded area indicates the areas that had shed their allegiance to Æthelred and recognized Sweyn as king in August year 1013 - just one month after Sweyn had landed. The dashed line is the Watling Street, which traditionally defines Danelaw from the Saxon area in Southern England. The young Canute were handed over responsibility for the region, while his father continued the campaign against the south. Much indicates, that everything was agreed in advance. Map from "Sweyn Forkbeards Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England 991-1017" by Ian Howard.

Canute's responsibility must have been more than only taking care of ships and hostages. He had been left in charge of an area that was bigger, probably richer and politically more complex than the Kingdom of Denmark. Through his marriage, he was allied with the leading family in the Midlands, and his advisers have probably included Earl Uhtred and Morcar and senior Danes, who was loyal to King Sweyn. His task must have been to maintain control of the northern provinces, promote loyalty to the new royal family and procure supplies and men to his father's campaign.

Svein's army was very disciplined; not until it had crossed Watling Street, his soldiers started to plunder. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle writes: "And after he came over Watling Street, they wrought the greatest mischief that any army could do. Then he went to Oxford; and the population soon submitted, and gave hostages; thence to Winchester, where they did the same."

Domesday Book indicates that the most populous cities in England after London at that time was Winchester, York, Lincolm, Norwich, Thetford and Oxford. Apart from London all these cities surrendered quickly to Sweyn. The four surrendered without further ado, and the other two under threats.

Æthelred the Unready
Æthelred the Unready. Illustration in: "The Chronicle of Abindon" from about 1220. British Library.

Only when Swvend approached London he met opposition and some of his warriors drowned in the Thames. Anglo Saxon Chronicle: "Thence went they eastward to London; and many of the party sunk in the Thames, because they kept not to any bridge. When he came to the city, the population would not submit; but held their ground in full fight against him, because therein was King Æthelred, and Thurkyl with him."

When Sweyn found that London was well defended, he was not tempted for a long siege but turned instead to the west and received the Western leaders surrender: "Then went King Swegen thence to Wallingford; and so over Thames westward to Bath, where he abode with his army. Thither came Ealdorman Æthelmær, and all the western thegns with him, and all submitted to Swegen, and gave hostages." One can imagine that he also refrained from attacking London, because it would bring him in open contradiction to Thorkell the Tall, which was unacceptable, because he had a strong background in the former Denemearce, and it would give political problems at home.

Wallingford and Bath were both well fortified towns, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not mention anything about opposition to Sweyn.

After this, he was recognized as king over the whole country except London. Then London surrendered without a fight: "When he had thus settled all, then went he northward to his ships; and all the population fully received him, and considered him full king. The population of London also after this submitted to him, and gave hostages; because they dreaded that he would undo them. Then bade Swegen full tribute and forage for his army during the winter; and Thurkyl bade the same for the army that lay at Greenwich: besides this, they plundered as oft as they would."

King Æthelred fled from London to the island of Wight, most likely protected by Thorkell the Tall's ships. Here he celebrated Christmas; after which he sailed to Normandy, where he got protection of his brother in law Duke Rikard 2. Thorkell did not follow him to Normandy.

Æthelred's escape had left Thorkell Tall and his Jomsvikings in some embarrassment, as they had sworn to serve Ethelred and defend his country, but now he had fled and his subjects had accepted the conqueror's reign. However, it was not wise to sail to Denmark in January, and so there was nothing Thorkell could do but to remain faithful in Greenwich and insist on the terms of the agreement, namely that the king should feed and clothe them. While Sweyn demanded silver and supplies, Thorkell demanded the same from his winter-quarter in Greenwich. What they could not get, they took themselves: "they looted the country as often as they wanted it."

Sweyn Forkbeard went back to his ships in Gainsborough.

Sweyn Forkbeard's Death and Burial

Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark, Norway and England, died on 3. of February in the year 1014 in Gainsborough in England. His year of birth is unknown, but he was probably in his 50's when he died.

There are several accounts of his death, which differ little or much from each other.

The long saga of Olaf Tryggvason says that King Sweyn died suddenly at night in his bed: "King Sweyn died suddenly at the night in his bed, and that is the Englishmen's legend that King Edmund the Holy has killed him in the same way as Merkurius Rise killed the evil Julian"

Sweyn Forkbeard's death
Sweyn is killed by King Edmund the Holy. Illustration from The Life of King Edward the Confessor. Manuscript from around 1250. From Wikimedia Common.

The English myths tell that he was killed in his sleep by the holy St. Edmund, who in his time was martyred by Regnar Lodbrog's son Iver Boneless. William of Malmesbury writes about this: "so the saint struck him with a pole and killed him. Because he had been struck in his sleep, a long delay intervened before the author and manner of his death was revealed to those standing outside. The guardians of the body to their amazement had indeed heard a conversation between people arguing and the sound of a blow."

Some talk of a fall from a horse. Most sagas and chronicles simply tell that he died.

Coroner Jørgen Lange Thomsen has demonstrated that many Danish Viking kings died pretty early without any prior symptoms. He believes that it may be a case of the heart disease Brugadas syndrome, which is an inherited disease of the heart. It appears quite suddenly, and the first symptom is in most cases death, why it as a main rule also is the only symptom.

Then there is the possibility that Sweyn was poisoned. It's hard to overlook that his death came just at the right moment for the exiled King Æthelred 2. The English Council, the Witan, invited Æthelred back as king, when they heard the news of Sweyn's death, and in only about half a year, almost all the Danish forces were driven from England. It took Sweyn's son Canute close to two years to gather men and ships to a counter-offensive; one can ask: how could Æthelred mobilize a counter-offensive almost immediately after Sweyn's death - if not Sweyn's death was a planned part of this offensive, which had been prepared long before?

Ethelred returned to England in Lent, which was the 40 days between carnival and Easter. In 1014 Easter Sunday fell on of March 27, meaning that fasting began with the carnival February 16, two weeks after Svend Forkbeard's death.

That include that the message of Svend's death were first brought from Gainsborough to a central person, who sent in all directions to members of the Witan, which then gathered in a central location and negotiated. Then they sent message to Ethelred on the other side of the Channel. Ethelred sent his son to negotiate. The result of the negotiations was brought to Normandy back to Ethelred, who then could go to England with an army. All this should have taken place within max. 53 days.

Æthelred came really to England in record speed. Travel were slow in Viking times, you had to get horses, wait for favorable wind and so on.

There are something like 320 km from London to for example York in northern England. They are said to have involved a journey time of two weeks in the Viking Age. We also recall that William the Conqueror had to wait for a favorable wind for several days before his fleet could sail; and he should only cross the Channel once.

In 1800's Denmark could post riders - on modern horse - ride one mile in an hour in winter, and as a Danish mile is 7.5 kilometers, it means 7.5 kilometers per hour. Such a relatively modern post rider would then spend about 42 hours on the journey, depending on the opportunity to change horses. But as he only could ride in the daytime, the trip would have taken at least 5 days. With that time icelandic horses it undoubtedly had taken longer.

It sounds reasonable unrealistic that such sequence of events could take place within only 53 days, and one can think that the whole plot must have been prepared in advance, inclusive a poison murder of Sweyn.
Lewis Chessmen
Lewis Chessmen in Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Lewis chessmen is a collection of medieval chess pieces that were found on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides in 1831. They come from four or five sets of chess pieces and two sets are complete. Almost all the pieces are carved in ivory from walrus, most likely from Greenland, while a few are made of whale teeth. Photo Christian Bickel - Heimskringla.

But perhaps we do not need to be so dramatic. Encomium Emmae is a paper in honor of Queen Emma, who was married to his son King Canute, and it was probably prepared by people, who knew the royal family; one should think that they knew how Sweyn died.

Here we read that Sweyn's death did not come so suddenly, he felt himself in advance that he was going to die: "Feeling therefore, that the dissolution of his body was threatening him, he summoned his son Knutr, whom he had with him, and said that he must enter upon the way of all flesh. He exhorted him much concerning the government of the kingdom and the zealous practice of Christianity and, thanks be to God, committed the royal sceptre to him, the most worthy of men. The Danes, over whom he had the lawful right to rule, very strongly approved this matter, and rejoiced that he was established as king over them, while his father was still alive. When this was so arranged the father prayed the son, that if he should ever return to the land of his birth, he should carry back with him the body of his father and should no let him be buried a stranger in a foreign land, for he knew he was hateful to these people owing to the invasion of the kingdom. Soon afterwards he paid the last dues to nature, returning his soul to heavens, and giving back his body to the Earth."

If this is true, it excludes both heavenly intervention and poison.

The Viking ship Havhingsten
Main Dimensions of the Viking ship Havhingsten: Length 29.4 m, width 3.8. Side depth approximately 2 meters, with a draft of 1 meter it gives a side height above the waterline of also 1 meter. Draft of viking ships was 0.5 to 1.0 meters, but Havhingsten is a pretty big ship that gives a draft about 1 meter. We do not know the dimensions of the large Viking ships, such as Ormen Lange, but they had notably large side height above the waterline, which made it difficult to fight against them, their warriors could throw stones and spears down over the lower positioned attackers, and also it was difficult to enter them. Photo: Michael Borgen erantis.dk.
In the early Viking Age, King Alfred of Wessex build some large ships after his own specifications, which should combat Vikings. However, the Viking ships avoided them by sailing into shallow water, where Alfred's ships ran aground.

In modern times trust between European men is founded under influence of alcohol. In the American film, they drink whisky, as if it were water, Russians are assumed to drink vodka in a similar manner, and Scandinavians drink beer and snaps. In this way it has been in Europe since time immemorial. Tacitus describes in his Germania how the Germanic men indulged in drinking day and night, because they believed that at no other time the mind is more open and prepared for noble purposes and big plans, and it is a good time to establish friendship and alliances, because drunk men can not hide their innermost thoughts and feelings.

This was also true during the Viking era. The sagas tell how kings traveled around visiting the kingdom's leading men. Sweyn must often have traveled from one lavish party to another, which lasted several days, and all the places he had to drink with local leaders to create unity, friendship, mutual sympathy and understanding - for Denmark's sake. Sweyn had most likely not spared himself, "everyone loved Sweyn", as it is said in Encomium Emmae, but it had most likely not come by itself. Moreover, he had lived for many years on a ship's deck. For years he traveled around with his fleet and participated in numerous battles, eating the ship's diet and sleeping on open deck under a stretched tarpaulin. Perhaps all this has sapped his health.

Old Hall i Gainsborough
Old Hall i Gainsborough. It is said that Sweyn administered his conquest from a fortification, which was, where the Old Hall is now. Photo Chris Coleman Wikipedia.

Maybe he had some symptoms of heart problems or similar, and that was why he chose to go back to Gainsborough immediately after London had surrendered, to speak to his son and successor.

Simeon of Durham notes that Sweyn was buried in York. Thitmar af Merseburg fortæller: "When Æthelred, the king of Angles, exiled by him many years earlier, learned about it, he thanked God and returned with joy to his fatherland. Having then gathered all his warriors, he decided to damage the corpse of the enemy. In order to prevent it, the deceased's confidents persuaded a certain woman who, even though a native, undug that guarded pledge and sent it on a ship towards the fatherland's bear stars, that is to the northern land."

Encomium Emmae picks up the thread and says that Sweyn was buried in a Trinity monastery in Denmark: "In the meantime a certain English matron had a ship prepared for her and taking the body of Sweyn, who had been buried in her country and having embalmed it and covered it with palls, she went to the sea and making a succesful voyage, arrived at the ports of the Danes Sending a messenger to the two brothers, she indicated that the body of their father was there, in order that they may hasten to receive it and place it in the tomb, which he had prepared for himself. They came gladly and received the body with honour and with yet more honour placed it in the monestary, which the same king had buit in honour of the Holy Trinity, in the sepulchre, which he had prepared for himself."

Jomsvikinge Saga says: "Kong Sweyn died in England, and the Danish brought his body home to Denmark, and buried him in Roskilde with his father." Roskilde Cathedral's Guide states that Sweyn is buried in the church, only they do not know where. The webside of the Royal Family is less sure, they state simply that "his body was later returned to Denmark." Nor does the three-volume "Danish royal tombs" have a safe guess as to where the grave is and says simply: "Place of burial unknown."

Slesvig is located near the Ejder-Trene system
Slesvig is located near the Ejder-Trene system. In early Viking period merchants and Vikings dragged their ships from the Fjord Slien to the the Eider-Treene system, when they wanted to go to England, thereby avoiding a long journey through Limfjorden. The Ejder mouth was for hundred of years the natural destination for ships bound for Scandinavia and the Baltic area. It must also have been a natural destination for an Anglian lady, who wanted to go to Denmark.

Jørgen D. Simonsen from Norse Research Committee proposes instead that Sweyn is buried in Slesvig, as we know about an early Trinity Church in that city. And remnants of Scandinavia's oldest monastery have been found on the island of Holm in Slien southeast of Slesvig right next to Hedeby. In addition, several rune stones around Slesvig mention Sweyn; perhaps he felt a special connection to this city. If that is the case the Anglian lady may have sailed as far up in the Ejder-Trene system as possible and from there sent word to Harald and Knud.

Ships and Sailing

In the Long Saga about Olaf Tryggvason is described the beginning of the battle of Hjørungavaag: "At first they threw stones and shot with arrows." One get the idea that the stones that have been found in the bottom of some Viking ships, not only were for ballast and stability, but also made up a kind of ammunition depot. The deck on a Viking ship was pretty closely packed with men; it makes sense that they threw large stones against the enemy.

Viking ships leave the shore
Viking ships leave the shore. They look pretty tightly packed, and most likely they were. The ship Havhingsten has for example room for 30 oars on each side, giving 60 men in total at the oars, then in addition come helmsman and officers.
The ship is 29.4 meters long and 3.8 meters wide, which roughly estimated gives a deck area of about 100 M2.
There would thus have been less than 1.5 M2 brutto deck area for each crew member.
If they should have replaced each other at the oars, the crew had to be doubled, and there would only have been about 0.75 M2 deck area for each crew member - brutto; it would hardly have been enough for them to lie stretched out for sleeping.
This is brutto area; Moreover, there should be room for water barrels, supplies, weapons, sleeping bags, rope, sail - when it was not used - and also cargo of different kinds.
We may believe that there have only been a crew so big that oars could be staffed - there was not room enough for double crew, so that they could replace each other at the oars. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine that the Vikings have brought a large amount of thralls back from the countries that they looted. There was simply not enough deck-space for this. Drawing from whenintime.com - unfortunately, unknown artist.

Thirteen years after the Battle of Svold shipbuilders had learned from the fight against Ormen Lange. Encomium Emmae describes the Danish ships, when Sweyn Forkbeard's fleet had public navy-show prior to departure against England: "When at length they were all gathered, they went on board the towered ships, having picked out by observation their leaders by their brazen prows. On one side lions moulded in gold were to be seen on the ships, on the other birds on the tops of the masts indicated by their movements the winds as they blew, or dragons of various kinds poured fire from their nostrils. Here there were glittering men of solid gold or silver nearly comparable to live ones, there bulls with necks raised high and legs outstretched were fashioned leaping and roaring like live ones. One might see dolphins moulded in electrum, and centaurs in the same metal, recalling the ancient fable. In addition, I might describe to you many examples of the same celature, if the names of the monsters, which were there fashioned, were known to me. But why should I now dwell upon the sides of the ships, which were not only painted with ornate colours, but were covered with gold and silver figures? The royal vessel excelled the others in beauty as much as the king preceded the soldiers in the honour of his proper dignity, concerning which it is better that I be silent, than that I speak inadequately."
Havhingsten at dockside in the Viking ship museum
The deck on the Havhingsten from Glendalough at dockside in the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. When all the oars are fully occupied, there will be about one man for every row bench port and starboard. As it can be seen, there is not very much space.
Before the Battle of Nesjar Olav the Holy's ordered his men "- now you have to arm yourselves and each man must make himself and his room ready, as before is ordered, so that everyone is prepared, when I let blow to lay out." It gives the idea that each crew member was responsible for the deck i front of his own rowing bench.

The ships had become "towered", which implies that they had been provided with a sort of elevated decks, most likely in the aft end for not to affect the sails too much. In this way even smaller ships could go alongside Ormen Lange, if need be, and from the tower throw stones and spears down on the unprotected enemies on the bigger ship's deck. But it involved another problem namely a lesser stability, therefore we must believe that these towers have been of a very light construction.

In addition, the ships had got "brazen prows", which may have been only for decoration, or may mean that the bows were reinforced with cast bronze elements, which were intended to make it able to ram and damage another ship without itself taking any damage. At that time usually only church bells were cast in bronze, but - as we see - also "brazen prows".

It brings the thought to the Long Saga of Olaf Tryggvason, which says that Erik Jarl "had an exceedingly large barde, which he used to use in Viking raids; there was beard from above on both sides of it, and down from the beard was a thick iron plate, which was as wide as the edge, reaching right down into the sea, that was why this ship was called Jærnbarden, and it was very strong."

Viking Ship in a manuscript from Northumbria
Viking Ship in a manuscript from Northumbria from the 900's. The artist had probably never seen the ships, but he has been told about these amazing new ships with towers, gold-plated pinwheels and figureheads. It looks like it has a kind of "barde" in the aft end. From Odinia International and Odinist Journal Foxfire.

Apparently, it is about a slightly curved - as baleen - thick piece of iron, which could be clamped to the ship's bow, so that it ranged from the water line and a distance up, the "beard" may have been thinner overlapping plates, which allowed the barde to nailed on the shell. The purpose must have been to make the ship able to ram other ships without itself being damaged, since it was "very strong". It represented a new type of naval warfare, where you aim to sink the enemy's ships, instead of boarding them and kill the crew in close combat.

At that time all iron objects were hammered out of from bog iron ore, and esse welding was the only joining method. It has been a complicated and difficult task to make such a "bard" of iron.

Gilded weather vane from a Viking ship
Gilded weather vane from a Viking ship. Photo Odinsvolk.ca.

"For here you could on the stems see lions cast in gold," says Encomium Emmae. We must believe that here the author, the monk from St. Omer monastery, takes his mouth full, he probably did not even see the ships himself. But it says anyway that shipowners to a large extent had left the stylish carved dragon heads in the bow. Perhaps the dragons represented the ancient faith, which now had been abandoned by many. Figureheads depicting lions, centaurs and other humanoid figures later became very popular on the sail-ships.

The ships were equipped with elaborate pinwheels in the mast tops: " - on the top of the masts birds that by their twists indicated the winds directions, or variegated dragons threatening breathing fire out of the nostrils."

Links og Litteratur

Den store saga om Olaf Tryggvesøn Heimskringla
Olaf Tryggvesøns Saga Heimskringla
Roskildekrøniken Heimskringla
Saxos Danmarkshistorie Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab & G.E.C.Gads Forlag.
Adam af Bremens Kirkehistorie Heimskringla
Jomsvikinge Saga Jomsborg Vikingelaug
Sweyn Aggesen Heimskringla
Kong Knuts Liv og Gerninger Heimskringla - også kaldet Encomium Emmae Reginae.
Knytlinge Saga Oldnordiske Sagaer Bind 11
Heimskringla: Olaf Tryggvasons saga Nettsted olhov.net
Heimskringla og andre sagaer Nettsted olhov.net
Saxos Danmarkshistorie Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab & G.E.C.Gads Forlag.
The Chronicle of Thietmar bishop of Merseburg - on Scandinavia and England only Translated by Rafal T. Prinke.
Sweyn Tveskægs sidste hvilested er stadig en gåde Kristeligt Dagblad.
Da Sweyn erobrede England Berlinske Tidende
Sweyn Tveskægs hustruer Danske vikingekonger.
Clothing in the Viking Age Hurstwic
Svend Estridsens moder Peter Lawætz
Discovery Could Rewrite History of Vikings in New World National Geographic
Die Jomswikinger - eine Kriegergemeinschaft? Lutz Mohr (Diplomhistoriker)
Two hours in Gainsborough. Sweyn Forkbeard Blog
Vikingøksa fra Langeid gjenfødes UiO Kulturhistorisk museum
Islandshestens størrelse over mankekammen HorseConsult
Alfred the Great and Æthelred II 'the Unready" Richard Abels
Maldon Battle and Campign UK Battlefields Resource Centre
Sangen om Maldon Translation: R.M. Liuzza
Return of the Danes I: Unready From Dot to Domesday - English History
St Brice's Day A Clerk of Oxford
Viking mass grave linked to elite killers of the medieval world University of Cambridge
Vicious Viking Massacre Bones don't Lie.
Hoard of 5,000 Anglo Saxon coins unearthed MailOnline
From the Viking Invasion to the Norman Conquest St Edmundsbury.
England runestones Wikipedia
Part 4: The Death of Sweyn Forkbeard A Clerk of Oxford
Retsmediciner: Sweyn Tveskæg gav dødelig sygdom videre Videnskab.dk
Encomium Emmae Reginae Allistair Campell - Royal Historical Society.
Oxford Viking massacre revealed by skeleton find BBC.
Arkiv for nordisk filologi - Andet Bind. 1885 / runeberg
When Is Easter Sunday?
Viking Society web publications Viking Society for Northern Research.
Danmarks Historie 3 - Peter Sawyer - Gyldendal og Politikken.
Snorres Heimskringla - Nationaludgave Oslo 1930.
Adam af Bremens krønike - oversat af Allan A. Lund Wormanium.
Saxo Grammaticus oversat af Fr. Winkel Horn - Sesam.
Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for Folket 8. del af Claus Deluran - Ekstrabladets Forlag.
Swein Forkbeards Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England 991-1017 by Ian Howard

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