Forside DH-Debate

17. Early Viking Period

19. Harald Bluetooth

Denmark's History

18. Gorm the Old

1. Introduction 2. The Knytlings
3. Kings in Hedeby 4. Alfred's Geography
5. Thyra Danebod 6. Gorm the Old
7. The Villages 8. Literature

1. Introduction

Gorm the Old was the first well-known king of the royal line the Knytlings.

Timeline of the history of Denmark

Timeline of the 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 as told by Adam of Bremen under bishop Hoger. But 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 Knytlinge lineage got its name from a Hardecnudth, son of Hardegon, as told by Adam of Bremen under Bishop Unni. He is also called Knud I and was probably the father of Gorm the Old as told under Bishop Unni. Magnus the Good was the son of the Norwegian Catholic saint, Olav the Holy; His reign appears as an interregnum to the rule of Sweyn Estridson and his sons and grandsons. Sweyn Estridson was the grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard.
The rivaling kings, Sven, Knud and Valdemar, were all the candidates for kingship descending from Sweyn Estridson, but the period appears as an interregnum to the period of the Valdemars.
Many historians, probably most, consider only Valdemar 1. the Great, his son Knud 6. and Valdemar 2. Sejr as the Valdemars. But no one has a patent on the definition, and it seems the author natural and appropriate also to include their direct male descendants - including Erik 4. Plovpenning, Abel and Christoffer 1. - until Christoffer 2., who was the last king before the period without king.
Valdemar IV Atterdag was not a union king, but his daughter Margrete 1. and his grandson Oluf ruled the union. One could say that Valdemar 4. 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 Civil War, The Count's Feud, was a significant turning point in Denmark's history. As a result of the Lutheran Reformation, the kings took over the third of Denmark's land that belonged to the church. This wealth made it possible to push the old nobility aside and establish the absolute monarchy that became a main cause of Denmark's historic decline. A Democratic Constitution was peacefully introduced in 1848.
The Oldenborg line died out with the childless Frederik 7. in 1863. The throne was then taken over by Christian 9. of Glucksborg.

Gorm the Old is very well documented as Danish king. He is mentioned on both Jelling rune stones and by Adam of Bremen, Roskilde Chronicle, Jomsvikinge Saga, Olav Tryggvason's Saga, Saxo Grammaticus, Sven Aggesen, Hauksbok Fagrskinna and Knytlinge Saga. His reign as a Danish king is beyond doubt, and the tradition is that he is the first king in the royal line.

On the small Jelling runestone the text reads: "kurmr kunukr karthi kubl thusi aft thurui kunu sina tanmarkar but", which can be translated into modern English as: "Gorm king made memorials these after Thyra wife his Denmark's bod".

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 4. the Holy in his donation letter to the cathedral in Lund from 1085 calls himself Knud 4., from which it follows that there must have been a Knud 1. or a Hardeknud 1. prior to Gorm, which Adam also tells. The author believes that the names Hardegon and Hardecnudt is too different and not the same person.

And, on the big Jelling Stone stands: "Haraltr kunukr bath kaurua kubl thausi aft kurm fathur sin auk aft thaurui muthur sina sa haraltr ias sar uan tanmaurk ala auk nuruiak auk tani karthi kristna", which can be translated into: "King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm his father and Thyra his mother, that Harald who himself won Denmark all and Norway and the Danes made Christians."

We can deduce from these runic inscriptions that Gorm was king, his wife was named Thyra, and she died before him, and they had a son named Harald, who became King of whole Denmark.

Sven Aggesen wrote that in his time - about 250 years later - there was a royal seat in Jelling. The city is listed in Valdemar's Jordebog - a kind of Danish Doomsday-book - as a royal estate. And the Jelling monuments show the royal family's connection to the place. Moreover, recent archaeological excavations have revealed extensive palisade constructions. There are good reasons to believe that Jelling was the early Knytlings' royal seat.

Viking swords

Swords from the Viking Age. From top down:
Sword found at Søndersø between Odense and Bogense.
Sword found at Sørup near Svendborg.
Sword found at Osted south of Roskilde.
- Photo from "Danmarks Oldtid" by Jørgen Jensen.

2. The Knytlings came from Viking Area in England

The most reliable report on Gorm's ancestors is Adam of Bremen; he had it directly from the Danish king Sven Estridsen that one must believe knew his ancestors. He wrote: "The Dane king, whom we must long remember, and who remembered all the barbarians' deeds, just as if they were written down" - "Something has the famous Dane king lectured for us when I asked him about it. After Olaph, he said, the Sveones' prince, who reigned in Denmark with his sons, Sigerich was put in his place, and when he had reigned for a short time, Hardegon, Suein's son, came from Northmannia and deprived him of the kingdom." This happened in 917 or 918. As the Knytlings often later used the name Sven, we must assume that this Sven was the ancestor of the Knytlings.

The Vale of York Viking Hoard was found in 2007 by David and Andrew Whelan near the town of Harrogate in North Yorkshire. It comes precisely from the 900's. The treasure contains 617 silver coins and 65 other things. The coins are from Sarmakand in modern Uzbekistan, North Africa, Afghanistan, Russia, Ireland, Scandinavia and Western Europe. Photo JMiall Wikipedia.

A saga says that the Knytlings descended from Regnar Lodbrog. When Harald Bluetooth in Olav Tryggvesons Saga is confronted with Gold-Harald's claim for half the kingdom, it is said: "By this claim Harald became very angry and said that no man had demanded it from King Gorm, the father of his, that he should be half-king in Denmark, nor his father, Horda-Knut or of Sigurd Snake-in-eye or Regnar Lodbrog."

Adam tells that a few years before Bishop Unni of Bremen and Hamburg died in Birka in the year 936 he visited Denmark: "Hardecnudth Wurm ruled the Danes during that time. He was, I must say, a horrible worm and not a little hostile to Christian people. He was scheming to completely eradicate the Christianity that existed in Denmark, expelling the God's ministers from his country, and he killed even very many of them under torments." This indicates that King Wurm is identical to Gorm the Old.

Many believe that this Nortmannia, from where Hardegon came, must have been either Norway or Normandy in France. However, the historian Erik Kromann has argued that Hardegon, Sven's son, came from Viking areas in England. The names Hardicanute and Gorm clearly point to the Norman Viking-kingdoms in England, he said.

The Viking Guthrum

The Viking Guthrum in "The Last Kingdom".

In the east of England, which would later be called the Danelaw, the Vikings proclaimed their own kings. Guthrum (Gorm) ruled in East Anglia until 890. Halfdan, a son of Ragnar Lodbrog, distributed land to his men in the Northumberland in 876 but was driven out by his own men and replaced by a new king, who had two names, Gudred and Cnut. Alternatively, there may have been two kings, so that Gudred was succeeded by Cnut. This last one is known only from coins. Gudred fell prisoner of war as a young man, but was redeemed by the Danes and then elected king of York.

Simeon of Durham says that St. Cuthbert appeared to Abbot Eadred and bade him act as follows: He had to go to the Danish army and say that he came as an envoy of the Saint. Next, he had to ask to get that boy to see, called Gudred, who was said to be the son of Hardecnut of Lethra in Sweden, and whom the Danes had sold to a widow in Hwittingaham. When he was found, and ransom for him had been paid, Eadred should bring him out to the army and let him be elected as a king on the mountain Oswiesdun putting a gold ring on his right arm. Abbot Eadred followed St. Cuthberts instructions, and the boy was unanimously acclaimed by the army and the people.

Also Adam of Bremen speaks many years later on Gudred: "As mentioned earlier, and as it is written in the Deeds of the Angles, Anglien after Gudreds death, counting from his sons Analept, Sigerih and Reginold, for almost a hundred years remained under the Danes' rule, but then Harald (Bluetooth) sent his son Hiring with an army to Anglien. He subjugated the island, but was eventually betrayed and killed by the Northumbrians."

Viking areas in England

Viking areas in England in the 800's From "Y-DNA Test - I am a Viking, OK!"

Several other chroniclers connect the names Hardeknud and Gorm with England.

Roskilde Chronicle tells of a "certain Sven, a defector from the Norwegians," who fell with a great army into England, drove the king Aldradus out of the country and took rulership. His two sons, Gorm and Hardeknud, could not be contented with England, they turned marauding against Denmark, drove King Halfdan away and shared his kingdom in such a way that Gorm got Denmark and Hardeknud England. The historical core of this story may be the situation in the Danish area in England about 877, where the Kings Cnut and Gudred reigned in the north, and Guthrum (Gorm) ruled in the south.

Saxo connects a Gorm, who was the grandfather to Gorm the Old, to England. He calls him Gorm Englishman because he was born in England. But while he took up residence in Denmark to settle matters there, the English made a rebellion, and after a bold attempt, he did never win the country back. Furthermore, Saxo lets Gorm's Queen Thyra be an English princess.

One can easily imagine that still in Sweyn Forkbeard's time a tradition existed in the Knytlinge lineage that England belonged to them, and it may have been part of Sweyn's motivation for the later conquest of England.

There are several myths about the origin of the Knytlings: In the late Olaf Tryggvason Saga, King Gormr hin Heimski's thralls find a little boy in the woods that he takes to his heart, and gives the name Canute the Found. In Jomsvikinge Saga, Gorm the Childless rules Denmark; His men find a boy in the woods, on its head was tied a silk scarf, on which was attached a large gold ring. The king took the child to his heart, called him his son and gave him the name Knud because the gold ring had been tied to his forehead with a knot. Following Sven Aggesen, Sivard, Ragnar Lodbrog's son, attacked Denmark and felled the king. He married the dead king's daughter and ordered her to name their son after her belt. As her belt was tied with a knot, the boy was named Knud.

3. The Kings Chnob and Gurd in Hedeby

But there is a piece that does not readily fit into the puzzle.

Widukind tells of the German King Henrik 1. (918-936): "When he had subjugated all the surrounding peoples, he went with an army against the Danes, who on pirate raids attacked the Frisians. He defeated them and after having made them tributary, he caused their king, named Chnuba to receive baptism."

Reconstruction of Hedeby

Graphic reconstruction of Hedeby. Photo: Les Raids des Vikings.

A notice in the Korvej year-books for the year 934 provides a dating: "King Henrik subjugated the Danes"

Readily, it does not fit with that "Hardegon, Svein's son from Northmannia" deprived Sigerich the kingdom around 917, and thereafter his descendants Hardecnut, Gorm and Harald ruled Denmark without interruption.

Adam tells about King Gnupa in a section dealing with archbishop Adalgars time, which was the years from 888 to 909 - before the "Norman" invasion - referring to Sweyn Estridson: "After him came Olaph, who came from Sueonia and achieved rulership over the Danes' kingdom with violence and weapons, and he had many sons, of which Chnob and Gurd achieved rulership after the father's death."

Furthermore, King Chnuba and his son Sigtryg are documented by something as solid as two rune stones, which are found near Hedeby that bear the rather identical inscriptions: "Asfrid made this kumbl after Sigtrygg her and Gnupa's son" and "Asfrid Odinkardatter made this kumbl after Sigtrygg king her and Gnupa's son - Gorm carved the runes."

The small Sigtryg stone

The small Sigtrygsten was discovered in 1887. It was bricked into the wall of Gottorp Castle. The inscription is dated to around 938. Now it is exhibited in the Viking Museum Hedeby. Photo viciarg Wikipedia.

Adam has a different version than Widukind of Henrik 1.'s attack on the Danes, where King Chnuba is not mentioned: "Hardecnudth Wurm ruled the Danes during that time. He was, I must say, a horrible worm and not a little hostile to Christian people. He was scheming to completely eradicate the Christianity that existed in Denmark, expelling the God's ministers from his country, and he killed even very many of them under torments." When Henrik I moved into the country with an army: "He scared at first attack King Wurm so much that he would do what was commanded him and humbly asked for peace. After that Henrik, who thus became the victor, had put the kingdom's borders at Sliaswich, which now is called Heidaba, he installed a mark-count and commanded a colony of Saxons to settle there. All this - as reported by a certain Dane bishop, a knowledgeable man - we, as reliable as it is perceived, just as fair have given over to our church."

In fact, seven older sources tell about King Henrik's victory over the Danes, but only one of them mentions King Chnuba.

Several historians believe that Chuba really was the son of that Olaph, which " - achieved rulership over the Danes' kingdom with violence and weapons", but when he was attacked by Henrik I in 934, he ruled only a small part of Denmark around Hedeby. They highlight that the route from the fjord Slien over the river Ejder to the North Sea was Scandinavia's most important trade route that King Chnuba so controlled. It was furthermore the route that all Viking expeditions from South Scandinavia towards Western Europe took.

A ship being drawn over land

Illustration from Olaus Magnus' Historia from 1555, showing a ship being pulled over land. From the fjord Slien at Hedeby was only a short way across land to the rivers Trene and Ejder. By using this route merchants and Vikings avoided a long and dangerous journey north around Jutland - possibly through Limfjorden.

By subjugating King Chuba in Hedeby and forcing the Danes there to pay tax, Henrik put a plug in the hole and made further Viking raids against Western Europe difficult. By forcing Gnupa to be baptized he isolated him politically from the rest of Denmark and Scandinavia. By taking a Viking chief in his favor and let him fight the other Vikings, King Henrik did not act differently from several other German and Frankish rulers in the past.

Chnuba and his son Sigtryg - king Asfrid and Chnuba's son - could not have ruled for long in Hedeby after this. There are several examples of Abodrit and Scandinavian rulers, who adopted Christianity, soon got serious problems with their pagan subjects. Which may be the reason for that Gorm's Queen Thyra according to tradition could be associated with Dannevirke.

4. Alfred the Great's Geography

From an additional note to Alfred the Great's translation of Orosius' Rome's history from around the year 890 can be deduced a sketch of the political situation in Southern Scandinavia. It was written only about 27 years before "Hardegon, Suein's son from Northmannia" deprived Sigerich of his kingdom:

Merchant ship from the Viking Age

Merchant ship from the Viking Age.

" - to the west of Old Saxony is the mouth of the Aelfe or Elbe, as also Frysan or Friesland. From hence to the north-west is that land, which is called Angle, with Sellinde, and some other parts of Dene." - and more: "To the south-west of Dene or Denmark, formerly mentioned, is that arm of the ocean which surrounds Brittania, and to the north is that arm which is called the Ostsea or East sea; to the east and north are the north Dene, or North Danes, both on the continent and on the islands." We can believe that there were two groups of Danes, namely South Danes, who may have lived around Hedeby, and North Danes, who lived on Sjælland and Skåne. In any case, it suggests that an area partially covering Angel and Sillende constituted a political entity inhabited by South-Danes. Which fits with that Chnuba and later his son Sigtrygg were kings of this area.

In another part of King Alfred's geography, the traveler Ottar tells: "South of Skiringssal a large sea cuts into the country. It is broader than any man ca see over. And on the other side, first Gotland and then Sillende. This sea stretches hundreds of mil into the country - And he told that he from Skiringssal in five days sailed to the merchant town called Hedeby. It lies between the Wends, Saxons and Angles and belongs to the Danes - When he sailed to there from Skiringssal, he had to port Denemearce, to starboard the open sea for three days; and then, two days before he came to Hedeby, he had to starboard Gotland and Sillende and many islands. In these regions, the Angles lived before they came to this country. And in these two days, he had to port, the islands, which belong to Denmark." From which we can deduce that Halland, Sjælland, some other islands and Hedeby belonged to the Danes. Jutland was still called Gotland, and did not seem to have belonged to "Denemearce".

Ottar's and Wulfstan's journeys

There are several opinions about which route Ottar sailed. This writer thinks he sailed down the Halland coast, north of Sjælland, south of Funen, which he called Gotland, and north of the islands Langeland and Ærø. Thus, when he got the island of Als in sight, which he did not know is an island, he would know for sure that he should sail to port along the coast to find a landmark that could lead him into the narrow fjord Slien.
Also Wulfstan sailed past several islands without naming them, for example, Fehmern and Rugen. It was apparently not common among seafarers to have a very detailed knowledge of near coastal waters.

This is confirmed by another traveler, Wulfstan, who recounts that "he traveled from Hedeby, and that he was in Truso in seven days and nights, and the ship all the way went under sail - Wendland was on his starboard side and to port he had Langeland, Lolland, Falster and Skåne. These countries all belong to Denemearcan."

Both Adam of Bremen and the Roskilde chronicle say that sometimes the country had been divided between several kings, and sometimes it was collected as one kingdom. In 1157 Denmark as a natural thing was divided into three parts, which were ruled by respectively Sven, Knud and Valdemar.

It is completely conceivable that in Gorm the Old's time, the country was divided into at least three parts 1) An area called Denmark, which included Halland, Skåne, Sjælland, Lolland, Falster, Langeland and Ærø 2) The area around Hedeby ruled by Chnuba and Sigtryg 3) The rest of Jutland, which until then was called Gotland, can, for the most part, have been united under King Gorm the Old, who had his royal seat in Jelling. After the invasion in 917 the Knytlinge kings Hardegon, Hardecnudth and Gorm had probably over a longer period worked to subjugate or conquer ever greater parts of Jutland.

Saxo describes repeatedly Sjælland, as the island in the middle of the kingdom, big and fertile and populated by brave inhabitants.

Odysseus was washed up on the beach on the island of Ogygia, which means the navel of the sea, that is the island in the middle of the ocean. Here he was held back by the nymph Calypso, daughter of the Titan Atlas, who gave name to the Western Sea, the Atlantic Ocean (Herodotus: Atlantis Thalassa). By sorcery, Calypso kept him as her lover for seven long years, until he managed to escape to the neighboring island by the goddess Athena's help. The ancient authors Strabo and Plutarch believe that the island was located in the Western Ocean, and this author believes that Calypso's island was Sjælland, the island in the middle, and Odysseus met the Nordic Bronze Age people - and ever since, the island enjoyed great prestige as the island in the middle, the seat of ancient kings.

The name of the island, Sjæl-land (Soul-land), basically means the same thing, as the soul is a person's real center.

Harald Bluetooth "won Denmark all", which must include the sacred island of Sjælland. When he died, he was not buried in Jelling next to his ancestors, which one would expect, because now he had become a real Danish king, and therefore he should be buried on Sjælland - probably also to link this island's inhabitants closer to the Knytlinge genus.

5. Thyra Danebod

On the small Jelling runestone we can read: "kurmr kunukr karthi kubl thusi aft thurui kunu sina tanmarkar but", which in English says: "Gorm king made this monument after Thyra his wife Denmark's bod".

The small Jelling runestone

The small Jelling runestone, respectively, front and back. The stone's original location is not known with certainty. In the 1600's, it lay the front of the church door. Photo Jørgen Howaldt - Wikipedia.

We know very little about Thyra. If we assume that her son Harald Bluetooth was about 60 years old, when he was killed in 986-87, he must have been born around 926. We believe that Thyra was about 20 years old when she had her second son, which will lead to that she was born around 905-910. We know she died before Gorm, that is before 958, what leads to that she as a maximum may have been about 50 years old when she died.

It was originally the historian Erik Arup, who first translated Thyra's epithet "tanmarkar but" into the "adornment of Denmark". It was certainly inspired by Sven Aggesen, who called her Decus Datie (Denmark's ornamental) or Regni Decus (kingdom's ornamental). But later detailed studies of Scandinavian dialects have failed to demonstrate that "but" or "bod" should mean ornamental. By all accounts "bod" means refurbishment, replacement, improvement or recovery. This meaning can still be found in the term "bøde garn" (prepare/repair fishing nets).

There was a tradition that royal sons chose their wives from other peoples and nations. Harald Bluetooth and Sveyn Forkbeard married Slavic princesses, Canute married Emma of Normandy. When Thyra got the epithet "tanmarkar but" it was probably because she came from that Denemearce, which according to Alfred's geography consisted of most Danish islands and Skåne with Sjælland as the center. "Denmark's bod" may have meant the improvement from Denmark.

Thyra Danebod and Danevirke

Thyra Danebod in charge of the construction of the defence dyke Dannevirke. Painting by Rasmus Christiansen from 1863.

It is striking that Gorm and Thyra are described very differently in most Scandinavian sagas and chronicles.

Gorm they do not think much of. In Jomsvikinge Saga he is called Gorm the Heimski, which means a person, who does not know the big world. At Sven Aggesen he is called Gorm Løghæ, which describes a limp and weak ruler, who lives a dissolute life. Historiæ Norwegiæ calls him Gormo Stultissimus. Saxo credits him with some initiative since he here is described as a grim Christian pursuer, who levels the churches to the ground.

Thyra, by contrast, is pictured as intelligent and determined. In Jomsvikinge Saga is told that Gorm is courting for Klak-Harald's daughter Thyra: "Over Holseteland ruled at that time an earl, named Harald, who was called by the nickname Klak-Harald; he was a wise man. He had a daughter named Tyra, who in intelligence surpassed all other women, and interpreted dreams better than anyone else; she was also very beautiful. In cases about government of his land the earl put his whole trust on his daughter, and let her advise in all subjects together with him, and he loved her very much." It is reported that she "was the wisest woman and interpreted dreams better than men." Therefore she was allowed even to answer the suitor herself", because", the father said, "She's much smarter than I -"

Thyra Danebod tells Gorm  about the death of Knud

Thyra Danebod tells Gorm about the death of their son Knud. Saxo reports that the aging Gorm had sworn to kill the one, who told him about Knuds death. Thyra took resort to cunning. She gave Gorm miserable clothes and other things showing grief as they did back then. So Gorm said: "Do you report to me the death of Knud?", and Thyra replied: "You said that, not me". Painting by August Carl Vilhelm Thomsen (1813-86). Uploaded by dllu to Wikipedia.

As we want to connect Klak-Harald and Thyra with that Denmark, which had its center on Sjælland, it's a bit disturbing that Klak-Harald in Jomsvikinge Saga is the Earl of Holseteland, that is Holsten. But we must remember that Vita Anskarii says: "But because King Harald sometimes could not be with peace in his kingdom, then the above mentioned Emperor gave him a fief beyond the Elbe, that he might flee thither if it perhaps became necessary for him".

Jomsviking Saga continues praising Thyra, "and Thyra was considered the wisest woman, who ever came to Denmark, and was called the Danish bod or salvation." - three times Klak-Harald is invited to celebrate Christmas with King Gorm, the saga tells, and three times he stops along the way because of ominous visions. Gorm became angry, but Thyra got him appeased. Following this saga, Harald killed his brother Knud at Limfjorden, and Thyra found a clever way to tell Gorm.

Saxo gives Thyra credit for building the defence dyke Dannevirke.

The royal name, Harald, was originally associated with Sjælland, the island in the middle, which from ancient times enjoyed a special dignity. We remember that Harald, who in the year 826 were baptized at the emperor in Mainz, "sailed to his homeland to take over the government there," which means that his homeland must have been an island. Also think of Harald Hildetand, who following the tradition lived in Lejre near Roskilde on Sjælland - indicating that Harald was a traditional king's name on the island. Thyra was apparently a princess from that Denmark, which Ottar and Wulfstan described, where the main island was Sjælland. A king ruling all the Dana land around the Baltic Sea estuary into the western ocean should necessarily be situated on this venerable island like an ancient emperor necessarily should rule from Rome.

Thyra Danabod manages the  construction of Dannevirke

Thyra Danabod manages the construction of Dannevirke. Drawing by Louis Moe.

When Harald Bluetooth died, he was not buried in Jelling next to his ancestors that otherwise would have been expected. He was buried in Roskilde on Sjælland, for now, he was a real Danish king.

It is easy to imagine that this glorification of Thyra at the expense of Gorm originally was a political strategy that aimed to make Thyra something very special in the eyes of the inhabitants of eastern Denmark, from where she came. Because, if she was something completely unique, so her sons also would be, and that could bring them in question as royal Danish subjects. They were already of royal Danish blood because they were the sons of a Danish princess. The historian Peter Sawyer is said to have made a similar theory.

Thyra and Gorm's sons were named Knud and Harald. It is easy to see that the oldest, Knud, got his name from his father's family, the Knytlings, and the youngest, Harald, got his name from his mother's family. Knud fell under a Viking raid against Ireland or England, and therefore the younger son became king in Jelling.

Gorm and his advisers were not so old and dull, which later time will make them, because he really succeeded to get his son Harald elected as a king, also in eastern Denmark.

6. Gorm the Old

Adam of Bremen reports that in the year 936, or shortly before, Archbishop Unni of Hamburg traveled to Denmark, and here he met the king of the Danes, Hardecnudth Wurm. Adam wrote: "He was, I must say, a horrible worm and not a little hostile to Christian people. He was scheming to completely eradicate the Christianity that existed in Denmark, expelling the God's ministers from his country, and he killed even very many of them under torments." Some, among them the author, believe that Adam forgot a "filius" in the Latin text so that it should have been "Hardecnudth filius Wurm", which would mean Wurm, son of Hardecnudth. Wurm was, without doubt, the king, called Gorm the Old, whom the Jelling stone simply calls "Gorm king". When Unni visited him, he had perhaps been on the throne for some years.

The big Jelling rune stone

The big Jelling runestone is decorated on three sides. One side is engraved with runes, another side is decorated with an animal that fights against snakes, and on the third side of the stone is a relief, probably imagining Jesus on the cross - Photo Erik Christensen Wikipedia.

Both Jelling the rune stones and several sagas and chronicles document that Gorm's queen was called "Thurui", "Thaurui", Tyre and the like, which we interpret as Thyra. We can believe that Thyra was a Danish princess from Sjælland, who enjoyed an immense respect in the kingdom of the Knytlings in Jylland around Jelling.

In addition to the sons, Knud and Harald, Gorm and Thyra got a daughter named Gunhild.

Saxo's description of the king is not very flattering: "Although he was considered to be exceptionally tall, then however, his mind only slightly corresponded to his body. For he was to such degree satisfied with his royal power that he found greater joy to protect it than increasing it, figured it better to guard his own than to stretch out after others and preferred to stick to, what he had than letting it grow by new winnings."

The Jelling Monuments

The Jelling mounds - The north mound to the right, where Gorm was buried. To the left on the other side of the church lies the south mound in which there never have been any burials. The rune stones are located exactly midway between the two mounds. The Jelling monuments are declared as UNESCO World Heritage. Photo Pinterest.

In the long saga of Olaf Tryggvason is stated that: "When Hardicanute's son Gorm grew up, he was the most handsome man you could see before your eyes, he was also big and strong, and excellent in all skills; however he was not considered to possess the wisdom that his relatives before him had been said to have." And in Knytlinge Saga we read: "Very wise, he was not (Canute the Great), just as little as king Sven, whom he in everything was like, or as before Harald and Gorm, who neither were particular wise."

Heimskringlas Olaf Tryggvason Saga has greater respect for king Gorm. It says that the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair sent men to fetch a woman named Gyda Eriksdatter that he would like to have as a mistress. She told the men that she would not sacrifice her virginity for a local small king: "But it seems to me strange that no king can be found that will acquire Norway so that he has monarchy over that land, in a similar way as King Gorm has it in Denmark or Erik in Uppsala", and she sends the men out the door with the message that she would never marry Harald until he has conquered all of Norway and ruled the kingdom just as freely as King Eric ruled Sweden or King Gorm Denmark, "for only then he seems to me to be called king of nations".

Gyda answers Harald Fairhair

Gyda answers Harald Fairhair's men - Photo Haralds Hårfager's Saga in Heimskringla drawing by Halvdan Egidius.

Olav Tryggvason Saga also contests the image of Gorm as an old and lethargic king: "King Gorm came with his army into that kingdom of Denmark, which was called Reidgoteland, but now is called Jylland, against the king, who then ruled therefore; he was called Gnupa. They had some battles together but thus it ended that Gorm felled the king and acquired his whole kingdom. Next Gorm encountered against the king of the name Silfraskalli and had fightings and battles with him, and King Gorm still got the victory, and finally he felled that king, then he went further up in Jylland and thus he came with war that he destroyed all kings right south to Sli, and also he won a large kingdom in Wendland. Gorm had many battles against the Saxons, and he became the mightiest king."

It sounds like that when Hardegon, son of Sven, landed in Jylland in the year 917, the political situation there was fairly chaotic. Besides Sigerich, there were at least two kings namely Gnupa and Silfraskalli, both of which - along with other smaller kings - were defeated by the Knytlings, latest by King Gorm.

Queen Margrethe II speaks in Jelling Church at King Gorm's reburial

Queen Margrethe II speaks in Jelling Church at King Gorm's reburial in the year 2000.

Also Adam of Bremen speaks of battles against the Saxons: "Also the Danes, who had Slavs to help, ravaged first Saxony beyond the Elbe, then also on this side of the Elbe and gave the Saxons great horror."

The battles with the the Saxons is also confirmed by Dudo of St. Quentin, who recounts some negotiations between the German King Heinrich and the French King Louis in the year 942, where the Danish-speaking William of Normandy was present: "While the kings talked in private, Duke Herman of Saxen suddenly began addressing Wilhelm in Danish. Then the Norman Duke said: "Who taught you the Danish language that the Saxons otherwise do not understand?" He replied: "The warlike and excellent offspring of your weapon-skilled family line has against my will taught me Danish." William: - "Why against your will?" Herman: - "Because they regularly captured the fortresses in my duchy, delivered many battles against me and carried me off as a prisoner of war to their country, and therefore I learned it against my will."

Also the kings' saga, Fagrskinna, shows great respect for King Gorm and suggests that Gorm was a very active king, who extended the Knytlings' area in Jutland. When Gold Harald came home to Harald Bluetooth's royal seat from a Viking expedition, he claimed half of the kingdom, and Harald Bluetooth sought Haakon Jarl's advice. He answered the king: "Your father Gorm was so great a man in his kin that he acquired many kings' rule. This example Harald should follow, he should get Gold Harald another kingdom, which is not less than Denmark, because it would your father, Gorm, have done that he would not let his power diminish by his mighty kinsmen, but rather have increased their (power), and in that respect he would have taken any kingdom." Later, said Haakon to King Harald: "Your father Gorm acquired a large kingdom that his father had not had. What kingdom shall you my lord get, which are as large or larger than Denmark, which your father won under him? It would now be a noble deed to acquire Norway and avenge his foster son."

The Jelling beaker

A silver beaker that was found in the otherwise empty grave chamber in the Jelling northern mound in 1820. The cup is 4.3 cm high and cast of almost pure silver. The exterior is adorned with Germanic animal ornamentation. It is assumed that Gorm the Old was originally buried in this chamber, but was later moved to a Christian resting place under the floor of the church. It is easy to imagine that the cup was an original burial gift that was overlooked when the body was moved. In that case, it might have been Gorm's favorite cup. Photo

In one version of Olav Tryggvesson's Saga, Gorm's eldest son is named Knud Dana-Ast. It is reasonable to guess that it stands for Knud Dana-as-Æt (Æt menans kin) - Dana from his mother and As from his father's kin. He died before Gorm and therefore he did not become king. It is said that Knud and Harald, Gorm's sons, came to England with an army and conquered Northumbria, saying that it was their land of inheritance, which their ancestors had ruled. King Athelstan went against them with a large army, and they met in battle north of Klyfland, where many were slain on both sides. Some time later Gorm's sons went up to Skardeborg and on to York. Knud and others bathed, and he was killed by an arrow. When King Athelstan approached with a large army, the Danes sailed home.

Jomsvikinge Saga says that Knud was killed by his brother Harald at Limfjorden. Saxo believes that Knud was killed by an arrow from the darkness under a siege of Dublin "when he watched the play, which was held at nighttime."

Following Historia Norwegi the daughter Gunhild was married to the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair's oldest son Erik Bloodaxe. This is supported by that Gunhild named one of her sons Gorm, which otherwise was a rare name. She is described in the sagas as the most beautiful among women, but small in stature. By Harald Fairhair's death in 933, his son Erik was elected as Norwegian king; however, he only enjoyed the dignity in two years, then he was expelled from Norway because of his rough behavior. Then he became king of York until about 948 when he was ousted by the newly elected English king Eadred. Erik Bloodaxe was killed, and Gunhild fled with their many sons. This ended the Viking domination in York.

Gorm the Old tomb in Jelling Church

Gorm the Old's final resting place under the floor of Jelling Church is shown by a part of a dark stripe is replaced by a golden stripe - Photo Wikipedia.

In Haakon the Good's Saga is said that one of Erik Bloodaxe and Gunhild's sons was named Gamle Eiriksson. Gunhild was the daughter of Gorm the Old, and this raises doubts about whether Gorms epithet Gamle (old) in "Gorm den Gamle" really meant "old", or it was a personal name.

It is generally believed that Gorm the Old was buried in the North mound in Jelling, and later transferred to a Christian burial in the church. Wood from the burial chamber in the North Mound has been Dendro-chronological dated to the year 958, thus we can believe that this year Gorm died.

When Jelling Church in 1979 should have installed district heating, it was necessary to dig up the floor. In this context, the National Museum examined the dig out and found the remains of a man, who is widely believed to be Gorm the Old. The bones indicate a man with strong bones and strong eyebrow arches, who has been 177 cm. tall and about 35-50 years old, when he died.

However, the moving theory, as it is called, has been heavily criticized, among others in an article in Skalk 1988 by Harald Andersen. His arguments are:

- The hole in the top of the North Mound is a typical robbery hole, of which there are many in other mounds; he believes that if it had been Harald Bluetooth, who had dug down and taken his father's bones out, he would have used a more gentle method and not left his father's burial mound as such a ruin.
- They found only animal bones and no human bones in the tomb in 1820, when local farmers dug into the hole, but according to Harald Andersen, that is because human bones are thinner and degrade faster than bones from large animals such as horses.
- The skeleton, which was found under the floor of Jelling Church, lay in anatomical disorder, which is commonly taken as a proof that it has been moved. But he demonstrates that the groundwater level beneath the church is very high, and the burial chamber can sometimes have been flooded, and skeletal parts may have flowed up to the surface and thereby changed places. Besides, if they really had moved a king's earthly remains, they would probably have placed it so anatomically correct as possible; that is, the head upwards, the legs at the other end and arms along the sides and so on. It is unlikely that simply had thrown the bones into the hole, as it looked like.
- In addition, he finds it unlikely that a notorious heathen should be buried in a Christian church.
- The age of the person, who was found under the floor of Jelling Church - along with the year of death 958 based on dendrochronology, does not fit with historical information about Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth.

7. The Villages

The Vikings' explosive expansion including colonization of Danelagen, Normandy, the North Atlantic and parts of Russia can only be explained by a large surplus population in Scandinavia and that it now had become possible to sail relatively safe over the sea with the new type of ship, the Viking ship.

The village of Vorbasse in the Viking Age

Graphic reconstruction of the village of Vorbasse in the Viking Age around the year 900. The village buildings were located very scattered and most of the village's land was used for grazing cattle. The farms were located along a 10 m. wide road that passed through the village in the direction east-west. All the farms consisted of a main house with living quarters in one end and stable in the other. There were also a number of smaller buildings, small barns and partly dug down small houses. From Danmarks Oldtid by Jørgen Jensen - Gyldendal.

Sea kings ruled fleets of ships without fixed harbours. The ships were probably manned by men, who could not find their livelihood elsewhere, which indicates a large population pressure. The Widtsith poem, says: "Sigehere for many years ruled the Sea-Danes"; and Saxo tells about Roar and Helge: "They shared so the kingdom between them that Helge got the sea to rule"; and Adam of Bremen: "Guttovn, King Horic's nephew, who had been driven out of Denmark, and had lived as a pirate, in cooperation with his brother Harald, and having gathered a large number of ships, attacked their uncle. The result of the fight became that Horic and all his leading men were killed."

Place names

Endings in Danish village place names founded in Roman and Germanic Iron Age and Viking period.

Grain does not grow on the sea, so we must believe that all these sea kings and their men lived by plundering and pillaging along the coasts.

It is very likely that there had been a large population in Scandinavi in the Viking Age. However, it had not been possible either with pollen analysis or excavations to demonstrate that the villages were located particularly close, or they were very populous during this period.

But when the Scandinavians settled in The Danelaw area in England and Normandy in France precisely in the years 800-900, they named their new settlements in the same way as they certainly have named newly founded settlements and villages in Scandinavia during the same period. These place names typically contain the endings:

-by like in Derby and Rødby,
-torp like in Scunthorpe and Kastrup,
-toft like in Thurdistoft and Gentofte.
-tved like in Stennestwatt and Næstved.
-dal like in Coalbrookdale and Kokkedal.
-bæk like in Holbeck at Leeds, Holbæk and Hornbæk.


Holeby on the island of Lolland. The suffix -by is typical for the Viking Age.

Since it is common knowledge that there are many of this type of village names in Denmark, one must conclude that at least some of these were founded in the Viking Age at the same time that villages with similar names were in the conquered parts of England and France. As these place name types are found in the thousands, it is a strong indication of a population's expansion also in Scandinavia.

The -by suffix has still retained its original meaning in modern Danish, namely like it is said "city", in the sense of a settlement, which is larger than an ordinary village. We know it for example in Brøndby, Dalby and Holeby. The first element seems in most cases to be a person's name.


Hemdrup in Vest Himmerland. The suffix -torp, which in time has become to -rup was used in Viking times, but also long after. Photo Hemdrup Lokaltindblik.

-torp names have in most cases changed to -strup or -rup as time passed by. There are around 3,500 names of the type -torp, -strup or -rup on old Danish area. Place names scientist Johannes Steenstrup concluded: "Torp is the settlement that has been built as a satellite settlement of another village, new settlers had founded a settlement on the older village's field or land." Newly built villages have been named so for a very long time. The oldest example of a -torp in Scandinavia is the mention of Sliesthorp in the Frankish annals for the year 804: "- at the same time the Danish king Godfred came with his fleet and the entire kingdom's cavalry to the place called Sliesthorp, on the border between his kingdom and Saxony". Therefore Sliesthorp must be older than 804. The youngest examples of -torp villages must be those, which contain a Christian name from the Bible as the first element, for example, Niels in Nielstrup near Svendborg and Peder in Pederstrup south of Odense.

Tåstrup - originally Thorstrup - Frøstrup and Tirstrup contain the Gods' names Thor, Frey and Tyr and may well have got their names from a form of presence of these gods. However, at least the name Thor was used as a personal name long into the Middle Ages, so that Tåstrup might have gotten its name from the peasant Thor, who founded this settlement.


Gentofte with the ending -toft. Foto SF.

-toft endings are very characteristic of place names of Scandinavian origin in Normandy, it is found in large numbers in both England and Denmark. It is said to represent a fenced area, which is separated from the village community to the use of a particular person. An older meaning was probably: a piece of land intended for living place for a particular person. Martofte on Hindsholm north of Kerteminde may have meant an enclosure with horses or just the peasant Mar's land. It is tempting to interpret Ebeltoft as a fencing, in which appletrees were growing. Assentoft near Randers means pretty surely the man Asser's toft, namely piece of land.

-tved as in Langtved between Kerteminde and Nyborg or Abbetved between Roskilde and Holbæk. The name Tved without first element is found in 12 different places in old Danish area. The ending is said to mean a clearing in the forest. However, it is hard to ignore that it also can mean forest. In Gjukunge Saga, Myrkved thus means "the dark forest". English has "wood", which can mean both a great forest and the material wood. Modern Danish has the word "ved" meaning the material wood. One can imagine that -tved meant a settlement in or near a large forest.

-dal contains definitely the Scandinavian "dal", which in modern English is called "valley". In Denmark, the ending among many other places can be found in Hjortdal in Han Herred, Sanddal south of Fredericia, Kokkedal south of Helsingør and Hylkedal near Kolding. In Denmark the first elements seem to denote animals or natural formations.

8. Literature

Vikingetogternes begyndelse Fortidens Jelling.
Dannevirke Wikipedia
Fra stammer til folk Harry Haue m.fl. Google Books
The foreign policy of Horik I, king of Denmark 814-854 - Niels Lund Systime
Roskildekrøniken Heimskringla.
Danmarks krønike (Svend Aggesen) Heimskringla
Danernes Lande Kristian Andersen Nyrup
Kong Gorm den Gamle og dronning Thyra Fortidens Jelling
Heimskringla: Olav Tryggvasons saga Nettsted
Heimskringla og andre sagaer Nettsted
Oldnordiske Sagaer, Bind 3 Af Carl Christian Rafn m. fl.
Danske Runesindskrifte fra Vikingetid Arild Hauges Runer
Hvor gamle er stednavnene? Københavns Universitet
Y-DNA Test - I am a Viking, OK! Abroad in the Yard
The Danish History, Books I-IX by Grammaticus Saxo Project Gutenberg
Danmarks Historie 3 - Peter Sawyer - Gyldendal og Politikken.
Snorre Sturlasson Kongssagaer - Nasjonalutgave (3. Utgave).
Adam af Bremens Krønike - Allan A. Lund - Wormanium.
Saxo Grammaticus - Danmarks Krønike - Sesam.
Danmarks Oldtid - Yngre Jernalder og Vikingetid - Jørgen Jensen - Gyldendal.
Gåden om Gorm - Harald Andersen - Skalk Nr. 2 1988.
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