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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035

1. Eiríkr blóðøx Haraldsson (r. c. 929-34)
2. Eiríkr jarl Hákonarson (r. c. 1000-c. 1014)
3. Hákon I inn góði Haraldsson (r. c. 934-c. 961)
4. Hákon jarl Eiríksson (r. c. 1014-c. 1015)
5. Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (r. c. 970-c. 995)
6. Hálfdan svarti Guðrøðarson (c. 820-c. 860)
7. Haraldr II gráfeldr Eiríksson (r. c. 961-c. 970) and the Eiríkssynir
8. Haraldr I hárfagri Hálfdanarson (r. c. 860-c. 932)
9. Óláfr II inn helgi Haraldsson (r. c. 1015-1030)
10. Óláfr I Tryggvason (r. c. 995-c. 1000)
11. Rǫgnvaldr heiðumhæri Óláfsson (later ninth century)
12. Sveinn Alfífuson (r. 1030-1035)
13. Sveinn jarl Hákonarson (r. c. 1000-c. 1015)

(Vol. I. Poetry for Scandinavian Rulers 1: From Mythological Times to c. 1035 > 8. Volume Introduction > 4. Biographies > 4.1. Ruler biographies > 4.1.a. Kings and jarls of Norway > 5. Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (r. c. 970-c. 995))

5. Hákon jarl Sigurðarson (r. c. 970-c. 995)

Hákon, sometimes nicknamed inn ríki ‘the Mighty’ or inn illi ‘the Bad’, inherited the jarldom of Hlaðir (Lade), with power over the Þrándheimr (Trøndelag) and Hálogaland (Hålogaland) districts of northern Norway, after his father Sigurðr jarl Hákonarson was burned in his hall c. 962 at the instigation of King Haraldr gráfeldr (q. v.), leader of the Eiríkssynir. The sources’ estimates of the length of Hákon’s reign vary (see McDougall and McDougall 1998, 62), as do their accounts of the events following Sigurðr’s death. According to Fsk and Jvs, Hákon jarl fled from Norway and lived as a viking, while according to Hkr he maintained his rule in Trøndelag and made peace with the Eiríkssynir after some bloody conflicts; in this account he did not leave Norway until after he had avenged his father by arranging the murder of his uncle Grjótgarðr Hákonarson. Strengthened by his position as ally and vassal of the Danish king Haraldr blátǫnn, Hákon extended his sphere of influence and succeeded in bringing about the death of Haraldr gráfeldr at the battle of Háls in Limafjǫrðr (Limfjorden) c. 970, or as late as the mid 970s. He held Trøndelag and Hålogaland, defending them successfully against Ragnfrøðr Eiríksson. He then joined Haraldr blátǫnn in the defence of the Danevirke against the German Emperor Otto II, c. 974. The Danish side was apparently defeated, despite successes on Hákon’s part. He thereafter terminated the alliance, returned to Norway and effectively gained independent rule of most of the country, although Vík (Viken) remained under Danish control. A Danish-Wendish force spearheaded by warriors who figure in later tradition as the celebrated Jómsvíkingar invaded Norway, probably in the mid 980s, but Hákon and his son Eiríkr defeated them at the sea-battle of Hjǫrungavágr in western Norway. The site of the battle is uncertain but is usually identified with Liavågen in Møre og Romsdal (see Jvs 1962, 49-50; Jones 1984, 130; Krag 2003b, 191; Megaard 1999). The date is also highly contentious, the outer dates being c. 974 and c. 995 (the year of Hákon’s death; see Jvs 1962, xiv-xv), but c. 985 is a widely accepted traditional date which is used in this volume. More fundamentally, since no contemporary poetry refers directly to the Jómsvíkingar, their existence was questioned by Weibull (1911, 178-95; Weibull 1913, 79-88; see ÍF 26, cxi-cxii for summary of the debate; Jvs 1969, 28-51 on Jómsborg and the Jómsvíkingar; and Introduction to Bjbp Jóms for traditions about the battle). Hákon reigned until c. 995, when Óláfr Tryggvason (q. v.), son of a petty king from the south-east, invaded Norway with the intention of converting the country to Christianity. Hákon, also facing rebellion (Krag 2003b, 192), fled and was killed, according to legend, by his slave Karkr while hiding in a pigsty. Despite having accepted Christian baptism under duress, Hákon was an enthusiastic worshipper of the pagan gods and firmly resistant to the Christianizing efforts of Haraldr blátǫnn; several skalds depict him as enjoying the favour of the gods. The contrast he presents with the missionary king Óláfr Tryggvason may account for the sagas’ negative portrayal of his final years. See Anon Nkt 17-18II (c. 1190); Theodoricus (MHN 11-14, 17-19; McDougall and McDougall 1998, 7-11, 13-15); HN (MHN 111, 115; Kunin and Phelpstead 2001, 18, 20-1); Ágr (ÍF 29, 15-18; Ágr 2008, 18-25); Fsk (ÍF 29, 103-41; Finlay 2004, 80-111); Hkr (ÍF 26, 207-300; Hollander 1964a, 134-93). Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 256, 266, 280) lists nine skalds as composing for Hákon: Eyvindr skáldaspillir (Eyv), Einarr skálaglamm (Eskál), Tindr Hallkelsson (Tindr), Eilífr Goðrúnarson (Eil), Vígfúss Víga-Glúmsson (Vígf), Þorleifr jarlsskáld (Þjsk), Skapti Þóroddsson (SkaptiIII), Þórolfr/Þorfinnr munnr (Þorf) and the otherwise unknown Hvannár-Kálfr. No poetry for Hákon by the last three is known. Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld (Hfr) is not mentioned in connection with Hákon in Skáldatal.

Events documented in poetry: Hákon’s descent from the gods and the Háleygir (Eyv Hál); Hákon’s conflicts with the Eiríkssynir (Eskál Vell 6-8, 11); Hákon avenges his father (Eskál Vell 9-10); he causes the death of Haraldr gráfeldr (Eskál Vell 12); his conquest of the land (Eskál Vell 8, 12, 13, 16, 32; Hfr HákdrIII); his victory against the Jómsvíkingar at Hjǫrungavágr (Liavågen) c. 985 (Eyv Hál 11; Eskál Vell 33-4; Eskál Lv 3; Tindr Hákdr; Þskúm Lv; Vígf Hák; Vígf Lv; Vagn Lv; ÞKolb Eirdr 1-5; Anon (Fsk)); Hákon’s military exploits in general (Eskál Vell 35; Þjsk Hák); extent of his power (Eskál Vell 32, 37); Hákon fosters the pagan religion (Eskál Vell 14-15); peace and fertility result in Norway (Eskál Hákdr; Eskál Vell 17); two conflicts with Ragnfrøðr Eiríksson (Eskál Vell 18-20, 21-4); battle at the Danevirke (Eskál Vell 25-8); Hákon’s return to Norway via Gautland (Götaland, Eskál Vell 29-31); death of Hákon c. 995 (ÞKolb Eirdr 6); the exploits of the god Þórr against the giant Geirrøðr and his two daughters, which may possibly be an oblique tribute to Hákon (Eil ÞdrIII). Events of a more informal or individual kind: dealings with the poets Einarr skálaglamm (Eskál Vell 36; Eskál Lv 1a, 2a), Þorleifr jarlsskáld (Þjsk Jarl; Þjsk Lv 1-2; Svtjúg Lv; Hhal Lv), and Eilífr Goðrúnarson (Eil Þdr 23III). Historical (i.e. non-contemporary) poems on the battle of Hjǫrungavágr: ÞGísl Búdr; Bjbp Jóms.

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