Viking Warrior illustrated by Norwegian concept artist Stian Dahlslett ©
‘Heimskringla’, also called the Norwegian Kings’ Sagas were written down by the Icelander Snorri Sturlason around the year 1220 AD and includes the Saga of Halfdan the Black (c. 810 – c. 860, King c. 830 – c 860)
Halfdan the Black was a powerful king in Eastern and Southern Norway, and the father of Norway’s first king; Harald Fairhair. The reading provides an exciting and interesting insight into the Viking world.
This translation was originally found at sacred-texts.com, and the text is controlled by ThorNews. The headers are removed when these do not exist in the original version.
Fun fact: Ragnar Lothbrok from the History Channel TV-series ”Vikings” is named after Ragnar Lodbrok in this saga.
THE SAGA OF HALFDAN THE BLACK
Of this saga (ThorNews’ note: from ‘Heimskringla’) there are other versions found in “Fagrskinna” and in “Flateyjarbok”. The “Flateyjarbok” version is to a great extent a copy of Snorri. The story about Halfdan’s dream is found both in “Fagrskinna” and in “Flateyjarbok”. The probability is that both Snorri and the author of “Fagrskinna” must have transcribed the same original text. — Ed.
1. Halfdan was a year old when his father was killed, and his mother Åsa set off immediately with him westwards to Agder, and set herself there in the kingdom which her father Harald had possessed. Halfdan grew up there, and soon became stout and strong; and, by reason of his black hair, was called Halfdan the Black. When he was eighteen years old he took his kingdom in Agder, and went immediately to Vestfold, where he divided that kingdom, as before related, with his brother Olaf. The same autumn he went with an army to Vingulmark against King Gandalf. They had many battles, and sometimes one, sometimes the other gained the victory; but at last they agreed that Halfdan should have half of Vingulmark, as his father Gudrod had had it before. Then King Halfdan proceeded to Raumarike, and subdued it. King Sigtryg, son of King Eystein, who then had his residence in Hedemark, and who had subdued Raumarike before, having heard of this, came out with his army against King Halfdan, and there was great battle, in which King Halfdan was victorious; and just as King Sigtryg and his troops were turning about to fly, an arrow struck him under the left arm, and he fell dead. Halfdan then laid the whole of Raumarike under his power. King Eystein’s second son, King Sigtryg’s brother, was also called Eystein, and was then king in Hedemark. As soon as Halfdan had returned to Vestfold, King Eystein went out with his army to Raumarike, and laid the whole country in subjection to him.
2. When King Halfdan heard of these disturbances in Raumarike, he again gathered his army together; and went out against King Eystein. A battle took place between them, and Halfdan gained the victory, and Eystein fled up to Hedemark, pursued by Halfdan. Another battle took place, in which Halfdan was again victorious; and Eystein fled northwards, up into the Dales to the herse Gudbrand. There he was strengthened with new people, and in winter he went towards Hedemark, and met Halfdan the Black upon a large island which lies in the Mjøsa lake. There a great battle was fought, and many people on both sides were slain, but Halfdan won the victory. There fell Guthorm, the son of the herse Gudbrand, who was one of the finest men in the Uplands. Then Eystein fled north up the valley, and sent his relation Halvard Skalk to King Halfdan to beg for peace. On consideration of their relationship, King Halfdan gave King Eystein half of Hedemark, which he and his relations had held before; but kept to himself Toten, and the district called Land. He likewise appropriated to himself Hadeland, and thus became a mighty king.
3. Halfdan the Black got a wife called Ragnhild, a daughter of Harald Gulskeg (Goldbeard), who was a king in Sogn. They had a son, to whom Harald gave his own name; and the boy was brought up in Sogn, by his mother’s father, King Harald. Now when this Harald had lived out his days nearly, and was become weak, having no son, he gave his dominions to his daughter’s son Harald, and gave him his title of king; and he died soon after. The same winter his daughter Ragnhild died; and the following spring the young Harald fell sick and died at ten years of age. As soon as Halfdan the Black heard of his son’s death, he took the road northwards to Sogn with a great force, and was well received. He claimed the heritage and dominion after his son; and no opposition being made, he took the whole kingdom. Earl Atle Mjøve (the Slender), who was a friend of King Halfdan, came to him from Gaular; and the king set him over the Sogn district, to judge in the country according to the country’s laws, and collect scat upon the king’s account. Thereafter King Halfdan proceeded to his kingdom in the Uplands.
4. In autumn, King Halfdan proceeded to Vingulmark. One night when he was there in guest quarters, it happened that about midnight a man came to him who had been on the watch on horseback, and told him a war force was come near to the house. The king instantly got up, ordered his men to arm themselves, and went out of the house and drew them up in battle order. At the same moment, Gandalf’s sons, Hysing and Helsing, made their appearance with a large army. There was a great battle; but Halfdan being overpowered by the numbers of people fled to the forest, leaving many of his men on this spot. His foster-father, Olver Spake (the Wise), fell here. The people now came in swarms to King Halfdan, and he advanced to seek Gandalf’s sons. They met at Eid, near Lake Øyern, and fought there. Hysing and Helsing fell, and their brother Hake saved himself by flight. King Halfdan then took possession of the whole of Vingulmark, and Hake fled to Alfheimar.
5. Sigurd Hjort was the name of a king in Ringerike, who was stouter and stronger than any other man, and his equal could not be seen for a handsome appearance. His father was Helge Hvasse (the Sharp); and his mother was Aslaug, a daughter of Sigurd the worm-eyed, who again was a son of Ragnar Lodbrok. It is told of Sigurd that when he was only twelve years old he killed in single combat the berserk Hildebrand, and eleven others of his comrades; and many are the deeds of manhood told of him in a long saga about his feats. Sigurd had two children, one of whom was a daughter, called Ragnhild, then twenty years of age, and an excellent brisk girl. Her brother Guthorm was a youth. It is related in regard to Sigurd’s death that he had a custom of riding out quite alone in the uninhabited forest to hunt the wild beasts that are hurtful to man, and he was always very eager at this sport. One day he rode out into the forest as usual, and when he had ridden a long way he came out at a piece of cleared land near to Hadeland. There the berserk Hake came against him with thirty men, and they fought. Sigurd Hjort fell there, after killing twelve of Hake’s men; and Hake himself lost one hand, and had three other wounds. Then Hake and his men rode to Sigurd’s house, where they took his daughter Ragnhild and her brother Guthorm, and carried them, with much property and valuable articles, home to Hadeland, where Hake had many great farms. He ordered a feast to be prepared, intending to hold his wedding with Ragnhild; but the time passed on account of his wounds, which healed slowly; and the berserk Hake of Hadeland had to keep his bed, on account of his wounds, all the autumn and beginning of winter. Now King Halfdan was in Hedemark at the Yule entertainments when he heard this news; and one morning early, when the king was dressed, he called to him Harek Gand, and told him to go over to Hadeland, and bring him Ragnhild, Sigurd Hjort’s daughter. Harek got ready with a hundred men, and made his journey so that they came over the lake to Hake’s house in the grey of the morning, and beset all the doors and stairs of the places where the house-servants slept. Then they broke into the sleeping-room where Hake slept, took Ragnhild, with her brother Guthorm, and all the goods that were there, and set fire to the house-servants’ place, and burnt all the people in it. Then they covered over a magnificent wagon, placed Ragnhild and Guthorm in it, and drove down upon the ice. Hake got up and went after them a while; but when he came to the ice on the lake, he turned his sword-hilt to the ground and let himself fall upon the point, so that the sword went through him. He was buried under a mound on the banks of the lake. When King Halfdan, who was very quick of sight, saw the party returning over the frozen lake, and with a covered wagon, he knew that their errand was accomplished according to his desire. Thereupon he ordered the tables to be set out, and sent people all round in the neighborhood to invite plenty of guests; and the same day there was a good feast which was also Halfdan’s marriage-feast with Ragnhild, who became a great queen. Ragnhild’s mother was Tyrne, a daughter of Klakkharald king in Jutland, and a sister of Tyre Danmarksbot who was married to the Danish king, Gorm the Old, who then ruled over the Danish dominions.
6. Ragnhild, who was wise and intelligent, dreamt great dreams. She dreamt, for one, that she was standing out in her herb-garden, and she took a thorn out of her shift; but while she was holding the thorn in her hand it grew so that it became a great tree, one end of which struck itself down into the earth, and it became firmly rooted; and the other end of the tree raised itself so high in the air that she could scarcely see over it, and it became also wonderfully thick. The under part of the tree was red with blood, but the stem upwards was beautifully green and the branches white as snow. There were many and great limbs to the tree, some high up, others low down; and so vast were the tree’s branches that they seemed to her to cover all Norway, and even much more.
7. King Halfdan never had dreams, which appeared to him an extraordinary circumstance; and he told it to a man called Thorleif Spake (the Wise), and asked him what his advice was about it. Thorleif said that what he himself did, when he wanted to have any revelation by dream, was to take his sleep in a swine-sty, and then it never failed that he had dreams. The king did so, and the following dream was revealed to him. He thought he had the most beautiful hair, which was all in ringlets; some so long as to fall upon the ground, some reaching to the middle of his legs, some to his knees, some to his loins or the middle of his sides, some to his neck, and some were only as knots springing from his head. These ringlets were of various colors; but one ringlet surpassed all the others in beauty, lustre, and size. This dream he told to Thorleif, who interpreted it thus: – There should be a great posterity from him, and his descendants should rule over countries with great, but not all with equally great, honor; but one of his race should be more celebrated than all the others. It was the opinion of people that this ringlet betokened King Olaf the Saint.
King Halfdan was a wise man, a man of truth and uprightness – who made laws, observed them himself, and obliged others to observe them. And that violence should not come in place of the laws, he himself fixed the number of criminal acts in law, and the compensations, mulcts, or penalties, for each case, according to every one’s birth and dignity (1).
Queen Ragnhild gave birth to a son, and water was poured over him (2), and the name of Harald given him, and he soon grew stout and remarkably handsome. As he grew up he became very expert at all feats, and showed also a good understanding. He was much beloved by his mother, but less so by his father.
One of the four known Halfdan’s Mounds at Hadeland Folk Museum. The mounds have never been excavated. (Photo: Anders Einar Hilden/ Wikimedia Commons).
8. King Halfdan was at a Yule-feast in Hadeland, where a wonderful thing happened one Yule evening. When the great number of guests assembled were going to sit down to table, all the meat and all the ale disappeared from the table. The king sat alone very confused in mind; all the others set off, each to his home, in consternation. That the king might come to some certainty about what ha occasioned this event, he ordered a Fin to be seized who was particularly knowing, and tried to force him to disclose the truth; but however much he tortured the man, he got nothing out of him. The Fin sought help particularly from Harald, the king’s son, and Harald begged for mercy for him, but in vain. Then Harald let him escape against the king’s will, and accompanied the man himself. On their journey they came to a place where the man’s chief had a great feast, and it appears they were well received there. When they had been there until spring, the chief said, “Thy father took it much amiss that in winter I took some provisions from him, — now I will repay it to thee by a joyful piece of news: thy father is dead; and now thou shalt return home, and take possession of the whole kingdom which he had, and with it thou shalt lay the whole kingdom of Norway under thee.”
9. Halfdan the Black was driving from a feast in Hadeland, and it so happened that his road lay over the lake called the Randsfjord. It was in spring, and there was a great thaw. They drove across the bight called Rykinsvik, where in winter there had been a pond broken in the ice for cattle to drink at, and where the dung had fallen upon the ice the thaw had eaten it into holes. Now as the king drove over it the ice broke, and King Halfdan and many with him perished. He was then forty years old. He had been one of the most fortunate kings in respect of good seasons. The people thought so much of him, that when his death was known and his body was floated to Ringerike to bury it there, the people of most consequence from Raumarike, Vestfold, and Hedemark came to meet it. All desired to take the body with them to bury it in their own district, and they thought that those who got it would have good crops to expect. At last it was agreed to divide the body into four parts. The head was laid in a mound at Stein in Ringerike, and each of the others took his part home and laid it in a mound; and these have since been called Halfdan’s Mounds.
(1) The penalty, compensation, or manbod for every injury, due the party injured, or to his family and next of kin if the injury was the death or premeditated murder of the party, appears to have been fixed for every rank and condition, from the murder of the king down to the maiming or beating a man’s cattle or his slave. A man for whom no compensation was due was a dishonored person, or an outlaw. It appear to have been optional with the injured party, or his kin if he had been killed, to take the mulct or compensation, or to refuse it, and wait for an opportunity of taking vengeance for the injury on the party who inflicted it, or on his kin. A part of each mulct or compensation was due to the king; and, these fines or penalties appear to have constituted a great proportion of the king’s revenues, and to have been settled in the Things held in every district for administering the law with the lagman. — L.
(2) Note by ThorNews: The sagas are written down after Norway has converted to Christianity and has got its own saint; Olaf the Holy. The Catholic Church had great power, and Norse religion is omitted from the sagas. It was opportune to mention ecclesiastical acts like ‘water was poured over him’, which was unlikely in the 800s.
You can learn more about the Vikings and Norse culture here.
The Heimskringla, Norwegian Kings’ Sagas Content:
The Yngling Saga
The Saga of Halfdan the Black (died about 860)
The Saga of Harald Fairhair (died about 931)
The Saga of Haakon the Good (died 961)
The Saga of Harald II (died 969)
The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason (died 1000)
The Saga of Olaf Haraldsson (died 1030)
Saga of Magnus the Good (died 1047)
The Saga of Harald Hardrada (died 1066)
The Saga of Olaf Kyrre (died 1093)
Saga of Magnus Barefoot (died 1103)
Saga of Sigurd the Crusader (died 1130) and his brothers
Saga of Magnus the Blind (deposed in 1135) and Harald Gille (died 1136)
Saga of Sigurd (died 1155), Øystein (died 1157) and Inge (died 1161), the sons of Harald Gille
The Saga of Haakon Curing Wide (died 1162)
Saga of Magnus Erlingsson (died 1184)
Modified by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews