(chapter references are given in Roman numerals, as there are few editions of his works in print nowadays,
and most libraries that do stock them have editions which use this old-fashioned system of numbering)
STORIES ABOUT EVERYDAY LIFE
Snorre Sturalasson came from Iceland. He was a quite an important landowner, and local politician, but he also found time to write poetry, as well as books of history. He is believed to have lived from 1179, until 1241 AD (when he was brutally murdered by agents of the king of Norway). Some of his poems were about happenings in Iceland; but these were mostly adventure stories of heroes who were busy exploring, courting beautiful women, or fighting their neighbours. Snorre did not spend much time in these poems describing normal everyday life, no more than you would expect to see anyone doing much boring real work (in a factory, or an office) in a modern American TV series either.
However Snorre did also write long books about the history of two kings of Norway, both of whom were called Olaf: these were Olaf Trygvesson, the first king to attempt to bring Christianity to the whole of Norway and its colonies; and Olaf Haraldson, who some years after his death was declared to have been a holy man, and is therefore now known as the patron saint of Norway. These history books are written in normal everyday language, not in poetry, and they do contain quite a lot of information about the farmers and noblemen of Norway, and how they earned their living (as well as how they conducted their own quarrels against their neighbours, and the king).
Life in the Norse colonies may well have been very similar, except that you must remember that the overseas colonies were generally poorer, and could only support smaller populations. So the homesteads would have not been so big, and farmers would have had fewer servants or livestock (or ships) than the people described in the sagas about Norway itself.
Erling Skialgsson - an important nobleman
When Olaf Trygvesson ruled Norway, he gave his brother-in-law Erling Skialgsson the royal revenues between Naze and Sogn....Erling was very powerful and had very many friends, and he was himself rich and popular, and always kept with him as many retainers as you would find at a kings court.... He never went to sea with less than a fully-manned ship of 20 benches of rowers. Erling also owned a ship with 32 benches of rowers (which was besides built very big for that kind of vessel), and which he used for Viking cruises, as well as for other major expeditions: and in it there were 200 men at the very least.
Erling had always at home on his farm 30 slaves, besides other serving-people. He gave his slaves a set amount of work to do each day: but after they had finished this, he gave them leisure, and permission for each of them to work in the twilight and at night for themselves, as they pleased. Erling gave them land to sow corn in, and let them keep the harvest from that land for their own use. He told each slave that there was a certain price they must pay (from this harvest), and by doing so they could each earn their own freedom. There were many who did buy their freedom in this way in one year; or in two years; and all who had any luck could make themselves free by the end of three years. With the money he got from this, Erling then bought new slaves. To some of his freed people Erling showed how to work in the herring fishery; to others he showed different crafts, useful to earn a living; others were allowed to clear the rough ground at the edges of Erlings fields, and to set up their own homes there. He helped all to prosperity.
Saint Olafs saga chapters XXI - XXII
Sigurd Thoreson - another prominent farmer
Sigurd was married to Sigrid, Skialgs daughter, a sister of Erling. Sigurd lived at Aumd, near Tromso, and was a rich and respected man. Unlike his brother Thore Hund, he had not gone into the kings service, and been given any titles. But at home, on his farm, Sigurd stood in no way behind his brother in splendour and magnificence. As long as heathenism prevailed, Sigurd usually had three sacrifices every year: one on winter-nights eve; one on mid-winters eve; and the third in summer. Although he adopted Christianity, he continued the same custom with his feasts: namely he had a great friendly entertainment at harvest time; a Yule feast in winter, to which he invited many; the third feast he had about Easter, to which he also invited many guests. He continued this custom as long as he lived.
Saint Olafs saga chapter CXXIII
Sigurds son, Asbiorn
Sigurd died on a bed of sickness when his son Asbiorn was 18 years old. He was the only heir of his father, and he followed his fathers custom of holding three festivals every year. But soon after Asbiorn came into his heritage, the course of the seasons began to grow worse, and the corn harvests began to fail; but Asbiorn held his usual feasts, and helped himself by having stocks of old corn in his barns. But when one year passed and another came, and the crops were no better than the year before, his mother Sigrid wished that one (if not all) of the feasts should be given up.
Asbiorn would not agree to this, and instead at harvest-time went around to his friends farms and bought corn, and also received some as presents, and so was able to keep his winter feast as he had done before. But when spring came people could put only little into the ground, for they had to go and buy seed-corn. Then Sigrid spoke of reducing the number of house-servants they kept, but Asbiorn refused, as he held by the old customs of his fathers house in all things.
In the summer it appeared that again the harvest would be poor for corn; but also the news came that King Olaf Haraldson had prohibited all export of corn, malt, or flour from the south to the northern parts of the country. But Asbiorn realised that it would be very difficult to purchase what he needed for his household in the locality where he lived. So (despite the kings orders) he resolved to put into the water a vessel for carrying goods which he owned, and which was large enough to take out to sea. The ship was good, all that belonged to her was of the best, and in the sails were stripes of various colours. Asbiorn made himself ready for a voyage, and put to sea with 20 men.
Saint Olafs saga chapter CXXIII
This story has an unhappy ending. Asbiorn visited Erling Skialgsson, who advised him against his voyage. When Asbiorn insisted on going all the same, Erling gave him the advice that he should pretend to be purchasing grain on behalf of Erlings own slaves. A previous passage explains how these slaves came to have money, from their "overtime" efforts in their own fields. Technically this would get around King Olafs orders, which were only addressed to free farmers - there was no mention of slaves not being allowed to buy corn ! Unfortunately King Olafs men were not impressed by this bit of legal manoeuvring, and seized the food he managed to buy (as well as stealing the fittings from his ship). Asbiorn retaliated by slaying the official concerned a few weeks later, doing so in spectacular fashion at one of the kings feasts. Although his relations paid the required blood-price, and saved Asbiorn from execution, nonetheless Asbiorn was soon murdered by other royal officials, who (in very cowardly fashion) flung a spear at him as their boat passed his.
NASTY VIOLENT VIKING BEHAVIOUR
Yes, there was a peaceful side to the life of the ancient Norse people: farming, fishing, trading, and all that. But, just as it would be wrong to forget the normal everyday activities that filled up most of ordinary peoples lives, it would also be dishonest to pretend that there wasnt also a certain amount of rough justice, theft, and general mayhem ...... The Vikings did not get their reputation as fearsome warriors for nothing.
The murder of Asbiorn
One day, as Aasmund and his people were rowing through a sound, a cargo ship came sailing towards them. The ship was easily to identify, as it had high sides, was painted with white and red colours, and coloured cloth was woven in the sail. Carl said to Aasmund "you have often said that you were curious to see the man who killed the kings servant Thore Sel. If I know one ship from another, that is his ship which is coming sailing along now".
Aasmund replied "In that case, be so good as to tell me which is the man, when you see him".
As the ships came alongside each other, Carl said "It is the man in the blue cloak, at the steering-oar".
Aasmund replied "Then I shall make his blue cloak red". He threw his spear at Asbiorn; hit him in the middle of the body, and the spear went right through him, and stuck fast in the back-post of the ship.
Saint Olafs saga, chapter CXXXII
This was the start of a blood-feud between King Olaf Haraldson and Erlings family, which led to the murder of Erling (who had sided with King Cnut of England, and supported a foreign invasion of Norway in order to get rid of Olaf); the exile of King Olaf to Russia; and (when he returned from there to try to retake the throne) King Olafs own death at the Battle of Stiklestad.
Asbiorns uncle, Thore Hund, first got rid of the treacherous Carl (who was stupid enough to join him on an expedition to trade with the Finns living on the White Sea coast).
A trading expedition, which turned into a little bit of opportunist Viking plundering
In the winter (of 1026 AD) King Olaf Haraldson remained at Sarpsborg, with a great number of armed men. He sent Carl, the man from Halogaland, to the north country to carry out royal business... Carl reached Nidaros (Trondheim), and received in taxes a great deal of money, and also a good ship, which he thought suitable for the trading expedition that the king had ordered him to carry out. The kings orders were to proceed further north to Biarmeland, that is the coastal territory by the White Sea. It was settled that the king should be in partnership with Carl; and that each should have half the profit from this voyage. Early in the spring Carl made ready, and he was joined by his brother Gunstein, who had merchant goods of his own to trade. There were about 25 men in the ship, and they sailed north toward Finnmark.
When Thore Hund heard about this, he sent a man to the brothers with a message, saying that he already had plans of his own to go to Biarmeland that summer; and that it would be better for them to wait, and they should go together. Carl sent back a message that Thore should come, and that they would split the profits of any booty that was acquired equally between them, but not the profit from the merchant goods, that each man should trade for himself. He said also that Thore should bring no more than 25 men with him.
Immediately Thore fitted out a longship, and put on board 80 of his house-servants: he alone commanded this ship. When he was ready for sea, he set out and caught up with the brothers near Tromso. Gunstein said to his brother "I think we should turn back for home, rather than continue, since we are now wholly in his power" but Carl did not immediately agree, although he said "if I had known back home in Langö that he would bring such a large crew, I too would have brought more men".
When the brothers asked Thore Hund why he had brought so many men, he replied "we have a large ship which requires many hands; and besides I think we can never have too many men with us on such a dangerous voyage to strangers lands such as this". This seemed a sensible reply, so they sailed on......
When they reached Biarmeland, they went straight to the merchant town which stood at the mouth of the river Dvina, and the market began. All the crew who had money to pay soon got their chests full with goods. Thore himself got a number of grey pelts, and of beaver and sable skins. When the fair was over they went out of the Dvina river, and then the truce with the people of that country was also at an end.
When they came out of the river, they held a sailors council, and Thore Hund asked the crews of both ships if they would like to go back on shore, and get booty? They replied that they would like that well enough, if they could see the booty before their eyes. (i.e. at first they didnt really believe him that there was anything much worth stealing). Thore replied that there was indeed plenty of booty to be had, only that in all probability it might be dangerous to get hold of it. All said that they were willing to try.
Thore then explained that in Biarmeland it was the custom, whenever a man died, to divide his treasure between the dead man, and his living heirs. Sometimes the dead man got a third, sometimes even a half, of his own wealth, which was carried into the forest to a special place, and buried there: sometimes under a mound, sometimes just in the earth, sometimes even a small house was built over it. Thore told his men to get ready for this expedition at sun-down. They all agreed that no man should desert his comrades during this raid; but also that when their leader gave the word, nobody should delay from coming straight back on board the ships either.
When it was dark, they left some people to take care of the ships, and the rest went back on land. At first they found flat fields, but then in great forests. Thore commanded the men to keep as quiet as they could, and not talk among themselves. He said "let us cut off pieces of bark from the trees, so that they show up white in the dark, so we shall be able to find our way back" and this was done.
Then they came to a clearing in the forest, which was surrounded by a high fence. Six men of the country keep guard on this fence each night, two men keeping watch together, each for a third of the night. Thore and his men waited till the first pair went home and, before the next two arrived, moved forward. Thore reached up, and struck his axe into the fence, and pulled himself up level with the top, and so got over. So too did Carl, and together they went to the gate in the fence, removed the bar, and let in all the other men.
Then Thore said "inside this fence there is a big mound. In it is buried a lot of treasure, both gold and silver, although it is mixed up with earth: do your best to find as much of it as you can. But there is also the statue of the god of the Biarmeland people, Jomala. Nobody should take the risk of trying to touch that." So the men set to work gathering as much treasure as they could from the mound, and carrying it away in their clothes, although there was indeed much mud and earth stuck to it also. Then Thore said it was time to go.
When everyone was safely out of the enclosure, then Thore went back inside the fence to Jomala. In front of the statue there was a silver bowl, full of silver coins. Thore put the coins in his purse, and also took up the bowl by the handle, and prepared to leave. But when Carl saw Thore had gone back inside, he went back too, and went up to the statue of Jomala. He saw that around Jomalas neck was hung a great thick gold ornament. Carl raised his axe and struck the cord which was holding the ornament, and cut it: but the force of the blow was so great that the head of Jomala rang with a great sound. They were all astonished.
At that moment the watchmen were approaching, and heard the sound, and blew their horns. Soon the sound of the Lur trumpet was heard in the forest, calling all the people of Biarmeland together. The sailors made their way back as quickly as they could, for on all sides it seemed they could hear the sound of the local people coming to hunt them down. Thore Hund was last, and with him two men with a great sack, which was full of something like ashes, which they spread behind them upon the footpath, so that the Biarmeland people were not able to follow them closely (the saga suggests this was magic sorcery, but a more practical explanation is that ashes might well put tracker-dogs off the scent......) Thus they came at last to the edge of the woods, and to the open fields, with the incessant sounds in the dark of the Biarmeland people pursuing them with shouts and dreadful yells.
As soon as Carl and his men were on board, they took down their tents, hoisted their sails, and went in all haste out to sea. Thore and his people, however, did not get away so quickly, as their ship was heavier to handle, and by the time they put to sea Carls ship was far off.
Saint Olafs saga, chapter CXLIII
... and revenge
Several days later Thore caught up with the brothers, when their ship was anchored off a small island
Now Thore came up, and lay at anchor there also. Thore and his men put out a boat, and rowed to Carls ship, and asked to come aboard. Thore told Carl to give him the gold ornament. "I think" he said "that I have best earned any ornaments taken on this voyage, and you have me to thank that we escaped without losing any men. I also think that you, Carl, gave us all the greatest fright." But Carl replied "King Olaf is meant to have half the goods I gather on this voyage, and I intend him to have this ornament. You can go and ask him afterwards, and maybe he will give it to you, although it was I who took it from Jomala". Thore insisted that they should land on the island, and divide out all the booty, but the brothers refused. Gunstein said "it is now the turn of the tide, and time to go".
The two ships sailed on, until they came to the Northern frontiers of Norway. Thore saw that the brothers intended to carry on until they came to territory controlled by their friends, or the king, and that they had no intention of splitting the booty as agreed (though it does seem a bit odd that his men did not already have more than half the loot:. perhaps the gold ornament was particularly valuable?; or maybe he just wanted a fight anyway......)
Thus they came to Geirsvar, which is the first roadstead of the North. They came toward evening, and lay in the harbour near the landing place. When Thore had set up his tents, he went ashore, and many of his men with him. They went to Carls ship. Thore called out, and told the commanders to come on land, at which the two brothers, and some of their men, did so. Now Thore began the same argument as before, and insisted that they should bring the goods on shore, and divide them up equally. The brothers replied that they should wait until they got home.
Then Thore turned and walked away. However he then came back, and said to Carl that the two of them should go and have a talk in private. When Carl came with him, and was a little distance from the other men, suddenly Thore turned to him and shouted "There.... I thought you should feel Asbiorns spear !". Carl died instantly.
When Gunstein and his men saw what had happened, they took up Carls body, carried it on board their ship, took down their tents, and cast off from the pier. When Thore and his men saw this, they tried to do the same. But as they were hoisting the sail, the fastenings to the mast broke, and the yard-arm fell down across the ship, which caused a great deal of delay before they could raise the sail again. By which time, Gunstein had already got a long way ahead.
Saint Olafs saga, chapter CXLIII
The martyrdom of a Christian king..... and some very bad jokes
Thore Hund carried on his trading career, including making a visit to Lappland, where he purchased a dozen very thick coats made out of reindeer skin. Then later, when Olaf Haraldson came back from Russia, Thore Hund commanded the centre of the farmers army at Stiklestad. He and eleven of his men wore the reindeer coats as a kind of armour - and very effective it turned out to be, so much so that the superstitious people of the time thought that witchcraft must have been used. Thore killed the royal marshal Biorn, before running the king through the stomach with his spear - apparently still the same one recovered from Asbiorns body.
Note that in this passage two brothers - Kalf and Finn Arneson - are mentioned, but fighting on opposite sides in the battle. Kalf was the senior general elected to have overall command of the anti-royalist Bonder (Farmers) army.
Then the Bonder-army pushed in from all sides. They who stood in front struck with their swords; they who stood next to them thrust with their spears; and they who stood in the rear ranks shot arrows from their bows, threw spears, or hurled stones, hand-axes and sharpened stakes. Soon there was a great fall of men in the battle, on both sides......
Now the ranks in front of the kings banner began to be thinned, and the king ordered Thord to carry the royal banner forward, and the king himself followed it with the company of men he had specially chosen to stand next to him in battle; and these were the best equipped men on the field, and the most expert in the use of their weapons.....
On one side of Kalf Arneson stood Thore Hund. King Olaf slashed at Thore Hund, and struck him across the shoulder: but the sword would not cut, and it was as if dust flew off his reindeer-skin coat. So says Sigvat the Poet:
"The King himself now proved the power
Of Finnish folks craft in magics hour,
With magic song; for stroke of steel
Thores reindeer coat would never feel......."
Thore struck back at the king, and they exchanged some blows; but the kings sword would not cut where it met the reindeer skin, although Thore was wounded on the hands.
Then the king said to Biorn the royal marshal "Kill this dog, which my steel cannot bite" (for the name Hund means "dog"). Biorn turned round the axe he held in his hands, and with the blunt end gave Thore such a blow that he almost fell over backwards. Meanwhile the king turned to Kalf Arnesons relation Olaf, and gave him the death-wound. Yet Thore Hund then stuck his spear right through the body of marshal Biorn, killing him outright. Thore then remarked "it is thus that we hunt the bear" (for the name Biorn means "bear").
Thorstein Knaresmed, the ship-builder, then struck at King Olaf with his axe, and the blow hit the kings left leg above the knee. Finn Arneson then instantly killed Thorstein. After his wound, the king staggered towards a large stone, dropped his sword, and prayed to God to help him.
Thore Hund struck at him with his spear, and the stroke went in under his mail-coat, and into his belly. Then Kalf Arneson struck at him on the left side of the neck..... These three wounds were the death of King Olaf.
Saint Olafs saga, chapters CCXXXVIII and CCXL
THE OLD RELIGION
In the old days, people felt much closer to the supernatural world than we do today. They lived surrounded by nature, with no machinery, electric light, or central heating to make their lives easier. They were not at all confident of living to reach a comfortable retirement in old age: accidents, disease, famine or warfare could cut short their lives at very short notice.
The religion that the Norse people developed (which was shared by their English and German cousins) sought to identify powerful beings, to whom people could pray for help in the things that mattered most in their daily lives. Although most people nowadays have heard of Thor and of Óðin, there were a great many other gods (Æsir) and powerful spirits (Vanir) as well. Ordinary people would have probably spent far more time praying to Niord and his children than to gods who interested themselves mostly in fighting and death - although there was a oddly warlike streak to the goddess of love too !
After Óðin and Thor, the third most important of the gods in heaven is Niord. He lives in a place called Noatun. He rules over the motion of the wind, and moderates sea and fire. It is to him that one must pray for voyages and fishing. He is so rich and wealthy that he can grant wealth of lands or possessions to those who pray to him for this.
Niord is not of the race of the Æsir gods. He was brought up in the land of the Vanir, but the Vanir gave him as hostage to the gods, and took in return the god called Hænir. He became a pledge of the truce between the gods and the Vanir.
Niord had afterwards two children. The son was called Freyr and the daughter Freyia. They were beautiful in appearance, and mighty.
Freyr is the most glorious of all the Æsir gods. He is ruler of rain and sunshine, and thus of the produce of the Earth, and it is good to pray to him for prosperity and peace. He also rules over the wealth of men.
Freyia is the most glorious of all the As goddesses. She has a dwelling-place in heaven which is called Folkvangar, and whenever she rides to a battle-field she gets half of all the dead warriors, and the other half goes to Óðin, as the poets have sung:
"There is a place called Folkvang, and there Freyia is in charge of allotting the seats in the hall,
Half the slain she chooses each day, and the remaining half go to Óðin"
Her hall is large and beautiful. When she travels, she sits in a chariot, which is pulled by two lynx cats. She is the most approachable of the gods to pray to, and from her name is derived the complimentary title for noble ladies, who are called "frovur" after her name. She is very fond of love songs. It is good to pray to her concerning love affairs.
From Gylfaginning (the tricking of King Gylfi)
Why might the Icelanders and Greenlanders have prayed often to Niord? (voyages; fishing; volcanoes)
In English, which day of the week is still named after the god of rain and sunshine? (Friday)
Are any other days also named after Norse gods? ( Tuesday = Tyrs day, Wednesday = Wóðin, Thursday = Thor)
THE PROBLEM OF CHRISTIANITY
When Christianity first came to Scandinavia, it took a long time (and a lot of fighting) before the whole population would accept it. There was a similar struggle for many years when missionaries tried to bring Christianity to the islands which had been settled by Norsemen.
The old religion had suited many people very well, and they could not see why they should have to abandon it. Also it has to be admitted that some of the men trying to introduce the new faith were not exactly very good examples of the values of faith, hope, and charity which they claimed to represent. In fact, nowadays most of them would be serving very long prison sentences indeed, for a variety of crimes including murder, torture, arson, and theft.
Fortunately, modern Scandinavians need not feel guilty about this. Their ancestors were not really to blame - most of the priests who they learnt this bad Christianity from were English !
Olaf Trygvesson, the first King to try to convert Norway
Early in the spring (of 998 AD) King Olaf went westwards to Kastelgaarden on the river Gotha, and met Queen Sigrid of Sweden. The matter they discussed was the same as that which they had been exchanging letters about over the winter, namely the terms of their proposed marriage; and it seemed likely that the business would be concluded successfully. But when Olaf insisted that Sigrid should let herself be baptised, she answered: "I must not part from the faith which I have held, and all my forefathers before me; but, on the other hand, I should make no objection to your believing in whichever god pleases you best". Then King Olaf Trygvesson went into a rage, and answered with passion "why should I care about you? you are nothing but a worn-out, old, heathen woman !" With these words he hit her across the face with the glove he had in his hand, got up, and left. The queen said "one day this may be the cause of your death".
Olaf Trygvessons saga, chapter LXVIII
When King Olaf Trygvesson had been two years king of Norway (997 AD), there was a Saxon priest in his house who was called Thangbrand, a passionate, ungovernable man, and a great slayer of men; but he was a good scholar, and a clever man. The king would not have him in his house, on account of his misdeeds; but gave him the errand of going to Iceland, to bring that country to the Christian faith. The king gave him a merchant ship, as far as we know of this voyage of his, he landed first in Iceland at Ostfjord, and passed the winter in the home of Hall of Sida.
Thangbrand proclaimed Christianity in Iceland, and at his persuasion Hall and all the people of his house allowed themselves to be baptised, as did many other chiefs. But there were many more who spoke against it. Thorvald Veile and Veterlide the Poet composed a satirical song about Thangbrand: but he killed them both outright. Thangbrand was two years in Iceland, and was the death of three men before he left there.
Olaf Trygvessons saga, chapter LXXX
Then the king proceeded to Tunsberg, and held a Thing-meeting, at which he declared in a speech that all men who were known to have had dealings with evil spirits, or to have practised witchcraft, or sorcery, should be banished from the kingdom. Next the king ordered the whole countryside around to be searched, and all people suspected of such activities to be brought to him. One of those who was brought before him at the Thing was Eyvind Kellda, grandson of Ragnvald the wizard. Eyvind was a sorcerer, and particularly knowledgeable in witchcraft.
The king let all these men be seated in one room, which was well decorated, and made a great feast for them, and gave them lots of strong alcoholic drink. When they were all very drunk, he ordered the house to be set on fire, and it and all the people inside to be burnt up with fire. Eyvind Kellda managed to escape through the smoke-hole in the roof. When he was some distance away, he met some people on their way to the Thing. He told them to pass on the message to the king that he, Eyvind Kellda, had escaped from the death by fire which the king had planned for him; and that he intended never again to fall into the kings power; but to continue his witchcraft just as before. When the people came to the Thing, and told the king this news, he was very displeased that Eyvind had escaped death.
Olaf Trygvessons saga, chapter LXIX
After this episode, the king seems to have developed something of a grudge against anyone called Eyvind.
When Harek of Thiotto and Eyvind Kinnrif had spoken together only for a short time, King Olafs men, who had secretly followed Harek up to the north, came and took Eyvind prisoner, and carried him away to their ship. They sailed away, until they presented themselves to the king at Nidaros (Trondheim). Then Eyvind Kinnrif was brought before the king, and asked if he would allow himself to be baptised, as the other people had done. But Eyvind answered very firmly that he would not. The king then still tried, with persuasive words, to get him to accept Christianity; and both the king and the bishop used many suitable arguments; but yet Eyvind would not change his mind. The king offered him gifts and great estates of land, but Eyvind refused everything. Then the king threatened him with torture and death, but still Eyvind was steadfast. Then the king ordered that a pan of glowing embers from the fire should be placed on Eyvinds belly, which burst apart with the heat. Eyvind cried out "take away the pan, and I shall say something before I die". They did so, and the king said "Eyvind, will you now finally believe in Christ?" Eyvind replied "no...."
Olaf Trygvessons saga, chapter LXXXIII
Olaf Haraldson, King and (eventually) patron saint of Norway
King Olaf Haraldson built a royal house in Nidaros (Trondheim), and in it was a large room for his court, with doors at both ends. The kings seat was in the middle of the room, and with him sat his court-bishop, Grimkel, and next to him other priests; next to them councillors; and in the other high seat opposite the kings own sat Biorn the Marshall, with his constables. When anyone of importance came to visit, they too had a seat of honour brought out for them.
King Olaf had sixty free-men in his household troop of "court-men", and also thirty constables as mentioned above: to all these men he gave pay, and governed them by certain regulations. He had also thirty house-servants to do the necessary work about the house, and to get whatever provisions were needed. Besides this, he had a great many slaves. Around the house there were a great many out-buildings, in which the "court-men" slept.....
King Olaf was a good and very gentle man, of little speech, and open-handed, although he was also greedy of money.
Saint Olafs saga chapter LV
The same winter (1016 AD) messengers came into the Southern part of Norway from Olaf, King of Sweden: their leaders were two brothers, Thorgaut Skarde, and Asgaut the bailiff...... When they came over the mountains, and arrived in Værdal, they summoned a Thing-meeting of all the local farmers, and demanded the taxes which they said were owed to the King of Sweden (for this land had been counted as part of the Kingdom of the Swedes).
But the farmers, after consulting with each other, said that they would only pay taxes to the King of Sweden, if King Olaf Haraldson of Norway did not also claim the same taxes for himself. They declared that they were not happy to pay the same taxes twice over, to both kings. The messengers proceeded down the valley, and everywhere they called Things, but received the same answer.......
When King Olaf Haraldson came to the knowledge of this, he sent his constables out after the Swedish kings messengers, who found them at the town of Stein. They tied their hands behind their backs, and led them down to the headland which is called Gaularass, where they raised a gallows, and hanged them so they could be seen by all those who travelled the usual way by sea out of the fjord.
Saint Olafs saga chapter LVII
Olaf Haraldson rigged out five ships in the spring (of 1020 AD), and had with him about 300 men. When he was ready for sea he set out northwards along the coast; and when he came to the district of Naumedal he summoned the farmers at each place to a Thing-meeting. At every Thing he was accepted as king. He also made laws to be read there as elsewhere, by which the people were commanded to observe Christianity; and he threatened every man with loss of life, limbs, and property, who would not subject himself to Christian law. He inflicted severe punishments on many men, great as well as small, and left no district until the people had consented to adopt the holy faith.
Saint Olafs saga chapter CXI
In the same autumn the news was brought to King Olaf that the farmers of Drontheim had held a great feast on the first winter-days eve, at which there was a numerous attendance and much drinking; and it was told to the king that all the remembrance-cups to the Æsir, or old gods, were blessed according to the old heathen customs. It was added that cattle and horses had been killed, and the altars sprinkled with their blood, and the sacrifices accompanied with the prayer that was made to obtain good seasons.
Now when the king heard this news, he sent some of his men into the Drontheim district and ordered several farmers, whose names he gave, to come and appear before him. Among them was a man called Olve of Egge, who was their head-man in the district. When these bonders (farmers) had come before the king, he put to them these accusations: to which Olve replied, on their behalf, that they had held no other feasts that harvest-time except their usual entertainments at that time of year, and social meetings, and friendly drinking parties. "But as to what you may have been told of the words which fell from the lips by certain Drontheim folk at these parties" Olve continued "please understand that men of any good understanding would take care not to use such language. But I cannot stop the talk of foolish or drunken people". Olve was a man of clever speech, and thus succeeded in defending his people for the moment against such accusations.
Saint Olafs saga chapter CXIII - IV
Sigvat the Poet visited King Olafs house, together with several other Icelandic men. The king asked particularly how Christianity was observed in Iceland?; and it appeared to him to be very far from what things ought to be. For, as to observing Christian practices, it was told to the king that it was still permitted to eat horse-flesh; and to leave weak or crippled babies outside to die in the cold, as heathens do; besides many other things contrary to Christianity. They also told the King about the principal men who were then important in Iceland. Skopte Thoraddson was then Law Speaker of the country.
The King enquired also of other lands. His enquiries turned principally on how Christianity was observed in the Orkneys, the Shetlands, and in the Faroe Islands: and, as far as he could learn, it was far from being as he would have wished it.
Saint Olafs saga, chapter LVI
Can you describe Santa Claus? (beard; fur cloak; has a vehicle which can fly through the air; visits at mid-winter)
If the real-life St. Nicholas was a Greek bishop from what is now southern Turkey, a very hot country, whose feast-day is celebrated at the beginning of December and not at the end, and who traditionally visits by boat, do you think Santa Claus is based upon him? (unlikely)
The god Thor had a chariot which could fly through the air, pulled by two magical goats. He also had a big beard. He was also supposed to visit people at Yule-time, and reward anyone who had been good. Do you think that Santa Claus has anything to do with him? (what do you think?).
Why does Santa Claus nowadays have a red coat, with white fur? (because he first became known world-wide when he featured in an advertising campaign for the Coca-Cola company in the 1930s. Red and white are the colours used by the Coca-Cola Corporation.)
Deyr fé, deyja frændra,
deyr sjálfr it sama;
ek veit einn at aldri deyr
dómr of dauðan hvern