Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert




NOTE:  The PROLOGUE CHAPTERS are Optional Reading, as they cover The Nine Books of Danish History up to King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ whose Saga starts in Book Nine.  Please feel free to jump directly to Chapter One and the Start of the Saga if you are not interested in the Earlier History.


King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’s Third Wife Princess Aslaug (Kraka)


PROLOGUE  (From The Nine Books of Danish History by Saxo Grammaticus):





(Circa 700 AD)  Starkad was the first to set in order in Danish speech the history of the Swedish war, a conflict whereof he was himself a mighty pillar; the said history being rather an oral than a written tradition.  He set forth and arranged the course of this war in the mother tongue according to the fashion of our country; but it is presently being put into Latin, and shall only recount the most illustrious princes on either side.  For there is no desire to include the multitude, which are even past exact numbering.  And the pen shall relate first those on the side of Harald, and then those who served under Ring.

Now the most famous of the captains that mustered to Harald are acknowledged to have been Sweyn and Sambar (Sam?), Ambar and Elli; Rati of Funen, Salgard and Roe (Hrothgar), whom his long beard distinguished by a nickname.  Besides these, Skalk the Scanian, and Alf the son of Agg; to whom are joined Olwir the Broad, and Gnepie the Old.  Besides these there was Gardh, founder of the town Stang.  To these are added the kinsfolk or bound followers of Harald: Blend (Blaeng?), the dweller in furthest Thule, and Brand, whose surname was Crumb (Bitling?).  Allied with these were Thorguy, with Thorwig, Tatar (Teit), and Hialte.  These men voyaged to Leire with bodies armed for war; but they were also mighty in excellence of wit, and their trained courage matched their great stature; for they had skill in discharging arrows both from bow and catapult, and at fighting their foe as they commonly did, man to man; and also at readily stringing together verse in the speech of their country: so zealously had they trained mind and body alike.  Now out of Leire came Hortar (Hjort) and Borrhy (Borgar or Borgny), and also Belgi and Beigad, to whom were added Bari and Toli.  Now out of the town of Sle, under the captains Hetha (Heid) and Wisna, with Hakon Cut-cheek came Tummi the Sailmaker.  On these captains, who had the bodies of women, nature bestowed the souls of men.  Webiorg was also inspired with the same spirit, and was attended by Bo (Bui) Bramason and Brat the Jute, thirsting for war.  In the same throng came Orm of England, Ubbe the Frisian, Ari the One-eyed, and Alf Gotar.  Next in the count came Dal the Fat and Duk the Sclav; Wisna, a woman, filled with sternness, and a skilled warrior, was guarded by a band of Sclavs: her chief followers were Barri and Gnizli.  But the rest of the same company had their bodies covered by little shields, and used very long swords and targets of sky blue hue, which, in time of war, they either cast behind their backs or gave over to the baggage-bearers; while they cast away all protection to their breasts, and exposed their bodies to every peril, offering battle with drawn swords.  The most illustrious of these were Tolkar and Ymi.  After these, Toki of the province of Wohin was conspicuous together with Otrit surnamed the Young.  Hetha, guarded by a retinue of very active men, brought an armed company to the war, the chiefs of whom were Grim and Grenzli; next to whom are named Geir the Livonian, Hame also and Hunger, Humbli and Biari, bravest of the princes.  These men often fought duels successfully, and won famous victories far and wide.

The maidens I have named, in fighting as well as courteous array, led their land-forces to the battlefield.  Thus the Danish army mustered company by company.  There were seven kings, equal in spirit but differing in allegiance, some defending Harald, and some Ring.  Moreover, the following went to the side of Harald: Homi and Hosathul (Eysothul?), Him…., Hastin and Hythin (Hedin) the Slight, also Dahar (Dag), named Grenski, and Harald Olafsson also.  From the province of Aland came Har and Herlewar (Herleif), with Hothbrodd, surnamed the Furious; these fought in the Danish camp.  But from Imisland arrived Humnehy (?) and Harald.  They were joined by Haki and by Sigmund and Serker the sons of Bemon, all coming from the North.  All these were retainers of the king, who befriended them most generously, for they were held in the highest distinction by him, receiving swords adorned with gold, and the choicest spoils of war.  There came also the sons of Gandal the old, who were in the intimate favour of Harald by reason of ancient allegiance.  Thus the sea was studded with the Danish fleet, and seemed to interpose a bridge, uniting Zealand to Skane.  To those that wished to pass between those provinces, the sea offered a short road on foot over the dense mass of ships.  But Harald would not have the Swedes unprepared in their arrangements for war, and sent men to Ring to carry his public declaration of hostilities, and notify the rupture of the mediating peace.  The same men were directed to prescribe the place of combat.  These then named were the fighters for Harald.

Now, on the side of Ring were numbered Ulf, Aggi (Aki?), Windar (Eywind?), Egil the One-eyed; Gotar, Hildi, Guti Alfsson; Styr the Stout, and (Tolo-) Stein, who lived by the Wienic Mere.  To these were joined Gerd the Glad and Gromer (Glum?) from Wermland.  After these are reckoned the dwellers north on the Elbe, Saxo the Splitter, Sali the Goth; Thord the Stumbler, Throndar Big-nose; Grundi, Oddi, Grindir, Tovi; Koll, Biarki, Hogni the Clever, Rokar the Swart.  Now these scorned fellowship with the common soldiers, and had formed themselves into a separate rank apart from the rest of the company.  Besides these are numbered Hrani Hildisson and Lyuth Guthi (Hljot Godi), Svein the Topshorn, (Soknarsoti?), Rethyr (Hreidar?) Hawk, and Rolf the Uxorious (Woman-lover).  Massed with these were Ring Adilsson and Harald who came from Thotn district.  Joined to these were Walstein of Wick, Thorolf the Thick, Thengel the Tall, Hun, Solwe, Birwil the Pale, Borgar and Skumbar (Skum).  But from, Tellemark came the bravest of all, who had most courage but least arrogance—Thorleif the Stubborn, Thorkill the Gute (Gothlander), Grettir the Wicked and the Lover of Invasions.  Next to these came Hadd the Hard and Rolder (Hroald) Toe-joint.

From Norway we have the names of Thrand of Throndhjem, Thoke (Thore) of More, Hrafn the White, Haf (war), Biarni, Blihar (Blig?) surnamed Snub-nosed; Biorn from the district of Sogni; Findar (Finn) born in the Firth; Bersi born in the town F(I)alu; Siward Boarhead, Erik the Storyteller, Holmstein the White, Hrut Rawi (or Vafi, the Doubter), Erling surnamed Snake.  Now from the province of Jather came Odd the Englishman, Alf the Far-wanderer, Enar the Paunched, and Ywar surnamed Thriug.  Now from Thule (Iceland) came Mar the Red, born and bred in the district called Midfirth, Grombar the Aged, Gram Brundeluk (Bryndalk?) Grim from the town of Skier (um) born in Skagafiord.  Next came Berg the Seer, accompanied by Bragi and Rafnkel.

Now the bravest of the Swedes were these: Arwakki, Keklu-Karl (Kelke-Karl), Krok the Peasant, (from Akr), Gudfast and Gummi from Gislamark.  These were kindred of the god Frey, and most faithful witnesses to the gods.  Ingi (Yngwe) also, and Oly, Alver, Folki, all sons of Elrik (Alrek), embraced the service of Ring; they were men ready of hand, quick in counsel, and very close friends of Ring.  They likewise held the god Frey to be the founder of their race.  Amongst these from the town of Sigtuna also came Sigmund, a champion advocate, versed in making contracts of sale and purchase; besides him Frosti surnamed Bowl, allied with him was Alf the Lofty (Proud?) from the district of Uppsala; this man was a swift spear-thrower, and used to go in the front of the battle.

Ole had a bodyguard in which were seven kings, very ready of hand and of counsel; namely, Holti, Hendil, Holmar, Lewy (Leif), and Hame; with these was enrolled Regnald the Russian, the grandson of Radbard; and Siwald also furrowed the sea with eleven light ships.  Lesy (Laesi), the conqueror of the Pannonians (Huns), fitted with a sail his swift galley ringed with gold.  Thririkar (Erik Helsing) sailed in a ship whose prows were twisted like a dragon.  Also Thrygir (Tryggve) and Torwil sailed and brought twelve ships jointly.  In the entire fleet of Ring there were 2,500 ships.

The fleet of Gotland was waiting for the Swedish fleet in the harbour named Garnum.  So Ring led the land-force, while Ole was instructed to command the fleet.  Now the Goths were appointed a time and a place between Wik and Werund for the conflict with the Swedes.  Then was the sea to be seen furrowed up with prows, and the canvas unfurled upon the masts cut off the view over the ocean.  The Danes had so far been distressed with bad weather; but the Swedish fleet had a fair voyage, and had reached the scene of battle earlier.  Here Ring disembarked his forces from his fleet, and then massed and prepared to draw up in line both these and the army he had himself conducted overland.  When these forces were at first loosely drawn up over the open country, it was found that one wing reached all the way to Werund.  The multitude was confused in its places and ranks; but the king rode round it, and posted in the van all the smartest and most excellently armed men, led by Ole, Regnald, and Wivil; then he massed the rest of the army on the two wings in a kind of curve.  Ung, with the sons of Alrek, and Trig, he ordered to protect the right wing, while the left was put under the command of Laesi.  Moreover, the wings and the masses were composed mainly of a close squadron of Kurlanders and of Esthonians.  Last stood the line of slingers.

Meantime the Danish fleet, favoured by kindly winds, sailed, without stopping, for twelve days, and came to the town (stead) of Kalmar.  The wind-blown sails covering the waters were a marvel; and the canvas stretched upon the yards blotted out the sight of the heavens.  For the fleet was augmented by the Sclavs and the Livonians and 7,000 Saxons.  But the Skanians, knowing the country, were appointed as guides and scouts to those who were going over the dry land.  So when the Danish army came upon the Swedes, who stood awaiting them, Ring told his men to stand quietly until Harald had drawn up his line of battle; bidding them not to sound the signal before they saw the king settled in his chariot beside the standards, for he said he should hope that an army would soon come to grief which trusted in the leading of a blind man.  Harald, moreover, he said, had been seized in extreme age with the desire of foreign empire, and was as witless as he was sightless; wealth could not satisfy a man who, if he looked to his years, ought to be well-nigh contented with a grave.  The Swedes therefore were bound to fight for their freedom, their country, and their children, while the enemy had undertaken the war in rashness and arrogance.  Moreover, on the other side, there were very few Danes, but a mass of Saxons and other unmanly peoples stood arrayed.  Swedes and Norwegians should therefore consider, how far the multitudes of the North had always surpassed the Germans and the Sclavs.  They should therefore despise an army which seemed to be composed more of a mass of fickle offscourings than of a firm and stout soldiery.

By this harangue of King Ring he kindled high the hearts of the soldiers.  Now Brun, being instructed to form the line on Harald’s behalf, made the front in a wedge, posting Hetha on the right flank, putting Hakon in command of the left, and making Wisna standard-bearer.  Harald stood up in his chariot and complained, in as loud a voice as he could, that Ring was requiting his benefits with wrongs; that the man who had got his kingdom by Harald’s own gift was now attacking him; so that Ring neither pitied an old man nor spared an uncle, but set his own ambitions before any regard for Harald’s kinship or kindness.  So he bade the Danes remember how they had always won glory by foreign conquest, and how they were more wont to command their neighbours than to obey them.  He adjured them not to let such glory as theirs to be shaken by the insolence of a conquered nation, nor to suffer the empire, which he had won in the flower of his youth, to be taken from him in his outworn age.

Then the trumpets sounded, and both sides engaged in battle with all their strength.  The sky seemed to fall suddenly on the earth, fields and woods to sink into the ground; all things were confounded, and old Chaos come again, heaven and earth mingling in one tempestuous turmoil, and the world rushing to universal ruin.  For, when the spear throwing began, the intolerable clash of arms filled the air with an incredible thunder.  The steam of the wounds suddenly hung a mist over the sky, the daylight was hidden under the hail of spears.  The help of the slingers was of great use in the battle.  But when the missiles had all been flung from hand or engines, they fought with swords or iron-shod maces, and it was now at close quarters that most blood was spilt.  Then the sweat streamed down their weary bodies, and the clash of the swords could be heard afar.

Starkad, who was the first to set forth the history of this war in the telling, fought foremost in the fray, and relates that he overthrew the nobles of Harald, Hun and Elli, Hort and Burgha, and cut off the right hand of Wisna. He also relates that one Roa, with two others, Gnepie and Gardar, fell wounded by him in the field.  To these he adds the father of Skalk, whose name is not given.  He also declares that he cast Hakon, the bravest of the Danes, to the earth, but received from him such a wound in return that he had to leave the war with his lung protruding from his chest, his neck cleft to the centre, and his hand deprived of one finger; so that he long had a gaping wound, which seemed as if it would never either scar over or be curable.  The same man witnesses that the maiden Weghbiorg (Webiorg) fought against the enemy and felled Soth the champion.  While she was threatening to slay more champions, she was pierced through by an arrow from the bowstring of Thorkill, a native of Tellemark.  For the skilled archers of the Gotlanders strung their bows so hard that the shafts pierced through even the shields; nothing proved more murderous; for the arrow-points made their way through hauberk and helmet as if they were men’s defenceless bodies.

Meanwhile Ubbe the Frisian, who was the readiest of Harald’s soldiers, and of notable bodily stature, slew twenty-five picked champions, besides eleven whom he had wounded in the field.  All these were of Swedish or Gothic blood.  Then he attacked the vanguard and burst into the thickest of the enemy, driving the Swedes struggling in a panic every way with spear and sword.  It had all but come to a flight, when Hagder (Hadd), Rolder (Hroald), and Grettir attacked the champion, emulating his valour, and resolving at their own risk to retrieve the general ruin.  But, fearing to assault him at close quarters, they accomplished their end with arrows from afar; and thus Ubbe was riddled by a shower of arrows, no one daring to fight him hand to hand.  A hundred and forty-four arrows had pierced the breast of the warrior before his bodily strength failed and he bent his knee to the earth.  Then at last the Danes suffered a great defeat, owing to the Thronds and the dwellers in the province of Dala.  For the battle began afresh by reason of the vast mass of the archers, and nothing damaged our men more.

But when Harald, being now blind with age, heard the lamentable murmur of his men, he perceived that fortune had smiled on his enemies.  So, as he was riding in a chariot armed with scythes, he told Brun, who was treacherously acting as charioteer, to find out in what manner Ring had his line drawn up. Brun’s face relaxed into something of a smile, and he answered that he was fighting with a line in the form of a wedge.  When the king heard this he began to be alarmed, and to ask in great astonishment from whom Ring could have learnt this method of disposing his line, especially as Odin was the discoverer and imparter of this teaching, and none but himself had ever learnt from him this new pattern of warfare.  At this Brun was silent, and it came into the king’s mind that here was Odin, and that the god whom he had once known so well was now disguised in a changling shape, in order either to give help or withhold it.  Presently he began to beseech him earnestly to grant the final victory to the Danes, since he had helped them so graciously before, and to fill up his last kindness to the measure of the first; promising to dedicate to him as a gift the spirits of all who fell.  But Brun, utterly unmoved by his entreaties, suddenly jerked the king out of the chariot, battered him to the earth, plucked the club from him as he fell, whirled it upon his head, and slew him with his own weapon.  Countless corpses lay round the king’s chariot, and the horrid heap overtopped the wheels; the pile of carcases rose as high as the pole.  For about 12,000 of the nobles of Ring fell upon the field.  But on the side of Harald about 30,000 nobles fell, not to name the slaughter of the commons.

When Ring heard that Harald was dead, he gave the signal to his men to break up their line and cease fighting.  Then under cover of truce he made treaty with the enemy, telling them that it was vain to prolong the fray without their captain.  Next he told the Swedes to look everywhere among the confused piles of carcases for the body of Harald, that the corpse of the king might not wrongfully lack its due rights.  So the populace set eagerly to the task of turning over the bodies of the slain, and over this work half the day was spent.  At last the body was found with the club, and he thought that propitiation should be made to the shade of Harald.  So he harnessed the horse on which he rode to the chariot of the king, decked it honourably with a golden saddle, and hallowed it in his honour.  Then he proclaimed his vows, and added his prayer that Harald would ride on this and outstrip those who shared his death in their journey to Tartarus; and that he would pray Pluto, the lord of Orcus, to grant a calm abode there for friend and foe.  Then he raised a pyre, and bade the Danes fling on the gilded chariot of their king as fuel to the fire.  And while the flames were burning the body cast upon them, he went round the mourning nobles and earnestly charged them that they should freely give arms, gold, and every precious thing to feed the pyre in honour of so great a king, who had deserved so nobly of them all.  He also ordered that the ashes of his body, when it was quite burnt, should be transferred to an urn, taken to Leire, and there, together with the horse and armour, receive a royal funeral.  By paying these due rites of honour to his uncle’s shade, he won the favour of the Danes, and turned the hate of his enemies into goodwill.  Then the Danes besought him to appoint Hetha over the remainder of the realm; but, that the fallen strength of the enemy might not suddenly rally, he severed Skane from the mass of Denmark, and put it separately under the governorship of Ole, ordering that only Zealand and the other lands of the realm should be subject to Hetha.  Thus the changes of fortune brought the empire of Denmark under the Swedish rule.  So ended the Bravic War.

But the Zealanders, who had had Harald for their captain, and still had the picture of their former fortune hovering before their minds, thought it shameful to obey the rule of a woman, and appealed to Ole not to suffer men that had been used to serve under a famous king to be kept under a woman’s yoke.  They also promised to revolt to him if he would take up arms to remove their ignominious lot.  Ole, tempted as much by the memory of his ancestral glory as by the homage of the soldiers, was not slow to answer their entreaties.  So he summoned Hetha, and forced her by threats rather than by arms to quit every region under her control except Jutland; and even Jutland he made a tributary state, so as not to allow a woman the free control of a kingdom.  He also begot a son whom he named Omund.  But he was given to cruelty, and showed himself such an unrighteous king, that all who had found it a shameful thing to be ruled by a queen now repented of their former scorn.  Twelve generals, whether moved by the disasters of their country, or hating Ole for some other reason, began to plot against his life and paid the great warrior Starkad gold to kill him, which he did.

Now the Danes made the son of Ole, King Omund, thinking that more heed should be paid to his father’s birth than to his deserts.  Omund, when he had grown up, fell in nowise behind the exploits of his father; for he made it his aim to equal or surpass the deeds of Ole.

Now Omund, died most tranquilly, while peace was unbroken, leaving two sons and two daughters.  The eldest of these, King Siward, came to the throne by right of birth, while his brother Budle was still of tender years.

His son, Jarmerik (Eormunrec), later came to be king after many struggles.  He died in battle after losing both feet and both hands.

His son, King Broder, little fit for it, followed him as king.

Then next came King Siwald.  His son Snio took vigorously to roving in his father’s old age, and not only preserved the fortunes of his country, but even restored them, lessened as they were, to their former estate.  Likewise, when he came to the sovereignty, King Snio crushed the insolence of the champions Eskil and Alkil, and by this conquest reunited to his country Skane, which had been severed from the general jurisdiction of Denmark.  At last he conceived a passion for the daughter of the King of the Goths; it was returned, and he sent secret messengers to seek a chance of meeting her.  These men were intercepted by the father of the damsel and hanged: thus paying dearly for their rash mission.  Snio, wishing to avenge their death, invaded Gothland.  Its king met him with his forces, and the aforesaid champions challenged him to send strong men to fight.  Snio laid down as condition of the duel, that each of the two kings should either lose his own empire or gain that of the other, according to the fortune of the champions, and that the kingdom of the conquered should be staked as the prize of the victory.  The result was that the King of the Goths was beaten by reason of the ill-success of his defenders, and had to quit his kingdom for the Danes.  Snio, learning that this king’s daughter had been taken away at the insistence of her father to wed the King of the Swedes, sent a man clad in ragged attire, who used to ask alms on the public roads, to try her mind.  And while he lay, as beggars do, by the threshold, he chanced to see the queen, and whined in a weak voice, “Snio loves thee.”  She feigned not to have heard the sound that stole on her ears, and neither looked nor stepped back, but went on to the palace, then returned straightway, and said in a low whisper, which scarcely reached his ears, “I love him who loves me”; and having said this she walked away.

The beggar rejoiced that she had returned a word of love, and, as he sat on the next day at the gate, when the queen came up, he said, briefly as ever, “Wishes should have a tryst.”  Again she shrewdly caught his cunning speech, and passed on, dissembling wholly.  A little later she passed by her questioner, and said that she would shortly go to Bocheror; for this was the spot to which she meant to flee.  And when the beggar heard this, he insisted, with his wonted shrewd questions, upon being told a fitting time for the tryst.  The woman was as cunning as he, and as little clear of speech, and named as quickly as she could the beginning of the winter.

Her train, who had caught a flying word of this love-message, took her great cleverness for the raving of utter folly.  And when Snio had been told all this by the beggar, he contrived to carry the queen off in a vessel; for she got away under pretence of bathing, and took her husband’s treasures.  After this there were constant wars between Snio and the King of Sweden, whereof the issue was doubtful and the victory changeful; the one king seeking to regain his lawful, the other to keep his unlawful love.


At this time the yield of crops was ruined by most inclement weather, and a mighty dearth of corn befell.  Victuals began to be scarce, and the commons were distressed with famine, so that the king, anxiously pondering how to relieve the hardness of the times, and seeing that the thirsty spent somewhat more than the hungry, introduced thrift among the people.  He abolished drinking-bouts, and decreed that no drink should be prepared from grain, thinking that the bitter famine should be got rid of by prohibiting needless drinking, and that plentiful food could be levied as a loan on thirst.

Then a certain wanton slave of his belly, lamenting the prohibition against drink, adopted a deep kind of knavery, and found a new way to indulge his desires.  He broke the public law of temperance by his own excess, contriving to get at what he loved by a device both cunning and absurd.  For he sipped the forbidden liquor drop by drop, and so satisfied his longing to be tipsy.  When he was summoned for this by the king, he declared that there was no stricter observer of sobriety than he, inasmuch as he mortified his longing to quaff deep by this device for moderate drinking.  He persisted in the fault with which he was taxed, saying that he only sucked.  At last he was also menaced with threats, and forbidden not only to drink, but even to sip; yet he could not check his habits.  For in order to enjoy the unlawful thing in a lawful way, and not to have his throat subject to the command of another, he sopped morsels of bread in liquor, and fed on the pieces thus soaked with drink; tasting slowly, so as to prolong the desired debauch, and attaining, though in no unlawful manner, the forbidden measure of satiety.

Thus his stubborn and frantic intemperance risked his life, all for luxury; and, undeterred even by the threats of the king, he fortified his rash appetite to despise every peril.  A second time he was summoned by the king on the charge of disobeying his regulation.  Yet he did not even theft cease to defend his act, but maintained that he had in no wise contravened the royal decree, and that the temperance prescribed by the ordinance had been in no way violated by that which allured him; especially as the thrift ordered in the law of plain living was so described, that it was apparently forbidden to drink liquor, but not to eat it.  Then the king called heaven to witness, and swore by the general good, that if he ventured on any such thing hereafter he would punish him with death.  But the man thought that death was not so bad as temperance, and that it was easier to quit life than luxury; and he again boiled the grain in water, and then fermented the liquor; whereupon, despairing of any further plea to excuse his appetite, he openly indulged in drink, and turned to his cups again unabashed.  Giving up cunning for effrontery, he chose rather to await the punishment of the king than to turn sober.  Therefore, when the king asked him why he had so often made free to use the forbidden thing, he said:

“O king, this craving is begotten, not so much of my thirst, as of my goodwill towards thee!  For I remembered that the funeral rites of a king must be paid with a drinking-bout.  Therefore, led by good judgment more than the desire to swill, I have, by mixing the forbidden liquid, taken care that the feast whereat thy obsequies are performed should not, by reason of the scarcity of corn, lack the due and customary drinking.  Now I do not doubt that thou wilt perish of famine before the rest, and be the first to need a tomb; for thou hast passed this strange law of thrift in fear that thou wilt be thyself the first to lack food.  Thou art thinking for thyself, and not for others, when thou bringest thyself to start such strange miserly ways.”

This witty quibbling turned the anger of the king into shame; and when he saw that his ordinance for the general good came home in mockery to himself, he thought no more of the public profit, but revoked the edict, relaxing his purpose sooner than anger his subjects.

Whether it was that the soil had too little rain, or that it was too hard baked, the crops, as I have said, were slack, and the fields gave but little produce; so that the land lacked victual, and was worn with a weary famine.  The stock of food began to fail, and no help was left to stave off hunger.  Then, at the proposal of Agg and of Ebb, it was provided by a decree of the people that the old men and the tiny children should be slain; that all who were too young to bear arms should be taken out of the land, and only the strong should be vouchsafed their own country; that none but able-bodied soldiers and husbandmen should continue to abide under their own roofs and in the houses of their fathers.  When Agg and Ebb brought news of this to their mother Gambaruk, she saw that the authors of this infamous decree had found safety in crime.  Condemning the decision of the assembly, she said that it was wrong to relieve distress by murder of kindred, and declared that a plan both more honourable and more desirable for the good of their souls and bodies would be, to preserve respect towards their parents and children, and choose by lot men who should quit the country.  And if the lot fell on old men and weak, then the stronger should offer to go into exile in their place, and should of their own free will undertake to bear the burden of it for the feeble.  But those men who had the heart to save their lives by crime and impiety, and to prosecute their parents and their children by so abominable a decree, did not deserve life; for they would be doing a work of cruelty and not of love.  Finally, all those whose own lives were dearer to them than the love of their parents or their children, deserved but ill of their country.  These words were reported to the assembly, and assented to by the vote of the majority.  So the fortunes of all were staked upon the lot and those upon whom it fell were doomed to be banished.  Thus those who had been loth to obey necessity of their own accord had now to accept the award of chance.  So they sailed first to Bleking, and then, sailing past Moring, they came to anchor at Gothland; where, according to Paulus, they are said to have been prompted by the goddess Frigg to take the name of the Longobardi (Lombards), whose nation they afterwards founded.  In the end they landed at Rugen, and, abandoning their ships, began to march overland.  They crossed and wasted a great portion of the world; and at last, finding an abode in Italy, changed the ancient name of the nation for their own.

Meanwhile, the land of the Danes, where the tillers laboured less and less, and all traces of the furrows were covered with overgrowth, began to look like a forest.  Almost stripped of its pleasant native turf, it bristled with the dense unshapely woods that grew up.  Traces of this are yet seen in the aspect of its fields.  What were once acres fertile in grain are now seen to be dotted with trunks of trees; and where of old the tillers turned the earth up deep and scattered the huge clods there has now sprung up a forest covering the fields, which still bear the tracks of ancient tillage.  Had not these lands remained untilled and desolate with long overgrowth, the tenacious roots of trees could never have shared the soil of one and the same land with the furrows made by the plough.  Moreover, the mounds which men laboriously built up of old on the level ground for the burial of the dead are now covered by a mass of woodland.  Many piles of stones are also to be seen interspersed among the forest glades.  These were once scattered over the whole country, but the peasants carefully gathered the boulders and piled them into a heap that they might not prevent furrows being cut in all directions; for they would sooner sacrifice a little of the land than find the whole of it stubborn.  From this work, done by the toil of the peasants for the easier working of the fields, it is judged that the population in ancient times was greater than the present one, which is satisfied with small fields, and keeps its agriculture within narrower limits than those of the ancient tillage.  Thus the present generation is amazed to behold that it has exchanged a soil which could once produce grain for one only fit to grow acorns, and the plough-handle and the cornstalks for a landscape studded with trees.

Snio was succeeded by King Biorn; and after him King Harald became sovereign.  Harald’s son Gorm won honour among the Danes by his doughty deeds as an explorer, for he ventured into fresh fields, preferring to practise his inherited valour, not in war, but in searching the secrets of nature and looking into marvels.


Being desirous to go and see all things foreign and extraordinary, King Gorm thought that he must above all test a report which he had heard from the men of Thule (Norway) concerning the abode of a certain Giant Geirrod.  For they boasted of the mighty piles of treasure in that country, but warned that the way was beset with peril, and hardly passable by mortal man.  Those who had tried it declared that it was needful to sail over the ocean that goes north round the lands, to leave the sun and stars behind, to journey down into chaos, and at last to pass into a land where no light was and where darkness reigned eternally.

But the warrior king fought back all fear of the dangers that would beset him and opted for glory, for the increase in renown if he ventured on a wholly un-attempted quest.  Three hundred men announced that they had the same desire as the king; and he resolved that Jarl Thorkill, who had brought the news, should be chosen to guide them on the journey, as he knew the ground and was versed in the approaches to that country.

Jarl Thorkill did not refuse the task, and advised that, to meet the extraordinary fury of the sea they had to cross, strongly constructed ships should be built, fitted with many knotted cords and close-set nails, filled with great store of provision, and covered above with ox-hides to protect the inner spaces of the ships from the spray of the waves breaking in. Then they sailed off in only three galleys, each containing a hundred chosen men.

Now when they had come to Halogaland (Helgeland, named after Helge ‘Arrow Odd’), in northmost Thule, they lost their favouring breezes, and were driven and tossed divers ways over the seas.  At last, in extreme want of food, and lacking even bread, they staved off hunger with a little pottage.  Some days passed, and they heard the thunder of a storm brawling in the distance, as if it were deluging the rocks.  Perceiving that land was near, they bade a nimble youth to climb the masthead and look about, and he reported that a precipitous island was in sight.  All were overjoyed, and gazed with thirsty eyes at the sea in the direction he pointed, eagerly awaiting the refuge of the promised shore.  At last they saw it and managed to reach it, and made their way out over the heights that blocked their way, along very steep paths, into the higher ground where they had seen reindeer grazing.  Jarl Thorkill told the men to take no more of the herds than would serve to appease their immediate hunger.  If they disobeyed, the guardian gods of the spot would not let them depart.  But the seamen, more anxious to go on filling their bellies than to obey orders, postponed counsels of safety to the temptations of gluttony, and loaded the now emptied holds of their ships with the carcases of slaughtered reindeer.  These beasts were very easy to capture, because they gathered in amazement at the sight of the men, fears being unknown to them.  On the following night monsters dashed down upon the shore, filled the forest with clamour, and beleaguered and beset the ships.  One of them, larger than the rest, strode over the waters, armed with a mighty club.  Coming close up to them, he bellowed out that they should never sail away till they had atoned for the crime they had committed in slaughtering the flock and had made good the losses of the herd of the gods by giving up one man for each of their ships.  Thorkill yielded to these threats and, in order to preserve the safety of all by sacrificing a few, singled out three men by lot and gave them up to the gods.

This done, a great storm swept down upon them and carried them out to sea, and for two days they were buffeted about and took shelter under their ships’ awnings, until, at last, the storm abated and they were deposited in Permland.  It was a region of eternal cold, covered with very deep snows, and not sensible to the force even of the summer heats; full of pathless forests, not fertile in grain, and haunted by beasts uncommon elsewhere.  Its many rivers poured onwards in hissing, foaming floods, because of the reefs imbedded in their channels.

King Gorm and Jarl Thorkill drew up their sturdy ships ashore, and bade the men pitch their tents on the beach, declaring that they had come to a spot whence the passage to Giant Geirrod would be short.  And they were right.  King Gorm gained great fame from their adventures in Giantland.

After the death of Gorm, his son, King Gotrik, came to the throne.  He was notable not only for prowess but for generosity, and none can say whether his courage or his compassion was the greater.  Gotrik, who is also called Godefride or Gudfrid, carried his arms against foreigners, and increased his strength and glory by his successful generalship. Among his memorable deeds were the terms of tribute he imposed upon the Saxons; namely, that whenever a change of kings occurred among the Danes, their princes should devote a hundred snow-white horses to the new king on his accession.  But if the Saxons should receive a new chief upon a change in the succession, this chief was likewise to pay the aforesaid tribute obediently, and bow at the outset of his power to the sovereign majesty of Denmark; thereby acknowledging the supremacy of that nation, and solemnly confessing his own subjection.  Nor was it enough for Gotrik to subjugate Germany: he appointed Ref on a mission to try the strength of Sweden.  The Swedes feared to slay him with open violence, but ventured to act like bandits, and killed him, as he slept, with the blow of a stone. For, hanging a millstone above him, they cut its fastenings, and let it drop upon his neck as he lay beneath. To expiate this crime it was decreed that each of the ringleaders should pay twelve golden talents, while each of the common people should pay Gotrik one ounce. Men called this ‘the Fox-cub’s tribute’ or Refsgild.

Meanwhile it befell that Charlemagne or Karl, King of the Franks, crushed Germany in war, and forced it not only to embrace the worship of Christianity, but also to obey his authority.  When Gotrik heard of this, he attacked the nations bordering on the Elbe, and attempted to regain under his sway as of old the realm of Saxony, which had accepted the yoke of Karl, and preferred the Roman to the Danish arms.  Karl had at this time withdrawn his victorious camp beyond the Rhine, and therefore forbore to engage the stranger enemy, being prevented by the intervening river.  But when he was intending to cross once more to subdue the power of Gotrik, he was summoned by Leo the Pope of the Romans to defend the city.

Obeying this command, Karl entrusted his son, Pepin, with the conduct of the war against Gotrik; so that while he himself was working against a distant foe, Pepin might manage the conflict he had undertaken with his neighbour.  For Karl was distracted by two anxieties, and had to furnish sufficient forces out of his limited band to meet both of them.  Meanwhile Gotrik won a glorious victory over the Saxons.  Then gathering new strength, and mustering a larger body of forces, he resolved to avenge the wrong he had suffered in losing his sovereignty, not only upon the Saxons, but upon the whole people of Germany.  He began by subduing Friesland with his fleet.

After Gotrik had crossed Friesland, and Karl had now come back from Rome, Gotrik determined to swoop down upon the further districts of Germany, but was treacherously attacked by one of his own servants, and perished at home by the sword of a traitor.  When Karl heard this, he leapt up overjoyed, declaring that nothing more delightful had ever fallen to his lot than this happy chance.


After Gotrik’s death reigned his son, King Olaf, who, desirous to avenge his father, did not hesitate to involve his country in civil wars, putting patriotism after private inclination.  When he perished, his body was put in a barrow, famous for the name of Olaf, which was built up close by Leire.

He was succeeded by King Hemming, of whom I have found no deed worthy of record, save that he made a sworn peace with Kaiser Ludwig; and yet, perhaps, envious antiquity hides many notable deeds of his time, albeit they were then famous.

After these men there came to the throne, backed by the Skanians and Zealanders, King Siward, surnamed Ring.  He was the son, born long ago, of the chief of Norway who bore the same name, by Gotrik’s daughter.  Now King Ring, cousin of Siward, and also a grandson of Gotrik, was master of Jutland.  Thus the power of the single kingdom was divided; and, as though its two parts were contemptible for their smallness, foreigners began not only to despise but to attack it.  These Siward assailed with greater hatred than he did his rival for the throne; and, preferring wars abroad to wars at home, he stubbornly defended his country against dangers for five years; for he chose to put up with a trouble at home that he might the more easily cure one which came from abroad.  Wherefore Ring, desiring his command, seized the opportunity, tried to transfer the whole sovereignty to himself, and did not hesitate to injure in his own land the man who was watching over it without; for he attacked the provinces in the possession of Siward, which was an ungrateful requital for the defence of their common country.  Therefore, some of the Zealanders who were more zealous for Siward, in order to show him firmer loyalty in his absence, proclaimed his son Ragnar as king, when he was scarcely dragged out of his cradle.  They knew he was too young to govern; yet they hoped that such a gage would serve to rouse their sluggish allies against Ring.  But, when Ring heard that Siward had meantime returned from his expedition, he attacked the Zealanders with a large force, and proclaimed that they should perish by the sword if they did not surrender; but the Zealanders, who were bidden to choose between shame and peril, were so few that they distrusted their strength, and requested a truce to consider the matter.  It was granted; but, since it did not seem open to them to seek the favour of Siward, nor honourable to embrace that of Ring, they wavered long in perplexity between fear and shame.  In this plight even the old were at a loss for counsel; but Ragnar, who chanced to be present at the assembly, said: “The short bow shoots its shaft suddenly.  Though it may seem the hardihood of a boy that I venture to forestall the speech of the elders, yet I pray you to pardon my errors, and be indulgent to my unripe words.  Yet the counsellor of wisdom is not to be spurned, though he seem contemptible; for the teaching of profitable things should be drunk in with an open mind.  Now it is shameful that we should be branded as deserters and runaways, but it is just as foolhardy to venture above our strength; and thus there is proved to be equal blame either way.  We must, then, pretend to go over to the enemy, but, when a chance comes in our way, we must desert him betimes.  It will thus be better to forestall the wrath of our foe by feigned obedience than, by refusing it, to give him a weapon wherewith to attack us yet more harshly; for if we decline the sway of the stronger, are we not simply turning his arms against our own throat?  Intricate devices are often the best nurse of craft.  You need cunning to trap a fox.”  By this sound counsel he dispelled the wavering of his countrymen, and strengthened the camp of the enemy to its own hurt.

The assembly, marvelling at the eloquence as much as at the wit of one so young, gladly embraced a proposal of such genius, which they thought excellent beyond his years. Nor were the old men ashamed to obey the bidding of a boy when they lacked counsel themselves; for, though it came from one of tender years, it was full, notwithstanding, of weighty and sound instruction. But they feared to expose their adviser to immediate peril, and sent him over to Norway to be brought up. Soon afterwards, Siward joined battle with Ring and attacked him.  He slew Ring, but he, himself, received an incurable wound, of which he died soon afterwards.

The rest of Book Nine covers the Saga of King Ragnar ‘Lothbrok’ Sigurdson and the kings who followed him: