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Vestvågøy Theme - 3
Chieftains and Kings


In the North

According to the archaeological material, chieftains' residences have been documented in at least three different places in Lofoten: Buksnes and Borg at Vestvågøy, and Hov/Vinje at Gimsøy.

The origin of the chieftain tradition in the north is still unknown, but it is more or less accepted that it developed during the early part of the Iron Age. The chieftain-economy is based on a combination between organising fishing and interactions with the Sámi people. The establishment of chiefdoms in the northern part of Norway, where the Norse and Sámi population interacted is seen as the first period of the gathering of the area. The chieftain's responsibility also included military actions. The court-sites in Northern Norway are interpreted as military constructions and date to both early and late Iron Age. Around 800 AD the Håløyg-family seems to be well established in the north.

In general

In the Iron Age, family relations were important in all political contexts, and a person's social status was closely connected to family relationships.

Family background was the basis for social status, and the power of chieftains and kings was based upon reputation and property. The real power rose from the ability to gather the population, reach results and treat the people well. Prestige and gold/silver was a condition to get support among the people.

The ideology is also closely connected to the family, and builds upon the chieftain's power. The ideology was rather dynamic, similar to the structure of the chieftain-society itself, and power and ideology changes through time. New alliances are continuously sought to maintain power. New gods are included in the religion when needed, and old ones disappear.

Written sources give the impression that early in the 800 AD; several smaller chiefdoms or realms existed in Norway. It is estimated at this time there were around 20 kingdoms/chiefdoms in Norway (Solberg 2000:278). The population were connected through ritual centres and the "Thing". The masteruler was earl, king or lord, and in the sagas we can read about different kinds of kings.

Harald Hårfagre (Fine hair)

Harald Fine hair (son of Halvdan Svarte) lived around 860-940, and he was the first king of Norway (ruled from around 890-940). Originally he was the king of Viken and Opplandene (south of Norway) but through a collaboration with the earl of lade Håkon Grjotgardsson he tried to gain control over the entire country.

In Snorre we can read about the event by which Harald Fine hair conquered Norway: He ousted 7 kings in the counties of Trøndelag, 2 in Namdal, 1 at Nordmøre, 1 at Sunnmøre, 2 at Fjordane, 1 in Hordaland, 1 in Rogaland and 1 in Agder.

According to the tradition Harald Fine hair was accepted as the Norwegian king at the battle of Hafrsfjord (traditionally dated to 872 AD but is assumed to happen some years later).

Håkon Grjotgardsson (ca. 900) settled at the farm Lade by close to Trondheim.

Olav Tryggvason

Olav Tryggvason lived 968-1000, and ruled around 995-1000. He was son of Harald Fine hair's grandson, king Trygve from Viken. Olav Tryggvason was strongly connected to the Christianization of Norway. For a period he was in opposition to Olav Skötkonung in Sweden and King Svend Tveskæg in Denmark. According to the Sagas, Olav owned the long ship Ormen Lange (the long worm). He was defeated at the battle of Svolder

Olav Haraldsson (Saint Olav)

Olav lived around 995-1030 and ruled from 1015-1030. He was son of Harald Grenske. After a victory in 1016 at the battle of Nesjar, Olav governed a reign stretching from Göta-river in the south and up to the Sámi-areas in the north. Together with Olav Tryggvason he is maybe the most important king in to the Christianization of Norway. Olav treated his opponents harshly and made enemies both in Norway and abroad.

After a period in exile, Olav went back to recapture Norway and at Stiklestad he met an army consisting of Kalv Arnesson, Hårek of Tjøtta and Tore Hund (the dog). 29th of July 1030 Olav was killed in the battle of Stiklestad. After his death he was made a saint, and this lent the Norwegian kingdom a religious legitimation.

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