Orkneyinga saga


Orkneyinga saga
An example of a page from the Orkneyinga saga, as it appears in the 14th century Flatey Book.

The Orkneyinga saga (also called the History of the Earls of Orkney) is a historical narrative of the history of the Orkney Islands, from their capture by the Norwegian king in the ninth century onwards until about 1200.[1] The saga has "no parallel in the social and literary record of Scotland".[2]

Contents

Overview

The Norse saga was written around 1230 (three centuries after the events they record) by an unknown Icelandic author and, as was generally the case with Icelandic language writing of this period, the saga is as much a fictional story as a historic document. It is thought to have been compiled from a number of sources, combining oral legends with historical facts in order to tell the lives of the earls of Orkney and how they came about their earldom.

After three chapters dealing with the mythical ancestry of the later earls, the saga's adventurous account begins with the semi-mythical tales of the conquest of Orkney by Harold Fairhair, the King of Norway before moving on to more factual matters.[3]

The first three chapters cover text that provide the supposed origins for the Swedish and Norwegian (January/February) torsmånad after Thorri and (February/March) göjemånad after Gói. In modern Icelandic Gói is referred to as Góa and is also used as a female name.[4] The first two chapters also give a unique explanation for how Norway came to be named as such, involving Thorri's sons Nór and Gór and their division of the land.[5]

Throughout the story, a number of characters who are both historical and legendary are introduced: Sigurd the Powerful, Hákon Paulsson, Sigurd the Stout, Ragnvald, Earl of Møre, Earl Magnus Erlendsson later styled the saint, Ragnvald Kali Kolsson and Harald Maddadsson. One or two of these characters are still part of Orcadian folklore today. There are examples of obviously fictional elements - such as Earl Sigurd's raven banner, the poisoned shirt of Earl Harald, and elements of the Hrolf Ganger saga. The saga shows how one would typically become an earl in medieval Orkney, and the problems that would ensue if more than one person shared the earldom. (for example, chapters 12-19: Sigurd Hlodvisson's sons) [6]

Sigurd Hlodvisson's sons

Earl Sigurd Hlodvisson (also known as Sigurd the Stout) had four sons: Sumarlidi, Brusi, Einar Wry-Mouth, and Thorfinn(the youngest) by the daughter of King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland. When Sigurd was killed, the earldom was divided among Sumarlidi, Brusi, and Einar (Thorfinn was only 5 years old at the time). Soon after, Sumarlidi died and his share was given to Thorfinn.

Einar is a ruthless earl, and imposes harsh taxes which severely hurt the farmers. A farmer's son, Thorkel, pleaded to Earl Einar to lower the taxes, but to no avail. Fearing that his pleas were only making things worse, Thorkel flees to Caithness and fostered Thorfinn for some time. When Thorfinn is old enough to claim his share of the islands, he sends Thorkel to gather tributes at the islands. While there, however, Einar, who blames Thorkel for the uprising of the farmers, tries to kill him.

Thorfinn and Thorkel sail to Norway to visit and gain the friendship of King Olaf. Upon their return, Earl Brusi attempts to reconcile Thorkel and Einar by having them throw feasts for one another. At the first feast, Thorkel learns that Einar plans to ambush him. In response to this news, Thorkel kills Einar and flees to King Olaf of Norway, who is pleased to hear that Einar is dead.

After Einar is killed, Brusi takes over his share, making him hold 2/3 of the earldom. Thorfinn demands to split claim of the islands with Brusi so that they each control half, but Brusi refuses. Knowing that Thorfinn has more power and can easily overtake him, Brusi visits King Olaf to try to gain his support in helping him maintain his control over his share. King Olaf points out that the islands were originally a fiefdom and actually belong to him, but lets Brusi continue to control his share as long as he serves him. Essentially, Brusi has surrendered his earldom to King Olaf.

When Thorfinn hears that Brusi has gone to appeal to King Olaf, he decides to do the same. While there, King Olaf gets Thorfinn to also surrender his share to him. Olaf then proclaims that Brusi and Thorfinn will each have 1/3 of the islands in fee, and Einar's share will stay in Olaf's possession.

Notes

References

  • Crawford, Barbara E. (1987) Scandinavian Scotland. Leicester University Press. ISBN 0718511972

Other sources

  • Original text:
  • English translation:
    • Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney. Trans. Pálsson, Hermann and Edwards, Paul (1978). London: Hogarth Press. ISBN 0-7012-0431-1. Republished 1981, Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044383-5.
    • Orkneyinga Saga. Trans A.B. Taylor (1937). London.
    • The Orkneyingers Saga (Icelandic Sagas, and other historical documents relating to the settlements and descents of the Northmen on the British Isles, Volume III). Translated by George Dasent (1894). London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Reprinted 1964 by Kraus Reprint. Text available at Sacred Texts and Northvegr.
    • "Fundinn Noregr" ('Discovery of Norway'), opening portion of The Orkneyingers Saga. Trans. Chappell, Gavin (2004) Northvegr: The Discovery of Norway.

External links


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