Scandinavia in the Time of Hakon “the Good”
By Eric Schumacher
When we think of the Viking Age, we often think of events that happened beyond the borders of Scandinavia, such as the raid on Lindisfarne in 793, the invasion of England by the Great Heathen Army in 865, the attacks on Paris, the discovery of America, and so forth.
One hears far less about life on the homefront, in the geographical areas that are now Norway, Denmark and Sweden. As this is the backdrop of my Hakon Saga novels, I thought I would take you back to the North in the time of the Viking raids, highlight some of major themes of that day, and perhaps dispel some misconceptions.
Countrymen They Were Not
When I first began studying the Vikings, I thought of them as raiders from three distinct countries; but that wasn’t the case at all. For much of the Viking Age, the geographic areas we now call Norway, Denmark, and Sweden were actually a conglomeration of petty kingdoms. Norway was not a unified kingdom with one king until 872, though some might argue it took another thirty to forty years for the land to truly come together under King Hakon “the Good”, the protagonist of my novels. Denmark’s first sole king was Harald Bluetooth, who came to power in c. 958, and who didn’t really subjugate all of the Danish lands until later in his reign. Sweden did not have an undisputed king until c. 970. But even with those monarchs, most people still thought of themselves as hailing from a particular area, not a country; and if they swore allegiance to anyone, it was most likely to their local chieftain or earl, not their king.
Mention of the Viking Age often conjures images of warriors attacking other kingdoms in their dragon ships. This they did, but that does not mean the homefront lacked for strife. For centuries, the petty kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden fought each other. From c 850 to 870, King Harald Fairhair fought the kings of Norway’s petty kingdoms for total control of the realm. The same goes for Harald Bluetooth in Denmark in c 970-990, and Eric the Victorious in Sweden in the later half of the 900s. Moreover, the Danes war off an on with the Franks and Norse. The Norse people war with the Swedes and Danes, and so on. The constant strife may be one reason why the Vikings look elsewhere for land. It is certainly one reason why the Vikings are such vicious fighters.
Politically Savage and Savvy
In comparison to continental Europe’s proximity to England, it is easy to think of much of Scandinavia as remote, and therefore, disconnected from the politics and affairs of other European countries. The opposite seems to be true. Scandinavians were very aware of other realms and world events. The Danes of Jutland had an ongoing dispute with the Franks and Saxons. There is documented proof that traders sailed from Wessex in England all the way to the far reaches of what was then called the North Way. Men from Swedish areas traveled east and down through the rivers of modern day Russia and Ukraine to Constantinople. Tales of their exploits and of events in different lands most certainly traveled. The information that made it back to Scandinavia was one of the reasons why the Vikings were so successful in their raids. They knew what was happening in different kingdoms and how best to exploit situations for their advantage.
In comparison to the rest of Europe, the Scandinavians were slow to accept Christianity. For the first half of the Viking Age, Christianity did not take hold there, despite the work of missionaries (mostly notably Ansgar) in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. While Norway saw the first Christian king with Hakon the Good, the missionaries who came to help him convert the land were killed. When Norway finally accepted Christianity in c. 1000 AD, it did so grudgingly, and often through the use of force. Denmark’s monarch Harald converted in c. 970, though it took much longer for the people to convert, nor did the king’s conversion do anything to stem the tide of Danish raids on Christian lands. In fact, the Danish raids on England grew to all-out invasions under the Christian kings of Denmark. While Sweden’s monarch also converted to Christianity in the late 10th century, he converted back to the old gods later on; and it would take another century or so for the Swedes to “defeat” the old gods.
I hope that this gives you a broad picture of Scandinavia during the Viking Age. As in the rest of Europe, it is tumultuous time. The Scandinavians at home were no less susceptible to violence or danger than peoples of the lands they attacked. It is just not something we think about when we think of the Vikings.
Eric Schumacher (1968 - ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.
At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God's Hammer, was published in 2005. Its sequel, Raven’s Feast, was published 2017. A third, yet-to-titled book, is currently in the works.
For more information, connect with him at one of these sites:
History and legend combine in the gripping tale of Hakon Haraldsson, a Christian boy who once fought for the High Seat of a Viking realm.
It is 935 A.D. and the North is in turmoil. King Harald Fairhair has died, leaving the High Seat of the realm to his murderous son, Erik Bloodaxe. To solidify his claim, Erik ruthlessly disposes of all claimants to his throne, save one: his youngest brother Hakon.
Erik's surviving enemies send a ship to Wessex, where the Christian King Athelstan is raising Hakon. Unable to avoid his fate, he returns to the Viking North to face his brother and claim his birthright, only to discover that victory will demand sacrifices beyond his wildest nightmares.
It is 935 A.D. and Hakon Haraldsson has just wrested the High Seat of the North from
The land-hungry Danes are pressing from the south to test Hakon before he can solidify his rule. In the east, the Uplanders are making their own plans to seize the throne. It does not help that Hakon is committed to his dream of Christianizing his people - a dream his countrymen do not share and will fight to resist.
As his enemies move in and his realm begins to crumble, Hakon and his band of oath-sworn warriors must make a stand in Raven’s Feast, the riveting sequel to God’s Hammer.
Such an interesting post, Eric. Thank you so much for sharing your insight with my readers!ReplyDelete