King Hrolf and his men now went on their way. They rode almost a whole day and, as night fell, they found a farm. The farmer came to the door, and who was it but farmer Hrani. He offered them full hospitality, declaring that their journey had not turned out much differently from what he had predicted. The king confirmed this remark, adding that Hrani was a man not blinded by the smoke of deception.
‘Here, I want to give you these weapons,’ said the farmer.
The king replied, 'These are hideous weapons, farmer.’ There was a shield, a sword and a coat of mail, but King Hrolf refused to accept the equipment. Hrani’s mood quickly changed. He nearly lost his temper, thinking that he had been shown dishonor.
Hrani said, 'You, King Hrolf, are not acting as cleverly as you think, and you are not always as wise as you might seem.’ The farmer was much offended.
Now there was no staying the night and, even though it was dark outside, they prepared to ride away. Hrani’s face showed only displeasure; he thought himself poorly valued. The king refused to accept his gifts, and he did nothing to hinder their leaving if that would please them. King Hrolf and his company rode out and, as matters stood, there were no farewells.
When they had not gone very far, Bodvar halted and said, 'Good sense comes late to fools, and so it comes to me now. I suspect that we have not behaved very wisely in rejecting what we should have accepted. We may have denied ourselves victory.’
King Hrolf answered, 'I suspect the same, because that must have been Odin the Old. Certainly the man had but one eye.
'We should turn back as quickly as we can,’ said Svipdag, 'and test the truth in this matter.’
They retraced their path, but by then the farm and the man had disappeared.

Hrólfs saga kraka ok kappa hans.

This except of the saga stresses the importance to accept Odin’s gifts, lest one wishes to dishonor him and bring forth his rage. After all, in stanza 39 of the Hávamál, Óðinn says this:


“So freehanded never
found I a man
but would gladly take
what is given;
nor of his goods
so ungrudgingly ever,
to forego
what is given him.”

(Lee M. Hollander trans.)

Source: Jesse L. Byock trans., The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki. (London: Penguin Books), 68-69.


ROLLO ; c. 860 CE - c. 932 CE
    Rolf, Hrolf, Hrolfr, Rou, Rollon, Robert

Son of the Norwegian Earl of Møre, Rollo was part of raids on Scotland, England, Flanders and France. Rollo left Norway around 900; some say exile for lawlessess, some say as simple independance from his king, and arrived in France in the next decade. He established himself along the Seine and laid seige to Paris during the reign of Charles III. The peace and treaty that followed allowed Rollo lands near the mouth of the Seine, what would become the Dukedom of Normandy.

He passed the title to his son before he died, and though he was Christened ‘Rolf’, Rollo is said to have died a pagan. Rollo is the great-great-great grandfather of William the Conquerer, and ancestor of most European royalty, current and abolished. Rollo had two wives in his lifetime, Poppa of Bayaux, allegedly married by the controversial More Danico. When he converted to Christianity, he married Gisela of France, though her existance, and how legend says she was treated by her new husband, are debated.

Lesson 9d - Literature and the Sagas, Part IV: Kingly and Heroic Saga Literature.

Komið þið sæl,

Note: [If you have not done so already, check out last week’s lesson, which was Part III of this lesson series. Visit “Viking History” on my blog to view all of the lessons.]

This week, we will be discussing two genres of saga literature, king and mythical-hero. I will start by discussing the genres and then I will provide summaries of a few sagas that are well known from these categories. I will avoid summaries and spoiling details, but I will discuss the most popular kings and heroes that appear in these saga types. I will also try to avoid spoiling any of the stories too much.


  1. Konungasögur and Fornaldasögur
  2. Sigurðr and the Volsungs
  3. Ragnarr Loðbrók
  4. King Hrolf Kraki and Beowulf
  5. Performance

Konungasögur and Fornaldasögur

Konungasögur (King Sagas) are sagas that tell of the lives and feats of various, historical kings. The majority of sagas that fall under this category are in Heimskringla, a collection of Norwegian king sagas written by Snorri Sturluson. The centerpiece of this collection is the saga of Saint Olaf. The basis for these sagas come from skaldic poetry, for the court poets recorded the lives and achievements of their respective kings. Their verses are often quoted in sagas and as a result, they add authority to their credibility as well (at least in the eyes of their contemporary audience).

Fornaldasögur (Mythical-hero Sagas) tell of great heroes, far-flung events, and supernatural intervention. The majority of these sagas a set before the Viking Age (prior to 870, mostly). They present a world full of trolls, giants, dwarves, and tyrants. As a result, a lot of mythological information gets tied up into these works, which is quite useful for the study of lore and myth. These stories likely derive from oral tradition and were for entertainment and forging social bonds.

Keep reading


An Ingleri Viking Sword

Date: c. 1000 CE
Images: Taken by myself
Location: Lent to the Art Institute of Chicago (There on there date: August 10th, 2015 - not a permanent piece in the collection)
Origin: Scandinavia or Francia
Creator: Ingelri

Perhaps the most significant symbol of authority in the Viking Age was the sword. Sung about in the great legends, these swords carried with them a great deal of prestige and identity. The warrior elite would claim their power in their skills in combat but also in the origins of their equipment. Magical swords reveal themselves in many sagas, such as Sigurd’s with Gram and also the saga of Hrolf Kraki with Skofnung. These swords would remain with their owners even in the journey to the afterlife, serving as a unique symbol for each ruling elite warrior. 

The significance of these swords being buried with their champions is told in Hrolf Kraki’s saga, “A burial mound was built for King Hrolf, and the sword Skofnung was laid beside him. A mound was made for each of the champions, and each had his weapon beside him.” It is this same pattern seen before, where the warrior elite rise in the name of these legends, living them out and creating new ones for themselves to credit their authority. 

This sword has a latin inscription imbedded into the blade, Inglerii me fecit, which translates to “Ingleri made me”. It was likely made and imported from the Frankish Empire, symbolizing a control over trade networks as well as the capability of acquiring such a good.


Somerville and McDonald, The Viking Age: A Reader (Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures: XIV, 2010), 172

Hrólfs saga kraka, in Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda, ed. Guðni Jónsson, 4 vols. (Reykjavík, 1959), vol. 1, pp. 98-105

Mythical sword, part 1.

This sword was the sword of legendary Danish king Hrólf Kraki. “The best of all swords that have been carried in northern lands”, it was renowned for supernatural sharpness and hardness, as well as for being imbued with the spirits of the king’s 12 faithful berserker bodyguards.

It appears in saga unrelated to Hrólf, it being said that an Icelander, Skeggi of Midfirth, who was chosen by lot to break into the gravemound and plunder it, recovered the sword while doing so, so it may have had some historical reality. Other similar incidents are found in Norse literature, such as Grettir the Strong’s recovery of a sword from a burial mound. Events concerning the recovery of Skofnung are related in chapter 9 and 10 of Kormáks saga.

It also appears in the Laxdœla saga, where it has come into the possession of Eid of Ás. Eid is the son of Midfjardar-Skeggi, who had originally taken Skofnung from Hrólf Kraki’s grave. The sword is handed down from Eid to his kinsman Thorkel Eyjólfsson. Eid lends the sword to Thorkel to kill the outlaw Grim, who had killed Eid’s son. Thorkel fought Grim, but the two became friends, and Thorkel never returned the sword to Eid.

Skofnung is briefly lost when Thorkel’s ship is capsized while sailing around Iceland, and all of those on it drown. The sword stuck fast in some of the timbers of the ship, and washed ashore. It was thus recovered at some point by Thorkel’s son Gellir, as he is mentioned carrying it with him later in the saga. Gellir dies in Denmark returning from pilgrimage to Rome, and is buried at Roskilde, and it seems Skofnung was buried with him (near where the sword was recovered from the burial mound in the first place) because the saga records that Gellir had the sword with him “and it was not recovered afterwards”.


The Seer speaks of the prophecy to Ragnar and Rollo

The prophecy is one of the pending marriage and gain of a ‘crown’ between a ‘bear’ and a princess, to take place in Frankia. It is possible that this prophecy alludes to the historical marriage between Rollo (Ganger Hrolf, Hrolf, the Walker, Robert, Duke of Normandy) and Gisela, daughter of Charles III of France. In the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte with King Charles, Rollo pledged feudal allegiance to the king, changed his name to the Frankish version Robert. In return, King Charles granted Rollo land between the Epte and the sea as well as parts of Brittany and according to Dudo of St. Quentin, the hand of the King’s daughter, Gisela. He also became the titular ruler of Normandy, centered around the city of Rouen. 

Two spouses are reported for Rollo:

1. Poppa, said by chronicler Dudo of Saint-Quentin to have been a daughter of Count Berenger, captured during a raid at Bayeux. She was his concubine or wife, perhaps by more danico. They had issue:

-William Longsword, born “overseas”.
-Gerloc, wife of William III, Duke of Aquitaine. Dudo fails to identify her mother, but later chronicler William of Jumieges makes this explicit.
-(perhaps) Kadlin, said by Ari the Historian to have been daughter of Ganger Hrolf, traditionally identified with Rollo. She married a Scottish King called Bjolan, and had at least a daughter called Midbjorg, she was taken captive by and married Helgi Ottarson.

2. (traditionally) Gisela of France (d. 919), the daughter of Charles III of France, issue:

-Griselle of Normandy (b. 925), wife of Herbert de La Mare

(14th century illumination of the wedding of Rollo and Gisela)

Rollo, being present at the ceremony may simply mean that he himself would be a groom.

Why would the Seer speak of a ‘bear’ marrying a princess? He could be referring to Rollo as a ‘berserker’ (and Rollo has been seen eating the mushrooms and displaying immense power in the battle or being somewhat in a trance (killing of the Saxon captive). Berserkers were Odin’s special warriors. The name berserker derives from the Old Norse ‘berserkr’. This expression most likely arose from their reputed habit of wearing a kind of shirt or coat (serkr) made from the pelt of a bear (ber-) during battle. The bear was one of the animals representing Odin, and by wearing such a pelt the warriors sought to gain the strength of a bear and the favour of Odin.

Text sources: (1) (2)