Danish Kings and the Foundation of Jómsborg - PDF

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Danish Kings and the Foundation of Jómsborg JAKUB MORAWIEC Jómsborg, the great stronghold and residence of that famous warrior band the Jómsvíkings, is closely related in the Old Norse tradition to numerous

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Danish Kings and the Foundation of Jómsborg JAKUB MORAWIEC Jómsborg, the great stronghold and residence of that famous warrior band the Jómsvíkings, is closely related in the Old Norse tradition to numerous Scan dinavian rulers and is also associated with several Danish kings (Morawiec 2009). The various literary accounts analysed below indicate that members of the Jelling dynasty influenced the historiography of the place and its heroes. The colourful and inarguably dramatic narrative of the legend is intertwined with the history of the town. Jómsborg was the Scandinavian name for Wolin (Wollin), the early Slavic urban complex located on the Odra (Oder) estuary. Its development was based, among other things, on direct economic, cultural, and political connections with the North (Stanisławski & Filipowiak 2013). Moreover, the location of the urban complex and its character meant that its history was to some extent a history of the Danish kings as well. The aim of this paper is to consider the extent to which the legend of Jóms borg and the Jómsvíkings could have been influenced by the memory of more distant and recent political affairs in the region, marked by constant Slavic-Scandinavian encounters. In other words, this study suggests that there is a need to look for potential historical events and circum stances that encouraged saga authors to associate a story of a famous warrior band with Slavic territories and Jelling kings in a very specific manner. Medieval Scandinavian tradition points first of all to King Haraldr Gorms son as the individual responsible for founding Jómsborg and establishing a viking hirð there. The stronghold was located in Wendland, the land of Slavs, which had just been conquered by Haraldr. Consequently, the Jómsvíkings were, in theory, dependent on royal authority. Such a view is taken by Sven Aggesen in his Gesta Regum Danorum. Morawiec, Jakub Danish Kings and the Foundation of Jómsborg. Scripta Islandica 65: 126 Jakub Morawiec Haraldr s rule over Jómsborg is mentioned when Sven refers to the king s escape from Denmark after a rebellion (Christiansen 1992: 14). Saxo Grammaticus provides us with further details about Haraldr s rule in Wolin in his Gesta Danorum: Ea tempestate Sturbiornus, Suetici regis Biornonis filius, a patrui Olavi filio Erico regno spoliatus, petendi auxilii gratia ad Haraldum, cui Thyra mater exstitit, cum sorore Gyritha supplex migravit tantoque apud eum paratiorem amicitiae locum reperit, quanto illi eiusdem sororis suae matrimonium liberalius permisit. Post haec Haraldus, armis Sclavia potitus, apud Iulinum, nobilis simum illius provinciae oppidum, Sturbiorno duce conpetentia militum praesidia collocavit. Quorum piratica egregio animorum robore celebrata ac fini timis paulatim trophaeis alita eo demum ferocitatis excessit, ut continuis nautarum cladibus septentrionalem repleret Oceanum. Ea res plus Danico imperio quam ullum terrenae militiae negotium attulit. Inter quos fuere Bo, Ulf, Karls hefni, Siwaldus aliique complures, quorum prolixam enumerationem, taedio quam voluptati propinquiorem, stilo prosequi supersedeo (Olrik & Ræder 1931: 271). At that time Styrbjǫrn, the son of the King of Sweden, Bjǫrn, was deprived of his kingdom by Eiríkr, the son of his uncle Óláfr, and he arrived with a begging request to Haraldr, the son of Þyra; and he received from him [Haraldr] such a great tokens of friendship that he let him marry his sister Gyritha. Since Haraldr was the master of Sclavia, he handed down authority over the garrison in Julin, i.e. Wolin, the greatest town of the province, to Styrbjǫrn. Piratical operations made their bravery famous, encouraged by the victories over neighbours; finally, they became so daring that they covered the waters of the north with the permanent destruction of sea travellers. This, like nothing else, contributed to the Danish rule. Among them were Bo, Úlfr, Karlshefni, Sig valdi and many others, the longer stories of whom would be rather boring than pleasing Saxo also indicates that Haraldr used the Jómsvíkings to deal with the rebellious Hákon, jarl of Hlaðir after he refused to pay Haraldr a tribute: Comperta vero Haquini defectione, tanto in Norvagicae iuventutis contumaciam asperius animadvertendum putavit, quanto eam adversum se cervicem insolentius extulisse cognovit. Missa igitur adversus hanc Iulinae pira ticae manu, Bo atque Siwaldo ducibus contemptus sui ultionem mandavit (Olrik & Ræder 1931: 272). When he learnt about Hákon s rebellion, Haraldr decided to treat the young man from Norway more cruelly for the impudence with which they turned Danish Kings and the Foundation of Jómsborg 127 against him. Therefore, he entrusted the punishment for the offence which they committed to the piratical power from Wolin, which he sent under the leadership of Bo and Sigvaldi. The longer stories mentioned by Saxo are supposedly accounts that found their way into later saga narratives focusing on the vikings of Jómsborg (Jómsvíkinga saga) and the story of the Swedish prince Styrbjǫrn (Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa) respectively. Saxo does not explain the circumstances in which Haraldr became the overlord of Wendland and founder of Jómsborg. Thus one can assume that he believed that his audience would be familiar with the story of the stronghold and king s actions there. Scholars argue persuasively that reference to Haraldr as the founder of Jómsborg implies Saxo s access to a version of the legend that differed from the texts preserved in the Jómsvíkinga saga manuscripts (Megaard 2000). This is, however, also the case for some of the kings sagas. The author of Knýtlinga saga writes more concisely about Haraldr as a ruler of Jómsborg and a leader the viking hirð: [ ] ok hafði hann mikit jarlsríki í Vinðlandi. Hann lét þar gera Jómsborg ok setti þar herlið mikit. Hann setti þeim mála ok rétt, en þeir unnu landit undir hann; á sumrum lágu þeir í hernaði, en sátu heima á vetrum. Þeir váru kallaðir Jóms víkingar (Bjarni Guðnason 1982: 93). Furthermore, Fagrskinna depicts Haraldr Gormsson as the founder of Jóms borg and ruler of the surrounding territory: Haraldr konongr Gorms sunr hæriaðe a Vinlannd, oc let þar gera borg mikla er hæitir at Iome, oc er su borg callað siðan Iomsborgh. Ðar sætti hann ifir hofðingia, oc for sialfr hæim til Danmarkar, oc var þa ufriðr lengi millum Vinnda oc Dana, oc hæriaðu hvarertvæggiu i annara lonnd. En a ofanværðum dagum Harallz konongs Gorms sunar, sætti hann ifir Iomsborgh Sigvallda jarls namn, þa foro marger hofðingiar af Danmorku til Iomsborgar. Ðorkæll hafe broðer Sig vallda iarls. Bui digri, Sigurðr broðer hans. Vagn Akasun, hann var systr sunr Bua digra. Iomsvikingar vunnu mikit af riki Burizleifs konongs ar þa reð firir Vinlannde (Finnur Jónsson : 80). Clear similarities between these three narratives in terms of motif and character suggest that there is a reliance on a common version of the story of the Jómsvíkings which placed the Danish king as the originator of the strong hold and its hirð, labelling Haraldr as both its founder and overlord. From this perspective, it is all the more interesting that the preserved 128 Jakub Morawiec redactions of Jómsvíkinga saga 1 provide the reader with a completely dif fer ent story regarding the foundation of Jómsborg. In the Jómsvíkinga saga version, Haraldr Gormsson is replaced by Pálnatóki, the jarl of Fyn, and Búrizleifr, the king of Wendland. As a consequence, the circumstances of the formation of the stronghold differ as well: En þá er þetta er tíðast, að hann er í herförunum, þá fer hann eitthvert sumar til Vindlands og ætlar að herja þar, og hefir þá við fingið tíu skip og hefir þá fjóra tigu skipa. En í þann tíma réð fyrir konungur sá er Búrizláfur hét, og hugði hann illt til hernaðarins, fyrir því að honum var sagt frá Pálnatóka, að hann hafði nær ávallt sigur, þar sem hann herjaði, og var hann ágæztur víkinga í það mund, og þótti hann vera hverjum manni vitrari og ráðgari, og gengur þungt við hann flestum. Og vonu bráðara, þá er Pálnatóki kömur þar við land og Búrizláfur hefir spurt til hans og hvað hann ætlaðist fyrir, þá sendir konungur menn sína á fund hans og býður Pálnatóka til sín og lézt vildu eiga við hann frið og vinfengi; það lét hann og fylgja þessu heimboði, að hann bauð að gefa honum eitt fylki eða ríki af landi sínu, þar er heitir að Jómi, til þess að hann skyldi þar staðfestast, og mundi hann þetta ríki gefa honum einkum til þess að hann skyldi þá vera skyldbundinn til að verja land og ríki með konunginum. Og þetta þiggur Pálnatóki og allir hans menn, að því er sagt er. Og þar lætur hann gera brálliga í sínu ríki sævarborg eina mikla og ramgjörva, þá er Jómsborg er kölluð síðan (Ólafur Halldórsson 1969: ). It is likely that other Old Norse accounts were derived from these redactions of Jómsvíkinga saga. According to Eyrbyggja saga, Bjǫrn Ásbrands son stayed in Jómsborg at the time when Pálnatóki was its leader (Einar Ólafur Sveinsson & Matthías Þórðarson 1935: 80). Similarly, the author of Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta refers to Pálnatóki as the defender of the land of the Slavs (as a representative of King Búrizleifr) and the leader of Jómsvíkings (Ólafur Halldórsson 1958: 172). 2 1 Four redactions of Jómsvíkinga saga are preserved. The oldest extant one is found in AM 291 4to, produced in Iceland in the second half of the thirteenth century. Another con densed version of the saga is preserved in Cod. Holm. 7 4to, written in the first half of the fourteenth century. AM 510 4to, dated to the mid-sixteenth century, contains another version of the saga but this is devoted to Danish kings and lacks the first part of the narrative. A now lost medieval redaction of the saga provided the basis for Arngrímr Jónsson s Latin version, composed around The whole issue is treated differently by Snorri Sturlusson in Heimskringla. Snorri does not explain when the Jómsvíkings came into being or how they were established. The information about them appears only when Snorri describes Sveinn tjúguskegg s rebellion against Haraldr. He states that Pálnatóki was among Sveinn s company as one of the Jómsvíkings but does not call him either the founder or the jarl of Jómsborg. According to Snorri, this post was taken by Sigvaldi at that time (Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson 2002: ). Danish Kings and the Foundation of Jómsborg 129 As we have seen, various accounts present different circumstances surrounding the foundation of Jómsborg and the role that Haraldr Gormsson played in the process. Some (Saxo, Fagrskinna, Knýtlinga saga, and Sven Aggesen) point to the king of Denmark as the founder. Others (Jómsvíkinga saga, Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta, and Eyrbyggja saga) clearly deny this, focusing on Jarl Pálnatóki. All these narratives draw more or less directly on the story of Jómsvíkings as their frame of reference, a circumstance that suggests the coexistence of different versions of Jómsvíkinga saga at a very early stage of its formation. A number of scholars have tried to explain this striking discrepancy and bring the contradicting versions into agreement. With relation to the supposed participation of Danes in the Battle of Fýrisvellir, Ludvig Wimmer postulates that Tóki Gormsson, who appears in the runic inscription from Hällestad, is Gormr gamli s son and Haraldr Gormsson s brother (Wimmer 1893: 76). Lauritz Weibull, in turn, believes that Pálnatóki replaced the king of Denmark in the saga (Weibull 1911: 183). A recent analysis by John Megaard encourages us to assume that the development of the legend and its literary incarnation, Jómsvíkinga saga, emerged from two separate traditions, the older and the younger. The former can be observed in Saxo s and Fagrskinna s accounts; the latter is mainly represented by preserved redactions of the saga (Megaard 2000: ). Most significantly, the nature of the founder of Jómsborg is one of the main factors that distinguishes both traditions (Morawiec 2009: 41 48). Torfi Tulinius s recent study of this issue analyses the account of Jómsvíkinga saga from the perspective of a conflict between the king and his vassals. Torfi sees the rebellion of the nobles against royal authority as the main subject of the saga, where the king, jarls and bœndir remain in constant interaction. In this context, he cites three themes as particularly important: the conflict between Sveinn tjúguskegg and his father, Sigvaldi s encounter with Vagn Ákason, and emperor Otto s missionary pressure on the king of Denmark. All of these are constructed around the leit motif of the saga: the correct rules of coexistence between particular social groups (Torfi Tulinius 2002: ). Torfi s arguments certainly warrant further exploration. Several episodes of the saga (for example the circumstances of Haraldr Gormsson s death, the capture of Sveinn tjúguskegg by Jarl Sigvaldi) are pivotal to the antiroyal flavour of the narrative as a whole. Preserved redactions of Jómsvíkinga saga present Danish rulers in an unfavourable light. Haraldr and Sveinn are not respected by their subjects, who do not hesitate to rise 130 Jakub Morawiec against them. Both kings, at moments of direct threat, appear unable to muster enough energy to successfully extricate themselves from trouble. Plots, intrigues and even murder are necessary to achieve any goal but such means are not conducive to attaining respect and a stable position. More over, their royal policies led to tension and conflicts. Haraldr Gormsson is depicted as a coward, deprived of the qualities appropriate to a ruler and success in war. Does such a person deserve to be the founder of Jómsborg? The role passes to Pálnatóki who, unlike his main opponent Haraldr, is the person who possesses all virtues needed to be the founder and leader of the viking hirð. The saga emphasizes his resolute actions, for instance in organizing a rebellion against Haraldr and establishing the laws of the Jómsvíkings. Pálnatóki was also a very brave leader and the fame of his achievements in war is said to have encouraged Búrizleifr to view him as an ally rather than an enemy. In this way the saga author achieved his intended purpose: to reveal the weakness of royal authority, the king s dependency on the support of the elite, and his inability to rule successfully. All accounts seem to indicate that the foundation of Jómsborg was a result of Scandinavian military operations against the Slavs. Fagrskinna states directly: Haraldr konongr Gorms sunr hæriaðe a Vinlannd (Finnur Jónsson : 80). It is presented similarly in Knýtlinga saga: ok hafði hann mikit jarls riki i Vindlandi (Bjarni Guðnason 1982: 93). The context of the latter narrative encourages us to assume that its author believed that Haraldr came into possession of the vast jarldom in Wendland through military conquest. In principle, it is the same state of affairs with Pálnatóki. According to Jómsvíkinga saga, Jómsborg was given to the jarl by Búrizleifr but the saga author did not forget to mention the military threat which Pálnatóki is believed to have created in this region first. Thus the foundation of Jómsborg was preceded by armed invasions which resulted in the conquest of this part of Wendland. Consequently, it influenced the image of the settlement, which was either founded by Haraldr or Pálnatóki. It was a place profoundly military in character and it was to function as a military camp for the protection of Danish property. This is reflected in descriptions of Jómsborg which is referred to as praesidium militum (Saxo), mikill borg (Fagrskinna, Jómsvíkinga saga), where the ruler setti þar herlið mikit (Knýtlinga saga). Although these accounts were circulating in Scandinavia, their authors did not feel obliged to give more precise geographic descriptions. The audiences of these stories seem to have known the location of Wendland Danish Kings and the Foundation of Jómsborg 131 and which part (mikit ríki) belonged to Danes, and where Jómsborg was founded. Moreover, the authors of these accounts seemed to take stories about Danish invasions of Wendland and the foundation of Jómsborg for granted. In contrast to Danish activity in Norway and conflicts with the Saxons, the circumstances of relations with the Slavs lack any kind of introduction or explanation. For instance, Fagrskinna mentions the consequences of Haraldr s action mutual hostility between Slavs and Danes and their reciprocal invasions ( var þa ufriðr lengi millum Vinnda oc Dana, oc hæriaðu hvarertvæggiu i annara lonnd. (Finnur Jónsson : 80)) but its author did not develop this subject. We may get the impression that, for both saga authors and their audiences, the reasons for Danish activity in Wendland were either of little interest or so obvious that they did not require additional commentary (Morawiec 2009: 49 51). As stated above, the development of the Jómsborg legend resulted in the change of the stronghold s founder and the group of warriors. Haraldr Gorms son was substituted for Jarl Pálnatóki. In seeking a potential motivation for this crucial shift, it is worth paying attention to particular moments in the history of medieval Denmark, especially encounters with Slavs. The way they were memorized could have influenced saga authors, who first installed the Danish king as founder of Jómsborg, and sub sequently deprived him of this prestigious role. First of all, it is important to look at the rapid fall of Haraldr Gormsson s reign, caused by his son Sveinn who rebelled against his father. The conflict between father and son made its mark on Old Norse tradition. Haraldr s military inefficiency was highlighted not only by Sveinn but initially by Pálna tóki. Both sides gathered fleets and their confrontation in Ísafjörðr brought about a rather shameful death for Haraldr Gormsson (Ólafur Hall dórsson 1969: ). Most saga authors include the Jómsvíkings in this set of events (Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson 2002: 272; Bjarni Guðnason 1982: 96). However, only the Danish historians (Sven Aggesen and Saxo Grammaticus) report that the defeated king fled to Jómsborg and died there soon afterwards (Christiansen 1992: 16; Olrik & Ræder 1931: 276). The version in Saxo s Gesta Danorum shows that the Jómsborg legend could have been influenced by other accounts concerning Haraldr, especially those referring to his fall. As Adam of Bremen s Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum states: Novissimis archiepiscopi temporibus res nostrae inter barbarous fractae, christianitas in Dania turbata est, pulcrisque divinae religionis initiis invidens 132 Jakub Morawiec inimicus homo superseminare zizania conatus est. Nam tunc Suein Otto, filius magni Haroldi, regis Danorum, multas in patrem molitus insidias, quo modo eum iam longaevum et minus validum regno privaret, consilium habuit et cum his, quos pater eius ad christianitatem coegit invitos. Subito igitur facta conspiratione Dani christianitatem abdicantes Suein regem consti tuent, Haroldo bellum indicunt. At ille, qui ab initio regni sui ttam spem in Deo posuerat, tunc veto et maxime commendams Christo eventum rei, cum bellum execraret, armis se tueri decrevit. Et quasi alter David procedens ad bellum filium lugebat Absalon, magis dolens illius scelus quam sua pericula. In quo miserabili et plus quam civili bello victa est pars Haroldi. Ipse autem vulneraturs exacie fugiens ascensanavi elapses est ad civitatem Slcavorum quae Iumne dicitur. A quibus contra spem, quia pagani erant, humane receptus, post aliquot dies ex edodem vulnere deficiens, in Christi confessione migravit (Schmeidler 1917: 87). In recent years [of the rule]
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