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Early Swedish Kingdoms

This is a part of the History of Sweden series. It covers Sweden from the 9th to the 11th century.

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Early Kingdoms During the 9th century extensive Scandinavian settlements were made on the east side of the Baltic sea, and even as early as the reign of Louis I of France. we hear of piratical expeditions on the Black Sea and on the Caspian sea. The Scandinavian famous expeditions of Rurik and Askold which settlements resulted in the origin of the Russian monarchy. Proofs of extensive Scandinavian settlement in Russia are to be found partly in the Russian names assigned to the Dnieper[?] rapids by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, partly in references to this people made by foreign representatives at the court of Byzantium. The fact that many of the names which occur in Russian chronicles seem to be peculiarly Swedish suggests that Sweden was the home of the settlers, and the best authorities consider that the original Scandinavian conquerors were Swedes who had settled on the east coast of the Baltic.

Early Kings In the time of Harold Fairhair, probably about the beginning of the 10th century, we hear of a king named Eric at Upsala[?], whose authority seems to have the reached as far as Norway. Later in the century there is record of a king named Björn who is said to have been the son of Eric and to have reigned fifty years. Björn’s sons and successors were Olof[?] and Eric the Victorious[?]. Styrbjörn Starke, the son of Olof, being refused his share of the government by Eric after his father’s death, made himself a stronghold at Jomsborg in Pomerania and spent some years in piratical expeditions. Eventually he betook himself to Harold Bluetooth, then king of Denmark, and endeavoured to secure his assistance in gaining the Swedish throne by force of arms. Although be failed in this attempt he was not deterred from attacking Eric, and a battle took place between the two at the Fyriså[?], close to Upsala[?] in which Styrbjörn was defeated and killed. Eric himself died ten years after this battle, apparently about 993. According to the story be had obtained victory from Odin in return for a promise to give himself up at the end of ten years.

Christening Under his son and successor Olof[?], surnamed Skötkonung, Christianity was fully established in Sweden. Olaf Tryggvason, the king of Norway, had married his sister Ingibiorg to Ragnvald, earl of Westergotland, on condition that he should receive baptism, and the Swedish king’s wife was also a Christian, though he himself was not baptized until 1008 by Sigfrid at Husaby. A quarrel arose in the last years of the 10th century between Olaf Skötkonung and Olaf Tryggvason. The latter had applied for the hand of Sigrid, the widow of Eric the Victorious, but had insulted her on her refusal to become a Christian. In the year 1000, when the Norwegian king was in Pomerania, a coalition was formed between the king of Sweden, Sweyn Forkbeard, king of Denmark, and earl Eric of Lade[?], and the allies way laid their enemy off the coast near Rügen and overthrew him in the great sea-battle of Svolder[?]. Under Olaf Skötkonung Sweden became the mightiest of the kingdoms of the north, in spite of the king’s own inactivity. She lost her lands east of the Baltic, but received as compensation in Norway part of Trondhiem[?] and the province now called Bohuslän. These lands Olaf handed over to Earl Sweyn, brother of Earl Eric (whose father Haakon had governed Norway), as a marriage portion for his daughter Holmfrid. Some years later we hear of hostilities between Olaf Sköttkonung and another Norwegian prince, Olaf Haraldsson (the Fat), who raided Sweden and was besieged in the lake Mälaren by the Swedish king. In 1014, the year of Earl Eric’s departure to England with Canute, Olaf Haraldsson, returning to Norway as king, put an end to the Swedish and Danish supremacy, and in 1015 he forced Earl Sweyn to leave the country. Trifling border-quarrels followed, but in 1017 a truce was arranged between Norway and Westergotland, where Earl Ragnvald was still in power. Olaf of Norway now sent his marshal Bjorn to Ragnvald to arrange a peace. Ragnvald brought him to a great assembly at Upsala in February 1018. At this meeting Björn, supported by the earl, asked for peace, and Olaf II was compelled by the pressure of the lawman Thorgny to agree to this and also to promise his daughter Ingegeril in marriage to the Norse king. The marriage, however, never got beyond the betrothal stage, and at Earl Ragnvald’s suggestion Astrid, her half-sister, was substituted, contrary to the will of Olaf Skötkonung. Such was the anger of the king that Ragnvald was forced to accompany Ingegerd to Russia, where she was married to the grand-duke Jaroslav at Novgorod. In Sweden, however, both the Westgotar and the Upland Svear were discontented, the former on account of the breaking of the king’s promise to Olaf II of Norway and the latter on account of the introduction of the new religion, and their passions were further inflamed by the lawman Anund of Skara. A rising in Upland compelled Olaf to share his power with his son Jacob, whose name was changed to Anund[?] by the leaders of the revolt. A meeting was then arranged between the kings of Norway and Sweden at Kungälv in 1019, and this resulted in a treaty. The death of Olaf Skötkonung is assigned by Snorri Sturluson to the winter of 1021-1022. His grave is still shown at Husaby in Westergotland.

Anund Jacob of Sweden[?], now sole king, early in his reign allied himself with Olaf II of Norway against Canute II of Denmark[?], who had demanded the restitution of the rights possessed by his father King Anund, Sweyn in Norway. The allies took advantage of the Danish king’s absence to harry his land. On his return an indecisive battle was fought at Helgeå, and Anund returned to Sweden. Olaf was driven from Norway by the Danes, but returning in 1030 he raised a small army in Sweden and marched through Jämtland to Trondheim only to meet his death at the Battle of Stiklestad[?]. After death he was worshipped in Sweden, especially in Götaland. We hear from Adam of Bremen that Anund was young in years but old in wisdom and cunning; he was called Kolbränna because he had the houses of evildoers burnt. Like Olof Skötkonung he caused coins to be struck at Sigtuna, of which a few remain. The coins of Anund surpass all that were struck during the next two centuries. He appears to have died about 1050, according to Adam of Bremen. He was succeeded by his brother Emund the Old[?], who Emund the had been previously passed over because, his mother was unfree, the daughter of a Slav prince and captured in war. This king had become a Christian, but soon quarrelled with Adalhard, archbishop of Bremen, and endeavoured to secure the independence of the Church of Sweden, which was not obtained for another century. Emund, who was given the name Slemme, had territorial disputes with Denmark in the early part of his reign. These disputes were settled by a rectification of boundaries, which assigned Blekinge to Denmark.

With the death of Emund, which took place in 1060, the old family of Swedish kings dies out. The successor of Emund the Old was a king Stenkil[?] who had married the daughter of his predecessor. He was the son of a certain Ragnvald, perhaps connected with the Westergotland Ragnvald, of the reign of Olaf Skötkonung. Stenkil was born in Vestergotland and was warmly attached to the Christian religion. The Adalhard who had quarrelled with Emund the Old now sent a bishop, Adalhard the younger, to Skara. Christianity was by this time firmly established throughout most of Sweden, its chief strength being in Westergotland. The Uplanders, however, still held out against it, and Adalhard, though he succeeded in destroying the idols in his own province Westergotland, was unable to persuade Stenkil to destroy the old sanctuary at Upsala[?]. During his reign grants of land in Vermland made by the king to the Norse earl Haakon Ivarsson led to a successful invasion of Götaland by Harold Hardrada of Norway. Stenkil also had disputes with Denmark. On his death in 1066 a civil war broke out in which the leaders were two obscure princes named Eric. Probably the division of feeling between Westergötland and Upland in the matter of religion was the real cause of this war, but nothing is known of the details, though we hear that both kings as well as the chief men of the land fell in it.

A prince called Haakon the Red[?] now appears as king of Sweden and is said to have occupied the throne for thirteen years. In the Westergotland regnal lists he appears Haakon the before Stenkil and it is possible that the authority of that king was not regularly acknowledged in the province. In 1081 we find the sons of Stenkil, Inge I of Sweden[?] and Halsten of Sweden[?], reigning. Inge’s attachment to Christianity caused him to be expelled after a short time by his brother-in-law Sweyn[?], or Blot-Sweyn from his revival of the old sacrifices. Sweyn retained Inge and the kingship only for three years. After that Blotsweyn interval Inge returned and slew him, and his fall marks the final overthrow of the old religion. The interesting account of Upsala[?] preserved by Adam of Bremen in his History (iv. 26) apparently dates from the period immediately preceding these events. He describes the temple as one of great splendour and covered with gilding. In it stood the statues of the three chief deities Thor, Odin and Fricco (by whom he probably means Freya). Every nine years a great festival was held there to which embassies were sent by all the peoples of Sweden. A large number of animals and even men were sacrificed on such occasions. In the neighbourhood of the temple was a grove of peculiar sanctity in which the bodies of the victims were hung up. After the introduction of Christianity the importance of Upsala began steadily to decline, and owing to its intimate associations with the old religion the kings no longer made it their residence.

See also: List of Swedish monarchs, Lands of Sweden, Provinces of Sweden


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