Sømmevågen–Ytraberget (departing from Flymuseet)
Ytraberget–Møllebukta (departing from the barge at Ytraberget)
Møllebukta–Sømmevågen (Departing from the Three Swords)
Sømmevågen–Ytraberget (departing from Flymuseet)
Welcome aboard this voyage back in time – to the Viking Age – right here in Hafrsfjord. The name of this fjord comes from the Norse word hafr, which means buck goat and which probably refers to a reef at the inlet that looks like a buck. So the fjord has had the same name for over a thousand years, but today, the reef is called Prestaskjæret. Hafrsfjord is located between Stavanger and the municipality of Sola. The fjord is around 9 km long, and is a so-called threshold fjord. It has four thresholds and is shallowest at the outlet, which is only 3.5 metres deep.
If we travelled over a thousand years back in time, what would it have been like around Hafrsfjord? On this trip, we will try to give you an idea of how life here would have been back then.
Archaeological finds around Hafrsfjord tell us that the Hafrsfjord area held important maritime and perhaps political functions that extended beyond the local level. There have been finds such as cairns, menhirs, hillforts, burial mounds, stone crosses, coins and – not least – a large number of small and large boathouse sites around the entire fjord.
Hafrsfjord has the densest known concentration of boathouse sites in Norway, and most of them are from the Roman Iron Age – in other words, before the Viking Age. Even so, this tells us that many ships have used this area, and some of them were quite large. The inner part of Hafrsfjord probably offered much better protection against the wind and weather than “outside” on the North Sea. The fjord may have provided shelter for entire fleets. Hafrsfjord was the start of Norvegen, “the way north” through the Karmsund strait. This was also the starting place of one of the most important routes west to the British Isles and on to the continent. A trip for the Rogaland Vikings to the British Isles would take between 24 and 36 hours, and the discovery of Irish objects in Rogaland tells us that they made that trip multiple times.
As we move up the fjord, on the starboard side, there was once a lake behind Myklaberget, called Stokkavannet (in the south-east corner of the map). The lake has since been drained.
While we are not on a Viking ship today, if we were, we might have been able to get to places that this boat could never access. The ships in Viking times were constructed in such a way that allowed them to easily navigate shallow channels and rivers. The keel protruded about a metre below the waterline and allowed Viking ships to sail where other ships ran aground.
The ships also had a clinker construction, in other words, they had overlapping planks that were fastened together with nails from the inside of the ship. hey would have needed about 4600 nails for a large ship – that’s more than 150 kg in nails alone. The construction made the ship flexible, allowing it to ride the waves in all kinds of weather. To make the ships waterproof, they would dip strings of wool in tar and insert them between the planks. The rudder was attached to the right side of the ship. In fact, the word starboard literally means “steering side”, and we still use it to designate the right side of boats today. These advanced ships were built with relatively few tools: axes, drills and hammers.
Until 700 AD, the ships were rowed, but with the advent of sails, the ships got faster and could cover longer distances in a shorter time. We can be reasonably confident that sails were commonly used by the second half of 700 AD. This development may have laid the foundation for Viking voyages and raids.
Extensive specialised knowledge was crucial in all stages of the shipbuilding process. Carpentry, forging and – not least – spinning thread to weave sails. In Rogaland, more than a thousand spinning wheels have been found, parts of the tool we call a spindle and which is needed to spin thread. We can interpret this as meaning that wool thread was produced on a large scale, and one of its uses could very well have been to make long, woven panels, which were then sewn together into sails. It was perhaps not uncommon to have sails of over 80 square metres, which would have weighed about 110 kg and would have had to be hoisted by 10–12 men.
A sail of 100 square metres would have required wool from several hundred sheep. So, enormous resources in the form of materials and labour were invested in the production of a single ship. Many of you have probably heard of the Oseberg ship, the most famous Viking ship found in Norway. It was built right here in south-western Norway. The Engøyholmen Coastal Culture Centre has a stand in Sømmevågen, and they can tell you even more about Viking ships.
If you look to the starboard side again, you will see Ytraberget. A hillfort was built here in the late Iron Age, and it was probably still in use during the Viking Age. Hillforts are fortified settlements, which were made in a period when the country consisted of various dominions. Strategically located on ridges with a broad overview of the surroundings, they functioned both as lookout points and as fortresses. Just behind Ytraberget, we find Myklaberget, where there was a similar hillfort. There are also two other registered hillforts drawn on the map, one at Sunde and one at Haga.
Here at Ytraberget, you can walk along a trail of cultural experiences including dance, theatre and music, and you can participate in exciting Viking Age activities. There are also marine archaeologists from MUST, who can explain how they work with archaeological investigations underwater and along the shoreline. Please keep in mind that some of these activities take place in a nature area that is not universally designed, and it can be difficult to navigate the path with prams.
Ytraberget–Møllebukta (departing from the barge at Ytraberget)
To those of you starting your journey here, welcome on board. A fortress like the hillfort here at Ytraberget can come in handy during war and conflict. And it may well be that those of Harald’s men who held the fortress one summer day in the year 872 witnessed something big out here on the fjord.
Harald Fairhair was one of the most powerful petty kings in the country. According to the saga, an alliance from Agder, Vestfold, Ireland and Denmark attacked Harald here in Hafrsfjord. Harald’s rapid expansion had shaken the existing balance of power to such an extent that much of the trade from the west ended up in North Jæren and under Harald’s control.
Harald is said to have been in Trøndelag when he heard that an enemy army was on its way.
He could apparently call out up to 150 ships with nearly 5,500 men – many more than his enemies could mobilise. Harald drew his fleet deep into the Hafrsfjord and fortified all the surrounding hillforts.
Harald’s 300 metre fleet lay in wait across the fjord, and according to tradition, allowed the enemy fleet to freely enter the fjord. It probably took several hours before all the ships were in the fjord and the battle could begin, with tension building all the while. In the middle of Harald’s fleet lay the king’s ship and the king’s men, consisting of dreaded warriors, berserkers and wolf-warriors. Around the king’s ships were smaller and faster ships ready to board enemy ships. Opposite Harald lay Tore Haklang, a chieftain from Denmark, with his large warship, flanked by the ships of his kinsmen, directly targeting Harald’s ship. The horns sounded and the battle began.
In the skaldic poem Haraldskvadet, which was written by Harald Fairhair’s poet Torbjørn Hornklove, and which you may have heard performed by the Valen Vocal Ensemble at Indraberget, we can read:
Have you heard how the high-born king
fought with Kjotve the Rich there in Hafrsfjorden?
Ships came from the east, eager for battle,
with gaping figure-heads and graven prow-boards.
Eyewitnesses to the battle may have seen Harald defeat Kjotve he rich, a chieftain from Agder and his son Tore Haklang, the chieftain from Denmark and the King of Dublin, Olaf the White, who is said to have come from Ireland expressly to participate in the battle and fight against Harald.
Harald Fairhair’s berserkers are said to have fought their way to where the fighting was most intense. They howled and shouted and tore at each other to reach the enemy first. Enemy ship after enemy ship was defeated, until Harald Fairhair remained as the undisputed power in Western Norway and the North Sea islands. This outcome was to form the basis of the nation state of Norway several hundred years later.
We are now approaching Møllebukta. On the starboard side, you can see Fritz Røed’s monument to what is said have happened here that day in the year 872. Sverd i fjell, “Swords in Rock”, was unveiled by King Olav in 1983. The monument consists of three swords set in the ground, and it represents peace, unity and freedom. The hilts of the Viking swords are based on swords found in different parts of the country.
You may now disembark at Møllebukta.
Møllebukta–Sømmevågen (Departing from the Three Swords)
To those of you starting your journey here, welcome on board. Sverd i fjell, “Swords in Rock”, stands on a headland that juts out into the fjord. It may well be that it was right here in Møllebukta that the battle took place. Nobody knows, but the fjord is widest here and the Vikings arranged their boats side by side when they fought.
By winning the Battle of Hafrsfjord, Harald Fairhair was not only able call himself the king of Western Norway, but he also gained control of the traffic artery to the west and the
resources that came from even further west. The traffic between Rogaland and the British Isles during the Viking Age gave those who lived here ample access to various resources. Control of this access was now in the hands of Harald Fairhair.
Those of Harald’s enemies who were not killed were captured and tied up. Some still tried to escape, jumping into the fjord and trying to make their way ashore. Some are said to have drowned here, outside Haga, under the weight of their own armour, while those who made it to the shore were greeted by Harald’s men. After two or three hours of fighting, it was all over. Based on skaldic poems and stories, we can assume that the battle cost 2,00 warriors their lives.
Archaeologists have so far not found any traces of a battle, but archaeological finds tell us that Hafrsfjord was of great importance – battle or no battle.
After the Battle of Hafrsfjord, which possibly took place here, it is unlikely that all was joy and happiness in the area. To begin with, the sagas focus on King Harald Fairhair’s problems with all the Vikings who had been exiled. Harald was apparently ruthless after the battle and everyone who refused to obey him was exiled and their property in Norway was confiscated.
In addition to these external problems, King Harald Fairhair eventually also faced unrest internally in Norway. His solution was to appoint his sons as earls to rule around the country – and he had many sons. Harald had been very diligent in having children, and some sources say he had between 16 and 20 sons, with different wives and concubines, so he had plenty to choose from. He himself had his seat in Western Norway because it was without a doubt the most important area in his dominion.
Penannular brooches are an Irish-Scottish piece of jewellery that appear frequently in men’s graves in the Hafrsfjord/Sola area in the period from the end of 800 to around 950, which coincides with the reign of Harald Fairhair and his sons. Penannular brooches and the cloaks to which they were attached were important symbols of power and served to identify the men who were members of Harald Fairhair’s political network and connected to him in a relationship of fidelity.
In Rogaland, the greatest concentrations of penannular brooches are around Sola and North Jæren, as well as around the Ryfylke basin towards Suldalsvatnet, “Lake Suldal”. These areas are generally considered the key areas under Harald Fairhair’s control. Sola is one of the areas that may have been under the control of Harald’s family. The cloak and penannular brooch were visually strong symbols and others could see from a long distance that the warriors wearing them were “Harald’s men”.
According to the saga, it was Gyda who was the great driving force for Harald Fairhair to gain control of large areas – only then would she agree to marry him, and as the saying goes, behind every successful man there is a woman. And behind Harald Fairhair, there were very many women. Some were his wives and some were his concubines (mistresses), and as I said before, they gave him many heirs.
Now that we are on the Sola side of Hafrsfjord, it may be worth saying a few words about Sola through prehistory and up to Viking times. Archaeological finds tell us that Sola has been an attractive place to live since the Stone Age. With its fertile soil and good access to resources, people have chosen to settle here for several thousand years.
In Sola, down towards Hafrsfjord, we have discovered finds from activity in the Stone Age, Bronze Age burial mounds, hillforts from the late Iron Age and numerous boathouse sites that testify to intensive maritime activity. On the west side of Hafrsfjord, in Tjora and Sola, a total of 10 large boathouses have been registered, both facing the sea and facing the fjord. They would have needed 300 men to man the nine facing Hafrsfjord. All in all, in the Hafrsfjord area, more than 500 men would have been needed as crew, if most of the boathouses were in use at the same time. A total of 30 boathouses have been identified in Jæren, and if the boathouses and associated vessels were in use at the same time, they would have needed 600–800 men as crew. Based on what we know about population figures at the time, it would probably have been necessary to bring in men from outside the region to fill these crews.
As rich in resources as Sola was throughout prehistory, we can imagine that some people managed to build up great wealth and a lot of power over several generations. Rich equestrian graves at Sømme, among other places, may indicate that there were several powerful people living in Sola who may have enriched themselves on the resources from the west and built up positions far beyond what only their farmland would indicate.
One of these powerful men may have been “Rygekongen” Erling Skjalgsson, who may have been a descendant and heir of powerful people in this area. Erling Skjalgsson was born almost 100 years after the battle of Hafrsfjord. There is nothing to suggest that Sola suddenly became an important chieftain’s seat, simply because the Erling Skjalgsson lived there.
As we approach Sømme again, it can be interesting to note that traces have been found here of a large farm with a longhouse of around 50 metres and a jewellery smith’s workshop. It is uncommon to find traces of a jewellery smith, but finds here include a crucible and remnants of silver. A jewellery smith was the person who forged precious metals such as gold, silver and bronze. This may indicate that the farm here at Sømme was a high-status farm, and an equestrian grave was also found in connection with the farm. The finds in this grave include a sword, arrowheads and a horse bridle, as well as the skeletal remains of a dog.
The Viking Age graves that contain horses are richly equipped graves that are connected to what must have been central and strategically important farms – and the same must be true for Sømme. One thing is what the saga tells us about both Fairhair, Skjalgsson and other figures from Viking times, but what archaeology can tell us so far is that Sola and the area around Hafrsfjord were home to several large farms throughout the Iron Age – at Jåsund, Myklebust, Meling, Risa and Sømme, to name a few here on the Sola side. But who had their seat at which farm, we don’t know.
Now we have come to the end of our trip around Hafrsfjord for those of you who started here. We have tried to paint a picture of what it was like around the fjord here in Viking times and how the Battle of Hafrsfjord may have unfolded.
Archaeologists have still not found traces of a battle as described by the saga, but Hafrsfjord is, and will always be, a place of great historical significance, not only for Rogaland, but for the whole of Norway.
Thank you for joining us and have a great day!
Kim Hjardar: “Vikingenes største slag” (The Vikings’ Greatest Battle)
Arnfrid Opedahl: “Hafrsfjord og kampen om vikingtidens flåtebaser” (Hafrsfjord and the Battle for Viking Fleet Bases)
Åsa Dahlin Hauken: “Hafrsfjord rundt – oversikt over funn fra jernalder og middelalder…” (Around Hafrsfjord – an overview of finds from the Iron Age and the Middle Ages…)
Trond Meling: “To graver med hest og hesteutstyr fra Tu…” (Two graves with horses and horse equipment from Tu…)
Kristin Oma Armstrong: “Hafrsfjord 872: forankrig av relasjonsfelt” (Hafrsfjord 872: embedding of relational fields).
Exhibition catalogue: “Utferd – mot vest i vikingtid” (Voyagers – Going West with the Vikings)