Haraldshaugen – Avaldsnes

BUS RIDE
On this bus trip, you will hear about the Battle of Hafrsfjord and Harald Fairhair. Since we are starting here at Haraldshaugen, it is only fitting that we start where Harald Fairhair’s saga ends, namely, at his death, about the year 833.

Haraldshaugen – where Harald Hairfair is buried?
Haraldshaugen was built for the celebration of the Unification of Norway in 1872, and this place was chosen because it was believed that it was Harald Fairhair’s burial mound. There are no maps or descriptions from Harald Fairhair’s own time that say anything about where he was buried, but in 1218, the Icelandic saga writer Snorri Sturluson came to Norway. Snorri must have gathered information from the locals and listened to old legends and stories as he worked on his sagas, and perhaps he heard stories from the people living in the area about the location of Harald Fairhair’s grave. But in 1218, 385 years had passed since Harald Fairhair’s death. That’s 12–15 generations, we can’t be certain that the descriptions Snorri received were entirely accurate.

In any case, Snorri wrote his sagas of the Norwegian kings, and today, his work is among our richest sources of knowledge about Norway and the Nordic countries in the Viking Age and the Middle Ages. In Harald Fairhair’s saga he wrote:

In Haugesund is a church, now standing; and not far from the churchyard … is King Harald Fairhair’s mound; but his gravestone stands west of the church …

In the 19th century, it was believed that the large mound where Haraldsstøtta was built is the one Snorri describes. There are actually remains of a small stone church near Haraldshaugen, and this may be the church Snorri is referring to.

However, modern archaeologists believe that the burial mound on which Haraldsstøtta is built must be from the Bronze Age, in other words, much earlier than Harald Fairhair’s time. (The Bronze Age was from 1700–500 BC.) That being said, Bronze Age mounds were occasionally reused in Viking times, and that may be the case here as well. So there is some doubt as to whether this is exactly where Harald Fairhair was buried. Alternative places on both sides of the Karmsund Strait have been suggested, but we are no closer to a final answer. In any case, Haraldshaugen stands a great monument from the millennial celebrations in 1872, and there is little doubt that it is in the vicinity of Harald Fairhair’s final resting place.

We should also mention that, in 1872, there was much disagreement about where the monument should be erected. Many, including world-famous violinist Ole Bull, believed that the monument should stand at the entrance to Hafrsfjord, where the final battle for control over the Kingdom of Nordvegr took place. Ole Bull had sketches drawn up for a proposed monument at Hafrsfjord, and he collected money – including from Norwegian-Americans – to finance it. But the choice ultimately fell on the site of Fairhair’s grave and not the site of his most important battle. The mound itself was rebuilt and the large granite obelisk was placed on top. The mound was surrounded by 29 smaller stone pillars, one stone from each of the old counties in the Norwegian Kingdom.

The 1000th anniversary was a major national event and 20,000 people were present when King Oscar II unveiled the monument.

Today, Haraldshaugen reminds us of a very important event in Norway’s history, and it is what we are celebrating again this year: the unification of Nordvegen under one king.

Inspired by the English
Harald Fairhair was probably inspired by England to unite Norway into one kingdom. We have all heard about the Vikings taking gold and silver home from their raids, but they also brought back new ideas and new knowledge. The Viking Age was quite simply a period of massive international cultural exchange, and much of what the Vikings learned abroad became absolutely crucial to the Norwegian national unification process. The introduction of Christianity is one example of this. Christianity brought with it a new way of organising society that was more compatible with the centralisation of power.

Harald Fairhair was well acquainted with the Christian King of England, King Æthelstan. In fact, Harald sent his youngest son, Haakon, to England so that he could be raised there and learn how to govern a country. Haakon returned as a Christian and tried to introduce Christianity throughout the kingdom. He had some success in the beginning, and in the year 953, he won an important battle over the sons of his older brother Eric Bloodaxe at Reheia – or Blodheia – on Karmøy, not far from Avaldsnes. Haakon was the King of Norway from the 930s until about 960 and was nicknamed “the Good”. It was only after the fall of Olav the Holy in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 that we consider Christianity as fully introduced in Norway, although many people continued to believe in Odin, Thor and the other Norse gods even after this.

Before we left Haraldshaugen, some of you may have walked over to Krosshaug burial mound, which is about a hundred metres south of Haraldshaugen. The three metre high stone cross on top of the mound was probably erected in the earliest days of Christianity in Norway. Some believe it was erected in memory of Eric Bloodaxe, but it is more likely that it was erected by Haakon the Good to mark an early Christian royal organisation.

The Sagas and Harald Hairfair
But who was he really, this Harald Fairhair? As mentioned, the sagas were written down several hundred years after Harald’s death, and up to that time, they had probably largely survived as oral narratives. We don’t know how much they had changed over the years, but stories are often coloured by the people who tell them. It could be that the stories of our Viking kings became a little more dramatic and magnificent each time they were told, and maybe even historians like Snorri Sturluson added and subtracted as they saw fit.

Snorri says that Harald Fairhair took over a petty kingdom in Eastern Norway after his father, Halfdan the Black. Harald is said to have been only ten years old when this happened. Assisted by his uncle, he maintained power in the kingdom despite several attempts to overthrow him. According to the saga, he gained the ambition to unite Norway into one kingdom following a challenge from the beautiful Gyda, who would not marry him until he had become sole ruler of the country, just as the Swedish and Danish kings were. Harald Fairhair then swore that he would not cut his hair until he had completed his assignment. He thus set about conquering region after region.

Today, most historians are in doubt about Harald’s eastern origins, but that he eventually gained significant power in Western Norway is considered fairly certain. He undoubtedly became one of the most powerful petty kings in Norway.

The Battle of 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 to remove him from power. According to the saga, an alliance from Agder, Vestfold, Ireland and Denmark had prepared to attack. Harald could apparently call out up to 150 ships with nearly 5,500 men – many more than his enemies could mobilise.

The two fleets met in Hafrsfjord, near Stavanger. Harald drew his fleet deep into the fjord and fortified all the surrounding hillforts. Harald’s fleet, spanning 300 metres, 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, we can read:

“Have you heard how the high-born king fought with Kjǫtvi inn auðlagði (‘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 the 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.

Avaldsnes
Snorri’s saga emphasises that Harald had his most important royal estates in Western Norway, from Bergen in the north to Utstein in the south, and that – at least in his older days – he mostly stayed in this area. His most important royal estate was in Avaldsnes, and perhaps that was where he went after the Battle of Hafrsfjord.

There are archaeological traces from most eras here in Avaldsnes, and naturally also from Viking times. Traces that may indicate a royal estate from the time of Harald Fairhair have been found, but they have not been excavated. In the future, new archaeological methods will give us more knowledge and more chapters in the story of the centre of power here at Avaldsnes, which lasted for several thousand years.

 

Avaldsnes – Haraldshaugen

On this bus trip, you will hear about the Battle of Hafrsfjord and Harald Fairhair. The journey takes you from where Harald had his most important manor and up to the place where he was buried, probably around the year of 833. He was then in his eighties and had spent several years in this area.

The Sagas and Harald Hairfair
But who was he really, this Harald Fairhair? As mentioned, the sagas were written down several hundred years after Harald’s death, and up to that time, they had probably largely survived as oral narratives. We don’t know how much they had changed over the years, but stories are often coloured by the people who tell them. It could be that the stories of our Viking kings became a little more dramatic and magnificent each time they were told, and maybe even historians like Snorri Sturluson added and subtracted as they saw fit.

Snorri says that Harald Fairhair took over a petty kingdom in Eastern Norway after his father, Halfdan the Black. Harald is said to have been only ten years old when this happened. Assisted by his uncle, he maintained power in the kingdom despite several attempts to overthrow him. According to the saga, he gained the ambition to unite Norway into one kingdom following a challenge from the beautiful Gyda, who would not marry him until he had become sole ruler of the country, just as the Swedish and Danish kings were. Harald Fairhair then swore that he would not cut his hair until he had completed his assignment. He thus set about conquering region after region.

Today, most historians are in doubt about Harald’s eastern origins, but that he eventually gained significant power in Western Norway is considered fairly certain. He undoubtedly became one of the most powerful petty kings in Norway.

The Battle of 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 to remove him from power. According to the saga, an alliance from Agder, Vestfold, Ireland and Denmark had prepared to attack. Harald could apparently call out up to 150 ships with nearly 5,500 men – many more than his enemies could mobilise.

The two fleets met in Hafrsfjord, near Stavanger. Harald drew his fleet deep into the fjord and fortified all the surrounding hillforts. Harald’s fleet, spanning 300 metres, 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, we can read:

“Have you heard how the high-born king fought with Kjǫtvi inn auðlagði (‘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 the 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.

Avaldsnes
Snorri’s saga emphasises that Harald had his most important royal estates in Western Norway, from Bergen in the north to Utstein in the south, and that – at least in his older days – he mostly stayed in this area. His most important royal estate was in Avaldsnes, and perhaps that was where he went after the Battle of Hafrsfjord.

There are archaeological traces from most eras in Avaldsnes, and naturally also from Viking times. Traces that may indicate a royal estate from the time of Harald Fairhair have been found, but they have not been excavated. In the future, new archaeological methods will give us more knowledge and more chapters in the story of the centre of power here at Avaldsnes, which lasted for several thousand years.

Haraldshaugen – where Harald Hairfair is buried?
This bus ride ends at the official national monument of Norway: Haraldshaugen was built for the celebration of the Unification of Norway in 1872, and this place was chosen because it was believed that it was Harald Fairhair’s burial mound. There are no maps or descriptions from Harald Fairhair’s own time that say anything about where he was buried, but in 1218, the Icelandic saga writer Snorri Sturluson came to Norway. Snorri must have gathered information from the locals and listened to old legends and stories as he worked on his sagas, and perhaps he heard stories from the people living in the area about the location of Harald Fairhair’s grave. But in 1218, 385 years had passed since Harald Fairhair’s death. That’s 12–15 generations, we can’t be certain that the descriptions Snorri received were entirely accurate.

In any case, Snorri wrote his sagas of the Norwegian kings, and today, his work is among our richest sources of knowledge about Norway and the Nordic countries in the Viking Age and the Middle Ages. In Harald Fairhair’s saga he wrote:

In Haugesund is a church, now standing; and not far from the churchyard … is King Harald Fairhair’s mound; but his gravestone stands west of the church …

In the 19th century, it was believed that the large mound where Haraldsstøtta was built is the one Snorri describes. There are actually remains of a small stone church near Haraldshaugen, and this may be the church Snorri is referring to.

However, modern archaeologists believe that the burial mound on which Haraldsstøtta is built must be from the Bronze Age, in other words, much earlier than Harald Fairhair’s time. (The Bronze Age was from 1700–500 BC.) That being said, Bronze Age mounds were occasionally reused in Viking times, and that may be the case here as well. So there is some doubt as to whether this is exactly where Harald Fairhair was buried. Alternative places on both sides of the Karmsund Strait have been suggested, but we are no closer to a final answer. In any case, Haraldshaugen stands a great monument from the millennial celebrations in 1872, and there is little doubt that it is in the vicinity of Harald Fairhair’s final resting place.

We should also mention that, in 1872, there was much disagreement about where the monument should be erected. Many, including world-famous violinist Ole Bull, believed that the monument should stand at the entrance to Hafrsfjord, where the final battle for control over the Kingdom of Nordvegr took place. Ole Bull had sketches drawn up for a proposed monument at Hafrsfjord, and he collected money – including from Norwegian-Americans – to finance it. But the choice ultimately fell on the site of Fairhair’s grave and not the site of his most important battle. The mound itself was rebuilt and the large granite obelisk was placed on top. The mound was surrounded by 29 smaller stone pillars, one stone from each of the old counties in the Norwegian Kingdom.

The 1000th anniversary was a major national event and 20,000 people were present when King Oscar II unveiled the monument.

Today, Haraldshaugen reminds us of a very important event in Norway’s history, and it is what we are celebrating again this year: the unification of Nordvegen under one king.

Inspired by the English
Harald Fairhair was probably inspired by England to unite Norway into one kingdom. We have all heard about the Vikings taking gold and silver home from their raids, but they also brought back new ideas and new knowledge. The Viking Age was quite simply a period of massive international cultural exchange, and much of what the Vikings learned abroad became absolutely crucial to the Norwegian national unification process. The introduction of Christianity is one example of this. Christianity brought with it a new way of organising society that was more compatible with the centralisation of power.

Harald Fairhair was well acquainted with the Christian King of England, King Æthelstan. In fact, Harald sent his youngest son, Haakon, to England so that he could be raised there and learn how to govern a country. Haakon returned as a Christian and tried to introduce Christianity throughout the kingdom. He had some success in the beginning, and in the year 953, he won an important battle over the sons of his older brother Eric Bloodaxe at Reheia – or Blodheia – on Karmøy, not far from Avaldsnes. Haakon was the King of Norway from the 930s until about 960 and was nicknamed “the Good”. It was only after the fall of Olav the Holy in the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030 that we consider Christianity as fully introduced in Norway, although many people continued to believe in Odin, Thor and the other Norse gods even after this.

When we arrive at Haraldshaugen, make sure you walk over to Krosshaug burial mound, which is about a hundred metres south of Haraldshaugen. The three metre high stone cross on top of the mound was probably erected in the earliest days of Christianity in Norway. Some believe it was erected in memory of Eric Bloodaxe, but it is more likely that it was erected by Haakon the Good to mark an early Christian royal organisation.