Vikings were expert sailors and navigators who established Norse settlements and governments in the Faroe Islands, Greenland, the British Isles, Iceland, the Baltic coast, Normandy, Ireland, and along the Volga and Dnieper trade routes, which are present-day Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Vikings were the first Europeans to reach North America, where they settled in Vinland. While establishing settlements, they spread Norse culture and carried concubines and slaves into different parts of Scandinavia and Europe. Because of this, they significantly impacted the genetic and historical development of those areas as well as the culture. During the Viking Age, the Norsemen had a well-organized and unique way of life that bound them together. They spoke Old-Norse and followed the Old Norse religion before they converted to Christianity.
Most Vikings were explorers, craftsmen, fishermen, and traders while some were missionaries and warlords. They are often perceived as hostile and violent adventurers, considering the conquest battles that they found themselves in. Despite cultural clichés and stereotypes, Viking leaders played an essential role in the social, political, and historical development of Europe. One of the most renowned Viking leaders was Olaf Tryggvason, who was king of Norway from 995 to around 1000.
Who was Olaf Tryggvason?
Olaf Tryggvason was the King of Norway from 995 to about 1000. He became a Viking during his time in exile, and he ruled with sheer brutality as he forced Christianity on his subjects. He was the son of King Trggve Olafsson, and his grandfather was Harald Fairhair, who was the first king of Norway. Erik Bloodaxe, a 10th-century Norwegian ruler, had a wife known as Gunhild, who was greatly against Olaf Tryggvason. For this reason, Gunhild wanted Olaf Tryggvason dead.
However, Olaf and his mother were able to escape death but were later sold as slaves. When they were freed, they found themselves in Russia, where they opted to restart their lives. When in Russia, Olaf Trggvason grew up and was affiliated with the mercenary troops of Vladimir the Great in Kiev. Following full-on training and military engagement, he led the Vikings through the Baltic Sea to raid the British Isles in 985. In 991, he won the Battle of Maldon, where he and Sweyn Fokbeard were paid about 10,000 pounds of money in gold and silver.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle identifies that Olaf Tryggvason converted to Christianity in 994 after a failed attack on London. At the time, he was newly converted, but with so many followers, so he thought of going back to his home in Norway to spread Christianity. He started his journey towards the end of 994 and arrived in Norway in the autumn of 995. Immediately he got to Norway, he was accepted as King. During his reign, he began the process of converting people into the new Christian faith that he had acquainted himself with. Unfortunately, he ruled with sheer brutality and forcefully converted all his subjects. He was so brutal that he burned and looted pagan temples and put forward ultimatums of survival for the people. Even so, his pagan subjects preferred to die than to give up their primary beliefs.
Olaf Tryggvason Facts
There are different accounts about Olaf’s birth and early life
Not much is documented about Olaf’s exact birthplace and date. However, the earliest written Norwegian source identifies that Olaf was born and raised in the Orkney Islands in Russia after his mother escaped his father’s enemies. Another source that was documented in the 12th century identifies that Olaf and his mother fled to Orkney when Olaf was about 3 years old because his father’s enemies threatened to kill the whole family. Despite the different accounts, they both agree that Olaf landed in Kievan Rus’ at the court of King Valdemar, where he became a stout Christian.
He had two wives
In 982, when raiding different settlements and ports, Olaf was caught up in a storm, so he had to make his way to safety at port Wendland. When in Wendland, he met Queen Geira, the daughter of the king at the time, courted her, and eventually married her. Through their marriage, he benefited from her rule in Wendland, which advanced his agenda. After his wife’s death, he said back to England. While sailing, he came across Queen Gyda’s quest for a husband, and he took it up.
The performed violence of Olaf Tryggvason
Initially, Olaf Tryggvason was a pagan Viking raider but converted to Christianity right before taking up the Norwegian crown. His reign informed the transition of Scandinavia and other parts of Europe from paganism to Christianity. His legacy is attached to treachery, prophecy, and torture, but at the same time, most of his subjects believe that he was a hero and left behind a powerful positive legacy. Naturally, most missionaries saw the conversion to Christianity as a willful procedure and attempted to spread the word of God to anyone and everyone they would come across. However, Olaf’s case was different. Instead, he opted for coercive conversion. His reign was mixed with parts of Viking brutality and the Christian faith, which was a little too brutal.
Generally, Olaf was a missionary king, which explains his enmity against Hákon Sigurðarson, the ruling pagan jarl at the time, which brought about political unrest in Norway. Following several threats from Olaf, Hakon became a hunted man and had to hide in a pig-sty with the help of Kark, his loyal slave. Eventually, the slave slit Hakon’s throat out of panic, which gave Olaf a chance to grab the throne that was previously assigned to the pagan chieftain. Even so, Olaf executed Kark on the grounds of treachery. After this, Olaf became even more brutal and was involved in more acts of brutality.
Olaf baptized Hallfred (an Icelandic skald) in his court and decided to test his loyalty by sending him on a mission to Thorleif the Wise (a blind intransigent pagan), who refused to convert into Christianity. Hallfred was to remove Thorleif’s eyes and take them back to Olaf’s court which he did. Afterward, Olaf promulgated a program of coercive conversion and would use Hallfred’s death as a threat point for anyone who refused to convert to Christianity.
A man named Raudr shouted in protest and claimed he would never believe in Christ, so Olaf decided that he should die the worst death by bounding him upwards on a bream and put a piece of wood between his teeth to keep his mouth open. Olaf then asked his men to put a snake into Raudr’s mouth, and the snake tore his throat apart and killed him.
Also, Eyvind Kinnrifi likewise rejected Christianity, and Olaf killed him by placing a brazier of hot coals on his belly. When Sigrid the Haughty refused to marry Olaf because she didn’t want to forego her father’s religion, Olaf slapped her with his glove and reminded her of his position in a brutal manner.
While the performed violence of Olaf Tryggvason seems like a breach of individual freedoms, he is seen as a religiously pious being and one that had an uncompromising Viking spirit.
How did Olaf Tryggvason die?
Unfortunately, the reign of Olaf Tryggvason was quite short. His death was considered heroic, and he is regarded as an unconquerable and uncompromising warrior.
As recorded in Olaf’s saga Trggvasonar by Snorri Sturluson, Olaf died in 1000, after he was ambushed at the western Baltic Sea by his enemies that resulted in the Battle of Svolder. He fought a very fierce and rough naval battle with his enemies, who opposed his rule and brutality and wanted to execute him. After he lost hope and saw as though he was about to lose the battle, he threw himself into the ocean as the best way to deny his enemies the satisfaction of his death.
For some time after Olaf Trggvason threw himself into the sea, there were plenty of rumors that he survived his leap and was able to swim to safety. Long after Olaf was pronounced dead, his sister and King Ethelred the Unready, who was his good friend, received luxurious gifts from him, which raised an eyebrow. Also, Oddr Snorrason claimed in his accounts and reports that Olaf was seen in Jerusalem, Rome, and in other parts of Europe and the Meditteranean. Despite the fact that it was mentioned that Olad died in the year 1000, Oddr reported that the last sighting of Olaf Tryggvason took place in 1046.
Olaf would constantly force people to convert to Christianity through brutal means such as torture and execution of those who refused. Olaf conducted his activities in a town called Trondheim, which eventually became one of Norway’s most important cities. Trondheim has exponentially grown towards the south and east of its original location on the Nidelva river banks. Currently, over 300,000 live in that town, and Olaf’s statue sits right in it. The people believe that the statue is constantly watching over them. Up to date, people and vehicles travel along with the Olaf Tryggvason gate every day, and some people even get to learn his history as well.