Places Discussed

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Asgarth (AHS-gahrth). Legendary homeland of the wandering warrior and king Odin, which is thought to be located somewhere in southwest Asia. Asgarth is considered to be the ancestral place of origin for the Norwegian royal line. Snorri thus obliquely links the kings of Norway with the generally accepted medieval belief that western European kingdoms were founded by expatriate members of the ancient Trojan nobility.


*Norway. Scandinavian kingdom whose governance is the central concern of the tales. The sagas detail how Norway is united by Harald Fairhair, converted to Christianity by Olaf Tryggvesson and Holy King Olaf, and subjected to foreign rule by Canute of Denmark. Many of Norway’s kings spend a great deal of time traveling through its mountainous regions in the north, with their fjords and islands in the west and fertile valleys in the south, ever seeking to maintain control by quelling discontented farmers and chieftains alike. In many ways the Norwegian kingdom itself is truly the main antagonist for all the central figures of the narratives.


*Nitharos (NIHTH-ah-rohs). Norwegian town founded by Olaf Tryggvesson that serves as a royal residence for numerous kings of Norway. After Tryggvesson’s martyrdom, his body is laid to rest in Nitharos’s Church of St. Clement, thereby elevating the city’s spiritual and symbolic significance.


*Sweden. Kingdom adjacent to Norway that appears throughout the sagas as both a rival to Norway and a place of refuge. At times Norway comes under Swedish rule, and at other times, Norwegian nobility flee to Sweden to escape hostility at home. The most notable refugee is Holy King Olaf, who after exile to this neighboring kingdom, returns to Norway and is martyred at the Battle of Stiklarstathir.


*Iceland. Island country in the north Atlantic that is settled by displaced members of the Norwegian nobility after Harald Fairhair’s consolidation of Norway under one rule. Iceland represents one frontier of Scandinavian influence due to its remoteness and isolation. The fact that it is ruled not by a king but by a judicial and legislative assembly made up of freemen makes it a point of contrast with every other kingdom in the text.


*Denmark. Powerful Scandinavian kingdom to the south of Norway that stands as the single-greatest foreign threat to Norway. At some times Denmark holds power over its northern neighbor; at other times it comes under Norwegian control.


*England. With its many wealthy religious and economic centers, England is a target for many Scandinavian raiding parties, a number of them headed by Norwegian kings during their youth. For King Harald Hardruler, England represents his overweening ambition, as his attempt to conquer it ends in his own death at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Because England was Christianized long before Scandinavia, it becomes the avenue by which Norway begins its conversion. Both Hakon the Good and Olaf Tryggvesson are baptized there.


*Miklagarth (MIK-la-gahrth). Better known as Byzantium (now Istanbul), the capital of the Byzantine Empire, to which many Scandinavian warriors go to serve in the emperor’s Varangian guard. As their leader, Harald Hardruler launches numerous campaigns in North Africa and the Mediterranean, he earns great wealth and fame before returning to Norway to claim half the kingdom from King Magnus.


*Holmgarth (HOLM-gahrth). City in Russia (modern day Novgorod) that serves as a place of refuge for the young Olaf Tryggvesson and later for Holy King Olaf and his son Magnus when they flee Norway for their safety. Harald Hardruler also serves the king there and marries his daughter Ellisif.


*Jerusalem. City in the Holy Land to which Christian pilgrims go. A...

(This entire section contains 666 words.)

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journey to this city signifies great piety on behalf of pilgrims and crusaders. Thorir Hound’s journey there after the king’s death seems to be sign of his contrition for his slaying of Holy King Olaf. After the First Crusade King Sigurth of Norway brings an army there and receives a splinter of the true cross from King Baldwin.


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Bagge, Sverre. Society and Politics in Snorri Sturluson’s “Heimskringla.” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. Using modern methods of historiography, Bagge concentrates on the work “as a description of society” in thirteenth century Norway and Iceland, dealing primarily with the political conflicts depicted. Examines similarities to the medieval history of other European countries.

Ciklamini, Marlene. Snorri Sturluson. Boston: Twayne, 1978. A useful introduction to the author, intended for the general reader as well as for the scholar. The slim book includes chapters on Snorri’s life, “Snorri’s Literary Heritage,” the Prose Edda, and detailed summaries of and commentaries on Heimskringla.

Magnusson, Magnus, and Hermann Palsson, trans. King Harald’s Saga: Harald Hardradi of Norway, from Snorri Sturluson’s “Heimskringla.” Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1966. An extremely readable introduction begins this translation of one section of Heimskringla. King Harald fought Harold of England just before Harold’s defeat at the Battle of Hastings, and he may well have changed British history by preparing the way for William the Conqueror.

Parergon: Bulletin of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Renaissance Studies 15 (1976): 3-54. Special Issue on Snorri Sturluson, edited by Hans Kuhn. Four scholarly articles that include examinations of literary and historical aspects of Heim-skringla.

Sturluson, Snorri. The Stories of the Kings of Norway Called the Round of the World. Translated by William Morris and Eirikr Magnusson. London, Bernard Quaritch, 1905. Volume 4 contains a long historical and biographical introduction and three indexes, to persons, places, and subjects in the work.