King Harald Finehair brought all of Norway under his influence in the later half of the 9th century and continued to rule over Norway until his death around the year 940. His successors are often labeled as the Finehair Dynasty, but Harald supposedly claimed lineage from an even more ancient line royal line, which was said to link all the way back to the Norse gods.
According to Scandinavian tradition, Harald Finehair was a member of the Yngling Dynasty. The Icelandic scholar, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), wrote an account of this peculiar family in his Yngling Saga. He began with pure myth and gradually moved through legend, semi-legend, and finally folklore-laden history to reach the more factually-grounded time of Harald Finehair. According to legend, the first two members of the family were gods and, if calculations are correct, Harald Finehair was supposedly the thirty-fifth ruling member of the Yngling Dynasty. Yet, despite the supposedly divine origin of their family, the Ynglings were very, very unlucky—according to the saga, twenty-five of Harald’s thirty-four predecessors died violent, accidental, or simply unnatural deaths.
The Yngling Saga begins with an interesting theory that suggests Odin and the Norse gods migrated from a location near the Black Sea and eventually traveled across Europe to ultimately settle Sweden, where Odin founded a kingdom. After a long reign, Odin handed the control of his kingdom over to another god from outside his family. The successor’s name was Njord and he was technically the founder of the Yngling Dynasty. The dynasty, however, was actually named after Njord’s son and successor, Frey, a popular god who apparently also went by the name Yngvi, hence the family name of Yngling. In the saga, the reigns of Njord and Frey were portrayed as golden ages of prosperity, as would be expected from gods. The personal luck of these two god-kings were said to have been very positive during their time as rulers over a Swedish kingdom and their aura of good fortune spread over the entire kingdom during their reigns. Of course, Frey was prophesied in the Norse religion to eventually fall during the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok, but that did not stop his mythical days as a monarch from being considered the epitome of good fortune.
After the reign of Frey, however, the Yngling Dynasty suffered an unbelievable fall from grace. Here are the bizarre fates of the Yngling Dynasty members, beginning with Frey’s son and ending with Harald Finehair’s father, Hálfdan the Black. Enjoy the stories, but keep in mind that the Yngling Dynasty is considered mythical or extremely legendary, with Harald Finehair, and to a lesser extent, Hálfdan the Black, being the only members of the dynasty generally accepted as historical figures.
(3rd dynasty member) Fjolnir was said to have been the son of Frey who took over Yngling land in Sweden after his father. According to the saga, Fjolnir died after drunkenly stumbling into a giant vat of mead, where he ingloriously drowned.
(4) Sveigthir was Fjolnir’s son, and he became the head of the dynasty after his father’s bizarre demise. Sveigthir, however, would outdo his father in terms of outlandish deaths, for this king was said to have been eternally trapped inside of a rock by a mischievous dwarf.
(5) Vanlandi was the son and successor of Sveigthir. He traveled to Finland, where he ran afoul of the locals. His death came when a Finnish witch sent a violent nightmare to kill Vanladi while he slept.
(6) Visbur was the next ruler of the dynasty. He married twice and had a difficult relationship with his sons from the first marriage. Those disgruntled sons eventually burned him alive during the night.
(7) Dómaldi was a loyal son of Visbur, produced from his second marriage. He managed to remain in control of the dynasty after his father was murdered, but Dómaldi was later sacrificially killed by his people in hopes of a good harvest.
(8, 9) The sacrifice of Dómaldi apparently bought peace for two of his descendants. Dómaldi’s son, Dómar, had a prosperous reign and a peaceful death. Dómar’s son, King Dyggvi (the first of the line to be called by that title), also prospered and died of a natural illness.
(10) The bad luck returned, however, in the reign of Dyggvi’s son, King Dag. As Dag was crossing a river one day, his head was skewered by a flying pitchfork.
(11) King Agni succeeded Dag. He unwisely married the daughter of a man he had killed. Unsurprisingly, Agni’s wife did not forgive her husband, and plotted his demise. She eventually gathered a band of followers and they hanged King Agni by the neck from a tree.
(12, 13) King Agni was succeeded by his sons, Alrek and Eirík, who ruled as co-kings. The two were very competitive and loved to challenge each other in all sorts of sports and activities. One day, the brothers apparently decided to compete in a fistfight. Spurned on by their competitive spirits, Alrek and Eirík were said to have continued their brawl until both lay dead from their exchanged blows.
(14,15) Yngvi and Álf, the sons of the aforementioned Alrek, did not learn from their father’s mistakes. Whereas Alrek and Eirík competed in sport, Yngvi and Álf instead competed for a woman. In the end, Yngvi and Álf stabbed each other in a jealous rage, resulting in both men dying from their wounds.
(16) King Hugleik was the son of Álf. He had a particularly unfortunate reign, as an army of seaborne raiders apparently showed up in Sweden to challenge the Ynglings. Hugleik gallantly gathered an army to face the invaders, but he fell in battle and his kingdom was occupied by two so-called sea-kings.
(17,18) Jorund and Eirík were the sons of Yngvi, and the fallen King Hugleik was their half-brother. During Hugleik’s reign, Jorund and Eirík had sailed off in search of fame and fortune. Yet, when they heard that their kingdom had fallen to invaders, they returned to Sweden. The Yngling Dynasty successfully reclaimed the kingdom, but Eirík fell in battle. Jorund survived to become king, but he was later overpowered while leading a raid in Odda Sound and was hanged to death by a rival king.
(19) King Aun, son of the late Jorund, succeeded to the throne and proved to be a very weak ruler. He faced repeated raids from the Danes and lost every time he challenged the invaders to a battle. Despite his horrible military skills, King Aun was said to have lived to an incredibly old age. According to the Yngling Saga, Aun was a wielder of magic who sacrificed nine of his sons in order to prolong his own life. He spared the life of his tenth son, albeit only because the people mutinied and refused to sacrifice the last heir of the Yngling Dynasty. Despite his horrible life, Aun ironically was one of the few Ynglings said to have died simply of old age.
(20) King Egil was supposedly the only son of King Aun who was not sacrificed. Like his father, Egil was a terrible military leader and he greatly indebted himself to Denmark in order to overcome a rebellion. Not long after finally defeating said rebels, King Egil was randomly gored to death by a bull while out on a hunt.
(21) King Óttar inherited the kingdom after Egil, and subsequently also was burdened with his father’s debt to the Danes. Animosity between the Ynglings and the Danes grew to such an extent that King Óttar supposedly began raiding Denmark. Like his predecessors, however, King Óttar was apparently not a great tactician, for he and his army were surrounded and slaughtered by Danish forces.
(22) King Adils succeeded to the throne after the death of his father, King Óttar. Adils was said to have been a competent warrior and a worthy rival of the legendary King Hrolf Kraki of the Danish Skjoldung Dynasty. Although Adils had an impressive reign, he did not escape the bad luck of the Yngling family—he supposedly died after falling from his horse and cracking his head open on a rock.
(23) Eystein became king after the rocky fall of his father, the late King Adils. Raids on all fronts allegedly plagued his kingdom, including from Denmark and Norway, as well as from various sea-kings. One of his many opponents apparently set fire to Eystein’s hall while he slept, successfully killing the king.
(24) Yngvar, Eystein’s son, apparently survived the fire and became king. He was a great warrior who put a stop to the raids against his realm. Yet, after achieving peace, he made the same mistake of launching raids of his own. King Yngvar was said to have died during a skirmish in the region of Estonia.
(25) King Onund became the next king after the death of his father, Yngvar. Onund learned from his father’s errors and devoted his reign to public works. He devoted such time to his kingdom’s infrastructure that he was nicknamed Road-Onund. Yet, even this peaceful king could not escape the Yngling curse—while traveling through his realm, Road-Onund was allegedly killed when he was buried under a slushy avalanche of snow, mud and stones.
(26) The son and successor of King Onund was Ingjald, and he was nothing like his father. King Injald was said to have slain twelve kings, often using treachery to achieve his goals. Ingjald the Wicked, as he was allegedly called, was said to have eventually committed suicide by setting his home on fire after one of his opponents finally outmaneuvered him. Following the death of King Ingjald, and the occupation of his domain by rival kings, the Ynglings began migrating toward Norway.
(27) Ingjald’s son, Oláf, supposedly led the Ynglings to the borderlands between Sweden and Norway. He was said to have cleared out a large section of forest in Værmland for settlement, which attracted a large following to the region. Unfortunately for Oláf, the harvest was not good—as had happened before in the Yngling Dynasty, Oláf was sacrificially killed by his people for a better crop yield.
(28) Hálfdan Whiteleg was a son of Oláf who, as a child, had allegedly been sent by his father to be raised in the Norwegian region of Solör. After the sacrificial death of Oláf, a portion of the settlers from Værmland traveled to Solör and proclaimed Hálfdan Whiteleg as their king. According to the Yngling Saga, Hálfdan Whiteleg took control of Solör and spread Yngling influence further into Norway. Unlike many of his ancestors, Hálfdan Whiteleg supposedly lived a long and prosperous life.
(29) Another king named Eystein succeeded Hálfdan Whiteleg. Unlike his father, Eystein was hit with the full force of the Yngling Dynasty’s bad luck. While traveling on a ship one day, king Eystein was said to have been knocked overboard by a rogue sailyard and he drowned in the sea.
(30) The Yngling curse somehow skipped over Hálfdan the Generous, Eystein’s successor. Hálfdan the Generous was said to have been a successful warrior and earned his nickname from the hefty payments he doled out to his troops. He supposedly lived a long life and died naturally of age-related illness.
(31) King Guthröth, however, was the typical ill-fortuned Yngling monarch. He was said to have kidnapped a woman named Ása after killing her father. Not learning from his own family misfortunes, Guthröth married Ása and the two had a son named Hálfdan the Black (Harald Finehair’s father). Nevertheless, Ása did not forgive Guthröth for the death of her father. She eventually had Guthröth assassinated and fled with her son, Hálfdan the Black, back to her homeland of Agthir.
(32, 33) When Ása and Hálfdan the Black fled to Agthir, Guthröth’s other son, Oláf, became the next king. Oláf was reportedly fair and generous—traits that inspired him to bequeath half of his kingdom to Hálfdan the Black when the boy came of age. Oláf and his heir, Rognvald, both allegedly died of disease.
(34) Hálfdan the Black is the first member of the Yngling Dynasty who is believed to have been a real person by most historians. According to sagas and skaldic poems, he carved out a large domain in southeastern Norway, giving his famous son, Harald Finehair, a powerful base from which to bring the Norwegians under the influence of a single monarchy. Nevertheless, even the mighty Hálfdan the Black was not exempt from the Yngling curse—he allegedly fell through thin ice on Lake Randsfjorden and drowned.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Medly of images based on the Yngling Saga by Gerhard Munthe (1849–1929), all [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.