This image, created by the Norwegian artist Erik Werenskiold (c. 1855-1938), is one of many illustrations made for an 1899 reprint of the Heimskringla, a medieval collection of sagas, composed by Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), that tells the story of Norwegian rulers from mythical times up to the reign of King Magnus Erlingsson (r. 1162-1184). The picture featured above was inspired by the third saga of the Heimskringla—the section devoted to Harald Finehair (ruled approximately 860-940), who was the first Norwegian ruler able to conquer and subjugate enough of his neighboring chieftains to become the first King of Norway.
Eirik Werenskiold’s artwork, in this particular case, showcases an event from the earliest phases of King Harald’s career of conquests. In the center of the image, depicted with his hands tied behind his back, is an artistic rendering of King Gryting, one of the first petty kings that Harald defeated while he trod the warpath to dominance in Norway. Snorri Sturluson described the struggle between the two kings in the Heimskringla:
“The king found no resistance until he arrived at Orka Dale. There an army had gathered, and a man whose name was Gryting fought the first battle against the king. Harald was victorious. Gryting was made captive and many of his men were slain. He made submission to Harald, swearing allegiance to him. Thereupon all the people in the Orka Dale District submitted to King Harald and became his followers” (Heimskringla, Saga of Harald Fairhair, chapter 5).
After the capture and capitulation of Gryting, shown above, King Harald still had a long way to go before he became the undisputed arch-king of Norway. His decisive moment came at Havrsfjord, in a battle that occurred sometime between the years 872 and 900. There, after emerging victorious against a coalition of his most stubborn rivals, King Harald was finally able to proclaim himself the king of the Norwegians.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.