A person’s name can be recorded in the history books for a variety of reasons, from fame to infamy, and all of the feats, records, and peculiar events in-between. Unfortunately, not all paths to historical longevity are pleasant for the historical figure. One such person was a Norwegian chief, known as Hrút of Vigg. His name has been handed down through history for nearly a thousand years, but he unfortunately earned his spot in the history books by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To set the scene, Hrút of Vigg was a Norwegian chief during the chaotic politics in Norway during the early 11th century. In 1000, King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway (r. 995-1000) was killed by a coalition of Danes, Swedes and dissident Norwegians at the battle of Svold or Svolder. For about fifteen years after the king of Norway’s death, the Norwegian jarls and chieftains deferred to the Danish and Swedish monarchs, but otherwise existed in relative autonomy. King Olaf II (Saint Olaf, r. 1015-1028), was able to reimpose the authority of the Norwegian crown for over a decade, but his power was ultimately usurped by Canute the Great—ruler of England since 1016, and king of Denmark since 1019—who ousted Olaf II from Norway in 1028. Such was the complicated political situation that Hrút of Vigg was living in as a Norwegian chieftain in the early 11th century.
Norway’s situation became more complicated when Olaf II returned to Norwegian lands around 1030 in an attempt to reclaim his throne, igniting a conflict between Norwegians who supported the return of the king versus those who wanted to keep the status quo under Canute the Great. The divide culminated in the Battle of Stiklestad, in which Olaf’s army fought against a Danish-Norwegian coalition. Hrút of Vigg was present at the battle on the side of the anti-Olaf forces. Yet, in terms of manpower, his contribution to the Danish-Norwegian coalition was not very significant, for he reportedly had only thirty men under his command at the time of the battle. Chance and fate, however, brought Hrút and his modest band of warriors a bittersweet fame. The reason they are still talked about after nearly a millennium is because Hrút led his thirty men out on a scouting mission at the wrong time and to the wrong place. Instead of gathering intel, Hrút and his men unintendedly marched right into the clutches of Olaf’s army. Iceland’s saga writer and historian, Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), described the incident from the perspective of Olaf’s army:
“They caught sight of a company of men descending the Vera Dale. They had been reconnoitering and approached closely to the army of the king and were not aware of it before they were so close that they could recognize one another. That was Hrút of Vigg, with thirty men. Then the king ordered his bodyguard to fall upon Hrút and kill him. The men were quick to do this…Both he and all those with him were slain” (Snorri Sturluson, Heimskringla, Saint Olaf’s Saga, chapter 209).
Such was the fate and the fame of Hrùt of Vigg. For emphasis, Snorri Sturluson’s bulky Heimskringla (History of the Kings of Norway), reaches over 800 standard book pages when translated into English, but Hrut of Vigg’s name was mentioned on only two of them. The first mentioning was quoted above, stating only that Hrút of Vigg and thirty men died in a skirmish at the onset of the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030. Snorri’s only other reference to poor Hrút came in connection to the reign of Olaf’s son, King Magnus the Good of Norway (r. 1035-1047), who reportedly appropriated the late Hrút’s land into royal property as an act of revenge, since Hrút was widely known to have died fighting against Saint Olaf. Although Hrút of Vigg did not die the most glorious of deaths, he was likely at peace with it in Valhalla, for name-recognition and dying weapon-in-hand on a battlefield was praised in Viking-Age Scandinavia.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration till “Fjolners saga”. Plansch 23, by Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander (c. 1816-1881), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum in Stockholm Sweden).
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.