Thorstein Asgrimsson was a Norwegian man who lived around the 9th and 10th century. He was said to have come from a line of chieftains who ruled a piece of land called Fiflavellir in the Telemark region of Norway. As the story goes, Thorstein’s father, Asgrim, reigned as chieftain during the rise of King Harald Finehair (r. 860-940)—the first regional Norwegian ruler who expanded his power and influence enough to be called a true King of Norway.
Thorstein, it appears, was not too involved in helping his father, Asgrim, manage their small realm in Norway during the tumultuous time in which they lived. Instead, Thorstein was evidently more interested in adventuring, exploring, and going on Viking raids. Nevertheless, while Thorstein spent time abroad, his father Asgrim began to become increasingly overwhelmed by the changing political dynamics in Norway.
As King Harald Finehair’s successful campaigns against rival rulers in Norway caused petty kings and chieftains to choose sides, Thorstein’s father fatefully decided to side against King Harald. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Thorstein was once again off on a Viking expedition when Asgrim’s campaign of resistance against King Harald reached its most perilous point. At that time, Harald Finehair sent an ultimatum to Asgrim, telling him to capitulate and pay tribute, or face the consequences. Asgrim refused, or did not respond, prompting King Harald Finehair to send an agent named Thororm of Thruma to deal with the situation. Thororm, apparently with approval of the king, ultimately killed Asgrim.
Thorstein Asgrimsson, meanwhile, was still abroad when his father was killed, but Thorstein returned home not long after the death. The state that his homeland was in when he reached his birthplace is unclear, but it would not be surprising if looting, burning, imprisonment and more killings had occurred. Fortunately, Thorstein’s ten-year-old brother, Thorgeir, was apparently safe and sound, as was their aunt Thorunn, but there might not have been many other comforting sights left to see on the family estate. As Thorstein Asgrimsson no longer had much to lose, he decided to throw himself into a new expedition—a mission for revenge.
Although King Harald Finehair had evidently ordered or condoned the killing of Asgrim, Thorstein chose to aim for a more realistic target—Thororm of Thruma. Revenge may be an understatement, for Thorstein apparently wanted to outdo whatever brutality Thororm might have formerly meted out in his campaign against Asgrim. This tale of back-and-forth death and destruction was recorded in the medieval Icelandic Book of Settlements, the version cited here being that of Sturla Thordarson (c. 1214-1284):
“King Harald sent his kinsman Thororm of Thruma to claim a tribute from Asgrim, but he refused to pay. Next the king sent Thororm for Asgrim’s life, and Thororm killed him. At that time Thorstein, Asgrim’s son, was away on a viking expedition and Asgrim’s other son, Thorgeir, was only ten years old. A little later Thorstein came back from his viking expedition and went over to Thruma, burning Thororm and his entire household to death in his own house, slaughtering the livestock, and looting everything he could lay hands on” (Landnámabók, Sturlubók manuscript, chapter 356).
Knowing that a violent response from Harald Finehair would be imminent, Thorstein decided to gather up all of his family and possessions and plan for a new life abroad. With all the people and wealth that he had left, Thorstein Asgrimsson set to sea and plotted a course to Iceland. Thorstein, his brother Thorgeir, and their aunt Thorunn, settled in the southern portion of the island. In particular, Thorgeir was known to have settled near the site of Oddi.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image titled “Illustrasjon til ‘Olav Trygvesøns Saga’, Snorre Sturlason, Kongesagaer, Kristiania 1899”, by Erik Werenskiold (c. 1855-1938), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Museum of Norway).
- The Book of Settlements (Sturlubók version) translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1972, 2006.