Centre for Medieval Studies Lectures

Marteinn Helgi Sigurðsson

Tyrannicide in AM 291 4to

Jómsvíkinga saga (Uncensored) and Politics in Twelfth-Century Denmark

Tuesday, January 29, 2019, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Marteinn Helgi Sigurðsson

The lecture builds on research behind the new edition of Jómsvíkinga saga in Íslenzk fornrit, vol. 33, eds. Þorleifur Hauksson and Marteinn Helgi Sigurðsson (Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka fornritafélag, 2018). Jómsvíkinga saga is assumed to have been composed in Iceland c. 1200 and is best known for its entertaining account of how a Danish war-band known as the Jómsvíkingar invaded Norway in the depth of winter and were defeated there at the sea-battle of Hjörungavogur by Earl Hákon of Hlaðir (d. 995), the arch-enemy of Christianity in Norway. The semi-legendary Jómsvíkingar were based in the fortress of Jómsborg in Wendland on the southern coast of the Baltic (Wolin in present day Poland), a region conquered during the Wendish crusades two centuries later by the Danish king Valdimar the Great and Archbishop Absalon of Lund. According to other and more reliable sources, the founder of Jómsborg and the Jómsvíkingar was the Danish king Harald (Bluetooth) Gormsson (d. c. 987). Jómsvíkinga saga ascribes the foundation of the war-band and fortress instead to Pálna-Tóki, a legendary Danish chieftain who is also made the grandfather of Vagn Ákason, the main hero and survivor of the aforementioned sea-battle in Norway. Vagn Ákason was evidently held to have been the forefather of Absalon’s predecessor in Lund, the crusading Archbishop Eskil Kristiarnsen (1137-1178, d. 1181), and the lecture explores how and why the saga exalts Eskil’s tenth-century forefathers at the expense of Harald Bluetooth and his son Swein Forkbeard, the forefathers of Valdimar the Great. The saga’s account of Pálna-Tóki’s assassination of the tyrant-king Harald Bluetooth is central in this regard, and the earliest manuscript of Jómsvíkinga saga, AM 291 4to, contains a far more vivid depiction of Pálna-Tóki’s tyrannicide than other redactions of the saga. According to the saga, Pálna-Tóki killed King Harald in order to avenge the tyrant’s killing of Áki, the innocent brother of Pálna-Tóki’s father. The 291 version evidently links the king’s demeaning death also to his hostility and injustice towards Icelanders, whose communal cursing (níð) of the Danish King is only related in the 291 version. The lecture concludes with speculations about the authorship of the saga and its possible ties to the figure of Arnoldus Tylensis ‘Arnold the Icelander’, a poet, prophet and antiquarian in the service of Valdimar and Absalon who might have made a rather bold ‘cameo appearance’ at a crucial moment in Jómsvíkinga saga.
Marteinn Helgi Sigurðsson holds a Ph.D. in Old Norse from Cambridge and an M.Phil. in medieval history from St. Andrews. His areas of research include onomastics, mythology, church history and religious literature in the Middle Ages. He has taught at the Universities of Iceland and Copenhagen and is co-editor (with Þorleifur Hauksson) of Jómsvíkinga saga in the series Íslenzk fornrit.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.