Halfdan the Black


Halfdan the Black (about 810; † about 860) was the son of the Ynglinge king Guðrøðr veiðikonungr (hunting king) and of his second wife Åsa, daughter of the king of Agdir, Haraldr hinn granrauði.

Halfdan's family

According to Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, the southern Norwegian petty king refused to give Guðrøðr his daughter in marriage. Thereupon the latter went south with his army. In the battle Haraldr fell with his son.

Ása was taken away as the wife of Yngling. When her son Halfdan was one year old, she is said to have had her husband murdered out of father revenge. With her son she moved to Agdir, where he grew up.

Life of Halfdan the Black

At the age of 18 he took over the rule of Agdir, shortly after he is said to have shared power over the Norwegian Ynglinge Empire with his half-brother Óláfr Geirstaðaálfr. Hálvdan received the south with Agdir, Óláfr the east around Vestfold.

After the death of his half-brother, Halfdan gained power as king. He undertook several war campaigns against the petty kings of Vingulmörk, Raumaríki, Heiðmörk, Gudbrandsdal, Toten and Hadaland. In addition, he successfully laid claim to the homeland of his late first wife, Sogn in western Norway.

Thus he ruled the east and south of the country and parts of the west. His second wife Ragnhildr was the daughter of the king of Ringerike. With her he had a son Harald, who was then called Haraldr Fairhair.

Halfdan's death

Snorri Sturluson tells of Hálfdan's death that he had crossed the frozen Rönd (Randsfjord) on a return journey from Hadaland in the spring. In the process, he and his entourage broke in and died - at the age of 40.

Because fertility was associated with his reign, the body was divided and these parts were buried in several burial mounds: in Raumariki, Vestfold, Heiðmörk, his head at Steinn in Hringariki.

Snorri thus describes a burial custom that is more reminiscent of his contemporary Christian veneration of relics than it is likely to have corresponded to a pagan custom of the 9th century.

This is all the more true since, for example, Sæmundur Froði writes that Halvdan was given a mound grave in Ringerike. Snorri could not deviate from this; therefore it remains with the Fagrskinna that he was buried at least partially there.

Snorri agrees with this younger version and also invents an explanation for it, namely that the four regions wanted to have the king for themselves, so that the division represented the solution of this dispute.

Halfdan the Black in literature

In the high medieval Icelandic saga literature, the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson, Ágrip, Fagrskinna and the Hálfdanar Þáttr svarta tell about the reign of King Hálvdan. The Heimskringla is the main source here.

It dedicates a small saga of its own, the Hálfdanar saga svarta, to the king as the first individual ruler. It is preceded by the mythical prehistoric Ynglinga saga. With the Haralds saga hárfagra it is followed by a longer text about the historically verified Norwegian king.

Hálvdan can be defined even more precisely historically. According to Heimskringla, his second wife Ragnhildr was a granddaughter of the Danish king Harald Klak, who is mentioned in the Frankish Imperial Annals and who may have died a few years after 840.

As sister of her mother the Danish queen Thyra Danabot is mentioned, the wife of the king Gormr hinn gamli (Gorm the Old) and mother of the later king Haraldr blátönn (Harald Bluetooth) of Denmark.

If one adds that one believes to be able to recognize Prince Hálvdan's mother Åsa buried in the ship grave of Oseberg in the 1st half of the 9th century, a relatively reliable chronological classification results for Harald Fairhair's predecessor around the middle of the 9th century.

After 860 he might have died. The remark of Skálda-tal that the skald Guttormr sindri also wrote a drápa on Hálvdan, which, however, has not been preserved, completes the historical contours of this Norwegian king from the Ynglinge dynasty.