Histoire de l'Humanité | Part I - Norman Kings | A Norman Megacampaign AAR

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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Prologue
  • GoshDaMule

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    Prologue: The Hring Saga (769-793)

    The history of France is inexorably tied to the history of the of Munsö dynasty. The dynasty famously of course originated in the Uppland region of Sweden sometime in the early 8th century. Little is known about the early founders of the dynasty as most of the information we have on them come from the Hring Saga. The story detailing the life and reign of Sigurdr Hring, the father of Ragnar Lodbrok (Ragnarr Loþbrók in Old Norse). Little is known definitively about Sigurdr outside of the sagas as there are few written accounts of his life or reign. What is known is that he became king of Sweden sometime around 770 AD, his life before this time however is a mystery as the saga begins with his ascendancy to the throne when he was around 40.

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    Map of Scandinavia prior to the rule of Sigurdr Hring, however due to lack of reliable sources most information is merely an estimation.

    In the Hring saga Sigurdr unites his jarls behind his rule by invading the Eastern Geats, lead by king Hjörvardr Yfling, attempting to subjugate them.

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    The saga is the only available source we have for the subjugation of the Geats and it outlines the war as such:

    “55 And so, the Sea-King Hjörvardr, the Yfling of Östergötland,

    Raised his head in defiance and told Sigurdr, King of the Swedes

    The one who is called Hring, that the Geats would not submit.

    As the land does not submit to the sea, the Geats would not submit to the Swedes.

    In response Sigurdr, King of the Swedes, sent messengers to his Jarls

    60 He demanded they rally their men for war. He then gathered his Housecarls.

    Among them was baldr: the Dane, and Stækar, son of Asvard: the Long Sword.

    He put on his mail and helmet, used in many bloodbaths, and took his sword.

    Then the queen, Alfhildr, came to him. She asked to join him in battle.

    Sigurdr denied not his wife and Alfhildr the shield maiden took up her arms.

    65 The army of the Swedes numbered three-thousand. Two-thousand-one-hundred

    From Uppland and the rest from the different Jarls. Two-hundred men from

    Burgundaholmr came on their wood-ships to fight for Sigurdr as well.

    When the men were rallied they came to the village Nerike in Sweden

    There they rested for many nights. They ate and drank in the hall of Oystæin.

    70 After twenty-and-five days of revelry a man ran into the hall. The King asked

    Why have you entered the great hall where we prepare for war?

    The man replied that the Geats had rallied in the fields north of Matala Ström

    This was three days south of Nerike where the men were gathered.

    The King asked for their numbers. The man, who identified himself as

    75 Thorir Nefsteinsson, said they numbered at least one-thousand-and-five-hundreds

    The King told his men to prepare to march. The next morning they left.

    In the morning of the twenty-fourth day of Harpa the Geats and Swedes met

    The Geats only had half the number of the Swedes and were quickly surrounded.

    When the cowardly Hjörvardr saw that the battle was lost he told one-hundred

    80 Spear-Warriors to act as rear guard as the Geat-King fled south with the army.

    Three-hundred Geats were killed and only one-hundred Swedes. Hjörvardr and

    His men fled to Möre in the south by the Bight of Hanö where he joined with

    The men of Öland. They now numbered more than two-thousand-five-hundred.

    The battle would lead to the destruction of the Geatish army and the capture of

    85 Hjalmar-of-Vista in the route. Sigurdr then burned the Great-Hall of Hjörvardr

    To force him to yield. Hjörvardr however refused and marched a new army to

    The Hall to attempt to destroy the Swedes. In the battle, Hröekr, Hjörvardr’s

    Commander was killed by King Sigurdr and Styrbjöm was captured.

    After the battle the Geat King Hjörvardr came to Sigurdr and laid his sword

    90 And banner at his feat. His ear was cut off to show his cowardice.

    Hjörvardr the coward would be allowed to rule as Jarl of Vista under the King

    Of Swedes-and-Geats, Sigurdr, who now united the two kingdoms.”

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    Of course the saga implies the complete integration of the Geats into the Kingdom of Sweden but in fact the Western Geats were not affected by the war. This fiction did however help to unitethe jarls behind Sigurdr who was now seen as rightful ruler of Sweden.

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    Sweden after the subjugation of the Eastern Geats.

    Shortly after the war of Geatish conquest Sigurdr declared war to force the petty king of Västergötland to swear fealty to Sweden. This would finalize Sigurdr’s rule over the Geats.

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    The saga goes on to detail Sigurdr’s consolidation of Sweden with the many petty kings and jarls pledging their support for him, however it is generally accepted that these jarls were not truly beholden to Sigurdr, it was more of a symbolic fealty to the true king of Sweden. By the 777 AD, on 7 years into Sigurdr’s reign, the majority of Sweden was either under his direct control, or at least swore nominal allegiance to him.

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    Map of the Swedish Kingdom and its tributaries c. 777.

    Sigurdr was not the only Norse King trying to unite the North however, in the south the Danes were continuing their expansion into Norway and preparing to venture south into the Saxon lands. Sigurdr is said to have been outraged at the Danish incursion into Jarldom of Nordland and decided the Danes must be brought to heel. In the 7th year of his reign Sigurdr Hring began the invasion of Denmark, bringing behind him the many jarls of Sweden and Geatland. The Danes too brought a great host of warriors. The greatest war in Scandinavian history had begun.


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    Both kings called upon their allies and vassals to join them in battle and both began to rally thousands to their sides. The Swedes, however, were able to rally their forces more quickly which was necessary as the Danes could gather more men in the long run. The Danish army of Skane was able to rally Blekinge early with over a thousand men. The initial Swedish army however was able to meet them with four times their number.

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    The battle of Blekinge would be a great victory for the Swedes and allow them to march across Denmark facing little major resistance. The war lasted for 2 years and led to Sigurdr forcing the overambitious Danes to swear fealty to him and give him soldiers and treasure on a regular basis.

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    No sooner than the armies were disbanded then did the vultures begin to pounce on the Danish corpse. The Danish territories in Norway revolted against the Danes, hoping to finally win their freedom. Soon after both the Jarl of Sunnmaere in Norway and the Saxon Kingdom invaded to take whatever piece of Denmark they could.

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    Scandinavia in the aftermath of the Danish defeat.
    The Danish king, now humbled, called on Sigurdr for support but Sigurdr wished to see the Danes weakened further and did not intervene. It is said that after a decade of ruling and near constant warfare Sigurdr decided to return home to his family and most importantly, his first born son, Ragnar. It is said that when Ragnar was around 14 years old he was given the name Lodbrok, meaning shaggy-breeches, for the protective pants he would wear when practicing fighting. The name would stick with him his entire life.

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    By this time Sigurdr had 4 sons, all of whom were vying for their father’s favor as that would decide who received the largest inheritance. It was common at this time for the sons of kings to wait no more than a day after their father’s death to begin fighting each other over his lands and titles. For the Swedes though it was clear that Ragnar was the favored heir and any challenger would be hard-pressed to defeat him.

    During this time Sigurdr also launched a small expedition into Finland taking the rich territory across the sea from Åland.


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    The war was not particularly notable and the land was easily taken by the Swedes.

    As Sigurdr entered old age he began to grow complacent with his large and powerful empire. He seemed to think there were no more lands left to conquer and paid little attention to the resentment felt toward him by his jarls. In the north a powerful upstart Jarl began to unite the northern tribes and was moving south. By 781 he was directly encroaching on jarls loyal to Sigurdr. When a message from the Jarl of Herjadal came asking for help against the expanding Ulfr of Røra, who called himself the “King of the North”, Sigurdr ignored it.


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    ‘King’ Ulfr would continue to expand into the domain of the Swedes for years without recourse. He conquered the Sami tribes by 782 and looked poised to unite the Northmen under his
    bloodstained banner.

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    Scandinavia c. 783 during the Reign of the King of the North
    Instead of facing the coming threat Sigurdr focused on the workings of the court. Preparing his son, Ragnar, for rule and keeping the jarls happy. Of course the northern jarls were too busy attempting to stop the expanding Northmen. When Ragnar came of age Sigurdr threw a Great Blot to celebrate.

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    The celebration would include a great feast and sacrifices to Odin.

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    It is said that during the blot the band of men who had once formed the core of Sigurdr’s army, who had fought with him during his many adventures and campaigns, were reunited after years of ruling their own lands. Sigurdr and his companions drank and celebrated for days before deciding to take Ragnar on his first proper raid.


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    They gathered 300 men and sailed to Finland that night. For three months they raided the Finish villages and fought their warriors in an effort to teach Ragnar the ways of war.


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    The glorious raid however was cut short when news once more came from the north: The “King of the North” had once more decided to try his luck and attack one of Sigurdr’s jarls. This time however, the King of Sweden saw fit to intervene and humble the northern upstart.

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    The war would come to be known as “The Dance of Kings” as the two kings led their armies around each other, both avoiding open battle. The Swedes had more numbers, though just barely, but the Northmen held an undefeated record and were known to be ferocious in battle. Eventually Sigurdr led his men into the far north to try and force out Ulfr. During this expedition they were ambushed in the mountains of Nordland and beset on all sides.

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    The battle was fought knee deep in snow and a snowstorm blew in during the heat of battle. It is said that regiments of soldiers were slaughtered by their own comrades in the confusion. Victory was only barely won for the Swedes when Ragnar and his Housecarls drove through the Northmen shieldwall and charged the back line of archers. This attack drove the left flank of the Northmen to route and the king called a retreat.

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    The Swedes then marched south, meeting with the army of the Geats, and laid siege to the great hall of Naumadal, the home of King Ulfr. After the siege was done the Swedes new victory would soon come but they could not find Ulfr to force him to kneel. A month later messengers reported the king and a band of one thousand men were hiding in the forests of Lappland. Sigurdr ordered his men to march into the inhospitable terrain where they were beset at all times by Northmen raiders and their Sami allies.

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    Eventually Sigurdr flushed out Ulfr and he knelt in a circle of runestones in the forest. The King of the North was defeated.

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    The war ended around 789, and after that Sigurdr stopped the expansion of his kingdom, content in his role as the grandfather of all the Norse. He was now nearing 60 and had ruled for nearly twenty years. He was content to leave his vast kingdom to his sons.

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    Sigurdr’s kingdom at its height in 793, just before his death.
    Three years later he would be dead, and his kingdom would be in the hands of his four sons. It is unknown if Sigurdr knew his kingdom would collapse after his death, or that his sons would turn against each other the moment of his death, or that the Geats that he so pointedly destroyed would rise in his absence.

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    Sigurdr’s kingdom would primarily be split between his two eldest sons. Ragnar Lodbrok would inherit the region of Uppland and what was considered the core of Sweden. He would also remain the lord of the Northmen who once followed the King of the North. Sigurdr’s second son, Olafr, would become king of East Geatland, the lands conquered by Sigurdr at the start of his reign. The two youngest, the twins, would inherit some land as vassals under Ragnar, Birger would inherit the Finnish land and Þorolfr would inherit some northern land in Lappland. The Western Geats who once swore fealty to Sigurdr refused to bow to either of his sons. The new King Tjudmund declared himself king of the Geats and challenged either of Sigurdr’s sons to stop him. Denmark too broke free, but with less dramatic rhetoric, and neither Swede was strong enough to protest.

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    The rule of Sigurdr brought stability to the Nordic people but with his death a new era would begin, and era of adventurers and raiders. The beginning of the Viking Age.


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