Historia Norwegie

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by Lars Boje Mortensen

The anonymous Historia Norwegie is an elaborate piece of national historical writing from the second half of the twelfth century, perhaps the first such work to be produced in Norway (see Date and Place). Only the first book has been transmitted with its preface, a thorough geographical introduction, and the lineage and deeds of kings up to the accession of Olaf Haraldsson (1015). In its original form the Historia must have comprised two, three or more books, and was thus the longest Latin chronicle we know from medieval Norway. The present article is a condensed, rearranged and updated version of MORTENSEN 2003; more documentation and bibliography will be found there.


The unique manuscript (for most of the text) is mutilated on the first folio, leaving this heading to chapter one (after the Prologue): ”incipit liber primus in ystoria N[...........]”. This was restituted by MUNCH (1850) as ”Norwegie” and since STORM (1880) the work has been known as Historia Norwegie. The original title, however, is more likely to have been Ystoria Norwagensium (see EKREM & MORTENSEN 2003, 112, cf. also KERSKEN 1995, 430–32). STORM’s suggestion has been kept in EKREM & MORTENSEN 2003 and here for reasons of tradition and bibliography.


Tullius in philosophie tractatu suo laudans amicitiam...


... et cum eo quatuor episcopi, scilicet Grimkellus, Bernardus, Rodulfus, Sigfridus.


28 pages.


  • MUNCH, P.A. 1850: “Breve Chronicon Norvegie,” in Symbolæ ad historiam antiquiorem rerum Norvegicarum I, Kristiania, 1–18.
  • LAING, D. 1855: “Extracts from a Manuscript Volume of Chronicles, in the Possession of the Right Honourable Lord Panmure,” The Bannatyne Miscellany III (Bannatyne Club 19), Edinburgh. [Chapter VI, on the Orkneys, pp. 33–34].
  • STORM, G. 1880: “Historia Norwegiæ,” in MHN, Kristiania, 69–124.
  • • EKREM, I. & MORTENSEN, L.B. 2003: Historia Norwegie, Copenhagen.


  • (Norwegian, nynorsk) KOHT, H. 1921: Den eldste Noregs-historia (Norrøne bokverk 19), Oslo (2nd rev. ed. 1950) [with commentary].
  • (Norwegian, bokmål) SALVESEN, A. 1969: Norges historie. Theodricus Munk: Historien om de gamle norske kongene. Historien om danenes ferd til Jerusalem, Oslo [with brief notes], 15–49.
  • (English) KUNIN, D. in PHELPSTEAD (ed.) 2001: A History of Norway and The Passion and Miracles of the Blessed Óláfr, London, 1–25. (see Bibliography below).
  • (English) FISHER, P. in EKREM & MORTENSEN (eds.) 2003 (see above, Editions).
  • (English, chapters V–VI 9) ANDERSON, A.O. 1922: Early sources of Scottish History A.D. 500 to 1286, vol. I, 330–31.
  • (English, chapers XV 9–XVII), ANDERSSON 2003 (see Bibliography below), 158–62.


  • KOHT, H. 1950 (2nd rev. ed., 1st ed. 1921) (see Translations above) [substantial footnotes].
  • PHELPSTEAD, C. 2001, 75–100 (see Bibliography below).
  • EKREM, I. & MORTENSEN, L.B. 2003, 107–53 (see Editions above).

Date and place

The dating of Historia Norwegie has been a controversial issue mainly because it is bound up with a variety of scholarly opinions on Historia Norwegie’s sources, the identity of the dedicatee and the author, the place where he wrote, the possible political or ideological message in his work, and his primary intellectual milieu and audience. However, there is in fact scholarly consensus on a date in the second half of the twelfth century, leaning towards the earlier part of the period, though with various degrees of certainty and precision (STORM 1880, KOHT 1919–1920, STEINNES 1946–1948, HANSSEN 1949, ELLEHØJ 1965, KRAG 1991, EKREM 1998, PHELPSTEAD 2001; for a survey of opinions see EKREM 1998, 88 & 2003, 158–61 and PHELPSTEAD 2001, xvi.). One should start by listing the textual features that any dating attempt must take into account, irrespective of any other convictions one might hold.

(1) King Henry I of England. The most recent person to be mentioned in Historia Norwegie (apart from the unidentified dedicatee, Agnellus) is King Henry I of England (1100–1135). He figures in his capacity as Duke of Normandy (VI 19, where the dukes are briefly listed because of their Norwegian ancestry). EKREM (2003, 161–62) makes a point of the author’s failing to include the successors Stephen (1135–1154) and especially Henry II (1154–1189), likewise dukes of Normandy, but her argument is not decisive as the author of Historia Norwegie may not have been particularly interested in this point and just followed an older source. The passage on Henry, however, not only gives a certain terminus post quem of 1100, but actually extends it to around 1140 by saying (VI 19) “... Henry, who in the prophecy of royal Merlin was named ‘the Lion of Justice’”. The prophecies of Merlin were composed by Geoffrey of Monmouth ca. 1134; they spread rapidly in various forms through Western Europe and were quoted by Orderic Vitalis around 1135 who is the first known author to add the historical identification of the lion.

(2) The eruption of Hekla mentioned in VIII 10–12 cannot and need not be dated. The eruption mentioned by Icelandic annals in 1211 has been promoted as a strong candidate (BUGGE 1873). But this event is also described as an earthquake; therefore earthquakes of 1164 and 1182 should also be considered — in addition to those we have no sources for. STORM and all major scholars of the twentieth century have therefore, reasonably, let this matter rest (STORM 1880, 94; KOHT 1919–1920, 104; STEINNES 1946–1948, 33; HANSSEN 1949, 10–11). And if it is necessary to eliminate it in a new way, one should add the mirabilia context of the statement: the author wants to illustrate the strange natural phenomena on the island. The term nostra etate is vague and should be taken as a confidence builder: recent reports tell us what an eruption is like.

(3) The status of the Scottish islands. The key passage on the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands for the dating of Historia Norwegie is V 3: “Que quidem diuersis incolis acculte nunc in duo regna sunt diuise: Sunt enim Merediane Insule regulis sublimate, Brumales uero comitum presidio decorate, qui utrique regibus Norwegie non modica persoluunt tributa.” (“They are populated by different peoples and now split into two domains; the southern isles have been elevated by petty kings, the northern graced by the protection of earls, both of whom pay no mean tribute to the kings of Norway”). The southern isles are the Hebrides whereas the northern ones must comprise both Orkney and Shetland.

(a) The author is little interested in Shetland and mentions it explicitly only once (XVII 31). The joint rule — by one or more earls — over a sort of client chiefdom of Orkney and Shetland as presupposed by the Historia had been exercised by predominantly Norwegian families for a long time (THOMSON 2001, 113). The first time we hear about formal submission to the crown including payment is when Earl Harald Maddadsson paid homage to King Inge Krokrygg (1136–1161) in 1148 and to his co-ruling brother Eystein Haraldsson (1142–1157) in 1151. Whether this involved regular tribute is uncertain (THOMSON 2001, 115–16). The author of the Historia may also be thinking about the formal submission of the Orkney bishopric to Trondheim when the archdiocese was established in 1152/1153.

The final years of the long rule of Earl Harald Maddadsson (1138–1206, sole ruler from 1158) saw a major change in the status of the islands: a rising against King Sverre (1177–1202) ended in defeat in 1194; in 1195 the earldom was punished by the separation of Shetland, which was put directly under Norwegian rule. This rearrangement was, in the words of a recent authority, “the single most important event which shaped Orkney in the later Middle Ages” (THOMSON 2001, 121). KOHT (1919–1920, 108) was the first to argue that the Historia must have been written before that date — otherwise the author would not have included Shetland (implicitly) in this passage. Had he known that some of the islands were ruled directly from Norway, he would not have failed to make this point in a text that clearly seeks to accentuate Norwegian influence in the entire North Sea realm. This argument has been accepted by subsequent commentators (STEINNES 1946–1948, 47 (with a small reservation), SALVESEN 1969, 41, PHELPSTEAD 2001, 83). Both the termini provided by this passage, i.e. post quem ca. 1150 and ante quem 1195, can of course be questioned by appealing to the author’s ignorance. He may have been late in learning about Sverre’s reorganization, but if we want to have him writing this after ca. 1200, he must have been very out of date and much less interested in Orkney and in Norwegian power overseas than his text otherwise leads us to assume.

(b) Finally it must be added that the passage provides us with a certain terminus ante quem of 1266 because the Hebrides then passed from Norway to Scotland.

(4) The status of Jämtland. In the geographical description Historia Norwegie situates the province of Jämtland (in present-day Sweden) outside Norway (I 5). It did not belong to the archdiocese of Nidaros before 1570, but King Sverre claimed it as part of his kingdom in 1177; he may have had Magnus Erlingsson or Eystein Magnusson as predecessors in this ambition already in the 1150s and 1160s (see PHELPSTEAD 2001, 77). According to KOHT (1949–1951, 51–52) — who has paid most attention to this question — a conscious effort to subject the province to Norwegian rule took place in the 1160s and 1170s. Dating the Historia after ca. 1170 or 1177 would again entail significant ignorance on the part of an author displaying much interest in mapping out Norway. Our sources for the annexation of Jämtland seem to imply that the process was long; hence a terminus ante quem of 1177 or ca. 1170 cannot be insisted upon. Contemporaries may have differed for decades in their views on the status of Jämtland (cf. EKREM 2003, 176). However, our author would hardly have hesitated to include this province if he had had that possibility — and allowing him some leeway in this question would still not lead us beyond ca. 1200.

(5) The status of Iceland and Greenland. Iceland is described under the general heading of tributary islands, but, as noted by STORM (1880, xxv) the author does not say that the Icelanders actually paid tribute to Norway as he does in the cases of the Scottish islands and the Faroes. Its inclusion in the Norwegian realm is no doubt, for the author, connected to the establishment of the archdiocese in 1152/53 when the Icelandic bishops had to answer to Trondheim. But secular dependence including payment of tribute was only introduced when Norway took over government of the island in 1262. The small Icelandic colonies in Greenland were also part of the Trondheim diocese and are mentioned briefly in Historia Norwegie (I 10–14), but not as part of Norway. They accepted Norwegian rule in 1261 (cf. HELLE 1974, 119–22 & PHELPSTEAD 2001, 78). This gives a certain terminus ante quem of, at the very latest, ca. 1265.

(6) The geographical division of Norway. The division of Norway into three zones of which the two “civilized” and christianized ones each consists of four patriae (law provinces) and twenty-two and twelve counties respectively, is unique to Historia Norwegie. It has given rise to various speculations since MUNCH and STORM (further discussion with references in EKREM 2003, 176–93). STORM’S contention (1880, xxv–xxviii) that we are dealing with an early attempt to divide the country (rather than e.g. a late distorted version of the one found in Magnus Lagabøter’s Landslov of 1274) has not met with any serious criticism, and it has been supported by the comments of ROBBERSTAD 1949–51, KOHT (1919–1920 & 1949–1951) and EKREM 1998 & 2003. Due to the lack of comparable texts before the Landslov no hard dates can be drawn from Historia Norwegie’s division, but on the authority of STORM, KOHT, and EKREM we can take it for granted that it makes good sense for their respective pre-1200 datings of Historia Norwegie, i.e. ca. 1180–1190, before 1170, and about 1150.

(7) “Olauus perpetuus rex Norwegie”. This phrase about the royal saint is used in Historia Norwegie XV 5. The underlying idea is expressed more fully in King Magnus Erlingsson’s (1164–1181) Letter of Privilege, probably drawn up by Archbishop Eystein Erlendsson (1161–1188) around 1163/64: Norwegian kings take the country as a fief from the eternal royal saint, in whose possession it remains. The Letter forms part of a cluster of important documents surrounding the crowning of the child King Magnus in 1163/64, including the Canones Nidrosienses and Magnus’s Coronation oath (for these documents — conveniently gathered in VANDVIK 1959 — see the surveys by HELLE (1974, 57–68) and BAGGE (2001, 309–21). The idea may have circulated widely — just like the consensus among pretenders to the throne that one should ultimately be descended from Harald Finehair — and there is no need to claim any direct connection between the two texts. But just as in the King Magnus documents in general and the Passio Olaui from the same period, the idea of a perpetual saintly kingship centred in Trondheim does seem to actualize the potential of the new archdiocese as a centralizing factor in the recognition of Norwegian kings and their recent insistence on the ideal of a rex justus; hence, the use of the phrase in Historia Norwegie is, in my view, a strong indicator of a terminus post quem of 1152/53.

The above is the closest we get to hard evidence on dating in the text itself. It emerges that a completely certain interval for the composition of Historia Norwegie lies between ca. 1140 (1) and 1265 (3b & 5). However, very strong evidence favours an interval between 1150 and 1200. As for the terminus post quem (3a), (5), and (7) mention a taxation or express an attitude that makes much better sense around or after the establishment of the archdiocese in 1152/53. EKREM (1998, 1999, 2000 & 2003) advocates a reading of Historia Norwegie as a sort of foundation document for the archdiocese, and it must, consequently, have been written around 1150. For reasons set out below I do not agree with her, but many of her arguments still work well within a broader framework of ideology connected to the new situation; whichever one choses, one accepts a terminus post quem of ca. 1150. As regards the ante quem, (3a) and (4) both bring us to a time before 1200. For a number of softer arguments for this — concerning literature, learning, language, and transmission — see below and MORTENSEN 2003. No reasonable doubts can be raised against a rough dating in the second half of the twelfth century, and, as already mentioned, this is indeed the interval almost all scholars since STORM have proposed. The question of an early or a late date for the Historia should no longer be seen as a choice between the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries; we should rather think of “early” or “late” as signifying the third or the fourth quarter of the twelfth century.

In trying to balance the arguments in favour of an early (ca. 1150–1175) or a late (ca. 1175–1200) date, one is bound to take up the complex of problems related to place of composition, or, rather, primary intellectual milieu. By sifting the evidence of the texts Historia Norwegie is drawing upon and of the transmission of Historia Norwegie, as is partly done below (Sources and literary models) and more fully in MORTENSEN (2003), it emerges that our Norwegian author must have been south at some point for purposes of study; his inspiration most probably came from a Danish or Saxon centre of learning — perhaps both. But in addition to his learning, there are two more clusters of indirect evidence that to some degree can help us narrow down the place and period of his activity.

The first is our knowledge of the Trondheim milieu in the period of Archbishop Eystein Erlendsson (1161–1188). As already noted by KOHT (1919–1920, 112) and SANDAAKER (1985) it is significant that the Trondheim-based historian Theodoricus Monachus (ca. 1180) and the author of Historia Norwegie show no signs of knowing one another. This lack of cross-reference implies another place of composition for the Historia; such an impression is strengthened when we consider that the French learning of Theodoricus and the German of Historia Norwegie seem to be worlds apart. The foreign authorities that Theodoricus draws on are all French or Roman (he would almost certainly have used Adam of Bremen had he known of him. The distinctive French learning in Theodoricus was established by JOHNSEN 1939; additional evidence in MORTENSEN 2000a). Nor are there any positive signs that Theodoricus used written Icelandic sources (pace LANGE 1989, cf. MORTENSEN 2000b). The axis of learning between Trondheim and northern France is completely ignored by the author of Historia Norwegie: not only is Theodoricus unknown, but also Passio Olaui is undetectable; in particular the debate about the place of Olaf’s baptism could have left traces in the Historia — had it been known by the author. We find it in Theodoricus, Passio Olaui, an exchange between Eystein and the Pope, and in a northern French manuscript of Passio Olaui copied in the last quarter of the twelfth century from a Norwegian exemplar (MORTENSEN 2000a). The books used by the author of Historia Norwegie were not, it seems, present in Trondheim in its twelfth-century Renaissance during the time of Eystein, and the books studied and produced there were unknown to the author of Historia Norwegie.

The other cluster concerns the transmission. The single manuscript witness to most of our text has led scholars to see Historia Norwegie as a very isolated work, even as a work left unfinished or disregarded by its own author. Against this weighs the argument that the Historia, when compared to similar contemporary historiography, has all the hallmarks of being a “collective” elite endeavour and the fact that it has been transmitted by two entirely different routes. This is discussed in MORTENSEN (2003, 33–43), and more briefly below (Transmission), but we can anticipate the conclusion that at least two or three medieval manuscripts of the entire text are likely to have existed, one or two of which were in Norway before ca. 1300. The implication is important, namely that the text lived on in one or more Norwegian libraries and was recognized institutionally — it was not a text left to the care of a single person. Its reception was still narrow — something like the modest spread of similar cases of official Latin historiography in the North (Theodoricus Monachus, >Saxo). But if one or more institutions in Norway did take care of the text before ca. 1300, the probability of a primary Norwegian intellectual environment — other than a purely exile one — for Historia Norwegie increases significantly.

It is fraught with difficulty, then, to place the composition of Historia Norwegie in Trondheim, especially during or immediately after the flourishing of Latin letters in the reign of Archbishop Eystein. This is why the environment in Denmark during Archbishop Eirik Ivarsson’s exile in Lund in the 1190s has been an attractive possibility (see below Sources and literary models). But if we accept the more modern view that historiography of this sort is an institutional undertaking of some importance for others apart from the author and the dedicatee alone (cf. WERNER 1987), it becomes equally difficult to see how the text was produced during Archbishop Eirik Ivarsson’s exile in Lund in the 1190s: someone in his entourage must have known about Theodoricus’s work (and the other relevant writings, e.g. Passio Olaui which seems to have been known in Lund by Saxo during the same period, FRIIS-JENSEN 2000). For this very reason SANDAAKER 1985 proposed an earlier Danish occasion around 1180 — i.e. exactly contemporary with Theodoricus but outside the immediate reach of Trondheim scholars. A third possibility was developed by EKREM (1998, 1999, 2000 & 2003): Historia Norwegie is an archiepiscopal product of the time before Eystein, though not necessarily produced in Trondheim. Again it is problematic to presume that such an endeavour could have been forgotten within a decade in the same intellectual milieu. If really furthered directly by the archbishopric the text of Historia Norwegie would not just have been a book on the archiepiscopal shelves; rather some kind of collective elite memory would have registered the composition and physical existence of the text — as they would indeed have become aware of the utmost importance of its major model, Adamus Bremensis. A similar argument would apply against placing Historia Norwegie in the Trondheim dominated by King Sverre in the 1180s and 1190s (never suggested by anyone, probably because scholars would have expected clear signals of this already in the Prologue).

If Trondheim is problematic and we do seem to have a Norwegian transmission of the text, one must look for other centres of power having connections with ecclesiastical institutions or at least a clerical/scribal entourage. Our knowledge of personnel and libraries of this period is very deficient (cf. OMMUNDSEN 2007); either of the other bishoprics on the west coast, Bergen and Stavanger, or in the east, Oslo and Hamar, could qualify. EKREM (2003, 217–18) gave a certain priority to Bergen and the circle around King Inge Haraldsson (“Krokrygg”, 1136–1161). Of the many rulers and pretenders to the throne in the decades after 1150, Inge, indeed, seems a probable figure around whom a project of Historia Norwegie’s character might have been planned and carried out: Inge was central, it seems, in the establishment of the Trondheim see; he had a reputation of being bookish and the Icelandic historian Eirik Oddsson (author of a Norwegian kings’ chronicle or biography now lost) was probably in close contact with Inge’s men around 1150 (EKREM 2003, 175). During the civil wars and his joint kingship Inge often stayed in the Viken area (the Oslo Fjord) — which would be a strong rival to Bergen in our quest; here Oslo, or the thriving port of Tønsberg, are possibilities that come to mind. Against Inge, however, a strong argument can be mustered: the later Archbishop Eystein had been Inge’s chaplain. Thus he would have known about Historia Norwegie if it had been written in Inge’s entourage, and it is difficult to see how Eystein would not have established some connection between Historia Norwegie and the Trondheim texts about to be produced. But even without or after King Inge, Viken has some points in its favour: the author pays somewhat more attention to the east than the west in his description and narrative. The connections with Denmark and Germany were direct and this was the well-trodden path of cultural exchange between Viken and the Continent, in contrast to the west coast’s traditional connections with England and France. A composition of Historia Norwegie in the east during the third quarter of the twelfth century would also account better for the mutual isolation of the Historia and the Trondheim texts than, for instance, composition in Stavanger or Bergen. Perhaps the best timeframe for an eastern location would be the poorly documented political turmoil of the 1160s and early 1170s (including the Danish King Valdemar’s claim on Viken). Finally, one should not totally dismiss other locations outside Norway proper. It is possible that a well-connected learned Norwegian might not (only) have been inspired by Danish contacts or libraries, but perhaps spent time in Iceland or the Orkneys. That would explain his access to sources (Iceland), his interest in both insular societies, and his lack of direct contact with Trondheim. However, the Norwegian viewpoint in the text as well as its Norwegian transmission (cf. below) cannot be questioned; therefore Norway remains the obvious suggestion as the base of the author, with good pointers away from Trondheim and towards eastern Norway.

The location must remain a hypothesis, but as regards the dating, an early one, i.e. ca. 1150–1175, is most attractive. For one thing, as mentioned above, the most recent layer of learning in Historia Norwegie is texts from the 1130s and 1140s. Irrespective of location, the apparent ignorance of the Trondheim texts produced in the 1170s and 1180s is easiest to explain if Historia Norwegie had been written shortly before or contemporary with the first Trondheim efforts. The main message in the text as we have it — as EKREM 1998 was the first to draw attention to — is, through geographical and genealogical definition, to demonstrate the ability of the Norwegian kingdom to control its area for missionary and “civilizing” purposes. Such a statement makes more sense in the first decades after its inheritance of the missionary mandate from Lund. It is not clearly made in Passio Olaui, nor in Theodoricus’s History (both after ca. 1175), texts more focused on the sanctity of Olaf Haraldsson. On the other hand I think that Historia Norwegie presupposes the establishment of the archdiocese rather than the other way round.

That brings us to the following result: Historia Norwegie must have been conceived in government circles, episcopal, royal, or both, in Norway in the second half of the twelfth century. I would furthermore favour a date in the third quarter, and this could perhaps be narrowed down to ca. 1160–1175, thus giving the author of Historia Norwegie a little time to reflect on the ecclesiastical reorganization but not so much that we should expect more recent impulses of foreign and Trondheim learning.

Summary of contents

In its transmitted form Historia Norwegie offers us little unique information on its professed subject: the series and deeds of Norwegian rulers. Little more than half the text (chapters IX–XVIII) gives us an overview of the royal lineage, beginning with the mythical Yngling kings and breaking off suddenly in the middle of Olaf Haraldsson’s rise to power (1015). The narrative opens up in the later of these chapters (XII–XVIII), dealing mostly with the second half of the tenth century and casting Queen Gunnhild (and her sons) and Håkon, earl of Lade, (and his sons) as villains against the just and Christian heroes, Olaf Tryggvason (995–1000) and Olaf Haraldsson (1015–1030). Together with Theodoricus Monachus’s History of the Norwegian Kings (ca. 1180), however, the Historia Norwegie constitutes a primary source for our knowledge of the beginnings of Norwegian historiography and gives us a valuable, if somewhat elusive, glimpse of the rise of literate culture in Norway.

In Historia Norwegie we are moreover offered an early and unique geographical description of Norway and the North Sea realm (chapters I–VIII, cf. MORTENSEN 2005a) as well as some ethnographic details, the highlight of which is the detailed account of a shamanistic séance among the Sami (cf. TOLLEY 1994). Furthermore the author draws on natural philosophy of the twelfth-century Renaissance when presenting the mirabilia of the North. Owing to these qualities the Historia Norwegie becomes important in terms of literary history, and it stands as a respectable pioneering effort from a European periphery in the process of identifying itself in relation to the centre — in the literary medium of the centre: a narrative in schooled Latin, drawing on foreign and ancient learning.

Better than much else, a comparison with Theodoricus Monachus reveals some basic facts about Historia Norwegie as well as the limits of our knowledge. Let us briefly note the similarities first: both works were written by Norwegians, clearly espousing a Norwegian point of view, geographically as well as politically. The christianization of Norway is central to the authors’ narratives, who agree on the decisive role played by the two Olafs (Tryggvason and Haraldsson) around the turn of the millennium and on the importance of the subsequent cult of the latter Olaf in establishing Trondheim as Norway’s metropolis. They both insist on a royal lineage from Harald Finehair, whom competing twelfth-century war-lords and their ecclesiastical ideologues agreed to credit with the first unification of Norway back in the ninth century. Both authors present their works as the first of their kind. The Latin learning and style bear the mark of a twelfth-century schooling acquired abroad. Both draw on foreign (and ancient) Latin sources (and to some degree utilize these for an interpretatio Romana of the Norwegian past) as well as on local (including Icelandic) historical traditions. In short, Theodoricus and the author of Historia Norwegie wrote in very similar circumstances and with very similar messages, strangely unaware of each other (see above).

There are dissimilarities too; the most important one concerns the scope. Theodoricus’s History limits itself to the period from the alleged unification of Norway by Harald Finehair (early tenth century?) to the death of Sigurd “Crusader” (d. 1130). This scope was planned: He wants to leave out rulers before Harald Finehair because nothing certain is known about them, and he stops in 1130 because he does not want to go into the sad period of civil war following. Historia Norwegie, on the contrary, was more comprehensive and considerably longer, one may assume.

Our text presents itself as “Liber primus” and ends at a most significant moment some twenty-five pages later when Olaf Haraldsson lands in Norway with four English bishops. That would be a very suitable end of Book One (which was originally longer as there are signs of a redactor’s shortening at the penultimate paragraph, see commentary by EKREM & MORTENSEN 2003, 152–53). Book Two would then begin with Olaf’s mission, his wars and proceed to his martyrdom, indeed his history may have taken up much or the whole of the book. Either Book Two was rather long, or the work comprised even more books, because it is clear from the Prologue that the author intended to cover the history of Norway up to his own times. First he writes that his subject is demanding, including as it does not only geography and the genealogy of rulers, but also an account of the conflict between Christianity and heathendom in Norway, “with the present situation of each” (Prologus 3: aduentum Christianitatis simul et paganismi fugam ac utriusque statum exponere). Next his sources are hinted at at the end of the Prologue (8–9): information about “earlier ages” (de uetustatis serie) derives from the elders, but events “of our own times” (nostris temporibus) he has added himself because he wants to save “many men’s splendid feats, together with their performers” from oblivion (multorum magnificencias cum suis auctoribus). The only event of “our age” (nostra etate) we find in the transmitted text is an uncertain eruption of Mount Hekla (VIII 10–12). But it cannot be digressions on natural phenomena of this sort he had in mind with his phrase on men’s splendid feats. He must have written about recent kings, wars, ecclesiastical developments etc., and it is natural to assume that he did so in a chronological framework. One hint of his interest in recent history is found in XV 8 when he praises the royal lineage: “... de quo quasi quodam filo textus genealogie regum Norwegie hucusque protelatus gloriose descendit.” (“and from him, as if along a thread, descended the glorious Norwegian royal line in its genealogical pattern up to the present”).

Linguistic and literary considerations consolidate this impression of an ambitious undertaking. I shall return to a few specifics on style, structure, and learning below; here it suffices to say that the long geographical introduction concerning Norway and its North Sea realm — taking up almost half of the text as we know it — makes little sense except as the prelude to a narrative of considerable size. Consequently we must allow for at least a large Book Two or perhaps three or four books in all. A moderate estimate of the whole would put it at more than double the size of today’s remnants, e.g. sixty to eighty pages, and a narrative of more than hundred pages is no less probable. The possibility of an unfinished work cannot, of course, be entirely ruled out, but the fact that the author did finish the Prologue and completed the first book together with various circumstances of the textual transmission (for which see below), in my mind marginalizes such a position. And even in that case we should judge our present torso from the author’s plans of telling the history of Norway up to his own times.

Composition and style

The only exisiting investigation into Historia Norwegie’s language was done by SKARD 1930. Though of course very dated in its approach to Medieval Latin, it is still a useful collection of material with basically sound judgements. For more examples and detailed analysis I refer the reader to SKARD and to various linguistic and stylistic points discussed in the commentary of EKREM & MORTENSEN 2003.

Among SKARD’S findings the following deserve mention: – Historia Norwegie is rich in vocabulary and the author set high goals for synonymic variation and poetic expressions in his prose. A few examples will illustrate this. Synonyms for “tell” are: astruere, affirmare, dicere, ferre, intimare, meminisse, memorare, narrare; “famous”: celeber, inclitus, opinatus; preclarus; “viking”: pirata, predo, tirannus. – The syntax is predominantly paratactic, even the longer periods. There is a predilection for adding new nexuses by accumulating present participles, gerunds in the ablative (functioning as present participles in the nominative), and relative clauses rather than other subordinate clauses or absolute ablative. Ellipsis of esse is widespread, not only as an auxiliary verb. – There seems to be no consistent prose rhythm (though this matter has not been researched even now), but rhyme and alliteration are two embellishments often put to use. – Major inspirations for the style and phraseology are the Vulgate, especially the Old Testament. Classical Roman authors are only present through poetic expressions they helped to make popular in twelfth-century schools (e.g. brumali frigore (II 11), celsa stantem in puppi (XVII 50)), not through quotations or obvious allusions (with two exceptions — see below). Apart from stressing the borrowings from Adam and Honorius, SKARD does not single out any medieval model of style but hints that Historia Norwegie belongs to one of the two international currents of the time, Theodoricus to the other (perhaps meaning what later has become known as mannerist versus classicist styles).

A few examples will show some of the characteristics. First a brief period (IX 24): “Sed paulo post ipsum regem truculentus taurus confodiens trucidauit.” (“Shortly afterwards however the monarch was gored and slaughtered by a ferocious bull”). Here as often elsewhere two acts are expressed by adding a present participle rather than an ablative absolute or another verb, juxtaposed or subordinated. The alliterative (here violent) sound of the clause is typical of Historia Norwegie.

A longer period can be exemplified by XVII 11: “Factus adolescens piraticam excercens Baltica littora perlustrando, cunctis gentilibus id locorum formidabilis existendo, inscius deuiatur a deo ille magnificus predo.” (“Grown to early manhood, he pursued viking expeditions right along the Baltic coasts, a terror to all the heathens who inhabited those regions; yet this splendid sea rover was unconsciously directing his steps away from God”). Such periods may not be particularly long, but at times they come across as heavy, because of the author’s preference for participles and gerunds in the ablative used in apposition or even, in some instances, in place of finite verbs. The choice of such an accumulative parataxis also makes for a rhyming effect (adolescens ... excercens; perlustrando ... existendo). Alliteration is aimed for again by choosing predo for “viking” to connect with the sound of deuiatur a deo.

Another example with some subordination is XVII 15: “Verum enimuero curam gerens Conditor creature sue, hunc tirannum tam remotum tamque indomitum per uiscera misericordie sue mirabiliter uisitauit, uisitando illuminauit, ut quos eo tenus umbra mortis operuerat, stola claritatis eterne indueret.” (“But the Creator, bestowing concern on His creature, through the bowels of His compassion miraculously came to this viking, so alienated from Him and so untamed, and in his visitation enlightened him in such a way that those whom He had hitherto shrouded beneath the shadow of death He might now garb with the robe of eternal brightness”).

Again there is a preference for participles and gerunds in the ablative, but the rhetorical crescendo is arrrived at by the subordination and the additional effects of repetition and ellipsis (uisitauit, uisitando illuminauit) and the Biblical phrasing mingling no less than three scriptural passages: Ps. 43,20 “et operuisti nos umbra mortis”; Sir. 6,32 “stolam gloriae indues eam”, and Sap. 10,14 “et dedit illi claritatem aeternam”.

A final example from a descriptive rather than a narrative part of the text shows how the author achieves a demanding style mostly by way of remote vocabulary and exaggeratio (accumulation) (II 14–15): “Ibi equini ceti monoculi iubis diffusis profunda pelagi sulcantes ferocissimi reperiuntur. Illic pistrix, illic hafstrambus, maxima bellua, sed sine cauda et capite solum susum et iusum dissiliendo ueluti truncus, non nisi nautarum pericula prefiguret, apparet.” (“One-eyed, very ferocious walruses are to be found here, cutting furrows through the ocean depths, with manes fanning out. There, also, are the whale and the havstramb, a gigantic creature but without tail or head, which merely springs upwards and downwards like a tree-trunk, and only appears in order to predict perils for sailors”). The exotic vocabulary is highlighted by three recurring trademarks: ellipsis, rhyme, and alliteration.

In general the style of Historia Norwegie can be said to represent one of several ways in which eleventh- and especially twelfth-century historians strive to construct a high-level discourse that goes beyond the mere biblical and Sallustian imitation of e.g. Adam of Bremen. The twelfth-century Renaissance and its increasing use of Roman authors in the schools has left its stamp on Historia Norwegie as well. In this case it has not led to a classicist imitation but rather to one of various possible mannerisms which draws on biblical and patristic language as well as on the fashion of inserting a number of poetic expressions in the prose. On one scale the Historia places itself between the transparent and less ambitious medievalizing style of >Theodoricus and the heavy, hypotactic and classicizing one of >Saxo Grammaticus. Among the mannerists, however, the Historia is less extreme in its parataxis and verbosity than Dudo of St. Quentin (ca. 1000) or the sometimes very recherché language of the Polish national historian, Vincent Kadlubek (ca. 1200). The rich vocabulary and the paratactic tendency is somewhat similar to the Danish historian >Sven Aggesen’s (ca. 1190) and the elliptic style owes much to Honorius of Autun (ca. 1130). Stylistic definitions and trends in the twelfth century are still largely uncharted territory, but it is at least safe to say that Historia Norwegie is both a typical twelfth-century product and that it displays a certain individuality that must have been the result of serious study at a foreign centre, perhaps in Saxony.

The authorial voice in Historia Norwegie is projected more with Saxo’s secretive monumentality than with Adam’s or Theodoricus’s explicit transparency. The “I” is expressed mostly in exordial conventions, but also in a few other authorial deliberations (e.g. IV 25, XVII 54). As in Saxo the narrator appropriates authoritative language rather than quotes it (see the biblical allusions above). He names only two authors, both of them Roman authorities (Tullius, Solinus). The desire to express — on the level of language and style — a local re-enactment of holy and Roman history is similar to that of many other historians, but the technique is more monumental and unified than that of e.g. Theodoricus, who often yields the floor to ancient or medieval authorities.

No research has been undertaken into Historia Norwegie’s narrative technique and literary models. Such a study would probably be rewarding as the author seems to find himself somewhere between the brief and “exemplary” narrative with learned digressions we find in Theodoricus, and the much broader visual narrative with interest in military matters as known from the kings’ sagas. It would be difficult to reach a definite assessment of Historia Norwegie in these terms because an investigation would be hampered by the fact that we mostly possess the atypical parts of the text: Prologue, geographical description, the brief lineage of Yngling kings; only the beginning of a broader narrative is preserved in Olaf Tryggvason’s history and the opening paragraphs of Olaf Haraldsson’s. The account of Olaf Tryggvason is very different in Historia Norwegie and Theodoricus. Their sources were obviously not the same, but their dissimilarity can hardly be put down to that alone. For one thing Theodoricus splits up the narrative with digressions on Roman history, Iceland, and the baptism of Olaf Haraldsson, whereas the author of Historia Norwegie presents his history as one unit. Furthermore Theodoricus focalizes the history through its characters by stating their thoughts and knowledge — it becomes a history of individuals and moral choice with little interest in politics and military affairs. It is significant for instance that there is no explanation of the background for Olaf’s fatal battle at Svoldr (1000), perhaps the most famous battle in viking history (on various representations of Olaf Tryggvason see BAGGE 1989, 1992 & 2006). In Historia Norwegie, however, the narration is more “objective” and distant. A mixture of cosmic powers and military necessities governs the events: there is a balance between Olaf as a tool of heaven and as the great warrior, all expressed in a more “authoritative” discourse.

The author must have had some other reading in his baggage than the Bible and the German and Icelandic texts that can be demonstrated through borrowings of phrases or names. There must be other inspirations behind the literary structure — the mastery of exordial topics displayed in the Prologue presupposes more reading. Also the placing and the scope of the geographical introduction may have been inspired by other texts than Adam alone. A strong candidate is Orosius’s popular Historiae adversus paganos (finished 417) which opens with a large geographical canvas of the Roman Mediterranean world (MORTENSEN 2005a). Structural borrowings, however, are difficult to prove, especially in the case of Historia Norwegie, where we only know the first part of the text.

Sources and literary models

The discussion about the sources has been dominated by assessments of the complex textual relations obtaining between the “Norwegian synoptics”, i.e. Theodoricus Monachus, Historia Norwegie, and the incompletely transmitted Old Norse chronicle Ágrip from the Trondheim area ca. 1190. Despite impressive research a consensus has failed to emerge, but for the present purpose we can confine ourselves to noting that there is general agreement that Theodoricus and Historia Norwegie are not directly related and that the occasional close verbal parallels between Historia Norwegie and Ágrip — from chapter XI (Harald Finehair) on — are best explained by a common source, possibly one (or both) of the pioneering Icelandic works of historiography from around 1130 that included Norwegian rulers and events: the lost Latin history by >Sæmund Sigfusson (1056–1033) or the Old Norse Konunga ævi by Ari Thorgilsson (1067/68–1148), also lost and known solely through hints in later Old Norse chroniclers and in his own surviving Islendingabók (cf. ELLEHØJ 1965 and ANDERSSON 1985 & 2003, 13). The latter text (ca. 1125) also plays a key role for evaluating the list of mythical kings in Historia Norwegie, the genealogy of Yngling kings presented in chapters IX–X. This series forms a subset of Quellenforschung problems because it involves a number of other Old Norse texts, some of them poetic — all written down after 1200, but of a debatable age and transmission. The two major studies of this tradition, ELLEHØJ 1965 and KRAG 1991, agree that Historia Norwegie’s list is without doubt the text closest to Ari’s summary list in Islendingabók and consequently must be related to the fuller list in the lost work. KRAG, especially, insists that the similarities must be explained exclusively in terms of textual relations.

The tangled web of Old Norse source relations has drawn attention away from the two foreign Latin texts we positively know that our author took as models — both of them German: Adam of Bremen’s Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum (written in Hamburg ca. 1065–1070) and Honorius of Autun’s Imago mundi (written in various versions between 1110 and 1139, very probably in Regensburg).

Adam’s work not only provided phrases and pieces of information (for which see the commentary), but defined the entire undertaking of our anonymous author. The geographical introduction of Historia Norwegie is a correction and an extension of Adam’s missionary map of the North; the praise of Olaf Tryggvason is likewise an Auseinandersetzung with Adam’s more ambiguous picture of the king. The author’s ambition to show the present state of Christianity and paganism in the Norwegian realm forms a clear parallel between the contemporary concerns of the missionary mandate of the archdiocese of Trondheim and the former one of Hamburg–Bremen as described by Adam.

Despite his traditional name, Honorius of Autun (Augustodunensis) had nothing to do with France. He was perhaps German by birth, spent some time in England, but the major part of his working life (ca. 1098–1140) was passed in Regensburg in southern Germany. His succinct encyclopedia Imago mundi was the first to surpass Isidore’s in popularity. In Historia Norwegie we find a number of phrases and explanations from Imago mundi (see commentary), but it also served as a general inspiration for Latin style (see above), and for our author’s interest in mirabilia and natural phenomena.

Before reviewing what the pervasive influence of Adam and Honorius on Historia Norwegie can tell us about its intellectual surroundings, we may pause for a moment to summarize the chronological implications of the Historia’s world of learning. The literature known to have been studied by the author is: Adam’s Gesta from ca. 1070, Imago mundi which occupied Honorius from 1110 to 1139 (earlier versions of the work spread before 1139), a work of Ari, before 1148, perhaps as early as the 1120s, and a piece of interpretation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s prophecies of Merlin (ca. 1134) that circulated from the late 1130s or the 1140s. A horizon of learning on which we can only spot works available in the 1140s or 1150s would be very strange if Historia Norwegie was a product of the thirteenth century. As a parallel one can quote Theodoricus (ca. 1180) and Saxo (ca. 1200) by whom we find borrowings from recent foreign works (respectively of Richard of St. Victor, ca. 1160, and Gauthier of Chatillon, ca. 1180). And not only would our author have ignored more than fifty years of foreign learning, he must also have been in the dark as to the important historical literature composed in Iceland and Norway before or just around the turn of the century, e.g. Theodoricus, Passio Olaui, Ágrip, Sverre’s Saga, and >Oddr Munk’s biography of Olaf Tryggvason. To my mind, the learning present and absent in Historia Norwegie gives a further pointer in the direction of an early timeframe as sketched above, ca. 1150–1175.

Let us return to the question of primary intellectual milieu and Historia Norwegie’s German models, Adam and Honorius. Adam’s work is only known through German and Danish medieval manuscripts. Nor is his work quoted or used directly in the twelfth century outside northern Germany or Denmark (there may be indirect traces of Icelandic knowledge of his work). Some early users outside Hamburg–Bremen itself are the >Chronicon Roskildense (Roskilde, 1137/38), Helmold of Bosau (Bosau, Holstein, ca. 1170), and Saxo (Lund, ca. 1200). In its knowledge of Adam, Historia Norwegie stands alone in Norwegian literature of the twelfth century.

By its very nature Honorius’s encyclopedia was able to create interest beyond its region of production. Like other of Honorius’s works (e.g. the theological primer Elucidarius), Imago mundi, as noted, became a remarkable, instant success; twelfth-century manuscripts and users are known mainly in Germany, but also in England and France. In a substantial contribution STEINNES (1946–1948) attempted to locate this literary background, not in Germany, but in Denmark. His main argument was the so-called Sorø manuscript, lost in 1728, but known to have existed in Denmark in the twelfth century. This manuscript was important in the Danish transmission of Adam of Bremen (the B branch) and also contained Solinus’s Mirabilia and Honorius’s Imago mundi — in other words a geographical miscellany of both local interest and encyclopedic ambitions. STEINNES supported this theory with bits of information in Historia Norwegie that seem to derive from Danish sources. Furthermore he pointed to a likely occasion for the writing of a Norwegian history in a Danish intellectual milieu: the exile of the Norwegian archbishop, Eirik Ivarsson, in Lund in the 1190s. When Eirik succeeded Eystein Erlendsson (1188) he soon reverted to conflict with King Sverre (1177–1202). Eystein had been in English exile for a brief period for the same reason, 1180–1183, but had returned to Trondheim and found a modus vivendi with Sverre. Eirik, on the contrary, stayed in Denmark with much of his entourage until Sverre’s death (For Eirik’s exile and his Danish connections see HELLE 1974, 85–90 & BOSERUP 2001). SANDAAKER 1985, who wants a slightly earlier dating of Historia Norwegie, favours a Danish sojourn of Eirik’s around 1180 — when he was still bishop of Stavanger. He and others have taken STEINNES’s suggestion of Historia Norwegie’s direct dependence on the Sorø manuscript as proof that the Historia was composed in Denmark. However likely the connection between the two, some reservations must be expressed. There were many manuscripts of Imago mundi circulating at this time — other extant ones from the twelfth century are similarly paired with texts relevant for Historia Norwegie. Adam of Bremen may have been consulted in Denmark, but equally well in Saxony. The Sorø manuscript does not prove a Danish setting for Historia Norwegie, but it does allow for the possibility that the author of Historia Norwegie could have found his literature in Denmark. A strong Danish candidate is the archiepiscopal (and in effect, royal) library of Lund, no doubt a leading centre of learning in the Nordic countries during this period, probably equipped with the best library for historical research. Lund was also visited by learned Icelanders and it is possible that Ari’s texts were to be found there in the twelfth century (See below >Medieval Reception on Saxo’s possible knowledge of Historia Norwegie).

But there are other possibilities when we want to locate Historia Norwegie’s access to Latin sources. First of all our knowledge of Icelandic, Norwegian, Danish, and Saxon libraries before 1200 is very restricted — we must simply admit that our chances of pinpointing the exact matches for Histora Norwegie’s learned background are virtually non-existent. On general grounds we should also look to the rich literary world of Henry the Lion’s Saxony: his court at Braunschweig flourished in the second half of the twelfth century; the nearby archbishopric of Hildesheim took pride in its famous school, attended in the early twelfth century by Danes, and it was still an important seat of learning and historiography later in the century; the cities of Hamburg and Lübeck had good episcopal libraries as well. Henry was also duke of Bavaria from 1154, and it was in the decades around the mid-century that Imago mundi spread from Bavarian Regensburg towards the north and west. He is known to have taken an active interest in Honorius’s work and encouraged a German adaptation of the theological primer Elucidarius and of the Imago mundi.

Secondly we need not presume that the author of Historia Norwegie composed his work in the same place(s) he had visited abroad as a student or as an envoy in a royal or episcopal entourage. It is equally probable that he — like Theodoricus and Saxo — visited a foreign centre for some years and then brought home materials in the form of excerpts or copies of entire texts for work at home.

Purpose and audience

Only a small introductory part of Historia Norwegie has been transmitted to us — in its original form it may have run to a hundred pages or more, covering Norwegian history from mythical beginnings to the author’s time in the second half of the twelfth century. As far as we can judge from the extant opening it was a codification of a nascent sense of nationhood intimately connected to the centralizing efforts of twelfth-century Norway that begin to appear in the sources in the decades after the establishment of the archdiocese in Trondheim. A central part of the surviving text, a unique geographical survey of Norway, espouses a missionary view of the territory: the far North is included in the realm, but it has not yet been christianized. As an ideological document Histora Norwegie is especially interesting because it almost certainly emerged from a centre outside Trondheim, perhaps in Viken in eastern Norway — thus giving us a glimpse of a richer Latin culture than we might have expected. In literary terms Historia Norwegie followed a main trend for a new nation raising Latin monuments about its past and its new status as a Christian commonwealth: some sort of Roman pedigree was implied in the medium — in the case of Historia Norwegie there is a good deal of interpretatio Romana christiana in the geography and a general striving for a difficult mannerist style that signals a high level of recent learning imbibed at a foreign centre. The author was probably, like other comparable historians, a highranking member of an episcopal or royal retinue and had studied abroad, perhaps in Saxony or Denmark. It is likely that he had stayed in Denmark at some point to gather texts (Lund is the obvious candidate) and that he finished his work in Norway for the same exclusive peer group with whom he had planned it. His efforts were crowned with little success, to judge from our evidence. Like other Latin historians, he was not used by the writers of Kings’ sagas in the thirteenth century. However, we have no means of knowing what happened to the lost later books of the work, but his manner of presenting Olaf Tryggvason at least shows an author who shared some of the sagas’ concern for visual writing and military reasoning. The only certain echo of Historia Norwegie is found in the late medieval excerpts made from it in Orkney and in Sweden, but they do testify that at least two or three earlier medieval copies of the full text had existed, some of them no doubt in Norway (see below).

Medieval reception and transmission

The main manuscript containing the extant part of Historia Norwegie is

  • (A) Edinburgh, National Archives of Scotland, Dalhousie Muniments, GD 45/31/1 (part II). Paper, 35 fols., 27 x 18,5 cm, copied in Scotland ca. 1500. It contains: Historia Norwegie (fols. 1r–12r), Genealogy of the Orkney earls (“Diploma Orcadense”) (fols. 12v–17v), List of the kings of Norway reaching Erik of Pommern (reigned 1396–1439) (fol. 18r–18v), various Scottish chronicles and documents in Scots and Latin, some of them postdating ca. 1490 (fols. 18v–35v).

In addition two excerpts containing the Ynglinge genealogy exist in:

  • (B) Stockholm, Royal Library, B 17 (part II). Paper (except 12, 14, 16, 18 of parchment), 161 fols., quarto, 20 x 14 cm. B 17 is a composite manuscript of which fols. 12–119 is the oldest element (II), consisting of several fascicles written in the first half of fifteenth century in Sweden. The main contents of the manuscript are Swedish Laws: Sodermannalagens Kyrkobalk, Magnus Erikssons Landslag (main text, promulgated 1347). Many scribes and layouts. Fols. 31v–32v (originally blank pages at the end of a fascicle) contain a Latin list of Swedish kings, of which the first half (fol. 31v) is an excerpt from Historia Norwegie’s lineage of Yngling kings up to Halfdan Whiteleg, who left Sweden for Norway, i.e. Historia Norwegie IX 2–X 2.
  • (C) Stockholm, National Archives, A 8 (“Registrum ecclesie Upsalensis”). Parchment, 182 fols. 32,5 x 18.5 cm. The main part of the codex was written in Sweden (Uppsala) in 1344, probably on the initiative of Archbishop Heming and the cathedral chapter. Additions were made, especially from fol. 173v on, in the fifteenth century. The main contents of the manuscript are (1) register of land, (2) archiepiscopal correspondence, (3) miracles of the martyr king, Erik, and (4) various liturgical and administrative documents pertaining to Uppsala cathedral. To the latter section, though still in the fourteenth-century part, belongs f. 163 where we find a very brief excerpt from Historia Norwegie’s line of kings (Historia Norwegie IX 2–11) on 163ra–163rb. It may have been added somewhat later in the fouteenth century.

As set out in MORTENSEN 2003, 33–43, the net result of a comparison of the three textual witnesses is that we must stipulate a hyparchetype for BC different from the exemplar of A. To evaluate these results of the textual comparison it is of interest to situate all three witnesses in their proper historical context (more details in MORTENSEN 2003).

As analysed in detail by CHESNUTT 1986, A in its entirety reflects Scottish historical interests during the reign of James IV (1488–1513) and in particular those of the Sinclair family and Lord Henry Sinclair (1489–1513). Only the latter items in the manuscript deal directly with Scottish history, but the Orkney-related texts in the first part also mattered to the Sinclairs, the former Earls of Orkney. This group of texts, i.e. Historia Norwegie, The Orkney Genealogy and a list of Norwegian kings, no doubt mirror an editorial effort of the mid-fifteenth century; they misled MUNCH and STORM into promulgating a date for A around 1450. We know now that we possess only a copy of those efforts, but, importantly, a copy that hardly tampers with the textual selection already made of Orkney-related material. First of all, the excerpt of Historia Norwegie was found as such in the exemplar. Why, when and how was this (partial) excerpt of Book One of Historia Norwegie made?

Henry Sinclair’s grandfather, William Sinclair, had been the last Earl of Orkney (1434–1470) when the islands were still subject to the Danish-Norwegian crown. (They were pawned by Christian I in 1468 and the transfer became complete when they became subject to the Scottish crown and the bishopric shifted allegiance from Trondheim to St. Andrews in 1472.) William’s inheritance of the Orkneys from his father (d. ca. 1420) was a troubled and long-drawn-out process of legitimacy claims, mainly in conflict with his guardian David Menzies. The historical dossier of which we have the copy in the first part of A seems to have been put together by the learned Orkney bishop Thomas Tulloch (1418–ca. 1461) between ca. 1420 and 1434; in the latter year William’s position was finally acknowledged by the Danish-Norwegian King Erik of Pomerania (1400–1439). Bishop Tulloch certainly was principal signatory to the Orkney Genealogy, which provides the background for the selection of texts: King Erik had asked Sinclair for documents on his lineage, but due to lack of family records the quest was continued for “authentic and approved” chronicles and documents in the bishopric. The genealogy itself is probably dated 1443 (mistakenly interpreted by STORM as the post quem date for A), but as CRAWFORD (1977) has shown it must have been drawn up already in the 1420s and then re-used. There is no reason to doubt the intense search for historical material of every kind. In CRAWFORD’S words (1977, 174): “There is certainly a professional air about the 1443/46 Genealogy which gives the impression that a remarkable amount of research and historical zeal was put into it.” The two main sources for the Genealogy were Historia Norwegie and Snorri’s Heimskringla, both, it is reasonably presumed, found in the cathedral library in Kirkwall. In fact Heimskringla provided almost the entire material for the Orkney lineage, Historia Norwegie only being quoted for its unique information on the Norse ousting of the previous population of the islands in the time of Harald Finehair (the Peti and Pape, a summary of Historia Norwegie VI 1–8) and the statement that the Orkney earls enjoyed free dominion over the Islands except for a tribute to the Norwegian kings (direct quotation from Historia Norwegie VI 21).

The motive for unearthing and excerpting an old text like Historia Norwegie is thus quite clear: it was an old “authentic and approved” Norwegian Latin chronicle with relevant information on the first chapter of Norse Orkney history — not directly useful for William’s lineage, but venerable and a good confidence builder for local historical material. The mechanisms of excerpting are unfortunately less clear. The use of Historia Norwegie does not exceed the excerpt we possess in A; the Orkney Genealogist therefore presumably already had the excerpt ready-made and worked from it.

A possible scenario emerges if we assume that Bishop Thomas Tulloch or one of his assistants came across a complete Historia Norwegie in Kirkwall in the primary search for documents. By leafing through it they saw the Orkneys mentioned quite often in Book One, in headings as well as in the narrative; references to the Orkneys after Book One did not leap to the eye; they decided to have a copy of the first book made for their dossier. As noted by CHESNUTT, the use of display script in A for headings and kings’ names may reflect a similar usage in the exemplar. The question arises whether Tulloch’s excerpt itself reflected the use of display script in the older complete copy. For the chapter headings that is a reasonable assumption, but doubts can be raised about the kings’ names: was this not the kind of genealogical information that the dossier was supposed to highlight? However that may be, the (incomplete) use of coloured initials in A is likely to reflect, through its exemplar, a rather stately volume of official Norwegian historiography in the cathedral library of Kirkwall.

This is, to me, a likely account of the circumstances of the excerpt made in Orkney in the 1420s. It is not contradicted by textual, palaeographical, codicological or historical evidence. It explains those errors in A stemming from a later, probably cursive Gothic script like that of A itself. Furthermore, if one considers the practical circumstances of document hunting, it makes better sense to have Tulloch and his team decide to copy the excerpt for the dossier and subsequently quote from their own copy in the Genealogy rather than recur to the old volume. This scenario, in turn, also provides a good explanation of why we only possess the first book. The details are, admittedly, a matter of conjecture, but the approximate date, the motive, and the perpetrators can be established beyond reasonable doubt.

The circumstances behind the brief Swedish excerpts B and C, or rather their exemplar, have been explained well by BOLIN 1931, 192–200. The list of the heathen Yngling kings from Historia Norwegie is incorporated in B into a genealogy of Swedish kings going up to 1333, ending with Magnus Eriksson (reigned 1319–1364); the shorter related extract in C is used in another royal genealogy. As B and C cannot have been dependent one on the other, they must both descend from the excerpt made originally for the genealogy reaching 1333. Magnus Eriksson inherited Norway in 1319 and acquired Skåne in 1332. The genealogy up to 1333 is a product of this new situation (e.g. it focuses out of proportion on the single previous episode where a Swedish king is connected with Skåne). It must have been made shortly afterwards, ca. 1340, and represents a serious effort to collect historical arguments for Magnus’s rule. It uses a source derived from Saxo (probably the Compendium Saxonis or perhaps Saxo himself) and it draws on Icelandic material that had already begun to spread in Sweden around 1300. And finally the Swedish Genealogist excerpted from Historia Norwegie. In BOLIN’S words, the Genealogy expresses the self-consciousness brought about by the union of Sweden, Norway, and Skåne. It is not just symbolic that it draws on the literatures of all three countries.

Where did the Swedish Genealogist of ca. 1340 find a copy of Historia Norwegie? BOLIN did not speculate about this, but his explanation of the motives behind the excerpt makes it clear — as in the case of the Orkney Genealogy — that we are dealing with excerpts fitting that particular occasion; the chances that they were copied from exemplars of exactly the same extent would necessitate a superfluous reduplication of the same historical interests lying behind their exemplars as well. In other words, the chances are that both the Orkney and the Swedish Genealogist originally consulted a full text of Historia Norwegie. As mentioned, one such exemplar could have been present in Kirkwall (as implied by the Orkney Genealogy), whereas we are left with more possibilities in the Swedish case. It is obvious to think of the cathedral library at Lund in newly annexed Skåne, especially if the Genealogist also borrowed from Saxo. But eastern Norway, perhaps Oslo, Hamar or Tønsberg, would be in frequent communication with Sweden. Even western Norway and Iceland ought to be mentioned, because there were other imports of Old Norse literature in this period. The most important issue in this context, however, would be the conclusion that the Swedish transmission depends on a thirteenth/fourteenth-century branch of transmission separate from the Orkney copies. That both branches are at least two copies removed from the archetype is indeed what the palaeographical, textual and historical evidence would suggest. Such general considerations, together with the evidence of palaeography and of textual history, lead me to presume at least two late-twelfth- or thirteenth-century full copies of Historia Norwegie, in addition to the archetype.

The only certain traces of the Nachleben of Historia Norwegie are the above three manuscripts that transmit excerpts of the text (and their stipulated exemplars). One possible user of the Historia, however, deserves to be mentioned: Saxo Grammaticus. His information about Olaf and Knud accords better with Historia Norwegie than any other known texts – cf. MOBERG 1941, 62–63 and FRIIS-JENSEN 2000, 251. Furthermore his descriptions of Icelandic mirabilia have significant similarities with those found in Historia Norwegie (EKREM & MORTENSEN 2003, 130–31). It is therefore possible that Historia Norwegie may have been the key source for Saxo’s Norwegian chapters in his later books, i.e. Saxo may be a point of departure for forming an opinion about some of the lost parts of Historia Norwegie. This suggestion, which deserves to be explored further, gives another hypothetical pointer in the direction of a Lund connection of our anonymous author.


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