The Sagas tell of a legendary battle which took in the 8th Century.
The battle was between Sigurd Hring, the King of Sweden and the Geats of Västergötland, and his uncle Harald Wartooth, King of Denmark and of the Geats of Östergötland.
The Geats (sometimes Goths) were a North Germanic tribe inhabiting what is now Götaland (“land of the Geats”) in southern Sweden.
Legend has it that when King Harald Wartooth realized that he was about to die of old age that he suggested to his nephew, King Sigurd Hring that a great battle should be fought between their kingdoms. This way, King Harald Wartooth could die in battle like a warrior and go to Valhalla, instead of dying in his bed and ending up in Niflheim.
This location was to become the site of the legendary Battle of Bråvalla,
Both sides prepared their armies for a period of seven years and mustered an impressive force of some 200,000 warriors.
King Harald Wartooth’s army was joined by the legendary heroes Ubbi of Friesland, Uvle Brede, Are the One-eyed, Dag the Fat, Duk the Slav, Hroi Whitebeard and Hothbrodd the Indomitable – as well as 300 shieldmaidens that were led by Hed, Visna of the Slavs and Hedborg.
King Sigurd Hring recruited the legendary heroes Starkad, Egil the Bald, Grette the Evil (a Norwegian), Blig Bignose, Einar the Fatbellied and Erling Snake. Also joining him were the famous Swedes, Arwakki, Keklu-Karl, Krok the peasant, Gummi, and Gudfast from Gislamark.
Both armies were joined by scores of warriors from every corner of the Norse world who chose their sides as they arrived. There were Norwegians, Slavs, Finns, Estonians, Curonians, Bjarmians, Livonians, Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Irish, Rus’ etc…
Whole forests were chopped down in order to build 3000 longships needed to transport the Swedes.
King Harald Wartooth’s Danes had built so many ships that they could walk across Øresund
King Sigurd Hring came first to the battlefield and bade his army to rest and wait until the Danes arrived.
The ships arriving that carrying the Danes were so thick upon the Kattegat that one could walk across the Sound on the ships from Zealand to Skåne as if there was a bridge.
Once the armies had gathered on the field, the lur horns sounded and the battle cries rose up as both kings encouraged their warriors to attack without holding back.
Then swords were drawn and warrior fought against warrior.
The two armies fought collectively, but after a while Ubbi was in the center of attention. He slew first Ragnvald the Wise Councilor, then the champion Tryggvi and three Swedish princes of the royal dynasty.
The legendary hero Starkad (Old Norse: Starkaðr), said to be a jötunn who once had eight arms, fought on King Sigurd Hring’s Swedish side and engaged Ubbi. A long fight between the two began that was long fiercest of the entire battle. Eventually, Starkad gave Ubbi a single wound, but Starkad had received six big ones. During their fight, the two champions were separated by the pushing throng of warriors until Ubbi finally fell in battle from being riddled with arrows by the Norwegian archers from Telemark.
On the Danish side, the shieldmaiden Vebiorg took on the Swedish army.
First she killed the champion Söti, but then Starkad fought her. Starkad slashed her a number of times until she managed to cut his mouth so that his chin fell. Starkad had to bite his beard to keep his chin in place.
She was then killed by Thorkil the Bold.
Still biting his beard to hold his chin in place, Starkad ignored his wounds and charged the Danish army. He killed man after man, until he met the shieldmaiden Ursina (Visne) who was carrying the Danish banner of king Harald Wartooth. She yelled at him, “you hurry to your death! Now, you shall die!”
“No, not before you have lost King Harald’s standard.” he said as he cut off the hand she held the banner with, killing her.
Starkad then proceeded to slay the Danish champions Brai, Grepi, Gamli and Haki. Starkad continued killing warrior after warrior, until he finally was so severely wounded that he had a large gash on his neck and a large gash on his chest that made his two lungs hang out. On his right hand, he had lost a finger.
When old King Harald Wartooth had observed these heroic feats, he stood on his knees in his chariot with one sword in each hand and killed a great many warriors both to his left and to his right.
After a while, Harald’s steward Bruni deemed that his liege had amassed enough glory and crushed the king’s skull with a club.
When King Sigurd Hring heard that his opponent had fallen, he instantly gave the sign that the fighting should cease.
King Harald Wartooth fell in the battle along with 15 other kings (jarls) and 30,000 to 40,000 free-born men (karls – see: Norse Social class system).
The day after the battle he sought out King Harald’s body and put it onto a funeral pyre along with his horse. King Sigurd Hring then stood before the fire and bid farewell to King Harald as he rode straight to Valhalla to join the gods.
King Sigurd Hring, father of Ragnar Lodbrok, was now the sovereign ruler of all of Sweden and Denmark.
- Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (The Saga of Hervör and Heidrek)
- Bósa saga ok Herrauðs (Saga of Bósi and Herraud)
- Sögubrot af nokkrum fornkonungum (Fragment of a Saga about Certain Ancient Kings)
- Gesta Danorum (“Deeds of the Danes”)
- Ynglinga Saga
- Featured image: The Battle of Bravalla, painting by August Malmstrom (1829-1901).
Article by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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