Hjalmar’s Holmgang against 12 Berserkers for Love

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The legend of Hjalmar and his Viking Duel against the twelve berserker sons of Arngrim for the hand of princess Ingeborg in marriage.

Hjalmar was a mighty viking warrior who had never lost a battle.  He was one of the mythical Swedish King Yngvi‘s housecarls at Uppsala.

Yngvi was a legendary Swedish king of the House of Yngling. He was hailed as a great warrior who always won his battles, the master of all exercises, generous, happy and sociable. He was both loved and famous. 

Gamla Uppsala is a parish and a village outside Uppsala in Sweden. It’s an important religious, economic, and political center where the “Thing of all Swedes” had been held since pre-historic times.

Housecarl (Medieval Scandinavia, husmän, Old Norse: húskarlar, singular húskarl; also anglicized as housecarl, huscarl (Old English form), and sometimes spelled huscarle or houscarl) were household troops in personal service of someone, equivalent to a bodyguard to Scandinavian lords and kings. 

Hjalmar and princess Ingeborg were in love. 

Ingeborg, 1868 painting of heroine in the Hervarar Saga in Norse mythology by Peter Nicolai Arbo, Norwegian, 1831-1892.

But the king said no to his requests for marriage, since he hoped for a suitor with a better pedigree.  Preferably someone of noble blood.

Although not of noble blood, Hjalmar was a well known warrior.

Hjalmar’s reputation as a courageous and valiant warrior was great and it reached the most remote parts of Norway, where the Norwegian hero Örvar-Oddr felt a desire to test his fighting skills with Hjalmar.

Örvar-Oddr (Old Norse Ǫrvar-Oddr, “Arrow-Odd” or “Arrow’s Point” also Soti )

Thus Orvar-Odd sailed to Sweden with five ships and met Hjalmar who had fifteen ships. Hjalmar could not accept such an uneven balance of strength and sent away ten of his own ships so that the forces would be even.

The two warriors fought for two days with a lot of blood-letting and poetry, but it was a draw.

Finally, they realized that they were equals and decided to become Blood brothers by letting their blood flow under a strand of turf raised by a spear. Then the strand of turf was put back during oaths and incantations. Orvar-Odd accompanied Hjalmar back to Uppsala, where he soon discovered the feelings between Hjalmar and Ingeborg.

Orvar-Odd offered to help Hjalmar elope with Ingeborg, but Hjalmar declined and suffered patiently until a suitor arrived that Hjalmar could not tolerate.

Further south, on Bolmsö, lived the feared berserker Arngrim and his twelve sons.

Bolmsö, (an island located in lake Bolmen near Växjö in Småland, southern Sweden)

They were all infamous berserkers who spread fear and destruction throughout the North.

Arngrimm (with the crown) and his men which, to support the Danish king, defeated king Tengild of Finnmark and king Egbert of Bjarmaland in a hard battle. from Olaus Magnus “Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus”

The eldest was a head taller than the rest and his name was Angantyr, and it was to him that Arngrim had entrusted the sword Tyrfing, which had been cursed by its makers, the Dwarves Dvalinn and Durin.

Svafrlami secures the sword Tyrfing. Lorenz Frølich – source: Rydberg, Viktor. 1906. Teutonic Mythology Vol. III. (They look like nisse, not dwarves, to me).

This sword would cause three evil deeds and one man had to die every time it was unsheathed. 

The next eldest of the berserker Arngrim was Hjorvard, who had declared that he was to marry princess Ingeborg at Uppsala.

In the spring at the All-Thing, the twelve sons of berserker Arngrim arrived at Uppsala and Hjorvard asked for Ingeborg’s hand in marriage.

Being in love with Ingeborg, this was something Hjalmar would not tolerate.

Hjalmar stepped forth and said that he deserved the princess more than a strange berserker. The king who was uncomfortable with having twelve infamous berserkers in his hall declared that he could not possibly choose between two so great men, and thus he preferred to let his daughter Ingeborg make the choice herself.

Naturally, Ingeborg chose Hjalmar, whom shared her love.

This greatly angered the berserker Hjorvard and he challenged Hjalmar to a holmgang (duel) on Samsø.
He reminded Hjalmar that he would be considered niðingr if he did not show up.

Samsø is a Danish island in the Kattegat 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) off the Jutland Peninsula. 

Holmgang is a duel practiced by early medieval Scandinavians. It was a recognized way to settle disputes. *Read more here: <Viking Duels> 

Niðingr and nīþ (Old Norse: níð, Old English: nīþ, nīð; Old Dutch: nīth) was a term for a social stigma implying the loss of honor and the status of a villain. A person affected with the stigma is a nīðing (Old Norse: níðingr/ᚾᛁᚦᛁᚴᛦ, Old English: nīðing, nīðgæst, Old High German: nidding) with a status beneath everyone around them, even thralls.

Day of the Holmgang

On the designated day, Hjalmar and Orvar-Odd arrived on the southern shore of Samsø called Munarvágr and immediately stepped ashore to search for their adversaries.

They soon found the scattered and gory remains of the crewmen, who had been slaughtered by the twelve berserker brothers. Orvar-Odd immediately went to the forest and cut himself a huge club (according to Saxo Grammaticus, he took a rudder), whereupon the two companions continued their search for the twelve brothers.

The decision was that one of the pair would fight Angantyr who wielded the sword Tyrfing, leaving the other to contend with the other eleven berserkers including the rival suitor Hjorvard.

Orvar-Odd wore a silken (or silver) shirt (Old Norse: skyrta) which nothing could pierce, thus offered to take on Angantyr, who reckons himself equal to three of his brothers when armed with his sword, forged by dwarfs and which will “bite anything, even iron or rock.”  Hjalmar is eager to fight him nevertheless, thinking that his four-ringed mailcoat will afford him sufficient protection, even though Odd warns against the folly of it. But Hjalmar would hear none of it, accusing his sworn brother of taking away the better part of the glory.

Orvar-Odd quickly defeated Hjorvard and ten of the brothers and started to look for Hjalmar.

He found Angantyr dead, but Hjalmar was lethally wounded by Tyrfing.

Orvar-Odd and Hjalmar bid each other farewell, by Mårten Eskil Winge (1866)

In his dying breath, Hjalmar composed a poem which was meant to be communicated to his beloved princess Ingeborg back in Uppsala.

The composed poem, commonly known as “Hjalmar’s death song” is found inserted in the older text of Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks as well as in Örvar-Odds saga, though the texts diverge considerably.

Örvar-Oddr said:

1 “What ails thee, Hiálmar? Thy hue is pale.
Great wounds, I ween, do weary thee;
thy helmet is hewn, thy hauberk eke:
at an end is now, atheling, thy life!”

Hjalmar said:

2 “Wounds have I sixteen, is slit my byrnie,
dim grows my sight, I see no longer:
to my heart did hew, venom-hardened,
Angantýr’s sword slashing sharply.

3 “Shall fair ladies never learn that I,
from blows me shielding, backward turned me;
nor shall ever Ingibiorg taunt me,
in Sigtúna sitting, that from sword-blows I fled.

4 “Unwilling nowise, from women’s converse,
from their sweet songs I with Soti (Örvar-Oddr) fared,
hastened to join the host to eastward,
went the last time forth from friends so dear.

5 “Led me the white-browed liege’s daughter
to the outmost end of Agnafit.
Is borne out thus that back I would not
wend from this war: so the wise maid said.

6 “From Ingibiorg— came ill-hap swiftly—
I fared forth, then, on fated day:
a lasting sorrow to the lady, this,
since not e’er after each other we’ll see.

7 “To have and to hold I had five manors;
on that land to live mis-liked me, though.
Now, robbed of life, I lie here, spent,
by the sword wounded, on Sáms-isle’s shore.

8 “Take with thee, Soti— my wish it is—
my helm and hauberk to the hall of the king.
Will it wring the heart of the ruler’s daughter
when shattered she sees what shielded my breast.

9 “The red-gold ring from my right arm draw,
to Ingibiorg bring it, in her bower sitting.
Will yearn for me the young maiden,
since not e’er after each other we’ll see.

10 “I see sitting in Sigtúna hall
the women who warned me of wending thence.
Will not ever after ale nor warriors
Hiálmar gladden here in this life.

11 “Quaff with the king the crowd of housecarls
their ale gladly in Uppsala;
doth the mead many men overcome,
but me overmaster here many wounds.

12 “Flies from the South the famished raven,
flieth with him the fallow eagle;
on the flesh of the fallen I shall feed them no more:
on my body both will batten now.”

Orvar-Odd buried all the slain men in barrows and Tyrfing.

The agreement made beforehand that the slain would be given dignified burial together with their slain arms, Hjalmar with his mail-shirt, Angantyr with Tyrfing, and Orvar-Odd too, had he been killed, with his shirt of protection and arrows (presumably the magic arrows named Gusir’s Gifts).

Perhaps it was so as to ensure that it would not cause a second and third malicious deed, after Hjalmar’s death.

Orvar-Odd then sailed alone back to Uppsala with Hjalmar’s corpse.

When Ingeborg learned of Hjalmar’s death, she fell dead also.

“Orvar Odd informs Ingeborg about Hjalmar’s death” (1859) by August Malmström.

The two lovers were buried in the same barrow.



by Njord Kane © 2017 Spangenhelm Publishing

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