Battle of Brávellir

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Battle of Brávellir
Konung Harald Hildetand faller i Bråvalla slag by Hugo Hamilton.jpg
Date mid-8th century[1]
Location Near Bråviken (Brávik), East Götaland
Result Swedish victory
Belligerents
Swedes and Western Geats Danes and Eastern Geats
Commanders and leaders
Sigurd Ring Harald Wartooth

The Battle of Brávellir or the Battle of Bråvalla was a legendary battle that is described in the Norse sagas as taking place on the Brávellir between Sigurd Ring, king of Sweden and the Geats of West Götaland, and his uncle Harald Wartooth, king of Denmark and the Geats of East Götaland.

Sources[edit]

This battle is said to have taken place in the mid 8th century and it is retold in several sources, such as the Norse sagas Hervarar saga, Bósa saga ok Herrauds and Sögubrot af Nokkrum, but it is most extensively described in the Danish Gesta Danorum.

Cause[edit]

Harald had inherited Sweden from his maternal grandfather Ivar Vidfamne, but ruled Denmark and East Götaland, whereas his subordinate king Sigurd Ring was the ruler of Sweden and West Götaland. According to legend, Harald Wartooth realised that he was growing old (150) and may die of old age and so never go to Valhalla. He consequently asked Sigurd if he would let him leave this life gloriously in a great battle.

An image of the graves of Harald Wartooth and Ubbi by lake Åsnen in Småland from Suecia antiqua et hodierna.

Preparation[edit]

According to Saxo Grammaticus, both hosts prepared for seven years, and mustered armies of 200 000 men. Harald was joined by the legendary heroes Ubbe 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 led by Hed, Visna of the Slavs and Hedborg. Sigurd recruited the legendary heroes Starkad, Egil the Bald, Grette the Evil (a Norwegian), Blig Bignose, Einar the Fatbellied and Erling Snake. Famous Swedes were Arwakki, Keklu-Karl, Krok the peasant, Gummi and Gudfast from Gislamark. They were joined by scores of Norwegians, Slavs, Finns, Estonians, Curonians, Bjarmians, Livonians, Saxons, Angles, Frisians, Irish, Rus' etc... All picking their sides. Whole forests were chopped down in order to build 3000 longships to transport the Swedes. Harald's Danes had built so many ships that they could walk across The Sound.

The numbers are obviously exaggerated, certainly tenfold or more. For comparison with the 3000 Swedish ships, the leidang fleets of the Scandinavian kingdoms numbered around 300 ships each during the Viking Age.

Location[edit]

The Hervarar saga speaks about Brávelli í eystra Gautlandi (i.e. Bråvalla in East Götaland), and in Sögubrot af Nokkrum the battle is said to have taken place south of Kolmården which separated Sweden (i.e. Svealand) from East Götaland and where Bråviken is located: ... Kolmerkr, er skilr Svíþjóð ok Eystra-Gautland ... sem heitir Brávík. and Saxo ends his account by saying "thus ended the battle of Bråvik". Most historians have held the battle to have taken place near Bråviken,.[2] but in the 17th century[1] a minority view appears to have located it in Småland at Lake Åsnen.[2]

Battle[edit]

The accounts found in Gesta Danorum and Sögubrot are essentially the same.

At first the two armies fought collectively, but after a while Ubbi was in the centre of attention. He slew first Ragnvald the Wise Councilor, then the champion Tryggvi and three Swedish princes of the royal dynasty. Humbled, king Sigurd Ring sent forth the champion Starkad who managed to wound Ubbi but was himself even more seriously wounded. Then Ubbi killed Agnar, and took the sword in both hands and slashed a path through the Swedish host, until he fell riddled with arrows from the archers of Telemark. Then the shieldmaiden Veborg killed the champion Soti and managed to give additional wounds to Starkad who was greatly angered. Furious Starkad went forth in the Danish army killing warriors all around him and cut off the shieldmaiden Visna's arm, which held the Danish banner. Starkad then proceeded to slay the champions Brai, Grepi, Gamli and Haki. When Harald 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.

Outcome[edit]

Sigurd won the battle and became the sovereign ruler of all of Sweden and Denmark (40,000 warriors had died).

Historicity[edit]

The general agreement on the historicity of the battle has turned back and forth during the last two centuries depending on what was the prevalent ideology among Scandinavian historians. In 1925, the Swedish archaeologist Birger Nerman summarized the ebbs and tides of its historicity.[3] He stated that older scholarship had treated the accounts of the battle uncritically and perceived the accounts as largely historical.[3] During the last decades of the 19th century, however, the hypercritical school considered the battle as entirely fictional and considered even the area where it took place as mythical.[3] The pendulum turned and during the first decades of the 20th century, the opinion was once again in favour of its historicity, although the contemporary scholarship regarded it as a fictionalized historic event.[3] In 1990, the Swedish encyclopedia Nationalencyklopedin summed up the debate by claiming that the historicity of the battle is impossible to verify.[4] There is also a hypothesis relating the battle to the events of 827 when Harald Klak was expelled from Denmark.[5]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bråvallaslaget in Ohlmarks, Å. (1994) Fornnordiskt lexikon. p. 44
      Bråvallaslaget historisk batalj som ca år 750 stod på Bråvallaslätten vid Norrköping mellan östgötarna och svearna vilka därmed erövrade Östergötland. I forntraditionen är detta det mest sägenfrejdade av alla slag. Det skall ha stått mellan kung Harald Hildetand i Lejre och dennes systerson (eller halvbror eller kusin) och lydkonung Sigurd Ring i Uppsala. Väldiga envigskämpar skall ha deltagit, bland dem Starkad den gamle, Ubbe från Frisland och befälhavaren över svearnas flotta kung Åle av Skåne, dessutom bärsärkar, slagbjörnar, vidunder och ridande valkyrior. Harald besegrades och stupade samt bisattes på slagfältet i sitt skepp eller i sin vagn med alla vapen och väldiga skatter, som allt brändes. På Erik Dahlbergs tid lokaliserade man felaktigt Bråvallarna till Småland.   [...] historical battle that took place c. 750 on the plain of Bråvalla at Norrköping between the eastern Geats and the Swedes who thereby conquered Östergötland. In old traditions, this is the most legendary of all battles. It is said to have taken place between king Harald Wartooth in Lejre and his nephew (or half-brother or cousin) and subking Sigurd Ring in Uppsala. Huge duel fighters are said to have participated, among them Starkad the Old, Ubbe of Friesland and the commander of the Swedish fleet king Åle of Scania, as well as berserkers, fighting bears, beasts and riding valkyries. Harald was defeated and fell and he was buried on the battle field in his ship or riding in his wagon with all his arms and enormous treasures, which were all burned. In the days of Erik Dahlberg, they erroneously located the Brávellir to Småland.
  2. ^ a b Bråvalla slag in Henrikson, Alf; Hansson, Lars; Törngren, Disa (1998:82)
      I forna tider, när svenska och danska historieskrivare tog den här berättelsen på allvar, debatterade man var Bråvalla kunde ha varit beläget. I allmänhet menade man väl att namnet hade någonting med Bråviken att göra och att slagfältet alltså borde sökas i Norrköpingstrakten, men det fanns även andra teorier. I Erik Dahlberghs stora planschverk "Suecia antiqua et hodierna" finns sålunda fyra bilder som uppges föreställa Harald Hildetands och en del andra kämpars gravkummel vid sjön Åsnen i Småland.   In past times, when Swedish and Danish historians took this account seriously, they debated where Bråvalla could have been located. It appears that generally they thought that the name had something to do with Bråviken and that the battlefield was to be sought in the region of Norrköping, but there were also other theories. In Erik Dahlbergh's great poster collection "Suecia antiqua et hodierna", there are thus four pictures said to illustrate the barrows of Harald Wartooth and some other champions at Lake Åsnen in Småland.
  3. ^ a b c d Nerman, B. (1925:253):
      I äldre tid uppfattade man okritiskt berättelserna om Bråvallaslaget såsom i stort fullt historiska. Under de senare årtiondena av 1800-talet kom så den hyperkritiska riktningen och gick till motsatt överdrift. Den gjorde rent hus i fråga om Bråvallatraditionernas värde som historiska källor. Bakom sagorna om Bråvallatraditionerna fanns, förklarade man, icke ett spår av historisk verklighet, och några Bråvallar hade aldrig existerat. [...] I våra dagar har så slaget återförts till verkligheten, ehuru den modärna uppfattningen är fullt medveten om, att detaljerna i berättelserna om slaget i stor utsträckning äro uppdiktade.   In older times the accounts of the Battle of Bråvalla were uncritically perceived as largely historical. During the later decades of the 19th century, the hypercritical approach arrived and went to opposite exaggerations. It cleaned up in the question of the historic value of the Bråvalla traditions, and any Bråvalla had never existed. [...] In our days the battle has been taken back to reality, although the modern perception is completely aware of the fact that the details in the accounts of the battle are largely fiction.
  4. ^ Bråvallaslaget in Nationalencyklopedin (1990):
      Bråvallaslaget, enligt sägnen en drabbning som skulle ha utkämpats på "Bråvalla hed" mellan danerna under kung Harald Hildetand och svearna under kung Sigurd Ring, som segrade sedan Oden ingripit och dödat Harald. Slaget omtalas i medeltida källor, bl.a. av Saxo Grammaticus i hans "Gesta Danorum" ("Danernas bedrifter") från ca 1200. Man har i äldre forskning försökt lokalisera slaget till Skatelövs socken i Småland eller till trakten av Bråviken i Östergötland och daterat det till 700-talet. Sägnens eventuella verklighetsbakgrund är dock omöjlig att fastställa.   The Battle of Bråvalla, according to legend a battle which would have been fought on the "Moors of Bråvalla" between the Danes under king Harald Wartooth and the Swedes under king Sigurd Ring, who was victorious after Odin intervened and killed Harald. The battle is treated in medieval sources, e.g. by Saxo Grammaticus in his "Gesta Danorum" ("Deeds of the Danes") from c. 1200. Older scholarship has tried to localize the battle to the parish of Skatelöv i Småland or to the region of Bråviken in Östergötland and dated it to the 8th century. The possible historic basis for the legend is however impossible to establish.
  5. ^ Baranauskas T. Saxo Grammaticus on the Balts, Saxo and the Baltic Region. A Symposium, edited by Tore Nyberg, [Odense:] University Press of Southern Denmark, 2004, p. 63–79.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 58°36′48″N 16°06′43″E / 58.61343°N 16.111965°E / 58.61343; 16.111965