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Coordinates: 67°N 14°E / 67°N 14°E / 67; 14

Hålogaland around 1000 CE
Peder Balke
This painting illustrates some of the rugged fjord and island terrain that was Hålogaland

Hålogaland was the northernmost of the Norwegian provinces in the mediaeval Norse sagas. In the early Viking Age, before Harald Fairhair, Hålogaland was a petty kingdom extending between the Namdalen valley in Nord-Trøndelag county and the Lyngen fjord in Troms county.[1]

The name[edit]


Ancient Norwegians said that Hálogaland was named after a royal named Hölgi. The Norse form of the name was Hálogaland. The first element of the word is the genitive plural of háleygr, a 'person from Hålogaland'. The last element is land, as in 'land' or 'region'. The meaning of the demonym háleygr is unknown. Thorstein Vikingson's Saga, 1, describes it as a compound of Hial, "Hel" or "spirit," and "loge", "fire".

The Gothic historian Jordanes in his work 'De origine actibusque Getarum' - a.k.a. Getica -, written in Constantinople in c. 551 AD, mentions a people "Adogit" living in the far North. This could be an old form of háleygir and a possible reference to the petty kingdom of Hålogaland, which based on some medieval accounts may have been inhabited by the Kven people during the first millennium, but also perhaps a long before. Jordanes' Vinoviloth is viewed by many historians as a reference to the Kvens of Northern Scandinavia and Fennoscandia:

And there are beyond these the Ostrogothae (Eastern Geats), Raumarici (Romerike), Aeragnaricii (Ranrike), and the most gentle Finni (referring to either Sami or Finns), milder than all the inhabitants of Scandza (Scandinavia). Like them are the Vinoviloth (Kvens) also.

According to Emeritus Professor Kyösti Julku, in the modern-day Northern Norwegian county of Troms alone there are at least 12 prehistoric Kven place names.[2] During Viking Age, Troms formed the northernmost part of Hålogaland.

Alex Woolf links the name Hålogaland to the Aurora Borealis - the "Northern Lights" -, saying that Hålogaland meant the "Land of the High Fire",[3] "loga" deriving from 'logi', which refers to fire.

In the medieval accounts of Ynglingatal and Skáldskaparmál, "Logi" is described as the personification of fire, a fire giant, and as a "son of Fornjót". In the medieval Orkneyinga saga and the account of Hversu Noregr byggðist ('How Norway was inhabited'), Fornjót is described as the King of Finland, Kvenland and Gotland. The royal lineages sprung from his children are discussed in these and other medieval accounts.

The beginning of the Þorsteins saga Víkingssonar ('Saga of Thorstein son of Víking') discusses King Logi who ruled the country north of Norway. Because Logi was larger and stronger than any other man in land, his name was lengthened from Logi to Hálogi, meaning 'High-Logi'. Derived from that name his country became called Hálogaland, meaning "Hálogi's land". Eventually the spelling of the name shaped to the modern-day Hålogaland.

The Hversu Noregr byggðist is an account of the origin of various legendary Norwegian lineages. It traces the descendants of the primeval Finnish ruler Fornjót (Fornjotr) down to Nór, who is here the eponym and first great king of Norway, who unites the Norwegian lands (petty kingdoms). The Hversu account then gives details of the descendants of Nór and of his brother Gór in the following section known as the Ættartölur ('Genealogies', a.k.a. Fundinn Noregr, 'Founding of Norway'). The Hversu account is closely paralleled by the opening of the Orkneyinga saga.

In 873 AD, according to the Egil's saga (written in c. 1240 AD) the Kvens and Norse cooperate in battling against the invading Karelians. The chapter XVII of Egil's saga describes how Thorolf Kveldulfsson (King of Norway's tax chief starting 872 AD) from Namdalen, located in the southernmost tip of the historic Hålogaland, goes to Kvenland again:

"That same winter Thorolf went up on the fell with a hundred men; he passed on at once eastwards to Kvenland and met King Faravid."

Based on medieval documents, the above meeting took place during the winter of 873-874 AD. Hålogaland's rather close vicinity to Kvenland is also demonstrated in c. 1157 AD in the geographical chronicle Leiðarvísir og borgarskipan by the Icelandic Abbot Níkulás Bergsson (Nikolaos), who provides descriptions of lands around Norway:

Closest to Denmark is little Svíþjóð (Sweden), there is Eyland (Öland); then is Gotland (Gotland); then Helsingaland (Hälsingland); then Vermaland (Värmland); then two Kvenlönd (Kvenlands), and they extend to north of Bjarmalandi (Bjarmia).

Modern usage[edit]

In modern times, the term Hålogaland is used in a variety of senses. For some purposes, all of Nord-Norge plus Svalbard and Jan Mayen are covered under the term Hålogaland. For other purposes the counties of Nordland and Troms constitute Hålogaland. Hålogaland or even Mid Hålogaland are frequent terms covering the smaller districts of Ofoten, Lofoten and Vesterålen, as well as the municipalities Bjarkøy, Gratangen, Harstad, Ibestad, Kvæfjord and Skånland of Troms county. The term has also been used in this last sense, minus the Lofoten archipelago.

(See Diocese of Nord-Hålogaland, Diocese of Sør-Hålogaland, Hålogaland Court of Appeal and Hålogaland Teater.)


Chieftain House at Borg in Lofoten
Lofotr Viking Museum

Hålogaland figures extensively in the Norse sagas, and in the Heimskringla, especially the Ynglinga Saga and Háleygjatal. It was inhabited by the race of Hölgi (Háleygja ætt) who was the eponymous hero of Hålogaland.[4]

In the saga, Heimskringla, a man called Gudlög led a number of Norwegian pirates that were fought by the Swedish king Jorund and king Godgest of Hålogaland was given a horse by the Swedish king Adils. The first earl of Lade, Håkon Grjotgardsson, ruler of Trøndelag, came from Hålogaland, and sought to extend his kingdom southwards. Here, he met with Harald Fairhair, and joined him.[5]

Archaeologists have uncovered the Chieftain House at Borg in Lofoten (På Borg på Vestvågøya i Lofoten), a large Viking Era building believed to have been already established around the year 500 AD. Archaeological studies commenced here in 1983 and in 1986-1989, a joint Scandinavian research project was conducted at Borg. Excavations brought to light remains of the largest building ever to be found from the Viking Era in Norway, 83 meters long and 9 meters high. The chieftain's seat at Borg is estimated to have been abandoned around AD 950. Today the site is the location of the Lofotr Viking Museum.[6][7] [8]


Hålogaland, in every sense of the word, is drowned coastline containing extensive mountainous fjords and islands. It was an excellent refuge for Viking ships as well as a way station for voyagers to the White Sea, which offered access to Russia. Even in modern times, Narvik was an important World War II objective. In 2008, the name was proposed as the possible name of an independent Northern Norway.[9]

See also[edit]


Other sources[edit]

  • Woolf, Alex (2007). From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070. The New Edinburgh History of Scotland. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 978-0-7486-1234-5. 
  • Berglund, Birgitta (1994) Helgeland historie (Mosjøen) ISBN 82-90148-55-0
  • Bertelsen, Reidar (1985) Lofoten og Vesteralens historie: Fra den eldste tida til ca. 1500 e (Kommunene i Lofoten og Vesteralen) ISBN 978-82-90412-37-6

External links[edit]