Ohthere

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This is about the Swedish king Ohthere. For the Norwegian voyager by the same name, see Ohthere of Hålogaland
Ohthere's Mound located at Vendel parish, Uppland, Sweden.

Ohthere (also Ohtere), Old Norse Óttarr vendilkráka (Vendelcrow; in Modern Swedish Ottar Vendelkråka) is a semi-legendary king of Sweden of the house of Scylfings who would have lived during the 6th century (fl. c. 515 – c. 530[1]).

His name can be reconstructed as Proto-Norse *Ōhta-harjaz or *Ōhtu-harjaz. The harjaz element is common in Germanic names and has a meaning of "warrior, army" (whence English harry); by contrast, the oht element is less frequent, and has been tentatively interpreted as "fearsome, feared".[2]

A prince of the Swedes, Ohthere and his brother Onela conducted successful raids against the Geats after King Hrethel had died. In 515, Ongentheow was killed in battle by the Geats and Ohthere succeeded his father as the king of Sweden. Ohthere led an army against the Geats, and besieged one of their armies. He nearly killed the Geatish king Hygelac but lost many of his forces in the conflict. Ohthere managed to get back to Sweden. In the 520s, Ohthere led a large raid to Denmark and plundered the Danish coast. A Danish army led by two Jarls, however, was waiting for him. Battle broke out. The Danish were reinforced, and Ohthere was killed in the battle. His corpse was taken back to Sweden and buried in a mound.

Beowulf[edit]

In the Old English poem Beowulf the name of Ohthere only appears in constructions referring to his father Ongenþeow (fæder Ohtheres),[3] mother (Onelan modor and Ohtheres),[4] and his sons Eadgils (suna Ohteres,[5] sunu Ohteres[6]) and Eanmund (suna Ohteres).[7]

When Ohthere and his actions are concerned, he is referred to as Ongenþeow's offspring together with his brother Onela. The section deals with Ohthere and Onela pillaging the Geats at the death of their king Hreðel, restarting the Swedish-Geatish wars:

Þa wæs synn and sacu Sweona and Geata,
ofer wid wæter wroht gemæne,
here-nið hearda, syððan Hreðel swealt,
oððe him Ongenþeowes eaferan wæran
frome fyrd-hwate, freode ne woldon
ofer heafo healdan, ac ymb Hreosna-beorh
eatolne inwit-scear oft gefremedon.[8]
There was strife and struggle 'twixt Swede and Geat
o'er the width of waters; war arose,
hard battle-horror, when Hrethel died,
and Ongentheow's offspring grew
strife-keen, bold, nor brooked o'er the seas
pact of peace, but pushed their hosts
to harass in hatred by Hreosnabeorh.[9]

Later, it is implied in the poem that Ohthere has died, because his brother Onela is king. Ohthere's sons Eadgils and Eanmund fled to the Geats and the wars began anew.

Scandinavian sources[edit]

Ynglingatal, Ynglinga saga, Íslendingabók and Historia Norvegiae all present Óttarr as the son of Egill (called Ongenþeow in Beowulf) and as the father of Aðísl/Aðils/athils/Adils (Eadgils).

According to the latest source, Ynglinga saga, Óttarr refused to pay tribute to the Danish king Fróði for the help that his father had received. Then Fróði sent two men to collect the tribute, but Óttarr answered that the Swedes had never paid tribute to the Danes and would not begin with him. Fróði then gathered a vast host and looted in Sweden, but the next summer he pillaged in the east. When Óttarr learnt that Fróði was gone, he sailed to Denmark to plunder in return and went into the Limfjord where he pillaged in Vendsyssel. Fróði's jarls Vott and Faste attacked Óttarr in the fjord. The battle was even and many men fell, but the Danes were reinforced by the people in the neighbourhood and so the Swedes lost (a version apparently borrowed from the death of Óttarr's predecessor Jorund). The Danes put Óttarr's corpse on a mound to be devoured by wild beasts, and made a wooden crow that they sent to Sweden with the message that the wooden crow was all that Óttarr was worth. After this, Óttarr was called Vendelcrow.

It is only Snorri who uses the epithet Vendelcrow, whereas the older sources Historia Norvegiae and Íslendingabók use it for his father Egill. Moreover, it is only in Snorri's work that story of Óttarr's death in Vendsyssel appears, and it is probably his own invention.[1] Ynglingatal only mentions that Óttarr was killed by the Danish jarls Vott and Faste in a place named Vendel (Laing has been influenced by Snorri's version in his translation):

Féll Óttarr
und ara greipar
dugandligr
fyrir Dana vápnum,
þann hergammr
hrægum fœti
viti borinn
á Vendli sparn.
Þau frá ek verk
Vötts ok Fasta
sœnskri þjóð
at sögum verða;
at eylands
jarlar Fróða
vígframað
um veginn höfðu.[10]
By Danish arms the hero bold,
Ottar the Brave, lies stiff and cold.
To Vendel's plain the corpse was borne;
By eagles' claws the corpse is torn,
Spattered by ravens' bloody feet,
The wild bird's prey, the wild wolf's meat.
The Swedes have vowed revenge to take
On Frode's earls, for Ottar's sake;
Like dogs to kill them in their land,
In their own homes, by Swedish hand.[11]

The Historia Norwegiæ presents a Latin summary of Ynglingatal, older than Snorri's quotation (continuing after Egil):

Cui successit in regnum filius suus Ottarus, qui a suo æquivoco Ottaro Danorum comite et fratre ejus Fasta in una provinciarum Daniæ, scilicet Wendli, interemptus est. Cujus filius Adils [...][12]

The successor to the throne was his son Ottar, who was assassinated in Vendel, a law province of Denmark, by his namesake, a Danish jarl, and this man's brother, Fasta. His son Adils [...][13]

Historia Norvegiæ only informs that Ohthere was killed by the Danish brothers Ottar [sic.] and Faste in a Danish province called Vendel.

Ohthere's Barrow[edit]

Ohthere's barrow (Swedish: Ottarshögen) (60°08′N 17°34′E / 60.133°N 17.567°E / 60.133; 17.567) is located in Vendel parish, Uppland, Sweden. The barrow is 5 metres high and 40 metres wide. In the 17th century the barrow was known locally as Ottarshögen. The term Hög is derived from the Old Norse word haugr meaning mound or barrow. [14]

The barrow was excavated in the period 1914-1916.[14] It showed the remains of both a man and a woman, and the finds were worthy of a king.[15] The Swedish archaeologist Sune Lindqvist[16] reported that in its centre there was a wooden vessel with ashes. There were few finds but they were well-preserved. There were some decorative panels similar to those found in the other Vendel era graves nearby. A comb with a case was found, as well as a golden Roman coin, a solidus, dated to be no later than 477. It had been perforated and was probably used as decoration, but it showed signs of wear and tear and had probably been worn for a longer time. Lindquist stated that the identification of the barrow as that of Ohthere could not receive more archaeological confirmation than those provided by the excavation.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Ottar, an article in the encyclopedia Nordisk familjebok
  2. ^ Peterson, Lena. Lexikon över urnnordiska personnamn PDF
  3. ^ Line 2929.
  4. ^ Line 2933.
  5. ^ Lines 2381,
  6. ^ Line 2395.
  7. ^ Lines 2613.
  8. ^ Lines 2473-2480.
  9. ^ Modern English translation by Francis Barton Gummere
  10. ^ The original text at Heimskringla Norrøne Tekster og Kvad
  11. ^ Laing's translation at Sacred Texts
  12. ^ Storm, Gustav (editor) (1880). Monumenta historica Norwegiæ: Latinske kildeskrifter til Norges historie i middelalderen, Monumenta Historica Norwegiae (Kristiania: Brøgger), pp. 100-101.
  13. ^ Ekrem, Inger (editor), Lars Boje Mortensen (editor) and Peter Fisher (translator) (2003). Historia Norwegie. Museum Tusculanum Press. ISBN 87-7289-813-5, p. 77.
  14. ^ a b "Ottarshögen", Nationalencyklopedin 
  15. ^ A presentation by the Swedish National Heritage Board
  16. ^ Fornvännen 1917, Sune Lindqvist, "Ottarshögen i Vendel", p. 142

References[edit]

  • Nerman, B. Det svenska rikets uppkomst. Stockholm, 1925.
Ohthere
Preceded by
Ongenþeow
Semi-legendary king of Sweden Succeeded by
Onela