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), Östergötland
Result Swedish victory
Belligerents
Swedes, Estonians and Western Geats Danes and Eastern Geats
Commanders and leaders
Sigurd Hring Harald Wartooth

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

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 ok Heiðreks, Bósa saga ok Herrauðs and Sögubrot af nokkrum fornkonungum, but it is most extensively described in the nationalistic Danish history Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus.

Cause[edit]

Harald had inherited Sweden from his maternal grandfather Ivar Vidfamne, but ruled Denmark and East Götaland, whereas his subordinate king, Sigurd Hring, was the ruler of Sweden and West Götaland. According to legend, Harald Wartooth realised that he was growing old and might die of old age and therefore not go to Valhalla. He consequently asked Sigurd if he would let him leave this life gloriously in 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 ok Heiðreks speaks of "Brávelli í eystra Gautlandi" (Bråvalla in East Götaland) and in Sǫgubrot af nokkrum fornkonungum the battle is said to have taken place south of Kolmården, which separated Svealand (Sweden proper) from East Götaland and is where Bråviken is located: "Kolmerkr, er skilr Svíþjóð ok Eystra-Gautland ... sem heitir Brávík". 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 the Sǫgubrot saga 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 Hring 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 Ohlmarks, Åke (1994). FornNordiskt lexikon. Tiden. p. 44. ISBN 978-91-550-4044-4. 
  2. ^ a b Henrikson, Alf; Törngren, Disa; Hansson, Lars (1998). Stora mytologiska uppslagsboken: hexikon. Forum. p. 82. ISBN 978-91-37-11346-3. 
  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