History of the Vikings
THE SOUTH AND EAST BALTIC COASTS
IN the middle of the tenth century Denmark, under that restless and ambitious king, Harald Gormsson, was chief of the northern powers. Both Norway and Sweden knew her might, but there was a third land that had learnt to fear her and that was the country of the Wends, a group of recently arrived Slavonic people who had established themselves during the seventh century in the country between the Elbe and the Weichsel. Here, in the district where that thronged trade-route between north and south, the river Oder, reached the sea, these Wends had a town by name of Jumne (or Vineta) and thither flocked merchants and adventurers from Scandinavia and Russia, from Germany and from Central Europe, from the East even, for the purposes of barter and exchange. Great was the wealth that passed through this people's hands.
To Wendland, somewhere about the year A.D. 960, came Harald with fire and sword, soon to make himself master of the Oder mouth, and that this new and profitable dominion might not easily slip from under his suzerainty, that the many pirates who haunted the Oder and Peenemunde flats might no longer vex his own kingdom, he built close to Jumne a stronghold, or fortified harbour, that was known as Jomsborg. 1 It was, according to later accounts, a mighty place; 360 warships could ride at anchor shut within the port, this having a harbour-entrance of stone that could be closed by iron doors and that was bridged over by an arch with a tower above bearing giant catapults for its defence. Probably, as at Hedeby and elsewhere in the north, a huge semi-circular vallum guarded the land-area of the fortress.
1. That Harald founded Jomsborg (Knytlingasaga and Fagrskinna) is more likely than the tale in Jómsvíkingasaga to the effect that it was built by Palnatoki, the Danish viking from Wales, who had won the friendship of Boleslav, king of the Wends. The best study of the historical material relating to Jomsborg is that by L. Weibull, Nordens hist. o. år 1000, Lund, 1911, p. 178, who comes to the unwelcome conclusion that Jomsborg and the Jomsvikings never existed at all. The student should not fail to make himself acquainted with this author's cogent arguments, for there can be no doubt that the whole story of the Danish fortress and its vikings must rest under suspicion.
Exactly where this great stronghold was no man knows. At one time it was confidently believed to have been on the Silberberg just to the north of Wollin, for this town has the name of Julin in Latin, which is enough like Jumne to suggest at any rate that the site of the market-town of the Wends was Wollin itself; but subsequent criticism has overthrown this identification, while as
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for the view that Jomsborg and Silberberg are the same, archaeological research has satisfactorily established the certainty that there was no viking settlement here close to Wollin. Another hypothesis is that the fortress of Jomsborg stood on land, since submerged, off the north-west point of Usedom, either the Peenemunde shoals or the isolated Veritas Grund, on the south coast of Greifswalder Bodden between Ruden Island
and Greifswalder Oie, (1) and though under present conditions archaeology can neither prove nor disprove the existence of Jomsborg upon this lost land, (2) at least there is no doubt that once there were vikings in this locality, for five gold armlets such as they wore were found in 1905 at the extreme end of the Peenemunde peninsula. They are now in the Stettin Museum.
It seems that the Wends very quickly accustomed themselves to the overlordship of the Danish king, finding that this great fortress of the vikings protected them from the attacks of pirates and gave to the trading-town of Jumne a sense of security that it had hitherto lacked. Their rulers, therefore, were at some pains to keep on friendly terms with the governors of Jomsborg and the Danish royalties, and it was doubtless in order to cement this alliance between the Danes and the Wends that Duke Mesko of Poland, the father of that noble prince Boleslav Chrobri, married one of his daughters to Jarl Sigvaldi of Jomsborg and another to Harald Gormsson's successor, King Svein. Thus the fortunes of Wendland were closely bound up with the affairs of viking Denmark so that soon the interests of Jomsborg and Jumne were identical, and it is perhaps this circumstance that accounts for the story that Jomsborg was built by Palnatoki who received the land whereon it stood as a gift from the king of Wendland; it is certainly for this reason that the stronghold and the town were later believed to be the same place, the Norse sagas never mentioning Jumne, but Jomsborg only, while the German histories refer always to Jumne and not to Jomsborg. And that there should be confusion here is all the more likely because the viking stronghold had but a short life of some eighty years only.
In spite of the friendship between the Wends and the Danes, Jomsborg itself was inhabited by a purely viking garrison, and legend tells that this society within the fortress was governed by strict rules. There were no women at all allowed inside and each one of the men was a warrior of tested valour, not older than fifty years of age nor younger than eighteen. Courage, and courage alone, won admission to their company, and in that company a self-sacrificing loyalty to each and all of one's fellows was demanded of the Jomsvikings, slander of any kind was
1. On this subject see Sofus Larsen, Aarb. f. nordisk Oldkyndighed og Historie, III R., 17 (1927), p. 1; this paper is continued, ib., 18 (1928), p. 1. See also C. Schuchhardt, Sitzungsberichte der preussichen Akad. der Wissenschaften, 1924, p. 176.
2. On the supposed 'ruins' of Usedom--which until the middle of the nineteenth century were identified as the lost city of Vineta, see R. H. Major , Archaeologia, XXXVI (1855), p. 85.
prohibited, and the private retention of booty forbidden. Military efficiency was the sole object of their organization and regulations, and though no single man might be away from the fortress for more than three days without special licence, each summer the Jomsvikings were abroad together fighting, and so widespread did their fame become that soon they were counted as the greatest warriors of the North.
These redoubtable vikings of Jomsborg made more than one appearance in history before they and their fortress were destroyed in 1043. The first occasion, and the most memorable, was in the year 985 or 986 when Jarl Sigvaldi was governor. It was the time of the civil war in Denmark between Harald Gormsson and his son Svein, he who was later conqueror of England, and the story begins with the death of Harald at Jomsborg and the restoration of peace between the Jomsvikings and the Danes under King Svein. This was confirmed by a visit of the Jomsvikings to Denmark where they were present at a funeral feast given by Svein in memory of Harald. Ale flowed freely, talking and boasting grew wild, and after Svein had gloriously declared that he would conquer England, Sigvaldi, not to be outdone, swore on his part that before three years were passed he would either kill Jarl Haakon of Norway or drive him from the land; thereupon many of the other Jomsvikings at once pledged themselves to accompany their leader on this mad enterprise and to perform various deeds of daring on their own account in Norway. Next morning they all agreed that the preposterous boasting of their drunkenness had involved them in an undertaking that was of almost suicidal idiocy, but to the Jomsvikings their oaths were sacred; they were pledged to attack Haakon in Norway and it seemed to them that their only hope was to invade the country at once before the great Jarl got news of their intention and while his forces, since it was in the depth of winter, were disbanded. Late in December, accordingly, with a fleet of sixty magnificent long-ships they sailed to Norway in the hopes of surprising Haakon, and after making their way plundering up the west coast they came at length to Hareidland in Söndmör, where they were told by a Norwegian farmer the gratifying news that Haakon, accompanied by only one or two ships, lay in the neighbouring Jörundfjord. Into the fjord, then, sailed the fleet of the Jomsvikings, joyfully assured that the Jarl was now their easy prey; but the sight they saw must have chilled even their brave hearts, for they came upon Haakon and his son Eric, long warned of the impending attack, waiting for them with a huge fleet of 180 ships.
Yet after the first shock of seeing this enormous levy of Norwegian strength in grim readiness for them, they had no reason to fear disaster; for they knew themselves the hardest fighters among all vikings, while their sixty great warships were worth more than all Haakon's miserable and hastily collected little craft. So they ranged themselves for battle and advanced boldly to the conflict. Fierce, indeed, was the mighty battle of Jörundfjord, and at first it was the Jomsvikings who seemed likely to gain the day; but Haakon sacrificed (his son, so it is said) to the gods, Eric rallied the scattering Norwegian boats, and in the end the Danes, fighting with glorious valour but hopelessly outnumbered, knew themselves faced with defeat; so thirty-five of their ships, with Sigvaldi at the head, broke from the battle in flight. Twenty-five of the Jomsborg ships were captured or sunk by Haakon, and many Danish prisoners, some of them famous chiefs, fell into the hands of the Jarl. One of these was Vagn Aakeson of Fyn, and the story of the brave contempt for death shown by eighteen of his followers when one by one they were beheaded by Thorkel Leira, the executioner appointed by Harald, how Vagn himself slew Thorkel and won, as he had sworn he would, Thorkel's daughter, this is the splendid finale of the Jómsvíkingasaga and is a tale that is also told by Snorri in the Heimskringla, where it is to be counted among the most exciting and dramatic passages in that noble history.
That the Jomsvikings turned their arms against Sweden too is likely enough, but the fantastic legend of their adventures in that country under the leadership of their governor Styrbjorn, in company with Harald Gormsson's troops, when they fought against King Eric Segersäll (died c. A.D. 995) and were defeated on the Fyris Plain near Old Uppsala, cannot be history. More credible is the story how under the double-faced Sigvaldi the Jomsvikings played a part in the downfall of King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway in A.D. 1000.
The last adventure of the Norwegian king's crowded life opens with his sudden appearance in Wendland at the head of a fleet of warships, this move presumably being the prelude to a mighty crusade against heathen Denmark or heathen Sweden, for both these countries, jealous of his ever-increasing power, had become his enemies. He made an alliance with Boleslav I (992-1025) of Poland and then paid a visit to Sigvaldi at Jomsborg. Now Sigvaldi, who was a Dane and an ally, if not a vassal, of the Danish king, received Olaf well, but he lost no time in informing Svein of the Norwegian strength and purposely delayed Olaf in Jomsborg with excuse after excuse until the Danes, the Swedes
under Olof Skotkonung, and a company of Norwegians under the rebellious Jarl Eric, had had time to unite their forces.
But at last Olaf heard rumours of the movements of his enemies and became suspicious of his long entertainment in Jomsborg, so he set sail with a fleet of seventy-one long-ships. The main body headed for the open Baltic under separate orders, but Olaf with eleven of his largest warships steered on another course, hugging the land on the advice of Sigvaldi, who had lent him some ships manned by Jomsvikings and claimed that he knew the shoals and currents of the north German coast better than any other pilot. So Sigvaldi skilfully led the king towards the mouth of the Svold inlet on the mainland coast somewhere in the neighbourhood of Rögen where he knew that the fleets of Olaf's enemies were concentrated; he had sailed a little way ahead with his own Jomsborg contingent and when he approached the fleets of the allies he lowered sail and rowed behind an island into the sound where they lay at anchor. Olaf, following with his few ships, likewise turned into the sound and there he discovered himself face to face with the full battle-array of his foes. Then followed the famous sea-fight that ended in the death by drowning of King Olaf Tryggvason.
The Jomsvikings were also known in the west, though their name is not actually recorded in the German and English chronicles. Yet it is certain enough that a large band of them not only plundered and harried in Holland and England, but even entered the service of the king of England and fought for him against their fellow-Danes. For Olaf the Saint, in the course of a viking expedition made in the days of his youth before he was king of Norway, arrived in Jomsborg, where he discovered a great fleet being fitted out by Thorkel the Tall, Sigvaldi's brother, and to this force the future saint joined his own ship. (1) The Jomsborg expedition was preparing to go a-viking in the west, probably at the bidding of King Svein who was now bent upon the conquest of England and is said to have provided men and boats to increase the strength of Thorkel's armament; when it was ready for sea in the year A.D. 1009, this flotilla steered for the coast of Frisia, sacked the town of Tiel and threatened Utrecht, (2)
1. It is quite likely that Olaf did not really join Thorkel's fleet until this was already operating in England, for the chronology and accounts of his movements are by no means clear. The suggestion that the Jomsvikings attacked Jutland on their way to Frisia and England is scarcely to be credited and it is more probable that this was a private enterprise of Olaf's.
2. For the tangled story of the Dutch raids, see Jan de Vries, De Wikingen in de lage landen bij de Zee, Haarlem, 1923, p. 304 ff.