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Literature / Heimskringla

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Christian Krohg: "King Olaf's wedding journey to Land's End" (1899)

“A king shall stand for his country’s honour and glory, but not for long life.”
King Magnus Barelegs, Heimskringla

Heimskringla is a massive medieval history book, recounting the lives of the kings of Norway from the days when the Aesir dwelt among men to 1177 AD. It was written c. 1230 AD in Iceland, purportedly by the most famous medieval Icelandic author, Snorri Sturluson.

In Asia, east of the Black Sea, lies the city of Asgard, home of the Aesir people and ruled by Odin, a near-invincible warlord. But when the Romans start to conquer Asia, Odin uses his soothsaying skills and foresees that his destiny lies in the North. With many of his people, he emigrates from Asgard to carve out a new empire in the Northlands, and finally settle down in Sweden. When Odin dies, his kingdom is inherited by Njord, then by Freyr, also called Yngvi, and afterwards by Yngvi-Freyr’s descendants, the Ynglings. For twenty generations they rule Sweden, while their people worships the Aesir as gods.

But the Ynglings of Sweden come to an end through their descent into tyranny and kin-slaying, and only an exiled prince, Olaf the Tree-Feller, escapes westward, becoming the ancestor of a line of Norwegian petty kings that eventually spawns Harald Finehair, the man who unites Norway under his iron fist – for the love of a woman. But Harald has many sons, and it will take five generations, a hundred years of fighting and kin-slaying, and the coming of a new faith before the Norwegians learn to stand together and realize who their true enemy is: Those meddling Danes.

Heimskringla is the single most famous work of the Icelandic Kings’ Sagas. The title is an artifact: It was formed in 1697 from the first two words of what was, at the time, the only manuscript in existence: “kringla heimsins”, meaning “the disk of the earth”.note  The book consists of seventeen individual sagas, but it is internally consistent and forms a continuous narrative.

As there are very few sources on the history of Norway before it started to develop its own literature from the mid-12th century onwards, the Kings’ Sagas and especially Heimskringla for centuries formed the chief authority on Norwegian history of the The Viking Age and the following 150-odd years after the Conversion. Only in the early 20th century, historians have acknowledged the artificial dimension of the sagas, and have come to see them as a mixture of fact and fiction rather, influenced by the time they were written in. From a modern perspective, it is, rather than a chronicle, a narrative moving from pseudohistory through historical fiction to history. Of course, at the time the book was written, there existed no formal distinction between these genres, as in Old Norse, saga can mean "history" as much as "story".

The climax and centrepiece of Heimskringla — making up a third of the whole book — is the saga of Saint Olaf, otherwise known as Olaf Haraldsson "the Stout", who, as the central figure of the Conversion, and supposedly restitutor of Harald Finehair’s kingdom, was by the 13th century considered Norway’s patron saint and national hero. Other high points that stand out and are sometimes published separately are the sagas of Olaf Tryggvason, Saint Olaf’s spiritual predecessor, and Harald Hardrada, whose ambitions to subdue England ended sordidly in 1066 on the battlefield of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire.

Heimskringla ends rather abruptly in 1177, when a young King Magnus Erlingsson triumphed over the rebellious Birkebeinar (“Birchlegs”); this could be mere coincidence, but it is quite likely that Heimskringla was consciously devised as a prequel to Sverrir's Saga, which begins just where Heimskringla ends. So if you wanted to, you could start reading Heimskringla, move on to Sverrir's Saga, then to the long version of Saga of the Baglers and finally the Saga of Hakon Hakonsson the Old, and thus read a continuous history of medieval Norway from the Time of Myths to 1263 AD.

The 1907 translation of Heimskringla can be read online: here or here.

Tropes in Heimskringla:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Hakon the Good once cleaved a millstone half in two with his sword Quernbiter (hence the name).
  • Age Without Youth: King Aun/Ani of Sweden prolongs his life by sacrificing his sons to Odin, even though he becomes increasingly decrepit nevertheless.
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • Svein Forkbeard to Olaf Tryggvason, Canute the Great to Saint Olaf. Generally, Denmark under the Knytlings towards Norway.
    • Olaf the Holy and Olof Skötkonung of Sweden. Olof the Swede hates Olaf with such a passion that everyone in his vicinity is forced to refer to the Norwegian king as "The fat man". After a long pointless war and a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Torgny the Lawspeaker, Olof is forced by the people at the thing to make peace with Norway. Olof promises to do so, but needless to say he breaks this promise too, and is promptly dethroned for it.
  • Ax-Crazy: What? Did you think they named him Eirik Bloodaxe just for fun?
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: The crowning of Magnus Erlingson, the first crowning ceremony held in Norway.
  • Badass Army: The Jomsvikings who invade Norway in the reign of Jarl Håkon. The same story is told more in detail (and from the opposite perspective) in Saga of the Jomsvikings.
  • Badass Creed: Magnus Barelegs' creed is that "a king shall stand for his country's honour and glory, but not for long life".
  • Badass Preacher: The Saxon priest Thangbrand, who was sent as a missionary to Iceland and "was the death of three men before he returned".
  • Ban on Magic: Having been taught magic by the Aesir, the Swedes eventually realize that magic makes everything too easy and thus, men are becoming too soft. So they make a law that only women are allowed to learn magic.
    • Harald Hairfair grows to loathe magicians after the whole Snaefrid debacle. It goes so far that he has one of his children by he killed for hosting magicians.
  • The Bard: Snorri relied extensively on the works of the skalds, i.e. the court poets of old. Some of these skalds play active parts in the narrative, such as Thorbjorn Hornklofi in the "Saga of Harald Finehair", Hallfred the Troublesome in "Saga of Olaf Tryggvason", Eyvind Skaldaspiller in "Saga of Hakon the Good", Sighvat the Skald in "Saga of Saint Olaf", and several others.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: One of the few instances Snorri describes a character's appearance, he says Eirik Bloodaxe was tall and handsome and then goes into detail in what ways Eirik was a nasty person. Same goes with his wife Gunhild who said to be the most beautiful woman in Norway. is s It's almost as if he tried to make a point to discredit this trope.
    • Given Snorri does the same with Loki in Prose Edda, one is tempted to think Snorri really had a problem with this trope.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed:
    • King Ingjald of Sweden and his daughter Asa, who burn themselves in their hall rather than facing their enemy Ivar Widefathom in battle.
    • When the Battle of Svold is lost, Olaf Tryggvason jumps overboard rather than letting himself be captured.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Harald and his 20+ sons.
  • Bond One-Liner: Before killing Björn the Stout, Thorir the Hound says "This is how we stab bears" note .
  • Brainless Beauty: When Aesir and Vanir exchange hostages, the Aesir send Mímir, who is smart, and Hoenir, who is tall and "most handsome". The Vanir are sufficiently impressed by Hoenir that they make him a lord, but in time they discover that he only does what Mímir tells him to do, and is unable to make any decision on his own.
  • The Caligula: King Ingjald.
  • The Casanova: According to Heimskringla, Harald Finehair produced at least 23 children with six women.
  • The Conqueror: Harald Finehair, who conquers all of Norway, Orkney and Shetland. Also Magnus Barelegs with his plan to carve out a colonial empire on the British Isles, but his campaigns of conquest are cut short when he falls into an ambush in Ireland.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: "Saga of Saint Olaf" relates how a party of Norwegians loots a sanctuary of the god Jomali in Bjarmaland on the White Sea Coast. When they rob the precious collar worn by the statue of Jomali, the Bjarmians are mysteriously alerted, leading to the Norwegians getting chased back to their ships by the angry locals and escaping by a hair's breadth.
  • Civil War: The outdated succession laws (which allowed every son of a king to claim the royal title) lead to the outbreak of the long and bloody Norwegian Civil Wars, starting with Magnus Sigurdsson's attack on his uncle Harald Gille in 1134. They form the main theme of Heimskringla's later parts and were still not wholly over when the book was written.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: During his stay in Constantinople, Sigurd the Crusader has his horse shoed with gold and orders a fire to be fueled with walnuts, for no other reason than to impress the Greeks.
  • Conspicuously Public Assassination: Ivar the White murders Jarl Ulf in church while the latter is waiting for Mass to begin, then walks away unhindered.
  • Cool Boat: The Dragon (Harald Finehair), the Long Serpent, the Short Serpent, the Crane (Olaf Tryggvason), the Iron Ram (Jarl Erik), the Bisonnote  (Saint Olaf), and others.
  • Dangerous Backswing: When, in the reign of Harald Gilli, a Wendish raiding army sacks Konungahella, a local farmer called Ölvir Big Mouth rushes bravely but inconsiderately at the invaders and finds himself surrounded by eight Wendish raiders. Ölvir swings his battle-axe over his head so that "the foremost point of the axe-blade struck the one that was behind him under the throat so that it cut his jaw and windpipe in two, and he fell over backwards". Then [Ölvir] swings the axe forwards at the man standing in front of him and "strikes [him] on the head and split him down to the shoulders." Ultimately Ölvir is severely wounded but kills six of the attackers, with two running away.
  • Demythification: One of the earliest examples of this trope on record. Snorri's account tells us that the Norse gods were originally human leaders who were deified by their followers over many centuries.
  • Devil in Disguise: A mysterious old, one-eyed, seemingly all-knowing stranger visits Olaf Tryggvason at Agdvaldsnes, and when he departs leaves behind a hunk of meat that turns out to be poisonous. The man, of course, is Odin.note 
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When a farmer kills King Dag of Sweden's pet sparrow in the town of Vörva of Reidgotalandnote , Dag mounts a war expedition to devastate Reidgotaland and burn down the town of Vörva.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Eirik Bloodaxe does his father's dirtiest work for him once he is old enough and co-rules Norway with his father. He is also Harald's designated succesor and favorite son (out of over 20 which says much). Once Harald kicks the bucket, Eirik takes charge.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Several, but most importantly the dream of Queen Ragnhild, which symbolically foretells the history of the Kingdom of Norway.
  • The Dragon: Eirik acts like this to his father Harald Hairfair, even burning his halfbrother alive at his father's beheft.
  • Drowning Pit: After inviting a bunch of sorcerers to a Nasty Party, Olaf Tryggvason has them tied up and marooned at low tide on a skerry that is submerged at high tide.
  • Dumber Than They Look: As part of their peace treaty with the Vanir, the Aesir send Hoenir and Mímir as hostages to Vanaheim. Hoenir is tall and "most handsome", and the Aesir claim that he is "very suitable to be a ruler". Accordingly the Vanir instantly make Hoenir a lord. However, soon they find that Hoenir only ever does what Mímir tells him to do, and is unable to make any decision without Mímir. Realizing that Hoenir is just a good-looking idiot, the Vanir feel cheated and behead Mímir in retaliation.
  • The Empire: The expansive Danish empire under the Knytling kings Harald Gormsson, Svein Forkbeard and Canute the Great, always trying to subdue Norway.
  • Engagement Challenge: Princess Gyda of Hordaland makes it a condition that she will only marry Harald Finehair if he rules all of Norway. Within ten years, Harald fulfills the challenge.
  • Epic Catalog: The Saga of Olaf Tryggvason lists part of the crew of the Long Serpent, Olaf 's flagship; no less than 42 names.
  • Ethnic Magician: "Finns" (by which the book means: Sami) are sorcerers, no exceptions.
  • Evil Matriarch: Queen Gunhild Mother-of-Kings, wife of Erik Bloodaxe and the mastermind behind her son Harald Greyfur and his brothers.
  • Evil Uncle: Inverted with Håkon the Good and his nephews, the sons of Erik Bloodaxe. The just and popular Håkon has supplanted his tyrannical brother Erik compliant to the will of the people, and his rule is challenged by the sons of Erik who are just as evil as their parents.
  • Excessive Mourning: When Harald Finehair's Sami wife Snaefrid dies, her body does not decompose, and Harald sits at her deathbed for three years because he thinks she might come to life again, in the meantime neglecting all affairs of government. Finally Harald's advisor Thorleif suggests changing Snaefrid's bedsheets; as soon as the corpse is raised, it turns rotten. Harald has it burnt on a pyre and stops mourning.
  • Eye Scream: Harald Hardrada, as captain of the Varangian Guard, personally puts out the eyes of the deposed Emperor of Constantinoplenote . Magnus Sigurdson, when defeated by his uncle Harald Gilli, is blinded, thus becoming Magnus the Blind.
    • King Hroerekr si also blinded by Olaf the Holy.
  • Fairy Sexy: Snefrid, daughter of the local Finn chieftain, is so attractive that king Harald Finehair loses his wits completely and is about to take her on the spot. Her father denies him this, claiming that he should marry her first. They do, and have four sons, while Harald dismisses his other wives and almost forgets to rule his country.
  • Faking the Dead: While laying siege to a Sicilian town which seems especially hard to attack because of its strong fortifications, Harald Hardradi and his Varangian troops deceive the defenders by pretending that Harald has fallen sick, gets worse, and finally dies. They then ask the inhabitants of the town for permission to have Harald buried in their city. Because the clergy of the city expects major donations in return, they grant the request, open the gates, and walk out to the army camp in a solemn procession to join the Varangians for conducting Harald's body into the city. When the procession has passed the town gates, the Varangians put down the coffin, blow a signal, and attack the townsfolk. The rest of the army pours out of the camp and into the town through the open gate, and sacks the city.
  • Fatal Forced March: Despite Snorri's best attempts to show it otherwise, Olaf the Holy's ill-fated attempt to take back his throne comes off as this. Olaf the Swede fails to convince his people to mount and invasion because they find the Norwegians too fiercenote . The Swedish king can only provide Olaf the Holy with a small elite force and some guides to lead the Norwegian king in a land attack on Norway. This involves trekking through the desolate Swedish province of Járnberaland (modern Dalarna) into the equally desolate Norwegian province of Härjedalen, all while attacked by highwaymen. Olaf the Holy manages to convince them to join his army, which only really cements the Army of Thieves and Whores nature of the host. After recruiting more soldiers in Härjedalen and Jämtland, the army finally makes it to Norway, were the peasant army of Thorir the Hound waits for them.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: Captured by his rival Harald Gilli, Magnus Sigurdson is maimed, blinded, castrated, and Locked Away in a Monastery.
  • Feuding Families: The descendants of Harald Hairfair and the jarls of Lade end up in this for almost 100 years with the (supposed) descendants of Harald eventually coming out on top.
  • Fisher King: In accordance with the ancient belief that the richness of the harvests are determined by the king's personal favour with the gods, the tyrannical rule of Harald Greyfur and his brothers causes a famine in Norway, while the harvests under Jarl Håkon, a devoted worshipper of the Aesir, are excellent.
  • Flaunting Your Fleets: When approaching Constantinople, Sigurd the Crusader makes all the ships of his fleet sail alongside each other in a single file, thus to make a greater impression on the Greeks.
  • Flaying Alive: The fate of the pretender Sigurd Slembe.
  • Founder of the Kingdom: Harald Finehair.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Gunhild Mother-of-Kings, wife of Erik Bloodaxe, is a sorceress and, after Erik's death, the mastermind behind her sons, who establish an oppressive regime over Norway.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Magnus the Good is not exactly a nice guy — rather, a warrior king who pursues an aggressive expansionism.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Håkon the Good, the most popular of all Kings of Norway, but also the greatest warrior and best fighter of them all.
  • The Good King: Håkon the Good — obviously. Whether you think Magnus the Good is this trope is more doubtful, due to Values Dissonance. King Eystein Magnusson is also a really nice guy.
  • Hero Antagonist: Jarl Erik to Olaf Tryggvason. Even though he allies with the Danes and (initially) opposes Christianity, he is morally faultless, as Olaf killed Erik's father and brother, and avenging them would be a duty for any son or brother.
  • Heroic Ambidexterity:
    • King Olaf Tryggvason "smote equally well with both hands and shot two spears at a time."
    • The reign of the Danish governor Svein Canuteson is challenged by Tryggvi, who claims to be the son of Olaf Tryggvason and the legitimate heir to the kingdom. Svein's supporters in turn accuse him of being an impostor who is really the son of a priest. In battle, Tryggvi "shot spears with both hands at a time; he said: 'Thus my father taught me to chant!'" Nevertheless Tryggvi is vanquished.
  • Hero Killer: Thorir the Hound kills both Olaf the Holy and the captain of his guard, Björn the Stout.
  • Heroic Vow: Olaf Tryggvason announces that he will make all of Norway Christian "or else die". Later he also vows to never retreat from Svein Forkbeard, which becomes a plot point.
    • Harald famously vows to not cut, comb or wash his hair until he has become king of Norway.
  • Hero of Another Story: Hrolf the Walker is outlawed by Harald Finehair for pillaging in Norway, and thus sets sail to fight in France, where he becomes Rollo, the founder of Normandie.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Gunhild, wife of Eirik Bloodaxe. According to other sources, Gunhild was a Danish princess, and not that bad. In Heimskringla, she is presented as a sorceress, daughter of a finn (that is to mean sami), and that is just the beginning of it. She is also presented this way in the Saga of Egill Skallagrimsson.
    • The Icelanders, especially Snorri himself (who also wrote the saga of Egill), seem to have hated her guts to a point where Snorri found it prudent to slander her good and proper.
  • Honour Before Reason:
    • Harald Greyfur sails to Denmark on Harald Gormsson's invitation even though he realizes it is an Obvious Trap.
    • Olaf Tryggvason refuses to retreat from superior numbers when he is waylaid by Svein Forkbeard and his allies at the island of Svold.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Gold-Harald seems to think Jarl Håkon is his best friend, even though the latter only manipulates him to his own advantage, and in the end kills him without qualms.
  • Human Pincushion: After the Birchlegs have lost the Battle of Re to King Magnus Erlingsson, one Birchleg survivor sneaks into the King Magnus' camp and makes an attempt at Magnus' life. He fails, "and then weapons were so thick around the Birchleg that he could hardly fall down."
  • Human Sacrifice: When ancient Sweden is afflicted with a severe drought, the Swedes turn to sacrificing humans. When it doesn't help, they resolve to sacrifice their King Domaldi, and this helps.— Also, King Aun of Sweden sacrifices his sons to Odin to prolong his life.
  • Identical Grandson: Thorgnyr Thorgnyson, Lawspeaker of Sweden, all of whose forefathers have been lawspeakers before him. There is another Thorgnyr the Lawspeaker in "The Tale of Styrbjorn" who is either the father or grandfather of Heimskringla's Thorgnyr — both are more or less the same character: An old and wise authority figure that defends the rights of the farmers against the overbearance of the kings.
  • Immortality Immorality: King Aun a.k.a. Ani of Sweden one by one sacrifices nine of his sons to Odin to prolong his life. When he is about to sacrifice his tenth and last son, the Swedes stop him, causing him to die, two hundred years old.
  • Immortal Ruler: King Auni a.k.a. Ani of Sweden prolongs his life by sacrificing his sons to Odin. By stopping him from sacrificing his tenth and last son, his subjects cause his death at an age of two-hundred.
  • Important Haircut: King Harald Halfdansson vowed not to cut his hair until he ruled all of Norway. As the project took several years, he became known as Harald Shaggyheadnote . When he had completed the task, he had his hair cut publicly, thus transforming into Harald Finehair.
  • The Kingslayer: Three years after King Olaf Haraldsson's death the Battle of Stiklestad, Kalf Arneson, one of Olaf's chief enemies at Stiklestad, conspires with other Norwegian chiefs to bring back Olaf's son Magnus from exile, overthrow the Danish rule, and make Magnus king instead. Kalf is subsequently one of Magnus' closest advisors; however their relationship deteriorates until Magnus forces Kalf to visit the battlefield of Stiklestad with him and tell him how his father Olaf died. From Kalf's account of the scene, Magnus realizes that Kalf witnessed Olaf's death up close and takes this as evidence that Kalf himself has given Olaf the deadly wound. Kalf denies it, but fearing Magnus' anger he leaves Norway to live in exile. Years later, Magnus' successor Harald (Olaf's half-brother) allows Kalf to return on the condition that Kalf must join Harald's war expeditions; soon after, Kalf is killed in battle with the Danes under circumstances that suggest Harald was intentionally trying to get him killed.
  • Last of Her Kind: Freyja is the last of the Aesir to die, outliving Odin, Njord, and her brother Freyr.
  • Last Stand: Erik Bloodaxe's last battle at Stainmore in England, Harald Greyfur's death in a Danish ambush at Limfjord in Denmark, Olaf Tryggvason in the naval battle of Svold.
  • Locked Away in a Monastery: After his defeat in the Civil War, Magnus the Blind is blinded and castrated and imprisoned in a monastery.
  • The Low Middle Ages: A medieval history of Norway spanning from the Time of Myths to the High Middle Ages.
  • Kingmaker Scenario: The jarls of Lade initially serves like this. Harald Hairfair marries Håkon jarl's daughter Åsa and receives the former's important naval support which helps him control Norway. Håkon's son Sigurd later supports Håkon the Good against Eirik after the later has murdered his nephews. Håkon Ladejarl eventually becomes the defacto ruler of Norway, through is unable to withstand Olaf Tryggvason. Håkon's son Erik becomes instrumental in Olaf Tryggvason's eventual defeat.
  • Made a Slave: The child Olaf Tryggvason is captured by Estonian vikings and spends seven years as a slave in Estonia.
  • Modest Royalty: When Olaf Haraldsson returns from his viking trips, he finds his stepfather King Sigurd Syrnote  of Ringerike busy with farmwork. This serves to lampshade the contrast between the down-to-earth Sigurd and Olaf's high-flying ambitions.
    He was not fond of display and he was rather a man of few words.
  • Moe Greene Special: In battle on the coast of Wales, Magnus Barelegs kills the Norman earl Hugh the Proudnote  by shooting an arrow through his eye.
  • Mutual Kill: Alrek and Erik, the sons of King Agni of Sweden, strike each other dead with horse bridles quarreling over a horserace. The same way, Alrek's sons Yngvi and Alf inflict lethal wounds on each other when Alf's jealousy induces him to attack Yngvi.
  • Named Weapon: Hel, Saint Olaf's battle-axe, later wielded by his son Magnus. Quernbiter, the sword of Håkon the Good. Then, there's Harald Hardrada's mail armor called ... Emma.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Erik Bloodaxe.
  • Nasty Party: Many of them. "Invite them for a feast, get them sloshed, then set fire to the house while they are snoring and bar the exits" is a standard method to get rid of enemies in Heimskringla, and even lauded rulers like Olaf Tryggvason and Saint Olaf are allowed to use it. The unsurpassed master of this trope is, however, Ingjald Ill-ruler, the last Yngling king of Sweden, who, over the course of his life, kills twelve other kings, most of the Swedish aristocracy and finally himself, together with all his unsuspecting followers, in this way.
  • Nautical Knockout: When his enemy King Skjöld of Varna makes a magical wind, King Eystein of Vestfold is swept overboard by a sail boom and drowns.
  • Never Found the Body: Olaf Tryggvason's body was not recovered after he jumped into the sea at the Battle of Svold, leading to rumors that he was still alive.
  • Nice Guy: King Eystein. Even cares for lovesick bodyguardsnote !
  • Non-Action Guy: Olaf Kyrre (the Peaceful) and Eystein Magnusson.
  • Offing the Offspring: After Snæfrid's death, Harald Hairfair develops extreme hatred of magic. His son Ragnvald Rettilbeine by Snæfrid dabels in sorcery like his mother, which Harald orders him to cease with. When Ragnvald does not listen Harald sends his favorite son Eirik to murder him. Eirik does this by burning Ragnvald in his hall, along with 80 other people.
  • Oh, Crap!: The citizens of York have already negotiated their surrender to Harald Hardrada and his invasion force when King Harold Godwinson unexpectedly arrives at York with the English main army, unnoticed by the Norwegians. The next day, when Harald advances towards York to take possession of the city, he leaves one third of his army to guard the ships; also, as the weather is hot and they do not expect a fight, they all leave their mailshirts in camp. Near York, they get aware that an army is moving towards them. Harald orders his army to stop, and after watching a short time in the faint hope that the other army could be English insurgents who want to join them, Harald himself announces that they have been surprised by the English main army.
    [T]he troop turned out to be larger the closer it got, and to look at it all seemed just like a heap of bits of ice with the glittering of their weapons. King Haraldr Sigurðarson spoke then: "Let us now take up some good and sensible plan, for there is no denying that [this army] is hostile, and it must be the king himself."
    • Olaf Tryggvason's reaction when realizing the Norwegians has joined the Dano-Swedish coalition against him.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted! Multiple characters share the same name, and even the same nickname in some cases. Olof Skötkonung is called Olaf the Swede in the text both Olaf Tryggvasson and Olaf Haraldsson has to deal with him.
    • Then there is all the Haralds...
  • The Patriarch: Harald Finehair, courtesy of his 23 children. He is, of course, the patriarch for all kings in the Norwegian line of kings down to the end of Heimskringla, but by extention, he is reckoned to be the ancestor of almost every Norwegian who can trace a linear ancestry in the country further back than 250 years (that is quite a good percent).
  • Patron Saint: Olaf Haraldsson is promoted to Saint Olaf after his death.
  • Playing Both Sides: Olof Skötkonung and his son Anund Jacob does not want Norway and Denmark under a single ruler which would put Sweden at a serious disadvantage and always supports the side which would keep them separate.
  • "Rediscovering Roots" Trip: Upon his succession Sveigdir, the fourth ruler of ancient Sweden after Odin, "swears an oath" to find Godheim (the "land of the Gods") from whence his ancestors formerly came to Sweden under Odin's leadership. Sveigdir and his companions succeed and reach Asgard in Asia (the land of the Aesir), where Sveigdir "[meets] many of his relatives". Sveigdir also visits Vanaheim, the birthplace of his grandfather Freyr (which is situated in the delta of the Don), marries a Vanir woman, and returns with her to Sweden after five years abroad.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The slave Kark is enticed by Olaf Tryggvason's promises of rewards to murder his master Jarl Håkon; but when he brings Håkon's head to Olaf, the latter has him decapitated.
  • Rhymes on a Dime:
    • Ynglinga saga says about Odin (described as a powerful and sorcerous king of the ancient past) that, among many other extraordinary and supernatural talents, "everything he said was in rhyme, like the way what is now called poetry is composed".
    • Saga of St. Olaf says about Olaf's court poet Sigvatr Thordarson that he was so good at composing verse that "he spoke it extempore, just as if he was saying something in the ordinary way."
  • Right in Front of Me: The English rider that negotiates with Earl Tostig and Harald Hardrada before the Battle of Stamford Bridge is, as Harald learns later, King Harold Godwinson himself.
  • Royal Brat: Most of Harald Finehair's children turn out very nasty and troublesome (even by the standards of their time). Several of the sons demand to the right to be called king which their father begrudingly indulges. Two sons even feel so entitled that they murder Rognvald jarl (Harald's closest friend and ally) and takes over his land. Ironcly, Erik who is the least stable of them is the one to exhibit this the least.
  • Sketchy Successor: Arrogant, greedy, and stupid Magnus Sigurdson (later Magnus the Blind) to his father, the famous war-hero Sigurd the Crusader. Magnus' shortcomings are instrumental in triggering the Civil War after Sigurd's death.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: This exchange between Olaf Tryggvason and his bow master Einar, which has become one of the most famous lines in the entire book:
    Olaf Tryggvason: Hvat brast þar svá hátt?note 
    Einar: Noregr or hendi þér, konungr!note 
  • The Un Favourite: Basiclly any of Harald Finehair's children that is not Erik.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: Upon the death of Saint Olaf in the battle of Stiklestad, the sun eclipses.
  • Trap Is the Only Option: Even though he is aware that it is most likely a trap, Harald Greyfur is too proud to decline Harald Gormsson's invitation, and thus sails to Denmark where he is promptly ambushed.
  • Travel Transformation: Planning an invasion of Iceland, King Harald Gormsson of Denmark tasks a sorcerer with scouting out Iceland. The sorcerer turns into a whale to undertake the journey.
  • Undignified Death: King Fjölnir of Sweden, son of Freyr, drowns in a vat of mead after a night of boozing with King Frode of Denmark.
  • Universally Beloved Leader: Håkon the Good is so popular that “both friends and foes wept over his death and said that never again would such a good king come to Norway.”
  • Untranslated Title: The book's original title, if it had one, is unknown, but "Heimskringla" has stuck. Alternative titles, like Lives of the Kings of Norway or something similar, are sometimes used, but the book is never called "The Circle of the Earth".
  • Unwitting Pawn: Poor Gold-Harald is manipulated by his cousin Harald Gormsson to off Harald Greyfur, then sold out by him to his own False Friend Jarl Hakon.
  • Uriah Gambit: On the plea of Finn Arneson, King Harald Sigurdsson allows Finn's brother Kalf to return from exile on the condition that Kalf must swear allegiance and join Harald's war expeditions. Kalf had helped bring Harald's brother Magnus to the throne, but was later exiled by Magnus because he was suspected to have delivered the lethal wound on Magnus' father Olaf (Harald's elder brother) in the Battle of Stiklestad. When Kalf accordingly sails with Harald to raid the Danish island of Fyn, Harald orders Kalf to go on land with an advance party, promising to later join him with the main army. Soon, Kalf and his troop are overwhelmed by a Danish army, and Kalf is killed. Finn Arneson is convinced that Harald wanted to get Kalf killed on purpose, and leaves Norway to join Harald's rival King Svein of Denmark.
  • Viking Funeral: The funeral of King Haki of Sweden in "Ynglinga Saga" is a textbook example.
  • Villainous Valour: Displayed by Erik Bloodaxe, Harald Greyfur, and Harald Hardrada in their respective Last Stands.
  • Villain Protagonist: While most of the kings are on the morally ambivalent side, and, due to Values Dissonance some may appear as villains that were never intended to be such, this trope is nowhere more prevalent than in the saga of Harald Hardrada.
  • Warrior Poet: Harald Hardrada likes to compose poetry.
  • Warrior Prince: Most of them, in accord with the customs of the times — it is much easier to list the kings that are Non Action Guys.
  • Weather of War: During the naval battle of Hjörunga Bay, a hailstorm arises that is instrumental in turning the battle against the Jomsvikings and securing the Norwegians' victory.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: King St. Olaf of Norway is determined Norway will be Christian, if it takes killing or maiming the stubborn pagans so be it.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: Harald Hardrada fails in subduing Denmark, even though he is mostly victorious in battle with his rival Svein Estridsson, because Svein is popular with the Danes while they curiously loathe Harald just the more the more he attacks them. The trope is later lampshaded by Earl Tostig in conversation with Harald.
  • Worthy Opponent: After the Battle of Re, one of the surviving Birchlegs sneaks into King Magnus' camp and makes an attempt at Magnus' life. He fails and is killed; then the kings' retainers notice that the man was already mortally wounded and had "dragged his guts after him over the floor", and "the man's hardiness was much praised."
  • Youngest Child Wins: Even before Harald Finehair's death, his twenty-odd sons begin to fight over the succession, with Harald's favorite Erik killing four of his brothers and his wife Gunhild a fifth. But it is the youngest child, Håkon, who eventually outplays Erik and inherits the kingdom.

Alternative Title(s): King Haralds Saga, Ynglinga Saga, The Saga Of The Ynglings