GEN-MEDIEVAL/soc.genealogy.medieval

Early Swedish Kings

From early (pre-1100) sources

compiled by Stewart Baldwin


The essentially continuous genealogy of the kings of Sweden begins with Erik "the Victorious", in the late tenth century. However, a number of earlier Swedish kings are known, primarily from Rimbert's Life of St. Ansgar (also spelled Anskar), a nearly contemporary source written by Ansgar's successor as archbishop, and Adam of Bremen's History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, written probably between 1070 and 1080.


SWEDISH KINGS FROM RIMBERT'S "VITA ANSKARII"

An English translation of Rimbert's "Vita Anskarri" can be found at The Internet Medieval Sourcebook, and is based on the translation in Charles H. Robinson's "Anskar, The Apostle of the North, 801-865" (London, 1921). It is apparent that this book was scanned, and then OCR software was used to get a text file, because the proofreading errors show a number of places where the text does not make sense, but would make sense if certain letters are replaced by similar looking ones. This leaves open the possibility that the OCR software introduced undetected errors which change the context of some important statement, and were then overlooked in proofreading, although I think that this is unlikely for the statements used here. Since I don't have access to a copy of the text in the original Latin, I have no way of telling what kind of liberties the translator took with regard to personal names, and they are given here as they are given in the translation. Robinson also included various notes (also present in the web version), some of which included alleged genealogical information for the Swedish kings taken from the sagas. I have ignored this information, which was not in Rimbert's account, as it is of very dubious reliability. The Swedish kings mentioned by Rimbert's "Vita Anskarii" [cited as VA.x, where x is the chapter number], all in the ninth century, are as follows:

KINGS at BIRKA

BJÖRN (Biörn), reigning ca. 829, when Ansgar made his first visit to Sweden (which lasted a year and a half) [VA.11,12]. The king was friendly to the missionaries, but did not convert, although Herigar, one of his chief counsellors, did. He is probably also the unnamed Swedish king mentioned briefly in VA.14

ERIK (Eric), was apparently recently deceased when Ansgar made his second visit to Sweden ca. 852. Anti-Christian advocates were claiming that if sacrifices to the old gods were resumed, Erik would be added to the ranks of the gods as a reward. [VA.26]

OLAF (Olef, Olaf), king at the time of Ansgar's second visit ca. 852, having apparently only recently succeeded to the kingdom. [VA.26-30]

ANOTHER SWEDISH KING

In addition to the above three kings who reigned at Birka, VA mentions one more Swedish king. Since Sweden may not have been united at the time, it is not clear where he reigned, but context seems to indicate somewhere other than Birka. (If he were king at Birka, he would probably be placed between Björn and Erik.)

ANUND (Anoundus), a Swedish king who had been driven from his kingdom and was exiled among the Danes. He joined with Danes to attack Birka, and took tribute. Since he had promised Birka to the Danes joining him as their part of the spoils, it seems likely that he had been king of some other part of Sweden. Although the chronology is a bit vague for these events, the late 840's seems like a good estimate. [VA.19]

This Anund is frequently given as the brother of the above Björn, but this is apparently based on Icelandic sagas, and seems to have no good authority. In fact, no genealogical information on any of the above four kings is given by Rimbert (or any other early source of which I am aware).


THE SPARLOSA STONE

For the text of the Sparlosa Stone, along with a translation, see http://www.torget.se/users/r/runor/sparlosa.htm.

ERIK, king at Uppsala?, ninth century?
The Sparlosa Stone mentions a certain Eyvísl(?), Eiríkr's son, stating that the father sat in Uppsala, presumably idnicating that he was king there. A certain Alríkr is also mentioned, in a context that is not clear. There would seem to be no good reason to identify this Erik with the king at Birka mentioned above.


SWEDISH KINGS AT HEDEBY

In the early tenth century, a certain Olaph (and later his sons and grandson), coming from Sweden, ruled over Denmark or part of Denmark, with headquarters apparently based at Hedeby. Since there is no good reason to believe that these kings also ruled in Sweden, they are not included here.


TENTH CENTURY SWEDISH KINGS IN ADAM OF BREMEN

In addition to some information on the above kings which is drawn from VA, and seems to have no independent value, Adam of Bremen has two important passages relating to tenth century Swedish kings prior to Erik the Victorious, which are short enough to give in full. The Latin comes from Migne's PL, vol. 146, and the English from Tschan's translation in "History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen" (Columbia University Press, 1959).

Book 1, Chapter 63 (part)

... Accepimus a sæpe dicto rege Danorum Suein, tunc apud Sueones imperitasse quendam Ring cum filiis Herich et Emund, ipsumque Ring ante se habuisse Anund, Bern, Olaph, de quibus in gestis sancti Anscharii legitur, et alios, quorum non occurit vocabulum. ...

... We have it on the authority of Svein, the Danish king to whom we have often referred, that at this time a certain Ring and his sons Eric and Emund governed the Swedes, and that before this Ring, there had been Anund, Björn, Olaf, of whom we read in the Gesta of Saint Ansgar, and others, of whom no mention occurs. ...

[Svein is Svein II, Adam's contemporary and informant. The death of Archbishop Unni in 936 is mentioned in the next chapter, giving an approximate chronological context.]

Book 2, Chapter 22 (part)

... Emund filius Herici tunc in Suedia regnavit. Is Haroldo confederatus, Christianis eo venientibus placabilis fuit. ...

... Emund, Eric's son, then ruled in Sweden. Since he was allied with Harold, he was favorably disposed toward the Christians who came there. ...

[Harold is Harald Gormsson, king of Denmark. The death of Otto the Great in 973 was mentioned in the previous chapter, suggesting a little later as the intended time period.]

Although the first of these passages might be interpreted to say that Ring was ruling jointly with his two sons ca. 936, I think a more likely interpretation is that these kings had ruled during this approximate time period, and possibly not at the same time. Since we are talking about kings who ruled 100 to 150 years before the information was written, the data is clearly not contemporary, and due allowance has to be made for that. (However, it is considerably closer in time to the events than anything offered by the Icelandic sagas.) The obvious genealogical table which emerges from Adam's data is as follows.

The next Swedish king mentioned by Adam is Erik the Victorious, whose relationship to the earlier kings is not given by Adam or any other known early source. Since Erik the Victorious had a son named Olaf and grandsons named Emund and Anund, there are good onomastic reasons for believing that he was descended from these earlier kings, but the exact details are elusive.