The Chronicle of The Kings of Norway

by Snorri Sturlson | c.1179-1241 | 320,198 words

The "Heimskringla" of Snorri Sturlason is a collection of sagas concerning the various rulers of Norway, from about A.D. 850 to the year A.D. 1177....

Part 31 - Battle At Aros

Svein Ulfson went directly to his ships as soon as he heard that King Magnus had left his fleet. He drew to him all the men he could, and went round in winter among the islands, Seeland, Fyen, and others. Towards Yule he sailed to Jutland, and went into Limfjord, where many people submitted to him. He imposed scat upon some, but some joined King Magnus.

Now when King Magnus heard what Svein was doing, he betook himself to his ships with all the Northmen then in Denmark, and a part of the Danish troops, and steered south along the land. Svein was then in Aros with a great force; and when he heard of King Magnus he laid his vessels without the town, and prepared for battle.

When King Magnus heard for certain where Svein was, and that the distance between them was but short, he held a House-thing, and addressed his people thus:

"It is reported to me that the earl and his fleet are lying not far from us, and that he has many people.

Now I would let you know that I intend to go out against the earl and fight for it, although, we have fewer people.

We will, as formerly, put our trust in God, and Saint Olaf, my father, who has given us victory sometimes when we fought, even though we had fewer men than the enemy.

Now I would have you get ready to seek out the enemy, and give battle the moment we find him by rowing all to attack, and being all ready for battle."

Thereupon the men put on their weapons, each man making himself and his place ready; and then they stretched themselves to their oars. When they saw the earl's ships they rowed towards them, and made ready to attack. When Svein's men saw the forces they armed themselves, bound their ships together, and then began one of the sharpest of battles.

So says Thiodolf, the skald: —

"Shield against shield, the earl and king
Made shields and swords together ring.
The gold-decked heroes made a play
Which Hild's iron-shirt men say
They never saw before or since
On battle-deck; the brave might wince,
As spear and arrow whistling flew,
Point blank, death-bringing, quick and true."

They fought at the bows, so that the men only on the bows could strike; the men on the forecastle thrust with spears: and all who were farther off shot with light spears or javelins, or war- arrows. Some fought with stones or short stakes; and those who were aft of the mast shot with the bow. So Says Thiodolf: —

"Steel-pointed spear, and sharpened stake,
Made the broad shield on arm shake:
The eagle, hovering in the air,
Screamed o'er the prey preparing there.
And stones and arrows quickly flew,
And many a warrior bold they slew.
The bowman never twanged his bow
And drew his shaft so oft as now;
And Throndhjem's bowmen on that day
Were not the first tired of this play:
Arrows and darts so quickly fly,
You could not follow with the eye."

Here it appears how hot the battle was with casting weapons. King Magnus stood in the beginning of the battle within a shield- rampart; but as it appeared to him that matters were going on too slowly, he leaped over the shields, and rushed forward in the ship, encouraging his men with a loud cheer, and springing to the bows, where the battle was going on hand to hand. When his men saw this they urged each other on with mutual cheering, and there was one great hurrah through all the ships.

So says Thiodolf: —

"'On with our ships! on to the foe!'
Cry Magnus' men — on, on they go.
Spears against shields in fury rattle, —
Was never seen so fierce a battle."

And now the battle was exceedingly sharp; and in the assault Svein's ship was cleared of all her forecastle men, upon and on both sides of the forecastle. Then Magnus boarded Svein's ship, followed by his men; and one after the other came up, and made so stout an assault that Svein's men gave way, and King Magnus first cleared that ship, and then the rest, one after the other. Svein fled, with a great part of his people; but many fell, and many got life and peace.

Thiodolf tells of this: —

"Brave Magnus, from the stern springing
On to the stem, where swords were ringing
From his sea-raven's beak of gold
Deals death around — the brave! the bold!
The earl's housemen now begin
To shrink and fall: their ranks grow thin —
The king's luck thrives — their decks are cleared,
Of fighting men no more appeared.
The earl's ships are driven to flight,
Before the king would stop the fight:
The gold-distributor first then
Gave quarters to the vanquished men."

This battle was fought on the last Sunday before Yule. So says Thiodolf: —

"'Twas on a Sunday morning bright,
Fell out this great and bloody fight,
When men were arming, fighting, dying,
Or on the red decks wounded lying.
And many a mabn, foredoomed to die,
To save his life o'erboard did fly,
But sank; for swimming could not save,
And dead men rolled in every wave."

Magnus took seven ships from Svein's people. So says Thiodolf: —

"Thick Olaf's son seven vessels cleared,
And with his fleet the prizes steered.
The Norway girls will not be sad
To hear such news — each from her lad."

He also sings: —

"The captured men will grieve the most
Svein and their comrades to have lost;
For it went ill with those who fled,
Their wounded had no easy bed.
A heavy storm that very night
O'ertook them flying from the fight;
And skulls and bones are tumbling round,
Under the sea, on sandy ground."

Svein fled immediately by night to Seeland, with the men who had escaped and were inclined to follow him; but King Magnus brought his ships to the shore, and sent his men up the country in the night-time, and early in the morning they came flown to the strand with a great booty in cattle.

Thiodolf tells about it: —

"But yesterday with heavy stones
We crushed their skulls, and broke their bones,
And thinned their ranks; and now to-day
Up through their land we've ta'en our way,
And driven their cattle to the shore,
And filled out ships with food in store.
To save his land from our quick swords,
Svein will need something more than words."

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: