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Medieval and Classical Library


Herein Is Told How Ketil Flatneb
Fares To West-Over-Sea.

Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #33

Ketil Flatneb was hight a famous hersir (1) in Norway; he was the son of Biorn Rough-foot, the son of Grim, a hersir of Sogn. Ketil Flatneb was a wedded man; he had to wife Yngvild, daughter of Ketil Wether, a hersir of Raumarik; Biorn and Helgi were hight their sons, but their daughters were these, Auth the Deep-minded, Thorun the Horned, and Jorun Manwitbrent. Biorn, the son of Ketil, was fostered east in Iamtaland with that earl who was called Kiallak, a wise man, and most renowned; he had a son whose name was Biorn, and a daughter hight Giaflaug. That was in the days when King Harald Hairfair came to the rule of Norway. Because of that unpeace many noble men fled from their lands out of Norway; some east over the Keel, some West-over-the-sea. Some there were withal who in winter kept themselves in the South-isles, or the Orkneys, but in summer harried in Norway and wrought much scathe in the kingdom of Harald the king.

Now the bonders bemoaned them of that to the king, and prayed him deliver them from that unpeace. Then Harald the king took such rede that he caused dight an army for West-over-the-sea, and said that Ketil Flatneb should be captain of that host. Ketil begged off therefrom, but the king said he must needs go; and when Ketil saw that the king would have his will, he betook himself to the faring, and had with him his wife and those of his children who were at home. But when Ketil came West-over-the-sea, some deal of fighting had he and his, and ever got the victory. He laid under him the South-isles, and made himself chief over them. Then he made peace with the mightiest chiefs West-over-the-sea, and made alliances with them, and therewithal sent the army back east. But when they met Harald the king, they said that Ketil Flatneb was lord of the South-isles, but that they wotted not if he would drag the rule west of the sea to King Harald. But when the king knew that, he took to himself those lands that Ketil owned in Norway.

Ketil Flatneb gave his daughter Auth to Olaf the White, who at that time was the greatest war-king West-over-the-sea; he was the son of Ingiald, the son of Helgi; but the mother of Ingiald was Thora, the daughter of Sigurd Worm-in-eye, the son of Ragnar Hairy-breeks. (2) Thorun the Horned he gave in wedlock to Helgi the Lean, the son of Eyvind the Eastman and Rafarta, the daughter of Kiarfal, King of the Irish.

=Go to Chapter II

(1)  "HERSIR" we have left untranslated because we know no
     English term whereby to render it properly.  That it is
     derived from "herr", a collective noun meaning multitude of
     people, cannot be doubted.  The termination "-sir" is
     indicative of the agent, and here would originally point to
     the agent as ruler, commander, gatherer together.  In
     support of this is the word "hersing", a collected
     multitude, crowd.  In time the hersir became not only ruler
     of men, but a lord of the territory within which his herr
     had its habitation, which territory was called "herath", and
     only in the capacity of such a territorial lord the
     historical hersir is known.  Before the days of Harold
     Hairfair he appears to have been an independent kinglet or
     tribal chief, who in his person with the secular sway over
     his people combined the sacerdotal office of pontifex
     maximus.  After Hairfair's day the hersir was reduced to a
     royal liegeman, and between him and the king there was set
     up a new dignity, that of the earl, to whom jurisdiction
     over so and so many hersar was assigned.  The Icelandic
     "Gothi" was another form of the hersir of Norway, but the
     title hersir could not be used, because in Iceland "herath"
     as a lordship with definite boundaries never existed; there
     it merely signified country-side, district.  Thus, while in
     Norway the title of hersir pointed especially to the secular
     character of the ruler of men in a defined herath, in
     Iceland the title of Gothi indicated in particular such a
     person's sacerdotal quality.

(2)  "Ketil Flatneb gave his daughter Aud to Olaf the White, who
     at that time was the greatest war-king west-over-the-sea; he
     was the son of Ingiald the son of Helgi, but the mother of
     Ingiald was Thora, the daughter of Sigurd Worm-in-eye, the
     son of Ragnar Hairy-breeks."  We have here an instance of
     the manner in which Icelandic aristocrats would connect
     their ancestors, of the period prior to the settlement, with
     famous legendary royal races, such as the Ynglings of Sweden
     and Norway, or heroes such as Ragnar Hairy-breeks, or Sigurd
     the Volsung.  The descent of Olaf the White, as our story
     has it, is evidently due to Ari the Learned, because, so far
     as it goes, it agrees both with his "Islendingabok", ch. 12,
     and with "Landnama", ii, ch. 15, and, most probably, the
     notice about the mother's kindred of Ingiald is due to the
     same source, namely, the lost greater "Islendingabok" of
     Ari, of which the one now existing is confessedly an
     abridgment.  In a contemporary Irish record, "Three
     Fragments" ed. by O'Donovan, 1860, pp. 127, 195, which
     scholars agree in regarding as generally a trustworthy
     source for Irish history, the descent of Olaf is also given,
     and, as the following table shows, there is an
     irreconcilable discrepancy between the two sources:

     Irish record               Icelandic Record

  Halfdan Whiteleg,    Sigurd Ring, a king of
  King of Upland        the Wick, in Norway
                            |                     |
     Godfred              Gudrod         Ragnar Hairy-breeks
       |                    |                     |
     Godfred               Olaf           Sigurd Worm-in-eye
       |                    |                     |
     Ragnall              Helgi     married     Thora
       |                               |
     Godfred                        Ingiald
       |                               |
     Olaf (no surname)        Olaf the White m. Aud

By the Icelandic family-tree Aud and her numerous kindred in
     Broadfirth united in their veins all the blue blood of
     antiquity.  But in that respect it is an awkward
     circumstance, that the Irish record does not know Aud as a
     wife of Olaf at all, but says that he was married to the
     daughter of King Aedh of Ireland, the successor of
     Maelsechlainn, which lady's name, however, it does not give.
     Both the great historical critics, Johannes Steenstrup
     (Normannerne, ii, 120-121, 374-375), and Gustav Storm
     (Kritiske Bidrag til Vikingetidens Historie, 119), agree in
     rejecting the Icelandic genealogy of Olaf the Dublin king,
     and accepting the Irish.