Gateway to the Classics: Stories of the Vikings by Mary MacGregor
Stories of the Vikings by  Mary MacGregor

King Olaf Trygveson

When the people of Norway drove Earl Hakon from his dominions they chose Olaf, son of Trygve, to rule over them. Trygve, you remember, was the king who had been driven from Viken by Eirik's sons. King Olaf was a brave warrior, and on his Viking expeditions he allied himself with many Norsemen who had settled in the British Isles.

When he began to rule over Norway in 995 Olaf was a heathen, and he plundered many monasteries and churches. But on one of his expeditions the king met a hermit, and was persuaded by him to give up his heathen ways and to be baptized.

The hermit, so King Olaf was told, could foretell what would come to pass, and had indeed a wonderful knowledge of many things. Olaf made up his mind to test the hermit's power. He dressed the most handsome and strongest of his men in his own royal clothes, and sent him to the hermit, bidding him pretend to be King Olaf. And as King Olaf was a very handsome and strong man the disguise was complete.

Yet the holy man was not deceived. "Thou art not the king," he said to the warrior who came to him clothed in the royal robes; "thou art not the king, but I advise thee to remain faithful to him."

When Olaf heard what the hermit had said, he went himself to see him. And it was then that the king was baptized and gave up his heathen customs.

Olaf returned to Norway determined to make it Christian or to die in the attempt. He called together a Thing, and as King Hakon had done many years before, he begged the people to give up sacrificing to the gods and to be baptized.

But at his words the murmurs of the people arose even as they had done in the olden days.

A peasant, named Skegge, speaking in the name of all the peasants, said, "We do not wish, king, to give up our ancient faith. We want thee to offer sacrifices to the gods as other kings before thee have done."

Then Olaf said that he would go with them into the temple of their gods to see them offer sacrifices, and this pleased the peasants well. With a few of his men-at-arms and a small number of the people the king therefore entered the temple. There, before him, he saw the image of Thor, the god of battle, adorned with both gold and silver.

Olaf was carrying a heavy axe inlaid with gold. Suddenly he raised it, and, to the dismay of the peasants, struck their god Thor down from his seat, so that he rolled along the ground. For one awful moment there was silence, but Thor lay in the dust, powerless to avenge himself. Then the king's men threw all the other gods from their places, and while this was being done within the temple, without its walls Skegge, the leader of the peasants, was slain.

Then Olaf left the temple, and again he spoke to the people, bidding them either be baptized or prepare to fight against him.


Olaf struck their God Thor down from his seat.

But their leader had been slain, and the people were too weak to band themselves together against a king who was so fearless as to throw the ancient gods down from their seats. They were therefore baptized; and gave the king hostages that they would be true to the new faith.

And now, on all his Viking expeditions, Olaf forced the people he subdued to be baptized. He also left behind him teachers of the new faith, and thus, little by little, the teaching of the White Christ spread over the land.

Iceland had been discovered long before now, and as many Norsemen dwelt there, Olaf sent a priest thither. But the inhabitants and the settlers in Iceland both refused to listen to the priest or to give up their old faith and be baptized. Thereupon the priest sailed back again to Norway and told the king that the people would not listen to his teaching.

Then King Olaf was very angry, and summoned all the Icelanders who dwelt in Norway to his presence. They should be killed, for they were as foolish as their friends, and had never been baptized.

But some of the bravest of the Icelanders spoke these words, "King, thou must not fall from thy words, that however much a man may anger thee, if he turn from his heathenism thou wilt forgive him. All the Icelanders here are willing to be baptized, and through them we may find means to bring Christianity into Iceland."

When King Olaf heard these wise words, he forgot his anger, while the Icelanders were at once baptized.

As the people of Norway slowly changed their old faith for the new, other changes also crept into their land.

The Vikings had always been merchants as well as warriors, and sometimes in the old burial-mounds weights and scales were found, as well as swords and spears. But now their trade with foreign countries grew greater, and Olaf founded a merchants' town which was at first called Hauptstad, but which afterwards became the town we know as Throndhjem.

Olaf also encouraged his people to build warships, which were stronger and more seaworthy than their old long-boats. The Serpent, built by King Olaf himself, was the finest warship in the land, until he built the Long Serpent, which was even stronger and larger.

For five years Olaf reigned and laboured for the good of his country. Then in the year 1000, as he fought at sea, the battle went against him, and Olaf threw aside his armour and dived under the ships. Many people believed he reached land safely, but be that as it may, he was never again seen in Norway.

After he was drowned, as is most probable, Earl Eirik of Denmark, with his brother, ruled over Norway for fourteen years.

While Eirik ruled, the people of Norway followed either the old faith or the new, as pleased them best, while all the laws and customs of the land were kept as in the age of their forefathers.

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