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Olaf Tryggvason

"Then they received the Faith, and Olaf the kingdom. He was twenty-seven years old when he came to Norway and during the five years in which he bore the name of king in Norway he converted five lands, Norway, Iceland, the Shetlands, the Orkneys and, fifthly, the Faroes. He first built churches on his own chief estates, and put down heathendom and sacrifical feasts, and, to please the people, he introduced in their place certain solemn feasts, Christmas and Easter, beer-drinking at Johnsmas and an autumn ale-drinking at Michaelmas."


Olaf's determination to convert his heathen countrymen was unremitting: "All Norway should be Christian or die." And die they did, or were mutilated or punished or banished. Even in proposing to the mysterious queen of Sweden, Sigrid the Haughty, Olaf insisted that she be baptized. But when she demurred, saying that "'I must not part from the faith which I have held, and my forefathers before me; and, on the other hand, I shall make no objection to your believing in the god that pleases you best,'" Olaf was so incensed that he struck her with his glove, declaring, "'Why should I care to have thee, an old faded woman, and a heathen bitch?'" To this insult, she ominously replied that "This may well be thy death."

Olaf was no more forgiving of others who would not renounce the old ways. He once invited the sorcerers of the district to a feast and, when they all were drunk, burned down the house in which they were feasting. Another time, when asked to sacrifice to the Norse gods, he agreed, saying that he would make the greatest of sacrifices, that of men, and that these men would be the greatest in the district, those who had invited him there. Olaf then extended his own invitation: the pagans who had wanted him to sacrifice could, themselves, be baptized. Rather than die, so they were.

Discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, the walrus ivory chess piece illustrated above probably is Norwegian in origin and dates from the late twelfth century. Part of four separate sets, sixty-seven chess pieces now are in the British Museum and eleven in the Museum of Scotland.

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