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Viking raids

When you think about Vikings, what is your first thought? Probably bloodthirsty warriors and plunderers, right? Although it is true that they were both warriors and conquerors, most Vikings lived as ordinary peasants. All Scandinavians who lived in the Viking Age are defined as Vikings, however, we mostly use the term today about those who went "in Viking"; that is, those who went on raids or on trade voyages.

The urge to travel came from the need for more land, but also due to trade, the desire for looting or simply for the pure adventure of travelling.

The Vikings also settled in the places they travelled to, such as Russia, Ireland, Normandy, and the islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Traces of the Vikings are also found in the British Isles, in France, in the Mediterranean, in Greenland, and in the north-eastern part of North America. Their talents in shipbuilding enabled them to travel overseas, they had fast, sea-going ships.

Modern Viking adventures in a Viking ship|© Viking House

Tracking the Vikings

Signs of Vikings can be found in several places in the Stavanger region as well as in the Museum of Archaeology. Possibly the most famous Viking monument, set up in recent times, is Swords in rock, which stands on historical grounds at Hafrsfjord. A monument made by artist Fritz Røed. Hafrsfjord is assumed to be the site of the infamous battle that united Norway into one kingdom under Harold Fairhair.

In the same area, is the small peninsula Ytraberget at Hafrsfjord. This area exhibits long historical traditions, and the saga literature tells us that there was once an old fortress here.

In ancient times, such fortresses were constructed in areas that were easy to defend. Additionally, on the height of the peninsula, there are several ancient house foundations. Legend has it that King Kjotve sought refuge at Ytraberget before fleeing further south during the famous battle of Hafrsfjord.

Several Viking finds in the Hafrsfjord area

Along the entire Hafrsjord area, several findings have been made proving the existence of boathouses from prehistoric times. One of these is located at Sør-Sunde. The boathouse that stood there had been in use for a long time, right from 300 AD. to the early Middle Ages. It is possible to see the size of the boathouse - 20 meters long and seven meters wide. In the '70s, archaeological investigations were made in the boathouse, where they found ceramics, wooden bowls, fragments from soapstone containers, fishing hooks, knives, nails and glass beads.

A tomb was found on the farm Gausel in 1883 when the farm owner was clearing stones. Under a pile of stones, he found a stone chamber with several objects, some in noble metals. Later they found out that the grave was a woman's grave from the ninth century, and because of what was found of objects there, it tells us that she belonged to the upper strata of society. Based on this, the woman was called "Gauseldronninga" (the queen of Gausel). They found objects such as costume buckles of silver and bronze, silver buckles, bracelets in silver, ring in jet (gemstone), pearls of mosaic, glass or stone, knives, frying pan, remains of a bronze container with lion's head-shaped handle attachments, bronze needle and horse teeth.

At Ullandhaug, there are six large stones that are the stones from the Haraldstårnet tower. The stones were erected in 1896. The stones are between 82 and 140 cm high, and 10 small ones that are 52 cm high. On each stone, there is an inscription. During World War II, the Germans rebuilt the tower into an air defence battery, but the stones were preserved. After the current Ullandhaug tower was built, the stones were placed in the area outside.

At the Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger, there are two stone crosses from the early Middle Ages. It is the memorial cross over Erling Skjalgsson with the inscription: "Alfgeir the priest raised this stone in honour of Erling his master, who was betrayed in the battle against Olav". The cross was thus erected after Erling was killed by Olav Haraldsson's men in the battle of Soknasundet on 21 December 1028. There is also a copy of the cross in the centre of Sola. In the garden of the museum are also the remains of a stone cross that has been found at Tjelta in Sola. It was probably once raised at the burial mound Ormhaug.

Sola ruinkyrkje|© Henrik Susort/ Visit Region Stavanger

The Viking chief from Sola

The man who had the privilege of introducing Christianity in southwestern Norway is the Viking head Erling Skjalgsson. A monument erected in memory of the king stands next to the restored church ruin at Sola. It is even possible to experience an entire trail of Erling Skjalgsson menhirs/standing stones. There are reportedly as many as 12 of these stones. They stand in a row from the Hafrsfjord bridge to Sola ruinkyrkje (church ruin).

Discover the Viking traces

Utstein Monastery|© Elisabeth Tønnesen/ MUST

The Viking treasures on the islands surrounding Stavanger

In prehistoric times, the islands in the Boknafjord basin were in the heart of all ship travels. Burial mounds and artefacts have been found along the Soknasundet strait, which lies between the islands of Bru and Sokn. Among the pieces found are, for example, a sword from the Viking Age and two lead crosses with inscriptions found in an older, pagan grave. The writing is in runes, but the text is Latin, and it is probably a religious poem from the early Middle Ages that possibly originated from France.

Utstein Monastery is the only well-preserved monastery in Norway from the Middle Ages. The history of the monastery is that there has been both a royal estate and a monastery here. Harold Fairhair has evidently lived at Utstein. The Old Norse kings' sagas state that Fairhair spent a lot of time on the royal estate at Utstein as he grew older.

On the ancient farmland surrounding Utstein Monastery, there have been several findings. As late as 2021, two invaluable Viking finds were made at Klostergarden; a polyhedral bead from the period 766-966 and a coin from 1024.

In the building of a former dairy at Vikevåg, today the Rennesøy culture house is a rune stone with the following inscription: "Tormod and Torgard erected this stone after Gaut". This probably dates from around 1000 AD.

The Sørbø church at Rennesøy was built around 1140 and is one of the oldest preserved buildings in the county. A few metres north of the southwest corner of the cemetery wall lies a runestone of 2.3 metres. The inscription says: "Tore raised this stone after his brother Igul". The name Tore was, among other names, one of the most common in the Viking Age.

Christian influence from Ireland

The Vikings who went on raids to Ireland were largely influenced by the Christian faith, which was strong in Ireland at the time, several Vikings returned with Christian symbols and took Christianity back home to Norway. Some of the signs of this are the many stone crosses that were assembled in the region.

The stone cross at Kvitsøy|© Moxey

Explore the Viking Age with your own eyes

In a more modern-day way, you can experience with your own eyes the brutality of a typical Viking battle. Viking House in Stavanger is a visitor centre depicting a VR film of the famous battle of Hafrsfjord. You even get to sit in a Viking ship while watching the movie. How’s that for an exceptional experience? At Viking House, you can explore literature as well as other Viking-themed effects.

Source of literature: Vikingløypa gjennom Rogaland, of and by: Per Hernæs, Geir Sør-Reime, Kjersti Vevatne, Anne Kari Skår, Per Haavaldsen, Trond Løken, Rikssamlingsfylket Rogaland.

Published in Stavanger: Rikssamlingsfylket Rogaland and Museum of Archaeology in Stavanger, 1999.