“The Tribe that Gave Vikings Their Name?”
“(23) And there are beyond these the Ostrogoths, Raumarici, Aeragnaricii,(…) (24) Furthermore there are in the same neighborhood the Grannii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi, Arochi and Ranii, over whom Roduulf was king not many years ago. But he despised his own kingdom and fled to the embrace of Theodoric, king of the Goths, finding there what he desired. All these nations surpassed the Germans in size and spirit, and fought with the cruelty of wild beasts.”
Apart from being large and ferocious and cruel like beasts in battle, we do not learn much about the “Aeragnaricii” and their neighbouring tribes, with the exception of a king, Roduulf (Rodwulf) who is here mentioned as king of the Ranii, but in other sources as king of the Heruli (a more detailed source, so we will come back to that story with the Heruli). Roduulf “despises” his kinsmen and “left his tribe” to join Theoderic the Great in Ravenna (in Italy where the Goths then ruled after (or as some will have it, during) the Fall of the Roman Empire). We are very likely hearing of a king who was overthrown and condemned to exile, upon which he felt bitter. More than that we do not learn much about this tribe, but the names and the geographical descriptions do give us some very interesting clues about them in any case, both as to their whereabouts, as to their myths of origin, and as to their possibly being the very source of the term “Viking”:
The tribes that Jordanes mentioned after the Ostrogoths (who lived in southeast-Sweden close to Norway) are all Norwegian, and many are recognizable from the names of Norwegian counties or districts that have survived to the present day: The “Granni” of Grenland, the “Augandzi” of Agder, the “Taetel” tribe of Telemark, the “Rugi” tribe of Rogaland, the “Raumarici” of Romerike, the “Arochi” of Hordaland and the “Ranii” of Ranrike (Ranaríki).
The “Aeragnaricii” is usually interpreted as a scribal error for *ac ragnaricii, “and the Ragnaricii”. The name of the tribe then appears easy to translate: riki “kingdom” and ragna (genitive plural form of Reginn, “Ruler”, thus): “of the rulers”, meaning “of the gods”. Both words (reginn and riki) come from Indo-European *reg-, “rule”.
However, the georaphical position of Ragnaricii next to Raumaricii (Romerike) indicates that it is probably the same as Ranrike (which lies next to Romerike), and thus the “Aeragnaricii/Ragnaricii” are identical to the “Ranii” or at least closely related. Ancient geographers had to rely on hearsay and it is entirely possible that Jordanes got the “Ranii” from one source and the “Aeragnaricii” from another source and did not know that they were the same tribe – either because the sources spoke different dialects or because one was describing the people –“Ranii”, while another was describing their land – “Ranariki”. Another parallel supports this: Pliny the Elder‘s Saevo mountain range, probably meaning “Sea Land”, refers in part to Ranrike.
If we are really speaking of Ranrike (Old Norse Ranarriki), the name of the tribe and its land should mean “The Reign of Rán”.It would not be the first time that a tribe is closely associated to an ancestral goddess, mother of the tribe: The “Adogit” (Hálogi) mentioned earlier believed that they were descended from Óðinn and Skadi´s son Sæmingr. One of their most important sub-tribes believed that they were also descended from the first Norse inhabitant in Hálogaland, “Hölgi”, who had a daughter, Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr. She became the ancestral mother of the Háloga tribe and was worshipped like a divine fylgja (a guardian spirit) of the royal lineage at Borg, from where her worship was taken to Trondheim with the Lade ears (who descended from the Hálogir). In Naumdal, the Namdölir (also a Háloga tribe) worshipped their ancestral mother Nauma, who was also the river of that valley. This is one of the examples of how a goddess or ancestral mother may give name to the whole tribe, like it did in the case of the “Ranii” or Ragnariici.
In the myths, Rán stands out as a goddess of death at sea, but deeper analysis could suggest that she began as a goddess of the sea, giving birth to her daughters the waves. Another goddess associated with the ocean is actually Freyia, in her alter-ago nickname Mardallr – “The Great Ocean” – but then Freyia seems to be interchangeable with all the goddesses – her name really just means a “Lady” and could be used for any goddess or high-ranking lady.
However, before we start to think that the Ranii were called Ranii simply because they worshipped an ancient Ocean goddess it should not be forgotten that the particular name for their particular version of the Ocean goddess is Rán, and that Rán means “Robbery” (thought to refer to the way she robs people´s lives at sea). As we shall see, the insinuation that the Ranii either simply means “Robbers” and Ranariki means “The Reign of the Robbers”, or else that they named themselves after a maritime goddess of Robbery may not be very far from the truth:
The Original “Vikings”?
Ranrike (Old Norse Ránríki) was the old name for a part of Viken, corresponding to southeast Norway (Oslofjord area) and the northern half of the modern Swedish (Norwegian until 1658) province of Bohuslän (roughly identical with Álfheimr of Scandinavian mythology). When folklore and culture is concerned the usage has been revived to refer to northern Bohuslän.
Viken is the definite form (the noun + the definite suffix -en) of the Old Norse word vík meaning an inlet or creek (UK). It is often mentioned in Norse sources. From old times, people from “Viken” would have been known as “Vikingur” – “People From Viken”. This is also the Norse word for “Viking” (pirate).
Various theories have been offered that the word “vikingr” may be derived from this place name, meaning “a person from Viken”. According to this theory, originally the word “vikingr” simply described persons from this area, and that it is only in the last few centuries that it has taken on the broader sense of early medieval Scandinavians in general.
Is this plausible? Yes, although “Vikingur” could also just mean a “People from the Inlet” (that is, people who, like Vikings, hid their ships in the inlets and “lived” there). But already in 551 AD does Jordanes mention how the people from Viken are particularly cruel and wild, so who knows? Another German tribe, the Vandals, became forever memorized in European languages as “vandalizing” sort of people (we shall get back to them…), so it is entirely possible that one tribe, rumored for its conduct, may have given name to a whole type of behavior (piracy in this case) ever after.
As to Alfheimr (“Elf World”) and Vingulmark (Impenetrable Forest), these realms where the Ranii lived correspond to the areas of Østfold/Bohuslän and Oslo areas today. The Ynglinga saga mentions a tribe living there ruled by the mysterious King Gandalf – we will come back to him next.
The “Real” Gandalf
We all know Gandalf as a literary character from Tolkien´s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. As much as I adore that character (they even got the perfect actor for the role!), I would like to share the origin of that name, which was, like much of Tolkien´s fantasy world, inspired by Old Norse myths and legends.
The original Old Norse name is Gandálfr, derived from the words “gandr” – “magic”, “sorcery” and “álfr” (m.sg.) – “elf”. In Old Norse sources, the elves are often identified with the spirits of (male) ancestors, but may in myth also be associated with dwarfs, smiths and gods. In the Poetic Edda, Gandálfr is listed as one of the “dvergar” (“The Mutilated Ones” = “Dwarfs”). In Snorri´s “Heimskringla” (“The World Circle”), also known as his “Sagas of the Norwegian Kings”, Gandálfr is a king of Vingulmark and Alfheimr, and plays the role of enemy to the Ynglinga kings Halfdanr Svarti and Haraldr Hárfagri.
“Vingulmark” means The Impenetrable Forest, from “vingul” – “Impenetrable” (also used for “penis”, but that is hardly the meaning here – the area was in fact wild oak forest and quite “impenetrable”), and “mark”, meaning forest area. Today, the area formerly known as Vingulmark covered the area of Oslo (contemporary capital of Norway), Oslomarka (Oslo forest) including Nordmarka and Østmarka (The Northern and the Eastern Forest) up to Drammen, as well as areas around Oslo known as Nittedal, Hakadal, Lørenskog, Skedsmo, Oppegård and Nesodden (and more). Before and during the Viking Age, this area was thick oak forest, and we must wonder if the people there were in fact quite “wild” – according to Jordanes, who wrote his Getica in 551 AD, these people were large and fought with the cruelty of wild beasts (see previous photo post on the Aeragnaricii).
Southeast of Vingulmark lay the realm of Alfheimr (“Elf World”), which apart from existing as a mythical cosmic realm in the Edda poetry, is, geographically, the same as Ranrike, where the tribe of the Ranii (Aeragnaricii – see previous post) lived. In the last post about these people I mentioned how their tribal name may be derived from the goddess Rán (“Robbery” – the goddess of the drowned, goddess of the ocean, death by sea) or else just mean “Robbers”.
The area was also a part of Viken, which stretched into other tribal lands in present day Østfold and Bohuslän. The people of Viken would have been known as “Vikingur” (“People from Viken”) and may have inspired the term “vikingur” – “Vikings”. According to Snorri, Gandálfr was a king of Vingulmark and Alfheimr (Ranrike).
As to other gods apart from the obvious worship of Rán in Ránrik (“Rán Reigns”), the place name material may give us some clues. In Oslo, a part of the town is still called Torshov. It lies less than a two hours walk (in an impenetrable forest) to the north of the Oslo harbor. Torshov means “Thor´s Temple”, so we know that this area was devoted to the god Thor.
In Skedsmo, a part of Vingulmark, we have a place still called Ullensaker. This means “Ull´s Field” and must have been a place of worship to the god Ullr, who is associated with hunting, the bow, and skiing. This god was evidently very popular in southeast Norway, especially north of Oslo forest, in Raumarici, where we have many place names devoted to Ullr.
Snorri´s Heimskringla on Gandalf and the People of Vingulmark/Alfheimr (Ranrike)Source: Ynglinga saga:
48. Gudrod, Halfdan’s son, succeeded. He was called Gudrod the Magnificent, and also Gudrod the Hunter (of Vestfold, on the western side of the Oslo fjord, opposite Alfheimr).
He was married to Alfhild (“Elf Battle”), a daughter of King Alfarin (“The Elf”) of Alfheimr (“Elf World”), and got With her half the district of Vingulmark.
Their son Olaf was afterwards called Geirstad-Elf. Alfheimr, at that time, was the name of the land between the Glommen and Gotha rivers.
49. Olaf came to the kingdom after his father. He was a great warrior, and an able man; and was besides remarkably handsome, very strong and large of growth. He had Vestfold; for King Alfgeir (“Elf Spear”) took all Vingulmark to himself, and placed his son Gandálfr over it.
Both father and son (Alfgeir and Gandalf) made war on Raumarike (north of Vingulmark, presently “Romerike” ) and subdued the greater part of that land and district.Source: The Saga of Halfdan the Black:
4. HALFDAN’S STRIFE WITH GANDALF’S SONS.
In autumn, King Halfdan proceeded to Vingulmark. One night when he was there in guest quarters, it happened that about midnight a man came to him who had been on the watch on horseback, and told him a war force was come near to the house. The king instantly got up, ordered his men to arm themselves, and went out of the house and drew them up in battle order.
At the same moment, Gandalf’s sons, Hysing and Helsing, made their appearance with a large army. There was a great battle; but Halfdan being overpowered by the numbers of people fled to the forest, leaving many of his men on this spot. His foster-father, Olver Spake (the Wise), fell here. The people now came in swarms to King Halfdan, and he advanced to seek Gandalf’s sons.
They met at Eid, near Lake Oieren, and fought there. Hysing and Helsing fell, and their brother Hake saved himself by flight. King Halfdan then took possession of the whole of Vingulmark, and Hake fled (back home) to Alfheimr.Source: The Saga of Haraldr Hárfagri:
1. HARALD’S STRIFE WITH HAKE AND HIS FATHER GANDALF.
Harald (Hárfagri – “Hair-Fair”) was but ten years old when he succeeded his father (Halfdan the Black). He became a stout, strong, and comely man, and withal prudent and manly. His mother’s brother, Guthorm, was leader of the hird, at the head of the government, and commander (`hertogi’) of the army. After Halfdan the Black’s death, many chiefs coveted the dominions he had left. Among these King Gandalf was the first; then Hogne and Frode, sons of Eystein, king of Hedemark; and also Hogne Karuson came from Ringerike. Hake, the son of Gandalf, began with an expedition of 300 men against Vestfold, marched by the main road through some valleys, and expected to come suddenly upon King Harald; while his father Gandalf sat at home with his army, and prepared to cross over the fiord into Vestfold.
When Duke Guthorm heard of this he gathered an army, and marched up the country with King Harald against Hake. They met in a valley, in which they fought a great battle, and King Harald was victorious; and there fell King Hake and most of his people. The place has since been called Hakadal. (“Haki´s Valley” – and it is still called Hakadal).
Then King Harald and Duke Guthorm turned back, but they found King Gandalf had come to Vestfold. The two armies marched against each other, and met, and had a great battle; and it ended in King Gandalf flying, after leaving most of his men dead on the spot, and in that state he came back to his kingdom. Now when the sons of King Eystein in Hedemark heard the news, they expected the war would come upon them, and they sent a message to Hogne Karuson and to Herse Gudbrand, and appointed a meeting with them at Ringsaker in Hedemark.
2. KING HARALD OVERCOMES FIVE KINGS (Gandalf´s death)
After the battle King Harald and Guthorm turned back, and went with all the men they could gather through the forests towards the Uplands. They found out where the Upland kings had appointed their meeting-place, and came there about the time of midnight, without the watchmen observing them until their army was before the door of the house in which Hogne Karuson was, as well as that in which Gudbrand slept. They set fire to both houses; but King Eystein’s two sons slipped out with their men, and fought for a while, until both Hogne and Frode fell. After the fall of these four chiefs, King Harald, by his relation Guthorm’s success and powers, subdued Hedemark, Ringerike, Gudbrandsdal, Hadeland, Thoten, Raumarike, and the whole northern part of Vingulmark. King Harald and Guthorm had thereafter war with King Gandalf, and fought several battles with him; and in the last of them King Gandalf was slain, and King Harald took the whole of his Kingdom as far south as the river Rauma (named after the ancestral mother of the Raumariki-people).