Date of Award


Document Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






Scandinavia -- Kings and rulers -- 13th century, Kings and rulers -- 13th century -- Religious aspects, Kings and rulers in literature -- 13th century, Ideology and literature -- Religious aspects, Hagiography, Norse mythology, Snorri Sturluson (1179?-1241). Heimskringla, Saxo Grammaticus ( -approximately 1204). Gesta Danorum




Historical writing blossomed in Scandinavia at the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth centuries. Most of this writing came out of Iceland and, though the origin of many texts is still debated, possibly Norway as well. But in a wider frame, Denmark and its earliest historical texts, notable among them Sven Aggeson's history, the Chronicon Roskildense, and the Chronicon Lethrense, are part of this milieu as well, though they are more closely associated with continental Latin culture. Among all these works, two authors and two works of grand scope and scale appear plainly at the height of this period: Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla and Saxo Grarnmaticus' Gesta Danorum.

One of the most difficult issues in determining the perspective and purposes of each author is that both Heimskringla and the Gesta Danorum are broad collections of stories, each with a long story of a particular king. Saint Olaf Haraldsson is the center of Heimskringla and Valdimar I of the Gesta Danorum, and each appears to be the main focus of the author. But given the size and diversity of each work neither man can be taken as the only major concern. Further, each author has obvious concerns for pagan kings and writes about them extensively, while including strong hagiographic elements in the Christian portions of their work. There is far more pagan material in Saxo, and far more obvious hagiographic influence in Snorri, but Snorri had also written the mythologically concerned Elder Edda, and Saxo with his clear clerical education has far more ecclesiastical concerns and a more damning attitude towards the pagan gods. Clearly, first impressions towards their religious concerns can be misleading and potentially contradictory.

It is my purpose to examine these religious elements in relation to the ideas of kingship in Heimskringla and the Gesta Danorum. There are multiple conceptions and ideals of kingship in each work, often appearing to stand in stark contrast to each other, even in descriptions of individual kings. I don't intend, nor would it be prudent, to attempt to isolate an individual concept as more significant than the others. Rather, I will attempt to equate on some levels the use of distinctly pagan and Christian myths and literary tropes in the portrayals of kings and kingship. Further, within this leveled context of Heimskringla and the Gesta Danorum, each cultural paradigm becomes interrelated: conquest and the gaining of honor are irrevocably tied to conversion, and thus the sainthood of missionary kings is tied into the ancient ideal of the warrior king. And the peaceful kings, the stay-at-home kings, the great legislators, appear as both pagans and Christians, their accomplishments described in similar ways and with similar stock phrases.


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