June 20, 2020 — The legendary Battle of Brávellir took place somewhere in the southeast of Sweden in the 600s or 700s CE. Remarkably, the battle was one of honor and wasn’t based on aggression. For what reason then?
The Danish King, Harald Wartooth (Haraldr hilditǫnn in Old Norse), had realized he was growing old and might die of age and not go to Valhalla. Hence, King Harald set out to arrange a battle to ensure his own death would be glorious. Harald had inherited Sweden (Svíþjóð in Old Norse), an area he didn’t rule directly, from his maternal grandfather Ivar Vidfamne. King Harald did, however, directly rule Denmark and the eastern half of Gautland (today Östergötland, not part of Svíþjóð at the time.) In contrast, Harald’s vassal king, Sigurd Hring (Sigurðr Hringr in Old Norse), with whom Harald was on “friendly” terms with, was the ruler of Sweden and western Gautland (Västergötland.) Thus, King Harald reached out to his Swedish Vassal and asked if he would let him leave life — gloriously — in a great battle.
According to Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus, both sides prepared for war for seven years and mustered armies of 200 000 men. Whole forests were chopped down to build three thousand longships for transport. Harald’s Danes built so many ships they could walk across the sound between Denmark and Sweden.
At first, the two armies fought collectively, but after a while, one of King Harald’s heroes became the center of attention. The Danish hero slew first the Wise Counselor of King Sigvard, and also three Swedish princes of the royal dynasty. Humbled, Sigurd sent forth his own champion, who managed to wound King Harald’s attacking hero but was himself even more seriously injured. Harald’s hero then killed another champion of Sigurd and the Swedes by taking his sword in both hands and slashing a path through the Swedish army until the Danish warrior finally fell — riddled with arrows from archers of Telemark (in Norway.) Shortly thereafter, a shieldmaiden fighting for the Danish side killed another Swedish champion. Raging furiously, another hero of Sigurd ran forth to the Danish army, killing warriors all around him, and cutting off the arm of a shieldmaiden that held a Danish banner. Sigurd’s champion then proceeded to kill four of Harald’s best warriors.
Harald had observed the heroic deeds, as he stood on his knees in his war chariot — with one sword in each hand — and killed a great many warriors. After a while, Harald’s steward Bruni determined his King had amassed enough glory and crushed Harald’s skull with a club.
Sigurd Ring won the battle and became the sovereign ruler of Sweden and Denmark. According to Grammaticus’ writings, 40,000 warriors had died.
Historians agree the Battle of Brávellir cannot be confirmed — nor denied.