Legendary Vikings – The History Of The Jomsvikings

The Jomsvikings formed an order of semi-legendary Viking warriors who were renowned through their deeds on the battlefield and their bravery during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Jomsvikings were mercenaries, managing to develop a strong warrior culture during the end of the Viking Age. Although they were of Old Norse faith, the institutions of this order of Viking mercenaries were similar to those of the Knightly Orders of the High Middle Ages.

Many legends surround the order of the Jomsvikings, of which probably the most fantastic is the location of their stronghold seat Jomsborg, likely situated on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. Some historians and archaeologists claim that the famed Jomsborg stronghold of the Jomsvikings was actually placed on a hill in the proximity of the present day Polish town of Wolin.

The Jomsvikings at the Battle of Svolder (circa 999/1000), as imagined by Norwegian illustrator Nils Bergslien. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Given the fact that details regarding their headquarters are often contradictory, the Jomsvikings have been a matter of scholar debate, with many historians and archaeologists doubting some of their deeds or even the existence of Jomsborg.

Whatever the historical truth may be regarding the stronghold of Jomsborg (which some argue to be Jumne, Julin or Vineta, as depicted in medieval Danish and German sources), the Jomsvikings were described in the Icelandic sagas, most notably in the eponymous ‘Jómsvíkinga saga’, but also in the ‘King Olaf Tryggvasson’s Saga’ as well as in certain stories which can be read in the ‘Flateyjarbók’, literally translated as ‘The Book of the Flat Island’, an important medieval Icelandic manuscript which recounts the sagas of prominent Norse rulers.

‘The saga of the Jomsvikings’ recounts the fact that the order were quite selective of their members, having thus a strict code with such noteworthy criteria as physical and psychological strength, discipline, protection of other members as well as trustworthiness. In order to accede to the order, a prospective member was, according to the legend, obliged to challenge an already existent Jomsviking to a Holmgang, meaning a type of a duel practiced in the early medieval Scandinavian societies for settling disputes related to honour.

Historical re-enactment between Norsemen and Slavs. Image source: www.pixabay.com

It is believed that the Jomsvikings raided England in 1009, focusing on the eastern English coastline. Four years later, namely in 1013, the Jomsvikings are thought to have campaigned in England on behalf of Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard, but quickly switched sides, partly because of using the Danegeld — the protection tax paid to the Danish Vikings by the Anglo-Saxons — for their own interests.

According to the 13th century medieval Icelandic manuscript ‘Heimskringla’, it was King Magnus I of Norway who decided to put an end to the semi-legendary order of Jomsvikings. In the process of strengthening his ruleship over Denmark, he destroyed the stronghold of Jomsborg in about 1043. Other accounts of their legend posits that their warrior culture was in fact what triggered their demise, fighting as mercenaries in far too many battles.

Documentation sources and external links:

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