Marriage between King Harald Fairhair and Snæfriðr, and their Offspring: Mythological Foundation of the Norwegian Medieval Dynasty?
Balto-Scandia, Extra Edition: Reports of Balto-Scandinavian Studies in Japan’ (Tokyo: The Association for Balto-Scandinavian Studies, 2011.06)
In spring 2008, the Norway Post (Posten Norge) issued a commemorative stamp, as a part of a series of commemorative stamps, titled ‘Norse Mythology- Mythical Places (Norrøn mytologi – mytiske stader).’ The stamp depicts the meeting between a king and a girl, dressed in a traditional folk costume and offering a cup to him, against the snowy Dovrefjell mountain area in Central Norway. According to traditions, Svási, king of the Sámi (Finnkonung), came to see the king, Harald Fairhair (Old Norse: Haraldr hárfagri) there on the Eve of Yule. The Sámi king invited King Harald to his hut, and his daughter Snæfriðr, which meant ‘beautiful like snow,’ offered a cup of mead to the king. At once, Harald fell captive to her charms, and loved her for three years, neglecting any consideration of his kingdom. Although she had enchanted him with her charms even after her death, King Harald finally came to his senses through the advice of a wise man. The aim of this article is to reconsider the context of this marriage between King Harald Fairhair and the Sámi girl Snæfriðr in medieval historical writings, from a historical point of view.
Traditions of the groom, King Harald Fairhair, have occupied a special position within both Norwegian and Icelandic historiographies since the rise of historical writings in the Middle Ages. Whereas the Norwegians have regarded him as a legendary founder of the Norwegian kingdom who firstly unified petty kingdoms into a single kingdom of Norway under his sole rule, the Icelandic traditions have shed light rather on the negative aspects of Harald, who had aggressively consolidated his rule when Iceland was found by the Norsemen and settled, and developed the origin myth of the Icelanders as descendants of the ‘honourable’ refugees from the tyrant.