Thorolf Kveldulfsson

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Thorolf Kveldulfsson [lower-alpha 1] was the oldest son of Kveldulf Bjalfasson and brother of the Norwegian/Icelandic goði and skald Skalla-Grimr. His ancestor (great uncle) Hallbjorn was nicknamed "halftroll", possibly indicating Norwegian-Sami ancestry. [1]


He served as a retainer of Harald I of Norway (Harald Fairhair). Thorolf is a hero of the early part of Egils saga .


Early life

Thorolf was the eldest son of Kveldulf and Salbjorg. Taking after his father in stature, he grew up tall and strong. His character, however, resembled that of his mother's side of the family, and he is described as being attractive, accomplished, friendly, energetic, and popular with everyone he meets. [2] At age 20, he began raiding, taking out longboats during the summer with a band of men and his maternal uncles Olvir Hnufa (Hump) and Eyvind Lamb. He spent winters at home with his father, and summers conducting lucrative raids.

Service Under Harald-Fairhair

Halogaland. Torgar and Sandnes became Thorolf's estates. Haalogaland kart.jpg
Halogaland. Torgar and Sandnes became Thorolf's estates.

Upon conquering Fjordane, Harald demanded the service of all landowners in the province. Against his better judgement and despite a premonition that Harald would not bring good fortune to his family, Kvedulf sent Thorolf to join Olvir in the King's service. Olvir had dropped out of viking raiding, and had become the king's court poet. As a retainer of Harald, he fights on the latter's own ship at the Battle of Hafrsfjord. After Harald's conquest of Norway Thorolf becomes his governor (lendmann or lendr maðr [3] ) over the northern region of Norway and is responsible for collecting tribute from the Sami to the north (finneskatt  [ no ] [3] ). [4] In this capacity he took part in an expedition by King Faravid of Kvenland against the Karelians. [5]

Inheritance and Quarrel with Harald-Fairhair

Thorolf inherited (and later lost) the estate of Torgar  [ no ] in Halogaland in the following manner.

Torgar had been the property of a widowed old landholder named Bjorgolf, who bestowed the management of the estate to his son, Brynjolf. But in his retirement, Bjorgolf obtained a new wife named Hildirid, a wealthy farmer's daughter, [lower-alpha 2] and begat two sons, Harek and Hraerek, who were now potential claimants to the land. They became known as Hildirid's sons (Hildiridarsons  [ is ] [6] ), and were about the same age as Brynjolf's son Bard (Bárðr inn hvíti, "the White"). The entire Torgar estate was inherited by Brynjolf, and he gave no share to Hildirid's sons; [7] later on, the ownership of Torgar passed to Bard. [8]

Bard was a distant kinsman of Thorolf (see family tree on the right), [8] and a comrade-at-arms as well. While Thorolf recovered from injuries sustained at Hafrsfjord, Bard was mortally wounded, and bequeathed the entire Torgar estate to Thorolf, entrusting the care of his wife and son to him. Thorolf married Bard's widow Sigrid (Sigríðr Sigurðardóttir), and this put him in line to inherit another estate, at Sandnes, through his wife. When Thorolf obtained Sandnes after the death of his father-in-law, Hildirid’s sons arrived and demanded their share from the Torgar estate. Throlf rebuffed the claim, since Bard had informed him they were bastard children. Hildirid’s sons said they could prove their legitimacy by producing witnesses their father paid a bride price, but Thorolf refused to recognize their birthright, as it was rumored that Hildirid was taken by force. [4]

Hildirid’s sons became sycophants of the king, and began to slander Thorolf’s loyalty to the king. They accused Thorolf of embezzlement from the tribute, [lower-alpha 3] and even an assassination attempt. [lower-alpha 4]

The king eventually seized Thorolf’s Torgar estate and tribute-collecting duties, granting these to Hildirid’s sons. [9] The brothers did not do as good a job at collecting, and blamed Thorolf for obstruction. Thorolf still lived comfortably off his Sandnes estate and kept a large retinue, and trading as well.

Tensions escalated. The king's kinsmen named Sigtrygg Travel-quick and Hallvard Travel-hard (Sigtryggr snarfari, Hallvarðr harðfari) seized Thorolf's tradeship returning from England. Thorolf traveled to the Vík area and retaliated, seizing a ship filled with provisions for the king in Thruma, then pillaging Sigtrygg and Hallvard's farm in Hising, [lower-alpha 5] causing a maiming and death to their two younger brothers. For the offense the king issued permission to kill Thorolf. [10]

Ultimately, fearful of Thorolf's growing power, King Harald himself gathered troops and assaulted Thorolf's hall at Sandnes, in a minor masterpiece of amphibious warfare. After Thorolf refused to surrender, King Harald set the hall on fire. When the men ran out, King Haraldr killed Thorolf, causing him to fall at the king's feet. [11]

Retaliation for Death

Thorolf's maternal uncles Olvir Hnufa and Eyvind Lamb bade the king leave of service, but this was not to be granted. The king arranged for Eyvind to take custody of Sandnes and to marry the twice-widowed Sigrid, and these two were reconciled. [11]

Skalla Grimr went with Olvir Hnufa to King Harald and demanded compensation for Thorolf's murder, which resulted in his being chased out of the king's court. Together with his father Kveldulf and their kinsman Ketil Trout, Skalla-Grimr took revenge by killing those of Harald's servants who took part in Thorolf's killing before fleeing to Iceland.


  1. modern Icelandic: Þórólfur Kveld-Úlfsson
  2. The farmer, Hogni of Leka, was in no position to refuse, and Bjorgolf paid an ounce of gold for the bride.
  3. Thorolf was also trading with the Kven people and looting from the Karelians, acquiring large supplies of furs and other goods in his own right (Chapter 14).
  4. Thorolf committed the faux pas of inviting the king to a banquet where his men outnumbered the king's retinue, which Harald took offense to. The gathering was so large the banquet had to be held in a barn (Chapters 11, 12).
  5. An island of on the mouth of the Gota River, part of modern-day Sweden.

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  1. Pálsson, Hermann (2012), "The Sami People in Old Norse Literature", Nordlit, 3.1: 31, The following nouns were used about people of mixed parentage:..halftroll 'a half troll'. This is used as the nickname of Hallbjǫrn of Ramsta in Namdalen, father of Ketill hœngr, and ancestor of some of the settlers of Iceland, including Skalla-Grímr.
  2. Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 1.
  3. 1 2 Berglund, Birgitta (2016), "Understandings - burial practice, identity and social ties: The Horvnes Iron Age burials, a peephole into the farming society of Helgeland, North-Norway", The Farm as a Social Arena, Waxmann Verlag, pp. 80–81
  4. 1 2 Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 9.
  5. Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 14.
  6. Pálsson & Edwards 1976 , p. 30
  7. Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 7.
  8. 1 2 Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 8.
  9. Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 16.
  10. Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 18–21.
  11. 1 2 Scudder 2000 trans., Chapter 22.