2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: British History 1500 and before (including Roman Britain)

Jomsvikings were a company of Viking mercenaries of the 900s and 1000s, dedicated to the worship of such deities as Odin and Thor. Though staunchly pagan, they have been compared to the Crusaders of Christendom. However, they reputedly would fight for any lord able to pay their substantial fees. According to the Norse sagas (particularly the Jómsvíkinga saga, King Olaf Tryggvasson’s Saga, and stories found in the Flatey Book), their stronghold Jomsborg was located on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, but the location is disputed by modern historians and archeologists. Nordisk familjebok asserts it to be located on the eastern side of the island of Wollin, on the hill Silberberg north of the town Wollin. Saxo Grammaticus mentioned a settlement called Julinum that he described as inhabited by Slavic pirates, while some believe an island fortress on the Slavonian coast to be the perfect haunt of Viking mercenaries, between the easterly and westerly courses of Scandinavian sea routes, with all the Baltic Sea in the north.

The legend of the Joms appears in some of the Icelandic sagas from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The existence of Jomsborg is a matter of debate in historical circles, due to the scarcity of primary sources. There are no contemporary sources mentioning the names Jomsvikings and Jomsborg, but there are three contemporary runestones and several contemporary lausavísur held to refer to one of their battles.

The Jomsviking code

The Saga of the Jomsvikings relates that the Jomsvikings were highly selective in deciding who to admit to their order. Membership was restricted to men of proven valor between 18 and 50 (with the exception of a boy named Vagn Åkesson, who defeated Sigvaldi Strut-Haraldsson in single combat at the age of 12). In order to gain admission, prospective members were required to prove themselves with a feat of strength, often taking the form of a ritual duel, or holmgang, with a Jomsviking.

Once admitted, the Jomsvikings required adherence to a strict code of conduct in order to instill a sense of military discipline among its members. Any violation of these rules could be punished with immediate expulsion from the order. Each Jomsviking was bound to defend his brothers, as well as to avenge their deaths if necessary. He was forbidden to speak ill of his fellows or to quarrel with them. Blood feuds between members were to be mediated by Jomsviking officers. Jomsvikings were forbidden to show fear or to flee in the face of an enemy of equal or inferior strength, though orderly retreat in the face of vastly outnumbering forces appears to have been acceptable. All spoils of battle were to be equally distributed among the entire brotherhood. No Jomsviking was permitted to be absent from Jomsborg for more than three days without the permission of the brotherhood. No women or children were allowed within the fortress walls, and none were to be taken captive. It is unclear, however, whether members were forbidden marriage or liaisons with women outside the walls.


Historians still debate the accuracy of the accounts of the Jomsvikings. Some maintain that the order was entirely legendary. The site of their headquarters has never been conclusively located, so confirming the tales of their exploits is somewhat difficult.

There are different accounts for the origins of the order. One version states that the Jomsvikings were founded by the King of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth, after his exile, yet he was probably an old man when his son Sweyn Forkbeard committed hiself to his father's domain. According to this version, he taught seafaring skills to the local Wends, and the Danes with him led aspirants on piratical raids against his enemies to the north. Jomsborg is described in these sources as a largely Wendish town with Norse officers. The Jómsvíkinga saga states that the settlement was entirely Norse, and the brotherhood, was founded by Palnatoke, receiving the location from the mythical Wendish ruler Burislav. Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa, on the other hand, states that among the Norse there were many men from the "East land" arriving at Jomsborg, suggesting that it was a settlement of mixed ethnicity.

Accounts of their size vary. Jomsborg, in various sources, is supposed to have held anywhere from 30 to 300 ships in its harbour, with Jomsviking chieftains including Palnatoke, Styrbjörn the Strong, Sveyn Forkbeard, Sigvaldi Strut-Haraldsson, Thorkell the High, and Hemeng.

Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa and Eyrbyggja saga relate that in the early 980s, Palnetoke lost the fortress and the control of the Jomsvikings to the exiled Swedish prince Styrbjörn the Strong. He allied with the Danish king, Harald, but brought the Jomsvikings to a devastating defeat against Styrbjörn's uncle Eric the Victorious at the Battle of the Fýrisvellir, Uppsala, in 984 or 985, while trying to take the crown of Sweden by force of arms. The fact that the Jomsvikings lost was attributed to a pact that the Swedish king Eric made with Odin. Three runestones, the Högby Runestone (the brave champion Asmund fell on the Fyrisvellir), DR 295 (he did not flee at Uppsala) and DR 279 (he did not flee at Uppsala, but fought as long as he had weapons), from this time relate to deaths with honour at Uppsala, probably three Jomsvikings. The battle is also commemorated, in poetry, by the Icelandic skald Þórvaldr Hjaltason, who took part in the battle on the Swedish side.

Jómsvíkinga saga tells that in 986, they attacked Haakon Jarl in Norway and were defeated in the Battle of Hjörungavágr. The Jómsvíkinga saga ends with a brief explanation of the battle's aftermath, and, in fact, points to this battle as the beginning of the end for the Jomsvikings.

The Battle of Svolder, at which the Jomsvikings fought with Denmark against Norway, maybe with a swap of allegiance to side with Forkbeard's advantage, of his 400 ships to Tryggvason's 100. (Otto Sinding painter).
The Battle of Svolder, at which the Jomsvikings fought with Denmark against Norway, maybe with a swap of allegiance to side with Forkbeard's advantage, of his 400 ships to Tryggvason's 100. ( Otto Sinding painter).

After these two decisive defeats, the power of the Jomsvikings waned, but Olaf Trygvasson's Saga relates that they played a decisive, if treacherous, role in the Battle of Svolder in 1000. At Svolder, a Jomsviking force led by Sigvald Jarl abandoned King Olaf of Norway and joined forces with his enemies to annihilate his fleet. This action may have been intended to fight the Christianization of Scandinavia which had been forcibly promoted by Olaf . As it happened though, the Danish king who won the Norwegian throne when the seabattle ended, Sweyn Forkbeard, was (at least nominally) a Christian. He and his father, Harald Bluetooth, the king of Denmark are reported to have been baptized in 965.

Jomsvikings are also reported to have raided eastern England in 1009, and made forays into various Scandinavian territories during the early 1000's. Around 1013 the Jomsvikings were campaigning in England on behalf of Sveyn Forkbeard, yet switched sides, maybe in a ruse to get their own Danegeld from the English, while the main Viking invasion force drove Ethelred the Unready to Normandy. Their decline continued over the next few decades. In 1043, according to the Heimskringla, Magnus I of Norway decided to put an end to the Jomsviking threat. He sacked Jomsborg, destroyed the fortress and put the surviving brethren to death.

Archaeological evidence

Runestones are counted as historic documents about the events of the Viking Age in Scandinavia. The following three runestones probably mention Jomsvikings who died with Styrbjörn the Strong south of Uppsala. Note that the first runestone mentions a warleader named Toki Gormsson and he may be a son of the Danish king Gorm the Old, an interpretation which fits the fact that Styrbjörn was allied with another son of Gorm, Harald Bluetooth. The idea Harald was the Jomsviking founder is probably a cross of wires.

  • The runestone DR 295 in Hällestad, Hallandia says: Eskil raised this stone after Toki Gormsson, his beloved warleader. He did not flee at Uppsala. Champions erected this stone after their brother on the hill. They went closest with Toki.
    • A : askil : sati : stin : þansi : ift[iR] : tuka : kurms : sun : saR : hulan : trutin : saR : flu : aigi : at : ub::salum
    • B satu : trikaR : iftiR : sin : bruþr stin : o : biarki : stuþan : runum : þiR :
    • C (k)(u)(r)(m)(s) (:) (t)(u)(k)(a) : kiku : (n)(i)(s)(t)[iR]
    • A Æskel satti sten þænsi æftiR Toka Gorms sun, seR hullan drottin. SaR flo ægi at Upsalum
    • B sattu drængiaR æftiR sin broþur sten a biargi støþan runum. ÞeR
    • C Gorms Toka gingu næstiR.
  • The runestone DR 279 in Sjörup, Scania, relates: He did not flee at Uppsala, but fought as long as he had weapons.
    • [+ sa]ksi : sati : st[in] : þasi : huftiR : o[s]biurn : (s)in : fil(a)go ' (t)u-a[s : sun :] saR : flu : aki : a[t :] ub:sal(u)m : an : ua : maþ : an : uabn : a(f)þi '
    • Saxi satti sten þæssi æftiR Æsbiorn, sin felaga, To[f]a/To[k]a sun. SaR flo ægi at Upsalum, æn wa mæþ han wapn hafþi.
  • On the Högby Runestone, it says The good freeman Gulli had five sons. The brave champion Asmund fell on the Fyris.

In fiction

Jomsvikings are the focus of the novels The Long Ships by Frans Gunnar Bengtsson and E. R. Eddison's Styrbiorn the Strong, and Horned Helmet, a juvenile historical novel by Henry Treece. Fictionalized versions of the Jomsberg (under the name "Jormsvik") and the Jomsvikings appear in Guy Gavriel Kay's novel The Last Light of the Sun, which is set in a fictional world that closely parallels 9th century Britain and Scandinavia.

Our legendary Jomsburgers also appear in Creative Assembly's Medieval Total War Viking Invasion expansion pack, though they are called Joms Viking. They are the most highly skilled warrior available to the Vikings.

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