This page details how Christianity spread once it arrived in the Viking world. In general, there seem to have been three primary methods of conversion in the Viking Age. These methods detailed in the primary sources include: Voluntary, Legal, and Forceful. Examples of all three can be found, but it would appear most fell into the Forceful category.


The Conversion of Harald Bluetooth
The Conversion of Harald Bluetooth



1. Voluntary
2. Legal
3. Forceful


Voluntary

Of all the conversion methods, this one seems to be the least discussed in primary sources. When present, the account is usually brief, such as in “Christianity in Sweden” from History of the Archbishops of Hamburg Bremen, where Adalward is plucked from the Bremen choir and sent on a mission to Sweden, where he converts the land by his fervor alone[1] . These types of texts mostly seem to be written for posterity, and are heavily influenced by Christian writing style.

Also of note is the cleric Anskar, who was part of a forceful conversion, but would later establish schools for boys, and would often buy slave boys, in efforts to convert them – his success rate is not detailed[2] but it stands to reason the children had some form of free will as to their religious destiny.

Extrapolating from a source like this, it holds it would have not been uncommon for clerics to achieve conversion on their own without force, using only mild persuasion, much like Adalward. What we do lack, however, is if these conversion held up in absence of force or authority like we did with the other types. For example, in the cases of Adalward, Sweden seems to have stayed at least Christian, but in Anskar’s case, Denmark would be re-converted under Harald Gormsson



Legal

Legal, in the sense of being to law by a legislative party, and not just a single King, occurs only in Iceland[3] [4] with the Althing, a gathering in the summer for a variety of different activities, including legislative action. Of note is that this process took place after an attempted Forceful conversion by Thangbrand. With the legal adoption of Christianity, it is reported in the sources that it went unopposed[5] .

What separates a legal conversion from a voluntary one, is that in order for conversion to be successful, a legislative body had to intervene, as one of the voluntary converts by Thangbrand was exiled from Iceland, before the Althing had convened after King Olaf Tryggvason dispatched two more clerics to try and persuade the Icelanders[6] . Note that although King Olaf says he would use force if he needed to, he did not directly say this to the Icelanders, and the report of his two new clerics follows that of Adalward in the source, in that the clerics never threatened with force.

It stands to reason that in the case of Iceland, legal action was the only solution: Voluntary conversion had fragmented the island, and the lack of real central authority like a King or Earl prevented Olaf from really being able to follow through with a forceful response, or at least, he lacked a means to convey it, except during Kjartan’s confinement, where he insists Kjartan be the one to convert Iceland or they will face force[7] . However, Kjartan held no real power, and thus when read the threats ring hollow.



Forceful
Olaf Tryggvason strikes down the idol of Thor
Olaf Tryggvason strikes down the idol of Thor


The most prevalent of conversion, force was often employed by King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway to convert others, though it used in other cases as well. Here, force is defined as offering someone more than simple words in order to procure results, be it: Money, power, impression, intimidation, or other such means.

One of the earliest accounts of conversion is presented in “The Life of Anskar,” an excerpt from Anskar: Apostle of the North, 801-865. Anskar was a monk who accompanied a king of Denmark, King Harald Klak after the king converted to Christianity in order to regain his kingdom in Denmark in 826[8] . Anskar was there to help oversee the conversion, but most of the immediate conversion was handled by Harald’s conversion, since his closest followers converted when he did[9] .

Another account of regaining lost power would be Harald Bluetooth and Denmark. With the help of King Otto II he would convert to Christianity and successfully retake Denmark, making it Christian again through his decree, to be upheld by force[10] .

The model of top-down conversion here, or, a ruler converting a prominent figure, and therefore his followers, seems to reflect a model of the
lið, and would be the model Tryggvason used in his conversions. Tryggvason would convert Earl of Sigurd of the Orkneys when he caught him prepared to go on a voyage, and impressed him to convert himself and his people, all while in the presence of Tryggvason’s superior forces[11] . Tryggvason would also hold Leif Eriksson hostage when he ventured to Norway, unless he agreed to convert to Christiniaty and return to Greenland to convert the people as well, which he agreed to, allowing himself to go unharmed[12] .

Tryggvason would also attempt a top-down conversion of Iceland by use of Kjartan[13] . This, however, yielded poor results, much like his earlier attempt to use the priest Thangbrand, who would end up killing two men in his efforts to convert the Icelanders[14] . The Laxardal saga goes into more detail on the methodology of Tryggvason: In Kjartan’s presence, he converts the people of Nidaros, first by attempting persuasion, but he ends the discussion by saying his army has killed far more numerous and powerful peoples, at which point they submit and convert to Christianity; he also manages to convert Kjartan around Christmas by purposefully conducting large banquets where the Icelanders could see them, showing Kjartan what, in a way, Christianity made possible to him[15] .

Less top-down, and more directly violent, the account of “Olaf Tryggvason and the Conversion of Norway” deals with Tryggvason’s conversion of his own people. Here, Olaf sets forth a rule of “Force and Punishment,” meaning resistance to conversion will have consequences, and is not optional. Many peasant groups knew they stood no change of rebellion, and would submit, especially in one instance where Tryggvason smashes an idol of Thor, daring the peasants to do something about it, which they realize they can’t. Tyrggvason also marries off one of his daughters to a non-noble, Erling, thereby making him nobility so the he and his village would convert to Christianity without bloodshed[16] .

After the death of Olaf Tryggvason, the Christian conversion laxed in Norway. When Olaf II came to power, he reinstated the system Olaf tryggvason used for conversion, and we get some of the punishments documented: Exile, eyes plucked, or hands and feet cut off. Olaf II would reunite Norway under Christian rule, after an arguably more brutal conversion attempt than his predecessor[17] .

One final account is detailed in "Rollo Obtains Normandy from the King of the Franks. Here, Rollo of Normandy has no claim to the land, however, with the help of Charles the Simple, Rollo is given not only the land of Normandy, but also a wife, tying him to the King of the Franks in 912, although this exact date is disputed. Basically, Rollo was in a tight spot with his fellow Vikings and defected to Charles on the promise of Land and a wife, with Charles adding that he convert or be rejected. Rollo complied, and he and his men converted, and he established viking rule in Normandy[18] .
Methods of Conversion
In general, there seem to have been three primary methods of conversion in the Viking Age. These methods detailed in the primary sources include: Voluntary, Legal, and Forceful. Examples of all three can be found, but it would appear most fell into the Forceful category.
CREATE ANCHOR BOX FOR SAID 3
Voluntary
Of all the conversion methods, this one seems to be the least discussed in primary sources. When present, the account is usually brief, such as in “Christianity in Sweden” from History of the Archbishops of Hamburg Bremen, where *Adalward* is plucked from the Bremen choir and sent on a mission to Sweden, where he converts the land by his fervor alone[1]. These types of texts mostly seem to be written for posterity, and are heavily influenced by Christian writing style.
Also of note is the cleric *Anskar*, who was part of a forceful conversion, but would later establish schools for boys, and would often buy slave boys, in efforts to convert them – his success rate is not detailed[4] but it stands to reason the children had some form of free will as to their religious destiny.
Extrapolating from a source like this, it holds it would have not been uncommon for clerics to achieve conversion on their own without force, using only mild persuasion, much like Adalward. What we do lack, however, is if these conversion held up in absence of force or authority like we did with the other types. For example, in the cases of Adalward, Sweden seems to have stayed at least Christian, but in Anskar’s case, Denmark would be re-converted under *Harald Gormsson*
Legal
Legal, in the sense of being to law by a legislative party, and not just a single King, occurs only in Iceland [2][3] with the Althing, a gathering in the summer for a variety of different activities, including legislative action. Of note is that this process took place after an attempted Forceful conversion by *Thangbrand*. With the legal adoption of Christianity, it is reported in the sources that it went unopposed [2].
What separates a legal conversion from a voluntary one, is that in order for conversion to be successful, a legislative body had to intervene, as one of the voluntary converts by Thangbrand was exiled from Iceland, before the Althing had convened after *King Olaf Tryggvason* dispatched two more clerics to try and persuade the Icelanders[2]. Note that although King Olaf says he would use force if he needed to, he did not directly say this to the Icelanders, and the report of his two new clerics follows that of Adalward in the source, in that the clerics never threatened with force.
It stands to reason that in the case of Iceland, legal action was the only solution: Voluntary conversion had fragmented the island, and the lack of real central authority like a King or Earl prevented Olaf from really being able to follow through with a forceful response, or at least, he lacked a means to convey it, except during *Kjartan*’s confinement, where he insists Kjartan be the one to convert Iceland or they will face force[3]. However, Kjartan held no real power, and thus when read the threats ring hollow.
Forceful
The most prevalent of conversion, force was often employed by King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway to convert others, though it used in other cases as well. Here, force is defined as offering someone more than simple words in order to procure results, be it: Money, power, impression, intimidation, or other such means.
One of the earliest accounts of conversion is presented in “The Life of Anskar,” an excerpt from Anskar: Apostle of the North, 801-865. Anskar was a monk who accompanied a king of Denmark, *King Harald Klak* after the king converted to Christianity in order to regain his kingdom in Denmark in 826[4]. Anskar afterwards established voluntary methods of conversion such as schools, but most of the immediate conversion was handled by Harald’s conversion, since his closest followers converted when he did[4].
Another account of regaining lost power would be *Harald Bluetooth* and Denmark. With the help of *King Otto II* he would convert to Christianity and successfully retake Denmark, making it Christian again through his decree, to be upheld by force[5].
The model of top-down conversion here, or, a ruler converting a prominent figure, and therefore his followers, seems to reflect a model of the *lid*, and would be the model Tryggvason used in his conversions. Tryggvason would convert Earl of Sigurd of the Orkneys when he caught him prepared to go on a voyage, and impressed him to convert himself and his people, all while in the presence of Tryggvason’s superior forces[6]. Tryggvason would also hold *Leif Eiriksson* hostage when he ventured to Norway, unless he agreed to convert to Christiniaty and return to Greenland to convert the people as well, which he agreed to, allowing himself to go unharmed[7].
Tryggvason would also attempt a top-down conversion of Iceland by use of Kjartan[3]. This, however, yielded poor results, much like his earlier attempt to use the priest Thangbrand, who would end up killing two men in his efforts to convert the Icelanders[2]. The Laxardal saga goes into more detail on the methodology of Tryggvason: In Kjartan’s presence, he converts the people of Nidaros, first by attempting persuasion, but he ends the discussion by saying his army has killed far more numerous and powerful peoples, at which point they submit and convert to Christianity; he also manages to convert Kjartan around Christmas by purposefully conducting large banquets where the Icelanders could see them, showing Kjartan what, in a way, Christianity made possible to him[3].
Less top-down, and more directly violent, the account of “Olaf Tryggvason and the Conversion of Norway” deals with Tryggvason’s conversion of his own people. Here, Olaf sets forth a rule of “Force and Punishment,” meaning resistance to conversion will have consequences, and is not optional. Many peasant groups knew they stood no change of rebellion, and would submit, especially in one instance where Tryggvason smashes an idol of Thor, daring the peasants to do something about it, which they realize they can’t. Tyrggvason also marries off one of his daughters to a non-noble, Erling, thereby making him nobility so the he and his village would convert to Christianity without bloodshed[8].
Lastly, after the death of Olaf Tryggvason, the Christian conversion laxed. When *Olaf II* came to power, he reinstated the system Olaf tryggvason used for conversion, and we get some of the punishments documented: Exile, eyes plucked, or hands and feet cut off. Olaf II would reunite Norway under Christian rule, after an arguably more brutal conversion attempt than his predecessor [9].
1. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#91. Christianity in Sweden”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010.
2. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#88. The Conversion of the Icelanders”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010.
3. The Laxardal Saga. URL: http://sagadb.org/laxdaela_saga.en . Accessed 2 December 2012.
4. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#7 The Life of Anskar”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
5. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#84 The Conversion of the Danes Under Harald Bluetooth”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
6. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#90 The Conversion of the Orkneys”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
7. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#89 The Conversion of Greenland”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
8. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#85 Olaf Tryggvason and the Conversion of Norway”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
9. Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#87. The Christianization of Norway under Saint Olaf”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  1. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#91. Christianity in Sweden”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010.
  2. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#7 The Life of Anskar”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  3. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#88. The Conversion of the Icelanders”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010.
  4. ^ The Laxardal Saga. URL: http://sagadb.org/laxdaela_saga.en . Accessed 2 December 2012.
  5. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#88. The Conversion of the Icelanders”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010.
  6. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#88. The Conversion of the Icelanders”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010.
  7. ^ The Laxardal Saga. URL: http://sagadb.org/laxdaela_saga.en . Accessed 2 December 2012.
  8. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#7 The Life of Anskar”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  9. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#7 The Life of Anskar”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  10. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#84 The Conversion of the Danes Under Harald Bluetooth”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  11. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#90 The Conversion of the Orkneys”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  12. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#89 The Conversion of Greenland”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  13. ^ The Laxardal Saga. URL: http://sagadb.org/laxdaela_saga.en . Accessed 2 December 2012.
  14. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#88. The Conversion of the Icelanders”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010.
  15. ^ The Laxardal Saga. URL: http://sagadb.org/laxdaela_saga.en . Accessed 2 December 2012.
  16. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#85 Olaf Tryggvason and the Conversion of Norway”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  17. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#87. The Christianization of Norway under Saint Olaf”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010
  18. ^ Ed. Sommerville, Angus A. and McDonald Andrew R. “#57 Rollo Obtains Normandy from the King of the Franks”. The Viking Age: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. 2010