Monday, February 4, 2019

New Biography: The Daring Life of The Ancient Chinese Vigilante, Guo Xie

(Man sharpening a sword, hanging scroll (14th-17th century), color on silk, 170.7 x 111 cm. Located at the Palace Museum. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Guo Xie was a contemporary of Grand Historian Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), and they both lived during the reign of Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 BCE). Although Guo Xie was not from a noble or wealthy background, he became one of the most famous men of his day. Sima Qian met the man in person and (unlike many other officials of the Han Dynasty) thought very highly of Guo Xie. With brutal honesty, Sima Qian described him as a short and ugly man, whose speech was not at all charismatic. Yet, through daring and vigilante justice, Guo Xie became a folk hero of the Chinese masses.

Continue reading about Guo Xie's remarkable life, HERE.

New Biography: The Bold Tale Of Jarl Einar Of Orkney

(Jomsvikings at the Battle of Svolder, by Nils Bergslien (1853–1928), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Jarl Rognvald was one of the Norwegian chieftains that aligned with Harald Finehair (r. 860-940), the first king to spread his influence over all regions of Norway. The last vestige of Norwegian resistance against Harald’s rule was crushed in the Battle of Hafrsfjord, which was dated to have occurred in 872 by medieval historians, but now is believed to have taken place possibly as late as 900. Jarl Rognvald became one of Finehair’s staunchest and most powerful supporters, and the jarl was greatly rewarded for his loyalty. According to the Norwegian-Icelandic tradition, King Harald gave Rognvald control of North More, South More and Romsdal. In addition to that, Finehair also offered the jarl control of Orkney and Shetland after Rognvald’s son, Ivar, was killed during a campaign to claim those islands for Norway and to clear them of disloyal Vikings. Jarl Rognvald, however, was content with his land in Norway and decided to transfer control of Orkney and Shetland to his brother, Sigurd.

Although Sigurd proved to be a capable leader, even expanding his territory into parts of Scotland, he unfortunately died of an infection. Sigurd’s sickly son, Guthorm, inherited control of the islands, but he, too, died after only a year. When Guthorm died childless, control of Orkney passed back to Jarl Rognvald of More. Yet, once again, he did not want to keep the lands for himself. This time, Rognvald decided to give the islands to one of his sons. At the time, the jarl was said to have had five living sons—Hrolf the Walker (who would become a duke of Normandy), Thorir, Hallad, Hrollaug and Einar. Rognvald eventually chose Hallad to become the new ruler of the islands.

Hallad quickly became disillusioned in Orkney. Beleaguered by Viking raids and annoyed by local grumbling farmers, Hallad eventually grew homesick and returned to Norway, abandoning the islands. In his absence, Viking crews once more overran the region and the islands were virtually cut off from Norwegian control. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, two Vikings from Denmark took over the region. Their names were supposedly Thorir Tree-Beard and Kalf Scurvy, and they set up their main camp in Orkney.

When Rognvald heard that Hallad had abandoned Orkney and that the region was now occupied by Vikings—Danish Vikings no less—the jarl became enraged and called a meeting with his sons (excluding Hallad). At the time, Hrolf the Walker was apparently away on an expedition, so only Thorir, Hrollaug and Einar spoke with their father. Rognvald was said to have undervalued Einar (his mother was allegedly a slave), so the jarl ignored him and asked only Thorir and Hrollaug which of them wanted to reclaim Orkney from the Vikings. When both sons dryly stated that they would follow their father’s wishes, but did not show much enthusiasm for the prospect, Einar stepped forward and confidently volunteered himself for the task. 

Continue reading about the exciting life of Jarl Einar, HERE.