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Gorm the Elder

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Gorm the Elder
Alfred the Great - Samuel Woodforde.jpg
The First King by Tomas Hermansson (1833)
King of Geatland
Reign944 – 961
SuccessorGorm Gormsson
King of Lågland
Reignc. 929 - 944
PredecessorAxel of Lågland
ConsortGrunhild of Morlik
IssueGorm Gormsson
HouseHouse of Lågland
FatherBjörn Axelsson

Gorm the Elder (Geatish: Gorm den äldre), also known as Gorm I, was a Geatish monarch from ca. 929 until 961. He is considered the first king of Geatland.

Gorm was born at the height of the Age of Ghaillish Piracy on the Geatish Islands. He succeeded his grandfather as King of Lågland in 929. Inspired by the legendary culture hero Alrik, Gorm convinced neighboring Geatish tribes and kingdoms to unite under him as a counterbalance against the Ghaillish rader kingdoms in the North. Gorm later defeated the Gutes in the Städ War, integrating them into his kingdom. In 944, Gorm declared himself King of all the Geats and founded the First Kingdom of Geatland. The rest of Gorm's reign was devoted to weakening the power of Ghaillish pirates until his death from smallpox in AD 961.


Early life

Esholm Castle, the most likely location of Gorm's birth

Little is recorded of Gorm the Elder's upbringing and early life. He was born Gorm Björnsson in Esholm, the capital city of the Kingdom of Lågland, in 891, though the exact date has been lost Gorm was the son of Björn Axelsson and grandson to Axel of Lågland, the reigning king of Lågland. At the age of sixteen, Gorm married Grunhild of Morlik, the daughter of a neigboring chieftan. After Björn Axelsson was killed defending against Ghaillish pirates in 909, Gorm became the heir apparent.

In 913, Grunhild bore the couple's first son, Gorm Gormsson after a series of miscarriages.

King of Lågland

Gorm is recorded to have become king of Lågland after his grandfather's death in 929, though some documents place his ascension as early as 924. He was crowned the forth king of Lågland.

The beginning of Gorm's reign saw the rise in popularity of Sotirianity, particularly the Solarian Catholic Church. Although there is no evidence to suggest that Gorm or any of his predecessors until Olaf I converted to Christianity, Gorm was tolerant of the foreign faith and encouraged it as a way to connect with mainland Euclea. Gorm would continue these policies as king of Geatland.

Gorm was the first king of Lågland to establish a foreign mission in Euclea, which he did in 935.

The legendary King Alrik was a strong influence on Gorm.

Mounting tensions with Ghaillish raiders convinced Gorm to campaign against the Ghailles directly. Between 933-937, these campaigns were laregly ineffective and unsucessful. On one occassion, Gorm was nearly killed in a Ghaillish ambush in 1936. These events reportedly convinced Gorm of the need to unite the Geatish tribes. Gorm contended that only a unified Geatish force could overwhelm the Ghaillish raiders. In this effort he was inspired by Alrik, a fabled Geatish king who united the Geatish tribes c. 100 BC - AD 100.

Gorm began negotiations with other Geatish chiefdoms and kingdoms in 938. Because Lågland has grown to become the Geatish hegemon, assention into a union with Lågland was the most preferable option for the weaker Geatish rulers, who were facing constant bombardment and assault by Gaillish pirates. By 941, most of the Geatish tribes, as well as a foth other minor Sea Weranic tribes were united. A few holdover Geatish tribes in the kingdom's far west would join by AD 950.

Städ War

Naval battle between Gutes and Geats during the Städ War, ca. 943

The kingdom of the Gutes to Lågland's northeast was Gorm's major rival. Until recent history, the Gutes were typically subdued and controlled by Geatish rulers. However the onslaught of Ghaillish pirates occupied the attention of the Geatish lords and left the Gutes to develop for themselves. The Gutes, led by King Harald Halstensson, refused to integrate into Gorm's kingdom. After negotiations broke down in 942, Gorm pursued war with Halstensson.

The Städ War as it would be known pitted the Geats against the Gutes, who were supported by the Ghaillish raiders. Although Halstensson was initially succesful, he would lose ground quickly to Gorm's larger and better equipped force. Halstensson's forces surrendered to Gorm at the Battle of the Blue Cliffs in 944 after Halstensson died in battle. Gorm arranged for his son Gorm Gormonsson to marry Emma, Halstensson's only surviving child, to solify his descendents' claims.

King of Geatland

Coin depicting Gorm's likeness, minted one year into his reign

Gorm declared himself King of Geatland before a thing of Geatish tribal leaders soon after his victory over the Gutes. There was reportedly no official coronation.

In an effort to keep tensions at bay, Gorm secured an official truce with the Ghaillish raiders in 945. This peace was broken when a Ghaillish contingent looted a pagan temple. In retaliation, Gorm ordered naval raids of Ghaillish raider lands, reportedly orchestrating the slaughter of whole towns. Throughout Gorm's reign, the territory of the Ghaillish raider kingdom on the Geatish Islands dimished by thirty percent. Gorm attempted to sue for peace once more, but was ultimately unable to.

Death and burial

In 961, Gorm, who was seventy, suddenly took ill and died. It was later determined that he had died of smallpox, which was rare on the Geatish Islands. As was the family tradition, Gorm asked to be buried in an unmarked grave. He was officially buried in an empty burial vault in a crypt adjecent to Esholm Castle. The secret location of Gorm's grave has not been revealed.

In 1977, an grave containing a corpse was dug up on the outskirts of the Esholm forest. The grave contained artifacts and jewels dating back to Gorm's reign. Many have concluded that the body is Gorm's, but the lack of any DNA evidence means that the corpse's identity is inconclusive.


Statue of Gorm the Elder in Gormberg

Geatish historian Greger Lange referred to Gorm the Elder as the first great man of Geatland. Hs remains among Geadland's more recognized monarchs. Althoug the First Kingdom of Geatland would fall nearly two hundred years after Gorm passed away, he is seen as having fundamentally laid the groundwork for a unified Geatish state. His ability to contain the Ghaillish pirates from encroaching on the whole of the Geatish Islands is frequently celebrated. He is the namesake of Gormö ("Gorm's Island"), the largest Geatish island, as well as the namesake of the city of Gormberg.

Many historians contend that Gorm's tolerance for Sotirianity, especially in aristocratic circles, allowed for the religion to flourish as quickly as it did, culminating in the baptism of Olaf I in 1057.

Gorm the Elder has been portrayed many times in Geatish literature and poetry, most famously in Johannes Linderoth's history play Gorm I, which recounts his defeat of the Gutes in the Städ War. Linderoth portrayed Gorm as a steady and stern commander, and his work has since greatly influenced portrayals of the king.