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Jarl , related to the English " Earl ", the German Count , was a prince in the Nordic countries from the Germanic Iron Age (375 AD) until the High Middle Ages .

The earliest use of the term Jarl appears in runic inscriptions from the 5th century. The inscriptions can be found from central Norway to southern Sweden and Funen . In these texts the Jarl is called ErilaR . All have a stressed ek (= I) in front of Rare . Often times , the Rare calls himself by his name, which means that it is a title. The rarity of the inscriptions indicates a small group of users and thus the high rank associated with an education that includes knowledge of the runic script. Often the texts highlight the literacy of the ErilaR . The Rier was also rune master . Since the runes had a magical context, the jarl must also be placed in a religious context. Here and there there is also talk of ordinations by the ruler . In terms of social function, religious tasks (at sacrificial feasts) and profane exercise of rule should not be separated.

The Icelandic translations from Latin use the word Jarl for comes, praefectus, praeses and proconsul . Pontius Pilatus is known as Pilatus jarl .

Jarle in Norway

The original meaning of the Norwegian dignity of the Jarl is unknown. The sources, e.g. B. Snorri , who comment on this, come from a time when the office of Jarl hardly existed. Conditions of the 12th and 13th centuries may have influenced the representation. The Heimskringla and the Norwegian Hirðskrá , the law of allegiance , are particularly important sources . There is also something in the Gulaþingslög, in the Frostaþingslög and in the two Edden . In the Rígsþula it is reported that the god Rígr visited three childless married couples and each time fathered a son. The first was called a servant , the next farmer , the last Jarl . Jarl then married the daughter of Hersir and with her fathered the Konr ungr = Konungr (king). But the value of this text as a source is controversial as its age is unknown. In the Heimskringla, a poem is quoted in which the rhyming contrast karl og jarl is used just like in the old Anglo-Saxon sources eorl and ceorl . Probably he was already known to the Saxons as erl and cerl . Etymologically, Jarl is combined with jara = fight and yrri = wrath, words that are also used in the names of the gods of war Eor , Ear and Er . Some researchers, including Jakob Grimm , derived the tribal name of the Heruli from this word stem . From all this, Maurer deduces that the Jarl was primarily a member of a martial class. But this is controversial.

The Anglo-Saxon area gives certain indications: According to the law of the northern people and the law of Mercia , the manslaughter penalty of the king was made up of two parts, the wergeld to the relatives and the king's penalty to the people. The amounts were just as high as the amounts for an æþeling or an earl . The king was thus equal to the earl according to his birth status and was only elevated over him through his actual rulership as long as the rule lasted. It is possible that conditions in Norway were similar up until Harald Hårfagre's time .

At the time of Harald Hårfagre there was already a clear social stratification in (local) King, Jarl and the Hersen . These were opposed to the public and unfree. That it existed before Harald Jarle and Hersen is evident from the Orkneyinga saga , where the grandfather Røgnvald, Jarl von Møre and a friend of Harald, Ivar Upplendingajarl is mentioned. What position he had towards the king cannot be seen. The Ladejarle retained the Jarl title, although they temporarily ruled all of Norway. The very old little saga Ágrip explains this with the fact that one of the ancestors of Håkon Jarl , who was appointed Jarl over all of Norway by Harald Blauzahn , namely King Herse in Numedal, wanted to commit suicide out of grief over the death of his wife. Since there was no precedent for the suicide of a king, but that of a jarl, he rolled down from the king's throne and then hung himself on the jarl title. For his sake all his descendants would have been content with the title of jarl, disdaining the title of king. This undoubtedly aitiological story shows that the Jarl title was equal to the King's title in ancient times and that it later became necessary to explain why the King's title was disdained and why the Jarl title was content.

The Heimskringla reports that Harald had appointed a jarl over every district (fylki) who was supposed to exercise jurisdiction and collect the dues for the king. The Jarle were allowed to keep a third of the taxes. Four Hersen were subordinate to each Jarl. Each Jarl had to provide 60 warriors for the king and 20 warriors for each Herse. However, only the Ladejarl and the Jarle von Møre are historically secured for this time. In early texts, however, Harald Naumdölarjarl and his son Grjótgarður Háleygjajarl ( Landnáma ) are mentioned. Snorri understands the remark in a poem that the arkjarl commanded over a land of 16 jarles as meaning that the arkjarl had 16 jarles under him. The poem itself describes the spatial extent of the rule, but says nothing about whether Jarle still existed there. After Snorri, Olav the Saint changed the structure of rule so that only one Jarl should rule the land. Since then only the sex of the Ladejarle is mentioned for Norway. The Jarl title also appeared in Normandy as the successor to Rollo , the Rúðujarlar (Jarle of Rouen). The dignity of jarls was not hereditary, but it was reserved for members of noble families.

In terms of power politics, the Jarle were soon on par with the king again. At the time of King Håkon Håkonsson, the kingdom was divided between him and the Ladejarl Skúli Bardarson. In 1230 Skúli was granted the ducal dignity. The power-political equality results from the standing. Royal families and Jarls families could enter into marital relations with one another, whereas marital relations between Jarls and Hersen families were regarded as a mesalliance from an early age .

From the Hirðskrá , from around 1270, it emerges that the dignity of Jarls was not (no longer) hereditary, but was bestowed on the king's brothers or close relatives. The Jarl had to swear an oath of allegiance, was presented with a sword and a flag, was allowed to have a retinue of six people and, as a rule, was not allowed to raise a higher than the king. The position of the Jarl is also evident from the older Gulaþingslög: According to this, the Jarl had the same claim to penance as a bishop. If he wounded a man himself, he had to pay twice what a king-man had to pay and only half what the king had to pay.

In 1297, after a letter in the Diplomatarium Norvegicum, Archbishop Jørund in Nidaros was named Jarl for that year . In 1308, King Håkon Magnusson passed a law according to which only the king's sons and the Orkadenjarle were allowed to bear the Jarl title. After 1310, nobody in Norway was made a jarl. In 1310 he announced that archbishops could no longer become Jarle. The Pope did not approve of the archbishop swearing an oath of allegiance to the king.

Jarle on Orkney

There was also Jarle on Orkney . They led their office back to Sigurdur, Røgnvald's brother, whom King Harald appointed Jarl. The office lasted longer in Orkney than in Norway. The dignity was hereditary after the Hirðskrá. The relationship between the Norwegian king and the Jarlen was regulated by contract. When Orkney came under the sovereignty of Scotland around 1470, the Jarlsamt disappeared. (See: Viking Age on Orkney and List of Jarle of Orkney )

Jarle in Iceland

In Iceland only Gizzur Þorvaldsson, who was appointed Jarl by King Håkon Håkonsson in 1258 , is recorded. In the Grágás , too, the title Jarl is mentioned in penance. But it is assumed that it is a later insertion from Norwegian law. The word jarl also occurs in the Icelandic context when a Kolbeinn jarle has given a church a bell. But this is obviously a proper name.

There were no jarles in the Faroe Islands , Shetlands or Greenland .

Jarle in Sweden

In Sweden , some people are named Jarl der Svear in sources around 1150 . Icelandic sources indicate that there were many Jarle in Sweden with their own rulership. However, the Swedish sources do not confirm this. The last and best known Swedish Jarl was Birger Jarl († 1266); In 1308 the title of duke (hertig) was introduced instead . The Jarle evidently had a strong position and came from the leading aristocracy . They were not inferior to the king. The early law Östgötalagen can be inferred that the Jarl of Östergötland in fines right after the king, and all other persons ranked. He received a third of the tribute from Gotland and had part of the dues from the coastal areas. He even owned part of the crown property in Östergötland. How far he was integrated into the government organization, however, is controversial.

Jarle in Denmark

The Danish tradition mentioned by Jarle does not begin until the 15th century. However, there are other traditions from the 12th century, e.g. B. call the south of Jutland or Halland as Jarltum , so that one can assume that Jarle were used to defend the empire. The establishment of the South Jutland Jarltum in the 11th century was probably closely related to the frequent incursions of the Wends .

As early as the 12th century, the Jarl title was replaced by the title of Duke or Count. The last Jarl of Southern Jutland (later Schleswig ) was Knud Laward , murdered in 1131, who assumed the title of "Duke" following the German example.

Literary reception

In his poem Gorm Grymme, Theodor Fontane takes up the subject of the Jarle in literary terms: And the Jarls came to the feast of July .


  • Arne Bøe: Jarl In: Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder . Volume 7. (Copenhagen 1962). Sp. 559-564.
  • DI = Diplomatarium Islandicum.
  • Klaus DüwelJarl. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA). 2nd Edition. Volume 16, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2000, ISBN 3-11-016782-4 , pp. 33-34.
  • Else Ebel:  Jarl. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA). 2nd Edition. Volume 16, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2000, ISBN 3-11-016782-4 , pp. 29-33.
  • Vilhjálmur Finsen: Om de islanske Love i fristadstiden. Copenhagen 1873.
  • Elof Hellquist: Svensk etymolologisk ordbog . 3. Edition. Lund 1948.
  • Alexander Jóhannesson: Icelandic etymological dictionary . Bern 1956.
  • Konrad von Maurer : Old Norwegian state and judiciary. In: Konrad von Maurer: Lectures on Old Norse legal history . Volume 1. 1907 (reprint Osnabrück 1966).
  • Herluf Nielsen: Jarl In: Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder. Vol. 7. (Copenhagen 1962). Col. 565-566.
  • Jerker Rosén: Jarl . In: Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder. Vol. 7. (Copenhagen 1962). Col. 564-565.
  • Skálholts annals . In: Gustav Storm: Islandske Annaler indtil 1578 . Christiania 1888 (reprint Oslo 1977) ISBN 82-7061-192-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Jarl  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Germanic Iron Age, in Denmark from 375 to 750, in Sweden from 400 to 800, is a term used in Scandinavian archeology that, following the generally accepted Roman Empire , replaces the terms migration period and early Middle Ages used in continental Europe . In Sweden, for example, the Germanic Iron Age includes the Vendel period .
  2. Düwel
  3. Bøe Sp. 560.
  4. on the above: Maurer p. 134 f.
  5. Hellquist (1948); undecided Johannesson p. 64
  6. Maurer p. 146
  7. Maurer p. 145
  8. DN I, No. 125
  9. Skálholts-Annaler for 1258: Hakon konungr gaf Gizuri Þorvalldz syni jarls nafn ok kom út samsumars.
  10. Finsen (1873), p. 139 footnote
  11. DI vol. 2. p. 468: Tabulae og klucka lijtil er kolbeinn jarle gaf.
  12. Rosén Sp. 864
  13. Östgötalagen Drapa B XIV, 1
  14. ^ Herluf Nielsen: Jarl In: Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder. Vol. 7. (Copenhagen 1962), p. 565
  15. ^ Horst Windmann: Schleswig as territory. Wachholtz, Neumünster 1954, p. 23.
  16. ^ Herluf Nielsen: Jarl In: Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder. Vol. 7. (Copenhagen 1962)