This societal disharmony would eventually lead to his being usurped from power, but not before he had destroyed a great monument to the Old Norse religion. 

Medieval monks 

Like much of early medieval history, particularly concerning the Nordic north, we are indebted to medieval chroniclers such as the German monk and historian Adam of Bremen

Adam of Bremen, who compiled most of his works in the latter half of the 11th century, had his finger on the pulse of the events surrounding the end of the Viking Age (c. 750 – 1100). 

Furthermore, as he was seconded to the Danish court of Sweyn II, he had access to a wealth of historical records and chronicles that helped make his work some of the most vivid, colorful, and historically accurate.

According to Edgar N. Johnson's study Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen: A Politician of the Eleventh Century (Speculum, 1934: 153), Adam of Bremen completed his Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum (Deeds of the Bishop of Hamburg) in 1075, shortly before his death, when Sweden was in chaos. 

King Stenkil, the founder of the Swedish dynastic House of Stenkil, had died, leading to a great civil war over his succession between two men (confusingly) named Eric. 

Their war had ravaged much of the Swedish countryside before the Swedish nobles and ruling elite called an outsider, a Viking from the East named Anund Gardske, to rule from the Kievan Rus

Yet, though revered as a mighty warrior and sage ruler, this foreign import committed a huge social faux pas by refusing to administer a blót – a sacrificial offering – at the great temple at Uppsala

This hardly endeared him to either the ruling elite or his subjects and he was succeeded by Hakan the Red. 

Such conflicts would recur, demonstrating that refusing to worship the Old Norse religion could cause royal headaches more than once. 

The area of Västergötland, where early Swedish kings ruled, includes Husaby Church, originally built of wood in the early 11th century and later reconstructed as a stone church in the 12th century. Photo: Can Burcin Sahin / LCProBild (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Enter Inge 

We have very little information about the early life of Inge the Elder, except that he was reportedly born in 1040. He was the son of King Stenkil, who ruled over a significant portion of what is now Sweden. 

This medieval incarnation of Sweden did not have the same borders as the modern nation-state, and those rulers who were crowned "king" only had control of one part of the country, mainly around the area of Västergötland. 

Stenkil seems to have passed on his religious convictions to his son, who was praised in contemporary and later chronicles as a devout Christian.

According to Alexandra Sanmark in her review of The Conversion of Scandinavia by Anders Winroth, Christianity arrived in Sweden around the same time as its Nordic neighbors, sometime in that historical estuary between Late Antiquity and the beginnings of the medieval period.

However, it took much longer for this upstart religion to seize control of the hearts and minds of Swedish society.

Following Stenkil's death and the disastrous period of civil war and strife, a steady hand was needed on the throne. 

Inge ascended to his birthright as a man, perhaps in his late 30s. 

A letter from Pope Gregory VII from 1080 labels Inge as the "king of the Swedes," and the first few years of his reign seem successful mainly due to little being written about them in later medieval chronicles. 

Religion, power, and exile 

King Inge, however, inherited a kingdom torn apart by religion. Whilst Christianity had secured a grip on the kingdom, many of Inge's subjects were still fiercely clinging to their belief in the Old gods. 

It was this portion that would determine just how successful Inge would be as a ruler.

According to the Hervarar saga, compiled in the 13th century and thus not contemporaneous, whilst Inge had inherited his father's spiritual beliefs, he did not inherit his tolerance or flexibility when dealing with his pagan subjects. 

A refusal to administer a blot at the Temple of Uppsala was seen as the last straw after a series of policies aimed at persecuting pagans and forcibly converting them to his new faith. 

An assembly was called in Uppsala, the center of Swedish royal power, and the ruling elite gave Inge a choice: either go back to "following the old order" or abdicate if he wanted to keep his Christian faith. 

Inge chose the latter and went off into exile, back to his ancestral power base in Västergötland. 

The ancient Norse temple at Gamla Uppsala, which was once a crucial center for pagan worship in Scandinavia, is believed to have been located near the Royal Mounds, north of Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: Jpiks / Shutterstock

A creator and a destroyer 

His exile, however, did not last long, as he returned after three years to kill his successor, Swein the Sacrificer. 

With a moniker like that, you can probably guess that Swein did more than his fair share of worshipping the old gods by overseeing many a blot. 

Nevertheless, he was killed, Inge regained the throne, and Christianity regained its grip on power in Sweden.

Whilst in power a second time, Inge was said to have been responsible for the destruction of the great pagan temple at Uppsala. 

This had been the center of cultural, religious, and spiritual life for the Old Norse religion, and many historians later argued that its destruction was a death blow from which this religion never recovered. 

Inge, however, was a builder as well as a destroyer. 

After this pagan temple was destroyed, Inge and his wife, Queen Helena, were said to have founded Vreta Abbey, which housed the country's first nunnery. 

This helped further cement Christianity in Sweden and started a tradition of royal patronage of Christian places of worship and function that would accelerate in the later medieval period. 

The statue "Three Kings" by Arvid Källström, unveiled in Kungälv, commemorates the historic 1101 meeting of kings Inge the Elder of Sweden, Magnus Barefoot of Norway, and Eric Evergood of Denmark at Kungahälla. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Last years and death 

Norwegian incursions into Sweden in 1101 gave Inge the chance to unify his realm with an existential threat looming nearby. 

He beat back the Norwegians under King Magnus Barefoot, and a famous meeting of three kings – Inge, Magnus, and the Danish king Eric Evergood – took place at Kungahälla, Sweden, where the three negotiated a peace treaty. 

Inge was said to have died around 1111, an old man in his early 70s, which must have seemed ancient in the 12th century, given that life expectancy was, at best, half that. 

Whilst he may well be known for his responsibility in the destruction of the temple at Uppsala, King Inge the Elder helped strengthen Christianity's foothold in his realm, which, after his death, would never look anything other than secure. 

Should you be interested in visiting Uppsala, where the once mighty Old Norse temple stood, then we have great news for you.

STOEX, an intimate Swedish tour company and a proud partner of The Viking Herald, offers intimate daily tours from Stockholm that take in some of the surrounding region's proud history, including trips to Uppsala.

To learn more about the temple at Uppsala, take the STOEX Viking History Extended tour from Stockholm.

This branded article was produced in collaboration with STOEX, a partner of The Viking Herald. You can find out more about their Viking and history tours - and book one - here.

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