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Jarl (pl. Jarlar ) is, in the Nordic languages, the equivalent of the title of count or duke (see English “earl”, an inherited word of the Scandinavians and that was adopted in the English noble court.) It used to be a rank of hereditary character, or granted by the king to prominent military leaders who supported the crown. Historically, the jarls of the Orkneys and Shetland were highlighted.
In Norse mythology, Jarl was the son of Ríg (Heimdal) and of Modir (the purest blood). Ríg speaks to Jarl about runes and other magic, as well as the language of birds. Jarl then gathered some men and conquered several lands. Later he married Erna, with whom he had eleven children, the ancestors of the warriors of the Nordic society. The most notable of them all was Konr Ungr (“Kon the Younger”) who had the strength of eight men, knew the language of the birds and hunted them in the groves, until a crow reproached him for silencing the birds and that it would be better to secure a saddle, hold the sword, and go out to do the Viking so that others can test the edge of their blade, since Danr and Danpr had better lands and estates. From Konr Ungr comes the popular belief that is the origin of the Nordic kings (in Old Norse: konungr).
The position of a jarl is specified in the Rígsthula, a Scandinavian legend that describes the god Ríg lying with three couples to procreate and bring the world to the three social classes: thralls, karls and jarls. The poem describes how the image, behavior and type of work expected of each one should be:
- A boy gave birth to Modir, dressed him with silks,
- with water sprayed him, Jarl called him;
- blonde was her hair, bright her cheeks,
- sharp his eyes like those of a serpent.
- Jarl grew up there among the banks;
- wielding linden shield, braided bow strings,
- tensed the arcs, made arrowheads,
- throwing the darts, waving the spears,
- I rode horses, I used to whip dogs,
- wielded the sword, took to swimming.
- Then he arrived at the forest Ríg by the way,
- Ríg by the way, and taught him the runes;
- told him his name and that he was his son;
- then offered him the allodial goods,
- allodial assets and old fields.
- He then marched through dark forests,
- mountains full of frost, until you reach a house;
- began to brandish the flagpoles and shake shields,
- galloped on horseback and brandished the sword;
- the fight started, the plain flushed,
- killed warriors, destroyed the lands.
The earl is a nobility title adopted in England after the conquest of the Viking king Canuto II of Denmark. This title designated, in principle, the governors of the shires or the counts. In the nineteenth century, this title is only honorary and does not imply any function.
Another example in exteris is found in the Norman conquest of Southern Italy, with the title held by Jarl Rogeirr (Roger I of Sicily).
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