Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Sigv Knútdr 1I

Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Knútsdrápa 1’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 651.

Sigvatr ÞórðarsonKnútsdrápa

Ok Ellu bak,
at, lét, hinns sat,
Ívarr ara,
Jórvík, skorit.

Ok Ívarr, hinns sat at Jórvík, lét bak Ellu skorit ara.

And Ívarr, who resided at York, had Ælla’s back cut with an eagle.

Mss: Hb(106v) (Hb); 147(111r) (Ragn)

Readings: [1] Ellu: Ella 147    [4] Jórvík: í Jórvík 147

Editions: Skj AI, 248, Skj BI, 232, Skald I, 120, NN §3224; Hb 1892-6, 464, FSGJ I, 298 (RagnSon); Ragn 1906-8, 193.


The helmingr is quoted to illustrate the manner in which Ívarr inn beinlausi ‘the Boneless’ and his brothers put to death King Ælla of Northumbria, killer of their father Ragnarr loðbrók ‘Shaggy-breeches’; see further Notes below.

Notes: [All]: On ms. 147, see Introduction. The stanza is not preserved at the corresponding point in the main ms. of Ragn, NKS 1824 b 4° (Ragn 1906-8, 167-8). — [All]: In both sources, the stanza is introduced, Svá segir Sigvatr skáld í Knútsdrápu ‘As Sigvatr the poet says in Knútsdrápa’; the introduction to st. 2 in ÓH-Hkr and Knýtl is identical, and for st. 3, ÓH-Hkr refer to the drápa that Sigvatr composed about Knútr’s expedition. — [All]: This stanza has been central in the controversy as to whether the Vikings genuinely did practise the rite of the ‘blood-eagle’ on their victims, or whether this is a misconception and elaboration by later saga authors and scholars. The author of RagnSon intepreted the stanza as follows (FSGJ I, 298): Létu þeir nú rista örn á baki Ellu ok skera síðan rifin öll frá hrygginum með sverði, svá at þar váru lungun út dregin ‘They now had an eagle carved on the back of Ælla and afterwards had all the ribs cut from the backbone with a sword, so that the lungs were pulled out there’. However, Frank (1984a) argued that the stanza simply means that Ívarr provided Ælla’s body as carrion, able to be torn by the eagle as one of the ‘beasts of battle’. For responses and re-statements see Bjarni Einarsson (1986), Frank (1988), Bjarni Einarsson (1990) and Frank (1990b); clearly a central point is whether skera ‘cut’ (here p. p. skorit) can be used of the action of a bird, or must refer to a weapon. For earlier historians’ views see Smyth (1977, 189-94) and Wormald (1982, 140). McTurk (1994), by contrast, argues that ari here is a heiti for ‘sword’ and does not refer to an eagle at all. — [1] Ellu ‘Ælla’: Ælla briefly reigned as king of Northumbria in 867 before being killed the same year during the fall of York to the viking army (see ASC s. a.). In skaldic poetry, and later saga prose, this obscure figure comes to function as a defining ancestor for the Anglo-Saxon royal house, and the English more generally: see the kennings kind Ellu ‘the offspring of Ælla [= Englishmen]’ in Sigv Víkv 7/7, niðr Ellu ‘the descendant of Ælla [= Æthelstan]’ in Egill Aðdr 1/2V (Eg 21) and ættleifð Ellu ‘the inheritance of Ælla [= England]’ in Hallv Knútdr 3/5-6III. Sigvatr is thus framing Knútr’s conquest of England by reference to Ívarr’s earlier defeat of Ælla; see further Townend (1997) and Kries (2003). — [3] ara ‘with an eagle’: So also Skj B, taking ara to be dat. sg. here, and bak acc. sg., hence ‘had Ælla’s back cut with an eagle’. Frank (1984a) also assumes ara to be dat., though with instr. meaning, ‘by an eagle’. Kock (NN §3224) on the other hand argues that ara is acc., that bak is an endingless dat. form (cf. ANG §358.3), hence ‘had an eagle cut on Ælla’s back’, and that the prep. at qualifies bak rather than Jórvík, thus producing less disjointed syntax. — [4] Jórvík ‘York’: For the form of the p. n. in skaldic verse (derived from OE Eoforwic), see Townend (1998, 44-6).


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skj B = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1912-15b. Den norsk-islandske skjaldedigtning. B: Rettet tekst. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Villadsen & Christensen. Rpt. 1973. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger.
  3. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  4. NN = Kock, Ernst Albin. 1923-44. Notationes Norrœnæ: Anteckningar till Edda och skaldediktning. Lunds Universitets årsskrift new ser. 1. 28 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  5. ANG = Noreen, Adolf. 1923. Altnordische Grammatik I: Altisländische und altnorwegische Grammatik (Laut- und Flexionslehre) unter Berücksichtigung des Urnordischen. 4th edn. Halle: Niemeyer. 1st edn. 1884. 5th unrev. edn. 1970. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  6. ASC [Anglo-Saxon Chronicle] = Plummer, Charles and John Earle, eds. 1892-9. Two of the Saxon Chronicles Parallel. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon. Rpt. 1952.
  7. Frank, Roberta. 1984a. ‘Viking Atrocity and Skaldic Verse: The Rite of the Blood-Eagle’. English Historical Review 99, 332-43.
  8. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  9. Hb 1892-6 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1892-6. Hauksbók udgiven efter de Arnamagnæanske håndskrifter no. 371, 544 og 675, 4° samt forskellige papirshåndskrifter. Copenhagen: Det kongelige nordiske oldskrift-selskab.
  10. Townend, Matthew. 1998. English Place-Names in Skaldic Verse. English Place-Name Society extra ser. 1. Nottingham: English Place-Name Society.
  11. Townend, Matthew. 1997. ‘Ella: An Old English Name in Old Norse Poetry’. Nomina 20, 23-35.
  12. Bjarni Einarsson. 1986. ‘De Normannorum Atrocitate, or on the Execution of Royalty by the Aquiline Method’. SBVS 22, 79-82.
  13. Bjarni Einarsson. 1990. ‘The Blood-Eagle Once More: Two Notes. A. Blóðörn: An Observation on the Ornithological Aspect’. SBVS 23, 80-1.
  14. Frank, Roberta. 1988. ‘The Blood-Eagle Again’. SBVS 22, 287-9.
  15. Frank, Roberta. 1990b. ‘The Blood-Eagle Once More: Two Notes. B. Ornithology and the Interpretation of Skaldic Verse’. SBVS 23, 81-3.
  16. Kries, Susanne. 2003. ‘“Westward I Came Across the Sea”: Anglo-Scandinavian History through Scandinavian Eyes’. Leeds Studies in English new ser. 34, 47-76.
  17. McTurk, Rory. 1994. ‘Blóðörn eða blóðormr?’. In Gísli Sigurðsson et al. 1994, II, 539-41.
  18. Smyth, Alfred P. 1977. Scandinavian Kings in the British Isles 850-880. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  19. Wormald, C. P. 1982. ‘Viking Studies: Whence and Whither?’. In Farrell 1982, 128-53.
  20. Ragn 1906-8 = Olsen 1906-8, 111-222.
  21. Internal references
  22. 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Ragnars saga loðbrókar’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 616.
  23. 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Ragnars sona þáttr’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 777.
  24. Not published: do not cite (RloðVIII)
  25. Not published: do not cite (Egill Aðdr 1V (Eg 21))
  26. Matthew Townend (ed.) 2017, ‘Hallvarðr háreksblesi, Knútsdrápa 3’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 233.
  27. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 7’ in Diana Whaley (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 1: From Mythical Times to c. 1035. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 1. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 544.

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