Sigurd the Mighty
Sigurd Eysteinsson, alias the Mighty, (c.875-92) was the second Earl of Orkney. He was a Viking warrior instrumental in the Viking conquest of northern Scotland in the late ninth century. At this time, Harald Fairhair, the king of Norway, had grown tired of exiled Vikings who wintered on Orkney and Shetland (islands north of Scotland) and plundered Norway in the summer. He thus travelled west from Norway to subdue the islands, conquering other lands along the way for good measure. He granted the earldom of Orkney to his right-hand man, Rognvald Eysteinsson, in compensation for his son’s death in battle.
Rognvald didn’t fancy the title, and so passed it to his brother, Sigurd, who had served as forecastleman on Harald Fairhair’s ship. In the words of the Orkneyinga saga, ‘Earl Sigurd made himself a mighty chief… [and] won all Caithness and much else of Scotland, Moray, and Ross’. These deeds won him great acclaim and the epithet ‘Sigurd the Mighty’ (riki in Old Norse). He was understandably less popular in Scotland, and thus a feud developed between Sigurd and Máel Brigte the Bucktoothed, a Scottish nobleman. The two agreed to fight a forty-man-a-side battle to settle their differences.
Orkneyinga saga takes up the tale. ‘there was a hard battle, and not long ere Máel Brigte fell and his followers, and Sigurd caused the heads to be fastened to his horses’ cruppers as a glory for himself’. This turned out to be a moment of hubris, however. ‘Then Sigurd wished to spur the horse with his foot, and he struck his calf against the tooth which stuck out of Melbricta’s head and grazed it; and in that wound sprung up pain and swelling, and that led him to his death.’ He wasn’t called Máel Brigte the Bucktoothed for nothing.