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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

1. 37. Sigvatr Þórðarson, 1. Víkingarvísur, 6 [Vol. 1, 541]

[4] bryggjur Lundúna ‘the wharves of London’: Or possibly ‘bridge’. The prose of Hkr clearly understands Lundúna bryggjur to be a bridge, while ÓHLeg seems to imagine them as jetties. The only other skaldic instance of bryggja (also in the pl.) is Ótt Hfl 8/2, referring to the same event and probably derivative of Sigvatr. The reference is usually assumed to be to London Bridge (e.g. Townend 1998, 73), and portrayal of an attack on the bridge would seem likely – both strategic and memorable. However, this sense is only possible with semantic influence from the OE cognate brycg ‘bridge’, since ON bryggja normally means ‘quay, landing-stage, wharf’ (ONP). Only one bridge in London is known from the period, and archaeological research shows that it was built between 990 and 1020 AD (Watson et al. 2001, 57, 73). Fell (1981b) explains the pl. form as ‘used for the singular’, citing Hofmann’s suggestion (1955, 82) that the pl. form is used to distinguish the ‘bridge’ meaning from the normal meaning. However, this explanation of the pl. is not wholly satisfactory and the normal meaning of ON bryggja ‘quay, wharf, jetty’ would be compatible with the extensive development of the Thames foreshore known to have taken place in the late C10th and C11th (Milne 1992, 7, 24-6, 37, 42, 46; Milne 2003, 43-7, 57-62); the structures found at New Fresh Wharf (Steedman et al. 1992, 99-103, also cover illustration) could appropriately be described as bryggjur.


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