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Sigvatr Þórðarson (Sigv)

11th century; volume 1; ed. Judith Jesch;

10. Knútsdrápa (Knútdr) - 11

Sigvatr or Sighvatr Þórðarson (Sigv) is said (ÍF 27, 54) to have been the son of Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld ‘Poet of Sigvaldi’, an Icelander who served, in succession, Sigvaldi jarl Strút-Haraldsson, leader of the Jómsvíkingar, his brother Þorkell inn hávi ‘the Tall’, who campaigned in England, and Óláfr Haraldsson, later king of Norway (r. c. 1015-30) and saint. Þórðr is listed as one of Sigvaldi’s skalds in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 259, 268), but none of his poetry survives. The family tradition of poetry can also be traced in Óttarr svarti ‘the Black’, said to have been Sigvatr’s sister’s son (ÍF 27, 144; ÓH 1941, I, 203). Sigvatr was brought up by a certain Þorkell, at Apavatn in south-west Iceland. When nearly fully grown he sailed to what is now Trondheim, where he met up with his father and joined King Óláfr’s retinue. According to Snorri (ÍF 27, 54-6; ÓH 1941, I, 81-3), Sigvatr recited Lv 2-3 at this time, and he interceded with the king on behalf of Icelandic merchants forced to pay a heavy tax in Norway (cf. Sigv Lv 4). It is also likely that this is when Þórðr provided Sigvatr with the material for Víkv (see Introduction to Sigv Víkv), which may be the poem referred to in the prose introduction to Sigv Lv 2 (Fidjestøl 1982, 118). There is no evidence that Sigvatr ever returned to Iceland, and according to the anecdote in which Sigv Lv 11 is preserved, he died on the island of Selja in north-western Norway and was buried at Kristskirkja (Kristkirken) in Trondheim. His poetry records his various journeys to Sweden, England and the Continent, as well as incidents in Norway. We know nothing of Sigvatr’s private life, except that he had a daughter called Tófa, who had King Óláfr himself as her godfather (Sigv Lv 19).

Sigvatr’s surviving poetic oeuvre is both large and remarkably diverse, encompassing different kinds of encomia not only on King Óláfr (Sigv Víkv, Sigv Nesv, Sigv Óldr, Sigv ErfÓl), but also on King Knútr of Denmark (Sigv Knútdr) and the Norwegian nobleman Erlingr Skjálgsson (Sigv Erl, Sigv Erlfl). Sigvatr was godfather to King Magnús inn góði ‘the Good’ Óláfsson and composed some avuncular words of advice to the boy-king (Sigv BervII). All of these patrons are recognised in Skáldatal (SnE 1848-87, III, 252-4, 258, 260-2, 269), where Sigvatr is also credited with having composed for the Swedish king Ǫnundr Óláfsson (although no such poetry survives, cf. Sigv Knútdr 4/6) and the Norwegian chieftain Ívarr inn hvíti ‘the White’ (cf. Context to Sigv Lv 8). Sigvatr also composed a poem on the Norwegian pretender Tryggvi Óláfsson (Sigv Tryggfl) and is unique in having composed in dróttkvætt in praise of a woman, Óláfr Haraldsson’s widow Ástríðr Óláfsdóttir (Sigv Ást). Several of Sigvatr’s poems are more or less loosely connected sequences of stanzas rather than more formal compositions, and encompass both travelogue (Sigv Austv) and political commentary (Sigv Vestv, Sigv BervII). The latter genre is also well represented in his lausavísur, which also include some remarkably personal stanzas expressing his grief at the death of King Óláfr (Sigv Lv 22-4). Sigvatr’s status as a hǫfuðskáld ‘chief skald’ was recognised in the twelfth century (cf. Esk Geisl 12/8VII). His versatility as a poet has clearly inspired a number of anecdotes focusing on the composition of poetry, mostly of doubtful authenticity (cf. Contexts to Sigv Lv 1, 8, 11, 27; also Introduction to Ótt Hfl). Apart from two fragments preserved in SnE (Sigv Frag 1-2III), Sigvatr’s poetry is transmitted in a wide range of texts within the tradition of the kings’ sagas and is therefore edited in this volume or (in the case of the late Sigv Berv) in SkP II. For general studies of Sigvatr’s life and works, see Paasche (1917), Hollander (1940) and Petersen (1946).

Knútsdrápa (‘Drápa about Knútr’’) — Sigv KnútdrI

Matthew Townend 2012, ‘ Sigvatr Þórðarson, Knútsdrápa’ 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. 649. <> (accessed 7 July 2022)

stanzas:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11 

Skj: Sigvatr Þórðarson: 10. Knútsdrápa, o. 1038 (AI, 248-51, BI, 232-4)

SkP info: I, 651

old edition introduction edition manuscripts transcriptions concordance search files

1 — Sigv Knútdr 1I

edition interactive full text transcriptions old edition references concordance


Cite as: 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.

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


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


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: 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). — 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. — 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.

texts: Hb 1, RagnSon

editions: Skj Sigvatr Þórðarson: 10. Knútsdrápa 1 (AI, 248; BI, 232); Skald I, 120, NN §3224; Hb 1892-6, 464, FSGJ I, 298 (RagnSon); Ragn 1906-8, 193.


AM 544 4° (Hb) 106v, 8 - 106v, 9 (Hb)  transcr.  image  image  
AM 147 4° (147) 111r - 111r (Ragn)  image  image  
Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated