Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Víkingarvísur — Sigv VíkvI

Sigvatr Þórðarson

Judith Jesch 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur’ 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. 532.


The fourteen complete stanzas and one helmingr of Sigvatr’s VíkingarvísurVísur about Viking Voyages’ (Sigv Víkv) present a numbered sequence of early campaigns fought by Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson (later S. Óláfr, r. c. 1015-30). These can, with varying degrees of certainty, be located in Sweden (st. 1), the Baltic (sts 2-3), Denmark (st. 4), the Netherlands (st. 5), England (sts 6-9), France (st. 10), Spain (sts 11-13), and France again (st. 14), with a return to Norway in st. 15 (c. 1015). They are preserved chiefly in Snorri Sturluson’s Óláfs saga helga in the Separate (ÓH) and Hkr (ÓHHkr) versions, jointly designated ÓH-Hkr below, where they are interwoven with extracts from Óttarr svarti’s Hǫfuðlausn (Ótt Hfl).

In ÓHHkr chs 4-5 (ÍF 27, 4-6; similarly in ÓH) Snorri Sturluson describes how the twelve year old Óláfr Haraldsson sets out on his first expedition, first to Denmark (covered in Ótt Hfl 3) and then eastwards to Sweden, where he wished to punish the Swedes for having killed his father. Chapter 6 describes Óláfr’s encounter with a viking called Sóti, at a place called Sótasker which is said to be í Svíaskerjum ‘in the Swedish skerries’ (ÍF 27, 6). Stanza 1 of Sigvatr’s poem is then introduced at the end of this chapter: Sigvatr skáld segir frá þessi orrostu í því kvæði, er hann talði orrostur Óláfs konungs ‘Sigvatr the poet mentions this battle in the poem in which he enumerated King Óláfr’s battles’ (ÍF 27, 7). In the subsequent account, Snorri uses both Óttarr’s and Sigvatr’s poems to support his narrative (ÍF 27, 7-26; ÓH 1941, I, 35-50). Johnsen (1916, 3-4; also Fidjestøl 1982, 214) notes that Sigvatr’s poem is preferable as a source because it is likely to predate Óttarr’s and to be the model for it (see Introduction to Ótt Hfl). However, Snorri seems not to have made this distinction. Where both poems refer to the same events, he tends to cite Óttarr’s first (ÓHHkr chs 13, 15, 19, 30) and only once Sigvatr’s (ch. 14). He also relates (ÍF 27, 54) that Sigvatr’s father Þórðr Sigvaldaskáld spent time with Óláfr í vestrvíking ‘on viking voyages in the west’, suggesting that the father may have been the main source for the son’s poem.

There is no medieval evidence for the name of the poem. Its usual modern title, Víkingarvísur, first used by Wisén (1886-9, 38), picks up on Snorri’s implied description of Óláfr’s youthful activities as víking (f.) ‘viking voyages’, but this word does not appear in the poem. It does, however, contain several instances of víkingr (m.) ‘viking’, which might justify a title VíkingavísurVísur about Vikings’ (used by, e.g., Ashdown 1930, 221; A. Campbell 1971, 8; Campbell 1998, 76), except for the fact that these are mostly ambiguous in their reference (Jesch 2001a, 50-1; see sts 3/6, 6/6 and 10/6 below, and Notes to sts 3/6, 6/6). As Fidjestøl (1982, 117) has pointed out, the stanzas follow a fairly standard pattern in that each of them numbers and names the location of a battle, and contrasts Óláfr’s actions at that battle with the reactions of his opponents. Although there are other examples of this type of poem (discussed and listed by Fidjestøl, 1982, 213-14), none follows such a rigorously schematic structure. Sigvatr himself refers to his activity in Víkv as enumerating battles (sts 9/5-6, 11/7; cf. Snorri’s introduction, mentioned above), and the term orrostnatal ‘enumeration of battles’ used by Fidjestøl (1982, 213) for poems of this sort might be a more appropriate designation than Víkingarvísur, which, however, is retained here because of its traditional status.

There is no difficulty in reconstructing the order of sts 1-13, which mention thirteen numbered military encounters at named places. Stanzas 14 and 15 do not, however, contain a numeral, and while st. 14’s account of incursions in France suggests that it belongs in Víkv, the status of st. 15 is more uncertain, since it does not tell of a battle and is cited some way further on from st. 14, with many stanzas from other poems by Óttarr and Sigvatr embedded in the intervening prose. Stanza 15 is thus not included in this poem by Fidjestøl (1982, 118, 171); it is retained here on the grounds that it follows fairly soon after the mention of two battles (at Jungufurða and Valdi) which seem to belong to this sequence (see below).

The surviving stanzas are all cited in ÓH-Hkr (the prose contexts in ÓH and Hkr are the same, except where otherwise noted). Stanzas 6, 8/1-4 and 9/5-8 are also cited in Fsk and ÓHLeg (though the latter attributes only st. 9/5-8 to Sigvatr). Both Fsk and ÓHLeg (or their common source) select only those stanzas in which (according to them) Óláfr is said to have fought against Danes in England, bringing this aspect out in their prose introductions (see the Contexts for sts 6, 8 and 9, and Note to st. 6 [All]).

The prose texts agree that further battles followed the thirteen commemorated in Víkv 1-13, naming Karlsá or Karlsárós (possibly Cadiz), Varrandi (in France), Jungufurða and Valdi (both seemingly in England, nominative form of Valdi unknown), but of these only Varrandi is represented in Víkv, in st. 14, which does not contain a numeral. Fsk (ÍF 29, 170) says that the battle at Valdi was the seventeenth battle, which accords with the total number of battle-locations named in Hkr (ÍF 27, 6-34); the list in ÓHLeg (1982, 62) largely tallies, though with some slippage. It is possible that Sigvatr did actually compose on the three battles not represented in the poem, but (as in st. 14) failed to include ordinal numbers higher than thirteen, perhaps because of the difficulty of accommodating these longer words to the metre. Such stanzas without numerals would then more easily have been lost in the transmission of what is otherwise a tightly-organised poem.

This organisation has clearly influenced Fsk and ÓHLeg, which number most of the battles in the prose narrative even when they do not cite the relevant stanza, although there are some discrepancies. While both Fsk and ÓHLeg occasionally echo the wording of stanzas they do not cite (noted where relevant below), these echoes are not sufficiently extensive to confirm that the authors of these texts actually had a version of the poem before them.

The main ms. chosen for this edition is Kˣ, contra Fell (1981b, 106, 109), who chose Holm2, the main ms. of ÓH, on the grounds of its age and its place in the supposed stemma of Snorri’s works. However, although Kˣ is an early modern transcript, it is an excellent copy of its exemplar K (Kringla), which is dated to c. 1258-64 and thus possibly older than Holm2 (c.1250-1300). Further, Louis-Jensen (1997, 240) suggests that the K text of ÓHHkr can in fact be incorporated into the stemma of ÓH (see ‘Sources’ in Introduction to this volume). Ms. papp18ˣ, an independent copy of K, is used in stanzas where its readings are critical. For st. 15, J and J2ˣ also belong to the Hkr redaction (see Note to st. 15 [All]). The remaining mss used are: the ÓH mss Holm2, R686ˣ, J2ˣ, 78aˣ, 68, 61, 325V, Bb, Flat and Tóm for all fifteen stanzas, plus 325VI, 321ˣ, 73aˣ, 75c and 325VII for various subsets of these; the Fsk mss FskBˣ and FskAˣ for sts 6, 8/1-4, 9/5-8, and the ÓHLeg ms. DG8 for the same.

In addition to the standard editions of the poem as a whole in Skj and Skald and of individual stanzas in editions of relevant prose works, Víkv has been edited by Christine Fell (1981b) and Jón Skaptason (1983), and their editions are cited routinely below.


  1. Bibliography
  2. Skald = Kock, Ernst Albin, ed. 1946-50. Den norsk-isländska skaldediktningen. 2 vols. Lund: Gleerup.
  3. Fell, Christine E. 1981b. ‘Víkingarvísur’. In Dronke et al. 1981, 106-22.
  4. Fidjestøl, Bjarne. 1982. Det norrøne fyrstediktet. Universitet i Bergen Nordisk institutts skriftserie 11. Øvre Ervik: Alvheim & Eide.
  5. Jesch, Judith. 2001a. Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  6. Wisén, Theodor, ed. 1886-9. Carmina Norrœnæ: Ex reliquiis vetustioris norrœnæ poësis selecta, recognita, commentariis et glossario instructa. 2 vols. Lund: Ohlsson.
  7. ÓH 1941 = Johnsen, Oscar Albert and Jón Helgason, eds. 1941. Saga Óláfs konungs hins helga: Den store saga om Olav den hellige efter pergamenthåndskrift i Kungliga biblioteket i Stockholm nr. 2 4to med varianter fra andre håndskrifter. 2 vols. Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond skrifter 53. Oslo: Dybwad.
  8. ÍF 26-8 = Heimskringla. Ed. Bjarni Aðalbjarnarson. 1941-51.
  9. Campbell, Alistair, ed. 1998. Encomium Emmae Reginae. Edition of 1949 with a supplementary introduction by Simon Keynes. Camden Classic Reprints 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ÍF 29 = Ágrip af Nóregskonunga sǫgum; Fagrskinna—Nóregs konungatal. Ed. Bjarni Einarsson. 1985.
  11. Jón Skaptason. 1983. ‘Material for an Edition and Translation of the Poems of Sigvat Þórðarson, skáld’. Ph.D. thesis. State University of New York at Stony Brook. DAI 44: 3681A.
  12. Ashdown, Margaret. 1930. English and Norse Documents Relating to the Reign of Ethelred the Unready. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  13. Johnsen, Oscar Albert. 1916. Olav Haraldssons ungdom indtil slaget ved Nesjar. Kristiania [Oslo]: Dybwad.
  14. Louis-Jensen, Jonna. 1997. ‘Heimskringla – et værk af Snorri Sturluson?’. Nordica Bergensia 14, 230-45.
  15. Internal references
  16. Kari Ellen Gade 2009, ‘Heimskringla (Hkr)’ in Kari Ellen Gade (ed.), Poetry from the Kings’ Sagas 2: From c. 1035 to c. 1300. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 2. Turnhout: Brepols [check printed volume for citation].
  17. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘The Legendary Saga of S. Óláfr / Helgisaga Óláfs konungs Haraldssonar (ÓHLeg)’ 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. clxxiii.
  18. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘The Separate Saga of S. Óláfr / Óláfs saga helga in sérstaka (ÓH)’ 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, pp. clxxvi-clxxix.
  19. Diana Whaley 2012, ‘Fagrskinna (Fsk)’ 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, pp. clix-clxi.
  20. Not published: do not cite (ÓHHkrI)
  21. Russell Poole 2012, ‘(Biography of) Óláfr inn helgi Haraldsson’ 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. 515.
  22. Matthew Townend 2017, ‘(Biography of) Óttarr svarti’ in Kari Ellen Gade and Edith Marold (eds), Poetry from Treatises on Poetics. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 3. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 335.
  23. Matthew Townend 2012, ‘(Introduction to) Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn’ 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. 739.
  24. Matthew Townend (ed.) 2012, ‘Óttarr svarti, Hǫfuðlausn 3’ 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. 745.
  25. Judith Jesch (ed.) 2012, ‘Sigvatr Þórðarson, Víkingarvísur 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. 534.
  26. Not published: do not cite ()

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