Sigurd the Crusader: A Few Stories
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HERE are some stories from the Norse saga of Sigurd the Crusader who marauded and sacked Denmark and parts of what is now Sweden. He made a journey to Jerusalem and captured cities, among them Sidon, and received presents from king Baldwin of Jerusalem, went to Constantinople, returned to Norway, and ruled for his remaining years.
He and his two brothers became kings of Norway together, in AD 1103. Sigurd died in 1130 as the last remaining of them. After his death a power struggle broke loose. It escalated into a lengthy and devastating civil war which lasted for 110 years - from 1130 till 1240.
Adventurous Sigurd prepares for his expedition
KING SIGURD was chosen king when he was thirteen or fourteen years old. At that time some Northmen had been to Jerusalem, some to Constantinople and had made themselves renowned, and they had many kinds of novelties to talk about. Tidings incited many adventurous men in Norway. It was told that Northmen who liked to go into the military service at Constantinople, could find many opportunities of getting property.
Such adventurous fellows much desired that Sigurd, should go as commander of the troop which was preparing for this expedition. When all was ready for the journey it was determined that Sigurd should go, and his brother Eystein in the meantime should rule the kingdom on their joint account. (1)
KING SIGURD sailed with his people from Norway. He had then sixty ships. He sailed in autumn to England, where Henry, son of William the Bastard, was then king, and Sigurd remained with him all winter. (3)
IN SPRING King Sigurd and his fleet sailed westward to Valland (AD 1108), and in autumn came to Galicia, where he stayed the second winter (AD 1109). So says Einar Skulason:
The earl who ruled over the land made an agreement with King Sigurd that he should provide King Sigurd and his men a market at which they could purchase victuals all the winter; but this he did not fulfil longer than to about Yule. when the promised supplies stopped. King Sigurd now went with a great body of men went against a castle which belonged to the earl; and the earl fled from it, having but few people.
King Sigurd took a great deal of victuals and other booty. He put the boody on board of his ships, and then proceeded westward to Spain. It so fell out, as the king was sailing past Spain, that some vikings who were cruising for plunder met him with a fleet of galleys, and King Sigurd attacked them. This was his first battle with heathens; and he won it.
After that King Sigurd sailed against a castle called Sintre and fought another battle. This Spanish castle was occupied by many heathens. King Sigurd took the castle, and killed every man in it: they refused to be baptised. He got an immense booty. (4)
AFTER THIS Sigurd sailed to Lisbon, which is a great city in Spain, half Christian and half heathen. There King Sigurd had his third battle with the heathens, and gained the victory, and with it a great booty.
"He and his Norsemen boldly land,
Then King Sigurd sailed westwards along heathen Spain, and brought up at a town called Alkasse and had his fourth battle with the heathens. He took the tow, and killed so many people that the town was left empty. They got immense booty. (5)
"I heard that through the town he went,
KING SIGURD came to Norfasund (Gibraltar); and in the sound he was met by a large viking force. He gave them battle; and this was his fifth engagement with heathens. He gained the victory as usual. King Sigurd then sailed eastward along the coast of Serkland, and came to an island there called Forminterra. There a great many heathen Moors had taken up their dwelling in a cave, and had built a strong stone wall before its mouth.
They harried the country all round, and carried all their booty to their cave. King Sigurd landed on this island. The heathens defended their cave well, and were not afraid of the Northmen's arms; for they could throw stones, or shoot down on the Northmen under their feet.
The heathens took their clothes and other valuable things, carried them out on the wall, spread them out and upbraided the Norsemen as cowards. Then Sigurd had an idea. He had two ship's boats drawn up the precipice right above the mouth of the cave; and had thick ropes fastened around the stem, stern, and hull of each. In these boats went as many men as could find room. Then the boats were lowered by the ropes down in front of the mouth of the cave. Now the men in the boats shot with stones and missiles into the cave, and the heathens were driven from the stone wall.
Then Sigurd with his troops climbed up the precipice to the foot of the stone wall. The managed to break it down so that they came into the cave. The heathens fled within the stone wall that was built across the cave, but the king ordered large trees to be brought to the cave, made a great pile in the mouth of it, and set fire to the wood. When the fire and smoke got the upper hand, some of the heathens lost their lives in it; some fled; some fell by the hands of the Northmen; and part were killed, part burned. The Northmen made the greatest booty they had got on all their expeditions.
"'It was a feat of renown,
AFTERWARDS King Sigurd sailed on. He came to an island called Iviza or Ibiza, and had there his seventh battle, and gained a victory.
Next King Sigurd came to the island Minorca, and held there his eighth battle with heathen men, and gained the victory. (7)
IN SPRING King Sigurd came to Sicily (AD 1109), which by then had been taken over by Normans, and he remained a long time there. Normans were descendants of the vikings that settled in Normandy. Duke Roger in Sicily received the king kindly, and invited him to a feast. King Sigurd came to it with a great retinue, and was splendidly entertained.
Every day Duke Roger stood at the company's table, doing service to the king. The duke was much skilled in polite manners. The seventh day of the feast, when the people had come to table and had wiped their hands, King Sigurd took the duke by the hand, led him up to the high-seat, and saluted him with the title of king; and gave the right that there should be always a king over the dominion of Sicily, although before there had only been earls or dukes over that country. (8)
KING ROGER of Sicily won and subdued all Apulia and many large islands besides in the Greek sea; and therefore he was called Roger the Great. His son was William, king of Sicily, who for a long time had great hostility with the emperor of Constantinople. King William had three daughters, but no son. One of his daughters he married to the Emperor Henry, a son of the Emperor Frederik; and their son was Frederik, who for a short time after was emperor of Rome. His second daughter was married to the Duke of Kipr. The third daughter, Margaret, was married to the chief of the corsairs; but the Emperor Henry killed both these brothers-in-law. The daughter of Roger the Great was married to the Emperor Manuel of Constantinople; and their son was the Emperor Kirjalax. (9)
Jerusalem had been captured in an orgy of bloodshed in AD 1099.
IN THE SUMMER (AD 1110) King Sigurd sailed across the Greek sea to Palestine, and went up to Jerusalem, where he met Baldwin, king of Palestine. King Baldwin received him particularly well, and rode with him all the way to the river Jordan, and then back to the city of Jerusalem. Einar Skulason speaks:
"To Jerusalem he came."
King Sigurd stayed a long time in the land of Jerusalem (Jorsalaland) in autumn, and in the beginning of winter. (10)
KING BALDWIN made a great feast for King Sigurd and many of his people. There was taken a splinter off the holy cross; and on this holy relic both swore that this wood was of the holy cross on which God Himself had been tortured. The relic was given to King Sigurd; he and twelve other men with him should swear to promote Christianity with all his power, and erect an archbishop's seat in Norway if he could.
Also, the cross should be kept where the holy King Olav reposed, and that he should introduce tithes, and also pay them himself. After this King Sigurd returned to his ships at Acre; and then King Baldwin prepared to go to Syria, to a heathen town called Saet. On this expedition King Sigurd accompanied him, and after the kings had besieged the town some time it surrendered, and they took possession of it, and of a great treasure of money; and their men found other booty.
After that, King Sigurd went to his ships and made ready to leave Palestine. They sailed north to the island Cyprus. King Sigurd stayed there a while and then went to Greek country. He came to the land with all his fleet at Engilsnes. (11)
WHEN KING Sigurd sailed into Constantinople, he steered near the land. The Norsemens' sails stood so close beside each other, that they seemed to form one enclosure. All the people turned out to see King Sigurd sailing past. The Emperor Kirjalax [of Norman descent] had also heard of King Sigurd's expedition, and ordered the city port of Constantinople to be opened. The city port was called the Gold Tower. The emperor rode through it when he had been long absent from Constantinople, or has made a campaign in which he has been victorious.
The emperor had precious cloths spread out from the Gold Tower to Laktjarna, the emperor's most splendid hall. King Sigurd ordered his men to ride in great state into the city, and not to regard all the new things they might see. King Sigurd and his followers rode with this great splendour into Constantinople. They came to the magnificent hall, where everything was in the grandest style.
King Sigurd remained here some time. The Emperor sent his men to him to ask if he would rather accept six lispund of gold, or would have the emperor give some games in his honour. King Sigurd preferred the games. Then the emperor prepared for the games. (12)
ONE DAY King Sigurd was to give the emperor a feast. He ordered his men to provide sumptuously all that was necessary for the entertainment. When all suitable things were provided, King Sigurd ordered his men to go to the street in the city where firewood was sold. They would need a great amount to prepare the feast, but obtaining it was stealthily undermined by the queen, without their knowing.
Then said Sigurd: "Try if you can get walnuts for fuel."
The men went and got as many as they needed.
During the banquet, the queen and the emperor found that nothing was wanting. She sent some persons to inquire; and they came to a house filled with walnuts, and later told the queen.
"Oh-oh," she said, "He spares no expense where his honour is concerned." (13)
On the way home
KING SIGURD soon after prepared for his return home. The valuable figureheads which were on the king's ships were set up in Peter's church, where they have since been to be seen. Then King Sigurd left Constantinople; but a great many Northmen remained and went into the emperor's pay.
King Sigurd travelled from Bulgaria, and through Hungary, Pannonia. Suabia, and Bavaria, where he met the Roman emperor, Lotharius. He was received in the most friendly way.
When King Sigurd came to Slesvik in Denmark, Earl Eilif made a sumptuous feast for him. In Heidaby the Danish king Nikolas made a great entertainment for him, accompanied him north to Jutland, and gave him a ship provided with everything needful.
Back in Norway king Sigurd was joyfully welcomed (AD 1110). He was already twenty years old, and had been three years on these travels. (14)
ON SIGURD'S return he found that in his absence the reigning brother, King Eystein, had sent a verbal message to the most intelligent and powerful of the men of Jamtaland. By certain speeches the king had brought matters so far that the Jamtaland people of their own accord offered to be subject to him as useful and necessary for them; and thus it was agreed that the Jamtalanders should put their whole country under King Eystein. (16)
ONCE King Sigurd fell into low spirits, so that few could get him to converse.
His kingly brother: "Have you dreamt anything that has occasioned this?"
"I should say so," said the other king.
"Then tell me your dream," said King Eystein.
"Well, you and I and our younger brother Olaf were all sitting on a bench in front of Christ church in Trondheim. There and then our long gone relative, King Olav the Saint, came out of the church. He was adorned with the royal raiment, glancing and splendid. He went to brother Olav, took him by the hand and said cheerfully to him, "Come with me, friend." They went inside.
Soon after St. Olav came out of the church once more, but not so gay and brilliant as before. Now he went to you, brother, and told you to go with him. You and he went into the church together.
Then I thought, and waited for it, that he would come to me and meet me next. But it never happened. I was seized with great dread and anxiety, and sad in mind I awoke."
Eystein replied, "Brother, I interpret your dream in this way: I foretell that you will be the oldest of us, and will rule the kingdom longest."
THE THIRD brother king, Olaf Magnuson died first, seventeen years old, and was buried in Christ church in Nidaros. After Olav's death, Eystein and Sigurd ruled the country. (23)
Six years after Olav's death, Eystein was seized with an illness which soon carried him off. He died in 1123 (27) - the handsomest man that could be seen. He had blue open eyes. He was wise, intelligent, and acquainted with the laws and history. Quick in counsel he was prudent in words, and very eloquent, very merry, liked and beloved by all the people. (17)
After his death Sigurd was the sole king of Norway as long as he lived. (27) How was Sigurd? For one, he was a stout and strong man, with brown hair. (19)
At a feast somewhere a bath was made ready for King Sigurd. When he came to the bath the king thought there was a fish in the tub beside him. Great laughter came on him. He was beside himself, out of his mind. Often afterwards these fits returned. (26)
King Sigurd ruled over Norway for twenty-seven years (AD 1104-1130), and died at forty. The time of his reign was good for the country. (42)
THE DANISH king Nikolas sent a message to King Sigurd the Crusader and asked him if he would go with him with to the east of the Swedish dominion, Smaland, to baptise the inhabitants. At that time there were many people all around in the Swedish dominions who were heathens, and many were bad Christians and continued heathen sacrifices.
King Sigurd promised to undertake this journey. He soon assembled about 300 ships in Norway and sailed off. But as ill luck would have it, the Danish army did not meet them at a certain meeting-place as was to be expected. King Sigurd was mightily displeased, and the Northmen determined to go marauding in the country of Nikolas. They first plundered a village called Tumathorp, which is not far from the university town Lund; and then sailed east to the merchant-town of Calmar, where they plundered, as well as in Smaland, and imposed on the country a tribute of 1500 cattle for ship provision; and the people of Smaland received Christianity.
King Sigurd came back to his kingdom with many valuable articles and great booty, the Calmar levy. (28)
LONG AGO, two brother kings of Norway chose to debate among themselves. King Eystein opened up: "Brother Sigurd, all people are well pleased when we talk cheerfully."
Sigurd replied bluntly, "Talk as much as you please, but allow me to be silent."
Eystein said a little later, "I recall you were not so good at games that need agility."
Sigurd: "I think it is a more useful and suitable accomplishment for a chief to be expert at his bow. And better for a chief who is to be the superior of other men, that he's conspicuous in a crowd. It may be that you know more law-quirks, for I have had something else to do. None will deny you a smooth tongue. For you talk just according to what those who are about you say, and that is not kingly.
The expedition that I made out of the country was a princely expedition."
Eystein: "Now you touched the tender spot."
Sigurd: "On this expedition I was in many a battle in the Saracen's land, and won in all. I went all the way to Jordan and swam across the river. Right there I twisted a knot of willows. This knot you should untie, brother, or take the curse attached to it."
Now both were silent, and there was anger on both sides. Each of them would be greater than the other as long as they lived. (25)
ONCE King Sigurd sat at table with many people one Whitsunday. Many there were his friends. He looked very wild, and people were afraid of what might follow. The king rolled his eyes, and then he seized the holy book which he had brought with him from abroad, written all over with gilded letters it was. There had never been such a costly book in Norway before. His queen sat by his side.
Then said King Sigurd, "The changes that may take place during a man's lifetime are many. When I came from abroad I had two things dear to me above all: this book and the queen. Ah, but now I think the one is only worse and more loathsome than the other. Nothing that belongs to me I detest more. The queen does not know how hideous she is. The better I liked her before, the worse I like her now."
Then he cast the book on the fire that was burning on the hall-floor, and gave the queen a blow with his fist between the eyes.
At this insult a man stood up, one of the torch-bearers on service that day. Ottar was his name. He was small but agreeable. He snatched the book away from the open fire, held it out, and said,
"The days when you came with great fame, wonder and honour were different. All your friends came to meet you with joy, glad at your coming. Now days of sorrow are come over us; friends cannot be cheerful since you're down like this. First make peace with the queen with a friendly word; and then with all your chiefs again; that is my advice."
Then said Sigurd, "Do you dare to give me advice, great lump of a houseman's lad?" He sprang up, drew his sword, and swung it with both hands. But Ottar hardly moved and showed no sign of fear. And so the king sat down in silence without harming him the least bit. All were silent, nobody dared to say a word.
Now the king looked around him and said, "It is hard to know what is inside people. Here sat my friends and marshals, the best men in the land; but none did so well against me as this man. To you he seems to be of little worth compared to yourselves. But he loves me most.
I came here like a madman, and would have destroyed my precious property; he was not afraid of death for it. He made an able speech, so excellent was it, that no man here, however great his understanding, could have spoken better.
I sprang up in a feigned rage as if I would have cut him down; but he was courageous - he was altogether innocent.
Know I am going to reward him; he shall now be my lenderman; and still more shall follow." To Ottar: "Go and be a servant no longer."
Ottar became one of the most celebrated men in Norway for various good and praiseworthy deeds. (30)
Nok: Hødnebø, Finn & Magerøy, Hallvard eds: Norges kongesagaer. Vols 1-4. Gyldendal. Oslo, 1979.
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