Vikings, in a word, were incredible. They were expert sailors, warship builders and navigators of the seas before the magnetic compass was invented. They were also experts with the sword, spear, and ax as well as being superb archers. We could imagine how these mighty Vikings could’ve passed— axed on the head, burnt along with their ship, maybe held captive and tortured by the enemies. Among the Vikings, the best death was one in battle.  There once was this very mighty Viking, though, who met his end in a way far less mighty than his name.

Sigurd Eysteinsson

Popularly known as Sigurd the Mighty, he was the Second Earl of Orkney, who reigned between circa 875–892. The beginning of his death saga started when his brother, Rognvald Eysteinsson of Møre or known in modern Norwegian as Ragnvald Mørejarl, helped King Harald in the weeding out of rogue pirate Vikings and invading the islands of Shetland, Orkney, and Hebrides. Rognvald’s son named Ivar, got killed during one of their conquests. To show that his sorrow on the loss of Rignvald’s son while in his service(and to head off any bad blood), the king granted Orkney and Shetland islands for Rognvald to rule over, along with the title “Jarl” or “Earl.”

Ragnvald Eysteinsson, Earl of More. Photo from Geni

Rognvald wasn’t interested, so he transferred the title and the islands to his brother Sigurd Eysteinsson’s leadership with the king’s permission.

His Rise to Power

We must say Sigurd was lucky to have received the islands from his brother, and it seemed that he was really into his new role. So, together with Thorstein the Red, they expanded their territories and conquered northern Scotland and some other nearby counties. Because of his fierceness, he was called the “ríki,” meaning “The Mighty.”

The Downfall

Everything was going well as far as Sigurd the Mighty’s conquests until he decided to challenge Máel Brigte of Moray, a Pictish nobleman known as Máel Brigte the Bucktoothed.

The deal: honorable combat of 40-men battle from each side for the entire kingdom of Mory.

It was pretty straightforward. However, Sigurd was suspicious and thought Máel Brigte would cheat, so he decided he would place two men on each of his 40 horses, making his warriors 80-men strong. Máel Brigte, on the other hand, fought honorably and brought 40 of his men as agreed. Máel Brigte’s army was outnumbered and immediately overpowered and fell. What a surprise.

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Afshin Taylor Darian/Flickr

Sigurd instructed his men to decapitate his enemies’ corpses and strap the heads to their horses to celebrate. Of course, he strapped the fallen Máel Brigte’s head to his horse. Remember the “the Bucktoothed”? Apparently, Sigurd didn’t. So when he started riding his merry way back to his kingdom, he failed to notice that Máel Brigte’s teeth were scratching his leg on every bump on the road. The teeth ended up wounding his leg, which doesn’t sound so bad. In several days, his wound flared up and looked infected. It worsened and worsened until Sigurd could not walk, and in the end, he died from it. Probably from blood poisoning. Not exactly a glorious death in battle is it?

Máel Brigte, on the other hand, entered Valhalla with a full smile on his face (assumably).