top of page

THE BERSERKIR IN EYRBYGGJA SAGA - SET AT THE TIME OF THE CONVERSION OF ICELAND

In the Eyrbyggja Saga there are many insights into the late Viking age in Iceland even though written down afterwards.  Accept as you will, but we believe many of the events recounted took place.  But that said, the setting is in the late 900’s and into the time of conversion so there is a colorization of heathenry as bad and Christianity as good.  All the action in the Saga takes place in Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which Tribe members visit often.  In the Saga two Berserkir are brought to Iceland as “enforcers: for a local Chieftain.  Eyrbyggja Saga is also a great source on heathen practices around the time of the conversion as among other details it describes a Hof dedicated to Thor at Helgafell, (holy mountain).  The are also Draugr (Norse Zombies) in the Saga, one Þórólfr bægifótr (twist-foot), who died, but who terrified the locals.  Today we focus on the Berserkir in the Saga. 

 

 

“With the Jarl (Hakon) were two brothers, Swedes of kin, one called Halli, the other Leikner; they were big men of stature and strength, nor at that time were their peers herein to be found in Norway, nor far and wide otherwhere. They wrought Berserkrgang and were not of the fashion of men when they were wroth, but went mad like dogs, and feared neither fire nor steel; but their daily wont was to be not ill to deal with, if nought was done to cross them; but they were straightway the most over reckless of men if anyone should beard them. Eric the Victorious, King of Sweden, had sent these Berserkir to the Jarl, and gave him this warning therewith, that he should treat them well, and said, as was true, that of them might be the greatest avail if folk gave heed to their moods.”

 

Eyrbyggja Saga

 

One of the Berserkr wanted to marry Stir, a local’s daughter (Asdis) and Stir is reluctant and on the advice of a plotting Christian Priest named Snorri he challenges the Berserkir to build a road through the lava field and he will grant permission for his daughter to wed.  But he has no intention of keeping that promise.


“Thou shalt break up," says Stir, "a road through the lava out to Bearhaven, and raise a boundary-wall over the lava betwixt our lands and make a burg here at the head of the lava; and when this work is done, I will give thee Asdis my daughter."


Eyrbyggja Saga

 

“Thereafter they began to make the road, and the greatest of man's-work it is; and they raised the wall whereof there are still tokens, and thereafter wrought the burg. But while they were at the work, Stir let build a hot bath at his house at Lava, and it was dug down in the ground, and there was a window over the furnace, so that it might be fed from without, and wondrous hot was that place.”

Eyrbyggja Saga

 

While the Berserkir are building the road, “Stir let build a hot bath at his house at Lava, and it was dug down in the ground, and there was a window over the furnace, so that it might be fed from without, and wondrous hot was that place.”  He also had his daughter ride past the Berserkir in her finest attire and she said not a word, but they must have followed her to the homestead. 


“Stir then went to meet them and thanked them for their work and asked them to take a bath and rest afterwards. They did so. And when they got to the bath, Stir had the bathroom covered and stones placed on the ledge that was above the hall, but he had a raw wet ox hide spread down by the entrance. Then he let the outside of the bath into a window that was over the stove. The bath was so hot that the Berserkir couldn't stand it and ran to the doors. Halli broke the lock and got up and fell on his skin. Stir gave him a mortal wound. But when Leiknir wanted to run out of the door, Styr pushed him through, and he fell into the bathroom and died there. Stir arrange for their corpses. They were brought out into the lava and thrown into a valley that is so deep in the lava that nothing can be seen except the sky above it. It is right on the road they built. Over the burial of the Berserkir, Styr recited a verse:


"Methought that the raisers of riot of spear−mote

 Would nowise and never be meek and mild−hearted,

 Or hearken the bidding of them that are hardening

 The onrush of Ali's high wind and hard weather.

 No'dread have I now of their dealings against me,

 Of the masterful bearing of the lads of the battle;

 For now I, the slayer of tarrying, truly,

 With my brand have marked out a meet place for the

 Berserkir."

 

Eyrbyggj Saga

 

Stir ends up marrying his daughter off to Snorri a local Christian Priest who helped him create the scheme to kill the Berserkir.  Perhaps and it seems likely that that was Snorri's plan all along. The site shown is a lava field area named in their honor.  The bodies of the Berserkir are said to lie somewhere in the lava field.


Photos by the Tribe of the areas that are mentioned in Eyrbggyja Saga including the Berserkir Road, Helgafell, and where a famous display of combat skill took place.

 













 

14 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page