Styrbjörn the Strong

Styrbjörn the Strong

between Styrbjörn and king Eric the Victorious.

It is believed that there once was a larger saga on Styrbjörn, but most of what is extant is found in the short story "Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa". Parts of his story are also retold in "Eyrbyggja saga", "Gesta Danorum" (book 10), "Knýtlinga saga" and in "Hervarar saga". He is moreover mentioned in the "Heimskringla" (several times), and in "Yngvars saga víðförla" where Ingvar the Far-Travelled is compared to his kinsman Styrbjörn. He is also mentioned by Oddr Snorrason in "Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar" (c. 1190), where Oddr writes that Styrbjörn was defeated with magic. In modern days, he is also the hero of a novel called "Styrbiorn the Strong" by the English author Eric Rücker Eddison (1926), and he figures in "The Long Ships", by Frans G Bengtsson.

Contemporary poetry

The extant poetry on Styrbjörn is found in "Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa", where the following stanza mentions Styrbjörn. Skaldic poems are generally held to be contemporary documentation:

:Eigi vildu Jótar:reiða gjald til skeiða,:áðr Styrbjarnar stœði:Strandar dýr á landi ;:nú's Danmarkar dróttinn:í drengja lið genginn ;:landa vanr ok lýða:lifir ánauðr hann auðar. []

His battle against king Eric was also described by the contemporary Þórvaldr Hjaltason, in the following lausavísur:

"Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa"

Styrbjörn was unusually big, strong and unruly (for a Viking) and although he was only a little boy he managed to kill a courtier who accidentally had hit him on the nose with a drinking horn.

When he was 12 years old he asked his uncle for his birthright, but when he was denied the co-rulership of Sweden he sulked for a long time on his father's mound.

When he was 16 the Ting decided that he was too unruly to be king of Sweden. As a compensation his uncle Eric gave him 60 well-equipped longships whereupon the frustrated Styrbjörn took his sister Gyrid and left.

He ravaged the shores of the Baltic Sea and when he was twenty, he conquered the stronghold of Jomsborg from its founder Palnetoke, and became the ruler of the Jomsvikings.

After some time he allied with the Danish king Harold Bluetooth and married his sister Gyrid to him. Styrbjörn married Harold's daughter Tyra, whom he was given by Harold for conquering Jomsborg. (Styrbjörn had the son Torkel Styrbjörnsson with Tyra. Torkel had a daughter named Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, who married Godwin, Earl of Wessex and became the mother of Harold II of England).

Harold gave him even more warriors and now Styrbjörn was about to reclaim the throne of Sweden. He sailed with a huge force which included 200 Danish longships in addition to his own Jomsvikings. When they arrived at "Föret" (Old Norse: "Fyris") in Uppland he burnt the ships in order to force his men to fight to the end. The Danish force changed its mind and returned to Denmark.

Styrbjörn marched alone with his Jomsvikings to Gamla Uppsala. His uncle was, however, prepared and had sent for reinforcements in all directions.

During the first two days, the battle was even. In the evening, Eric went to the statue of Odin at the Temple at Uppsala where he sacrificed. He promised Odin that if he won the battle, he would belong to Odin and arrive at Valhalla in ten years from then.

The third day, Eric threw his spear over the enemy and said "I sacrifice you all to Odin". Styrbjörn and his sworn men stayed, and died.

"Eyrbyggja saga"

The "Eyrbyggja saga" has a short summary of Styrbjörn's career in connection with one of its protagonits:

"Hervarar saga"

The "Hervarar saga" gives an even shorter summary of Styrbjörn and his battle with his uncle Eric:

"Knýtlinga saga"

The "Knýtlinga saga" tells that Styrbjörn was the son of the Swedish king Olaf. When Harald Bluetooth ruled in Denmark, Styrbjörn was making war in the east ("í hernaði í Austrveg") and came to Denmark where he took Harald captive. Harald gave his daughter Tyra to Styrbjörn and joined him on his expedition to Sweden. When Styrbjörn had arrived, he set his own ships on fire, but when Harald saw that Styrbjörn no longer had any ships he sailed back out on Mälaren ("Löginn") and back to Denmark. Styrbjörn fought his uncle Eric on the Fyrisvellir and he fell together with most of his men. Some of his men fled and this the Swedes called the "Fyriselta", the chase of the Fyris.

"Gesta Danorum"

A more pro-Danish version is told in "Gesta Danorum" (book 10). In this source the Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus tells that Styrbjörn was the son of the Swedish king Björn. Styrbjörn had an uncle named Olaf whose son Eric had taken the Swedish kingdom from Styrbjörn. Styrbjörn went to Harald Bluetooth bringing his sister Gyrithe with him, and humbly asked Harald for help. Harald decided to be friends with Styrbjörn and married his sister Gyrithe. Harald then conquered the land of the Slavs and took the stronghold Julin (Jomsborg), which he gave to Styrbjörn to command with a strong force. Styrbjörn and his force (the Jomsvikings) dominated the seas winning many victories, and they were more beneficial to Danmark than any force on land would have been. Among the warriors were Bue, Ulf, Karlsevne and Sigvald.

Styrbjörn wanted revenge and asked Harald for help to take the throne of Sweden. Harald wanted to help Styrbjörn and to this end he sailed to Halland, but was informed that the German emperor Otto had attacked Jutland and Harald was more eager to defend his own country than to attack another one. When Harald had driven away the Germans, Styrbjörn had already rashly departed to Sweden with his own force where he fell.

Archaeological evidence

Runestones are counted as historic documents about the events of the Viking Age in Scandinavia. The following four runestones may mention Jomsvikings who died with Styrbjörn the Strong. Note that the first runestone mentions a warleader named Toki Gormsson and he may be a son of the Danish king Gorm the Old, an interpretation which fits the fact that Styrbjörn was allied with another son of Gorm, Harald Bluetooth.

*One of the Hällestad Runestones labelled DR 295 in Skåne says: "Áskell placed this stone in memory of Tóki Gormr's son, to him a faithful lord. He did not flee at Uppsala. Valiant men placed in memory of their brother the stone on the hill, steadied by runes. They went closest to Gormr's Tóki."
*The Sjörup Runestone, Skåne, relates: "Saxi placed this stone in memory of Ásbjörn Tófi's/Tóki's son, his partner. He did not flee at Uppsala, but slaughtered as long as he had a weapon".
*On the Högby Runestone, it says "The good freeman Gulli had five sons. The brave champion Asmund fell on the Fyris."
*The Karlevi Runestone was raised by Danish warriors in memory of the war chief on the island of Öland near the waterway which was passed by the Jomsvikings when they went to Uppsala and back. The stone is contemporary with the battle mentioned on the previous runestones and it is consequently possible that the stone was raised by Jomsvikings in memory of their lord. [The article " [ Karlevistenen] " in "Nordisk familjebok" (1910).]



*Henrikson, Alf: "Stora mytologiska uppslagsboken".
* [ Jómsvíkíngasaga ok Knytlínga] 1828 edition
*"Nordisk familjebok"
* [ A chapter in Swedish from Verner von Heidenstam's "Svenskarna och deras hövdingar" where he recounts the tale of Styrbjörn]
* [ "Philology and Fantasy before Tolkien", by Andrew Wawn (this scholar only knows of two sources for Styrbjörn)]
* [ "Cultural Paternity in the Flateyjarbók Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar" by Elizabeth Ashman Rowe (this scholar has got Eric's agreement with Odin slightly wrong. Eric did not promise 10 years to Odin, he promised to belong to Odin after 10 years)]

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