Also known as Sigurd Eysteinsson or Sigurd the Mighty
Earl of Orkney c872-c891
Born? Died c891
Sigurd the Powerful was the son of Eystein Glumra and according to the Orkneyinga Saga accompanied the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair on his expedition to the Scottish Isles around the years 871/872. According to the saga the island groups of Orkney and Shetland 1 were being used as a base for raids against Norway by some Viking pirates and Harald was determined to bring these raids to and end and place the islands under his control.
Harald's mission was successful and he conquered both Orkney and Shetland which he then granted Rognvald the Jarl of More in compensation for the loss of his son. 2 Since Rognvald had no desire to remain in Britain he passed the honour on to (his brother) Sigurd Eysteinsson who thereby became the first Viking Jarl or Earl of Orkney.
Sigurd then formed an alliance with Thorstein the Red3, a fellow Viking warrior chief who had established himself in the Hebrides and according to the Eiriks Saga Rauda or the 'Saga of Eirik the Red';
they conquered Caithness and Sutherland, Ross and Moray, and more than half Scotland.
The Orkneyinga Saga then goes on to tell us that whilst Sigurd was in Moray a feud developed between Sigurd and a local warlord named 'Melbrikta Tonn' or Maelbrigte Tusk (because he had a protruding tooth). They decided to settle their differences in battle and agreed to meet at an appointed place with forty men each. Sigurd however, decided that he would take eighty warriors, with two mounted on each horse, in order to give himself a better chance of winning.
Inevitably the Vikings triumphed in the ensuing battle and Maelbrigte and all his men were killed. Sigurd naturally celebrated his victory by decapitating the enemy dead and taking their heads home as trophies. This was to be Sigurd's undoing, since having tied Maelbrigte’s head to his saddle, his leg was scratched by Maelbrigte’s protruding tooth. The scratch subsequently became infected and Sigurd contracted blood-poisoning from which he died soon afterwards.
He was buried at Ekkjalsbakki, the banks of the river Oykell in modern Scotland, somewhere in the district known as Cyderhall, which is believed to be a corruption of the Old Norse words meaning "Sigurd’s Howe", possiblly in the great barrow located there overlooking the Dornoch Firth.
Little else is known about Sigurd, but he was clearly established the foundations of Viking power in northern Scotland; the earldom in Orkney was to continue as an autonomous almost-kingdom for the next two and a half centuries.
After his death he was succeeded by his son Guthorm 4.
1 It is believed that Vikings originally came to Orkney sometime in the very early ninth century.
2 Harald Fairhair subsequently moved on to the Hebrides and the Isle of Man.
3 Thorstein the Red was the son of Olafr the White king of Dublin, and afterwards made himself king in Scotland "till the Scots betrayed him and he fell there in battle".
4 Guthorm Sigurdsson ruled the the earldom for just over a year before he too died and Rognvald of More sent his son Hallad over from Norway to take control of the earldom.
Ann Williams, Alfred P. Smyth and D. P. Kirby A Biographical Dictionary of Dark Age Britain (Seaby, 1991)
The Norse Earls of Orkney at http://www.geocities.com/danrenuk/norse.htm
Thomas Manson The Vikings in Orkney at http://viking.no/e/orkney/
Earl Sigurd the Powerful at
The 'Saga of Eirik the Red' in
Gwyn Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga: Being the Norse Voyages of Discovery and Settlement to Iceland, Greenland and America. (Toronto: Oxford, 1964)
reproduced at http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/2/16/h16-4207-e.html
See also the Heimskringla: Harald Harfager's Saga under 22. King Harald's Voyage To The West