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Unusual Deaths #5: Máel Brigte’s Vengeance

Sigurd Eysteinsson earned his nickname, Sigurd the Mighty, when he led the Vikings to war against northern Scotland. His conquest started around 872 CE, shortly after his brother gave him the title, Earl of Orkney. A small island chain at the northernmost tip of the British mainland, its cold, wet climate was excellent for a farm based economy. More importantly, it was the ideal location to stage an invasion. His skill in battle became a thing of folk tales and legends, and his campaign features prominently in the Norse’s oral history.

He was not, however, always an honorable fighter. The History of the Earls of Orkney, part account of the area’s history and part mythological tale of the Vikings written in the early thirteen century, describes Sigurd’s battle with Máel Brigte the Bucktoothed, a local ruler in Scotland. They agreed to meet in a sort of duel. The conditions were simple: each man would take his 40 best men, meet at a set location at a specific time, and fight to death. The winner would gain total control of the other’s holdings without question. Brigte upheld his part of the bargain, but Sigurd appeared with twice the number of troops. The Scotsman was slaughtered along with his men.

Sigurd cut off Brigte’s head and strapped it to his saddle. Brigte’s distinctive facial features—the buck teeth that were his namesake—made his head recognizable to other lords that might challenge Sigurd’s claims to Scottish land, so that they too might fear becoming part of Sigurd’s accouterments. It was Sigurd himself, however, who should have feared Brigte’s buck teeth. The dead man’s molars scratched his leg as he rode, and the pestilence from the rotting head infected one of Sigurd’s wounds. Details on the nature of the infection are scarce. But alas, it proved fatal and the duel, it seems, was actually a draw.

By Matt Alberswerth

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About Matt Alberswerth

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