The castle as it appeared when King Sverre ruled. (Photo: Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum)
On 17 November, in a well in King Sverre Sigurdsson’s castle (Norwegian: Sverresborg) in Trondheim it was found a skeleton which according to Sverris Saga probably is a Birkebeiner from 1197 AD. Analysis of the skeleton proves that the saga tells the truth.
The Sverresborg castle, also named Zion after King David’s castle in Jerusalem, was built about 1182-83 AD on a plateau in the medieval city of Nidaros by Sverre Sigurdsson (Old Norse: Sverrir Sigurðarson, c. 1150 – 1202). Sverre was King of Norway from about 1184 to 1202 and considered one of the most important rulers in Norwegian history.
He assumed power as the leader of the Birkebeiner rebel party in 1177 during their fight against King Magnus Erlingsson. After Magnus was killed at the Battle of Fimreite in 1184, Sverre became the sole ruler. However, differences with the Church led to his excommunication in 1194. Another civil war began against the church-supported Baglers, which lasted beyond Sverre’s death in 1202.
Parts of the skeleton is removed from the well and analyzed. (Photo: Directorate for Cultural Heritage)
The saga says that when the Baglers conquered the castle from the Birkebeiners in 1197, they threw a dead man into the well. This was probably done to poison the water supply.
It is written in Sverris Saga:
“The Baglers took all the goods in the castle and then they burnt every house that was on the site. They took a dead man and threw him into the well. Then they filled it with stones. They called the men of the city to tear down all of the stone walls before they were satisfied. All the king’s long ships were burned before they left. After this, they travelled back to the Uplands. They thought they had gained many precious treasures during this journey.”
The excavations have been a collaboration between the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the Archaeological Museum in Stavanger and the Sør-Trøndelag Police District that have performed a crime scene investigation.
The plateau with the ruins of King Sverre Sigurdsson’s castle is located at Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum in Trondheim. (Photo: Cato Edvardsen/ Wikimedia Commons)
In 1938, it was found a skeleton in the bottom of a well in the ruins of Sverresborg in connection with an archaeological survey. The skeleton was never investigated and the well was filled with rocks.
Now it has been proved that the bones are about 800 years old and probably is the Birkebeiner from the saga and that this has been a man of 30-40 years of age.
The discovery is important because it proves that the Norse kings’ sagas are not just great storytelling, but based on real events.
- See also: The Saga of Halfdan the Black
Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews