Togeir Hávarsson may have looked like one of these Viking warriors when he beheaded the shepherd on Hvassafell. (Illustration by: Stian Dahlslett ©)
The legacy of the Vikings still lives in Scandinavia, not least thanks to the Icelandic saga texts. One quote that is still used in Norwegian vernacular is “to stand convenient for hewing”, but few know where the expression comes from.
In the Saga of the Sworn Brothers (Old Norse: Fóstbrœðra saga), written down in Iceland in the early 1200s AD, it is told about the exploits of the two sworn brothers Torgeir Hávarsson and Tormod Bersasson in the early 11th century.
Torgeir (c. 973-1023 AD) was a highly skilled and brutal warrior. He killed people both on impulse and for his own amusement. It is said that he was big, strong and stubborn and that he already in his youth learned “to protect himself with shield and fight with weapons.”
The Shepherd on Hvassafell
Torgeir appears according to some versions of the Saga of the Sworn Brothers not simply as unsympathetic and brutal: He started his career with killing his father’s murderer – which was his duty by the standards of honor in the Viking Age. However, in the version of the saga that is found in the Flatey Book (Icelandic: Flateyjarbók), Torgeir is portrayed as a psychopath. Not least in the story of the murder of the shepherd on Hvassafell in Iceland:
“The shepherd had just returned back home and stood in the courtyard. He leaned on the shepherd’s rod while talking to the others. The rod was short and the man tired, and he stood slightly bent forward with the rear end up in the air and the neck stretched forward. When Torgeir saw him standing in this way, he swung the ax and cut him across the neck. (…)
The head flew off and hit the ground far away. Then Torgeir continued his journey, and the others who were in the courtyard were left confused and speechless.”
Later, when Torgeir was asked what wrong the shepherd had done to him, he replied:
“He had not done me any wrong, but the truth is that I could not resist when he stood so convenient for hewing.”
After Torgeir was convicted outlaw, he went to Norway where he became King Olaf Haraldsson’s hirdman (personal guard) and assassin. Because of his murders Torgeir got many enemies, and in year 1023 after a heroic battle, he was overpowered and killed by a gang led by the Greenlandic Viking Torgrim Trolle.
The murderers kept Torgeir’s head as a trophy, but when it after some time began to look ugly they got afraid and buried it.
The rest of the Saga of the Sworn Brothers is about Tormod’s dreadful revenge.
- See also: Found Cannabis in Viking Ship Grave
Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews