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Literature / The Saga of Yngvar the Traveller

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"Tola had this stone raised after Harald, Ingvars brother. The travelled like true men, far away in search of gold, and in the east they fed the eagle. They died on the southern trail in Serkland"
The "Stone of Gripsholm" raised in memory of Ingvar and his comrades and one of the most famous Runic inscriptions in all of Sweden

The Saga of Yngvar the Traveller (Old Norse/Modern Icelandic: "Yngvars saga víðförla") is an Icelandic Saga probably written by Oddr Snorrason in the 12th century. It concerns the life of an 11th century Swedish Viking named Yngvar Eymundsson, his son and their adventures on the eastern trail.

In Sweden during the reign of Eric The Victorious, there is a Chieftan named Aki. Aki desires to marry one of the daughters of King Eric but unfortunately for him, she is already promised to a district king in Russia. Aki secretly travels to Russia, assassinates him and returns to Sweden to marry King Erics daughter. He has a son with her called Eymund. Eric does not retaliate at first, fearing great loss of life in his lands, but later dispatches Aki in a Nasty Party with the help of Jarl Hakon of Norway. When Eymund grows up he avenges his father by killing the tax-collectors who had come to extract tax from his father's old lands. He is outlawed in all of Sweden by King Olof Skötkonung for his troubles and goes eastwards as a mercenary, fighting for King Jarizleif of Russia against his brother Burizleif. Eymund is later forgiven by King Olof for his crimes and returns to Sweden, inheriting his father's old lands. The focus then shifts from Eymund to his son Yngvar who grows up to be a strong and respected man and a friend of both King Olof and his son Prince Anund. However, when Olof refuses to give Yngvar the title of king, he decides to travel eastward to make a name for himself and experiences many fantastical adventures and battles in the process, including battling against a Dragon, a Giant and Pirates who use flamethrowers and ride ships camoflaged as Islands. When he dies, the focus shifts to his son, Svein Yngvarsson who attempts to continue his legacy.

Although this saga is considered to be a Fornaldarsaga and contains a whole lot of fantastical and supernatural occurences, Ingvar the Far-Travelled is a 100% real historical person who led an expedition into Georgia (Europe) and the Middle East in the 11th century. About 25-40 Runestones are raised in Sweden in memory of this endeavour, and a few mentions people featured as characters in the saga. The saga covers this journey up to a certain extent.

An English translation of the saga can be found here.

The Saga of Yngvar the Traveller contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Arrows on Fire: Used by Yngvar to defeat the flamethrower-wielding pirates and by Svein to defeat a dragon Jakulus.
  • Bling of War: Yngvar and his men are decked out in fine mail (both for themselves and their horses), golden helmets and golden weapons with inlaid gemstones when travelling to meet King Olof.
  • Caltrops: Used by the Vikings in the battle against King Jolf.
  • Dragon Hoard: Yngvar and his crew encounter treasure-hoarding dragons twice during their voyage:
    • The voyagers get sight of a hill shining like gold in the distance. In the night, the watchman Valdimar goes to explore the hill and discovers it is entirely covered by sleeping serpents. He sees a gold ring between the serpents (hinting that there may be more treasure underneath the snakes) and fishes it out with his spear; which wakes up a small snake which then wakes up all the other serpents and finally the largest, a flying dragon called Jakulus. Jakulus pursues the watchman and destroys two of Yngvar's ships before returning to his lair.
    • Reaching the source of the great river, the voyagers discover a huge dragon "and much gold lying under it." When the dragon crawls to the river to drink, the voyagers loot the gold which is "as hot as if it had just been melted in a forge". Shortly after, the voyagers meet a demon who explains the spot where the dragon guards the hoard was the tomb of a very rich king named Siggeus, who also had three daughters who were so greedy two of them killed themselves just because they were jealous of their sisters' wealth. Later, "dragons ate the king's cadaver and the bodies of his daughters" but also "some believe they've turned into dragons."
  • Plunder: Nearly all of the heroes in this saga are Christians and really don't act like stereotypical Vikings. However, both Eymund, Yngvar and Svein pillage now and again.
  • Satan: Appears to Soti as a Harbinger of Impending Doom. There's a bit of confusion around it though, as the saga calls him THE Devil, whereas he refers to himself as A Devil.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Svein and his men encounter a group of people leading around a creature with a wooden tower on its back. They steal it away from them and attempt to lead it themselves, but the creature just sticks it head down and refuse to budge so they hide in the reeds while figuring out a plan. They then steal it from its owners for a second time, and this time they are more successfull. "But as they didn't know the nature of the creature or what it needed to eat, they stabbed it with spears till it fell dead. Then they went down to the ships and rowed off."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: While Ingvar and his journey actually took place, and some people named on the runestones share names with characters in the saga, many of the events are obviously fictionalized. Swedish archeologist Mats G. Larsson wrote a book in the early 90's called Ett ödesdigert vikingatåg (A doomed viking expediton) tried to figure out what elements of the saga could be true and what was plausible.