Jorvik Viking Festival

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One of the most legendary Viking warriors in Sweden, Ingvar famously travelled east in search of gold.

Ingvar the Far Travelled

Ingvar’s origin has been debated – first by Oddr Snorrason in the sagas and later by historians. In Snorrason’s words: “We do know that there are some saga tellers who say that Yngvarr was the son of [King] Önundr Óláfsson [d. 1060], because they think that it would be more honourable for him to be a king’s son. And [they say that] Önundr would gladly give up all his realm if he had been allowed to bargain for Yngvarr’s life, because all the chiefs in Sweden would gladly have had him [Yngvarr] as king over them.” All theories about Ingvar’s origin describe him as having chieftain or royal heritage.

Ignvar was ambitious and a keen traveller, he is most famously remembered as the hero who led the expedition to reopen old trade routes in the Caspian. This is chronicled in the legendary Saga of Ingvar the Far-Traveller, and is one of several Caspian expeditions the Vikings undertook in the 10th century. Launching his expedition in Sweden, with a fleet of 30 ships and 500 to 1,000 men towards the Caspian Sea. They travelled along the Volga river, fighting with King Jaroslav I in Russia, and then continuing on to the Black Sea and “the land of the Saracens” (Georgia). They took part in the Battle of Sasireti, and were granted safe passage over the mountains. However, the Vikings fell ill with a disease that seemed to spread quickly and many of the men died, including Ingvar himself.

The expedition was famously remembered as tragically unsuccessful – only one ship returned home to Sweden, where news of the expedition’s fate was met with grief. Ignvar’s expedition was soon romanticised. Twenty-six Ingvar runestones were made, with twenty-three of them being made in the Lake Mälaren region of Uppland in Sweden. Runestones are 4th – 12th century raised stones inscribed with commemorative words, written in runes and carved in bright colours. They are often, as in this case, memorials to dead men. The fact that so many runestones were made for this one expedition shows the impact it had in Sweden. The Gripsholm Runestone simply reads “they died in the East, in Serkland”. A runestone in memory of Ignvar’s brother says that he went east for gold but died in Serkland. This was the last expedition of the Vikings into the Caspian – no further attempts were made to reopen these trade routes between the Baltic and Caspian seas.

In one runic inscription, Ignvar and his men were described as brave warriors who sought wealth and fame in distant lands:

They fared like drængiaR

far after gold,

and in the east

gave the eagle food.

Viking long ship

There is convincing archaeological evidence for a Viking presence in the Caspian region in the period dated in the tale of Ingvar’s expedition. The events in this saga are also supported by 11th Century Arabic sources. However, Georgian sources suggest this saga might actually relate to a journey to Byzantium rather than the Caspian.

Apart from the runestones, there are no other mentions of Ingvar in Swedish sources. However, his death is mentioned in ‘Ingvar’s Saga’ and three Icelandic annals under the year AD 1041.