Picture depicting battle at Easter Ross
Hollywood is awash with films about zombies, but according to Scottish legend there really was such a creature in the 9th century.
Máel Brigte the Buck-toothed was a 9th century Pictish nobleman, most probably a Mormaer of Moray. He was challenged by Sigurd to a 40-man-a-side battle to settle their differences. Treacherously, Sigurd brought 80 men to the fight, and Máel Brigte knew he had been betrayed when he saw that each of Sigurd’s horses had two men’s legs on its flanks. Máel Brigte exhorted his men to kill at least one man before they died and although a fierce fight ensued he was quickly defeated and killed. Sigurd had his enemies’ heads strapped to his victorious men’s saddles as trophies, but as Sigurd rode home, Máel Brigte’s buck-tooth scratched his leg. The leg became inflamed and infected, and as a result Sigurd died.
The site of the battle is unknown. However the saga states that Earl Sigurd built a stronghold in the south of Moray, then a much larger province than today and that he was buried in a mound on the banks of the River Oykel.
Máel Brigte’s power centre was probably in or near modern Inverness. In the 13th century a farm near Dornoch, now called Cyderhall is recorded as “Syvardhoch”, meaning “Sigurd’s mound”.It is therefore possible that the battle was staged in Easter Ross somewhere between these two places.
Little is known of Máel Brigte’s life, but the story of his death is recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga.
The Orkneyinga saga (also called the History of the Earls of Orkney) is a historical narrative of the history of the Orkney Islands, from their capture by the Norwegian king in the ninth century onwards until about 1200.
It goes to show, legend is stranger than fiction.
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