Sverre’s Saga, composed between the 12th and the 13th century, tells the story of the brutal overthrow of King Sverre Sigurdsson his army of Birkebeiner mercenaries at his castle, Sverresborg, in 1197. It’s an incredible story and one of few documents we have of the events of the Viking era, and for years historians have been highly skeptical as to just how accurate it is.
But the recent discovery of human remains at the bottom of a well in Trondheim, Norway prove that at least one part of the Saga is astonishingly accurate.
According to Sverre’s Saga, when the Baglers took King Sverre’s castle, they burned down the building, and cut off the castle’s water supply by throwing one of the King’s dead mercenaries down a well and filling it in with rocks. This latter part is a small detail in a grand tale, and one that could easily be assumed to be apocryphal.
Indeed, part of the concerns of the authenticity of Sverre’s Saga derive from the fact that the work was started during the King’s life, and was sponsored in part by Sverre as his autobiography.
When archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research went to the site of Sverresborg castle and conducted a trial excavation of a well, however, they did find parts of a single human skeleton beneath a large mass of rocks.
After retrieving one bone from the well, radiocarbon analysis showed that it belonged to an individual who lived, and died in the late half of the 12th century–directly in line with the documented overthrow of King Sverre Sigurdsson in 1197.
Lead archaeologist at the site, Anna Petersén explained:
This is truly astonishing. As far as I know there is no known example of the discovery of an individual historically connected with an act of war as far back as the year 1197. And the fact that this actually corroborates an event described in Sverre’s saga is simply amazing
Now the archaeologists have returned to the site, and are conducting a full excavation of the well in the hopes of removing the entire human skeleton of Sverre’s ill-fated, but very real, Birkebeiner mercenary.