The People of Gibraltar
1107 - King Sigurd I - Norvasund to Jorsalaland

Researching for something completely different I recently came across the following quote: 
The earth’s round face, whereon mankind dwells, is much cleft because great gulfs run up into the land from the ocean. It is known that a sea stretches from Norvasund to Jorsalaland (Jerusalem)  . . . . .  
The above turned out to be the opening lines of the Ynglinga Saga, a sort of introduction to the three volumes of the Heimskringla Chronicles of the Norwegian Kings. It was written by the Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson around the middle of the 13th century. Norvasund – I discovered – is the old Nordic name for the Straits of Gibraltar (see LINK) so called in honour of Nörfa, the first Viking to pass through it. 

Snorri Sturluson   ( 1930 - Haukur Stefansson )

One particular Saga is about King Sigurd I Magnusson, a Norwegian King who ruled from 1103 to 1130. He did so at first together with his two half-brothers, Olaf and Øysten and then on his own from 1123 after their death. 

In 1107 – three years after the start of his joint rule - Sigurd led a Norwegian Crusade to Jerusalem and became the first Scandinavian king to lead a crusade. It earned him the nickname of Sigurd Jorsalafari – Sigurd Jerusalem. Sigurd took with him an army of around 5000 men in 60 ships. He entered the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar eventually arriving in Jerusalem after a series of wars, skirmishes and other adventures all of them carefully recorded by Snorri Sturluson. 

Sigurd with Baldvin of Jerusalem on his way to the River Jordan ( Late 1890s - Gerhade Munthe )

In 1939 G.T. Garratt published his Gibraltar and the Mediterranean and thought it worth his while to include the Sigurd saga in his introductory chapters:
 . . . . one curious incident  . . .  occurred about the year 1100. It had, perhaps, some significance, that the first Christian attack upon the Rock should be made by seamen from the north of Europe. King Sigurd of Norway had set out upon a crusade. The Saga of his adventures describes his arrival by sea at the Straits of Gibraltar, and his attack upon a party of Saracens, ‘who had their fortress in a cave, with a wall before it, in the face of a precipice’. There follows an account of a successful landing, and the final smoking-out of the garrison by burning trees outside their cave. 
There is probably some basis of truth in this tale. Such an expedition did set out from Norway, on a combined crusading and marauding expedition and it reached the Mediterranean. The King, after sailing all the way to the Straits, may well have landed and fought the first lot of infidels with whom he came into contact. The story is interesting because it suggests that the early occupants of the Rock had already begun to use the caves, fissures, and potholes which abound in this limestone mass. These have always added greatly to its value as a fortress.

Map identifying voyages by Vikings and Norwegian Kings that passed through the Straits of Gibraltar in the 9th century – Note the inclusion of Algeciras and the absence of Gibraltar – Sigurd was no pioneer ( 1980 – Cornelson-Velhagen & Klasing )

George Hills (see LINK) writing in his Rock of Contention which was published in 1970 gives us a slightly different version of Sigurd’s entry into the Mediterranean.
The saga of King Sigurd Josafar (Jerusalem-farer) of Norway tells of his attack on Saracens in the Strait of Gibraltar “who had a defence-work in a cave, with a wall before it, in the face of a cliff.” He smoked them out and proceeded on his famous journey to the Holy Land. That was in 1107.  
Unfortunately it is not clear from the context on which side of the Strait Sigurd’s men landed, and the question must remain open whether it was a fort in Gibraltar that they attacked or one in the Caves of Hercules in Tangier or even conceivably a lookout post at Cape Trafalgar ‘the promontory of the cave.’ 
If it were clear that the cave-post Sigurd attacked was on Gibraltar, it could confirm the suspicion warranted by known events that there was still nothing of any importance on Gibraltar at this date.
The discovery in the mid 19th century in Martin’s Cave of the remains of two ancient swords which have been dated to the around the 12th century (see LINK) seems to give some added credence to Garratt and Hill’s speculations. 

The discrepancies between the two accounts, however, made me want to investigate further even if it meant finding - and reading – a translation of the real McCoy – a 1907 edition of the Heimskringla: History of the Norse Kings as translated into English by Samuel Laing and revised by Rasmus B. Anderson. The following is a quote from the book:

Cover of the 1914 edition of Samuel Laing’s translation
It so fell out, as the king was sailing past Spain that some Vikings who were cruising for plunder met him with a fleet of galleys, and King Sigurd attacked them. This was his first battle with heathen men; and he won it, and took eight galleys from them.  
Thereafter King Sigurd sailed against a castle called Sintre and fought another battle. This castle is in Spain, and was occupied by many heathens, who from thence plundered Christian people. King Sigurd took the castle, and killed every man in it, because they refused to be baptized; and he got there an immense booty. 
After this King Sigurd sailed with his fleet to Lisbon, which is a great city in Spain . . . and all the districts which lie west of the city are occupied by heathens. There King Sigurd had his third battle with the heathens, and gained the victory, and with it a great booty. . . . 
. . . Then King Sigurd sailed westwards along heathen Spain, and brought up at a town called Alkasse; and here he had his fourth battle with the heathens, and took the town, and killed so many people that the town was left empty. They got there also immense booty.
Sintra is Cintra but probably refers to Colares, which is closer to the sea. As regards Alkasse  the name sounds a bit like the words “alcázar” or “Alcácer” both of them names for a Moorish castle. If so it could be just about anywhere as they were quite a few of them all over the place after the Moorish conquest of Hispania. The most likely candidate, however, is Alcácer do Sal to the south of Lisbon. The suggestion that it might be “Algeciras” is usually dismissed as unlikely.

Front and back of the only surviving page of the Heimskringla ( c1260 - National and University Library of Iceland )
King Sigurd then proceeded on his voyage, and came to Norfasund; and in the sound he was met by a large Viking force, and the king gave them battle; and this was his fifth engagement with heathens since the time he left Norway. He gained the victory here also. 
King Sigurd then sailed eastward along the coast of Serkland, and came to an island there called Forminterra. There a great many heathen Moors had taken up their dwelling in a cave, and had built a strong stone wall before its mouth. They harried the country all round, and carried all their booty to their cave.  
King Sigurd landed on this island, and went to the cave; but it lay in a precipice, and there was a high winding path to the stone wall, and the precipice above projected over it. The heathens defended the stone wall, and were not afraid of the Northmen's arms; for they could throw stones, or shoot down upon the Northmen under their feet; neither did the Northmen, under such circumstances, dare to mount up.  
The heathens took their clothes and other valuable things, carried them out upon the wall, spread them out before the Northmen, shouted, and defied them, and upbraided them as cowards.

The Romantic view - Unknown Norsemen ransacking some unknown place
Then Sigurd fell upon this plan. He had two ship's boats, such as we call barks, drawn up the precipice right above the mouth of the cave; and had thick ropes fastened around the stem, stern, and hull of each. In these boats as many men went as could find room, and then the boats were lowered by the ropes down in front of the mouth of the cave; and the men in the boats shot with stones and missiles into the cave, and the heathens were thus driven from the stone wall.  
Then Sigurd with his troops climbed up the precipice to the foot of the stone wall, which they succeeded in breaking down, so that they came into the cave. Now the heathens fled within the stone wall that was built across the cave; on which the king ordered large trees to be brought to the cave, made a great pile in the mouth of it, and set fire to the wood. 
When the fire and smoke got the upper hand, some of the heathens lost their lives in it; some fled; some fell by the hands of the Northmen; and part were killed, part burned; and the Northmen made the greatest booty they had got on all their expeditions.  
Thereafter King Sigurd proceeded on his expedition, and came to an island called Iviza, and had there his seventh battle, and gained a victory. Thereafter King Sigurd came to an island called Manork, and held there his eighth battle with heathen men, and gained the victory. . . .
Serkland refers to the Saracan lands of the Barbary coast. Forminterra, Iviza and Manork must be the Balearic Islands of Formentera, Ibiza and Minorca. In other words that cave was nowhere near Gibraltar.

Curiously as early as 1870, Frederick George Stephens seems to have suspected as much but nevertheless goes out of his way to quote large chunks of the Heimskringla in his History of Gibraltar and its Sieges. His conclusion was that the cave was somewhere in Morocco.

Little wonder then that more modern historians such as William Jackson – The Rock of the Gibraltarians and Maurice Harvey (see LINK) - Gibraltar, a History -  have wisely given King Sigurd Josafar a miss. Perhaps I should have done the same – but I couldn’t resist writing about it. 
Sigurd in Constantinople – He would soon be on his way back home   ( Late 1890s - Gerhard Munthe )