This circular illustration, by the Norwegian artist Gerhard Munthe (c. 1849–1929), depicts the demise of a king from the semi-legendary Yngling Dynasty of Sweden. Specifically, the figure riding on the horse is a representation of King Dag, who, according to the Ynglinga saga by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), was approximately the tenth king from the Yngling Dynasty. As told in the saga, King Dag apparently met his end while campaigning in Gotland, where he was assassinated by a pitchfork-wielding slave. Snorri Sturluson recorded this peculiar death scene:
“In the evening King Dag returned with his army to the ships after having slain many and taken many prisoners. But as they were crossing the river, at a place called Skjótansfjortd or Vápnaford; a work slave ran out of the woods on to the river bank and hurled a pitchfork into their flock. It struck the king on his head, and he fell straightaway from his horse and was dead” (Heimskringla, Ynglinga saga, chapter 18).
Such is the scene that Gerhard Munthe re-created in the image featured above. It shows the moment just before the king’s head was skewered by the flying pitchfork. Poor King Dag, unfortunately, was far from the only ill-fated ruler from the Yngling Dynasty. Check out our article, HERE, about the many peculiar and unnatural deaths faced by the members of this legendary family.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.