Multicultural York: The Vikings

Egill Skallagrimsson the poet's story

Born in Iceland around 910, Egill Skallagrimsson became the most famous poet of the Viking period. 

Egill was also a fierce warrior and Erik Bloodaxe, who became King of the area around York, was his deadly enemy. When Egill’s ship was wrecked in a storm at the mouth of the River Humber river, this landed him right in Erik Bloodaxe’s kingdom - and in big trouble.

The 'Head Ransom' poem

Egill tried to make peace with King Erik, who ordered him to be killed on the next morning. Egill's friend suggested that he write a great poem to flatter King Erik, because this might change the King's mind and save his life.

Egill wrote a long poem of praise for Erik, which became known as the 'head ransom' poem. (Download a copy of the 'head ransom' poem in English.) It was a great success, as Erik allowed Egill to leave the kingdom without being harmed.


Egill wrote many more poems and had lots of fights and feuds before he died in Iceland. His poetry paints a colourful picture of the Viking world.


Feud - A violent argument that lasts for a long time

Flatter - To praise someone to make them do something for you

Ransom - Money demanded for the safe return of a prisoner

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Yorkshire Museum and Gardens |  York Archaeological Trust |  The British Museum | 
This content is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA

Accessibility Statement | Terms of Use | Site Map

Copyright © My Learning 2018. All Rights Reserved

Website by: Grapple