VII. The tournament in Bertangaland

The final two heroes are the Niflungen Gunther and Hagen. Their brief introduction forms the end of the first part of the saga.

Dietrich invites them to a great feast, where all his other heroes are also present.


All these sat on one bench or platform; pall: king Diet­rich, king Gunther and Hagen, Hildebrand and jarl Hornboge. To his Diet­rich's left hand sat Witig and Amelung, Detlef and Fasold, Sintram and Wildeber, Herbrand the wise and well-traveled, and Heime the Cruel.

And everyone said that they had never seen such noble and brave men, so perfect in all virtues in one hall together.

Now the saga inserts an extra introduction of all the heroes plus Sigfrid. Each one gets his own chapter where his appearance and coat of arms are described.

And no, coats of arms were not yet customary in the 5th century. If the saga is truly ancient this part has been inserted later.

Ecke and Sibich also get a chapter, and the question why the two of them appear here is one of the most curious riddles the saga has to offer. Ecke died in 100, while Sibich will become important only in the next part of the saga. In the Journey to Osning chapter I offer one theory for Ecke’s presence here, but I do not have the faintest clue what to make of Sibich.

Dietrich’s circle complete, it’s time to do something heroic.


Now king Diet­rich looked around him on both sides, and praised the heroes present at the feast. And he thought that, if they were all armed and on their horses, they could ride throughout the world peacefully, since no one would dare to fight against them. And if anyone was not afraid of them and attacked them, he would have condemned himself to death.


Now Herbrand the Wise, the king's banner bearer, said that Diet­rich was speaking out of ignorance, because Herbrand knew a country called Bertangaland, with a king named Isung, who is the strongest of all men and feared in duels, and he has eleven sons who are exactly like their father, and he has a banner bearer called Sigfrid, who is so great and wonderful in all heroic things that no better man can be found.

His skin is like horn everywhere, and few weapons bite him. His sword is Gram, and his horse is Grani, a brother of Falke Diet­rich's horse, Schimming Witig's horse, and Rispa Heime's horse. Gram, too, is the best of all swords, and so are all his other weapons.

If you would fight this man, you would say before you returned home, if you returned at all, that you've never been in this much danger.

Predictably, Dietrich and his heroes decide to challenge these powerful warriors to a series of duels. This starts the expedition to Bertangaland, the only heroic deed that Dietrich and his full circle perform.

They set out, but before they arrive in Bertangaland there is a challenge awaiting them. Witig gets one more opportunity to shine.


Now they came to a large forest their road went through. Herbrand held his horse and told king Diet­rich they had reached the Bertangaland forest, and in the forest lives a giant called Etger, a son of king Nordian and a brother of the giants Wildeber killed 144. Etger is here to protect king Isung's lands. Now the road to Bertangaland goes through this forest, but the giant is so strong that I do not know his equal. Anyone who wishes should ride into the forest, but I will not go any further than this unless all of us go. And now I have warned you.

Witig replied: If all that is the case, Herbrand, you and king Diet­rich and all the others should wait outside, but I will ride into the forest and talk to the giant, and it could be I get him to allow us to pass through, since we are relatives. And if he refuses, my stallion will not carry me slower back to you than forward to the giant. The king and all companions agreed to this.

Witig is a distant cousin of Etger’s; perhaps this is the reason why he takes him on alone. If another hero would kill Etger Witig might have to take revenge.

Funnily enough the saga does not mention the giant’s name in the next several chapters; he is just “the giant.”


Now Witig rode into the forest, and he saw a man sleeping who was very large and terrible, and he snored so hard that the branches on the trees shook. Witig dismounted and tied his horse to an olive tree, drew his sword Mimung, and poked the giant with his left foot. Rise, giant, he said, and defend yourself. The man has come who will take your life. The one who guards this country for a rich chieftain should not sleep.

The giant awoke, and saw a man had come here, but he was not afraid. He said: I don't always sleep, I awake when there is need. But when you are concerned I can either sleep or wake i.e. I can kill you even in my sleep. But why did you wake me and who are you? I think you should go on your way and not threaten me, because it's too much trouble for me to straighten my legs and stand up just to kill you. And the giant went back to sleep.

Then Witig again poked him with his foot, so hard that two ribs broke, and now the giant jumped up and was angry. He took his iron pole and swung at Witig. Witig jumped aside, and the giant hit the ground so hard the pole was stuck between two rocks hanira.

Now king Diet­rich and the others heard a great crash when the pole came down, and Herbrand said: We may well have heard Witig's death, so let's ride away as quickly as we can, because if we don't we'll get killed as well.

The giant now took his spear and threw it at Witig, but Witig ran towards him and the spear went over his head and deep into the ground, where it remained stuck. And now Witig struck the giant on his thigh, and carved off a piece so large no horse could carry it, and then he struck another blow and another until the giant fell down with many wounds. And while he had no more weapons he saw he would be defeated in this duel, so he fell to the ground in such a way that he hoped to catch Witig under him and thus kill him. But Witig ran through his legs and thus escaped.

When they heard this mighty fall, Witig's companions said: Now the giant has surely killed Witig. But others said that maybe Witig had won and the giant had fallen.


Now Witig told the giant he would cut off his head unless he bought himself free. And the giant offered gold and silver for his head, and Witig told him to bring him to the treasure. Then the giant rose, tired and blood-soaked, and went further into the forest, where they came to a large stone that had an iron ring in it.

The giant said: now remove this stone, and you will find the treasure. Witig pulled with all his might, but the stone didn't move. Then Witig said: if you want to keep your life, remove this stone.

Then the giant perforce took the stone and removed it with one hand, and under the stone was a door, and the giant opened it and below it was a hole in the ground jarðhús. And the giant said: Now, good knight, take the the goods I told you about, because the stone no longer blocks your way.

Witig considered that, when he went into the hole, the giant might close the door behind him and put the stone on top of it, and then he might never escape. So he told the giant: Go in and bring me your treasure. The giant stepped down into the hole, and Witig swung his sword with both hands and struck the giant's neck so that his head was cut off. And thus the giant fell.


Then Witig cut the giant's tongue out of his head and covered himself in the blood that flowed from it, then went to his horse and also covered it in blood, and he bound the tongue to his horse's tail, because he wanted to have it as evidence. Now he jumped on his horse and rode beack to his companions as quickly as he could.

Then he held up his sword as high as he could and crief: Away, my friends! The giant wounded me mortally, and you can expect the same when you don't flee now.

And when they heard this, all became afraid, and fled, except for king Diet­rich. He courageously turned his horse toward Witig, drew his sword, and called: Good friend, turn around and come with me. We must remember that we said we would never flee, even when it is certain we'll be killed, but it won't matter since we'll be together.


When they met each other Witig explained to king Diet­rich what he had done, and Diet­rich thought Witig had done well, as was to be expected.

When king Gunther he is probably mentioned here because he's the next highest in rank. and the other companions noticed that Diet­rich and Witig were not with them, and nobody was pursuing them, they thought Witig had fooled them, and returned to king Diet­rich and Witig, and misliked what they had done.

Then Witig said to king Gunther and the others: Dear friends, I beg you, don't hold it against me that I did not tell you the truth. I know that among you many are not less than me. But if I have done you a bad turn, then let me make up with gold and jewelry.

Then nearly One would like to know who dissented. Heime? all replied: We will forgive you, and you bear no guilt for our reaction, but we did it to ourselves.


Now they all rode on, and they saw how deep the pole had gone into the earth, and the place where the spear had gone into the earth, and then to the hole in the ground where the giant had fallen, and there they found innumerable treasures of gold, silver, and jewelry, because that was all the treasure of king Isung I sure assume this means: the treasure Isung had given to Etger as well as what Etger This is the first time since 194 that his name is mentioned. had taken with him from Denmark.

Then king Diet­rich said: Witig, I counsel you to leave this treasure here, and not take a penny with you. Now I first want to go to king Isung and fight him, and when we win we will take this treasure with us and do what we like. But if we lose, people could say we took booty here but still lost in our main endeavour not to mention that Isung would take it back from them. And if we part as good friends after the battle, we will share this treasure with them in friendship.

Witig replied the king but had to command him, as in everything. And so it was done. This sentence is not in Jónsson's Old Norse text. I’m not sure where Von der Hagen got it. A or B?

Now they exited the forest and saw a mountain, and on it a beautiful and large castle. King Diet­rich had his tents erected under the mountain, and camped there.

Sigfrid notices the arrival of the heroes and informs king Isung, who sends him down the mountain to find out who these strangers are.

Sigfrid gets a very long monologue where he again describes the shields of the heroes, though now without Ecke or Sibich.

Sigfrid demands tribute, the heroes cast lots, and Amelung loses. He has to give up his horse and shield to Sigfrid, who rides away with them. Amelung decides to win them back.


Amelung didn't like losing his horse and wanted to ride after Sigfrid. He went to his father Hornboge and asked to borrow his horse, but the jarl refused him.

Then Amelung went to Witig and asked the same. Witig said that he thought Amelung would not get back his horse, and if he lost Witig's in the process, what would Witig have left?

Amelung promised that if he also lost Witig's horse, he would give him twelve strong castles in Vindland, which his father had given him, and ind addition Witig would be Hornboge's heir. But if I return with your horse, I'll also have mine, and if I don't return I'll be dead. Witig agreed to this, because Amelung took most of the risk in this endeavour.

Then Amelung mounted Schimming, rode after Sigfrid and overtook him close to the castle where a linden tree grew This is apparently important; see 203. And Amelung told Sigfrid to get off the horse he was riding, and give it back, since Amelung needed it for the journey back home. Sigfrid asked him who he was, and told him he didn't think he'd get it, whether he possessed it before or not.

Amelung said: Get off that horse, or you will lose both horse and life. Sigfrid started to suspect that this man was jarl Hornboge's son, his relative see notes to next chapter, and said: I see you truly want to fight me for this horse, but it could be you'd even lose the one you're riding now. So take your spear lance and try to throw me off my horse, and I'll try to do the same afterwards, and thus we'll see who gets whose horse. Amelung liked this proposal.


Now Amelung gave Schimming the spurs and rode to Sigfrid, and his spear hit his shield, but Sigfrid staid in the saddle, although his horse sank on its hindlegs. And the spear shaft broke.

Sigfrid said: That was well done for a young man, and you may well have relatives who are as knightly as you are. Now it's my turn.

And Sigfrid gave his horse the spurs and rode to Amelung, and his spear hit his shiled so hard that Amelung was carried far back off his horse. Now Sigfrid took Schmming's reins and said: Good man, now you have neither your own horse nor the other one, which appears to be Schimming, Witig's horse. You will likely have pledged a great deal to get it. It would have been better if you had sat still this time.

Amelung replied that it might still turn out otherwise, and Sigfrid asked him what we wanted to do. Amelung said he'd do anything honourable to get his horse back. Then Sigfrid asked him who he was. Amelung refused to tell him, because Sigfrid still held his horse and his companions would say he told him out of fear, which would be dishonourable.

Then Sigfrid asked him if he was the son of jarl Hornboge, his kinsman, because he would never do dishonour to kinsmen. Also he told Amelung he was Sigfrid. Amelung still refused, unless Sigfrid swore with God as witness the facy would never be used to shame him. This Sigfrid promised.

Then Amelung told him he was Amelung Hornboge's son and they were related. Then Sigfrid said he had done well, and proposed that Amelung would take both horses back to the tents, but before he left he would bind Sigfrid to the linden tree and take his spear and shield as well.

And they did this, and Amelung rode back with both horses, and when he neared the tents he behaved quite heroically.

When Amelung returns Dietrich initially does not believe he has truly beaten Sigfrid. Witig goes out to check, while Sigfrid frees himself. Still, Witig finds the fetters and decides the story must be true.

What if — and this is just a thought that I can’t prove — Amelung actually defeated Sigfrid? But it was decided to hide that fact to make Dietrich, who has to defeat Sigfrid, appear more heroic? And the whole stuff of Amelung and Sigfrid being related was invented just to explain why Sigfrid was bound to the tree? I mean, a great hero like Sigfrid must allow himself to be bound; no one can do that against his will.

Whatever the truth, the blood relation between Amelung and Sigfrid is only mentioned in this section of the saga. Not before, not after.

The next day the tournament starts. Things do not go well for Dietrich, since Heime and Herbrand lose their fight. Then the saga comes very close to inventing hitpoints.


Now Wildeber took the field, and against him the third prince. They fought long and hard, and this was one of the toughest fights, and the prince received five wounds, all serious, but Wildeber had received seven, all even more serious, and began to become tired because of the blood he lost, and fell, surrendered his weapons, and was bound.

And the prince went back to his men, and he had done well.

After Wildeber, Sintram and Fasold also lose, making the score 5-0 for Isung. Then it’s Amelung’s turn, and I feel that his short speech before his fight captures the essence of the Bertangaland episode: Dietrich should have stayed home because the tournament will only bring him loss and defeat.


Now Amelung said: "It was an unfortunate day ótímadagr when king Diet­rich decided on this expedition, since he himself and all his men would be bound and defeated. He should have staid home in Bern and defended his realm."

And now he called on his father jarl Hornboge and told him to bind his helmet onto his head as firmly as he could, and to bind his shield to his left hand as firmly as he could so that it could not be lost, and he swore that he'd rather be chopped as small as the smallest pieces that went into a kettle before he would be bound and the Bertanga-men would support his back with a spear shaft.

Now he took the field, and against him the sixth prince, and they fought with great courage for a long time. Amelung saw that the fight would take a long time if he didn't take some more risk. Despite his shield being bound to his left hand, he took his sword in both hands and hit the prince on the helmet as hard as he could, and the sword would not cut it, so hard was that helmet. But still the prince fell, and Amelung threw himself onto him and told him: If you want to keep your life, surrender your weapons and you'll be bound to a spear shaft like your brothers did to my companions. But if you want to free yourself, then they should let go my good friend Fasold and Herbrand.

The prince agreed, and it happened, and now each went back to his men; and the duel had gone as Sigfrid had thought it would. Manuscript A adds: And this prince was one of the least strong ones.

After Amelung’s victory Hornboge and Hagen go down in defeat. Detlef wins, but Hildebrand and Gunther lose. The score is now 9-2 for Isung. Something has to be done, and only Witig and Dietrich remain.


Now Witig the Strong took the field, and against him the eleventh prince, and this was the strongest of them all. Now they went at each other so powerfully that each blow was half as strong again as the previous one, and nobody saw a braver fight then this one. And they came so close to one another that they were barely able to hit one another Retranslate; vague.

Now Witig considered what Mimung had done before, when he had carried that sword into a duel 95, and he had confidence in it, and he did not hold back. So he swung with all his might and trusted his sword, and it hit the prince's helmet and cut off what it hit, not only the helmet's tip, but also a bit of the prince's head, but it was not a large wound. And again Witig swung his sword, and now he hit the prince's foot so hard that he cut away not only the outer clothes and the leg guards of his armour, but also the foot, except for a little bit, and the prince fell.

Witig spoke: You, king Isung, choose: either release all my companions, or lose your son. King Isung replied: I won't release them before I see that the man can be killed, but he has not yet received a mortal wound.

The prince called: Do what he desires at once, or I'll lose my life. He has the Devil himself in his hand, and I cannot stand against it, nor anyone else; but still it's expensive to trade man against man Retranslate; I do not fully understand.

Then Witig said: If you, king Isung, do not release all my companions I'll cut off your son's head, and then I'll cut you a killing blow, and Mimung will not be sheathed before all my companions are free.

Now Witig walked to where his companions were kept, and he broke one spear shaft after the other until they were all free. And then he walked to the man he had fought with and wanted to kill him. Then king Isung and Sigfrid sprang between them and separated them, and king Diet­rich agreed with this. And they were reconciled, and it was decided that both sides were unbound now, and that the fights so far were equal. And with that they parted, and Witig had released all his friends.

Now that the score has been reset to 0-0 Dietrich can still eke out a victory. He fights Sigfrid for two days, but neither of them gains the upper hand on the other. Again Mimung must come to the rescue.


That night king Diet­rich and Witig met, and Witig asked Diet­rich: My lord, how do you think this battle with Sigfrid will end? He seems to be a brave and strong man, and both of you are, so I cannot say which one of you will win the prize the battle, and thus the tournament. Both of you have given everything, and none of you is even wounded.

King Diet­rich replied: I don't know either, but I'd feel better if my sword could penetrate his skin, which seems harder than any weapon This is the first time Sigfrid's horn skin comes up. Before, his armour was credited.. Therefore I'd like to ask you if I could borrow Mimung, because I know it will cut through anything. And he fears this weapon alone; this morning, before we fought, I had to swear an oath not to use Mimung.

Witig replied: You may not ask for Mimung, because since it was forged it was but once in another man's hands than mine, and that was when Heime took it 136; but this is actually not true: Hildebrand kept it for a while from 88 on..

This angered the king, and he said: Now hear what great shame this is, that you compare your king to a stable boy. We will never be as good friends as we were before because of these words.

Witig replied: My lord, if I spoke ill of you that was not deliberate ??? makligt, forgive me. I will lend you the sword, and may it help you. And with that he gave the sword to Diet­rich, and no one knew this except for these two. And then they went to sleep.


And when the night had passed king Isung came back with his men to fight. And king Diet­rich was ready with his men. And when king Diet­rich came on to the battlefield he had drawn his sword, but put his shield in front of it. Sigfrid had not come onto the battlefield yet, and Diet­rich called out for him to come fight.

Sigfrid replied: I'm coming, and we'll fight like yesterday, provided you again swear you won't use Mimung, Witig's sword. And once you do so I'll gladly fight with you. Diet­rich replied he'd rather swear that oath than not fight, and called Sigfrid again.

Now Sigfrid came to the battlefield, but king Diet­rich drew the sword behind his back and stuck its point in the earth, and supported the hilt with his back, and swore that, so help him God, Mimung's point was not above the earth and its hilt in no man's hand.

That was enough for Sigfrid, and he drew his sword Gram, but Diet­rich took Mimung and they came together and fought. After a short while Diet­rich made one hit after the other, and he cut off pieces of Sigfrid's shield or helmet or armour the horn skin is gone again, and Sigfrid suffered five wounds in a short time.

Now Sigfrid realised exactly which oath Diet­rich had sworn, and that he used Mimung, and he said: Lord Diet­rich, I wish to surrender my arms and become your man follower, because it is no shame to serve such a lord as you. And you are such a famous hero that I'd rather surrender myself to you than lose my life.

And Sigfrid surrendered his weapons, and king Diet­rich took him gladly into his following, and it seemed to him that he had won the greatest and strongest hero in the world. And thus they parted.

And now king Diet­rich and his men were quite happy and considered themselves to have succeeded in this expedition. But king Isung and his men were unhappy, because their best man and most famous hero was defeated.

Technically, Dietrich has won the tournament, but in fact it was a 9-2 loss, and the only reason Dietrich won a technical victory was because of Mimung and Witig. Amelung, one of only three of Dietrich’s heroes to win his fight, criticised his lord for the terrible position he had brought them in.

What happens next? Well, the heroes marry and go to rule their own territories. Also, Ermenrik attacks Dietrich and takes over his realm. Do these things have anything to do with one another?

Unfortunately we now enter the most confusing part of the saga. Chapters 222-275 are loosely joined by the theme of marriages. Several of Dietrich’s heroes marry, as does Dietrich himself, and then the two Niflungen marriages, Sigfrid and Grimhild and Gunther and Brunhild, are described.

The saga writer also took the opportunity to insert two more stories that have nothing to do with the heroes, Herbort and Hilda and Appolonius and Iron. They are very unlikely to belong to the old nucleus of the Dietrich story, and we’ll ignore them here.

According to the saga everything is still wonderful and Dietrich is on top of the world.


And when king Diet­rich and king Isung separated they swore friendship and gave one another great gifts. And Sigfrid, too, gave great gifts to his relatives This is the last time the relation is mentioned jarl Hornboge and his son Amelung. Sigfrid also arranged that king Isung gave his daughter Fallburg to Amelung, and she was the most beautiful and polite woman in all things, and the wedding should be held before Diet­rich went back to Bern.

And the feast was celebrated with the best, and it took five days with great splendour and all sorts of festivities, and games and entertainment.


When king Diet­rich and his men had made sure that no man in the world would dare to carry a shield against them attack them, they wanted to appoint powerful chiefs to their realms to rule and protect them.

Thus jarl Hornboge went home to Windland, and with him his son Amelung and his wife Fallburg, and they ruled their realm for a long time with honour and fame. And Sintram went east to Fenedi and became duke there, and was one of the most famous men, like his ancestors had been. And Herbrand went back to his realm, and also became a powerful duke.


One day king Diet­rich set out northward over the mountains, and Fasold and Detlef the Dane went with him and sixty knights, and he went to the castle Drekanfils. In this castle ruled the nine daughters of king Drusian, whose mother had died from grief about Ecke's death 100.

Diet­rich asked the oldest daughter, Gotelinde, to marry him, and the hand of the other sister for Fasold, and the hand of the third for Detlef. Drusian's daughters agreed to that.

And now a great and wonderful wedding was celebrated, and king Diet­rich and Fasold and Detlef the Dane married, and Detlef broke his engagement with Sigurd's daughter 121. The wedding took nine days, and every day more was spent than the previous one.

And then Fasold and Detlef took the realm into their possession that Drusian's daughters had held, and king Diet­rich gladly made them both dukes. But he himself rode home to Bern with his other men and his wife Gotelinde. And when he came home he sat in his realm for a long time.

Setting your heroes over other territories is all well and good. But where are these heroes when Dietrich really needs them? Where are they when he has to defend himself against his uncle Ermenrik?

The Niflungen return to their own land and take Sigfrid, who marries Grimhild. That sets the stage fot the tragic Niflungen story, which we’ll treat later, but the sage omits to mention that by this act Sigfrid leaves Dietrich’s following.

Finally Witig marries the widow of Ermenrik’s brother, Dietrich’s uncle. But, as the saga clearly states, this means Witig becomes Ermenrik’s follower — and the story how Ermenrik conquers Dietrich’s lands starts in the very next chapter.


Now news came to Longobardenland that a count by name of Ake Harlungtrost had died, who left behind a wife, Bolfriana, and two young sons, Egard and Ake. The older Ake was a half-brother of king Ermenrik.

Then king Diet­rich set out with a hundred knights and his good friend Witig to Rome to king Ermenrik. He proposed that Witig should marry Bolfriana of Drekanfils Bolfriana is apparently one of the Nine Daughters.. King Ermenrik agreed, provided Witig would be as loyal to him as he has been so far to Diet­rich, and he would get the castle as well and be a count. And thus Witig became king Ermenrik's count.

In the end, only Hildebrand and Wildeber remain loyal, while we’ll see Heime’s role is vague.

My central thesis about the Thidrekssaga is that Dietrich loses the tournament in Bertangaland. Then he loses his heroes because they are unhappy with his leadership that gave them defeat instead of victory. Then he loses his realm to Ermenrik because his fame has taken a fatal hit and he is left without followers to defend him.

The saga refuses to connect all the dots for us, and the fact that these crucial occurrences take place in the most confusing part of the saga doesn’t help, but this — I think — is essentially what happens in chapters 171-291.

The tournament was Dietrich's zenith. From now on it all goes downhill.


The next chapter is Dietrich's flight. How Ermenrik attacks Dietrich and takes his realm, and how Dietrich flees to Attila's court.