Strathclyde War

The Old Boar Suffered

Date 943 - 947
Location Scotland; Strathclyde
Result Norse Victory

  • De facto end of Scottish
    vassalage of Strathclyde
  • Creation of Jarldom of Suðrland
Forces of Eirik Bloodaxe

Orkneyjar Cumberland Suðreyjar Dublin



Commanders and leaders
Eirik Bloodaxe

Thorfinn Turf-Einarsson Arnkel Turf-Einarsson † Erlend Turf-Einarsson † Olaf Sigtryggsson Ragnall Guthfrithson Ivar Halfdansson Aralt Gofrithsson †

Malcom I

Dyfnwal III

Alt Clut   Lothian   Govan   Dunstaffnage   Scone  Inverness

The Strathclyde War was a conflict between the Kingdom of Scotland, and its vassal, the Kingdom of Strathclyde, versus the Kingdom of Suðreyjar and numerous other Norse allies in the British Isles. The conflict would be the first definitive war between the Kingdom of Scotland and its Norse rivals, ending in a victory for the Norse. The war effectively ended the Scottish vassalage of Strathclyde, as well as created the Jarldom of Suðrland, a territory in the north of Scotland established under Eirik Bloodaxe, deposed king of Norway. The Strathclyde War would weaken Scotland significantly, but in many cases the Norse kingdoms around it suffered their own instability, allowing Scotland to retake a number of territories over the course of the next few generations.




The former king of Norway, Eirik Bloodaxe, who had been deposed by Haakon the Good, had taken up residence in the Jarldom of Orkney several years after his war in Norway. An alliance was formed when Eirik gave his daughter Ragnhild to Jarl Thorfinn Turf-Einarsson’s son Arnfinn, helping to grow a loyal army. Eirik next secured an alliance with Olaf Sigtryggsson, who upon the death of Olaf Guthfrithson became king of Suðreyjar. Acting upon the advice of Olaf, Eirik sought to establish his own kingdom in the Kingdom of Scotland, and began amassing a force in the north. Ivar Halfdansson, Reeve of Cumberland, a warrior from the time of Ragnall’s invasion of Northumbria, also pledged support, and in 943 Olaf Sigtryggsson and Ragnall Guthfrithson, two of the most influential lords in Suðreyjar, led an army into Strathclyde.

Eirik Bloodaxe’s forces, and the forces of Orkney, landed in northern Northumbria, near the eastern coast of Scotland. Supported by an army of Jórvík warriors who joined his war effort, Eirik began raiding into southern Scotland. Olaf Sigtryggsson and Ragnall Guthfrithson landed in Strathclyde from the Isle of Man, conducting small scale raids before returning to their ships. The vikings traveled along the coast through the Firth of Clyde, into the River Clyde. Towns along the coast were raided sporadically, until the vikings came to Dumbarton. The city’s castle, Alt Clut, proved a difficult obstacle for the raiders from Suðreyjar, giving way to a four month siege. After an attempt to relieve the fortress failed, the vikings broke inside the castle. Dyfnwal III of Strathclyde was captured, as were most of his family, and those still remaining were either killed or enslaved.

The advances into Strathclyde were unchecked by the Scottish, who were distracted by Eirik Bloodaxe’s own advance into central Scotland. Eirik entered Lothian, where he met the forces of Malcom I of Scotland in battle. The Scottish army was largely unprepared in comparison to Eirik’s own force, and when they charged into battle, the vikings were able to partially surround the Scottish and rout them. This crushing defeat left Scotland heavily weakened, and Eirik was able to ravage much of Lothian. The Scottish nobility fled north to the royal court at Scone. Eirik Bloodaxe spent that winter in southern Scotland, while reinforcements from Orkney and Suðreyjar conducted raids in the region via the Firth of Forth. Olaf and Ragnall’s army continued as far east as Govan, before withdrawing.

Suðreyjar’s possessions in the Scottish Highlands had come under threat from local Scottish lords, and Olaf and Ragnall sailed north to combat this advance. At the Battle of Dunstaffnage the Scottish were effectively removed from Argyll, falling back inland to regroup their forces. In 944 they sailed up Loch Linnhe, before turning back and rounding the northern tip of Scotland. Eirik Bloodaxe sailed into the Firth of Tay, raiding the abbey at Dunkeld, and even threatening Scone itself. A battle outside the city pushed the vikings back to their ships, but not before much of the surrounding area had been raided. Raiding continued up the northern coast of Scotland, before both parties of vikings reached the city of Inverness in early 946.

By this time Malcom I of Scotland managed to defeat a third party in the south, possibly occupying party of Strathclyde and Northumbria. Raids by the Scottish are reported as far south as the River Tees, in retaliation for the region’s support of an invasion into his own land. In late 944 Aralt Gofrithsson, son of the king of Dublin, Gofraid Sigtryggsson, led a raid into southern Scotland. Aralt would reportedly be killed on this raid, ending Dublin’s small involvement in the conflict. After this victory, Malcom continued north, fortifying upon Craig Phadrig near Inverness. The subsequent Battle of Inverness saw the Scottish occupy the fort and the surrounding area, inflicting heavy casualties against the vikings. After the vikings appeared to flee, Scottish peasants pursued them frantically, against the orders of Malcom. The Scottish army, now exposed from their fort, was promptly surrounded by Norse reinforcements. Reportedly the entire force that chased after the vikings would be killed, ending the day as a decisive victory for the Norse. The victory would leave a large number of Scottish nobles dead on the battlefield, and convinced Malcom I to sue for peace.

Weakened by extensive warring, the Norse kings ended their raiding by late 947. Eirik Bloodaxe remained in the north and warred against the local lords and chieftains of Caithness and Sutherland, creating the so called Jarldom of Suðrland. In the south Scotland de facto ended its vassalge of Strathclyde, and also lost a number of neighboring towns to the Kingdom of Suðreyjar. The Strathclyde War would weaken Scotland significantly, but in many cases the Norse kingdoms around it suffered their own instability, allowing Scotland to retake a number of territories over the course of the next few generations.