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Karl Hundason is one of the heroes in Orkneyinga saga. The saga recounts a war between Þorfinnr Sigurðsson, Earl of Orkney, and Karl, whom it calls king of Scots. The question of his identity and historicity has been debated by historians of Scotland and the Northern Isles for more than a century. However a literal translation suggests that the name may simply be an insult.

Orkneyinga saga[]

The Orkneyinga saga says that a dispute between Þorfinnr Sigurðsson and Karl Hundason began when Karl Hundason became "King of Scots" and claimed Caithness. According to the Orkneyinga saga, in the war which followed, Þorfinnr defeated Karl in a sea-battle off Deerness at the east end of the Orkney Mainland. Then Karl's nephew Mutatan or Muddan, appointed to rule Caithness for him, was killed at Thurso by Þorkell fóstri. Finally, a great battle at Tarbat Ness on the south side of the Dornoch Firth ended with Karl defeated and fugitive or dead. Þorfinnr, the saga says, then marched south through Scotland as far as Fife, burning and plundering as he passed. A later note in the saga claims that Þorfinnr won nine Scottish earldoms.[1]

Whoever Karl Hundason may have been, it is thought that the saga is reporting a local conflict, perhaps with a Scots ruler of Moray or Ross:

[T]he whole narrative is consistent with the idea that the struggle of Thorfinn and Karl is a continuation of that which had been waged since the ninth century by the Orkney earls, notably Sigurd Rognvald's son, Ljot, and Sigurd the Stout, against the princes or mormaers of Moray, Sutherland, Ross, and Argyll, and that, in fine, Malcolm and Karl were mormaers of one of these four provinces.[2][3][4][5]


  1. Orkneyinga Saga, cc. 20 & 32.
  2. Taylor, p. 338; Crawford, pp. 71–74.
  3. Taylor's comment about "Sigurd Rognvald's son, Ljot" is almost certainly a reference to Earl Ljot Thorfinnsson, the son of Thorfinn Torf-Einarsson. Canmore states that the battle at Skitten Mire where Ljot Thorfinnsson was mortally wounded in battle with Macbeth took place between 943 and 945. He was the only 'Ljot' that was an Earl of Orkney and there is no other individual with this name in the index of either Thomson (2001) or Crawford (1987).
  4. "Upper Bowertower, Stone Lud". Canmore. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
  5. Muir (2005) p. 21


  • Anon., Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, tr. Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. Penguin, London, 1978. ISBN: 0-14-044383-5
  • Crawford, Barbara, Scandinavian Scotland. Leicester University Press, Leicester, 1987. 0-7185-1282-0
  • Muir, Tom (2005) Orkney in the Sagas. Kirkwall. The Orcadian. ISBN: 0-9548862-2-4
  • Taylor, A.B., "Karl Hundason: King of Scots" in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, LXXI (1937), pp. 334–340.
  • Woolf, Alex, From Pictland to Alba, 789–1070. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7486-1234-5
  • Thomson, William P.L., The New History of Orkney. Edinburgh: Mercat Press, 2001. ISBN: 1-84183-022-4

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