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Ragnar Lodbrok

Lothbrocus and his sons Ivar and Ubba. 15th-century miniature in Harley MS 2278, folio 39r.

Ragnar Lodbrok or Lothbrok (Old Norse: Ragnarr Loðbrók, "Ragnar shaggy breeches", contemporary Norse: Ragnar Loðbrók) was a Norse Viking hero and legendary Scandinavian king known from Viking Age Old Norse poetry, sagas, as well as contemporary chronicles. To those in modern academia, his life and personage is somewhat historically dubious.[1][2] According to traditional literature, Ragnar distinguished himself by many raids against Eastern Europe, Francia, Ireland, and Britain during the 9th century. His Legendary kingdom may have included parts of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.


The Icelandic Sagas

According to the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, Tale of Ragnar's sons, Heimskringla, Hervarar Saga, Sögubrot, and many other Icelandic sources, Ragnar was the son of the Scandinavian king Sigurd Ring. All of the sagas agree that Randver was Sigurd's father, with the Hervarar saga citing his wife as Asa, the daughter of King Harald of the Red Moustache from Norway. The accounts further tell that Randver was a grandson of the legendary Scandinavian king Ivar Vidfamne by his daughter Aud (whom the Hervarar saga calls Alfhild). After the death of king Ivar Vidfamne, Aud's eldest son by the Danish king Hrœrekr Ringslinger, Harald, conquered all of his grandfather's territory and became known as Harald Wartooth. Harald's nephew Sigurd Ring became the chief king of Sweden after Randvner's death (Denmark according to Hervarar saga), presumably as the subking of Harald. Sigurd and Harald fought the Battle of the Brávellir (Bråvalla) on the plains of Östergötland, where Harald and many of his men died. Sigurd then ruled Sweden and Denmark from about 770 until his death prior to 804. He was succeeded by his son Ragnar Lodbrok. Eysteinn Beli, whom according to the Hervarar Saga was Harald Wartooth's son, ruled Sweden sometime after Sigurd until he was slain by the sons of Ragnar and Aslaug. The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, Tale of Ragnar's Sons, and Heimskringla and tell of the Great Heathen Army that invaded England at around 866, led by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok to wreak revenge against King Ælla of Northumbria who is told to have captured and executed Ragnar.

Frankish accounts of a 9th-century Viking leader named Ragnar

The Siege of Paris and the Sack of Paris of 845 was the culmination of a Viking invasion of the kingdom of the West Franks. The Viking forces were led by a Norse chieftain named "Reginherus", or Ragnar.[3] This Ragnar has often been tentatively identified with the legendary saga figure Ragnar Lodbrok but the accuracy of this is disputed by historians.[4][5] Around 841, Ragnar had been awarded land in Torhout, Flanders, by Charles the Bald but he eventually lost the land as well as the favour of the King.[6] Ragnar's Vikings raided Rouen on their way up the Seine in 845 and in response to the invasion, determined not to let the royal Abbey of Saint-Denis (near Paris) be destroyed, Charles assembled an army which he divided into two parts, one for each side of the river.[7][4] Ragnar attacked and defeated one of the divisions of the smaller Frankish army, took 111 of their men as prisoners and hanged them on an island on the Seine to honour the Norse god Odin, as well as to incite terror in the remaining Frankish forces.[3][4]

Contemporary account of the father of Ivar, Halfdan, and Ubbe

According to Asser's late 9th century history The Life of King Alfred, in 878 the "brother of Hingwar and Healfden", with a naval fleet, a contingent of the Great Heathen Army invaded Devon in England at the Battle of Cynwit. There the Vikings lost, their king slain (probably Ubba) and many dead, with few escaping to their ships. After the battle the Saxons took great plunder, and among other things the banner called "Raven". Asser further states that "they say that the three sisters of Hingwar and Hubba, daughters of Lodobroch (Lodbrok), wove that flag and got it ready in one day. They say, moreover, that in every battle, wherever the flag went before them, if they were to gain the victory a live crow would appear flying on the middle of the flag; but if they were doomed to be defeated it would hang down motionless, and this was often proved to be so." This excerpt was written by Asser in 893, only five years after the events being told about. This is among the oldest references to the legendary hero Ragnar Lodbrok.

Ragnar's sons

The saga as published by Norstedts in a large-size illustrated version (1880).

The Great Heathen Army is said to have been led by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, to wreak revenge against King Ælla of Northumbria who had previously executed Ragnar by casting him into a pit full of venomous snakes.[8] The Great Heathen Army was first organized and led by the brothers Ivar the Boneless, Ubba, Halfdan, Björn Ironside, Hvitserk, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, all of which are known as historical figures, save the slightly more dubious Hvitserk.[9] Ivar the Boneless was the leader of the Great Heathen Army from 865 to 870, but he disappears from English historical accounts after 870.[10] The Anglo-Saxon chronicler Æthelweard records Ivar's death as 870.[11] Halfdan Ragnarsson became the leader of the Great Heathen Army in about 870 and he led it in an invasion of Wessex.[12] A great number of Viking warriors arrived from Scandinavia, as part of the Great Summer Army, led by King Bagsecg of Denmark, bolstering the ranks of Halfdan's army.[13]

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Danes battled the West Saxons nine times, including the Battle of Ashdown on 8 January 871, where Bagsecg was killed.[14] Halfdan accepted a truce from the future Alfred the Great, newly crowned king of Wessex.[15] Halfdan succeeded Bagsecg as King of most of Denmark (Jutland and Wendland) in about 871. Bjorn Ironside became King of Sweden and Uppsala in about 865, (the same year his father Ragnar is said to have died). Bjorn had two sons, Refil and Erik Björnsson. His son Erik became the next king of Sweden, and was succeeded in turn by Erik the son of Refil. Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye became King of Zealand and the Danish Isles in about 871, and also succeeded his brother Halfdan as King of Denmark in about 877.

Sources and historicity

Ragnar receives Kráka (Aslaug), as imagined by August Malmström.
19th-century artist's impression of Ælla of Northumbria's execution of Ragnar Lodbrok

Whereas Ragnar's sons Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Bjorn Ironside, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye are widely known to have been historical figures, opinion regarding their supposed father is divided; modern acedemia regards most of the stories about him to be mere fiction. According to Hilda Ellis Davidson, writing in 1979,

Certain scholars in recent years have come to accept at least part of Ragnar's story as based on historical fact.[16]

A generation later, however, Katherine Holman, writing in 2003, expressed her own personal opinion:

Although his sons are historical figures, there is no evidence that Ragnar himself ever lived and he seems to be an amalgam of historical figures and literary invention.[17]

According to traditional sources, Ragnar (possibly as a literary composite) was:

The most significant medieval sources that mention Ragnar include:

In her commentary on Saxo's Gesta Danorum, Davidson notes that Saxo's coverage of Ragnar's legend in book IX of the Gesta appears to be an attempt to consolidate many of the confusing and contradictory events and stories known to the chronicler into the reign of one king, Ragnar. That is why many acts ascribed to Ragnar in the Gesta can be associated, through other sources, with various figures, some of whom are more historically tenable. These candidates for the "historical Ragnar" include:

Attempts to link the legendary Ragnar with one or several of those men have failed because of the difficulty in reconciling the various accounts and their chronology. The tradition of a Viking hero named Ragnar (or similar) who wreaked havoc in mid-9th-century Europe and who fathered many famous sons is remarkably persistent and some aspects of it are covered by relatively reliable sources, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[citation needed]

In popular culture

Ragnar Lodbrok features prominently in:

See also


  1. ^ Magnusson 2008, p. 106.
  2. ^ Harrison 1993, p. 16.
  3. ^ a b Kohn 2006, p. 588.
  4. ^ a b c Jones 2001, p. 212.
  5. ^ Sprague 2007, p. 225.
  6. ^ Sawyer 2001, p. 40.
  7. ^ Duckett 1988, p. 181.
  8. ^ Karasavvas, Theodoros. "Ragnar Lothbrok: The Ferocious Viking Hero that Became a Myth". Ancient Origins. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  9. ^ a b c Holman 2003, p. 220.
  10. ^ Forte, Angelo; Oram, Richard; Pedersen, Frederik (2005-05-30). Viking Empires (First ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521829922
  11. ^ Giles, J. A., ed. (2010-09-10). Six Old English Chronicles: Ethelwerd's Chronicle, Asser's Life Of Alfred, Geoffrey Of Monmouth's British History, Gildas, Nennius And Richard Of Cirencester. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. ISBN 9781163125991
  12. ^ Forte, A; Oram, RD; Pedersen, F (2005). Viking Empires. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-82992-2. p. 72
  13. ^ Hooper, Nicholas Hooper; Bennett, Matthew (1996). The Cambridge Illustrated Atlas of Warfare: the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44049-1. p.22
  14. ^ Costambeys, M (2004). "Hálfdan (d. 877)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49260
  15. ^ Forte, A; Oram, RD; Pedersen, F (2005). Viking Empires. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-82992-2. pp. 72–73
  16. ^ Davidson p. 277
  17. ^ Holman 2003 p. 220
  18. ^ Davidson 1980, p. 277.
  19. ^ "'Last Kingdom' Stars: Where Have You Seen Them Before?". BBC America.


Further reading

  • McTurk, Rory (1991). Studies in Ragnars saga loðbrókar and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues. Medium Aevum Monographs. 15. Oxford. ISBN 0-907570-08-9.
  • Strerath-Bolz, Ulrike (1993). Review of Rory McTurk, Studies in "Ragnars saga loðbrókar" and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues, Alvíssmál 2: 118–19.
  • Forte, Angelo, Richard Oram, and Frederik Pedersen (2005). Viking Empires. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-82992-5.
  • Schlauch, Margaret (transl.) (1964). The Saga of the Volsungs: the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok Together with the Lay of Kraka. New York: American Scandinavian Foundation.
  • Waggoner, Ben (2009). The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok. The Troth. ISBN 978-0-578-02138-6.
Legendary titles
Preceded by
Sigurd Ring
King of Sweden
in West Norse tradition
Succeeded by
Eysteinn Beli
Preceded by
Harald Greyhide
King of Denmark Succeeded by
Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye
Preceded by
Siwardus Ring
King of Denmark
in Gesta Danorum
Succeeded by
Siwardus III