Aslaug

October 21, 2023 6 min read

THE STORY OF ASLAUG: THE PRINCESS DISGUISED AS A CUNNING PEASANT

Aslaug | The legend behind this Viking queen!

From an ancestral Nordic lineage, Aslaug is a Viking princess who will mark the history of this civilization. Despite a tragic fate, she becomes the wife of Ragnar Lodbrok and gives him his glorious sons.

Even though described as a great Viking sovereign, her character remains very controversial, both for her existence and her historical authenticity. Yet, Viking historical sources depict her as being the most worthy wife of King Ragnar.

Without further ado, we unveil the origins of a Viking heroine, a peasant destined to become a queen. Here is the fabulous story of Aslaug, the woman who will mark all of Nordic history!

The story of Aslaug: the princess disguised as a cunning peasant

Aslaug | The legend behind this Viking queen! Viking Heritage

 

Lovers of the legendary Queen Aslaug, the legend of Ragnar Lodbrok has enchanted historians for over a millennium. How can one speak of the story of this semi-legendary king without addressing that of his wives and sons who undeniably contributed to his glory?.

Indeed, all fans of the hit series Vikings were marked by this emblematic character, Ragnar's second wife.

She is a colorful and multifaceted character at the center of the Viking king's story. Although the series brought this exceptional woman to life, portrayed by the talented Alyssa Sutherland, the real Aslaug differs quite a bit!

The only daughter of the Viking hero Sigurd and the valkyrie Brynhildr, she is a woman of incomparable beauty. Apart from these few details, that's where the resemblance between the series and the true story of Aslaug ends.

Indeed, historical sources and Nordic sagas tell very different stories about Ragnar's wives. In this regard, she would be his second wife after his first wife, Thora, succumbed to illness.

Several sagas originating from the Poetic Edda tell this version of the story, including:

  • The Ragnarr saga Loðbrókar or "Saga of Ragnarr with Hairy Breeches";
  • The Ragnarssona þáttr or "Tale of Ragnar's Sons";
  • The Völsunga saga.

The most surprising fact is that Aslaug and Lagertha are never mentioned at the same time in the same historical source. In this regard, Lagertha is described as Ragnar's wife only in the Gesta Danorum. This detail will overturn everything you thought you knew about her!

Before becoming Ragnar Lodbrok's wife, she had a completely different name, that of Kráka. Why did she have to change her name? To find out, we reveal the origins of this princess from a legendary Viking lineage.

The legendary origins of Princess Kráka

Aslaug | The legend behind this Viking queen! Viking Heritage


According to the Völsunga saga and Ragnarr saga Loðbrókar, Aslaug comes from a noble lineage. She is the last descendant, daughter of Sigurd, slayer of the dragon Fafnir, and of Brynhildr, the famous valkyrie. She is also known as Svanlaug in Saxo Grammaticus.

Alas, her parents met a tragic fate. Her father, affected by the curse of Andvari's gold, died soon after. The same fate befell her mother, so from a young age, she was raised by her mother's adoptive father, Heimer.

Concerned for her safety, he designed a giant harp to protect her continuously. He appeared as a musician traveling from one place to another. She hardly ever left it.

During his visit to the village of Spangereid, he was welcomed by a peasant couple, Ake and Grima. The majestic appearance of the harp seemed suspicious to them. Thinking it contained precious objects, they murdered the old man and took it.

To their surprise, it hid a little girl of unparalleled beauty, Aslaug. Having no children, they decided to raise her in turn.

However, to hide her noble origins, they tried to conceal her beauty. They covered her with tar and dirt and forced her to wear a long hood at all times. This is where she got the nickname Kráka, which means crow.

Ragnar Lodbrok and Aslaug: the love story that marks Viking mythology

 

The pure love story that unites Aslaug and Ragnar has somewhat lost its charm due to false assumptions conveyed by popular culture. Contrary to the Vikings series plot, he does not leave his first wife Lagertha to be with her. In fact, according to most historical sources, Lagertha wasn't even his first wife.

How did their relationship begin? What do these two historical characters share? A bit of context to clarify things.

The meeting of Aslaug and Ragnar, a twist of fate

With her real beauty hidden by her adoptive parents, there was theoretically no way for Aslaug to attract any attention. So it was by chance that Ragnar's men saw her while she was bathing in a clearing. Mesmerized by her beauty, they even abandoned the meal they were cooking.

On his return, they described to Ragnar the elegant woman they had encountered during the day. They spoke of unparalleled beauty and refined character. However, Ragnar, now a widower after the death of his first wife Thora, was not convinced.

In his eyes, intellect weighed as much as physical appearance. He decided to challenge her. He invited her to come neither dressed nor undressed; neither full nor hungry; neither alone nor accompanied.

These conditions, which could have discouraged many, did not deter the ingenious peasant. Being cunning, she found a middle ground that met all these insurmountable criteria. She answered the call, coming dressed in a fishing net, with an onion in her mouth, accompanied by her pet dog.

Impressed by her sharpness of mind, Ragnar Lodbrok fell for the cunning peasant and proposed marriage on the spot. However, she stated she wouldn't accept until he conquered Norway. No sooner said than done: she married the eminent Viking warrior.

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Kráka proclaimed queen of the kingdom

Until then, Ragnar was unaware of

Aslaug's magical powers. Although she had accurately predicted that their first child, Ivar the Boneless, would have a severe condition if they did not wait for his conception, he suspected nothing.

 

To him, she was a peasant he deeply cherished and was madly in love with. The way he learns about her true identity is quite unexpected.

When he went on an expedition, he visited Eysteinn Beli. According to the Saga of Ragnarr with the Hairy Breeches, he was the king of Sweden, or his deputy, referring to the Tale of Ragnarr's Sons.

Eysteinn manipulates him, trying to convince him to abandon the queen and take his daughter, Ingeborg, a royalty worthy of the throne. They arrange an engagement, and Ragnar prepares to leave his wife. Birds overhear these plans and fly to Kráka, recounting every detail.

Upon his return, she confronts the king and reveals her true identity. She informs him that she is the daughter of Sigurd, the slayer of Fafnir, and shares her gifts with him. To prove her claims, she predicts that their next child will have the image of a serpent in his eyes. This prophecy comes true with the birth of Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

After proving her worth, Ragnar reconsiders his decision. Outraged by his choice to stay with the queen, Eysteinn turns against him. Fortunately, Kráka orders her children to kill him before the situation escalates. Depending on the versions, he would have succumbed at the hands of the king or his sons.

Throughout Ragnar's reign, his wife uses her magical powers to ensure his victories:

  • At times, he disregards her warnings and later regrets it. This is notably the case during his expedition to England, when he ignores her weather predictions.
  • In other circumstances, her powers are of great help. The shirt she sewed protects him from King Ælla's snakes initially. They only harm him after it's removed.

The children of Aslaug and Ragnar

During their many years of marriage, Aslaug and Ragnar have four sons, all destined to become valiant Viking warriors. They are Björn, Ivar the Boneless, Hvitserk, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

Coming from a royal lineage, their blood is noble, and their mysterious powers will be passed down for generations. Each has left a mark on Scandinavian history in their unique way, as seen in their respective chapters.

Aslaug | La légende derrière cette reine viking ! Viking Héritage

Aslaug in the Vikings series

Interestingly, Aslaug's character in the hit series Vikings is not portrayed faithfully. After reading this excerpt, the discrepancies are evident to series enthusiasts.
Often in conflict with Ragnar, she is portrayed as detached and cold. Not to mention the claim that she seduced him while he was married, which is baseless. Moreover, their marriage is riddled with mutual infidelities.
According to historical sources, their relationship was harmonious. Kráka was kind-hearted and helped her husband with her foresight. When she married him, he was a widower, not married to Lagertha. The rest, of course, was added to make the story more thrilling.
Nevertheless, Aslaug remains one of the most intriguing characters in Viking literature. Her journey sheds light on the importance of women during their era and reveals their involvement in significant historical legends.

Author's note 

Aslaug's story is not just a tale of love, power, and magic. It's a testament to the strength and resilience of Viking women. Despite facing numerous challenges, from her concealed identity to navigating the complex world of Viking politics, Aslaug remained a pivotal figure in the annals of Viking history.

Her influence extended beyond her immediate family. As the mother of renowned Viking warriors, she played a crucial role in shaping the future of the Viking Age. Her sons went on to conquer lands, establish dynasties, and continue the legacy of their parents.


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