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Björn I or Ironsides

October 21, 2023 7 min read

BJÖRN I OR BJÖRN IRONSIDES: THE MYTHICAL SON OF RAGNAR

Björn I or Ironsides | The story of the greatest Viking conqueror!

The Vikings formed an astonishing civilization, with valiant warriors who could not be stopped by anything or anyone. The Scandinavian people not only made all of Europe tremble but also all the kingdoms of their time. One particular Viking king was feared by all, the legendary Björn I!

Björn Ironsides, son of the mythical king Ragnar Lodbrok, is the one who made the Vikings feared by all. Alongside his father and brothers, he successfully led raids to the ends of the world. According to the tales, Björn I is a fierce Viking leader. Through his many feats, he forged the legend of the Vikings.

Between tales and reality, you will discover in this article the story of Björn I. It has been recounted by renowned historians from many lands and discredited by others. Prepare to trace the origin of one of the greatest kings of the Viking era.

Björn I or Björn Ironsides: the mythical son of Ragnar

Björn I or Björn Ironsides: the mythical son of Ragnar

Björn I, born between the year 840 and 845 AD, is one of the many presumed sons of the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok. He succeeded him after his death as king of Sweden, over which he ruled until his death in 876. During this period, he founded the Munsö Dynasty, a mythical lineage of Swedish kings.

Just like the legend of Ragnar, the story of Björn is shrouded in mystery and has many gray areas. However, unlike the former, historians agree that Björn did indeed exist in the 9th century. However, many assume that the exploits attributed to him do not entirely belong to him and only enhance the legend and merit of his royal lineage.

To fully discern the complexity of this mythical Viking character, one must go back to his origins. Only by having this critical information can one understand his rise to the title of legendary king.

 

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The origins of Björn I Järnsida: a king with an uncertain mother

Contrary to the widely held popular belief, Lagertha; the Viking warrior, is not the mother of Björn Ironsides. The series "Vikings" is not a historical series, and has never claimed to be, hence its creative liberties.

In reality, Ragnar only had 3 children with Lagertha during their 3 years of marriage. Their son's name is "Fridleif", while the names of their 2 daughters remain unknown.

The mother of Björn I varies according to the sagas and tales:

  • In the Ragnars saga loðbrókar: his mother would be "Aslaug" or "Kráka". She is said to be the daughter of a legendary Viking hero and a valkyrie.
  • In the Gesta Danorum: according to Saxo Grammaticus, Björn is the son of "Thora Borgarthiort". She would be the descendant of a jarl whose hand Ragnar wins by fighting a giant serpent.

According to "Ragnarssonaþáttr" or "The Tale of Ragnar's Sons", Ragnar only had two children with Thora: Eiríkr and Agnar. Both died very young from illness. After Thora's premature death, Ragnar remarries with "Aslaug" who gives him his legendary children, including Björn I.

 

Aslaug, the mother of Björn Ier with divine blood

Aslaug, the mother of Björn Ier with divine blood

The Ragnars saga loðbrókar tells the story of Aslaug, a famous figure in Viking mythology and folklore. Some authors believe she was a Valkyrie goddess who led this Viking king to his greatest victories.

Aslaug, daughter of the legendary Viking hero Siegfried and the valkyrie Brynhildr, was a girl of unparalleled beauty. She immediately became the object of desire for all the great Vikings. To protect her, her grandfather "Heimer" crafted a giant harp in which she could hide. After the death of her parents, he left the kingdom with her using the harp.

Heimer found refuge with a peasant family. However, the couple quickly became enchanted by the harp containing Aslaug. Mistakenly believing it held treasure, they killed Heimer to claim it. They eventually discovered young Aslaug inside the harp and decided to adopt her.

After some time, they realized that her nobility and beauty could be a danger to her. That's why they named her Kráka, which means "crow". They hid her identity for a long part of her life, until the day Ragnar learned of the existence of this incomparably beautiful woman.

Thus, Ragnar proposed to Kráka after testing her intelligence and wit. Ragnar Lodbrok had 4 sons with his wife Aslaug. They are:

  • Ivar the Boneless;
  • Björn Ier or Iron-Side;
  • Hvitserk, whose only mention is in the "Ragnarssonaþáttr";
  • Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

Kráka was not a mere human. She had divine blood that gave her the power of clairvoyance. Thanks to her advice, Ragnar and Björn Ier achieved their greatest victories.

Thora Borgarthiort, the legendary Viking queen

In the Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus tells a different story about the origin of Björn Iron-Side. Indeed, his mother would be none other than Thora Borgarthiort, the second wife Ragnar took after Lagertha, and the daughter of Herrauðr, the king of Sweden.

To win Thora's hand, Ragnar had to face a challenge: defeat a "lindworm". This is a giant serpent that held the princess captive in her palace. Ragnar triumphed over this creature with only a spear and hairy breeches that protected him from the venom and snake bites.

During this adventure, Ragnar earned his famous nickname: "Lodbrok", which means "hairy breeches". A title that his son, Björn Lodbrok, would later bear.

According to the Gesta Danorum, Ragnar had 7 sons with Thora, making Björn his 4th child. In addition to Ivar and Sigurd, Björn Ier's 4 other brothers are:

  • Rathbarth Ragnarsson;
  • Dunwat Ragnarsson;
  • Agner Ragnarsson;
  • Halfdan Ier Ragnarsson.

Björn Iron-Side's war exploits

Björn Iron-Side's war exploits

In Danish and Scandinavian traditions, the son of a Viking king must prove himself in war. That's why he had to lead his father's army and fleets into battle, to strengthen his authority and worth as a future king.

When Ragnar Lodbrok became king, he sent his son Björn out of the kingdom. He is first mentioned in the summer of 855 in the "Annales Bertiniani and de Fontenelle". With the help and advice of his mentor Hasting, a valiant Viking, Björn Ier led Ragnar's fleet to victory against the kingdom of West Francia.

During that same year, Björn, with the help of another great Viking, Sigtrygg, sailed up the Seine to colonize the lands of France. They set up their base near Givold's tomb to launch their assaults and raids on Paris. Thus, they ended up plundering it between 856 and 857. Shortly after, Björn built a fort on the island of Osselle in Normandy, from where he conducted his missions for many years.

During his many raids and expeditions, Björn earned his legendary title "Iron-Side".

During his many raids and expeditions, Björn earned his legendary title "Iron-Side".

Meaning and origin of Björn's title "Iron-Side"

Björn Ier fought many battles alongside his father Ragnar. He earned his epithet during a conflict against a Swedish sovereign, Sörle. On the battlefield, Björn inflicted significant damage on the enemy troops without being struck once.

According to legends, Björn Ier, as well as his brothers, had the blood of Viking gods flowing in their veins. This came from both their mother of Valkyrie origins and their father Ragnar, a direct descendant of the divine lineage of the "Alfar".

Throughout the battle, Björn did not shed a drop of blood. He was likened to a Viking warrior with divine power. It's said that he drew his strength from his ribs or sides, which gave him iron-like resilience. After this battle, Ragnar introduced his son to all of Sweden as the Iron-Side Viking.

This is how the legend of the greatest Viking leader, Björn Iron-Side, was born. A warrior who could single-handedly turn the tide of a battle in his favor.

Björn's other conquests

 

The Mediterranean region experienced numerous Viking raids led by Björn and Hasting during the period from 859 to 861. Many sources and texts from France, Normandy, the Arab kingdom, Ireland, and Scandinavia describe this time as the golden age of the Vikings.

The Arab historian "Ibn Idhari" describes the Viking attack with 62 ships on the Iberian peninsula. This victory allowed Björn Ier's fleet to cross the Strait of Gibraltar, pillaging almost the entire Mediterranean:

  • The first region they attacked was southern France, where they decided to stay for the winter;
  • They then invaded Italy, capturing the city of Pisa and Sicily.

However, during a severe storm, Björn's Viking fleet suffered heavy losses. Over 40 ships sank in the Mediterranean, along with all the treasures they carried. To regroup the remaining forces, Björn's mentor, "Hasting", advised him to return to the Iberian peninsula and plan further raids and expeditions.

This allowed them to defend against the fleet of the Arab kingdom. They then advanced in the conquest of Italy, plundering the riches of the greatest monasteries.

Björn Ier: Ragnar Lodbrok's rightful successor

Björn Ier: Ragnar Lodbrok's rightful successor

According to tales, in his final days, Ragnar Lodbrok became overconfident and believed himself invincible. This led to his downfall during his last raid on England. Despite warnings from Kráka or Aslaug, who had predicted his defeat, Ragnar still undertook this final expedition with only two ships.

Ragnar was captured by the English king Ælla of Northumbria. He met his end in a snake pit, succumbing to their bites and venom. To avenge him, Björn Ier and his brothers devised a plan that led to the downfall of King Ælla. They tortured him using a brutal Viking ritual called the Blood Eagle.

The new king of Sweden

After Ragnar's death, his kingdom was divided among his legitimate sons. According to the "Tale of Ragnar's Sons", Björn Ier became the ruler of "Uppsala" and king of Sweden. After this event, mentions of Björn in historical sources are rare, and no one knows how this great Viking leader died. It's said he lived peaceful days until his last breath.

His legend lives on through his two sons, both great warriors and Viking kings.

Founder of the Munsö dynasty

Björn Ier Iron-Side is the founder of the greatest lineage of Viking kings. His descendants ruled Scandinavia until the 11th century. Ragnar and his father Sigurd were the first of this lineage, which continued through Björn's sons:

  • Eric II Björnsson, who succeeded his father as king of Sweden. He, in turn, had two sons who ruled the country;
  • Refil Björnsson, a great Viking warrior with many exploits. His son, Eric III Refilsson, became the new king of Sweden after the death of his uncle.

The Munsö dynasty ruled over Sweden and the entire Nordic kingdom throughout the Viking Age, i.e., for over 200 years. Many historians believe that Icelandic sources greatly embellished this lineage to add more prestige and glory to their kings.

The story of Björn Ier, this iconic Viking figure, mirrors that of his father Ragnar. He was a king of uncertain origins who was the foundation of an entire people's glory.


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