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October 22, 2023 8 min read

Lagertha | Legend of the greatest Viking warrior!

Lagertha | The Legend of the Greatest Viking Warrior!

Viking mythology is full of legendary heroes who shaped the history of this ancient civilization. Contrary to popular belief, not all of these heroes were men! Viking warriors, or Skjaldmös, are described as true goddesses of war, among whom one stands out in particular: Lagertha, the Viking queen!

The tales of Lagertha's exploits depict her strength, bravery, and unwavering courage. She led great wars in the Viking kingdom and single-handedly made the most ferocious hordes of enemies tremble.

Do you want to discover the origin and story of the legendary Lagertha for yourself? Prepare to relive the tale of this famous warrior who was, time and again, the savior of King Ragnar Lodbrok in this article!

The Story of Lagertha: Between Legend and Reality

Lagertha between Legend and Reality

The beginning of the Viking Age (the end of the 8th century) was a period that witnessed one of the greatest conflicts in Viking civilization. The Scandinavian kingdom, expanding at that time, struggled to unify the various kings and sovereign families.

Numerous conflicts for the crown erupted between different kings and jarls (a term meaning earls in Old Norse). It was during this time that the legend of the warrior Lagertha was born, amidst a terrible war that pitted Sweden against Norway, as recounted in the Gesta Danorum (Deeds of the Danes).

The Origin and Meaning of the Name "Lagertha"


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Lagertha is a skjaldmö, a Viking warrior woman who wields a shield in battle. She is of Danish origin, more precisely from present-day Norway, related to the royal family of Siward (Synardus or Sywardus), a legendary Norse Viking king.

The name "Lagertha," as well as its variants "Ladgerda, Ladgertha, or Lathgertha," are a Latinization of the Old Norse name "Hlaðgerðr" (Hladgerd). It first appears in the Gesta Danorum, transcribed by Saxo.

Hlaðgerðr does not have a precise origin, but it may have 2 meanings:

  • It is the combination of "Hlað", which means headdress or gold curls, and "gerðr" which means protection. Lagertha, with her long blonde hair, protected King Ragnar from certain defeat on numerous occasions;
  • It may come from "Hlaðir" or Lade. This is a region in Norway where jarls from a dynasty of powerful Viking kings and governors reigned.

According to other legends and Viking sagas, Lagertha could be the manifestation of the Valkyrie goddess "Thorgerd", or Þorgerðr Hölgabrúð in Old Norse.

A common and widespread mistake is to add "Lodrbok" to Lagertha's name, as it is actually Ragnar's nickname. Lodbrok, or "Loðbrók" in Old Norse, means "hairy breeches." It is an honorary title that Ragnar earned when he defeated two giant snakes wearing nothing but hairy breeches.

The Goddess Thorgerd: The Inspiration for Lagertha

In Scandinavian mythology, the Valkyries are war goddesses who serve the god Odin. Some of them transform into swans to fly over the battlefields, leading Viking warriors to victory. Thus, they are comparable to protective goddesses.

The Valkyries "Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr" (Thorgerd) and her sister "Irpa" are Aesir goddesses who are believed to have played a crucial role in numerous key events of the Nordic civilization. Various Sagas and Viking legends attest to their influence:

  • The Saga of Njáll the Burned: This is an Icelandic saga that recounts the wars and quarrels between Vikings and Christians in the 9th century. The two goddesses are said to have assisted the Vikings in winning their battle against the Christian invasion;
  • The Snorri's Edda: This is the largest collection of Norse mythology. A part of the Edda, the "Skaldskaparmal," mentions numerous Valkyries as well as their powers. "Irpa" and "Thorgerd" are notably cited for their crucial role in numerous wars;
  • The Jómsvíkinga Saga: It describes a legendary naval battle that pits the Danish invaders led by the "Jomsvikings" (an elite of Viking warriors) against the jarls of Lade in Norway. Haakon Sigurdsson, the leader of the jarls of Lade, wins the victory by praying to his protective goddess "Thorgerd".

Thorgerd is thus described in some sagas as the protective goddess of Haakon Sigurdsson, the leader of the jarls of Lade (Hlaðir), and in other stories as being his wife. In both versions, this Valkyrie protects him and assists him in becoming the king of Norway.

According to Hilda Roderick Davidson, a specialist in Germanic culture, and historian Nora Chadwick, Lagertha is actually the goddess Þorgerðr Hölgabrúðr (Thorgerd). This partly explains the presumed origin of Lagertha's name in Old Norse "Hlaðgerðr," which comes from Hlaðir (Lade), where jarl Haakon Sigurdsson lived.

The Gesta Danorum: The Story of Lagertha

In addition to being a monk, Saxo Grammaticus is also a renowned Danish historian. He is the author of 16 books on Norse history and mythology. It is in the 9th book of the Gesta Danorum that he introduces Lagertha as "a talented Amazon."

In addition to Norse myths, Saxo draws inspiration from the legend of the Amazon warriors of Greek mythology to describe Lagertha's courage and bravery. Thus, despite her very young age, Lagertha combines the power of the Skjaldmös and the perseverance of the Amazons.

However, the medieval Church has greatly influenced Saxo's narratives. The Viking Skjaldmös, including Lagertha, are somewhat the embodiment of chaos. These Viking warriors, not conforming to the role of servant and procreator assigned to women, have long been attacked by the Church.

The Legend of Lagertha: The Birth of a Viking Goddess!

The warrior career of Lagertha begins in the 9th book of the Gesta Danorum, at a time when the Viking kingdom was torn apart by internal conflicts for the throne and power. The king of Sweden "Frø" decides to attack Norway, and thus kills its king "Synardus," who is none other than Ragnar's grandfather.

The king "Frø," to further humiliate the deceased king of Norway, orders the imprisonment of all the royal family's women in enclosed places where they are abused. When Ragnar Lodbrok learns of this, he gathers an army to fight king "Frø" and restore his family's honor.

The First Great Battle of Lagertha

The legend of Lagertha: the birth of a Viking goddess

When Ragnar Lodbrok arrives in Norway, he finds himself face to face with a troop of women disguised as men who prefer to perish in battle than to suffer the indignity and humiliation that the king of Sweden intended for them.

Leading them was none other than Lagertha, who was very young at the time. The Vikings who witnessed her glorious battle described a woman with the courage of ten men, who fought with the noblest Viking warriors in the front lines of the melee.

Only her flowing golden hair betrayed her. This left all the warriors who witnessed her feats, including Ragnar Lodbrok, in awe.

After killing King "Frø", succeeding to the throne of Norway, Ragnar declares that the victory of this battle would not have been possible without the prowess of this warrior woman. The legend of Lagertha is born!

Lagertha, the Wife of Ragnar Lodbrok

Lagertha, the Wife of Ragnar Lodbrok

Ragnar Lodbrok could not forget this skjaldmö who walked the battlefield like a true valkyrie. When he learned of Lagertha's identity, and her noble Viking lineage, he relentlessly courted her. He wanted to make her his wife.

Lagertha, flattered, still played hard to get. She rejected each of the messengers Ragnar sent her. To encourage him to come and ask for her hand himself, she placed two ferocious beasts at the entrance of her dwelling that no one could defeat: a bear and a dog.

Ragnar Lodbrok could not resist the prize that awaited him if he defeated the beasts: Lagertha's hand in marriage. So, he went alone to her dwelling armed with a simple spear. He killed the bear by piercing its heart, and strangled the dog with his bare hands. With the beasts defeated, Lagertha's hand was his.

According to legend, this is how Ragnar Lodbrok married Lagertha, with whom he had 3 children: a son named Fridleif and two daughters whose names are unknown.

Lagertha, the Loyal Viking Warrior

 Ragnar and Lagertha lived three years in peace away from war and the political conflicts tormenting the Viking kingdom. During this period, Ragnar Lodbrok's enemies allied, and believing he would never return to Denmark, mounted a rebellion.

He equipped himself with 30 ships to put an end to it. At the end of this battle, he embarked on new adventures to win the hand of the daughter of the King of Sweden "Thora Borgarthiort" (Þóra Borgarhjǫrtr in Old Norse). Before marrying her, Ragnar declared his divorce from Lagertha, whom he still resented for making him fight two ferocious beasts to win her hand.

Despite this, Lagertha remained loyal to her king Ragnar and always protected Norway in his absence. Another time, Ragnar Lodbrok's reign would have come to an end without Lagertha's precious help.

A second civil war broke out, and Ragnar's forces were quickly overwhelmed. Before admitting defeat, he asked for Lagertha's help one last time, and she did not hesitate to come to his aid with 120 ships.

Just when everyone thought the war was lost, Lagertha launched a counter-attack: she created a breakthrough in the enemy lines to attack them from their rear flank. Lagertha had an incomparable warrior spirit in a body that made her appear delicate and fragile. She succeeded with her splendid bravery in tipping the balance of the battle and creating chaos in the enemy troops.

Lagertha became more than just a skjaldmö or warrior. The Vikings who participated in this feat nicknamed her the war goddess valkyrie. A warrior who could fly over enemy lines to strike them at their weakest point.

Lagertha, the Black Widow

After Ragnar left her for his second wife, Lagertha remarried shortly after to a Norwegian king. Following her overwhelming victory against Ragnar's enemies, she quarreled with her husband, and killed him with a spear. According to Saxo, Lagertha wanted to rule Norway alone.

This story remains very preserved, as it is heavily influenced by the Church, which wanted to demonize the image of warrior and sovereign women.

Lagertha in Modern Culture

There are many modern works inspired by the legend of Lagertha, such as:

  • The dramatic play "Lagertha" by Christen Pram, in 1789, which was a great success at the time. It is heavily inspired by Saxo's accounts;
  • The ballet "Lagertha" by Vincenzo Galeotti in 1801, considered an absolute work of art. For his part, he was inspired by Christen Pram.

The most recent adaptation of Lagertha's story is the Vikings series, produced in 2013. The character of Lagertha is played by the talented Katheryn Winnick, who quickly became one of the audience's favorite characters.

Although the Vikings series is largely inspired by historical facts, there have been numerous modifications made for storytelling reasons, for example:

  • Björn Ironside is not Lagertha's son: according to the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, he is the alleged son of Ragnar with Aslaug, and according to other sources, he is his son with Thora;
  • Rollo cannot be Ragnar's brother: indeed, the real Rollo was born in the year 911, well after the presumed deaths of Ragnar and Lagertha, whose story takes place towards the end of the 8th century (late 790 AD);
  • Lagertha never met Floki: according to the "Landnámabók", Flóki Vilgerðarson led the first Scandinavian explorations to Iceland. His story is detailed in the Landnámabók, and there is no mention of Lagertha or Ragnar.

Lagertha remains a mythical Nordic character at the origin of numerous Viking legends. Her many exploits have made her the greatest warrior of her time, earning her the honorary title of goddess of war.

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