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Ragnar Lodbrok

October 26, 2023 7 min read

Ragnar Lodbrok | The story of the greatest Viking king‚ÄČ

Ragnar Lodbrok | The story of the greatest Viking king!

The Vikings: an ancestral civilization, known for being the most powerful people to have set foot in Europe. Their history and mythology testify to the legendary warriors and kings who made the might of the Scandinavian reign. One particular Viking is known to have made the greatest kingdoms of Europe tremble: the great Ragnar Lodbrok.

The famous Ragnar Lodbrok is, without any dispute, the bravest Viking warrior of our time. A colorful Scandinavian king, whose exploits have inspired numerous stories and legends. It is none other than Ragnar who has sparked the fascination for Vikings known to our generation.

Do you want to discover the legend of King Ragnar Lodbrok? Are you fascinated by this mythical character? We reveal in this article the origin and history of the greatest Nordic king, the Viking who made all of Europe bow down!

The story of Ragnar Lothbrok: between myth and reality

The story of Ragnar Lothbrok

Ragnar Lodbrok, or also known as Ragnarr Lothbrok, is the descendant of a long line of great Viking kings and warriors. He is a jarl, or earl, originally from a region that would later be known as Sweden and Denmark.

Many sagas and historical books have immortalized Ragnar Lodbrok's exploits. It is these same myths that earned him the title of the greatest Viking king. Yet, the story of Ragnar Lodbrok is surrounded by many shadows and mysteries.

Some historians claim he was just a legendary king who never existed, while others believe that the tales of Ragnar did indeed happen. To understand why he sparks so much debate, we must trace back to the very beginning of his origins.

Ragnar, the descendant of Sigurd Hring

Ragnar's online viking store

 
The period during which Ragnar Lodbrok would have lived remains relatively vague. It is believed that his birth coincides with the end of the Vendel age, marking the beginning of the Viking Age. Many sources support this hypothesis, suggesting Ragnar might have existed between the end of the 8th century and the 9th century (between 750 and 865 AD).

At that time, the Scandinavian region was marred by bloody battles between different Viking clans and jarls. The source of this great conflict was the crown of the Danish kingdom. It was the subject of a conflict that pitted two legendary Viking kings: kings Harald and Sigurd.

According to the Saga of Hervor and King Heidrekr, this war broke out when King Harald decided to conquer the lands of Ivar Vidfamne's house, the ancestor of King Sigurd Hring. Sigurd then confronts him in the plain of "√Ėsterg√∂tland", where the largest Viking naval war took place: the Battle of Br√°vellir.

This mythical Viking battle gathered:

  • More than 200,000 fighters on both sides. Harald had over 300 Skjaldm√∂s, formidable Viking warriors, by his side. Sigurd, on the other hand, hired Viking mercenaries from all Nordic lands;
  • Over 3,000 warships or drakkars, the construction of which would have required felling a large portion of Nordic forests.

Sigurd Hring emerged as the grand victor of this battle. Thanks to his reforms, the Viking people were unified for the first time in history. Sadly, his reign did not last long.

The second person who managed to achieve this feat was none other than Ragnar Lodbrok.

Ragnar, the king with godly blood

 

According to the Skjöldungar saga, it was only after this battle that King Sigurd married "Alfhild", a Norwegian princess. With her, he had a single son: Ragnar Lodbrok.

Alfhild is the daughter of Synardus or Siward, master and king of the land of √Ālfheim "the land of fairies". In Viking legends, √Ālfheim is known to have been the dwelling of divine creatures:

  • In the Poetic Edda: √Ālfheim is the very first dwelling of the god "Freyr" and his lineage. Freyr is the most glorious of the Viking gods and a pillar of their mythology. This mythical god represents fertility and prosperity. He would be the brother of the goddess Freya;
  • In Snorri's Edda: √Ālfheim would be the dwelling of "lj√≥s√°lfar", or White Elves. They are angelic deities of Viking mythology and are considered masters of the air.

In both cases, Ragnar's mother, Alfhild and her people the "Alfar" would be direct descendants of Viking gods. Ragnar Lodbrok would thus have godly blood running through his veins. These divine origins are one of the many assets that gave him his strength and bravery.

This is why an ancient Icelandic text, "Sögubrot", describes him as the most powerful and glorious man ever seen. He inherited from his mother and her kin an unparalleled divine power that gave him an edge over his mortal adversaries.

Before succeeding his father's throne, Ragnar had to kill Eysteinn Beli, the son of Harald who briefly took the crown. In other tales, Eysteinn was Ragnar's close friend with whom he had a conflict.

The meaning of "Ragnar" and the origin of the nickname "Lodbrok"

"Ragnar" or "Ragnarr" can be translated in Old Norse as:

  • The divine warrior or the warrior god;
  • The guardian of the Viking kingdom;
  • The skilled counselor.

All three are qualities attributed to Ragnar Lodbrok, due to his origin and his presumed celestial lineage. On the other hand, he proved himself worthy of his name with his numerous feats in battle and as a formidable war leader.

"Lodbrok" or "Lothbrok" is a nickname, or more precisely an honorary title meaning "hairy pants". Contrary to popular legend, it was only given to him after his split with the Viking warrior Lagertha, his first wife.

The Icelandic saga Fornaldarsaga and the works of the Dane Saxo Grammaticus report the same version. In pursuit of the hand of Thora Borgarhjort, the daughter of the then Swedish king, two giant serpents obstructed his path.

It seems that these were gifts that King Hérothus gave to his princess. Ragnar's victory against the vile creatures was a necessary condition to obtain the father's approval for the marriage.

It goes without saying that the brave Ragnar emerged triumphant from the battle against the fierce beasts. The rags he wore for protection, the hairy pants coated with pitch, would forever be associated with his name.

Another version of the events is described by the saga Ragnarr with hairy pants. According to their story, it was his 3rd wife, Aslaug, who gifted it to him as a protective charm. She assured him that with this modest armor, he would receive the gods' blessing and no harm could touch him.

Ragnar: the Viking king with questionable origins

King Ragnar's life is highly debated among scholarly societies. Some historians even question his very existence.

The exact period during which he would have lived is untraceable. All we know for sure about this is that he would have existed between the 8th and 9th century.

One theory is that he might actually be a composite of many noble Viking characters:

  • His raids were confused with those of King Horik I;
  • According to the Annales of Saint-Bertin, some of his attacks on France were actually those of a warrior named Reginherus, a loyalist to King Horik I;
  • From the same historical period, he could be associated with King Reginfrid who was repudiated by Horik I;
  • His adventures might belong to several Danish kings from the same lineage;
  • Lastly, he could possibly be Rognvald Eysteinsson, a Norse jarl.

The stories, although contradictory, present in The Danish Deed by Saxo Grammaticus testify to his existence. The recurrence of stories about King Ragnar Lodbrok in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle and traditional Irish tales reinforces the relevance of what some historians consider a myth.

However, the lack of evidence to support these facts does not diminish Ragnar's reign's greatness.

Ragnar and Lagertha: the story of his first wife

Ragnar and Lagertha

Of all his alliances and romantic relationships, the one Ragnar had with Lagertha was the most iconic. This is not because it was his first marriage, but more due to their union's passionate nature.

Her father, King Synardus, was killed during an assault by the Swedish king, Fro, who thus gained control of Norway. Captured as a slave and forced into prostitution, Lagertha is an Amazon who gathered Viking warrior women who suffered the same fate to regain control over the country.

At this point, Ragnar decides to intervene. With King Fro having killed his grandfather, he takes the opportunity to end his tyranny once and for all. Lagertha's warrior army was of great help in what is considered his first major battle. In love with her, he forcibly marries her, despite the challenges she asks him to overcome for her agreement.

Ragnar's sons

Ragnar's sons

Unlike Ragnar's story, which leaves many unanswered questions, his sons' tales are backed by many irrefutable facts. The saga Tale of Ragnar's sons details their origin and lives.

Having married three wives (Lagertha, Thora, and Aslaug) and having had extramarital affairs, he had a significant and almost legendary offspring.

The Munsö Dynasty

The Munsö dynasty was founded by Björn Ironside, the 2nd son of Ragnar and Aslaug. According to the Saga of "Hervor and King Heidrekr", it is the greatest lineage of kings that Sweden and Denmark have known.

Björn Lodbrok, accompanied by his son "Eric II Björnsson", besieged all of Europe. He conquered the coasts of England and France and even reached North Africa as far as Morocco. It was during Björn I's time that the Viking era reached its peak.

Ragnar's other sons

Many Vikings claimed to be descendants of King Ragnar, but the ones history remembers are:

  • Ivar Ragnarsson: known as the BerserkerKing. He ruled with his other brothers over Sweden and Denmark. He was one of the leaders of the raids on England;
  • Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye: who is his son with Thora Borgarthiort. He inherited Ragnar's kingdom upon his death.

The Death of Ragnar Lodbrok

The Death of Ragnar Lodbrok

Paradoxically, one of the best-known facts about Ragnar's story is his death. A legendary tale detailing the circumstances of his death indicates it occurred around the mid or end of the 9th century.

One of his many military conquests was to invade England. His expedition to Northumbria was to confront King Ælla. Knowing the strength of Ragnar and his offspring, and aware of their temperament, he orders his warriors to capture the father without harming him. He forbids them to injure or kill him.

Armed with his hairy pants, the Viking king goes into battle. Captured during his army's defeat, he refuses to reveal his identity to King Ælla.

Considered a mere warrior, he is ordered to be thrown into a cell filled with snakes. Protected by his magical armor, the Saxon king orders him to be stripped. At that moment, the snake bites overwhelm King Ragnar, and he dies.

Only too late does King Ælla realize his fatal mistake. He relays the news to Ragnar's children, who subject him to a terrible punishment. The Blood Eagle, a punishment that involves opening the victim's back and extracting the lungs through it. Thus, King Ragnar was avenged.

The tragic story of his death is even the subject of a skaldic poem: Kr√°kumal or the song of Kr√°ka. It recounts the presumed last memories of Ragnar Lodbrok and outlines the feats he would have accomplished in his lifetime.


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