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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Over a millennium ago, the real Ragnar Lodbrok ran a legendary battle that would ensure them a place in history

Ragnar Lodbrok or Lothbrok (Old Norse: Ragnarr Loðbrók, "Ragnar Shaggy-Breeches") was a legendary Viking ruler, king, and hero from the Viking Age described in Old Norse poetry and several sagas. In this tradition, Ragnar was the scourge of France and England in the 9th century and the father of many renowned sons, including Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Ubba. 

While these men are historical figures, it is uncertain whether Ragnar himself existed or really fathered them. Many of the tales about him appear to conflate the deeds of several historical Viking heroes and rulers.

According to legend, Ragnar was married three times: to the shieldmaiden Lagertha, to the noblewoman Þóra Borgarhjǫrtr, and to Aslaug. Said to have been a relative of the Danish king Gudfred and son of the Swedish king Sigurd Hring, he became king himself and distinguished himself by many raids and conquests, but was at last seized by his foe, King Ælla of Northumbria, and killed by being thrown into a pit of snakes. His sons bloodily avenged him by invading England with the Great Heathen Army.

Excerpt from folio 39r of Harley MS 2278. The scene depicts Lothbrok, king of Danes, and his sons, Hinguar and Hubba, worshiping idols. photo:

As a figure of legend whose life only partially took place in times and places covered by written sources, the extent of Ragnar's historicity is not quite clear.

Ragnar acquires Kráka (Aslaug), as imagined by August Malmström. photo: 

In her commentary on Saxo's Gesta Danorum, Hilda Ellis 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. 

19th century artist's impression of Ælla of Northumbria's execution of Ragnar Lodbrok photo:

That is why many acts ascribed to Ragnar in the Gesta can be associated, through other sources, with various figures, some of which are more historically certain. These candidates for the "historical Ragnar" include:

So far, attempts to firmly 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. Nonetheless, the core tradition of a Viking hero named Ragnar (or similar) who wreaked havoc in mid-ninth-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. 

According to 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". Katherine Holman, on the other hand, concludes that "although his sons are historical figures, there is no evidence that Ragnar himself ever lived, and he seems to be an amalgam of several different historical figures and pure literary invention."

In popular culture

Ragnar Lodbrok is mentioned in Edwin Atherstone's novel Sea-Kings in England.

Ragnar Lothbrok is featured in Edison Marshall's 1951 novel The Viking.

Richard Parker's 1957 historical novel The Sword of Ganelon explores the character of Ragnar, his sons, and Viking raiding culture.

In The Vikings, a film of 1958, Ragnar, played by Ernest Borgnine, is captured by King Ælla and cast into a pit of wolves. His son Einar (presumably a variation of the historical Ivar), played by Kirk Douglas, vows revenge and conquers Northumbria. The script is based on Marshall's novel.

Ragnar's shipwreck, capture, and execution, as well as his sons' revenge, are portrayed in Harry Harrison's 1993 alternative history novel The Hammer and the Cross.

Played by Travis Fimmel, Ragnar is the protagonist of the History Channel's historical drama television series Vikings that debuted in 2013.

Story source: Wikipedia

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