Skip to Content

The Real Ragnar Lothbrok

The Real Ragnar Lothbrok

Sharing is caring!

Ragnar Lothbrok, a name that resonates with legend and conjures images of the archetypal Viking warrior, has captured the imaginations of people for centuries. Said to have been a scourge upon England and France, his tales are woven into the very fabric of Norse mythology and medieval European history. The figure of Ragnar, embellished by rich sagas and tales, stands tall as a symbol of the Viking Age, a period marked by exploration, raiding, and cultural exchange.

Despite his legendary status, the historical Ragnar remains shrouded in mystery. Descriptions of his life and exploits stem from a mix of historical accounts and folklore, making it challenging to disentangle fact from fiction. What emerges is a hero of the sagas, credited with numerous raids and the fathering of equally famous sons who continued his legacy. Accounts suggest he led the Great Heathen Army, further etching his name into the annals of European history.

Debate continues on the true existence of Ragnar Lothbrok or whether he was a composite of several individuals whose lives blurred into one mythical character. His story has been preserved in various medieval sources, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Icelandic sagas, and poetry from the Viking Age. The chronicles detail his reputed conquests and his supposed sons, who avenged his death and carved out their own places in history, further cementing the legend of Ragnar Lothbrok.

Historical Origins of Ragnar Lothbrok

Ragnar Lothbrok, a legendary figure from Norse tradition, is often considered a composite hero whose life tale blends history and myth. Historical records dating back to the 9th century portray a warrior with a reputation that polyfuses fact and folklore.

Legendary Lineage:

  • Father: King Sigurd Hring
  • Notable Sons: Ivar the Boneless, Bjorn Ironside, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Hvitserk
  • Claims to Fame: Famed for his many raids and his semi-mythical status

Ragnar’s Deeds:

Historians believe that the sagas may have been inspired by one or more individuals, attributing their feats to the character of Ragnar.

He is attributed with remarkable achievements including battles against serpents and monstrous beasts, developing into a symbol of Viking valor.

Ragnar Lothbrok in the Viking Sagas

Ragnar Lothbrok’s storied life is immortalized in various Viking sagas, where he is depicted as a legendary hero, a feared warrior, and a revered king. His exploits in these narratives are a blend of historical conjectures and mythical embellishments.

Tale in the Völsunga Saga

In the Völsunga Saga, the character of Ragnar Lothbrok is less prominent compared to other sagas, yet his name is notable in Norse folklore.

Mentioned in passing, this saga primarily focuses on the tales of Sigurd and the prominent Volsung family, suggesting a legendary lineage that Ragnar might belong to.

Accounts in the Gesta Danorum

The Gesta Danorum, or “The History of the Danes,” penned by the historian Saxo Grammaticus, provides a rich narrative on Ragnar’s life.

In this work, Ragnar is not only a fearsome warrior but also a ruler whose reign included notable conflicts and conquests.

Saxo offers an embellished and dramatized account that is as much fiction as it is a record of the past.

Tale of Ragnarr loðbrók Saga

The Ragnar Lothbrok’s Saga is perhaps the most elaborate recount of his legend. Here, Ragnar is described with his distinctive wolf skin trousers boiled in pitch and his exploits are magnified.

Ragnars story begins with him killing a great serpent that its guarding Þóra borgarhjǫrtr. Ragnar then weds Þóra, whose life is tragically cut short not long after their union.

In time, Ragnar sets sail towards Norway and arrives at a homestead known as Spangareiði. It is here that he encounters the enchanting Áslaug, also called Kráka, along with her guardian Gríma.

Áslaug, a hidden scion of the legendary Sigurðr Fáfnisbani and Brynhildr, keeps her lineage a secret. She joins Ragnar, taking on the role of his consort, and together they have four sons: Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Hvitsärk, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

While attending a gathering in Uppsala with King Eysteinn, Ragnar is promised in marriage to the king’s daughter, Ingibjörg. They become engaged, but upon Ragnar’s return, he discovers that Áslaug is already aware of his engagement.

Choosing this moment to disclose her true identity as the progeny of Sigurðr Fáfnisbani and Brynhildr, Áslaug and Ragnar are wed. The broken promise to Ingibjörg incites a conflict with King Eysteinn, a battle that claims the lives of Ragnar’s sons Eiríkr and Agnarr, followed by King Eysteinn himself.

Later, during a campaign in Northumbria, Ragnar is taken prisoner by King Ælla and meets a grim fate in the monarch’s serpent pit. Resolute to the end, Ragnar recites his exploits in the verse Krákumál, calling upon his sons, who ultimately seek vengeance for their father’s death.

Famous Sons of Ragnar

Ragnar’s sons are central to his saga and were crucial in the Viking invasions of England. His most famous sons include:

  • Ivar the Boneless: A commanding and fearsome warrior despite a physical handicap that earned him his moniker.
  • Bjorn Ironside: Famed for his raids into France and Italy, Bjorn was reputed to be invincible in battle.
  • Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye: Sigurd bore a mark in his eye, believed to be the image of the serpent that his father, Ragnar, had slain.
  • Ubbe: A prominent Viking leader who, along with his brothers, led a Viking invasion of East Anglia in 865.

Each of these sons went on to achieve their own fame, furthering the legacy of Ragnar Lothbrok through their deeds and conquests.

Legendary Exploits and Battles

Ragnar Lothbrok’s legendary saga is particularly known for a few significant military campaigns that bolstered his reputation, touching upon sieges and invasions that left a permanent mark on history.

Raid on Paris

In 845, Ragnar Lothbrok purportedly led a formidable Viking fleet down the Seine to Paris. They besieged the city and only withdrew after receiving a substantial ransom, reportedly 7,000 pounds of silver, from the Frankish King Charles the Bald.

Invasion of England

Ragnar’s sons, possibly incited by their father’s legacy, led the so-called Great Heathen Army to the shores of East Anglia in 865. They sought to avenge Ragnar’s death and subsequently launched a series of raids and battles across the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Ragnar’s Death: Myth vs. History

The death of Ragnar Lothbrok is shrouded in a tangle of legend and sparse historical record, making it a compelling narrative of mythological grandeur contrasted with elusive facts.

Snake Pit Execution

Legends say that Ragnar Lothbrok met his end via a torturous death in a snake pit at the hands of King Aelle of Northumbria.

The saga describes this grim fate as punishment for his invasions into Anglo-Saxon England. It’s been dramatized in popular culture, reinforcing the iconic image of Ragnar’s demise.

Historical Evidence

On the matter of historical evidence, there are very few verifiable accounts. Scholars question whether Ragnar Lothbrok was a single person or an amalgamation of various Viking heroes and kings.

The lack of contemporary records makes it difficult to ascertain the true nature of Ragnar’s death—if he indeed was a real historical figure.

It is suggested that the story of his death may have been a powerful narrative used to inspire his alleged sons’ invasion of England.

Historiography and Source Criticism

The historical figure of Ragnar Lothbrok poses a fascinating challenge for historiographers due to the blending of myth and reality.

The primary challenge faced by historians is the scarcity of contemporary sources, with much of the information about Lothbrok derived from later sagas and chroniclers. This raises questions regarding the accuracy and embellishment present in these accounts.

Primary Sources: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is often cited as a legitimate historical source. It is a collection of documents detailing the history of the Anglo-Saxons, which notably includes the Viking era during which Ragnar would have lived.

Later Narratives: Beyond this, stories of Lothbrok’s adventures are primarily found in sagas and oral histories, written down centuries after the supposed events. This delay in documentation presents a significant barrier to authenticating details about his life and exploits.

  • Saga Complications: The sagas mix historical facts with folklore, complicating efforts to distinguish actual events from fictional additions.
  • Chronological Issues: Dates and timelines given for Ragnar’s life vary widely, suggesting a melding of tales from different periods and figures.

Source Criticism: In source criticism, scholars scrutinize these accounts for reliability, bias, and anachronism. They weigh the sagas’ literary elements against archaeological evidence:

  • Artifacts: Physical evidence such as rune stones and burial sites offer valuable, albeit limited, insights into the Viking Age and the possible existence of a king resembling Lothbrok.
  • Comparison with Other Figures: Some historians argue that the legendary Lothbrok could be an amalgamation of several notable Viking figures since multiple chieftains share similar exploits.

In sum, while the legend of Ragnar Lothbrok has captured imaginations for centuries, historiography and source criticism reveal the complexity of drawing a line between the man and the myth.

Sharing is caring!