History Podcasts

Vikings: The sagas of Ragnar Lothbrock and his sons

Vikings: The sagas of Ragnar Lothbrock and his sons

In the TV-show Vikings the sagas revolve around Ragnar and his sons. I was wondering whether there existed other Vikings who were more famous or conquered more than Ragnar or his sons did. This is excluding Ragnars brother Rollo of course.


As far as modern fame goes, in the English-speaking world it would be tough to surpass Beowulf.

As far as conquest goes, Ragnar appears to have been known mostly for raiding. Cnut the Great however, made himself king of a not inconsiderable empire covering Denmark, England, Norway, and southern Sweden.

The Rus leaders who fought for and won control of the Russian river system from the Baltic down to the Black sea may well have scoffed at Cnut's paltry empire though.


Considering that Ragnar and his sons are figures as much out of legend as of history, I will answer with another legendary figure:

Ivar Vidfamne. According to Snorri, he began in Scania (today the southernmost part of Sweden), and began by conquering the (then much smaller) Swedish kingdom. He then went on conquer "all Denmark, a big part of Saxonia, the whole Eastern kingdom and a fifth of England." Snorri based most of his account on the older poem Ynglingatal, which he also quotes from, but nothing that supports this story.

Ivar is also known from Hervarar saga, which says that after Sweden, "[h]e also subdued Denmark and Courland and the land of the Saxons and Esthonia, and all the eastern realms as far as Russia. He also ruled the land of the Saxons in the West and conquered the part of England which was called Northumbria."

He is further mentioned in a lot of other Norse sources. They all seem to agree on him conquering at least both Sweden and Denmark.

Sources

Snorri I have in translation to Swedish by Karl G. Johansson. Hervarar saga I found here. Other primary sources are mentioned by Wikipedia, I checked on Sögubrot (Swedish translation) and Af Upplendinga Konungum.


Ragnar Lothbrok: The Legendary Viking

Ragnar Lothbrok, there are few characters in Norse literature that can be deemed as legendary as him. He represents the ultimate Viking, the legendary warrior that conquers and raids, the hero that slays monsters in the name of love, feared amongst men and blessed by the Gods.

The story of this mighty viking was such that it inspired local folktales, legends, songs, poems and even movies.

The more we dive into his legend, the more questions start to rise though. Was he real? Or was he a myth? Was he perhaps several historical characters merged into one legendary figure?

In this article we’ll dive into the life and undertakings of one of the most known Vikings, a man whose reputation preceded him and which ambition may have had him killed.

We’ll also try to shed light on some misconceptions that have been generated over the years about him and his family, and discover how many illustrious men are believed to be his descendents.


Freydis Eriksdotter

As her name suggests, Freydis Eriksdotter is Leif's sister and the daughter of Erik the Red. The official character description for Vikings: Valhalla's Freydis calls her "fiercely pagan, fiery and headstrong." In the Saga of the Greenlanders, Freydis is introduced as "a domineering woman" and the stories paint a picture of her as being capable of great ruthlessness and cruelty, but also admirable fearlessness. During her own time in Vinland, Freydis had a disagreement with two Danish brothers that she had travelled with, and persuaded her husband to lead an attack on them and their men. When the men were captured she ordered them to be killed, before she herself took an axe and slaughtered the five women that were with them.

In another story of her time in North America, Freydis scorned Viking warriors who fled from an attack by the indigenous people, telling them, "Had I a weapon I'm sure I could fight better than any of you." Being heavily pregnant at the time, she was unable to keep up with the other fleeing Vikings, so the natives caught up to her. Freydis picked up a sword from a fallen warrior and turned around to face her attackers, pulling out one of her breasts and smacking it with the sword. The fierce display so frightened the natives that they turned and ran from her. Set to be played by Frida Gustavsson, Vikings: Valhalla's Freydis "reaches Kattegat as an outsider but becomes an inspiration to those of the old ways."


The Vikings series does a great job of drawing from historical writings to create the basis of characters and plotlines. It doesn't always follow the history and legends exactly, though, and one character that was left out entirely is Ragnar's wife, Thora.

Ragnar's courtship of Thora tells the story of how he got his nickname, "Hairy Pants." Thora was guarded by a giant snake whom Ragnar had to overcome in order to marry her. This story echos another Ragnar myth about how he won the right to court Lagertha after killing the bear and hound she had guarding her home.


Ragnar Lothbrok: A Real Viking Hero Whose Life Became Lost To Legend

Ragnar Lothbrok (also known as Ragnar Lodbrok) became widely known thanks to the History Channel’s hit series ‘ Vikings.’ As with the legendary King Arthur , Ragnar Lothbrok appears as an amalgamation of a number of historical personages and minor characters of legend.

The Mythical Marauder

There is a theory that the folk heroes and demigods we know today were common men who did quite extraordinary things, for which they were rewarded with stories about them being told to later generations. As the years went on and generations passed, these stories gilded the characters and made them more godlike. That seems to be the case with Ragnar Lothbrok, whose actual existence is doubted by many scholars.

Artist’s depiction of a Viking King.

However, there are a respectable number of historians who suggest that Ragnar did live, but his story was exaggerated to the point that he became a mythical figure. He most likely was a warlord who was the first Scandinavian to invade Britain. He is mentioned in several Nordic sagas, the most significant being The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, and the Gesta Danorum, which is believed to be the most illustrious literary work to come out of Medieval Denmark describing the country’s early history. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also refers to ‘Ragnall’ and ‘Reginherus’ as a powerful and prominent Viking raider from 840 AD, these names are believed to be two variations of Ragnar.

Many Names, One Man?

Both the name Ragnar and the nickname Lothbrok, which must not be confused with a surname, had many variations in the accounts of the age. “Lothbrok” could be interpreted as “hairy breeches” or “shaggy breeches” in Old Norse. He is said to have crafted the breeches in preparation to fight a dragon or giant serpent, to stop it from biting him.

His name could be written as Regnar or Regner while his nickname could be written as Lodbrok or Lodbrog. The legendary Viking hero, who was also a king of Denmark and Sweden, was also known as Ragnar Sigurdsson, as he was said to be the Swedish king Sigurd Ring’s (or Hring’s) son in some accounts. When Ragnar grew up he was a handsome man who was a strong warrior.

Ragnar Lothbrok’s Exploits

And his martial prowess showed. Ragnar is believed to have been the scourge of both early Medieval England and France, raiding the Anglian kingdoms of Northumbria and Wessex on many occasions, along with the Kingdom of West Francia, concluding in the siege of Paris in 84.

Furthermore, he is also thought to have been married three times: first to shield-maiden Lagertha, second to the noblewoman Þóra Borgarhjǫrtr, and last but not least to Princess Aslaug. Each of these women have their own interesting stories. Aslaug, for example, is said to be the daughter of the dragonslayer Sigurd and the Valkyrie Brynhild and Þóra was the daughter of the jarl Herruð of Götaland (the town he saved from the aforementioned dragon).

Ragnar’s existence can also be proved through his many sons (all historical figures) Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Ubba the Norse chieftains who would eventually lead the Great Heathen Army that would invade England, controlling and constituting it as a unified Medieval state from 865 to 878, after which the Danelaw was created (a territory under Danish influence and rule in early Medieval Britain).

Ragnar’s sons invaded England to avenge their father’s murder at the hands of King Ælla of Northumbria, who, according to legend, seized Ragnar at some point and decided to sentence him to death by casting him into a pit full of snakes. If the story’s true (though many doubt it, suggesting it’s more likely Ragnar died somewhere along the Irish Sea between 852 and 856) that boastful Ragnar Lothbrok really headed into battle with just two ships to face the king, it would fit right in with his semi-mythical persona.

Stories say Lothbrok’s sons avenged their father’s death by capturing King Ælla and performing the blood-eagle on him.

Ragnar’s execution by King Ælla in a pit of snakes. Etching by Hugo Hamilton.

Ragnar Lothbrok: A TV Series Hero

History Channel’s Vikings is a historical drama that is loosely based on facts and Norse sagas. Despite the undeniable awesomeness of the series, the great acting, and the immense success of the show, there are some glaring inaccuracies that any history buff can easily spot. Does this mean that the show isn’t good? No! The show is truly good, and if it hasn’t gotten your attention yet, you should start watching it immediately. Season six, said to be the final season, will kick off later this year.

Clarifying Some Stories that Stray from the Truth

Just make sure you don’t take everything you see literally because there are issues with the historical accuracy of the plot at times, Ragnar being involved in many of them. To begin with, Ragnar’s “brother”, Rollo, is a character based on the Norwegian Viking Gange-Rolf, the man who became the first ruler of Normandy. He is recorded as being the first Norse leader to settle in Francia, and he continued to reign until at least 928 AD.

His descendants became known as the Normans, lending their name to the region of Normandy. He is also the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror , also known as William I of England, which means that Rollo is one of the ancestors of the present day British royal family. He was born in 846 and died in 930, so not only was he not Ragnar’s brother, but he also gets included in events that occurred before he was even born.

A statue of Rollo or Gange-Rolf.

Fans of the series probably remember Ragnar and his crew raiding a monastery on Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the northeast coast of what is today England during the first season, a real raid that took place in 793. For the record, this is viewed by many historians as the beginning of the Viking Age. Then, in Season 3, Ragnar and his crew haven’t aged a bit and attack Paris, an event that took place in 845 and again in 885, over 50 or 90 years after the sack of Lindisfarne’s monastery. In other words, Ragnar and his fellow Vikings must have invented a time travel machine that the history books don’t tell us about.

The failed Viking siege of Paris in 885-6 AD.

Last but not least, the show depicts Ragnar as being charmed by the Christian faith, but in reality, he was never baptized as the series depicts, as mass conversions of Danish Vikings didn’t happen until nearly a century later. He also doesn’t seem to be a very religious person in the series. He liked Athelstan very much and wanted to know more about his god out of curiosity. When Athelstan was killed by Floki, he didn’t forgive him easily. He buried Athelstan and even constructed a simple grave cross out of respect.

However, it’s certain that when Ragnar fought against the Christians, he probably deeply believed that his gods helped him. And even if he appreciated Athelstan as a person and friend, it wasn’t that he believed in him like the Christian God, but rather believed in Athelstan’s qualities as a human being.

So the question remains: Was Ragnar a real person? Judging from Norse sagas and lore it would be safe to conclude that Ragnar Lothbrok most likely existed but has as much to do with the legends surrounding him as the real man who inspired Hercules has to do with the stories revolving around him.

Top image: Artist’s depiction of Ragnar Lothbrok (Nejron Photo/Adobe Stock).


Community Reviews

I received this book as an offer from Captivating History.com. I reviewed, because for me, Viking and Celtic mythology makes for some interesting reading. Add in the popular television series, “Vikings” and you’ve got a recipe for success.

This is not your typical history book, although there are many citations to back up this author’s references. The style of writing is clear and concise, and easy to understand. There are detailed descriptions of Viking culture, many gleaned from recent archaeol I received this book as an offer from Captivating History.com. I reviewed, because for me, Viking and Celtic mythology makes for some interesting reading. Add in the popular television series, “Vikings” and you’ve got a recipe for success.

This is not your typical history book, although there are many citations to back up this author’s references. The style of writing is clear and concise, and easy to understand. There are detailed descriptions of Viking culture, many gleaned from recent archaeological evidence.

I found the “shield maiden,” research to be most interesting. This female Viking, who lived and died around the year 900, was first excavated from a farm in Solør, Norway, in 1900. Recent discoveries reveal that she was a woman, overturning the centuries-old assumption that Viking warriors were only men.

The author deciphers many of the myths surrounding the television series, “The Vikings.” There was a man named Ragnar in the ancient texts who could have been the character in the series. The series has done a decent job in my estimation of showing Viking culture. Even more interesting to me was how many of the Norse myths found their way into the show. Read the ancient myths included in the book. The Norse were superb storytellers.

I also found the connection to a magic sword and the slaying of a dragon from the ancient Norse myths could have been the basis for the King Arthur myths. This is only my speculation and not collaborated with research. I think these older myths found their way into Celtic society repurposed to fit the needs of the time.

As a poet, the information relating to the Norse and Icelandic Skalds, (poets) caught my attention. Skalds were the poets of the Vikings, and poetry and storytelling were the most-prized art forms in Norse culture. Poetry was a gift from Odin, the Allfather chief god of the Vikings, and just being a skald with the ability to speak in rhyme also was a way to distinguish themselves as having a connection to Odin.

If you love Norse mythology and want to find out the factual truth behind the “Vikings” television series, this book will shed some light on the truth of the matter. It was a fabulous read! . more

The book addresses five main topics:

1. The Vikings in history
2. A summary of The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok
3. Dragons in Norse myth compared to dragons in Tolkien
4. Vikings the TV show vs. history
5. A summary of The Saga of the Volsungs

Each section is informative but brief and easy to read--so brief that if you know anything about the topic, you may want to choose a more substantial book. The first two sections gave me exactly what I wanted: information with no frills. The last three were so sligh The book addresses five main topics:

1. The Vikings in history
2. A summary of The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok
3. Dragons in Norse myth compared to dragons in Tolkien
4. Vikings the TV show vs. history
5. A summary of The Saga of the Volsungs

Each section is informative but brief and easy to read--so brief that if you know anything about the topic, you may want to choose a more substantial book. The first two sections gave me exactly what I wanted: information with no frills. The last three were so slight as to be sere, though, and only a single reference to Wagner's reworking of the myths for opera is difficult to fathom.

Having heard about how historically incorrect the TV show Vikings is, I was actually surprised to see how historically accurate it is. A lot that I had taken as fabricated to make for an exciting show (such as the siege of Paris and Viking trade with the Middle East) actually happened. Another interesting point was that critics of the show's historical inaccuracy usually overlook that the show's main character, at least in the early seasons, was Ragnar Lothbrok, a character who may never have been a single historical person at all and whom we know about primarily because of a saga that is largely legend, myth and fantasy. After all, it has dragons and magic items.

Need a cheap, informative and fast read? This is it--just don't expect much. It's a first step into these topics and never gets as far as a second.

I decided to read this book as I’m watching the Vikings TV show and wanted to know more about Ragnar Lothbrok. When I started the show I wasn’t aware that Ragnar and many of the other characters are based on The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and His Sons.

It was a quick read with basic information, some of which felt tacked on. I wasn’t that interested in the section that compared dragons in Norse myth to the dragons in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

I enjoyed the first two sections the most, a basic introdu I decided to read this book as I’m watching the Vikings TV show and wanted to know more about Ragnar Lothbrok. When I started the show I wasn’t aware that Ragnar and many of the other characters are based on The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and His Sons.

It was a quick read with basic information, some of which felt tacked on. I wasn’t that interested in the section that compared dragons in Norse myth to the dragons in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

I enjoyed the first two sections the most, a basic introduction to the Viking Age and a summary of Lothbrok’s Saga. It was interesting to see the changes that were made in the making of TV series. The actual section comparing the TV show to the Saga was rather short though. I found more detailed information online. . more


Vikings Quiz: How Well Do You Remember The Sons Of Ragnar Lothbrok?

No doubt you remember Ragnar, but what about his kids?

History

"They say a man must love his sons, but a man can be jealous of his sons. "

These words spoken by Ragnar Lothbrok are a perfect encapsulation of the Ragnarssons. Each of them was born into an intense level of prestige, thanks to their father's legacy, which helped to make them famous, but gave them a lot to live up to. Ragnar himself loved all of his children, but it was easy to understand how he might envy their might and power.

Vikings was a fantastic show, and one of the most courageous things it did was lose the main protagonist, Ragnar. However, instead of letting that be the end of the saga, Michael Hirst chose to keep the legacy of the former King of Kattegat alive through his many sons, and they became the focus of the series. This launched Vikings into a new era, which was arguable an entirely different - yet just as strong - show.

There was a lot to be learned about Ragnar's boys, and only the strongest of fans can recall it all. Think of this quiz as a chance to prove yourself worthy of Valhalla, to sit alongside the legendary King Ragnar and his children, although there are no promises that a high-score will guarantee you entry.


History's Vikings begins with a historical event

One of the most important (and brutal) events of season 1 is actually one of the better documented historical events in the series. Ragnar Lothbrok's raid on the Northumbrian monastery on the Island of Lindisfarne has substantial historical evidence for its occurence, and is considered by most historians to mark the official beginning of the Viking Age. Placing the legendary Ragnar at the head of that raid was a fanciful convenience for Hirst's story, but the raid itself seems to closely track the historical record.

In 793, Scandinavian raiders (more likely Danes than Norwegians) landed a longship at Lindisfarne and "attacked the sacred heart of the Northumbrian kingdom" (via English Heritage). A contemporaneous account of this raid exists in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an Old English source that provides our most reliable record of the time period beginning with the rise of Wessex and ending in a unified England. This presented a problem for Hirst, however, since he wanted to tell the Scandinavian side of the story. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle undoubtedly frames most of the events of the time in the light most favorable to the Christian Saxons. While Hirst could certainly use the more thorough Chronicle to check his events and provide information that might serve the historical veracity of his series, in order to tell a truly Scandinavian history, he needed an authentically Scandinavian source. Therein lies the problem.

According to an interview with History Extra, Hirst and his historical advisor on the series turned to a loose collection of fragmentary epic poetry called the sagas to try and understand the Scandinavians' view of themselves. For many reasons, the Norse sagas make for far more dubious historical sources than the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. They were largely authored in the 13th century, hundreds of years after the events of Vikings. They also resemble myths more than historical records, and many contemporary historians have questioned their historicity.

So some of the events depicted in the series actually happened, by all accounts. The raid at Lindisfarne and the Great Heathen Invasion led by Ragnar's sons almost certainly defined the Viking Age in England. With that said, however, everything Hirst used to fill in the blanks between these events is historically questionable.


10. Harald Hardrada

What Harald Hardrada would have had to say in the aftermath of the Battle of Stamford Bridge is imagined in the film The Last Viking on HistoryHit.TV.Watch Now

Hardrada translates as “hard ruler”, a reputation Harald lived up to with his aggressively militaristic approach to leadership and tendency to settle disputes brutally. He is widely considered to have been the last great Viking ruler, taking the Norwegian throne in 1046 and presiding over a period of peace and progress — and the introduction of Christianity that rather belies his fierce reputation.

He died at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England when his invading Viking army was defeated by King Harold’s surprise attack. Famously he was killed by an arrow to the neck.


Watch the video: Ragnar And His Sons. Vikings (January 2022).