Björn Ironside

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Not to be confused with Björn Haraldsen Ironside.
The barrow of Björn Ironside (Björn Järnsidas hög) on the island of Munsö, in lake Mälaren, Sweden. The barrow is crowned by a stone containing the fragmented Uppland Runic Inscription 13.

Björn Ironside (Old Norse: Bjǫrn Járnsíða, Icelandic: Björn Járnsíða, Swedish: Björn Järnsida) was a semi-legendary king of Sweden who lived sometime in the 9th century.[1] Björn Ironside is said to have been the first ruler of the Munsö dynasty. In the early 18th century, a barrow, on the island of Munsö was claimed by antiquarians to be Björn Järnsidas hög or Björn Ironside's grave. Hög, from the Old Norse word haugr, means barrow or mound.[1]

History[edit]

A powerful Viking chieftain and naval commander, Björn and his brother Hastein conducted many (mostly successful) raids in France in a continuation of the tradition initiated by their father Ragnar Lodbrok. In 860, Björn led a large Viking raid into the Mediterranean. After raiding down the Spanish coast and fighting their way through Gibraltar, Björn and Hastein pillaged the south of France, where his fleet over-wintered, before landing in Italy where they captured the coastal city of Pisa. They proceeded inland to the town of Luna, which they believed to be Rome at the time, but Björn found himself unable to breach the town walls. To gain entry, he sent messengers to the bishop to say that he had died, had a deathbed conversion, and wished to be buried on consecrated ground within their church. He was brought into the chapel with a small honor guard, then amazed the dismayed Italian clerics by leaping from his coffin and hacking his way to the town gates, which he promptly opened, letting his army in. Flush with this victory and others around the Mediterranean (including in Sicily and North Africa) he returned to the Straits of Gibraltar only to find the Saracen navy from Al-Andalus waiting for him. In the desperate battle that followed, Björn lost 40 ships, largely to a form of Greek fire launched from Saracen catapults. The remainder of his fleet managed to return to Scandinavia, however, where he lived out his life as a rich man.

Latin sources[edit]

The Annales Bertiniani and the Chronicon Fontanellense tell of a Viking leader named "Berno" who pillaged on the Seine in the 850s.

Around 1070, William of Jumièges referred to him as Bier Costae ferreae (Ironside) who was Lotbroci regis filio (son of king Lodbrok).[2]

Tale of Ragnar's Sons[edit]

The Tale of Ragnar's Sons (Ragnarssona þáttr) tells that he was the son of the Scandinavian king Ragnar Lodbrok and Aslaug, and that he had the brothers Hvitserk, Ivar the Boneless and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and the half-brothers Eric and Agnar.

Björn and his brothers left Sweden to conquer Zealand, Reidgotaland (here Jutland), Gotland, Öland and all the minor islands. They then settled at Lejre with Ivar the Boneless as their leader.

Ragnar was jealous with his sons' successes, and set Eysteinn Beli as the jarl of Sweden, telling him to protect Sweden from his sons. He then went east across the Baltic Sea to pillage and to show his own skills.

Ragnar's sons Eric and Agnar then sailed into Lake Mälaren and sent a message to king Eysteinn that they wanted him to submit to Ragnar's sons, and Eric said that he wanted Eysteinn's daughter Borghild as wife. Eysteinn said that he first wanted to consult the Swedish chieftains. The chieftains said no to the offer, and ordered an attack on the rebellious sons. A battle ensued and Eric and Agnar were overwhelmed by the Swedish forces, whereupon Agnar died and Eric was taken prisoner.

Eysteinn offered Eric as much of Uppsala öd as he wanted, and Borghild, in wergild for Agnar. Eric proclaimed that after such a defeat he wanted nothing but to choose the day of his own death. Eric asked to be impaled on spears that raised him above the dead and his wish was granted.

In Zealand, Aslaug and her sons Björn and Hvitserk, who had been playing tafl, became upset and sailed to Sweden with a large army. Aslaug, calling herself Randalin, rode with cavalry across the land. In a great battle they killed Eysteinn.

Ragnar was not happy that his sons had taken revenge without his help, and decided to conquer England with only two knarrs. King Ælla of Northumbria defeated Ragnar and threw him into a snake pit where he died.

Björn and his brothers attacked Ella but were beaten back. Asking for peace and wergild, Ivar the Boneless tricked Ella into giving him an area large enough to build the town of York. Ivar made himself popular in England and asked his brothers to attack again. During the battle Ivar sided with his brothers and so did many of the English chieftains with their people, in loyalty to Ivar. Ella was taken captive and in revenge they carved the blood eagle on him.

Later Björn and his brothers pillaged in England, Wales, France, and Italy, until they came to the town Luna in Italy. When they came back to Scandinavia, they divided the kingdom so that Björn Ironside took Uppsala and Sweden.

Hervarar saga[edit]

The Hervarar saga tells that Eysteinn Beli was killed by Björn and his brothers as told in Ragnar Lodbrok's saga, and they conquered all of Sweden. When Ragnar died Björn Ironside inherited Sweden. He had two sons, Refil and Erik Björnsson, who became the next king of Sweden.

In fiction[edit]

Björn Ironside is a principal character in the 2013-2014 television series Vikings. Played as a young boy by Nathan O'Toole and as a young man by Alexander Ludwig.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Lagerquist, Lars O. (1997). Sveriges Regenter, från forntid till nutid. Norstedts, Stockholm. ISBN 91-1-963882-5
Björn Ironside
Legendary titles
Preceded by
Östen Beli
King of Sweden Succeeded by
Erik Björnsson