Ragnar Lodbrok

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Ragnar acquires Kráka (Aslaug), as imagined by August Malmström.
19th century artist's impression of Ælla of Northumbria's execution of Ragnar Lodbrok

Ragnar Lodbrok or Lothbrok (Old Norse: Ragnarr Loðbrók, "Ragnar Hairy Breeches") was a legendary Norse 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 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 originate with the deeds of several historical Viking heroes and rulers.

According to legend, Ragnar was thrice married: 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 until he was eventually 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.[1]


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.

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. 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".[2] 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."[1]


The medieval sources that cover Ragnar include:

  • the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of 9th-century annals,[3]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Ragnar Lothbrok is featured in Edison Marshall's 1951 novel, The Viking, Dell, from which the Kirk Douglas movie script was later constructed.
  • Richard Parker's 1957 historical novel The Sword of Ganelon explores the tension between a young man's altruistic service to Anglo-Saxon leech-craft vs 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 of Northumbria 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.[4]
  • Ragnar Lothbrok'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, the first of a trilogy.
  • The Play the World expansion pack for the 2001 video game Civilization III added Scandinavia as a playable civilization, with Ragnar as the leader.
  • The Viking Invasion expansion pack for 2002's Medieval: Total War also included Ragnar as the first king of the Vikings, reigning during the late 8th and early 9th century.
  • The Warlords expansion pack for 2005's Civilization IV included a playable Viking civilization with Ragnar as the leader.
  • The Charlemagne expansion pack for 2012's Crusader Kings II makes it possible to play as Ragnar, and the previously released (though chronologically sequential) expansion pack The Old Gods begins in the wake of his death.
  • Ragnar Lothbrok (played by Travis Fimmel) is the protagonist of the History Channel's historical drama series Vikings that debuted in 2013.



  1. ^ a b Holman 2003, p. 220.
  2. ^ a b Davidson 1980, p. 277.
  3. ^ The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle - English translation at project Gutenberg. Retrieved 8 December 2014
  4. ^ IMDb: The Vikings, 1958


Further reading[edit]

McTurk, Rory (1991), Studies in Ragnars saga loðbrókar and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues, Medium Aevum Monographs 15, Oxford, ISBN 0-907570-08-9 
Strerath-Bolz, Ulrike (1993). Review of Rory McTurk, Studies in "Ragnars saga loðbrókar" and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues, Alvíssmál 2: 118–19.
Forte, Angelo, Richard Oram, and Frederik Pedersen (2005). Viking Empires. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-82992-5.
Schlauch, Margaret (transl.) (1964). The Saga of the Volsungs: the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok Together with the Lay of Kraka. New York: American Scandinavian Foundation.
Sprague, Martina (2007), Norse Warfare: the Unconventional Battle Strategies of the Ancient Vikings, New York: Hippocrene Books, ISBN 0-7818-1176-7 
Waggoner, Ben (2009), The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok, The Troth, ISBN 978-0-578-02138-6 
Legendary titles
Preceded by
Sigurd Ring
King of Sweden
in West Norse tradition
Succeeded by
Eysteinn Beli
Preceded by
Harald Greyhide
King of Denmark Succeeded by
Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye
Preceded by
Siwardus Ring
King of Denmark
in Gesta Danorum
Succeeded by
Siwardus III