Björn Ironside

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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, Danish: Bjørn Jernside; Medieval Latin: Bier Costae ferreae) was a 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 barrow.[1]

Tales refer to Björn Ironside's potential sons and grandsons, including Björn at Haugi, and Erik Björnsson.[citation needed]

Histories[edit]

A powerful Viking chieftain and naval commander, Björn and his mentor and father's close friend Hastein conducted many (mostly successful) raids in France in a continuation of the tradition initiated by his (legendary) father Ragnar Lothbrok. From 859 to 862, Björn led a large Viking raid into the Mediterranean. After raiding down the Iberian 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 Luni, which they believed to be Rome at the time, but were unable to breach the town walls. To gain entry a tricky plan was devised: Hastein sent messengers to the bishop to say that, being deathly ill, he had a deathbed conversion and wished to receive Christian sacraments and/or to be buried on consecrated ground within their church. He was brought into the chapel with a small honor guard, then surprised the dismayed clerics by leaping from his stretcher. The Viking party then hacked its way to the town gates, which were promptly opened letting the rest of the army in. Flush with this victory and others around the Mediterranean (including in Sicily and North Africa), during the Mediterranean expedition, Björn is recorded to have lost 40 ships to a storm. Björn returned to the Straits of Gibraltar, and at the coast of Medina-Sidonia, lost 2 ships to fire catapults in a surprise raid by Andalusian forces, leaving only 20 ships left. The remainder of his fleet managed to return to Scandinavia, where he lived out his life as a rich man.

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,[2][3] whom some call Randalin,[who?] and that he had the brothers Hvitserk, Ubba, Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and the half-brothers Fridleif, 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 in Zealand, Denmark with Ivar the Boneless as their leader.

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, Björn, Aslaug 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.

Björn and his brothers attacked Ælla but were beaten back. As Ivar did not overcome Ælla, he sought reconciliation. He only asked for as much land as he could cover with an ox's hide and swore never to wage war against Ælla. Then Ivar cut the ox's hide into such fine strands that he could envelop a large fortress (in an older saga it was York and according to a younger saga it was London) which he could take as his own. 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. Ælla 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.

Sources[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. According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Björn had a son named Asleik (Aslak), who was the ancestor of Thorfinn Karlsefni.

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).[4]

In fiction[edit]

A principal character in the television series Vikings, played as a young boy by Nathan O'Toole and as a young man by Alexander Ludwig, is loosely based on the historical character and portrayed as the son of Lagertha, rather than of Aslaug. According to the lore Björn is not the eldest son.[5]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Lagerquist 1997:24
  2. ^ "The Saga of Ragnar Lodrok and his Sons". Translated by Tunstall, Peter. 2005. 
  3. ^ Peter August Gödecke in Sagan om Ragnar Lodbrok och hans söner Norstedts Stockholm 1880 p. 24
  4. ^ Kings and kingship in Viking Northumbria, by Rory McTurk (University of Leeds) Archived September 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ "Bjorn Ironside, Ragnar Lothbrok's Son - Mythologian.Net". mythologian.net. Retrieved 2017-04-14. 

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
Semi-legendary king of Sweden Succeeded by
Erik Björnsson