Ragnar Lodbrok

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Ragnar Lodbrok
Harley MS 2278, folio 39r excerpt.jpg
Lothbrocus and his sons Hyngwar and Ubba. 15th century miniature in Harley MS 2278, folio 39r.
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 Shaggy-Breeches") was a legendary[1][2] Viking 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 in the 9th century 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 conflate the deeds of several historical Viking heroes and rulers.

According to legend, Ragnar was married three times: 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. There are two different accounts of his death. One is that he was 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.[3] The other was that Ragnar died from a combination of cholera and wounds he sustained from trying to invade Paris.

Historicity[edit]

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".[4] 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."[3]

Sources[edit]

The medieval sources that cover Ragnar include:

In popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ The Vikings: Voyagers of Discovery and Plunder. Osprey Publishing. 18 March 2008. p. 106. ISBN 978-1-84603-340-7. 
  2. ^ Mark Harrison (29 July 1993). Viking Hersir 793-1066 AD. Osprey Publishing. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-85532-318-6. 
  3. ^ a b Holman 2003, p. 220.
  4. ^ a b Davidson 1980, p. 277.

Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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