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The Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok

Updated on January 18, 2015
Travis Fimmel as Ragnar
Travis Fimmel as Ragnar | Source

The Strange Story of Ragnar Hairy-Pants

The great hero of the Vikings, Ragnar was an absolute nightmare for France and England.

In the 9th century his raiders attacked France many times, using the rivers to make their bloody way inland, and sacked Paris in 845. He then turned his attention to England, where his luck ran out.

Ragnar can be compared to Arthur of Britain, a hero of his people, one man who became a legend or possibly many men who contributed their fame to be merged into one larger than life figure.

Whoever Ragnar was, we still talk about him. Like Arthur, his name lives on today.

Viking with noseguard
Viking with noseguard | Source

The Sons of Ragnar Lodbrok

While the real identity of Ragnar is in some doubt, there's no denying the existence of his sons. At least, of the men who were said to be the sons of Ragnar.

There seem to have been a number of them, but the ones we know from history are Ivar the Boneless, Bjorn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-Eye and Ubba Ragnarsson.

The most well known is Ivar, known as 'The Boneless', who was said to be a berserker (believe me, you don't want to get on the wrong side of one of those). He took a large army to Britain, terrified everybody, and finally retired to Ireland.

Ragnar Lodbrok Day is celebrated on 28 March - the day his 120 longboats sacked Paris in 845

Ernest Borgnine as Ragnar

Ragnar is remembered by his Death

After ravaging Paris, Ragnar took his band of men to England but was captured in Northumbria. There Aella, the king, executed him in an exotic manner -Ragnar was hurled into a pit of poisonous snakes. In an Icelandic saga, the Viking leader killed a good half dozen of the snakes by biting their heads off before succumbing to the poison.

It's a good story, and well worth the telling.

Legend tells us that Ragnar could be heard from below the castle walls roaring songs of death and glory and prophesying a reign of terror that would come to the Northumbrians when his sons avenge his death.- How the little pigs would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffers!

His sons were inflamed by the death of their father and, under the command of Ragnar's son, Ivar the Boneless, The Great Heathen Army captured York and killed Aella in revenge.

Ragnar's Death in The Vikings, 1958

In the 1958 film the pit of snakes was replaced with a more dramatic component. The pit was full of wolves!

In this scene Ragnar appeals to Tony Curtis while King Aella, played to perfection by Frank Thring, looks on.

Oh those Viking Movies!

Best Viking Movies
You'll find plenty of blood, sweat and beers in a Viking movie. Of course there would be, this is about Vikings isn't it? Yes, there was plenty of farming going on. And trading. Lots of trading. But who wants a movie about Magnus the Merchant or...

Ragnar in 12th century Verse

A 12th century Scottish poem, Krakumal, is written in the style of a monologue spoken by Ragnar while he is in the snake pit. It's a bloodthirsty chant of raids, rapine and revenge with chilling lines such as "All the sea was swollen, a raven waded in the blood of the slain". This poem did much to establish the modern stereotype of Vikings

You can see the first stanza (no gore) at The Lay of Kraka - wikipedia.

Ragnar in Contemporary Literature

The stories surrounding Ragnar Lodbrok aren't confined to the Anglo Saxon Cronicle and legendary sagas, he is kept alive in modern fiction as well, particularly in the genre of battlefield fiction.

Harry Harrison - The Hammer and the Cross

The Hammer and the Cross
The Hammer and the Cross

A rousing adventure beginning with the death of Ragnar and featuring a fictitious character, Shef Sigvarthsson.

The story tells of the advance of the Great Heathen Army across England and we meet Harrison's interpretation of the historical Viking leader, Ivar Ragnarsson, known as The Boneless

A tale of swords and axes, pride, power and revenge ...


Bernard Cornwell - The Saxon Chronicles

The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Chronicles Series #1)
The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Chronicles Series #1)

In Cornwell's novel of 9th century England, the young hero, Uhtred, travels on a battle-strewn journey to manhood.

We meet Ivar the Boneless and other sons of Ragnar Lodbrok in a series of action adventures detailing the historical merging of the four early English kingdoms


Masters of the Seas

Ragnar and other Vikings were able to shape history by their superb skills at ship-building. Their sailing skills were magnificent and the ships were the cutting edge in the technology of the times

The design was elegant in its simplicity, a long open boat with a single square sail and a row of oars on each side. These clinker-built ships, decorated with fearsome prows and stern posts resembling dragons, were works of art as well as scientific wonders of their day.

In the longboats and knarrs, the Vikings sailed through the known world, leaving their heritage from Constantinople to America.

Viking Voyages

A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine

From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord.

The Oseberg Ship

Oseberg Viking Ship
Oseberg Viking Ship

The Viking Ship Museum, Norway

An example of a superb Viking ship

A Serious look at the Vikings

The Vikings: A History
The Vikings: A History

A faultless and compelling historical background to the Vikings.

They're all in here, Ragnar included, and it's not all blood and guts. Far from it. The Vikings were farmers turned traders, and the men who raided, plundered and pillaged were in the minority.

An essential background to an understanding of the Viking Age


Song of the Vikings

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths
Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

To Snorri, Ragnarr was famous as the first Norwegian king to keep a court poet, or skald. He was "the conqueror who established the definitive boundaries of the Scandinavian kingdoms and the symbol of ancient heroism "

I love this book! Of course, I'm fascinated with Iceland, the sagas, the history, the landscape and the people but this just has to be best of books.

Nancy Marie Brown brings Snorri and his wonderful tales to amazing life

Also available for KIndle


Legacy of the Vikings

It was with the attack on Lindisfarne in 793 that the Viking Age began and, in less than 300 years, they had reshaped the world

The heritage of the Vikings is not just conquest, but a love for words and a passion for memory

You and Ragnar - a quick poll

Have you heard of Ragnar (Hairy-Breeches) Lodbrok?

See results

© 2013 Susanna Duffy

Swing your Axe in my Guestbook

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    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you Ilonagarden, I'm fascinated by the Vikings too. They were portrayed so badly (terrible press) in the 10th century that our whole perception of them is flawed to this day

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks for the headsup Kindoak! After reading your comment I found Korpur Flygur, the Raven Flies , on youtube and thoroughly enjoyed it

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 3 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      You're a champion sailor, Dressage Husband? You know about sailing then, I'm impressed. Congrats to you!. However, if the Viking boats had keels, they wouldn't be able to drag them so fast onto the shore. They also rolled boats on timber logs from Russia down to the Black Sea

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 3 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      A really good well balanced Hub and story. I think it just as well the vikings lacked the mathematical skills and physics needed to come up with a foresail. If those boats had a jib and mainsail and the ballast of a modern keel they would have taken the entire globe!

      From a former sailor of dinghies who has defeated World Champions! Those ships were beautiful and the design only flawed by those things I mentioned.

    • kindoak profile image

      kindoak 3 years ago

      I'm following the TV series with Ragnar, won't miss a single issue! A bit too much focus an violence and less on culture perhaps but I guess it sells.

      Another one to watch is the Icelandic film Korpur Flygur, the Raven Flies which is the nitty gritty perhaps even more realistic saga of what it was like to be a viking..

    • Ilonagarden profile image

      Ilona E 3 years ago from Ohio

      I find the Vikings and their lore fascinating and loved your essay.

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 4 years ago from New Zealand

      A pit of snakes or a pit of wolves - neither sounds too pleasant. This was really interesting information on Ragnar.

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      theatre 4 years ago

      Good introduction to Ragnar. I think it was his men who settle (finally) in that part of France which became known as Normandy

    • VladimirCat profile image

      Vladimir 4 years ago from Australia

      You neglected to mention the cats who sailed with the Vikings!

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      There were all these movies made about Ragnar -Lodbrok and yet I never heard of him. Curious as to why his son was called "boneless".

    • profile image

      Ask_Me 4 years ago

      I really liked the film with Ernest Borgnine, Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas

    • profile image

      Agapantha 4 years ago

      The Vikings were fantastic navigators!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @NAIZA LM: The Viking Navigators were many many years before the Spanish

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @DebMartin: The Viking Age was an important time in world history, a major time, a turning point, and we all should have been taught about it in primary school. It was indeed fascinating

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @grannysage: Sadly, the History Channel version of Ragnar is not particularly 'historical', but at least it should fix the name of Ragnar Lodbrok in the collective consciousness of the many viewers. One big complaint I have (apart from the idea that an 8th century Scandinavian didn't know about the British Isles) is the placing of the steerboard on the LEFT side of his ship - on the port side when surely everyone knows it went to "starboard".

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      DebMartin 4 years ago

      This kind of stuff just fascinates me. I think I need to read more about the Vikings.

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      grannysage 4 years ago

      When I was a small child my parents took me on a trip to Duluth MN. We went to a park where there was a replica of a Viking ship. I was so struck by it. It seemed so familiar to me. I knew nothing at the time of my own Scandinavian ancestry. I have enjoyed the History Channel story of Ragnar.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Now, I am going to have nightmares about that pit of poisonous snakes - yikes. I do appreciate learning about Ragnar, though. Thanks.

    • NAIZA LM profile image

      NAIZA LM 4 years ago

      Terrific lens about Ragnar Lodbrok as I've never heard about him before.

    • kislanyk profile image

      Marika 4 years ago from Cyprus

      I've heard of him before when I was interested in Vikings for a lens I wrote about Viking Runes, but haven't come across his name since till now. Great write-up!