Who were Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons?

Ragnar Lodbrok, a legendary Norse hero and Viking king, is a figure shrouded in myth and history. His exploits are chronicled in various sagas and historical texts, which tell of his raids across England, France, and the Baltic regions.

While the historicity of Ragnar himself is debated, his sons are prominent figures in Viking history, playing crucial roles in the invasions of England and the establishment of Norse rule in various parts of Europe.

In this article, WHE explores the lives and legacies of Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons, focusing on the most famous among them: Ivar the Boneless, Bjorn Ironside, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Hvitserk, and Ubbe.

Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons, renowned in their own right, played pivotal roles in the Viking Age, their stories passed down through sagas, poems, and historical records. Image: An artwork showing Ragnar Lodbrok together with his sons Ubba and Ivar and Ubba.

Ivar the Boneless

Ivar the Boneless is perhaps the most enigmatic of Ragnar’s sons. His epithet “Boneless” has been subject to various interpretations, ranging from a physical condition like osteogenesis imperfecta, which could have rendered his bones fragile, to symbolic meanings related to his cunning or magical abilities.

Ivar is often credited as the leader of the Great Heathen Army that invaded the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England in 865. Under his leadership, the army achieved significant victories, including the capture of York. Ivar’s strategic brilliance and ruthless tactics are well-documented, and he is portrayed as a master of psychological warfare.

After establishing a base in England, Ivar is said to have turned his attention to Ireland, where he became a king and founded the Norse kingdom of Dublin. His death is shrouded in mystery, with some sources suggesting he died peacefully in England.

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Bjorn Ironside

Bjorn Ironside is renowned for his raids in France and the Mediterranean. According to legend, he was a fearsome warrior and an adept sailor who led expeditions that pillaged parts of Italy and Spain.

One of the most famous tales about Bjorn involves his cunning siege of Luna (believed to be mistaken for Rome), where he feigned death to gain entry into the city’s church before his men plundered it. Bjorn’s legacy extends beyond his raids; he is considered a founder of the Munsö dynasty, which ruled over parts of Sweden.

Unlike Ivar, Bjorn’s historical footprint in the Nordic regions is more pronounced, with many believing he settled down and ruled in Sweden after his raiding years.

Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye

Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye was named for the distinctive mark in his eye, described as being shaped like a snake or dragon.

Sigurd’s historical actions are less documented than those of Ivar or Bjorn, but he is often associated with the settlement and governance of parts of Denmark. He is said to have ruled over Zealand, Scania, Halland, Viken, and parts of Uppland.

His legacy is also tied to his lineage, as he is believed to have continued Ragnar’s line through his descendants, who played significant roles in Scandinavian history.

Famed for being the son of Ragnar Lodbrok, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye was said to have been born with the image of the ouroboros, a snake or dragon eating its own tail, in his eye. This mark was considered a sign of great destiny. Image: A 17th century engraving of Sigurd.

Hvitserk

Hvitserk, whose name means “White Shirt” in Old Norse, is perhaps the least documented of Ragnar’s sons in historical texts.

His deeds and exploits are inconsistently reported, with some sagas suggesting he participated in the Great Heathen Army’s campaigns alongside Ivar.

One tale recounts Hvitserk’s tragic end through self-immolation, offered to Odin in atonement for a mistake, though the accuracy of this story is debated. Hvitserk’s historical presence is elusive, overshadowed by his more famous brothers, yet he remains a figure of fascination in Viking lore.

Ubbe

Ubbe is often identified with Ubba, a commander in the Great Heathen Army, though the historical records linking him directly to Ragnar as a son are sparse.

His contributions to the Viking invasions of England are significant, with his leadership and martial prowess frequently highlighted in accounts of the period. He is credited with playing a key role in the army’s victories and the subsequent Viking settlement in England.

The exact details of Ubbe’s life and death are murky, with some accounts suggesting he died in battle against the West Saxons.

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The Legacy of Ragnar’s Sons

The legacy of Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons extends beyond their individual exploits. Together, they embody the Viking spirit of exploration, warfare, and the quest for glory.

Their actions contributed significantly to the Viking Age’s impact on Europe, affecting the course of its history through raids, settlements, and cultural exchanges.

The sons of Ragnar also left an indelible mark on the mythology and cultural memory of the Norse people, their legends inspiring literature, art, and popular media through the centuries.

The historical Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons bridge the gap between myth and history, representing the Viking Age’s complexities.

While the precise details of their lives and deeds may be blurred by the passage of time and the embellishments of storytellers, their legacy is a testament to the enduring fascination with the Vikings and their world.

Through the sagas and historical records, the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok continue to captivate the imagination, embodying the adventurism, daring, and indomitable spirit of their era.

The sons of Ragnar Lodbrok embody the Viking Age’s quintessential aspects: exploration, warfare, cunning, and the pursuit of glory. Through their raids, battles, and governance, they left an indelible mark on the history of not just England but large parts of the continent during the medieval period. Image: An artwork showing Vikings’ occupation of a town.

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FAQs

Who were the wives of Ragnar Lodbrok?

According to the myths, Herrauðr, Earl of Götaland and Ragnar’s vassal, had a daughter called Þóra Borgarhjǫrtr. Þóra (Thora) was known for her beauty. In one account, she was given a lindworm, which later surrounded her tower, threatening all but her servants. During a feast, Herrauðr vowed Thora’s hand to whoever killed the beast.

Ragnar, upon learning this, ventured to Västergötland in tar-and-sand-coated clothes, armed with a spear. He confronted and killed the serpent, shielding himself from its poison. Having slain the beast and won Þóra’s hand, Ragnar married her and embarked on liberating his kingdom, showcasing his bravery and strategic prowess.

Before Thora’s death, she and Ragnar had sons Eric and Agnar. Ragnar then remarried Aslaug, the daughter of King Sigurd Ring and Brynhildr. From that marriage came forth four more sons: Ivar the Boneless, Ubba, Hvitserk, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

How did Ragnar’s sons Eric and Agnar die?

Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons, seeking to match their father’s renown, embarked on widespread conquests across Zealand, Reidgotaland, Gotland, Öland, and various islets, with the astute Ivar leading and establishing a base in Lejre. To prevent his sons from outshining him, Ragnar appointed Eysteinn Beli as Sweden’s king, charging him to defend against them.

During Ragnar’s Baltic raids, his sons Eric and Agnar approached Lake Mälaren, demanding Eysteinn’s submission and his daughter Borghild for Eric. Eysteinn, after deliberation with chieftains, chose battle, leading to Agnar’s death and Eric’s capture.

Seeking to end hostilities, Eysteinn proposed peace by offering his daughter’s hand in marriage to Eric, along with a generous portion of Uppsala öd, the royal estates underpinning the Swedish crown’s wealth. However, Eric, overwhelmed by the ignominy of defeat, chose death over dishonor. He requested to be impaled on spears above the fallen, a wish that was solemnly fulfilled.

The news of the demise of Eric and Agnar spurred Aslaug and her sons to vengeance, successfully killing Eysteinn. Ragnar, disapproving of their autonomous retribution, aimed to outdo them by attacking England with immense ships. The Viking king is said to have ignored Aslaug’s advice against such vessels for the English shores.

In the end, Ragnar’s ambition led him to England, where he began a fierce campaign, showcasing the complex dynamics of ambition, loyalty, and familial legacy within the legendary Viking saga.

Ragnar and Thora bore Eric and Agnar before her death. Ragnar remarried Aslaug, producing Ivar, Ubba, Hvitserk, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, named for his unique ocular mark resembling a snake. Image: A painting portraying Ubba, and his brothers, embarking on a mission to avenge his father. 

What did Ivar the Boneless do?

Ivar the Boneless is known for leading the Great Heathen Army’s invasion of Anglo-Saxon England in 865 AD, aiming to avenge his father’s supposed death. Ivar’s reputation as a fearless warrior and strategic genius is legendary.

Why was Bjorn called Ironside?

Bjorn was nicknamed “Ironside” due to his apparent invincibility in battle. The saga suggests that he was so well-protected, either by his armor or by some sort of magical protection, that no weapon could harm him.

What is the significance of Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye’s name?

Sigurd was called “Snake-in-the-Eye” because of a distinctive mark in his eye, resembling a snake encircling his pupil. This mark was seen as a sign of his noble heritage and destined greatness.

How did Hvitserk die?

The fate of Hvitserk varies among the sagas. In one account, he is said to have been captured and executed by being burned alive, a sacrifice to the gods after suffering a great defeat.

What are some of the major accomplishments of Ragnar’s sons?

Ragnar’s sons are credited with significant Viking raids and conquests across England, France, and parts of Italy. They played pivotal roles in the Viking expansion and settlements in these regions, contributing to the Viking Age’s historical impact.

Are the stories of Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons historical or mythological?

The tales of Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons blend historical facts with mythology and legend. While there is evidence to suggest some of them did exist and participate in the events described, many of the stories are considered sagas, rich with mythical elements and legendary embellishments.

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