The Historical Ivar the Boneless
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
In the age of the History channel making an entertaining TV show that is far from historically accurate, few Heathens have spent time reading the sagas and history books to understand the historical realities of our Heathen past. The portrayal of Ivar as a madman, against his brothers, disturbs me, as the real Ivar was the most famous son of Ragnar, and was the undisputed leader of the Great Heathen Army who got along very well with his brothers. Here is a list of changes the TV Show "Vikings" has made to the Saga of Ragnar Loðbrók and the Saga of the Sons of Ragnar. (These are two separate sagas, I have translated both into English and both are below the picture of Kattegat below): 1. Bjorn Ironside Ragnarsson was a son of Aslaug, and younger than Ivar. The Great Heathen Army was led by Ivar Ragnarsson, and not Bjorn. 2. Ivar did not murder any of his children, and one saga says he is a father, the other one says he is not a father. (Read the two sagas below.) 3. Ivar did not murder his brother Sigurd. 4. Aslaug was the second wife of Ragnar. Lagertha was the third. Lagertha is not mentioned in the Norse Sagas, but only by Saxo Grammaticus. The story of how Ragnar won Lagertha's hand in marriage from the TV show is about how Ragnar won his first wife, Thora. 5. Ivar was the first child of Ragnar and Aslaug. Ivar Ragnarsson was a man known for remarkable wisdom, cunning, and mastery of strategy and battle tactics. This is why he was the leader of the Great Heathen Army. 6. Ragnar was not a king in Norway, but one of Denmark and Sweden (parts of each). 7. Ragnar did not sack Lindesfarne. Lindesfarne was sacked before Ragnar was born. 8. Rollo lived over half a century after Ragnar. Ragnar and Rollo were not brothers and were unrelated. 9. King Ælla defeated all the sons of Ragnar in England, all but Ivar that is. Ivar outsmarted Ælla and got his defeated brothers to return, and together they overthrew Ælla. Ivar blood-eagled Ælla. 10. The constant civil wars portrayed in "Vikings" between the sons of Ragnar are fictional. They behaved as brothers, not as enemies nor were they divided. 11. Ivar was never a king in Kattegat, an area of the sea, and not a land area or "city." Same is true for Ragnar and Bjorn. Lagertha and Aslaug never ruled Kattegat as queens. Lagertha murdered her husband in cold blood before she met Ragnar. Aslaug ruled as a Queen and a competent military commander according to the Sagas. (In the show, Aslaug is not a warrior at all). 12. Ubba was a Frisian earl, and not even a son of Ragnar. For more info on Ubba being a Frisian King, see IJssennagger, NL (2015). "A Viking Find From the Isle of Texel (Netherlands) and its Implications". Viking and Medieval Scandinavia. 11: 127–142. doi:10.1484/J.VMS.5.109601. eISSN 2030-9902. ISSN 1782-7183. p. 137. 13. As much as I am not a fan of Christendom, Christians are not portrayed accurately in "Vikings." For example, Christian Kings did not sleep openly with their son's wives, adulteresses did not have their ears cut off in public, bastard children were raised in monasteries, and would NEVER be a Christian King of any kingdom in Christendom. William the Conquerer is a very rare exception to this, and of course he became king with the sword. 14. The worst inaccuracy of the TV show is making Alfred the Great the product of an adulteress relationship, i.e. Alfred was not a bastard. Judith was not the mother of Alfred the Great either. 15. Judith was not the daughter of King Ælla of Northumbria. She was (oddly) the Oldest daughter of the Frankish King "Charles the Bald" who is portrayed in the TV show (The TV show smashes Charles the Bald and Charles the Simple into one character.) Rollo marries the daughter of Charles the Bald/Simple in the show, but how can that be, if she is already married to Egbert's son Æthelwulf? 16. Judith (in real life) married both King Æthelwulf (son of Egbert) and Æthelbald, the second eldest of five sons of King Æthelwulf. She never had any children with Æthelwulf and Æthelbald. She had two previous marriages, where she did bear a daughter who ended up marrying a son of Alfred the Great. She married Æthelwulf's son after Æthelwulf had died, and never had an affair with Egbert. There was plenty of drama historically, so there was no need for the Vikings TV show "invent" drama that was impossible for the standards of the time. History needs no "Hollywoodization" as even Christians, while not as "evil" or incestuous as betrayed on the show, there was always plenty of that going on anyways... Now, if Vikings the TV show was put on E as opposed to the History Channel, I would not complain at all. But since this is the History Channel, can we at least be kinda sorta historical? 17. Alfred the Great did go to Rome as a child, but only because as the fifth son of Æthelwulf (cough cough, not the son of a monk his mother slept with) he had almost no chance of being king, as four older brothers would be in line in front of him. (One of his older brothers died young, three were kings first (one was king of Kent), and the other two were kings of Wessex who were killed in battles against the "Vikings" which left Alfred the kingship of Wessex.) Also, the eldest son of Æthelwulf, Æthelbald, overthrew his father as king. Alfred the Great's father did not die of an allergic reaction to a bee sting. 18. Judith did not murder one of her own children. 19. The "Vikings" wore helmets. (No horns. Maybe I should not fault the show here, at least they did not show horned helmets.) 20. The clothing on the TV show Vikings is deplorably inaccurate. They look more like Sons of Anarchy, and I do feel sorry for the cast to have to wear such awful clothing, no where close to accurate. Norse peoples constructed their clothes from wool and linen, using surprisingly complicated patterns with many pieces that needed to be cut out of the fabric and sewn back together. Also, they definitely didn’t limit their choice of color to black, brown, and gray as the show presents, but they instead loved vivid colors like blue, red, and yellow. 21. The Vikings did not call themselves "Vikings". 22. The show's geography is all over the place. Of course except in its actual locations. The real Ragnar Lodbrok was the son of the Swedish King Sigurd Hring and a relative of the Danish king Gudfred. Logically, he probably lived in Sweden or Denmark. However, in the series, Ragnar’s kingdom is located in a deep fjord that looks exactly like the ones you would find on the west coast of Norway. What complicates things even more is that Denmark and Sweden do not have fjords like the one in the series. 23. The whole concept of the “shieldmaiden” is based on Scandinavian folklore and myth, since there’s not even a single credible source that proves the existence of a group of Viking women who had chosen to fight as warriors. Sure, there’s archeological evidence that proves a number of women took part in some raids and battles, but this was a rare occurrence, and most historians speculate that their role in battle was limited. Oddly, the Sagas do portray one wife of Ragnar to be a warrior: Aslaug (and not Lagertha.) 24. Lindesfarne was sacked in 793 AD. Then, in Season 3, Ragnar and his crew haven’t aged a tiny bit and attack Paris, a historical event that took place in 911 CE, nearly 120 years after the sack of Lindisfarne’s monastery. Not to mention, outside of the white hair, Lagertha looks YOUNGER than Bjorn. And Torvi, wife of Jarl Borg from Season two, she hasn't aged either, despite Ragnar looking old in season 4, and considering Torvi's child Guthram was almost the same age as Ubba, Ubba is now "married" to a lady twice his age, but who looks his age. 25. Christians did not crucify people, especially in the 9th and 10th centuries. 26. There are some gut-wrenching scenes of massacres of civilians, women and children, depicted in VIKINGS. However, these are not of Anglish civilians killed by Viking invaders, but Viking settlers killed by brutal and treacherous Anglishmen! In a bizarre twist, the History Channel portrays the Vikings as settling without any semblance of security, with indefensible villages spread out in the open, without any form of stockade, fortification or protective measures. Not even towers are erected. That just never happened. Considering that the Vikings were invaders, they took extraordinary measures to erect comprehensive fortification structures, normally in circles, surrounded by a moat and sharpened stakes, with all their habitations neatly organised within this fortification. 27. The Vikings TV show depicts the temple to Odin at Uppsala as a wooden stave church in the mountains. The historic temple was actually situated on flat land and the stave churches were a hallmark of Christian architecture from the 11th Century onward. 28. The Missionary Ansgar was not the failure that Hirst depicts being executed by queen Aslaug when he failed a test. In fact Ansgar (801-865) known as The Apostle to the North, not only lived a long life, but succeeded in winning Vikings to Christ. 29. King Harold Finehair did become the first king of all Norway. King Harold did not kill his "brother." Halfdan the Black was Harold Finehair's father, not brother. Come join us on the Facebook group "Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry" and visit Aldsidu on YouTube. *** PS *** The Sagas (below) state that Ivar created York. Ivar was not the founder of Yorvik (York). The Sagas also state that Hvitserk ruled an area in Old Saxony near Hannover, which is impossible, as Saxony was forcefully converted by the Franks at that time, and would never allow a Heathen army and Heathen "king" within Saxony itself in this period. What I am saying is, the Sagas are not exact history, but certainly embellished. *** PS ***
The Saga of Ragnar Loðbrók
1. King Ragnar After the death of Sigurd Hring, his son Ragnar came to power in Sweden and Denmark. Then many kings came to the kingdom and seized land. And because he was a young man, they thought he would also be unfit for decision making or governing the country. There was a jarl in West Gautland who was called Herraud. He was a vassal of King Ragnar. He was the wisest man there was and a great warrior. He had a daughter, who was called Thora Hart-of-the-Town. She was the fairest of all women that the king had heard tell of. The jarl, her father, had given her a baby snake for a present one morning. To begin with, she kept it in a box. But in time, this snake got so big that it coiled right round the bower and bit its own tail. It grew so fierce then that no one dared come near the bower, except her servants and those who fed it, and it ate an ox a day. Folk were very scared, and they could see that it would do great harm, so big and fierce had it become. The jarl made this solemn vow at the bragarfull (a boast during Sumble), the ceremony of the chief's cup, that he would give his daughter Thora in marriage to none but the man who could kill that snake, or who dared go and talk with her there in front of the snake. And when King Ragnar hears this news, he goes to West Gautland. And when he had just a little way to go to the jarl's dwelling, he donned shaggy clothes: trousers and a cloak with sleeves and hood. These clothes were treated with sand and tar, and he took in his hand a great spear, and had a sword on his belt, and in this way he left his men and walked alone to the jarl's dwelling and Thora's bower. And as soon as the snake saw that a stranger had come, it reared up and blew poison at him. But he thrust his shield at it and went bravely towards it and pierced its heart with his spear. Then he drew his sword and cut off the serpent's head. And it turned out just as it says in the Saga of King Ragnar: he married Thora Hart-of-the-Town. And afterwards he went to war and liberated the whole
2. The Death of Ragnar's Elder Sons
Now when Ragnar's sons were fully grown, they went raiding far and wide. The brothers Eirek and Agnar were second in rank after Ragnar, and Ivar third with his younger brothers, and he was the leader because he was very clever. They conquered Zealand and Reidgotaland, Gotland, and Öland and all the smaller islands in the sea. Then Ivar set himself up at Lejre in Zealand with his younger brothers, but that went against the will of King Ragnar. His sons all went warring, because they didn't want to be any less famous than their father the king. King Ragnar wasn't too pleased about this, that his sons had turned against him and taken his tributary lands against his will. He set up a man called Eystein Beli as king over Upper Sweden, and told him to hold the realm for him and guard it from his sons, if they laid claim to it. One summer, when King Ragnar had gone east over the Baltic with his army, his sons Eirik and Agnar came to Sweden and brought their ships into Lake Mälaren. Then they sent word to King Eystein in Uppsala, telling him to come to them. And when they met, Eirik said that he wanted Eystein to govern Sweden under the brothers, and adds that he wants to marry Eystein's daughter Borghild, and says that then they'll be well able to hold the kingdom against King Ragnar. Eystein tells them that he wants to consult the Swedish chieftains, so with that they part. And when King Eystein raised this matter, the chieftains were all of one mind: to defend the land from Ragnar's sons. And they bring together now an overwhelming host, and King Eystein marches against Ragnar's sons. And when they clash, a great battle ensues and Lodbrok's sons are overwhelmed by superior numbers, and their troops fall in such numbers that hardly any were left standing. Then Agnar fell too, and Eirik was captured. King Eystein offered peace to Eirik and as much of the wealth of Uppsala as he wanted in compensation for his brother Agnar, and, along with that, he could have his daughter Borghild, just as he'd asked. Eirik didn't want monetary compensation, and he didn't want the king's daughter, and he says he doesn't want to live after such a defeat as he's just had, but this, he said, this is what he would accept: to choose for himself the day of his death. And since King Eystein couldn't get any settlement out of Eirik, he agreed to that. Eirik asked them to catch him from below on spear-points and so lift him up above all the slain. Then chanted Eirik: “Don't care, to hear you, killer if you offer; (Eystein, they say, slew Agnar) I don't want your daughter. To mourn me I've no mother; make haste, hey!, impale me. I'll die over host hoisted, highest o'er the slaughter.” And before he was lifted up on the spears, he saw a man riding hard. Then he said: “Send word to my slender sweet stepmother, greet her: (my forays east are ended) say all my rings are hers. Great will grow their anger when they get to know it, when she brings her bounteous boys news of my demise.” Now it was done, just as he'd said: Eirik was raised up on the spear-points, and he died thus, up above the slain. And when word of this reaches Aslaug in Zealand, she goes at once to see her sons and tells them the news. Bjorn and Hvitserk were playing tafl, and Sigurd was stood in front. Then said Aslaug: “I doubt, if they'd made it, and you lot had fallen, (with loved ones not living) they'd let you go forgotten --I say and make no secret-- six whole months of vengeance, if Eirik lived, and Agnar-- I who never bore them.” Then Sigurd Snake-in-Eye answered: “In three weeks we'll be through with (if that grieves you, mother) (long the way that waits us) war-readying of levies. Eystein's rule's soon over--even if he offers payments big and brazen--if our blades prove true then.” Then said Bjorn Ironside: “Heart will hold, heroic, in a hawk-keen torso: doughty, daring, though I don't shout out about it, nor snakes nor beady serpents sit in my eyes spiralled. Those men made me merry: your stepsons I remember.” Then answered Hvitserk: “Let's plan, before vowing, how vengeance might be managed, various vile torments devise for Agnar's killer; heave hulls onto billows, hew ice aside, slice it. Let's see who's sloop's scrambled, schooners to sea, soonest. Then Ivar Boneless said: “Pluck you have in plenty and pith as well with it: let's trust too you're stubborn, as tough heads are needed. I'm borne before my fighters forward though I'm boneless, I have hands for vengeance, though hardly strength in either.” After that, Ragnar's sons mustered an overwhelming army. And when they were ready, they went with a fleet to Sweden, while Queen Aslaug goes overland with fifteen hundred thanes, and that host was well equipped. She wore armor herself and commanded the army, and they called her Randalin, and they meet up in Sweden and plunder and burn wherever they go. King Eystein hears word of this and raises an army against them, with every man of fighting age who was in his realm. And when they met, a mighty battle ensued, and Lodbrok's sons had the victory, and King Eystein fell, and news of this battle spreads far and wide, and very famous it becomes. Out campaigning, King Ragnar hears of it, and he's less than happy with his sons, as they'd taken revenge without waiting for him. And when he comes home to his realm, he says to Aslaug that he'll do deeds no less famous than his sons have done. “I've now won back almost all the lands that my forebears held, but not England. And that's why I've now had two knorrs (boats) made at Lidum in Vestfold”--his kingdom reached all the way to Dovrefjell and Lindesnes. Aslaug answered, “You could have had many longships made for the price of these knorrs. And besides, you know that big ships are no good for going to England, with all the streams and shallows there, and this is not well thought out.” But all the same, King Ragnar goes west to England in these knorrs with five hundred men and both ships are wrecked in England, but Ragnar himself and all his crew came safely ashore. He takes now to harrying wherever he goes. (Robert Sass adds this note: Ubbe is mentioned as a son of Ragnar in English sources such as the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. Ubbe is not mentioned in the Norse Sagas.) The Saga of Ragnar’s Sons (This begins a second saga, the Saga of Ragnar's Sons) 3. The Fall of Ragnar & Revenge of His Sons At that time there was a king of Norðhumbrulandi named Ælla. When he learned that an army was in his kingdom, he amassed a great army, and went to Ragnar with his large army, and there was a great battle. King Ragnar was clad in a (magic) silk shirt that Aslaug gave him when he departed. Ragnar put chain mail over his silk shirt. Ælla’s army was so big that nothing could withstand it, nearly all of his people. Finally, Ragnar was captured and put in a snake-pit, but the snakes would not come near him. Ælla saw that Ragnar, while wearing his silk shirt and armor, nothing could assail him. He then stripped Ragnar of the clothes that he was wearing, and when the snakes were biting him on all sides, he left his life with much courage. As Ragnar lay dying, he stated “My how the pigs will squeal when they hear how the old boar suffered.” And when the sons of King Ragnar heard this news, they headed west to England to fight with King Ælla. And since King Ivar would not fight with his soldiers, the army was small, they were defeated and fled to their ships leaving to Denmark. But Ivar stayed in England and went to King Ælla and asked to be given wergild for his father. And because King Ælla saw at Ivar would not fight with his brothers against him, he took it as a genuine offer of peace. Ivar asked the king to give him as much land in wergild that he spread over the biggest old, because he said he felt he could not peacefully go home to his brothers without some compensation. Ælla thought it was not treachery, and so he agreed to Ivar’s terms of as much land as he could cover with one ox’s hide. Ivar cut it into such a fine long string of hide that he encircled an area large enough for a city. He then laid the foundations for a city which becomes York. He built strong city walls and fortified York well. He made friends with people all over the country and most of the leaders, and eventually all the chiefs pledged loyalty to him and his brothers. Then he sent word to his brothers and said, “It's more likely they'll be able to avenge his father, if they bring an army to England. When they heard that, they set out their army to England. And when Ivar learned this, he went to King Ælla, and said that he would not keep such news, but said that he can’t fight against his own brothers, but he'll go and talk to them and try to make peace. The king agreed. Ivar went to meet his brothers and incited them to avenge his father. He then went back to King Ælla and said that they are so savage and mad, that they want to make war. King Ælla assumed the greatest of faithfulness with Ivar’s actions. Then Ælla went against the bothers with his army. When the brothers came together, they turned many rulers of the king to side with Ivar. The king was outnumbered, so that the greater part of his forces fell, while he himself was captured. Ivar and the brothers now recalled how their father was tortured. They now had carved eagle on the back of Ælla and then pulled all his ribs from the backbone with a sword, so that his lungs were pulled out. As Sighvat says in the poem Knutsdrapa: "Ivar held a thing in York, and carved an eagle on Ælla's back." After this battle, Ivar made himself king over that part of England which his forbearers had owned before him. He fathered two sons, brothers one called Yngvar, the other Husto. They tortured King Edmund the Saint on Ivar’s orders, and then Ivar took Edmund’s Kingdom of East Anglia. Ragnar's sons went about raiding in many lands: England and France and Valland (Whales) and out of Lumbarda (Italy). When they went a long way, they won the city named Luna. At first they thought it was Rome. Their victories in battle brought them fame to all Northmen. When they came back to Denmark, they shared the lands between them. Bjorn Ironside became King in Uppsala and all of central Sweden. Sigurd Snake-eye became king in Sealand, Scania, Halland, Viken, Agder, and a large majority of the upland. Hvitserk became king in Reidgotaland (Jutland) Wendland (near Hannover in Saxony). Sigurd Snake-eye married Blæja, daughter of King Ælla. Their son was Knut, who was called HordaKnut, who succeeded his father in Sealand, Scania and Halland. He had a son named Gorm who ruled all the lands of Ragnar's sons while they were away at war. Gorm Knutsson was larger than all men, and the strongest of all, but he was not as wise as the first of his kin. 4. From the Danish kings and king of England Gorm took the kingship after his father. His lands became what is now called Denmark. He became king in Jutland taking that land for himself. Gorm had many battles with the now christian Saxons (in Saxony), and became a mighty king. He had two sons. The eldest was called Knut, and Harald Bluetooth was the younger. Gorm’s wife finished the Danevirke, the wall dividing Denmark from the now christian Saxony. Ivar the Boneless was king in England for a long time. He had no children (please see above where the saga says he had two children Yngvar, the other Husto), because he was so created that he followed no lust or love. Ivar had no restraints of cruelty, and died of old age in England and was buried there. Then all Ragnar's sons were dead. After Ivar, Aðalmundr took the Kingdom of Northumbria. He had a nephew named Játmundar who became christian. Játmundar took taxes from Northumbria, because Northumria was heathen. After Játmundar died his son is named Aðalbrigt took the kingdom. He was a good Heathen king and grew old. Towards the end of his days the Danish army came to England, and were leaders of the army Knut and Harald, the sons of King Gorm. They conquered the great state of Northumbria, that Ivar had. King Aðalbrigt went against them and they fought, and many Danes fell. And a little later the Danes went up to Scarborough and fought there and won. Then they went south to York and then conquered the entire people. And one day, the weather was hot, people went swimming. And as the king's sons were swimming between the ships, the men sprang from the land and shot arrows at them. Knut was hit by an arrow and died, and they took the body and carried it out to the ship. And when they gathered together the made sure that the Danes could not get ashore, they returned home to Denmark. King Gorm was in Jutland. And when he heard this news, he collapsed and he died of grief. The kingdom afterwards was ruled by Harald, his son. He was later baptized.
5. From Sigurd, grabbing and King Haka Sigurd Snake-in-Eye, Bjorn Ironside, and Hvitserk raided widely in France. Then Bjorn headed back home to his kingdom. After that, the Emperor Arnulf fought with the brothers, and a hundred thousand Danes and Norwegians fell there. There also fell Sigurd Snake-in-Eye, and Gudrod was the name of another king who fell there. He was the son of Olaf, the son of Hring, the son of Ingjald, the son of Ingi, the son of Hring, after whom Ringerike in Norway is known. Hring was the son of Dag and Thora Motherof-Drengs. They had nine sons, and the Dagling dynasty comes from them. Helgi Hvassi, the Sharp, was the name of Gudrod’s brother. He escaped from the battle with the standard of Sigurd Snake-in-Eye, and his sword and shield. He went home to Denmark with his own forces and there found Aslaug, Sigurd’s mother, and told her the tidings. Then Aslaug spoke a verse: “Sad sit the corpse-stalkers, what a shame! Forsaken by namesake of Sigurd; in vain now they’re waiting. Too soon from life Lord Odin let such a hero go.” But because Horda-Knut was young, Helgi stayed with Aslaug for a long time as protector of the land. Sigurd and Blaeja had a daughter. She was Horda-Knut’s twin. Aslaug gave her own name to her and brought her up then and fostered her. Afterwards she married Helgi Hvassi. Their son was Sigurd Hart. Of all the men ever seen, he was the fairest, and the biggest, and the strongest. They were the same age, Gorm Knutsson and Sigurd Hart. When Sigurd was twelve, he killed the berserker Hildibrand in a duel, and he single-handedly slew twelve men in that fight. After that Klakk-Harald gave him his daughter, who was called Ingibjorg. They had two children: Gudthorm and Ragnhild. Then Sigurd learnt that King Frodi, his father’s brother, was dead. He went north to Norway and became king over Ringerike, his inheritance. There is a long story told of him, as he did all manner of mighty deeds. But it’s said of his passing, that he rode out hunting in the wilderness, as was his custom, and Haki Hadaberserk came at him with thirty fully armed men and they fought with him. Sigurd fell there, after first killing twelve men, but King Haki had lost his right hand and received three other wounds besides. Afterwards Haki and his men rode to Ringerike, to Stein, where Sigurd’s dwelling was, and took away Ragnhild his daughter, and his son Gudthorm, and plenty of goods too, and carried them off home with him to Hadeland. And soon after that, he had a great feast prepared and meant to celebrate his wedding, but it was put off because his wounds weren’t healing. Ragnhild was fifteen years old then, and Gudthorm fourteen. Summer passed, and Haki was laid up with his wounds till Yule. At this time, King Halfdan the Black was staying at his estate in Hedmark. He sent Harek Gand with a hundred and twenty men, and they marched over the frozen Lake Mjøsa to Hadeland one night and came the next morning to King Haki’s home and seized all the doors of the hall where the retainers were sleeping. And then they went to King Haki’s bedroom and took Ragnhild and Gudthorm, her brother, and all the treasure that was there, and carried it off with them. They burnt all the retainers in their hall and then left. But King Haki got up and got dressed and went after them for a while. But when he came to the ice, he turned down his sword-hilt to the ground and fell on the point and met his death there, and he’s buried on the bank of the lake. King Halfdan saw them coming over the ice with a covered wagon and guessed their mission had gone exactly as he wished. He had a message sent then to all the settlements and invited to all the important people in Hedmark to a big feast that very day. There he celebrated his wedding to Ragnhild, and they lived together for many years after. Their son was King Harald the Fine-Haired, who was first to become sole ruler over the whole of Norway.