Ragnar Lothbrok


Ragnar Lothbrok (Regner Lothbrog, Latinized Regnerus, Old Norse Ragnarr Loðbrók) was a Viking and king in Denmark who is said to have lived in the early 9th century.

He is a hero in Norse antediluvian saga literature (fornaldarsaga) and is said to have been the father of Sigurd, Björn, Halfdan, Ivar and Ubbe Ragnarsson, among others. However, the historical existence of Ragnar is disputed in research.

The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok 

Only few facts are known about the historical Ragnar Lothbrok; already his existence is by no means certain. Possibly Ragnar and Lothbrok were even two different persons, which were only mixed up in the later tradition.

Historically secured for the period in question (1st half of the 9th century) is a Viking leader who raided Paris in the West Frankish Empire in 845. In Frankish sources he is mentioned by name as Reginheri.

He is often equated with Ragnar Lothbrok, but this identification is partly disputed in research. Reginheri, however, probably represents the historical nucleus for the figure of Ragnar Lothbrok in later Norse saga literature.

In the Icelandic Ragnars saga lodbrokar, Ragnar appears as a son of noble descent from Denmark. There and in Saxo Grammaticus (Book 9 of the Gesta Danorum), the epithet Lothbrok means "loden trousers" and refers to the clothing Ragnar put on when fighting a kind of lindworm to protect himself from the poisonous bites. He slays the lindworm - two giant poisonous snakes in Saxo - which increases his fame.

He eventually becomes a powerful king in Denmark himself. In both Saxo and the saga, Ragnar dies in the snake pit of the Northumbrian king Ælle (Elli[8] and Hella, respectively).

However, Rory McTurk has pointed out that the name Lothbrok may have referred to a female (Lodbroka) and only later was mistakenly also referred to a historical Ragnar (the Viking leader mentioned above).

According to this, Ragnar Lothbrok would not be a historically existing person, but the result of a mixture of different narratives in the following tradition, which would also explain many inconsistencies.

Ragnar's Wives

In Saxo Grammaticus, Ragnar marries three times: first Lagertha, then Thora, and Suanlogha. Lagertha's most striking features are her warlike abilities and her splendid long hair. She is the mother of a son, Fridlevus, who does not play a major role, and two daughters whose names are not mentioned. Ragnar leaves Lagertha in favor of Thora.

Ragnar's wife Suanlogha also appears only in Saxo's version. She is Ragnar's third wife after Lagertha and Thora, plays only a minor role and is mentioned only twice. In Saxo's version she is the mother of Regnaldus, Vithsercus and Ericus, all three of whom also appear in the saga.

Perhaps there is a connection between Suanlogha and Ragnar's wife Aslaug, who does not appear in Saxo. Ragnar's wife Thora appears both in Saxo and in the saga. Her portrayal is largely consistent in both versions.

Aslaug, surnamed Kráka (Icelandic for "crow"), is Ragnar's second wife after Thora in the Ragnar saga. Aslaug is the actual main character of the Ragnar saga. In the Ragnar saga as well as the Völsunga saga she is the daughter of the dragon slayer Sigurd and Brynhild, but grows up with Heimir in Hlindalir.

She becomes pregnant by Ragnar and gives birth to a boy who, like the Völsungen, bears the mark of a lindworm in his eyes (snake in the eye), which is why he is named Sigurd after Aslaug's father. So everyone knew that Aslaug was really Sigurd's and Brynhild's daughter.

Attempts to equate Ragnar with a Viking leader mentioned in Irish annals are more problematic. If so, this must have been before 845, for according to the Annals of Xanten, Reginheri died shortly after the 845 raid and thus could not have been active in Ireland later.

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in Irish annals, Ivar Ragnarsson, supposedly a son of Ragnar, appears as an important Viking leader.

Father and son appear in Norse saga literature as legendary heroic figures. However, it is by no means certain that Ivar and his brothers were actually the sons of a historical Ragnar.

Ragnar's Sons

Eirekr is in the saga the son of Thora, in Saxo that of Suanlogha.

Björn is in the saga the son of Aslaug, in Saxo that of Suanlogha.

Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, whose epithet has been mistakenly interpreted as a serpentine scar around one eye, but what is meant is that he had the piercing gaze of a snake. This gaze is a characteristic of the Völsungen, which Sigurd shares, for example, with Aslaug's half-sister Svanhild.

Ivar is mentioned in the saga as the son of Ragnar and Aslaug. He is also called "beinlauss", "boneless" or "legless". Rory McTurk points out in connection with Ivar's epithet that it is possibly misinterpreted. "Boneless" is therefore in some Norwegian tales a designation for wind, so that Ivar's abilities as a navigator may be meant.

Hvitserk was referred to by Saxo as the son of Ragnar. He ruled over the principality of Hellespont, probably on the Gulf of Riga. The Ragnars saga loðbrókar names him as one of four sons of Ragnar and Aslaug. He is said to have ruled over Reidagotland (Jutland) and Wendland (Slavic territory) after the death of his father.

Ubbe and Halfdan are mentioned as other sons of Ragnar.

Ragnar Lothbrok in Popular Culture

Ragnar Lothbrok is the main character in Edison Marshall's 1951 novel The Viking, which was adapted for film in 1958 by director Richard Fleischer from a screenplay by Dale Wasserman and Calder Willingham under the title The Vikings.

The role of Ragnar is played here by Ernest Borgnine. The 2013 Canadian-Irish television series Vikings also centers on Ragnar Lothbrok, played by Travis Fimmel, but incorporates numerous fictional elements.

The Hammer and Cross trilogy of novels by Harry Harrison and John Holm begins with Ragnar's execution in the Serpent Pit.
  • Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Annals, 9th century.
  • Ragnarsdrápa, skaldic poem, 9th century
  • Krákumál, Scottish skaldic poem, 12th century about Ragnar's death
  • Saxo Grammaticus: Gesta Danorum, Book IX, 12th century, in: Paul Herrmann (ed.): Erläuterungen zu den ersten neun Büchern der Dänischen Geschichte des Saxo Grammaticus. First part, translation. Published by Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig 1901 (on
  • Ragnarssona þáttr (History of Ragnar's Sons), Icelandic saga, 13th century, in: Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen (editor, translator): Ragnar Lothbroks saga and Norna Gests saga. Published by Joseph Max und Komp., Breslau 1828. part 1: Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons. Translation of: Ragnars saga Loðbrókar. (Preview in Google Book Search)
  • Ragnars saga loðbrókar (Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok), Icelandic saga, 13th century, in: Paul Herrmann, Ulf Diedrichs (eds.): Nordische Nibelungen: die Sagas von den Völsungen, by Ragnar Lothbrok and Hrolf Kraki. Eugen Diederichs Verlag, Cologne 1993.