Ragnar Lothbrok, the Fearless Viking Hero of Norse History

ragnar lothbrok pictures and images

Ragnar Lothbrok was a Danish Viking warlord and a renowned hero of Norse history who lived in 9th century. Both the name Ragnar and “the nickname” Lothbrok, which must not be confused with a surname,  had many variations in the accounts of the age. Sometimes his name could be written as Regnar or Regner whereas his surname could be written as Lodbrok or Lodbrog. The Danish Viking hero was also known as Ragnar Sigurdsson as some stories claimed that he was the son of Danish King Sigurd Ring (or Hring)

The word “Lothbrok” could be interpreted as “hairy breeches” in the Old Norse language and it was believed that this name was derived from his breeches which he wore while fighting against a serpent that breathes poison (or a dragon according to some stories).

Stories and historical accounts in medieval literature regarding Ragnar Lothbrok differ from each other in terms of details, however, the essential part about him being a fearless Viking warrior who raided France and England seems to be almost identical in every story.

ragnar vikings photosIn addition to that, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a chronological account of the age which is considered a highly reliable source, confirms the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, his deeds, which made a significant impact on the history of 9th century, and his sons carrying on his legacy.

According to the accounts of French historians, Ragnar ruled as a king in Denmark and he and his sons raided France ruthlessly.  Another account links Ragnar to Reginheri (Reginherus), the Viking who attacked Paris, hanged 111 Christians and died of a disease shortly thereafter.

ragnar wife pictures

Ragnar Lothbrok became famous as a warlord and made his fortune by raiding the lands and kingdoms in the west. He allegedly attacked people when they were in the church.

He was told to be a witty leader and ruin the well-organized and disciplined forces of France with his furious army sometimes using blitzkrieg (sudden charge) tactics to surprise the enemy.  He captured Paris and made King Charles pay 7000 pounds as ransom on one occasion.

As a common point in many stories telling us the legend of the great Viking hero, Ragnar  Lothbrok had three wives; Lagertha, the shield maiden,  Aslaug, the warrior queen and Thora Town-hart (Borgarhjort), a noblewoman who was the daughter of the earl Herrauðr of Götaland.  Ragnar’s wives gave him many sons; the most famous ones being Bjorn Ironside, Ubba (Ubbe/Hubba), Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless (Inwaer).

 

Ragnar Lothbrok’s Death – How did Ragnar Lothbrok die?

There are two versions of the story about Ragnar Lothbrok’s death. One identifies him with Reginheri and suggests that he died of a deadly disease similar to diarrhea right after he ravaged Paris. The description regarding the disease in question and the manner of his death given in several accounts points to dysentery as his cause of death.

The second version, as it is told in some historical accounts, particularly, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, tells us that Ragnar Lothbrok meets death in the hands of his enemies.

ragnar lothbrok pictures

According to this version, on his way back home after he was forced out of  Paris, Ragnar’s ship washed ashore on the coast of the Kingdom of Northumbria where he attacked and held to ransom numerous times.

Longing for getting revenge on Ragnar Lothbrok for a long time, King Aella of Northumbria captured and threw Ragnar into a pit of snakes, leaving him to a painful and gruesome death. Legend has it that, right before he died, Ragnar Lothbrok sang a Norse hymn and warned King Aella that his sons would come for vengeance. The Great Heathen Army (the Great Viking Army, a combined army of Vikings from Denmark and Sweden) led by Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons invaded England and killed King Aella in 866.

Ragnar Lothbrok’s legacy continued and his descendants actually kept on making an impact on the structure of the region even long after he was dead. Around two centuries after Ragnar’s passing, some of the Vikings, who descended from his sons, settled in the west coast of France turning this area into “the land of Northmen”, Normandy as we know it in the present day.

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  1. My book “The Ring: The Legend of the Niebelungenlied: The Volsungr Saga and The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrokr” has a complete translation of the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrokr.

    The book is a retelling of the Ring Saga (much bloodier than Wagner’s Teutonic Ring Cycle). Most storytellers end with the deaths of the Sigurdr and Brynhildr. However, the saga ends when the last Volsung is dead, and that would be Sigurdr and Brynhildr’s daughter, which is part of the Saga of Ragnar. Ragnar’s first wife is Sigurdr and Brynhildr’s daughter. But, he’s a lousy husband.

  2. Dysentery is a much believable death for the time, actually, and one must take into account what writers want to push forward about their ancestors. Of course we want to believe the pit of snakes, but history and logic support dysentery. Besides, dysentery would account for the hairy breeches (dirty breeches) nickname: in more than one account, Ragnar’s death was described as his bowels spilled to the earth.

    • Hello Daphne, first of all, thank you for the detailed info. Ditto on the dysentery situation. My sources mentioned a disease but not a “specific” one. This will be included to the article soon. About beliefs; of course, the pit of snakes version fascinates people more and they settle the story like that in their minds. Plus, there are almost always at least several versions of a story if it involves mythology/myths or parts of history about which there may not be enough information. That is why I am always writing “according to some accounts ..” etc. Thanks again for your insight.

  3. Norse History is fascinating. There is so much more to be known. There are records of islands where some Norsemen lived a 1000 years ago that are presently under water, in the higher northern latitudes. I’m happy the Viking program on the History Channel is being presented.

    • Hi Adrienne, yes, definitely. Haven’t heard about the islands in question, but will definitely make some research now. And yes, we owe the History Channel 😉

  4. This has been the best series that has ever been told about the Norsemen. History Channel I thank you and hope the series carries on for another season. Even though it looks like Ragnar may meet his end according to History I would like to see his sons carry on as well as his family. With my family from Norway its fun to think f the Vikings as distant relatives.

  5. Love this series, I have watched each series twice. I would like to see more docu-dramas that deal with the Norse people.

  6. My uncle has spent a few years researching our ancestry. He has it linked to Ragnar Lothbrok. Even further but Ragnars father apparently had a son by a mistress of which her name was not recorded. This made going back further difficult to trace.

  7. I am really enjoying the series, I do wish they would make it a bit more realistic though.

    The victories on the first series are rather cheap considering how poorly the opponents conducted themselves.

    The first encounter is understandable, they where taken by surprise, the second time Saxon troops famed for shield war battle decided to attack in a column and throw themselves against the shield wall, what really would have happened is shield wall would have fought against shield wall and more Viking casualties.

    The night raid on the King of Northumberland’s brother who was a competent commander, was just ridiculous… if camped near the enemy, many guards are usually posted to watch at night, yet they did not show any being quietly bumped off.

    The lack of convincing victories in this series pretty much it’s only downside.

    • Hi there Kielan, thanks a lot for the insight. True that, the series is amazing but yes, actually weak about that and the battle scenes. Mostly, victories were a bit too easy. I should also add I expected more crowded battles, especially after Ragnar Lothbrok/Lodbrok became the king and took command of more territories. Who knows, might be a budget issue. Thanks for noting the details, much appreciated.

  8. What do you think of the new series “The Last Kingdom” In it they have Ragnar’s death by burning to death. He is asleep and a former viking which Ragnar banished blocks the doors and sets fire to it. Ragnar exits fully engulfed in flames. He does manage to kill a couple men but succumbs to the flames.

    As they are only one episode in, it seems like a cheap attempt to recreate the Majesty of Vikings.

    • Hi there Benjamin. Yes, I also watched the pilot of “The Last Kingdom” – which mostly impressed me as a production. There are two Ragnars apparently in that show; the Young Ragnar and his father Earl Ragnar (who probably is the protagonist of “The Vikings” by the History Channel). His death and the events before that were not close to any myth or belief I’ve read about real Ragnar Lodbrok’s death. I have searched about any possible relation and the thing is “The Last Kingdom” is a TV series adapted from fiction; Bernard Cornwell’s The Saxon Chronicles Seriesand although some characters in the TV show were important real life figures (the main character Uhtred of Bebbanburg was inspired by Uchtred the Bold, the ealdorman of Northumbria), the events, as they were/will be displayed in the series, might contradict what really happened in history as it was adapted from the book (“the books” actually as there are more than one). Thanks for dropping a few lines, I was kinda expecting someone to comment about Ragnar in that new show 😉

      • I believe “the last kingdom” takes place a generation after Ragnar Lothbrok. In the show, the main Vikings are Ubba, Ivar, and Halfdane, Ragnars sons. The Ragnars in the show are in no why related to Ragnar Lothbrok.

        • Hello Nick, thanks for the input. Truth be told, I did not continue watching the Last Kingdom to see what you just stated. Now, it became more interesting though considering Ragnar’s sons left a more significant trail in history. In any case, we should not take what happens in the Last Kingdom all vrey so literally since it is adapted from an actual literary work. Thanks again.

  9. The only problem I have with this series are the battle scenes. Each opponent is basically hit once, and then dies on the spot. Even if you’re stabbed in the gut, you still have some fighting left in you. If I was mortally wounded, I’d definitely go down swinging – as I’m sure most men trained as warriors would also do.

    • Hi Brad. That made me smile 🙂 And yes, that is true indeed. Maybe, it is the budget of the show or the total time they can allocate to each episode. Also, maybe it is just me, I don’t know, but it seems to me the number of fighting men never change in spite of a lot of deaths and Ragnar becoming king and gathering all troops under his command (except when they travel to Paris in many boats).

    • Brad – I wonder, have you ever been wounded? I have I’ve been stabbed twice. Once in the forearm and again in the chest. Believe me when I say that going down swinging is not what goes through your mind, that is left to action movie heroes and fanciful dreams of teenage boys who never faced death. When steel cuts through your skin and opens an artery the first thing you feel is shock, you actually can’t believe what has happened, when the blade is removed, what you hear is the hiss of the cardinal red blood spraying out of your body and the only thing you think of is I don’t want to die. Within seconds the loss of blood causes you to become dizzy and begins to diminish your ability to think or react with purpose. Be happy you never had to go through something so traumatic, and just enjoy the show.

      • Hi George, first off, sorry to hear that you had such unfortunate things happen to you. I had such an encounter, too, actually. You’re 100% right about blood loss affecting your ability to think and what not. Ditto on the shock also, I remember walking towards and talking to people while bleeding. Brad said it in “if I was a Viking warrior fighthing in a battle” sense probably 😉 I’m glad you guys both enjoy to show and dropped a few lines here. Thank you.

  10. I loved every episode! I love history and this is a great way for kids to learn since it’s so hard to get them to read.I hope they continue the saga with his son.

    • Hey Darla, yes, it is an amazing show. I think they will continue the saga with Bjorn and Ivar’s stories. Not many people know that (as of now) but Ivar and Bjorn’s success outshone Ragnar’s achievements. On a side note, there are things to know as to what is real and what is slightly changed to adapt the storyline better for a TV show. You can read about the individual stories of Bjorn, Ivar and Lagertha here as I finished writing about them a short time ago. Thanks for dropping a few lines 😉

  11. I love the show and have seen every episode at least twice. lol I am fascinated by history and love to learn about it and be entertained at the same time. I am so glad they put together a 20 episode season this year cause 9 months is just too long to wait in between. lol

    • Hey Jim, oh yeah, tell me about it. It was way too long to wait. Plus, a 20-episode season is something the Vikings can easily handle considering the own stories of Bjorn, Ivar and Lagertha. Now, we will enjoy our time knowing a Vikings episode will come out every week for almost 5 months in a row 🙂 Thank you for dropping a few lines & enjoy the show! It just came back last night!

  12. Im pretty sure they will drag Ragnar out through the seasons as most people will stop watching if they kill him off… Even though his sons outshone his success in history. Or they will need to find someone good enough to carry the show cuz Bjorn isn’t it

    • Hey Mike, yeah, I agree, at least for this season they will do it. Although, they broadcasted a somewhat mysterious trailer with Bjorn giving a big speec etc. (like Ragnar died). I read online that they intend to carry on the show after Ragnar Lothbrok’s death and they should. Because, although Ragnar is a fan favourite by far, Bjorn and Ivar’s stories are also very interesting. Just like you pointed out, they outdid their father in terms of success, actually. We’ll see, but first 20 episodes of a 4th season! Enjoy the show, thanks for dropping by the blog.

    • Thats so true Mike, I myself would stop watching if Ragnar were to be killed off. He is the reason that keeps me watching!

      • I gotta catch up on these, but i claimed from the get go that im done watching iff they kill off floki. By far the best character.

  13. They plan to carry the show long after Ragnar dies. They likely will carry it through the season. Why wouldn’t they? I assure you, Mike, viewership won’t drop. Though his son isn’t half as compelling as he is, who the hell would stop watching knowing that his son will have his vengeance? This show will continue, though Ragnar is the best character on it. Bjorn and Ivar are going to carry the show.

    • Hi there 🙂 Ditto on both; they will drag Ragnar’s death through the season and also continue the show with Ragnar’s sons. The first reason is, of course, they will process this revenge theme into the story (through some hard work but beautifully I’m guessing since things are going to grow bigger and get much more complicated after Ragnar dies). As for the other reason, well, if they want to tell the story of Vikings as accurately as they can, then they should concentrate on Bjorn and Ivar’s stories,too (even more than they did for Ragnar since his sons’ success outdid Ragnar’s own deeds). We’ll see how it turns out, let’s enjoy the season, second episode just got in! Edited the typo “caddy”, no need to apologize 😉 Thanks for dropping a few lines.

      • just saw s04ep04 and Bjorn is a real force to be reckoned with, he has done over a bear and an the veteran berzerker! he is the dark horse and seems to me to be even more of a soldier than his Dad.Cant wait to see bjorn taking apart more enemies.Also in wessex is Alfred going to grow up and get involved in the mix! Vikings is the best show ever made and can easy go on for years and years

        • Hi Tom, indeed mate, he and his brothers carried on raiding and overdid the success of their father. Here you can read about Bjorn and his older brother Ivar (yes, in reality, Ivar was the older brother). I agree, Vikings can go on for many years, and I certainly hope so 🙂

    • Hello there Roberto. I think it is impossible to not be fascinated by Athelstan’s character if you are a Vikings fan. That is why I made a detailed research about him also, but to no avail. I do not think Athelstan is based on a real life figure. However, I am quite sure Vikings and Ragnar Lothbrok encountered many men of the cloth during their raids.

  14. I breed, raise and sell Norwegian Forest Cats which are said to have originated with the Vikings. They would take the cats with them on voyages to keep any rat and mice infestation down. I noticed on one of the episodes, that Lagertha was holding a cat, ever so briefly. In just that short time, it did not look like the typical Wegie, but I was kinda thrilled to see it anyway.

    • Hi Karla. That must have been a nice surprise for you. Just checked Norwegian forest cats, amazing creatures indeed, saw a 30-pound one 🙂

  15. Spoiler alert ! I very much respect the people of these times, aside from the rapests & people in power who were bullies, but I enjoy reading about such times & times prior. I have not watcher much of the Viking series but want to & I have read all the Saxon series. It is very good. Book 1 grabs you & though your sad to see a great character go ( Ragnar) Uhtred becomes a very interesting & like able character himself, even though he ends up fighting for the foolish, hippacritcal, backstabbing, simple minded Christians. He becomes & remains a pagan but is loyal to his country, while most around him are fighting over religion. If anyone has suggestions for other books about this era or similar ones, such as “The walking Drum” by Louis L’amour which is another wonderfully written book of a great character, I would very much appreciate it. I can’t get enough of good historical fiction or fiction that is mixed w/true events etc. btw – another book/series that is very good, especially the audio version is the 1st law trilogy by J.Abercrombie. Its probably characterized as fantasy but to me, it’s similar to the lord of the rings, characters & topics relating to real life.

    • Hi Greg, thanks a ton for the input & of course, putting a “spoiler alert” warning right there at the beginning. Not many people are as thoughtful as you 😉 I know what you mean about even a TV series being not long enough to contain and give everything to the fans. Game of Thrones did this and I find it to be an awful mistake, I for one would love to see (SPOILER ABOUT THE BOOKS) Lady Stoneheart. About similar books, I got nothing on my mind, but I hope someone reading this will * * TELL US ABOUT BOOKS SIMILAR TO THE LAST KINGDOM SERIES * * 😉 Thanks again for dropping a few lines, great info.

  16. We all know the books are almost always better than the movie/tv show and that will most certainly be the case w/The Last Kingdom. Again it’s a series of about 8 books, & even w/a tv series being longer than a movie, much is left out. And that can never be avoided. Once again for those who are interested in audio books, Joe Abercrombies’ 1st law books, w/ Logan 9 fingers & so many wonderful characters as well as great plots, comedy & real life topics is a great listen as is The Walking Drum by Louis L’amour, the famous western writer. I’m looking for similar books, audio or not & would greatly appreciate it if anyone who knows these titles could give me some suggestions.

  17. I can’t wait to see the story of Rollo played out. He is the most significant historical figure of the entire show. He becomes the “father” of both the English and French crowns.

    • Hi Jenny. Yes, Rollo in the history becomes a really powerful figure. However, the character in the show is very loosely based on actual Rollo. I made a comprehensive research about this and could not find anything that connects Rollo you and I mention to Ragnar Lothbrok. But, I think they will progress with the story as if these two Rollos were the same person.

  18. Vikings is absolutely the most compelling series I have ever watched . I become so involved, when the episode ends, I’m shocked. It always seems much too soon. I rarely watch tv shows or films more than once, but I’m sure Vikings will be an exception.

    • Hi Gloria. Absolutely agree, very compelling and addictive series. I know what you mean, I also rarely watch something twice, but some things are worth that second time 🙂

  19. In scenes from the TV series Vikings, women are depicted rowing Viking ships and engaging in hand to hand battle with the Anglo Saxon armies. Is this historically correct or is it artististic licence
    by the director to appease our modern day sensibilities?

    • Hi Rob, sorry that I replied so late. Some accounts say there were women fighting side by side with Viking men while some say only very few women wanted to be (or maybe “could be accepted as”) warriors and trained. The safest determination in this case would be, yes, there were female warriors but there is a good chance that it was not so common, not even close to how it is depicted in the show.

  20. Hi! I started watching Vikings a few weeks ago and absolutely love it! I don’t have much background about the vikings’ history, just read what was on wikipedia and I’m trying to find something about the mortality rate of women in the show or in its sources. I wanted to know if you knew anything about that aspect, since I see a lot of people complaining about their deaths. Honestly, they do die a lot, but I don’t know if it’s just for the shock value or if it was really that way. Sorry if it’s a bit confusing but I don’t know how to explain it better.
    Thank you! 😀

    • Hi Vanessa, first off, sorry that I could not reply earlier. It might be about the shock value as you said. According to sources related to Vikings’ history, there are only some accounts mentioning actual female warriors. Even Lagertha for example was rescued from a brothel by Ragnar – you can read more about her here. Some people who have made comprehensive researches about this have written that women did not take part in battles, not even close to how it is like in the TV show while some mention women training and even dressing like men and go to war. However, it was not a situation of “leaving wives home” I believe, when Vikings went to raids – not all raids at the very least. Near a grave, which is believed to belong to Ivar the Boneless, skeletons of 50 women were found along with those of 200 warriors. Personally, I’d love to have Lagertha and her shieldmaidens fighting beside me, as they are a force to be reckoned with 😉
      Thanks for dropping a few lines.

  21. Recall that the Seer’s visions and reading of the runes have foretold that Rollo will become a grand and exalted ruler. The Eddys tell of his bargaining with Charles II to colonize lands at the mouth of the Seine, there to block any future Viking efforts to assail Paris/inland Francia. Alfred, Ragnar’s son by Queen Kwenthrith, will become Alfred the Great, consolidating the British Isles. Bjorn Ironsides proves a fearsome field commander, but brother Ivar (he of useless legs) is the Ike of his times, remotely orchestrating grand invasions and conquests. Viking fleets of longboats, the stealth technology of those times, establish trade routes all the way to Constantinople, supplying free labor (captured Slavs; Caucasians to thence be known as “slaves”) to the Islamic World in swap for silks, herbs, and other Asiatic desirables. Scandinavia converts rapidly to a Christian stronghold, but not until the Viking Era of some 700 years compels Europe to consolidate into armed kingdoms, and infuses Russians, Gauls, and Britain with Viking bloodlines. The Northmen were MUCH more than manic marauders, although they did found the Summer Cruise industry, fueled by lutefisk, lingonberries, lefse, boiled spuds awash in drawn butter, and washed down with horns and tankards of Aquavit. OOF-dah, just the thought makes me want to go pillaging, plundering, and wenching.

    • Hi Douglas 🙂 Thanks a lot for the input. It is really nice to see fellow Viking enthusiasts here with such level of knowledge. So very true, Vikings were not marauders only. They played a very important role in shaping Europe. Ahaha, you’d be a fine Viking warrior, I believe, the way you describe all this 😉 Thanks again for reading and contributing, musch appreciated.

  22. Hi. Watch the show and absolutely love it!! You spoke about how the show will most likely continue after Ragnar’s death and will follow Bjorn and Ivar’s stories. How do you think the show will get around Ivar not being able to walk and showing him as a fierce warrior? Will they show him as a great strategist and leader? What are you thoughts?

    • Hi Alan. Well, yeah, I strongly believe they (History Channel) will tell us more about Ivar and Bjorn’s adventures and deeds, even more than Ragnar’s own story, maybe. The truth is Ragnar’s sons achieved more success and fame than their father and played more important roles in the history of Europe. So, if the TV show is actually about Vikings, the show should continue for long years to come. Of course, some time jumps will absolutely be necessary since Ivar is a child now but that is nothing they did not in the show (remember Bjorn was a boy in the first seasons). There are a lot of rumors about Ivar being actually handicapped just as much as there are rumors suggesting this was not the thing and the nickname had another meaning – you can read about Ivar and Bjorn in detail here and here, respectively – if you have not already. However, since Ivar is shown to be handicapped in the show, yes, I think that they will concentrate on Ivar’s other aspects, such as his wisdom in giving counsel to his brothers (as many sources cite) and being a great strategist. You will already read this in the Ivar article so it is not much of a spoiler but Ivar is the son behind the revenge scheme as a result of which Ragnar’s sons kill King Aella (who supposedly killed Ragnar according to some accounts). He is very cunning and skillfull in devising this plan. I hope I could be of help 😉 Feel free to ask if you have any other questions. Thanks for dropping a few words.

  23. Hello, i am looking to read about the show. What book is the show based on? And do you know any other good books based on this peroid and ragnor and co.

    • Hi Matt. If you mean Vikings on History Channel, the show is not based on any book but historical accounts. If you mean the Last Kingdom – you might have seen it in the comments – it is based on Bernard Cornwell’s book with the same name. About Ragnar and co. the best resources would be a modern English version of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, translations of the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok and the Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok’s Sons.

    • Ah Philip, it is worth it, believe me 😉 First 10 episodes of the 4th season already were released in the US. Also many thanks for sharing the blog on Facebook 🙂

  24. Just learned through genealogy that I’m a descendant of aslaug, Ragnar, Sigurd, Ivar, and Bjorn Ironside. As well as Alfred the great, aethelwulf and ecgbert as well as Rollo Duke of Normandy and William the conqueror so my family tree inspired me to watch the show. Even though a lot of the story lines are fabricated…..I love watching it’s amazing the things that they accomplished and endured!!!! Made me really start loving history

  25. Given that the only poisonous snake in England is the Adder, which is not very aggressive, unless the snakes in the pit were imported, I believe dysentery was more likely to e Ragnar’s cause of death. Ragnar shows up as my 29th GGF.

    • Hey Warren, thanks for dropping a few lines. Yes, dysentery is the most possible reason indeed. Myths spread very fast around those times, hence the story about the snake pits.

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