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 nickname/epithet could be written as Lodbrok or Lodbrog. The legendary Viking hero, who was also the king of Denmark and Sweden, was also known as Ragnar Sigurdsson as he was told to be Danish King Sigurd Ring’s son (or Hring) in some accounts.
His epithet “Lothbrok” could be interpreted as “hairy breeches” in the Old Norse language. This epithet is believed to be derived from the breeches he wore while fighting a poison-breathing serpent (or a dragon according to some accounts).
Is Ragnar Lothbrok Real or Just a Myth ?
Although he is known as the father of the most famous Viking heroes like Ivar the Boneless and Bjorn Ironside (who eventually became even more successful and famous than their father), there is more than one theory about the real identity of Ragnar Lothbrok. Some historians suggest that the stories telling us about the legendary deeds of Ragnar Lodbrok/Ragnar Lothbrok are actually some kind of a compilation of the accounts regarding several different Viking historical figures and there may be more than one Viking warlord that might have inspired the sagas.
Ragnar Lothbrok Raiding France and England
Stories and historical accounts in medieval literature regarding Ragnar Lothbrok differ in terms of details, however, the essential part about him being a Viking warlord who raided France and England is almost identical in every story.
In addition to that, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a chronological account of the age which is considered a highly reliable source, confirms the stories about Ragnar Lothbrok detailing his deeds that made a significant impact on the history of 9th century and how his sons carried 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 Lodbrok became famous as a warlord and made his fortune by raiding lands and kingdoms in the west. He allegedly attacked people while they were praying in churches.
Ragnar was known as a witty leader and sometimes used blitzkrieg (sudden charge) tactics to surprise well-organized and disciplined forces of his enemies, especially during his attacks on France. As the main target of his raids, France suffered badly in the hands of Ragnar Lodbrok and the Northmen. It is told in the historical accounts that Ragnar and his men captured Paris and made King Charles pay 7000 pounds as ransom on one occasion.
Ragnar Lothbrok’s Sons, Daughters and Wives
Ragnar Lothbrok had three wives; Lagertha (read here) the shieldmaiden, Aslaug the warrior queen and Thora Town-hart (Borgarhjort), a noblewoman who was the daughter of Earl Herrauðr of Götaland. That being said, some accounts mention a fourth wife. Ragnar’s wives gave him many sons, the most famous ones being Bjorn Ironside (read more on him here), Ubba (Ubbe/Hubba/Husto), Hvitserk/ Hvítserkr, Halfdan Ragnarsson/Halvdan Ylving and Ivar the Boneless (Inwaer/Yngwar) (read about Ivar here). Eric, Agnar, Hastein, Rognvald, Harald and Fridleiv/Fridleif Ragnarsson (his son from Shieldmaiden Lagertha), Dunvat Ragnarsen and Radbard Ragnarsen are other names recorded as Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons. Ragnar had two daughters from Lagertha the Shieldmaiden and several daughters from his other wives but there is no accurate information regarding their names. Only two names, Ragnhild Ragnarsdottir and Åløf Ragnarsdóttir appear in some accounts as the possible names of his daughters.
Ragnar Lothbrok and Rollo – Was Rollo Ragnar Lothbrok’s Brother?
Accounts regarding these times are comprised mostly of sagas and oral stories. Therefore, it is not that possible to know the exact birthdates of the real-life figures that inspired the characters in History Channel’s Vikings.
That being said, Ragnar Lothbrok’s assumed year of death is known as 840 which is 20 years before Viking chieftain known as Rollo was even born.
Rollo and Ragnar Lothbrok were not brothers and these two historical figures lived in different times.
Ragnar Lothbrok and Floki
Character named Floki in History Channel’s Vikings is based on a real-life historical figure named Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson. But was he really Ragnar Lothbrok’s best friend ? That he was not. The birth year of Floki (read about him here) is written as 830 in the accounts which is only 10 years before Ragnar Lothbrok died as an old man. So, it is safe to say Ragnar Lothbrok and Floki of the Ravens (“hrafna” means “raven”) probably never met and were not as close as depicted in the series.
Ragnar Lothbrok’s Death – How Did Ragnar Lothbrok Die?
There are two different stories telling us 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 point to dysentery as his cause of death.
The second story, 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.
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 told King Aella that his sons would avenge him. 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 kept on making an impact on the structure of the region even long after he was gone. About two centuries after his death, descendants of Ragnar Lothbrok’s 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.
Ragnar Lothbrok in Popular Culture
As the protagonist of the historical drama series, Australian actor Travis Fimmel plays Ragnar Lothbrok in History Channel’s Vikings. That being said, the historical figure depicted in History Channel’s Vikings should not be confused with the characters in BBC Two’s The Last Kingdom which is another TV series about Vikings adapted from the historical fiction works of Bernard Cornwell. Both Young Ragnar and his father, Ragnar the Fearless are unrelated to Ragnar Lothbrok. Fans of the show must have already noticed that only Ivar the Boneless and Ubba/Ubbe are called as “Lothbrokson” in The Last Kingdom. Partly based on real-life events, that story takes place during the time of Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons and The Great Army’s (The Great Heathen Army’s) invasion of England.