Ivar the Boneless (Inwaer/Ingvar/Hyngwar) was one of the greatest leaders of Vikings and the legendary commander of the Great Heathen Army. He was the third son of Ragnar Lothbrok (and Aslaug) after Eirik and Agnar (Ragnar’s sons from Thora Townhart).
Ivar had four younger brothers; Bjorn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson (assumed to be Hvitserk), Ubbe and Sigurd Snake-in-the Eye.
Most of us think Bjorn Ironside is the oldest son – because it is shown that way in the TV series – but that is not true.
According to the saga, Tale of Ragnar’s Sons translated by Peter Tunstall, Ivar was older and not only Bjorn Ironside was the fourth son but also Aslaug was his mother not Lagertha. Along with many other things, this was changed for the TV series.
If you would like to know what is real and what is not in Vikings, read our post here: Vikings in 30 Pictures – What is Real and What is Not?
Although Ivar was known as a ruthless warrior, he was described in historical accounts and sagas as the wisest one among Ragnar Lothbrok’s children.
Ivar the Boneless was known as a berserker. Berserkers were Viking warriors who went into a trance-like state of fury when they were fighting and yes, that is where the English word “berserker” comes from.
Ivar’s Nickname/Epithet “Boneless” – A Disease or Something Else?
There are a few theories about the origination of Ivar’s epithet “the Boneless”. Some historians discussed Ivar was called “the boneless” because he was impotent. Although this theory sounds a bit far-fetched, the fact that Ivar never got married and had children might be a reason to not to discard it completely.
Another theory about the epithet suggests that Ivar was a skilled warrior with a very flexible physical form like a snake and that was the reason behind the epithet. A poem written in the 12th century named “Háttalykill inn forni” describes Ivar “having no bones at all”.
According to The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, Ivar’s epithet “the Boneless” was a result of a curse foreseen by his mother, Ragnar Lothbrok’s second wife, Princess Aslaug, who had the power of foresight.
It is written in the saga that Aslaug warned Ragnar Lothbrok to wait three days before consummating their marriage saying the gods would not be pleased and their child would be cursed otherwise. Ragnar ignored her warning and Ivar was born with legs with gristle-like structures instead of bones.
Ivar the Boneless and Lagertha
Here are some ** SPOILERS ** regarding the second half of Vikings Season 4, so it is better to skip to the next section if you still have not watched it.
There is no information that suggests a rivalry existed between Lagertha and Aslaug, Ivar the Boneless’ mother. Therefore, it is quite safe to assume Lagertha did not cross Aslaug/Kraka as shown in the 4th season of Vikings.
These events and Ivar the Boneless’ hatred of Lagertha were probably included to the storyline to simply add some spice to the show. So, the answer to the burning question in your mind “Did Ivar kill Lagertha?” is simply “No”.
Not only there are very limited sources regarding Lagertha’s life but also there is nothing in the accounts (most of which are oral accounts for your information) that suggests Lagertha was so involved with Ragnar Lothbrok’s other wives and children.
Read more about Lagertha here: Shieldmaiden Lagertha, Ragnar Lothbrok’s Wife
Ivar the Boneless and Floki
Floki and Ivar the Boneless become good friends in the show, however, these two might have never met. Even if they did, they probably did not have such a relationship. This is simply because there is a difference of more than 30 years between the assumed birthdates of Ivar (794) and Floki (830).
You can read more about the real Floki here: Real Floki (Vikings), Raven/Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson
On a side note, Ivar the Boneless also probably never met Rollo considering the real-life Rollo is assumed to be born around 860 while Ivar is assumed to have died around the year 870.
Ivar the Boneless and Bishop Heahmund
Vikings season 5 features a new character introduced at the end of the 4th season: Bishop Heahmund played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The character is based on a real life clergy man.
There is no records suggesting a confrontation between Ivar the Boneless and Bishop Heahmund.
However, the real Bishop Heahmund (**This might be a spoiler for seasons to come after this one) died during the Battle of Marton while fighting besides King Æthelred of Wessex and Prince Alfred (King Aethelwulf’s sons and King Egbert’s grandsons) according to historical accounts.
The Viking army that won the Battle of Marton was led not by Ivar the Boneless but Halfdan Ragnarsson, who is assumed to be Hvitserk by some historians.
The Battle of Marton is a very important historical event as it was a battle after which Prince Alfred became the king of Wessex (after his brother King Æthelred died during or a short time after the battle – the time of death is unclear in the accounts).
Alfred the Great, as he was to be named later, not only defended the Kingdom of Wessex well against Vikings but also won some important battles.
Wessex was the only English kingdom that was not under enemy control at the time and King Alfred’s deeds played a very significant role in England’s survival and independence as a whole country.
Capturing Northumbria and Avenging Ragnar Lothbrok’s Death
After Ragnar Lothbrok was captured and killed by King Aella (although some other historical accounts tell us that he died of a mysterious disease, probably dysentery), Bjorn Ironside attacked Kingdom of Northumbria with his brothers to avenge their father.
Ivar the Boneless did not take part in these initial attacks and said he knew this was how Ragnar would die in the end.
He made peace with and asked King Aella to give him some land only as large as an ox’s hide can cover. King Aella thought of Ivar as a fool and granted his request.
According to the story, Ivar the Boneless cut the hide in such a fine way that, in the end, it was possible for Viking men to build a fort in the land King Aella provided.
It is told the town established by Ivar is York although some accounts suggest York was already established and Ivar took it from English forces (kindly read below for more detailed information).
Ivar was not only a wise but also a generous leader and that is how he managed to recruit many local English warriors for his cause weakening King Aella’s forces significantly over time.
When Ragnar Lothbrok’s other sons led by Bjorn Ironside attacked the Kingdom of Northumbria for the second time (called by Ivar for an attack according to some sources), Ivar joined forces with them, conquered the kingdom and captured King Aella.
Ivar suggested that King Aella should be killed by carving “a blood eagle” on him. As depicted in History Channel’s TV series, Vikings, the blood eagle is performed by cutting open a person’s ribs, pulling them to the sides like wings, pulling out his lungs and spreading salt on the wounds.
According to some other accounts, Ivar the Boneless crossed the North Sea and invaded East Anglia with his brothers Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ubbe in 865. East Anglians did not resist, made peace with the Vikings and even gave them horses.
Ivar and the Great Heathen Army carried on north the next year and captured the city of York. The Kingdom of Northumbria was struggling with civil war at the time since King Aella has usurped the throne from King Osberht who has been ruling the kingdom for 18 years.
Facing a common enemy, King Aella and King Osberht joined forces, attacked York and penetrated the city walls. Vikings killed everyone who entered the city. Both kings were killed as a result of this failed attempt. Ivar assigned King Egbert to rule the kingdom.
The Great Heathen Army’s Progress in England
Ivar and his men progressed to conquer the Kingdom of Mercia. The Great Heathen Army captured Nottingham where they spent winters. King Burgred of Mercia asked King Ethelred of Wessex and his brother Alfred for help in defeating “the brutal heathens”.
Joining forces with Wessex, the army of Mercia laid siege to Nottingham. Ivar was a fearless warrior but also a wise ruler. After seeing his forces were largely outnumbered, he made peace with the Kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex and returned to York in 868.
King Edmund’s Death
When Vikings returned to East Anglia they faced resistance by the forces of King Edmund of East Anglia. King Edmund was captured but refused to renounce Christianity saying his faith was more important than his life.
It is written that he was killed brutally by being hung on a cross and shot by arrows until he died.
Capturing Dumbarton Rock in Scotland
Ivar ruled Dublin together with Olaf the White. Together, they laid siege to Dumbarton Rock (also known as the Clyde Rock) in Scotland and although the garrison resisted for four months, it had to surrender when the Viking army cut off the water supply.
Vikings pillaged the city. Ivar and Olaf remained in Strathclyde for winter and returned to Dublin with slaves and booty they acquired in Scotland. They forced Constantine I, King of Scotland to pay tribute.
Ivar the Boneless’ Death
According to the Annals of Ulster, Ivar died of a sudden disease in 873. In the 19th century, it was suggested that Ivar might have died from brittle bone disease, also known as osteogenesis imperfecta, and this might have been the reason why he was called “boneless”.
Ivar the Boneless’ Grave – Two Different Theories
During their excavation in 1970s and 1980s, Professor Martin Biddle from Oxford University and his wife Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle discovered the remains of a 9-foot Viking warrior in Repton. They suggested that these remains might belong to Ivar the Boneless since the Great Heathen Army spent winters in this settlement.
These bones were originally discovered by Thomas Walker, a farm worker, in late 17th century. However, although the grave was recovered, the existence of remains was forgotten until Prof. Briddle and his wife unearthed the bones together with a sword and a small Thor’s hammer.
On a side note, Martin Briddle’s findings contradict “the brittle bone disease theory” regarding the origination of Ivar’s epithet. The skeleton found by the Briddles belonged to a warrior who was killed brutally by stab wounds on the head, arms and thighs.
The body in question was also disemboweled (probably after his death). His genitals might have been removed since a boar tusk was buried between his legs. According to Viking traditions, a body needed to be whole in order to enter Valhalla, that is why, a boar tusk might have been placed to replace his genitals.
It is also written in another historical account that the bones discovered were surrounded by partial remains of fifty women and two hundred warriors.
Considering Ivar’s significance and status as the warchief of the Great Heathen Army, these findings support the theory about the burial mound actually being the location of Ivar the Boneless’ grave.
In the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, it is written that Ivar wanted to be buried at a location that is exposed to be attacked by enemies and said that these enemies would be cursed even if they succeed in their attack. The burial site in Repton fits the description of such a place.
According to the Saga, William I of England (William the Conqueror) dug Ivar’s burial mound and saw that his body had not decayed. He was able to be victorious and succeed with his invasion only after he burned Ivar’s body.
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32 thoughts on “Ivar the Boneless, Ragnar Lothbrok’s Son”
nicely done, I learn so much from this thank you
Hi Andy, glad it was useful and thanks for showing your kind appreciation.
When I am interested in a television story like Vikings, I am fascinated by information explaining the real people portrayed. This article was very educational. I guess I am confused by the show itself, as I had the impression that the boy whose legs do not function was the same person who had the “snake eye” but apparently, that isn’t so?
Hi Patricia. First off, forgive me for writing back a little late. I cannot exactly remember the episode where the boy with the snake eye was portrayed but it is Sigurd who had the snake eye. However, I can relate to your confusion as it was a long time ago we saw that baby and the show did not focus on these background stories that much. Thanks for dropping a few lines 🙂
Wow, just an excellent read and thank you for sharing this. You write in a way the truly helps paint a visual image of the stories you tell. I’m browsing through your site, I just found it today after watching the latest Viking’s episode on the History channel. I was googling Ragnar’s sons names and came across your site. I’m so very happy I did. My husband and I are really enjoying everything you have written so far. Plus I’m looking into your other writings of other people and places once done with the Norse area. P.S. Handsome photo as well. 😀 I’m married, not dead. LoL
Hi Teresa 🙂 I’m a curious mind and after watching something amazing like this, I would be truly bothered if I did not dig deep until I find the truth behind. I wanted to people to know about it too since the stories are really interesting. Especially with Ragnar’s sons taking the stage, I believe there is much to be told. About the site, yeah it does not show up easily in results as it is a small one (about 40 articles) and competing against giant encyclopedia sites. As the only writer, I’m trying to write more and improve it though – when I have time, the future seems bright thanks in part to kind people like you showing your appreciation 😉 Ahaha..thanks (about the photo), that sentence put a real smile on my face 🙂 Say hi to your husband also please, I’m really glad you guys liked the content. I’ll write more as the story progresses, we also have a Facebook group where you’d get the updates, you can follow it from the button on the right side. Thanks for your kind appreciation, means a lot and it surely is motivating 🙂
Hi, as most of you speak English you are missing the point. In Swedish and Danish to be ledlös or lealös(Led = joint lös = lose ) means to be very flexible. It something your Souther Swedish dad would call you when you do a Summersault. So most likely he was a very quick and skilled warrior.
Hi Magnus. That is golden knowledge, indeed. Things are lost in translation quite frequently actually so my sincere thanks to you! I will include that to the article.
I recently read a very interesting theory about the nickname.
The name “boneless” or “beinlausi” does not appear in written sources before 1120. The theory says that there might have been an earlier account in Latin which described him as “exosus”, which means “cruel”. This is completely in line with Adam of Bremen, who used “crudelissimus” to describe him. Exosus can easily be misunderstood by someone who has basic knowledge of Latin as “without bones” (ex = without; os = bone). this misinterpretation somehow got widespread through the anglo-saxon world, and was re-incorporated into the Scandinavian sagas.
Hi Tom. That is some valuable information indeed. Thanks! I’ll look into this more and certainly include it to the article. Yes, I believe it would be just as easy to spread something false around these times since communication was limited and there were not that many resources people could look into when they need solid information. For me, “the cruel” angle makes much more sense than the other theories to be honest as he was known as one of the greatest Viking commanders and would not be praised that much if he did not also physically prove himself in the battlefield. Thanks again for imparting the knowledge and dropping a few lines.
really enjoy the site, but everywhere i look, and what i’ve always remembered was that good ole ivar was the youngest son of ragnar and queen aslaug.
i apologize, after rechecking my comments validity on numerous sites, i couldnt find a definite sources or one that seemed more credible than the other. What i did find was translations of the saga of ragnar, and the tale of ragnars sons with english translations. The tale clearly says that you were correct and ivar was the older, which would make sense since his brothers took council from him and also led the great heathen army. Here is the link to a free PDF translation, enjoy!
Ragnar’s Saga – Downloadable PDF
Hi there. Absolutely no need to apologize at all as it was a very valid concern. Also, this is the way how we all can learn from each other and reach the ultimate truth as much as we can and as early as possible. Ivar’s article was the one that took the longest research time for me, indeed. I was rechecking my sources when some problem occured and the blog went off-line for a few hours. That was actually what I was going to write, that he is cited to be the oldest in the Saga of Ragnar, however, we might want to approach the information still a little carefully since, as you already mentioned, there are only few resources telling us of those times and the accounts of the time might differ. Yes, “the wise man providing consult” and “leading the army” definitely suits the idea about the age. There are some uncertainties and mix-ups in the show actually. For instance, (SPOILER FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN SEASON 3) that trick Ragnar used, faking death is written down for Bjorn Ironside’s while trying to capture another city during another raid. That being said, we have an amazing TV show that does it for the most part in terms of accuracy and being close to the reality. Glad you enjoyed the site, I’ll write new content as events unfold. Join the Facebook group to get the updates if you’d like -> https://www.facebook.com/MythologianNet/ Thanks for dropping a few lines and also giving the PDF links. 🙂
how could ivar be the oldest when ragnar was married to lagertha first then queen aslaugh? confused about that
Hi Debbie, I can relate to your confusion as I forgot to add here that Bjorn’s real mother is Princess/Queen Aslaug in reality (See this article for more info about him ). Lagertha and Ragnar only had a son but he was named Friedleif. The show has some things twisted, to tell the truth, but feeling the need to make it more popular it is understandable. Hope I could be of help. 😉
Nice. I can definitely appreciate ones desire to learn and share truth. Conducting a thorough and in-depth research of facts can be a daunting and time consuming process. One I know all too well. But nonetheless, worth it in the end. I for one applaud and appreciate the efforts to contribute these historical windows into the past.
I myself just realized the dangers of extinction regarding real history after conducting my own research into the family of Jesus. Not because I’m religious (I’m definitely not), but because of the awareness of past and future damages caused by people like “King Edmund” with the mindset that faith is more important than life. It’s a frighting absurdity knowing history can easily be tainted or tampered of facts. The difference in religious vs historical facts shocked the conscious.
All the research & information obtained from legitimate sources such as historical census, show Jesus was Lebanese, not Jewish (born in Galilee of Qana (Lebanon)) hence the language of Aramaic, not Hebrew.
His mother and her parents (his grandparents), Joachim and Hanna Omram were from Qana.
Her future husband (and 1st cousin) Joseph, and his family also from there.
Facts like the Koran and Old Testament being almost identical, while another more used version (named after a homosexual King) is completely different, boggles the mind. (Although it makes no sense to me anyway how 10 simple rules on 2 stones could have turned into a 1,900 page novel without so much a question raised, but validate my dangers point).
Ironically, the one most used (KJV) does raise an interesting question, coinciding with the above information and seemingly evidenced through his native language. The phrase used by Jesus, “peace be upon you ” or “unto you” is found more times than any other, and the books claim they are also the first words he spoke when resurrected. A simple translation from into his native language of Aramaic shows it to be “Asalamalakim” or “Asalamualakum”. In Mathew 26:39, the scripture states that Jesus prayed on his face. It shouldn’t be that hard to see, but it is.
My point being that facts are all that can show how tainted history becomes, so it’s important to preserve those facts in the face of others wishing to destroy them simply because they only care about the importance of their faith, even if it means dying for it. The truth or the lives effected by it become nothing but obstacles and focus of hate (as seen now with the innocent Muslims).
To me it’s pretty significant knowing that millions of people claim to love and worship a man they know nothing about. Taking into account the millions of others who have already lived and died for the same, never knowing the truth or impact it could of had on millions of lives and our entire history. The power of truth, thus, becomes an understatement.
Hi Izzy, many thanks for the compliments. It is very kind of you to comment/reply extensively and a real pleasure for me to read and exchange ideas this way. That is how we all can take each other one step forward and evolve. I agree with all you wrote 100%. About this journey for the truth, as you already knew and stated, there is no other way for the likes of us, other than to crave it desperately and not stop till we reach it, although it might not happen most of the time when it comes to history – considering a big majority of historical texts and resources were manipulated and twisted.
Extinction of real history? I really cannot even think about where the world is going in that sense. The only way I can find comfort is that I know I will do my best to help people learn till one day I will not walk on this earth. About Jesus’ ancestry, I do not have extensive knowledge, not as much as you do but I do know that there are very powerful theories suggesting the story was changed big time – including the Bible, the last version of which was compiled from many different books and that the Church abused the religion using absurd means like “paying off your sins”. Also, let us not forget the big shame that is the Inquisition. About why people choose their faith over their lives, I really cannot think of any reason other than looking for something to connect with and being able to say “I matter, I finally matter in this world (although, well, he/she is about to leave this world as a sacrifice for “the almighty”)”. Faith and religions, in my opinion, are personal matters and choices completely. That is why I do not criticize people and respect what they believe in IF they do not try to impose their ideas on others by force in a way that would affect the common good. If they do, well, I will have a big problem with that because I believe the human experience, more accurately the spiritual experience we have in this world is much more important than anything else, let alone the fact that I think no one (including and firstly myself) is actually more important than the others to tell them “I know better, this is the right way, you have to follow me”.
As a man of no religion (as of now), I was raised as a Muslim and lived in Turkey (before moving to Eastern Europe) with many Christian, Jew and atheist friends around me and I have a bachelor’s degree on English language and literature for which we all had to read and understand the Bible as it had a significant effect on English literature. That is how I can say you are absolutely right about the books being surprisingly similar. Ditto on the 1,900 pages of novel and great catch on “peace be upon you”. Yes, the literal translation of “Asalamualakum” into Turkish also means “You will see no harm from me”. Also very right about the innocent Muslims being affected by the latest chaotic events. Thanks to where I was raised, I could see “the moderate religion” which simply meant praying, doing good deeds and living a clean life. That was my parents’ take on it, they were very modern people (all the women of my family are free in everything). Trust me when I say, a big majority of Muslims do not want to take part in any kind of religious war. People can go to the deep end on religion or not, that is their choice and I do respect their right to practice what they want, that is until the point they do not disturb any other person’s beliefs AND/OR disbeliefs. Even if a person disrespects me because of my lack of religion, I would fight to protect his/her “right to have” a religion. That is because, this is not a fight about me and him, it is about free thinking and freedom of speech even if that thinking may give him the most absurd mindset. This is much above me and him and all the people that will walk this earth way after we turn into dust. “But what about enlightenment?” Well, it most definitely is a choice. One that could be made pretty easily (although the process is tough and gets tougher at every step of the way since you go on and on about questioning all kinds of things you encounter). In the end, maybe many centuries or a millennia later, I do believe we are going to reach a point of evolution where science will be the absolute basis of all ruling and politicians and other wicked people herding masses for their personal gains by means of any religion or stuff like fascism (which is the lowest point of humanity in my opinion) will be long gone.
I think the problem also, as you pointed out in reference to a comment, is that life mimics t.v. shows in regards of the need to spice things up or make it more exciting. As the commenters here have pointed out, if it wasn’t for this site, fueled by the creators desire for truth, they would have had automatically assumed what the t.v. show inaccurately displays, to be the truth. Just think of all the history that would be lost if people only had a few outlets left for information. Right now someone could be at your door to the bring the holy word of sponge bob and his great disciple Ronald McDonald, who sacrificed themselves for your right to pay chosen pedophiles to live like Kings. Oh wait,.. that last part might be true. lol.
About what I try to do here in articles about Ivar, Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha and Bjorn Ironside, yes it is about preventing people from assuming what they see on TV as the absolute truth. I wrote a very extensive article about Da Vinci’s Demons as it truly twisted the facts on a much larger scale. Seeing how people reacted to what I provided , this gave me the idea of doing the same whenever I find a chance. Plus, I do like Norse culture, well, most parts of it. In the end, I am very happy with the choice I made about giving people more outlets of information. In all the articles I write, I try to tell about ALL accounts regarding the events – because there are just so many different versions of some periods in the history. And trust me when I say.. You would not believe the insults and curses I have been subjected to in this comments section. Behind the curtain of anonymity the internet gives them, people say the meanest things for no reason at all. That shakes one’s spirit a little bit, of course, but as I say, this is above all of us, that is why I will keep writing whenever I find a chance. Plus, some people writing in comments really really inspired and motivated me about doing more, you included. It is a pleasure to meet your mind.
what a fantastic bit of history our ancesters,
Hi Bob, yeah it surely is 🙂
WOW, so Ivar was 9 feet tall!? Goodness gracious. I’m so fixed on wanting to know wether he had a bone disease or not! What are your thoughts on it if I may ask ? And btw, thank you for this article. It is GOLD.
Hi Tom. The grave that was found might be Ivar’s although his death is kind of a mystery. It is “said” he died of a mysterious disease and I think that is part of the reason about the rumor regarding him being “boneless” and also a disabled person. However, check the comments above – if you have not, the ones that are of Magnus and Tom, their contribution clarifies things a bit. That said, we may never know the truth fully as the only sources regarding those times on Northmen’s side are orally transferred sagas (which are not that trustworthy) while there also a few sources telling of the events on Brits’ side authored by clergymen of the time. Google the translation of The Tale of Ragnar’s Sons, I guess it was available for free somewhere on web. Also, you might want to read about the real Floki and Rollo from the History section. Let’s just say, it was Rollo who was huge or more like ‘there is more of a consensus’ about him being a giant warrior, therefore, not being able to ride a horse. He was also a very important figure for Europe, being the great great greaaaat grandfather of most English royalty (and royalty of some other countries). You are welcome by the way, glad I could be of help 😉
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