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Review of the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok

What do you think of when you think of the Viking Age?

Probably, if you’ve read, watched, or heard anything at all, you think about shiploads full of heavily armed raiders landing on the shores of Northumbria (now northern England) and slaying monks, nuns, and other helpless English villagers. Rape, pillage, murder, and terror are the words that probably come to mind; the Vikings, as much as we might romanticize them in the prosperous and peaceful times present were, after all, brutal pirates and invaders that wreaked havoc from Russia to Vinland (Canada), especially in the area of France now called Normandy (because the Northmen settled there) and in England, where the four kingdoms of Northumbria, Merica, East Anglia, and Wessex received the brunt of the Viking blow.

But why is it that our minds are first drawn to England?

As I noted, they conquered other places. Iceland was colonized by the Vikings, yet that’s not what they’re known for. They reached Constantinople and served the Byzantine Emperors as the Varangian Guard, yet that’s not what they’re known for. Hell, they even presented such a threat to the French crown that the Holy Roman Emperor let them settle in Normandy! But again, that’s not what they’re known for. The Vikings, as disparate as their conquests might have been, are known for waging war, primarily in the form of raids, against the Anglo-Saxon English, most of all the Northumbrians, their first conquest, and King Alfred the Great’s kingdom in Wessex, the one kingdom that didn’t fall under Danelaw during the initial Viking onslaught.

So, once again I ask, why? Why is that what they’re known for?

Because of The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, the most famous of all the Vikings.

Ragnar and his sons are the subject of, unsurprisingly enough, The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok. A king in the north, Ragnar married Aslaug, a proud woman of Volsung blood. His sons are great warriors, renowned for their martial prowess and victories in battle. After they win much honor by defeating opponents in Sweden and abroad, Ragnar equips to great ships for an expedition to England, where he is killed despite fighting bravely. Eventually, he is avenged by his sons, led by the crafty Ivar the Boneless.

The thing is, much like the Illiad is probably rooted in some truth, so is The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok. Both by tradition and likely fact, Ragnar was real. It was Ragnar that raided England and other states until something stopped him and his sons,  Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Björn Ironside, Ubbe, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, are all historical figures that followed in their father’s footsteps. Ragnar, his sons, and their exploits captured our imaginations, defining who the Vikings were and what they did because they are that rare combination of myth and reality. Existing all those centuries ago, their violent exploits in a world already filled to the brim with chaos, violence, and lawlessness were so great as to define the age! That accomplishment is why they’re worth remembering and the saga is worth reading.

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The saga is interesting enough on its own, without that historical context, but, unlike the Saga of the Volsungs, is nothing particularly brilliant. These few passages shed some light on what it’s like to read:

“Ívar said that he did not wish to raid any longer in this land now that it no longer had a ruler. “I would prefer if we went where we’d find more opposition,” he said. And Randalín went home with some of their troops, but her son Sigurđ Snake-Eye went with his brothers in every one of their raids afterwards.”

“Ella accepted a suggestion to prepare a ship, and to assign to it a captain who was known to be both wise and tough, and to assign further men to the ship so that it would have a solid crew. He said he would send this crew to meet with Ívar and his brothers and to tell them of the death of Ragnar, their father. But this journey sounded unpleasant to most men, and there were few who wished to undertake it.”

“Ívar went and got a hide from an old bull, and he gave orders for the hide to be softened and stretched three times. Then he had it cut into the thinnest possible strips, and he had the hair-side split from the flesh-side. When this was done, it formed a string so long that it was amazing to look at; no one had imagined that it would come out so long. Then he gave orders for it to be spread across a certain plain, and there were such vast lands there that it could have held a large city, and outside of this territory he had marked out, he also laid out a foundation that would suit a large fortress with walls. Then he gathered together several skilled builders and ordered many houses to be built on this plain, as well as a large city that is called London. That is the largest and most excellent of all cities in Scandinavia.”

“As for Ívar, he ruled England until his death-day, and he died of sickness. And while he lay in his final sickness, he ordered his body to {129} be taken to the place where a raiding army would land, and he said he expected that they would not win the victory when they came ashore. When he died, it was done as he commanded, and he was buried in a mound there. Many people say that when King Harald Hard-Ruler came to England, he landed where Ívar was buried, and he was killed in that expedition. And when William the Conqueror came to England, he went to Ívar’s mound and broke it open, and there he saw Ívar’s body undecomposed. William had a bonfire built and then burned Ívar’s body on that pyre, and after that he fought for the rule of the kingdom and he won it.”

Interesting enough writing, but Homer it is not. The Northmen were a bit simpler in tongue and word.

However, the story is exceptional because of who it’s about. Ragnar and his sons are the Vikings. Their exploits defined the Viking Age. Read The Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok to learn the legend behind the facts.

By: Gen Z Conservative