A Brief History
On March 28, 845 A.D., a Viking raiding party led by Ragnar Lodbrok (a.k.a. Lothbrok) sacked Paris, the future capital of France, proving that it was not just coastal towns that were susceptible to such raids. As was typical, they were given an enormous ransom to leave.
Ragnar Lodbrok is also the star character of the current History Channel series Vikings, in which he is depicted as a semi-mythical Viking hero kind of a George Washington, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, King Arthur, Hercules, Theseus, Perseus, all rolled into one. A first-class production, the television series has superb acting and fantastic scenery from its filming locations in Ireland. (The series is also showcases strong, headstrong, warrior women who happen to be gorgeous, if you are into that sort of thing.) Season 3 of the series is expected to depict the famous raid on Paris, then part of the Kingdom of the West Franks, an early stage of the Kingdom of France.
Another notable account of Ragnar Lodbrok was in the 1958 movie The Vikings, with Ernest Borgnine as Ragnar and also starring Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas. By the way, this film, is an example of 1950’s Hollywood action productions at their best. In the film, as in the Norse accounts (sagas), Ragnar is eventually captured by the Northumbrian (English) King Aella and killed by being tossed into a pit of vipers.
Of course, Ragnar’s sons take vengeance by ravaging King Aella’s land with their “Heathen Army.” These colorfully named sons include: Ubba; Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye; Ivar the Boneless (Wha‘?!); Bjorn Ironside; and Halfdan Ragnarsson.
In addition to being a great leader and war hero, according to legend, Ragnar was also a great lover, conquering beautiful women as well as raiding the British Isles and France. According to various accounts, in his role as a pioneering navigator, he was also responsible for inspiring the explorations that took the Vikings to Iceland, Greenland and Canada. During “The Age of Vikings” (about 790 A.D. to 1100 A.D.), these Norsemen traveled as far as North Africa and the Middle East and even served as mercenaries for the Byzantine Empire.
Not surprisingly, Ragnar is the star of several video games, the subject of a few songs and novels and even the mascot of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings.
Contrary to popular depictions, Vikings did not have horns adorning their helmets. That is apparently a product of 19th century opera costuming that put Viking women in such helmets. Nonetheless, we have to admit they do look cool…
If you find yourself fascinated by Vikings, we do recommend the History Channel series Vikings. If you choose to study the subject a little more in depth, you will find Viking culture far more complex than expected and the Vikings themselves a bit different from the modern stereotype of the brutish, pagan killing machines usually shown in movies and television. Skål!
Question for students (and subscribers): Who is your favorite Viking? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Reay, J Michael. Hasteinsaga (The Viking Wars Book 2). J Michael Reay, 2012.
Reay, J Michael. The Sons of King Ragnar (The Viking Wars Book 1). J Michael Reay, 2012.