Ragnar Lothbrok is one of the most famous Vikings in history.
According to the Norse sagas, Ragnar was born in Sweden in the 9th century and spent most of his life pillaging and conquering new territories. Legends tell us that Ragnar, son of King Sigurd Hring, had three wives, including the mythical Aslaug , who bore him his sons Ivar the Boneless, Bjorn Ironside and Sigurd Serpent-Eye , all three of whom would grow taller in stature and in fame than him.
Thus, Ragnar would have set sail for England with only two ships in order to conquer the land and prove himself better than his sons. It was on this journey that Ragnar was overwhelmed by King Aella's forces and was thrown into a pit of snakes. It was from this pit that he predicted the arrival of the Great Pagan Army of 865 with his famous speech which made Aella's guards tremble and his famous phrase:
“How the little piglets would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffers.”
Indeed, in 865 the Great Army was billed as the greatest Viking invasion of all time, led by Ivar the Boneless, whose remains now lie in a mass grave at Repton in England
Yet, to what extent does history prove the existence of this legendary Viking king who had such a profound and lasting effect on our world?
Evidence suggests that the story we know of Ragnar actually includes several people who lived over a period spanning from 793 to 865.
Ragnar is said to have led several raids across Europe, including England, France and Spain. After an abortive raid in France in the year 820, Ragnar and a fleet of 10 ships managed to enter the mouth of the Seine in May 841, pillaging and burning Jumiege, Rouen and the surrounding villages. Aiming to take Paris, Ragnar and his son Bjorn build a lasting camp on the island of Oissel and plunder in the surrounding area.
Charles the Bald, king of the Franks, hears of a fleet led by a famous Ragnar who is pillaging the villages along the Seine. They then decide to meet this Viking chief and find an agreement to put an end to the raids on his lands. He then offers Ragnar a huge sum of money and land north of Rouen, in return the Viking and his men must leave the Seine. Ragnar accepts and sends the ships and his son Björn back to Scandinavia, but as soon as the ships leave, Charles the Bald betrays Ragnar by besieging his camp at Oissel and destroying the rest of the ships present, killing the Vikings. Ragnar then returns to Scandinavia in his turn with a small boat and two men, and promises to return twice as many.
It was then that in March 845 in a thick fog, more than 120 ships and 6000 Viking warriors arrived in Paris led by the famous Ragnar Lothbrök. They then besieged the city days and nights. It is even said that men could see as well at night as during the day because of the fires caused by the Vikings throughout the city.
Two days later and faced with this powerful raid, Charles the Bald, taking refuge in the surrounded chapel of Saint Denis, offered Ragnar a huge ransom of 2570 kilograms of gold and silver. The entire Fleet then set sail towards Scandinavia with ships full of treasure.
But the first time we hear of Ragnar Lothbrok is 1230 years ago with the sacking of Lindisfarne which marks the beginning of the Viking era and the succession of Viking invasions in England. It was then, on June 8, 793, that around ten boats docked and plundered the monastery, very easily taking away kilos of gold and precious objects. Indeed at the time the wealth of the church was not protected.
“In this year, terrible omens appeared in Northumbria and sadly frightened its inhabitants: they were extraordinary lightning, and fierce dragons which were seen in the seas. A great famine soon followed these signs, and soon after that, in the same year, early in January, the harassments of the pagans destroyed the church of God at Lindisfarne by plunder and murder.
Extract from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles relating the raid on the monastery , which mentions the looting at the beginning of January. However, many historians refute this date, because the Vikings did not go on expeditions during the winter. A Northumbrian priest named Alcuin seems confirmed in his writings dating from June 793, the June date cited above:
“It is almost three hundred and fifty years since we and our fathers inhabited this beloved country, and never has there appeared in Brittany a terror comparable to that which we have now suffered from a pagan race, just as we “never thought such an incursion from the sea possible.”
The plundering was so rapid and violent that it plunged England into fear of the men of the North and the great Ragnar. The escapees or survivors of Lindisfarne who say that one and only name resonated through the flames: That of Ragnar Lothbrok.
After this victorious raid, Ragnar is acclaimed by everyone in Scandinavia. Not wanting to stop there, he decided to go on an expedition to England. A fine strategist and wise technician , he was known for using tricks and subterfuges to defeat his enemies, such as always attacking cities during religious festivals, since the soldiers were then unarmed in the churches. He is also credited with circumventing obstacles on the rivers by dismantling boats and racks by land so that they could continue their expeditions.
For several years we have little trace of Ragnar Lothbrok. Historians then believe that he made a retreat, stopping the raids to take care of his enormous kingdom stretching from Sweden to Denmark. His sons united together and continued the legacy of their fathers, carrying out expeditions and pillaging throughout Europe, becoming more famous and feared than their fathers.
Legend has it that Ragnar died in a pit of serpents, after being captured by King Aella of Northumbria. Indeed, Ragnar, wishing to prove to everyone that he is still worthy of his past and stronger than his sons, undertakes a journey in a small group: Two boats and only ten men.
He therefore sets sail again towards England and heads to the place of his first raid: Northumbria governed by King Aella. The latter considerably strengthened his defenses and, quickly informed of Ragnar's arrival, he raised a large army and ordered his men to capture Ragnar alive.
The Viking army is quickly defeated and Ragnar Lothbrok is captured. Aella goes to the dozens of prisoners and asks who King Ragnar is. No one answers, but all eyes turn to one person. Aella approaches this person and asks her question. Ragnar remaining mute, was caught by Aella's guards and was thrown into a snake pit.
Ragnar's men see their solid king die little by little under the attacks of the snakes, while Aella is jubilant in the face of this mythical scene.
It is then that Ragnar, helped by the gods and with his last breath, rises in the pit among the serpents and looks back on the exploits of his life. He confirms to everyone that he is indeed the great Ragnar Lothbrök in a powerful speech that makes King Aella and all the guards present tremble:
“I have known reptiles for a long time, in Gothland, when Thora was prisoner of the serpent. In this fight I pierced the serpent's head with a sword blow. They then gave me the name Lodbrok.”
“Now all the sons of Áslaug will come and fight a battle here with sharp swords and without mercy, if they know how I am treated, how many poisonous serpents tear me apart. I gave my sons such a mother that their hearts remained steadfast.”
“It makes me laugh to know that Odin's benches are preparing for the banquet. We will soon drink ale in the curved horns, a man does not regret death in the dwellings of glorious Odin. I do not come with fear to the hall of Valholl!”
“Now I want to end it, I hear, they are calling me, the Valkyries welcome me home. In the great hall of Odin, tonight I will drink ale with the gods, the hopes of life are gone, I will die with a smile.”
- See the entire speech [click here] -
Ragnar died in this snake pit and his body was never found, it is said that his body may have been moved in great secrecy, so that the Vikings of all Europe would not pay homage to Ragnar and do not do this. place a monument for this great man.
Aella still sent two messengers to tell Ragnar's sons the fate of their fathers, Ivar in a black anger gathers all the warriors , all the jarls, all the kings of Scandinavia to come to England to avenge his father.
The Great Army was born, heading towards the East of England and pillaging the entire country for over 15 years. Even today, many remains and cities in England are direct legacies of the great army and sons of Ragnar.