Ivar Ragnarsson: The Cursed Child and A Military Genius
Have you ever heard the name "Ivar the Boneless" and wondered why "boneless"? In the tale of Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons, Ivar the Boneless was one of the most powerful sons of Ragnar. "Boneless" can be interpreted both literally and figuratively.
IVAR THE CURSED CHILD
Ivar the Boneless was the son of Ragnar Lothbrok a legendary Viking leader and Aslaug third wife of Ragnar. Being the son of Ragnar Lothbrok, Ivar had many famous siblings, whose names we usually hear if we learn the Viking sagas, Bjorn Ironside, Sigurd Snake-in-the-eye, or Halfdan Ragnarsson.
See more: Legendary Viking Names Explained
Ragnarsson was not the surname of Ivar. It is much like the "noun" referring that "this man is the son of Ragnar". In the Viking tales, we also hear the name Freydis Eiriksdottir meaning Freydis Daughter of Erik the Red.
According to the Tale of Ragnar Lothbrok, Ivar being boneless was the result of his mother's curse. After a long voyage, his father (Ragnar) finally came back home. Aslaug warned Ragnar to wait for three days before consummating their marriage. But Ragnar could not resist the lust and didn't listen to Aslaug's warning. As a result, Ivar was born with weak bones.
Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons. Ivar the Boneless (sitting) was believed to be a disabled son of Ragnar. Later, he turned out to be the most important and powerful son of Ragnar Lothbrok (Cre: "Vikings" TV Series)
Norse sources described him to be carried on the shields by his warriors. He led the army to broke the frontline of the enemies.
Another way to interpret the name
Many refused what was told in the sagas. Because they believed if Ivar was born with weak bones, he must have been abandoned to death because the Vikings would not accept any sick newly-born baby in their home.
According to this non-believers, the bonelessness of Ivar referred to his wisdom, cunning, and master of war tactics.
Some scholars linked Ivar with the poem in Havamal:
The lame can ride horse, the handless drive cattle,
the deaf one can fight and prevail,
'tis happier for the blind than for him on the bale-fire,
but no man hath care for a corpse
They believe Ivar the Boneless was representative of the poem. He might be disabled. But he was alive. Every moment that he took a breath, he could do something meaningful to himself and to his people, regardless of what physical disability he might get.
IVAR THE WISE
Gods never gave one everything nor deprive one of everything. Ivar might have been born with the disability, he had the wisdom.
According to the Viking sagas, while his brother Ubbi was described as a very strong and courageous man, Ivar was a very wise man. People even doubted whether there was anyone that was more intelligent than Ivar. The saga emphasized the more his physical weaknesses were, the wiser he was depicted.
Ivar the Boneless often travelled on a chariot or had his warriors carried him to join the battle. He was a military genius despite the physical disabilities he suffered(Cre: "Vikings" TV Series)
But the physical disability could never stop the son of Ragnar to join the battles. Ragnars saga depicted Ivar the Boneless with the incredible strength in his upper body. In the battle with King Eysteinn of Sweden, Ivar ordered his men to carry him toward the bewitched beast to destroy it. He shot two arrows from a longbow which was as long as a tree. The saga depicted that he just simply drew the bow back.
THE BLOODY REVENGE ON KING AELLA
The reason why Ivar sought revenge was that King Aella of Northumbria killed Ragnar his father.
The ship of Ragnar was blown off course on one occasion leading him to be executed in the cave full of vipers. The sons of Ragnar believed the culprit was King Aella. The last words of Ragnar Lothbrok were "How the little pigs would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffered." This was the prophecy for the bloody revenge on King Aella.
In the Scandinavian sources, the death of King Aella was described to be among the bloodiest revenge observed by Ragnar's sons. Ivar the Boneless and his siblings made their way to the kingdom of Aella defeating him and making him pay the price.
The blood eagle was carried out on King Aella. According to Viking sagas, blood eagle was to mimic the image of the eagle on the back of the victim by breaking the ribs and pulling out the lungs. As the blood eagle was often carried out on the enemies of the Vikings, the scholars believed that Ragnar's sons were to dedicate King Aella to become the servant in Valhalla where their father was feasting with gods.
Many sources said the Ivar the Boneless met his death around the end of the 9th century when he was known as "the king of the Northmen of all Ireland and Britain". He died peacefully with the tomb full of riches. As Winston Churchill described Ivar's end: "Thus it may be that he had the best of both worlds.".