The Scariest Dad in the World
Renowned explorers, warriors, and rulers are often shrouded in myth. At some point, their legends overtake them and become more important than flesh and blood ever could be. A person’s myth can become a powerful inspiration that paints the ever-developing portrait of history and influences people to act. Ragnar Lodbrok seems to be an amalgamation of multiple Norse heroes whose achievements are both incredible and nauseatingly gruesome. He travelled to Turkey, Russia, England, and more, pillaging as he went. He was married to an equally vicious fighter (shield maiden), and had many sons. Eventually, he was captured by the English King Aella and thrown into a snake pit where he died. Although Aella was defending his homeland by killing the murderous explorer, it was a grave tactical error. Ragnar’s sons led a revenge crusade that would change the history of England, Ireland, and Europe forever. As great a warrior as Ragnar was credited with being, his penis might actually prove to be his most destructive weapon. He is attributed with fathering some of the most important Viking figures in history, and his legacy is the starting point for many historically verifiable Norse and Danish feats of brutality. Read more about his vengeful offspring below.
Ivar the Boneless
Ivar helped command The Great Heathen Army, which is exactly as terrifying as it sounds. Ivar’s nickname could come from two hilariously contradictory meanings. On one hand, he might have been impotent. On the other hand, his incredible physical flexibility may have helped him establish his reputation as a formidable fighter, which he partially earned while murdering Englishmen. The Great Heathen Army landed in East Anglia in 865. The band of northmen cut a bloody swath across England, capturing York and generally causing the kind of thatch-burning chaos you might expect. They achieved their vengeful objective when they captured the Northumbrian King Aella. Their men split the ribs out of his back, and pulled his lungs through bloody holes in a Viking arts and crafts project called a “Blood Eagle.” Can’t you just imagine little Viking kindergartners doing blood eagle worksheets by tracing their hands, Thanksgiving style? Ivar is credited with starting the Imar line, a Viking family that controlled the Dublin territory and the Irish seas for hundreds of years.
Bjorn was a Swedish King whose nickname origin was lost to history. Presumably, he wore armor while killing people. He is largely credited with bringing a taste of Viking meanness to the Mediterranean by raiding down the Spanish coast to Gibraltar. Bjorn and his brother Hastein also enjoyed pillaging France. In one notable instance, they gained entrance to a fortified town by pretending to be severely ill: Hastein was granted entrance by the Bishop for a deathbed conversion (at this time, Christians were obsessed with converting their pagan bullies). Unfortunately for the clergy, Hastein jumped off of his stretcher and proceeded to hack apart his converters with the help of a few of his Viking guards. Bjorn and Hastein were quite a team, and lived long, violent, and fruitful lives.
Another commander of the Great Heathen Army, Halfdan was the first king of Jorvik (York), and was ultimately killed by the Irish at Strangford Loch. Less is known about Halfdan than the others, but it’s safe to say that the chip didn’t fall too far from the block.
Sigurd’s moniker is derived from what is likely an expression of the PAX6 gene, which caused a circular mark to appear within his eye. Supposedly, the mark looked like a snake eating its own tail. A true adventurer, Sigurd is said to have braved hundreds of dangers on a trip through Russia to the Dardanelles (then-Hellespont) in Turkey. Remember how Ragnar’s sons travelled to England in order to avenge their father? It didn’t stop with killing him; Sigurd took Aella’s daughter Heluna as his wife. Like a good Viking, he was killed in battle. When his mother heard he was slain, she supposedly said:
“Sad sit the corpse-stalkers,
slaverers after cadavers:
The slain-craver, raven
What a shame! – forsaken
By namesake of Sigurd;
In vain now they’re waiting.
Too soon from life Lord Odin
Let such a hero go.”
If your eulogy contains the phrase “corpse-stalkers,” it’s safe to say you were a scary, scary, person.
Also a Great Heathen, the hilariously named Ubba debatably oversaw the martyrdom of English King Edward. In some accounts, Ivar and Ubba commanded the Viking troops who saw to Edmund’s induction into the Christian All-Star Club. Vikings had trouble understanding Christianity; in their opinion worshipping a single God made little sense- why put all of your eggs in one basket? They also saw the “nailed God” as weak, compared to their mead drinking, beast-slaying, fighting, romancing pantheon. They were also incredibly vicious to stalwart Christians. Upon his refusal to abandon Christ, they tied Edmund to a tree and began to whip him. When the whipping didn’t kill him, they started shooting arrows into him. According to the myth, he still wouldn’t die, and was beheaded for good measure.
The Vikings may have been murdering pirates, but they were incredibly hardy seafarers, savvy tricksters, excellent craftsmen, and generally interesting people. I recommend looking into Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred of Babbenburg series, and the TV Show Vikings. One thing that made Vikings so interesting is that they were genuinely larger than the English prey due to their diet, genes, and physical activity. They also developed high-carbon steel by adding bones to their forge fires earlier than the English, meaning that Viking weaponry regularly shattered opposing blades. They really were exceptional frontiersmen.