The story of our family...for my sons

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ragnar Lodbrok...snake bit and singing

Ragnar Lodbrok, my 37th great grandfather was a Viking king who claimed to be a direct descendant of the god Odin. One of his favorite strategies was to attack Christian cities on holy feast days, knowing that many soldiers would be in church.His titles included King of Sweden and King of Denmark. He was at one point to be married to the infamous female Viking Lathgertha. In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Ragnar was said to be the father of three sons, Halfdan, Inwaer (Ivar the Boneless), and Hubba (Ubbe), who led a Viking invasion of East Anglia in 865 seeking to avenge Ragnar's murder.

Ragnar Lodbrok (Ragnar "Hairy-Breeks", Old Norse: Ragnarr Loðbrók) was a Norse legendary hero from the Viking Age who was thoroughly reshaped in Old Norse poetry and legendary sagas.

The namesake and subject of “Ragnar’s Saga”, and one of the most popular Viking heroes among the Norse themselves, Ragnar was a great Viking commander and the scourge of France and England. A perennial seeker after the Danish throne, he was briefly ‘king’ of both Denmark and a large part of Sweden. A colorful figure, he claimed to be descended from Odin, was linked to two famous shieldmaidens, Lathgertha in the Gesta Danorum, and Queen Aslaug according to the Volsunga Saga.

He told people he always sought greater adventures for fear that his (possibly adoptive) sons who included such notable Vikings as Björn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless would eclipse him in fame and honor. Ragnar raided France many times, using the rivers as highways for his fleets of longships. By remaining on the move, he cleverly avoided battles with large concentrations of heavy Frankish cavalry, while maximizing his advantages of mobility and the general climate of fear of Viking unpredictability. His most notable raid was probably the raid upon Paris in 845 AD, which was spared from burning only by the payment of 7,000 lbs of silver as danegeld by Charles the Bald. To court his second wife, the Swedish princess Thora, Ragnar traveled to Sweden and quelled an infestation of venomous snakes, famously wearing the hairy breeches whereby he gained his nickname. He continued the series of successful raids against France throughout the mid 9th century, and fought numerous civil wars in Denmark, until his luck ran out at last in Britain. After being shipwrecked on the English coast during a freak storm, he was captured by Anglian king Ælla of Northumbria and put to death in an infamous manner by being thrown into a pit of vipers.

As King Ælle's men were preparing to throw Ragnar Lodbrok into a pit of vipers, he sang this song: "It gladdens me to know that Balder’s father makes ready the benches for a banquet. Soon we shall be drinking ale from the curved horns. The champion who comes into Odin’s dwelling does not lament his death. I shall not enter his hall with words of fear upon my lips. The Æsir will welcome me. Death comes without lamenting… Eager am I to depart. The Dísir summon me home, those whom Odin sends for me from the halls of the Lord of Hosts. Gladly shall I drink ale in the high-seat with the Æsir. The days of my life are ended. I laugh as I die."

After he was thrown into the pit and slowly dying from the poisonous bites of the vipers, Ragnar exclaimed: "How the little pigs would grunt if they knew the situation of the old boar!" These words would prove prophetic. A year later, upon learning of their father's cruel murder at the hands of King Aelle, Ragnar's sons Ivar and Ubbe crossed the North Sea leading the Great Heathen Army. They sacked Jorvik (York), captured King Aelle, and subjected him to the Viking traditional vengeance of Rista Blodorn ("Blood Eagle"). The Rista Blodorn is performed by cutting away the ribs from the spine, pulling the ribs open so they resemble the spread wings of an eagle, pulling out the lungs and coating them in salt so that the victim endures scalding agony while suffocating to death.

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