Ivar the Boneless

John Florens | Nov 27, 2023

Table of Content


Ívarr Ragnarsson called Boneless (Denmark, ... - Britain, 870) was a Norse Viking chieftain (with the reputation of berserkr).

A member of the Munsö Dynasty, he led in the fall of 865, together with his brothers Hálfdan, Ubbe and Bjǫrn, the Great Danish Army in its invasion of the English region of East Anglia. Casus belli of the expedition was the killing of their father, Ragnarr Loðbrók, by Aelle II of Northumbria in the same year. The brothers then attacked Ælle, but were heavily repulsed. Following the defeat, Ívarr Bonefree asked Ælle for peace and reparation for his father, managing to cunningly obtain a way to conquer the city of York by laying the foundation for the later Kingdom of Jórvík. In this way, Ívarr made himself popular in England. Finally, he called on his brothers to bring a new attack. In the battle he was thus able to side with them, Ælle was captured and in revenge subjected to the torment of blood eagle carving. Thereafter Ívarr, Bjorn, Hastein, Hàlfdan and Ubbe carried the plunder to England, Wales, France and Italy. After more clashes with English kings, he disappeared from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles in the year 870.

It is a matter of debate among scholars whether Ívarr Ragnarsson can be considered the same leader known to Irish sources as Ímar, founder of the Gaelic Viking dynasty of Uí Ímair, who died in 873.

According to the Ragnarssaga loðbrókar (Saga of Ragnarr "Brache Villose"), Ívarr was the son of Ragnarr Loðbrók, a semi-legitimate king who would reign over Sweden and Denmark in the second half of the 9th century, and his wife Kráka (or Áslaug), a vǫlva. It is said of him that he was handsome, strong and among the wisest men of his time. Therefore, he was the advisor to his brothers Björn, Sigurðr, Ubbe and Hvítserkr. A charismatic, skillful strategist and fearless warrior, Ívarr went down in history as one of Ragnarr's most valiant and combative sons, a worthy heir to an unwieldy father.

Tale of the sons of Ragnarr

The Ragnarssona þáttr (short saga of the sons of Ragnarr) relates that Ívarr was the son of the Swedish king Ragnarr Loðbrók and Aslaug, daughter of Siegfried and Brunhilde; he was therefore the brother of Hvítserkr, Björn, Sigurðr, Ubbe, Hastein and Halfdan.

Ívarr and the brothers set out from Sweden to conquer Selandia, Hreiðgotaland (here understood as Jutland), Gotland, Öland and smaller islands. Then, they settled in Lejre under Ívarr's orders.

Ragnarr was envious of these victories, and he installed Eysteinn Beli as his vassal on the throne of Sweden, so that he could defend it from his sons; then he crossed the Baltic to the east to raid and thus show his valor.

Eiríkr and Agnarr, Ragnarr's other sons, then landed in Lake Mälaren and sent Eysteinn a request for submission to Ragnarr's sons, further demanding Eysteinn's daughter Borghild in marriage for Eiríkr. Eysteinn replied that he would first consult the Swedish chieftains. The latter rejected the proposal and decided instead to attack the rebels. A battle ensued that saw Eiríkr and Agnarr overwhelmed by the Swedish forces: the former fell prisoner and the latter died.

Eysteinn offered Eiríkr, in reparation for Agnarr, everything he had asked for of the Uppsala (royal properties of Uppsala), as well as Borghild's hand. Eiríkr proudly replied that after such a defeat he asked for nothing more than to be allowed to choose the day of his own death. He then asked to be pierced by spears, from below, to be raised above the slain. The wish was granted.

Meanwhile in Selandia Áslaug and his sons Björn and Hvítserkr, caught up and disturbed by the news while playing tafl, set sail for Sweden with the remaining sons of Ragnarr and a large army in tow. Áslaug, under the name Randalin, led the cavalry across the country. Ívarr and Bjorn, on the other hand, were in command of the remaining army. Legend has it that, during the ensuing battle, Eysteinn fielded two cattle whose wailing tore the ears of those who heard them, and Ívarr and the brothers managed to kill them both. In the great battle Eysteinn was killed.

Ragnarr was not happy that his sons had taken justice into their own hands and, at the command of only two knarr, decided to take England. Defeated by Ælle II of Northumbria, he was thrown into a pit of poisonous snakes, where he died.

After Ragnarr's death

In the fall of 865, Ívarr and his brothers Bjorn, Halfdan and Ubbe were at the head of the Great Danish Army that attacked the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy starting from the Isle of Thanet in East Anglia.

According to the sagas, the reason for the invasion was the feud over the death of Ragnarr Loðbrók, who fell into the hands of Ælle II of Northumbria and was executed by him in a manner "unworthy" for a Viking by throwing him into a pit full of snakes. The historicity of Ragnarr's torture by Ælle, however, is highly doubtful. Again the sagas, in the spec. the Ragnarssona þáttr (it. "Tale of the sons of Ragnarr"), report that Ívarr's brothers immediately went to war with Ælle but were defeated. Ívarr then went to Ælle to reconcile, asking only in reparation as much land as he could cover with the skin of an ox, and vowed never to bring war to the king of Northumbria. He did, however, cut the ox-skin into such thin strips that he could encircle a large fortress (York or London, according to the sagas) and make it his own. Because Ívarr was the most generous of men, he ingratiated himself with many great warriors, thus alienating them to Ælle when the brothers attacked for the second time.

In 866, Ívarr took the Grand Army north, on the strength of a provision of horses provided by Edmund of East Anglia to appease the invaders, entering Northumbria and conquering York, a feat facilitated by infighting between the pretenders to the Northumbrian throne: Ælle II and Osberht. In 867 Ælle and Osberht joined forces against the invaders but were defeated, leaving the field open to Ívarr and brothers who were thus able to establish the Kingdom of Jórvík.

According to the sagas, after Ælle's capture, while the brothers were seeking just punishment, Ívarr suggested subjecting him to the carving of the "blood eagle."

The Grand Army then turned south, invading Mercia and occupying Nottingham where it wintered. Burgred of Mercia then asked Ethelred of Wessex and his brother Alfred the Great for help against the invaders (868), besieging them at Nottingham and establishing a truce. The following year, Ívarr and his brother Ubbe led the army into eastern Anglia aiming for East Anglia, which was conquered by the year 870.

Ívarr is at this point credited with the martyrdom of King Edmund of East Anglia (869). Some sources report that when he refused to become a vassal of a pagan, he had him tied to a tree, where he was pierced by Norse arrows until he died. For others, he was instead killed in the nave of a church.

Later, Ívarr and the brothers took the plunder to England, Wales, France and Italy, as far as Luni. Upon returning to Scandinavia, they divided the kingdom so that Björn Ironsides got Uppsala and Sweden.

The Saxon chronicler Etelverdo (died 998) dates Ívarr's death to 870. Three years later, the Annals of Ulster reported the death of such a "Ímar," "Rex Nordmannorum totius Hibernie & Brittanie, uitam finiuit" (it. "King of the Norse of all Ireland and Britain") who is now identified by some with Ívarr Ragnarsson and by others with a Viking-Scottish war chief.

The burial site of Ívarr is unknown to date.

The Ragnarssaga loðbrókar reports that Ívarr made arrangements to be buried on the English coast, predicting that as long as his remains guarded that stretch of coastline, no enemy would successfully attack him. The prophecy was fulfilled - according to the saga - until "Vilhjalmr the Bastard" (William the Conqueror) landed, who went to the grave, breached the mound and claimed that Ívarr's remains were intact. Then Vilhjalmr raised a great pyre where Ívarr's body was burned. Immediately thereafter, Vilhjalmr followed up the invasion and achieved victory."

In 1686, a farmer named Thomas Walker discovered a Scandinavian mound at Repton (Derbyshire) near the site of the battle by which the Great Danish Army routed Burgred of Mercia. The presence of a high number of remains (about 250 skeletons were counted) led to speculation that the mound had been erected for a great leader later identified as Ívarr Ragnarsson.

Linguistic analysis of the nickname

Discussed is the meaning of the epithet "Boneless." It has been suggested that it was a euphemism for impotent (this is also the interpretation given by Harry Harrison for the eponymous character in his Saga of the Hammer and the Cross), or instead a metaphor for the snake; after all, one of Ívarr's brothers, Sigurðr, was nicknamed ormr í auga ("Snake in the Eye"). Instead, Scandinavian sources describe a pathological condition sometimes understood as a form of osteogenesis imperfecta. The poem Háttalykill inn forni describes Ívarr as "completely boneless." For other sources, the nickname may have referred to his fluid way of fighting in battle.

Alternatively, given the etymological kinship with German Bein ("leg" but also "bones"), beinlausi could stand for "legless." Indeed, it appears that Ívarr was carried on shields. This is consistent with some impairment of the lower limbs: he was literally without them, had no use for them, or was simply lame. However, at that time Viking leaders used to have themselves carried on the shields of enemies after winning a battle, so these could be the scenes described by the sagas, ruling out a physical disability of Ívarr.

Medical analysis of the nickname

In 1949, Danish physician Knud Stakemann Seedorff, in a book on osteogenesis imperfecta wrote:

Not particularly severe forms of this disease may preclude the use of the legs by the affected person, who is otherwise perfectly normal, and this may be the case for Ívarr Ragnarsson. The condition is also known as "brittle bone disease."

In 2003 Nabil Shaban, an advocate for the rights of disabled people with osteogenesis imperfecta, made the documentary The Strangest Viking, for Channel 4's Secret History series, in which he investigated the possibility that Ívarr suffered from the same condition. Shaban also demonstrated that a person with osteogenesis could be absolutely capable of using a longbow and taking part in battle, as was expected of a leader in Viking society.

Ívarr Ragnarsson appears:


  1. Ivar the Boneless
  2. Ívarr Ragnarsson
  3. ^ a b c d e Cronaca anglosassone
  4. ^ a b c Annali dell'Ulster, a. 873.
  5. ^ a b Annali frammentari d'Irlanda, a. 873.
  6. Según la crónica anglosajona en 878 aún estaba vivo cuando él y sus hermanos combatieron en las preliminares de la batalla de Cynwit.
  7. Escrito en la Gesta de los francos. Adán de Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum I xxxvii (§ 39), tr. Francis J. Tschan, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg–Bremen, New York, 1959.
  8. "Ivar el Deshuesado fue rey en Inglaterra durante mucho tiempo. No tuvo hijos, debido a la forma en que era con las mujeres, incapaz de lujuria, pero que ningún hombre diga que no le faltaba astucia y crueldad". - Ragnarssona þáttr, capítulo 4 (titulado "Of King Gorm") al comienzo siendo el apodo meramente figurativo.
  9. a b c "The Vikings," Frank. R. Donovan, author; Sir Thomas D. Kendrick, consultant; Horizan Caravel Books, by the editors of Horizan Magazine, Fourth Edition, American Heritage Publishing Co.: New York, 1964, LCC# 64-17106, p. 44–45; 145, 148.
  10. «  Le plus cruel de tous était Ingvar, le fils de Lodbrok, qui torturait les chrétiens à mort. »). selon Gesta Adam de Brême, Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum I xxxvii (§ 39), Adam de Brême (trad. du latin par Jean-Baptiste Brunet-Jailly), Histoire des archevêques de Hambourg [« Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum »], Paris, Gallimard, coll. « L'aube des peuples », 1998, 317 p. (ISBN 2-07-074464-7).
  11. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ivar-the-Boneless
  12. Vérsas kínzás: a bordák felett a bőrön sebet ejtenek, majd néhány bordát letörnek a gerincről, s a keletkezett nyíláson keresztül kihúzzák a tüdőt. Ha az áldozat szívósabb egyén, még egy ideig élt, s a fájdalmak tetézéseként vadászmadarakkal támadtatták a tüdőt.
  13. A danegeld egyfajta váltságdíj. A támadó kiszab egy árat, amelyet a megtámadott ha kifizet, a támadó elmegy. (több esetben aztán visszajön újabb danegeldet követelve, vagy leigázva a várost

Please Disable Ddblocker

We are sorry, but it looks like you have an dblocker enabled.

Our only way to maintain this website is by serving a minimum ammount of ads

Please disable your adblocker in order to continue.

Dafato needs your help!

Dafato is a non-profit website that aims to record and present historical events without bias.

The continuous and uninterrupted operation of the site relies on donations from generous readers like you.

Your donation, no matter the size will help to continue providing articles to readers like you.

Will you consider making a donation today?