History of Ivar the Boneless

Ivar the Boneless

Who is Ivar the Boneless?

 Ivar the Boneless, also known as Ivar Ranarsson was a Viking leader and a commander who led the Vikings to conquer the Irish, a nation known as England today. As indicated in the       Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok, Ivar was the son of the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok and Aslaug. He had other brothers namely Biorn Iroside, Halfda Rannarsson, Hvirserk , Sigurd Snake-in-the Eye and Ubba. There are many sagas that try to explain the origin of his nickname( Ivar the Boneless) which is largely attributed to his physical disability but most importantly, he is known for his battle tactics, wisdom, cunning and strategy mastery.

     Where Did the Name Ivar the Boneless Come From?

Ivar the Boneless acquired his name from his physical disability. Nonetheless, there is no conclusive research which shows the specific kind of disability he was suffering from. There are different theories that revolve around this field trying to explain why Ivar was considered to be boneless.

Perhaps, he was a cripple. Historians have argued for centuries and eons over the meaning of the mysterious moniker; Boneless means. In one of the stories found in  Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, Ivar is said to have been born with deformed legs as a result of being cursed before birth thus the accounts of his men carrying him around on their shields. He grew to be a very lethal man who could often kill with a bow or just upon grabbing an enemy. Other sources tells us otherwise depicting him as a man of great strength who towered over his enemies. But the skalds gives a totally different meaning to this mysterious moniker (Boneless). His natural anatomy was structured such that only cartilages could be found where bones were supposed to be but this did not prevent him from growing tall and handsome.

    The Vikings are known for being great warriors who were oftentimes very ruthless in the battlefield. This makes many historians to disagree with the aforementioned Ivar`s descriptions. To some extent, the abjection is valid. How could such a man lead the Vikings connoting that a Viking could have to row, march or rather ride great distances marked by violent seas and wild terrain to face his enemy in the ultimate test of physical zeal and authenticity?  Besides, as observed by Norwich, 1992, (Byzantium: The Apogee. ) during Ivar`s era, many cultures such as the Byzantines would physically torture an unwelcome political figure just to disqualify him from joining ruling hierarchy.

   In the pre-modern society, it may be very rare for a physically disabled person to take charge over military battles. But that does not mean it is impossible since that was the case for Ivar. His birth, ability and his brothers may be the key proponents that saw him succeed. Sagas contributed with Ivar say that his brothers could carry him with them wherever they went. The skalds tells us that Ivar`s intelligence, cunning, wisdom and strategy were so extraordinary to an extent that his brothers they were reluctant to take on challenges without Ivar`s insights. Ivar`s acceptance and value grew profoundly with the growth of the royal heirs of Lothbrok`s legacy.

Ivar`s Afflictions.


  Hardly do most sources give much details about Ivar`s afflictions. They only put more emphasis on his remarkable victories and hi sunique character. It is therefore evident that Ivar did not suffer from just any other physical disability. Some believe that Ivar was perhaps impotent connoting that he never showed any lust or expressed love to anyone or anything apart from war. Moreover, the Norse culture did not possess much knowledge regarding to gloss anatomy. Nonetheless, Ivar may have suffered from a genetic disorder such as osteogenesis imperfecta which in most cases ditters the formation of bone cells causing flatures and deformities. Alternatively, he may have suffered from connective tissue disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome which may have contributed to his great battle prowess. The skalds offer their final verdict claiming that Ivar was often afflicted by a disease that temporarily made him be unable to move on his own.

It may be unclear to us the specific malady which afflicted Ivar`. Nonetheless, it is crystal clear that Ivar was a reputable leader by the time he was planning to avenge his fathers demise.  The skalds describes his both as a cunning fox and a bear bearing in mind that a berserker becomes the bear in battle or the one who takes mantle of the bear. By that time, Ireland was marked by great wealth of sparse lands making it a central point of medieval monasticism which attracted may raiders. Ivar led the Vikings for some years but the exact number which he was active is not certain. His speculated year of birth is794 with the maths not bringing logical sense. Nonetheless, when he joined his brothers and landed in England, he made history on Vikings` victory over the English kingdom of East Anglia in 866.

Vikings Conquest over Present Day England.

Ivar the Boneless led the Vikings to conquer England in his quest to avenge his father`s death. His father, Ragnar Lothbrok the legendary was murded by King Aelle of Northumbria who trapped him and cast him into a pit of vipers. According to the skalds, Ivar demanded full details upon receiving the news that his father was no more. As he listened, his face changed colour turning from normal skin colour, to red, blue and pale. One could easily tell that perhaps King Aelle had just made the biggest mistake of his life by trending on the nerves of the most dangerous man in the 9th century. The consequences would be so `poisonous` to doom his kingdom as England assumed a different line in history. Ivar was not just a rampaging Viking testing his prowess against the Ireland warriors but he was a military genius and a great leader who could settle for nothing less than that which emancipated from his heart.

When the Viking made a point to evade the whole kingdom of Saxon England, the kingdom was divided into 4 competing kingdoms which were largely defended by fyrds of citizen of soldier. They were expecting to mobilise themselves for only forty days but the Vikings caught them by surprise when they invaded England as the `Great Heathen Army`. Earlier on, the Vikings were frequent raiders who would take swaths of territory but never at any given point did they ever come to conquer whole kingdoms. Out of panic, the East Anglians promised Ivar and his brothers horses in exchange for peace. At the beginning of 867, the Vikings host left their ships behind and veered deep into English interior. Most of the Vikings were not Calvary men but the horses they acquired from East Anglians gave them perfect mobility which gave armies a hard time catching them. In the event that they were caught, Ivar would order his men to feign retreat, only for the English men to follow them making a favourable environment for the Vikings to ambush and cut them off. Ivar was equipped with a wide range of strategies to trap his enemies. Within no time, the Viking army had laid siege to York in Northumbria.

    The Viking arrived at York during a time that King Aelle of Northumbria was in a civil war with King Osberht. But since the Vikings were proving to be very strong, the two kings were left with no choice than to put their indifferences aside and join hands in fighting the Viking Army. However, their efforts yield no fruits. The English were killed, Osberht died on the battle field and King Aelle was captured. Sources tell us that Ivar performed the Blood Eagle ritual on King Aelle. He ripped off his lungs before killing him, finally avenging his father`s death and at the same time marking the end of Northumbria as an independent kingdom.

   Ivar and his armies took drinks to celebrate the victory on their way to Mercia; the backbone of Saxon England. The English now knew that they had to join hands or else they would be destroyed. King Ethelred and Price Alfred from Wessex joined with Mercia and forced Ivar and his army who were now drank to the negotiating table. They made the Nottingham treaty amicably and a semblance of peace was observed but only for a short duration before Ivar broke the treaty. There reasons as to why Ivar did that were not clear but maybe it was out of political consideration for his brothers and other Viking leaders. According to Churchill, 1956 (The History of the English Speaking Peoples: Volume 1, the Birth of Britain) Ivar the Boneless ravaged part of Scotland but later on in 870, he returned to Ireland and settled in Dublin. He stayed there peacefully for two years after which he laid to rest.

   In a nutshell, there is much to be said about Ivar the Boneless. He was an extraordinary warrior responsible for the death of three kings. But more importantly, he was a true visionary and a true leader whose accomplishment will live to be honoured by many.   



  1. Churchill, W. S. The History of the English Speaking Peoples: Volume 1, the Birth of Britain. Barnes and Noble Books p.100-102. 1956
  2.  Ivar the Boneless. English Monarchs. http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/vikings_10.html Published 2004. Accessed September 26, 2017
  3. Baker, M. In the Footsteps of Ivarr the Boneless. The History Files. http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/vikings_10.html Published November, 2003.  Accessed September 26, 2017
  4. Waggoner, B. The Sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok. Troth. 2009


By Vikingcaulking.com 

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