Ivar Ragnarsson ( ; died
possibly 873) nicknamed the Boneless (inn
beinlausi), was a Danish Viking chieftain and by reputation also a berserker.
By the late 11th century he was
known as a son of the powerful Ragnar
, ruler of an area probably comprising parts of Denmark
autumn of 865 A.D., with his brothers Halfdan Ragnarsson (Halfdene) and
Ubbe Ragnarsson (Hubba), Ivar led
the Great Heathen Army in the
invasion of the East
Anglian region of England.
accommodation was quickly reached with the East Anglians.
The following year, Ivar led his forces north on horseback and
easily captured York (which the Danes called Jorvik
) from the Northumbrians who were at that time
engaged in a civil war. Ivar succeeded in holding York against a
vain attempt to relieve the city in A.D. 867.
Ivar is also attributed with the slaying of St. Edmund of East Anglia
in 869 AD.
The story is first known from Abbo of
's Latin passion of King Edmund and Ælfric
's Old English adaptation
thereof. By their accounts, when Edmund refused to become the
vassal of a pagan, he was killed in much the same way as St Sebastian
was martyred. Ivar had Edmund
bound to a tree, whereupon Vikings shot arrows into him until he
died. According to later accounts, Edmund was shot in the nave of a
It is possible that Ivar may be identical to the Ímar whose death
appears in the Annals of Ulster
Ímar, king of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain,
ended his life.
The death of Ímar is also recorded in the Fragmentary Annals of
under the year 873:
The king of Lochlainn, i.e.
Gothfraid, died of a sudden hideous
Thus it pleased God.
The identification of the king of Lochlainn
as Gothfraid (i.e. Ímar's father) was
added by a copyist in the 17th century. In the original
11th-century manuscript the subject of the entry was simply called
("the king of Lochlainn"), which more than
likely referred to Ímar, whose death is not otherwise noted in the
. The cause of death – a sudden and
horrible disease – is not mentioned in any other source, but it
raises the interesting possibility that the true provenance of
Ivar's Old Norse sobriquet lay in the crippling effects of an
unidentified disease that struck him down at the end of his
According to the saga of Ragnar
, Ivar Boneless
was the eldest son of
Ragnar and Aslaug
. It is said he was fair,
big, strong, and one of the wisest men who has ever lived. He was
consequently the advisor of his brothers Björn Ironside
, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye
The story has it that when king Ælla of Northumberland
their father, by throwing him into a snake-pit, Ivar's brothers
tried to avenge their father, but were beaten. Ivar then went to
king Ælla and said that he sought reconciliation. He only asked for
as much land as he could cover with an ox's hide and swore never to
wage war against Ælla. Then Ivar cut the ox's hide into so fine
strands that he could envelope a large fortress (in an older saga
it was York and
according to a younger saga it was London) which he
could take as his own.
As he was the most generous of men,
he attracted a great many warriors whom he consequently kept from
Ælla when this king was attacked by Ivar's brothers for the second
Ælla was captured and, when the brothers were to decide how to give
Ælla his just punishment, Ivar suggested that they carve the
" on his back. According to
popular belief, this meant that Ælla's back was cut open, the ribs
pulled from his spine, and his lungs pulled out to form
In Ragnar Lodbrok's
, there is an interesting prequel to the Battle of
Hastings: it is told that before Ivar died in England, he ordered
that his body be buried in a mound on the English Shore, saying
that so long as his bones guarded that section of the coast, no
enemy could invade there successfully. This prophecy held true,
says the saga, until "when Vilhjalm bastard (William the Conqueror
) came ashore[,]
he went [to the burial site] and broke Ivar's mound and saw that
[Ivar's] body had not decayed. Then [Vilhjalm] had a large pyre
made [upon which Ivar's body was] burned.... Thereupon, [Vilhjalm
proceeded with the landing invasion and achieved] the
There is some disagreement as to the meaning of Ivar's epithet "the
Boneless" (inn Beinlausi
) in the sagas. Some have
suggested it was a euphemism for impotence
or even a snake metaphor (he had a brother named
However some have interpreted the Scandinavian sources as
describing a condition that is sometimes understood as similar to a
form of osteogenesis
(see below). The poem Háttalykill inn forni
describes Ivar as being "without any bones at all".
Alternatively, the English word "bone" is cognate with the German
word "Bein", meaning "leg". Scandinavian sources mention Ivar the
Boneless as being borne on a shield by his warriors. Some have
speculated that this was because he could not walk and perhaps his
epithet simply meant "legless" - perhaps literally or perhaps
simply because he was lame. However other sources from this period
in history mention chieftains being carried on the shields of
enemies after victory , not because of any infirmity.
In 1949, the Dane Knud Seedorf published Osteogenesis imperfecta: A study of
clinical features and heredity based on 55 Danish families
where he wrote:
- Of historical personages the author knows of only one of
whom we have a vague suspicion that he suffered from osteogenesis
imperfecta, namely Ivar Benløs, eldest son of the Danish legendary
king Regnar Lodbrog. He is reported to have had legs as
soft as cartilage ('he lacked bones'), so that he was unable to
walk and had to be carried about on a shield.
There are less extreme forms of this disease where the person
affected can lack use of their legs, but be otherwise normal, as
may have been the case for Ivar the Boneless. The disease is more
commonly known as "Brittle bone disease."
In 2003 Nabil Shaban
, a disability rights
osteogenesis imperfecta, made the documentary The Strangest
for Channel 4
, in which he explored the possibility that Ivar
the Boneless may have had the same condition as himself. It also
demonstrated that someone with the condition was quite capable of
using a longbow
, and so could have taken
part in battle, as Viking society would have expected a leader to
In popular culture
- Ivar The Boneless appears in Harry Harrison's Hammer and Cross
series which begins with the death of Ragnar and the invasion
of the Heathen Army but then departs from historical events through
the actions of the imaginary character Shef Sigvarthsson who eventually defeats
Ivar in single combat.. Different characters offer different
explanations for the appellation "the boneless"; some claim it
refers to impotence, while others assert
that it is because godar in shamanic trances see Ivar in the otherworld as a giant serpent.
- In the 1958 film "The
Vikings" Ivar has his name changed to Einar and is played by
- In the 1989 film Erik the Viking
a character by the name of Ivar the Boneless is portrayed by
John Gordon Sinclair. In the
film, Ivar is portrayed as a rather weedy, cowardly Viking with a
high pitched voice and a tendency to get seasick.
- In The Sea of Trolls
by Nancy Farmer Ivar is a king
who was formerly a famous berserker,
called Ivar the Boneless only behind his back. He was called Ivar
the Valiant until he married the cruel, powerful and beautiful (in
her human form) shapeshifter Frith HalfTroll.
- Ivar is a minor character in Bernard Cornwell's historical fiction
novel, The Last Kingdom.
The earl Ragnar the Elder explains that Ivar got his name because
he was so thin that it appeared that one could use him to string a
bow. This joke might also be a play on his name, as the name Ivar
is derived from yrr ar, meaning "yew warrior". Yew was a
wood commonly used for making bows.
- Annals of Ulster.
http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T100001A/index.html Retrieved on
May 4, 2007
- "The most cruel of them all was Ingvar, the son of Lodbrok, who
everywhere tortured Christians to death. This was written in the
Gesta of the Franks." Adam of Bremen, Gesta Hammaburgensis
Ecclesiae Pontificum I xxxvii (§ 39), tr. Francis J. Tschan,
History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. New York,
- "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, pp. 44-45; 145, 148.
- Abbo of Fleury, Passio Sancti Eadmundi Regis et
Martyris, ed. Michael Winterbottom, Three Lives of English
Saints. Toronto Medieval Latin Texts. Toronto 1972. 65-87;
Ælfric, Life of St Edmund, ed. and tr. W.W. Skeat,
Ælfric’s Lives of Saints. 2 vols.: vol. 1. Oxford,
- John O'Donovan, who edited and
translated the Fragmentary Annals in 1860, understood the
entry to refer to Ímar. Earlier in the same annals, Ímar and his
brother Amlaíb are call na righ Lochlann, or "the kings of
Lochlainn" (FA 388).