Was Ragnar Lodbrok a Christian? Learn the Truth


The Vikings worshiped and revered a large pantheon of gods and goddesses that included the likes of Odin, Thor, and Freyja. In addition to their deities, however, the Vikings also glorified larger-than-life figures who achieved near-god status. Chief among these was Ragnar Lodbrok, the venerable warrior and chieftain whose exploits are the stuff of legends but is also hotly debated by historians and fans. 

Contrary to contemporary portrayals of Ragnar Lodbrok in binge-worthy programming, there is no evidence, historical or otherwise, that establishes or even suggests that he was a Christian or that he was ever baptized. Many facets of his life can be debated, but this is not one of them.

While a lot has been learned about how the Vikings lived and died centuries ago, there is still much uncertainty about particular details of their history and key historical figures. Keep reading to learn more about Ragnar Lodbrok.

Did Ragnar Lodbrok convert to Christianity?

The task of writing the story of the Viking people was left to historians, observers, and poets, who wrote the majority of their accounts, sagas, and poems. Many of these stories contain an exuberant amount of poetic license or writer’s bias since they were written after the Viking Age had ended, often centuries after the fact. As a result, the life stories of figures like Ragnar Lodbrok morphed from tales of heroic feats to pseudo-fantasy. [1]

This can be attributed to the fact that the Vikings did not maintain written records of their people and culture, thereby allowing legends like Ragnar Lodbrock to grow unabated while blurring the line between fact and fiction.

The notion that Ragnar Lodbrok was a Christian seems to be squarely rooted in modern story-telling. The popular television series Vikings portrays this enigmatic hero as being receptive to the fundamental ideas of Christianity, having befriended a monk who previously served as his thrall (slave). There are palpable moments where he is torn between the Norse gods of his forefathers and the Christian God. [2]

In reality, there is no indication whatsoever in surviving texts and writings that even suggest that Ragnar Lodbrok abandoned his allegiance to the Aesir and Vanir gods and goddesses of his people. In practical terms, a conversion from pagan beliefs to a monotheistic faith would have been noteworthy, if not highly controversial, for a man of his stature and fame. 

For well-known sagas and poems to regale in his heroic exploits without mention of his acceptance of the Christian faith is a clear indication that it did not happen. Ragnar Lodbrok is believed to have lived and died during the 9th century. The Christianization of Scandinavia did not begin in earnest until the 10th century, when King Harald Bluetooth declared Denmark to be a Christian nation. [3]

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Was Ragnar Lodbrok Baptized?

Along the same vein as the idea that Ragnar Lodbrok became a Christian during his lifetime is the proposition that he was baptized. Like the former, the latter is not supported by any historical evidence or reputable written authority. In fact, pop culture is again to blame for depicting an aspect of Ragnar Lodbrok’s life that did not happen. 

One of the most compelling episodes of the Vikings series took place in Paris against the backdrop of the real-life Viking invasion on that city in the year 845 by a Viking warlord named Reginherus, whom many scholars and historians assert was, in fact, Ragnar Lodbrok by another name.

Although perhaps loosely inspired by an actual Viking raid (one that concluded with the invaders being paid a handsome bounty to leave peacefully), the events that unfold in the series make for great entertainment but are a complete fictionalization of Ragnar Lodbrok’s religious views:

  • Ragnar Lodbrok is shown being baptized by Frankish clergy
  • The protagonist later fakes his own death, and the Franks have completely bought into the ruse
  • Ragnar Lodbrok’s son Bjorn Ironside declares on his behalf that since his beloved father has been formally baptized that he is entitled to be given a proper Christian funeral
  • When his casket is brought inside a Parisian cathedral, Ragnar Lodbrok bursts out and manages to open the city’s gates allowing his Viking warriors to swarm Paris [4]

The Real Ragnar Lodbrok may never be known

The incredible popularity of all things Viking in modern pop culture and the entertainment industry’s eagerness to quench the public’s thirst for Viking Age programming loosely based on historical figures and events has led to the creation of on-screen characters like Ragnar Lodbrok. While certainly compelling, they are likely more fictional and a composite of multiple historical figures than reality-based. [5]

While dispelling the notions that Ragnar Lodbrok was a baptized Christian is a fairly straightforward exercise, many aspects of this real-life historical figure’s existence are not so cut and dry.

Indeed, even learned historians had had a difficult time piecing together the real-life events and circumstances of Ragnar Lodbrok’s life from a patchwork of sagas and poems, many of which contain conflicting versions of the same deeds or actions. This has led to much debate over which assertions are closest to fact and which are derived from urban legends that made the rounds centuries ago.

Following are some aspects of Ragnar Lodbrok’s life that remain unsettled over a millennium after his death.

Was Ragnar Lodbrok his True Name?

While Ragnar Lodbrok (or the alternative spelling Lothbrok) has achieved near rock-star status thanks to television and cinema, many scholars believe that he may have been known by different names during his days as a feared Viking raider. 

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (a late 9th-century manuscript documenting Old English history) makes specific reference to two Viking figures, “Ragnall” and “Reginherus” (of the invasion of Paris fame). Many assert that Ragnar Lodbrok, Ragnall, and Reginherus, are one and the same person.

Ragnar Lodbrok had Multiple Wives

By most accounts, Ragnar Lodbrok had three wives during his lifetime, while according to some tallies, he had four. The three that are not in dispute are Lagertha, Thora, and Aslaug. The fourth woman who may or may not have been his wife is Swanloga.

Ragnar Lodbrok’s Offspring

According to the most famous version of his death (more on this later), Ragnar Lodbrok is quoted as saying with his final breaths, “How the little piglets would grunt if they knew how the old boar suffers.” By these dying words, he is foretelling his sons’ arrival to violently and mercilessly avenge their father’s death (the Great Heathen Army of 865).

Although he is reputed to have had many children with his three (possibly four) wives, the most famous of them are:

  • Bjorn Ironside
  • Ivar the Boneless
  • Halfdan Ragnarsson

In particular, Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless reached great prominence and their achievements quite possibly surpassed those of their famous father.

There is much debate whether Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons were his actual biological offspring or if the Viking chieftain adopted them to maintain his bloodline, as was often done during the Viking Age. Many Norse men who aspired to achieve an elevated stature in life also claimed to be direct descendants of Viking heroes in order to further their ambitions.

How did Ragnar Lodbrok Die?

The manner of Ragnar Lodbrok’s death has been debated for centuries, with some accounts depicting an end befitting a larger-than-life Viking hero. In contrast, others suggest that he died in a rather unspectacular fashion. These are some of the ways his death has been described [6] [7]:

  • He was thrown into a pit of venomous snakes by King Aella of Northumbria
  • He was betrayed and murdered by King Edmund of East Anglia
  • He was killed shortly after the Viking invasion of Paris
  • He died in a shipwreck while raiding along the Irish coast

Conclusion

The legend of Ragnar Lodbrok is a complex tapestry of truth and fantasy. Christian or not, his is a legacy that has endured for centuries.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source
[6] Source
[7] Source
[8] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian's fascination with Scandinavia began when he traced his family history to several countries in the region. As a college professor who has taught about the history of Northern Europe, he wishes to respectfully promote, not just the region's history, but its culture and people as well.

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