Friday, May 30, 2014

Ivar the Boneless

Ivar the Boneless, played by
Vaclovas Kiselevicius in the TV show
"The Dark Ages"
The post on Vikings in Ireland mentioned Ivar the Boneless, which was just begging for more detail on this fellow.

He was born Ivar Ragnarsson, the son of Ragnar Lodbrok and Aslaug Sigurdsdottir. Viking sagas considered him a ferocious warrior.

He was a leader (with his brother Halfdan) of the so-called "Great Heathen Army" that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says invaded East Anglia in 865 and then a year later marched northward and took York from the Northumbrians. A few years later, he left England, either to rule Dublin or to go back to take up rule in parts of Denmark and Sweden.

Curiously, this fearsome warrior, who was said to be so large that he towered over everyone else, had the nickname "the Boneless." It might have been some snake metaphor suggesting "slipperiness of character." His brother had the nickname "Snake in the eye" which might suggest that you could not trust him. We are not sure of that. But Viking sagas describe him with:
Only cartilage was where bone should have been , but otherwise he grew tall and handsome and in wisdom he was the best of their children. [link]
It is possible, since he was such a great fighter, that the epithet "the boneless" (in Norse: hinn beinlausi) referred to an extraordinary flexibility, which would have contributed to his fighting prowess. Suggestions that it refers to sexual impotence cannot, of course, be substantiated, although there is no evidence that he fathered any children, or even took a wife.

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