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A Viking warrior holding a sword and wearing a fur skin

11 facts about fearsome Viking 'Ivar the Boneless'

Image: Fernando Cortés / Pexels

Fans of Sky HISTORY’s Vikings will be no strangers to Ivar the Boneless, the fierce and fearsome warrior. Ivar might be a fan favourite on screen, but what do we know about the real-life Viking behind the character?

Here are 11 fascinating facts about the real Ivar the Boneless.

1. Was Ivar the Boneless really Ragnar's son?

Many historians believe that Ivar did exist and that he also lived up to his terrifying reputation. Ivar claimed to be the son of Ragnar and his wife, Aslaug. The reality is that we can never know for sure if Ivar was Ragnar’s son, if he was adopted (a common practice by Vikings), or if he claimed the heritage to make his enemies even more afraid of him.

2. Why was Ivar called Boneless?

The truth is that there are multiple accounts of Ivar, each describing him differently. Some say he was completely boneless, while others describe him as incredibly strong and towering above other Vikings. While some argue that Ivar was named because of a medical condition or disability, others argue that it is, in fact, because of his character.

Some historians believe that Ivar received his title because of his flexibility and agility in a battle that appeared boneless or snake-like. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds, considering his brother Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and the Lothbrok’s associations with serpents.

Different opinions believe that the nickname might have been a cutting nickname based on impotence as Ivar was described as an asexual figure. Still, again this is conflicted by other stories about Ivar that claim he sired many children.

Another theory is that he was actually called Ivar the Hated, which in Latin would have translated to Ivar Exosus, meaning ‘without bones’.

3. Was Ivar disabled?

In the saga, The Tale of Ragnar Lothbrok, Ivar’s condition is said to be due to a curse. After a long separation, Aslaug, Ivar’s mother, warned Ragnar that they should wait three nights before consummating their marriage to avoid cursing the resulting child. Overcome by lust and longing, Ragnar ignored her warnings and, as a result, Ivar was born ‘boneless’.

His nickname was just as likely because of a genetic condition as a misunderstanding or mistranslation. We can’t know if Ivar was disabled or living with a condition that affected his ability to walk - especially considering just how many different accounts there are about him and his appearance.

4. The most ferocious Viking

No matter how Ivar got his nickname, he earned his reputation as a fearsome and bloodthirsty Viking through his many successful, and sometimes devastating, raids. He was known for his brutal punishments against those who wronged him and was believed to have performed the notorious blood eagle on his enemies - a horrific death by torture.

5. He loved his brothers

Ivar had a great relationship with his brothers and there’s no evidence that he killed any of his family. They often worked together under Ivar’s leadership to ensure successful raids.

6. What happened to Ivar the Boneless in real life?

Perhaps his most well-known exploit was his invasion of the British Isles in response to the execution of his father. Alongside his brothers, Ivar led ‘The Great Heathen Army’ to victory, defeating King Ælla and King Osbert. Landing in East Anglia, Ivar moved up the coast and captured the city of York, which marked the start of the Viking occupation of Britain.

7. Vikings in Ireland

Ivar didn’t stop in York. Records show him raiding alongside Olaf the White, the Viking king of Dublin. Accounts describe the pair plundering and raiding across Ireland and even taking on Scotland. Some historians believe that Ivar was also Ímar, a legendary Irish figure that started the Uí Ímair dynasty. This Norse-Gael dynasty ruled over much of Northumbria, the Irish Sea, and Dublin.

8. Going berserk

Ivar was a particularly bloodthirsty Viking and was often referred to as a berserker: a fiercely violent warrior that would fight in almost a trance-like state of fury. Berserkers were recorded as wearing bear skin coats (the word berserker translates to bear skin) and were a truly terrifying sight to behold on the battlefield. Driven only by bloodlust and seemingly oblivious to the battle around them, berserkers are the root origin of the word ‘berserk’.

9. As ferocious as a bear, as cunning as a fox

Despite his ferocity and bloodlust, the sagas all describe Ivar as a cunning and intelligent man. All of his brothers would refer to him for his advice before taking on an opponent, and he was a skilled tactician of battle and politics.

10. The death of Ivar the Boneless

After 870, records of Ivar the Boneless come to an end. Some theories believe that Ivar, living as Ímair in Ireland, was captured and later died in 873 of a sudden and terrible illness.

However, with no confirmation that Ímair and Ivar were the same people, and The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok claiming that Ivar died in England, we know relatively little of what happened to the storied Viking.

11. Ivar the Boneless’ burial

Some historians believe that a Viking burial site in Repton, England, is that of Ivar. The 9-foot-tall Viking was buried amongst the bones of another 249 bodies and is believed to be that of a highly venerated Viking warlord.

Studies of the remains determined that he died a brutal death, and records show that the Great Heathen Army did pass through Repton around the same time that records of Ivar end.