Ragnar Lodthrok's death, Hugo Hamilton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ragnar Lothbrok: Shaggy Breeches

According to the stories, Ragnar Lothbrok was a Viking king in the 8th century. At least one of the stories that have survived about Ragnar is an epic that relate him to Icelandic families. The best known “Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok” was written in the 13th century, 500 years after Lothbrok supposedly reigned. Because this story was written to bring glory and legitimacy to the family who commissioned it, the story is exaggerated and has a questionable relationship to the truth. No one knows if Lothbrok was a living person, whose name was borrowed, or a character, who the writer invented. As a result, this ambiguous blend of myth and history provided rich material for the popular TV series “Vikings,” created by the History Channel. The show dramatizes Ragnar’s legendary exploits and his sons, bringing these ancient tales to a contemporary audience and igniting renewed interest in Viking culture.

Lothbrok’s Legendary Pants

“Lothbrok” means “shaggy” or “hairy” breeches. Legend has it that Ragnar fashioned his namesake pants for protection against a dragon he intended to fight. However, Viking women used weaving techniques called “roggvar” to attach extra fleece to the warp. When the weaving was finished, they would tease these extra pieces out from the cloth. The effect would have likely resembled fur. These pants would have been something to behold, and Lothbrok’s story about having to face a dragon would’ve given him the credibility to pull off the look. Being a king would’ve also helped shield him from ridicule.

Ragnar Lothbrok Meets His End

Ragnar Lothbrok decided to conquer England, and he swore to do so with only two ships. During his reign from 862 to 867 CE, King Aella of Northumbria captured Lothbrok. Aella ordered his men to throw the Viking into a snake pit, where Lothbrok perished. Some say that his sons avenged Lothbrok’s death in 867 CE when King Aella was killed and Scandinavians conquered Northumbria.

Who Was Ragnar Lothbrok?

According to the sagas, Lothbrok had two or three wives and several sons who went on to be famous as well. Lothbrok may be an amalgamation of several Norse figures, combined to create a single legendary character. As with many Viking mysteries, we may never know who Lothbrok really was.

Sources: Children of Ash and Elm: A Viking History by Neil Price (2020).



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