Halfdan Ragnarsson | The Legendary Danish King of Dublin
Famous Viking conqueror, Halfdan Ragnarsson has marked the history of Scandinavian civilization. Indeed, he became the most famous Norse warrior of the 9th century by founding the Viking kingdom of York.
Son of the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok and leader of the “Great Viking Army”, he remains very little famous. Thus, despite his crucial role in Viking history, Halfdan Ragnarsson is a major absentee in the semi-historical series Vikings.
Without further ado, discover the story of a forgotten character in Viking history. We reveal his origin and the reason why he is not in the Vikings series!
The story of Halfdan Ragnarsson, the most famous Viking!
Halfdan Ragnarsson is a Viking character surrounded by a great deal of mystery. Although he is known today as one of the sons of the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok, Halfdan’s origin remains uncertain.
Indeed, almost nothing is known about his childhood and his journey before the famous Viking raids on England. The proof is that historical Norse sources and sagas mention him under different names.
Despite this, Halfdan is considered to be one of the most valiant commanders of the Great Viking Pagan Army. Together with his half-brother Ivar the Boneless, they invaded many Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England.
Later, a popular Viking belief claims that he became the king of Dublin and ruler of the Viking kingdom of Ireland. As you can see, like his father, Halfdan Ragnarsson’s story is on the borderline between myth and reality.
Of course, this does not change the fact that he is a real historical figure who has marked the entire Scandinavian civilization. In this respect, many historical vestiges testifying to the existence of Halfdan have come down to us:
- Many coins minted in his name have been found. They date from the time he ruled Northumbria, around 871 AD;
- Mention of his rule is made in the Peterborough Chronicle, a unique manuscript that tells the story of the invasion of England.
However, you are quite right to wonder how the history of such a Viking character remains so obscure!
To help you understand, we go back to the origins of Halfdan Ragnarsson, a Viking who left his mark on the Viking civilization.
The origin of the forgotten son of Ragnar Lothbrok
To understand the complexity of Halfdan Ragnarsson’s character, one must know that we only learn his relationship with the legendary lineage of Ragnar very late.
Thus, we discover that Halfdan Ragnarsson is the son of Ragnar Lodbrok in recent texts of Viking mythology. However, here again, the versions differ greatly depending on the saga in question:
- According to the “Geste des Danois”: Halfdan’s mother is Thora Borgarthiort, a Swedish princess. According to Saxo Grammaticus, she gave Ragnar 6 sons, including Bjorn the Iron-Coast and Ivar the Boneless.
- In the “Ragnarr of the Hairy Bands”: this Scandinavian saga tells a completely different story. Ragnar marries Áslaug who gives him his legendary sons, including Halfdan who is mentioned under the name of Hvitserk.
Based on this fact, many historians consider Halfdan and Hvitserk as the same individual. This claim is further strengthened by the fact that the two characters are never mentioned at the same time in any source.
Furthermore, “Halfdan” was a very common name in Viking culture. And “Hvitserk,” meaning “white shirt,” may have been a simple epithet or nickname to distinguish Halfdan from other Vikings who bore the same name.
Although the origin of Halfdan Ragnarsson remains quite controversial, his future is that of a great Viking warrior. Something that is attested by many sagas, by the way.
This is how the legend of the one who will make all England tremble begins!
The legend of the conqueror of Nuthemberie
After the death of Ragnar Lodbrok in 865 AD, Halfdan Ragnarsson became the head of the “Great Army”. Together with his brothers, Ivar the Boneless and Sigurd Snake-eye, he formed the largest Viking coalition.
Nothing and no one could stand against this army. With an extraordinary strike force, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle estimates that it had more than 1000 ships and thousands of Viking warriors.
Thus begins Halfdan Ragnarsson’s rise to the rank of Viking legend!
The Northumbrian King
Although the attack on Northumbria in the year 865 was a kind of retaliation against the murder of their father, it triggered the great Viking invasion of England. Halfdan, upon hearing the terrible news, breaks a knife in two by the force of his hand.
Against all odds, Ragnar’s death marked the beginning of Halfdan Ragnarsson’s glorious victories.
It is only in 870 AD that Halfdan is mentioned for the first time in English history books. He led his troops to victory in a decisive battle against Wessex, which marked the gradual decline of England.
Thus, in the space of only one year, the Great Army managed to conquer Northumbria and the kingdom of East Anglia.
“It is estimated that Northumbria covers one-fifth of England. Eric settled in York, where it is said that the sons of [Ragnar] Hairy Braies once resided.”
From then on, no English source mentions Halfdan Ragnarsson. This raises the mysterious question: is this really the end of the famous Viking? We can already tell you that the answer is: no!
Halfdan Ragnarsson became king of Northumbria. He imposed his authority and sovereignty by minting coins bearing his name. During the following years, Halfdan fought many other battles before settling permanently in Northumbria in 876 AD.
Moreover, a collection of Icelandic sagas dating from the 13th century, “the Heimskringla”, supports this historical fact. Written by the famous Snorri Sturluson, it mentions the reign of Ragnar’s sons, including Halfdan, over Northumbria:
King of Dublin
The rest of the story of Halfdan Ragnarsson is found in minor Irish sources. According to the legend, Ivar the Boneless leaves the Great Viking Army just after the conquest of East-Angland to conquer Ireland. He became the ruler of Dublin.
However, his reign was short-lived, as he died under mysterious circumstances. Eystein, the son of the former king Olaf, succeeded to the throne. As Halfdan Ragnarsson knew that the death of his brother was far from natural, he decided to take over Ireland.
Thus, according to the annals of Ulster, he conquered the kingdom and killed King Eystein. However, in this source, Halfdan is mentioned under the name of “Albann”. Halfdan Ragnarsson became the rightful king of Dublin in the year 875 AD.
However, it is also during this last adventure that Halfdan Ragnarsson will die as a hero on the battlefield.
The death of Halfdan Ragnarsson: the battle of Strangford Lough
It is not surprising to learn that Halfdan Ragnarsson, a great warrior and Viking leader, breathed his last in battle. Worthy of Valhalla, the valiant warrior succumbed to his wounds during the battle of Stangford Lough.
Here is a brief historical review of this fatal battle!
Two Irish annals trace the events of this epic battle, designated as one of the greatest Viking battles:
- The Annals of Ulster: In this saga we follow the peril of “Albann”, the figure identified as Halfdan. He is described as the leader of the Great Pagan Army, and the king of the “Dark Vikings”.
- Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib or The War of the Irish against the invaders: this source tells the battle from the side of Bárid mac Ímair, legitimate king of Dublin and sovereign of the “Noble Vikings”.
All accounts agree that Halfdan Ragnarsson will die in this last battle. However, he will not let go until he has wounded his enemy Báridi.
Although this story tends to show Halfdan Ragnarsson as an enemy, this does not change his historical importance and impact on the Viking civilization.
Why doesn’t Halfdan Ragnarsson appear in the Vikings series?
With so much evidence and historical sources attesting to the existence of Halfdan Ragnarsson, why is he completely absent from the Vikings series? Careful readers probably already have the answer in hand.
As explained above, Halfdan and Hvitserk are never mentioned in the same historical source. While the former appears in Anglo-Saxon references, the latter is typically used in Norse sagas.
In fact, it is this very notion that is at the root of the confusion on this point. The scriptwriter of the Vikings series, Michael Hirst, wanted to avoid cluttering the story with too many historical characters, especially not duplicates! It was then Hvitserk who was chosen, the other side of the coin.
A Viking of uncertain origins, Halfdan Ragnarsson forged a reputation worthy of the legendary lineage from which he came. The few historical sources that mention him all agree on the impact of this valiant Viking on Nordic history.