700 to 100 AD are believed to have been the days of the Vikings, a group of people history judges as bloodthirsty pirates that brought death and suffering wherever they went. While some of that assumption is true, it is not the accurate description of all Vikings. Some of the Northmen were peaceful trades and explorers or just settlers that left their barren lands in Scandinavia to find better places to practice agriculture. At the height of their raids North, the Vikings changed the world and became a part of the history of almost every continent in the world. Whatever the Vikings did, they did it to perfection which is why they became so famous. Here is a look at the top 10 most famous Vikings that ever lived.
Ragnar Lothbrok is the protagonist of History’s Historical drama Vikings but the show doesn’t nearly portray all the great achievements of the real Ragnar Lothbrok. Most of the details about the life of Ragnar are unclear but his raids of England and Frankia are true. Some sources also claim that he fought with the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne before king captured by king Aella of Northumbria. His death in a pit of snakes is recounted by many sources although some historians claim that it may not have happened. He was a great warrior and definitely the most famous Viking warrior from the 9th century.
Cnut The Great
England was once ruled by a Danish king and he wasn’t the bloody tyrant you would expect from a Viking ruler. He was the son of Svein Forkbeard, the son of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark. Forkbeard defeated king Aethelred the unready in 1013 but then he died in 1014 allowing Aethelred to come back to rule England which was weak at the time and mostly controlled by the Danes.
Meanwhile, Cnut retained the rule of Denmark and conquered Norway as well. When Aethelred died and his son Edmund also died, Cnut was left as the sole ruler of Denmark, Norway and England. Scotland also surrendered to Cnut although the powerful ruler was mostly interested in the waters between the English and the Danish coast so he didn’t bother much with Scotland.
Erik The Red
The show Vikings gave the credit of the discovery of Greenland to Ubbe, son of Ragnar but the man that actually set up the first Viking settlement in Greenland was Erik The Red. He was born Erik Thorvaldsson in Norway before his father killed someone and the family was banished. Erik’s family fled to Iceland where he himself committed a crime and was also banished. He sailed to the island of Greenland. He actually called it Greenland to entice future settlers to come and they did come. By the time of his death, there were over 5,000 Viking settlers in Greenland but it is not clear why they all left between the 14th and the 15th century.
Like Ragnar, the tales of Bjorn Ironside are contradictory depending on who writes them. However, he is an important part in the Sagas and is believed to have raided England alongside his father. He was a ferocious fighter whose very presence on the battlefield. In the sagas, he is said to have been the son of Ragnar and Aslaug or Thora depending on the source. He was also the ruler of large swaths of land in Sweden, at least up to Uppsala. He accompanied Ivar to avenge the death of his father in Northumbria and also conducted multiple raids in England and Frankia which might have extended up to the Holy Roman Empire. There is scarce information on his wife and children and on how he died.
Ivar The Boneless
Ivar Ragnarsson was a powerful 9th century Viking chieftain that managed to bring a huge part of what is now the UK under his control. He came to England in 865 in the company of his brothers Ubbe and Halfdan on a mission to avenge the death of his father Ragnar at the hands of King Aelle. However, unlike other Vikings who only raided and left, Ivar wanted to conquer lands and rule. He defeated King Aella of Northumbria and also king Edmund of East Anglia. There is no record of any campaigns by him against Wessex though. He died in Dublin in 873.
Olaf was the son of Harald Finehair the first king to unite all of Norway under one crown. He wasn’t famous in Norway as a boy though since his family seems to have been forced to flee to Rus after Harald Finehair’s death. He was raised in Kiev and therefore embraced Christianity. He attacked England with a small band of warriors in 991 and forced the Saxons to pay him off with gold and silver.
He raided again in 994 with similar results. His raids were just to gather funds for reclaiming his grandfather’s throne which he did in 995 when king Hakon the Great of Norway was murdered, possibly on Olaf’s orders. Olaf then forced all his subjects in Norway to convert to Christianity which angered his neighbours and made him many enemies. He was ambushed at sea in 1000 and that was the end of him.
In the show Vikings, the last great king of the Vikings was portrayed as Harald Finehair, but the real man’s name was Harald Hardrada. He was the half-brother of Olaf Haraldsson, the unsuccessful ruler of Norway. With his brother’s defeat in Norway, Harald decided to make a life for himself by working as a mercenary of the prince of Kiev which earned him lots of wealth. He also served in the famous Varangian Guard of the emperor in Constantinople until 1040 when he had enough wealth to buy himself partnership with Svein Estrithson, the future king of Denmark.
Harald went on to rule Norway after defeating Magnus the Good and even attempted to take Denmark for himself at one point before deciding to invade England in 1065 just like the Harald in Vikings did. He was heavily defeated by King Harold Godwinson of England in the battle of Fulford Gate making his the last of the Viking Invasions of England. He also went down as the last great leader of the Vikings.
Rollo Of Normandy
There is no record of Rollo having been Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother but he is one of the most important people in European history. He raided Frankia frequently in the 9th century until the early 10th century when King Charles the Simple gave him part of Normandy. In exchange, Rollo was to protect West Franks from future attacks by other Vikings. There is no record of any more raids by him although he managed to expand his territory to most of Normandy before he died. He was also the father of William the Conqueror who came to rule England until 1087.
Yes, she was a woman and No, she wasn’t Ivar’s wife. She was actually the son of Erik the Red founder of Greenland who alongside her brother Leif Eriksson, discovered Vineland or North America as we know it today. Most of the details about her come from the Saga of Erik the Red which states that she was a tough woman that could fight just as well as the men. She was pregnant when she embarked on the voyage with her brother Leif which makes her the Founding mother of North America.
The same way Eriksdottir is Erik’s daughter, Eriksson is Erik’s son, SO Leif, the man that beat Columbus to North America was the son of Erik The Red. He is believed to have discovered Vinland by accident after his ship was blown off course while on its way to Greenland. He set up a settlement but it didn’t last long as quarrels broke out between the Vikings and the Native Indians. It is not clear why the Vikings fled the settlement but Leif remains one of the most famous Norwegian Vikings in history.