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  • History and presentation of Halfdan Ragnarsson

    June 14, 2021 4 min read

    History and presentation of Halfdan Ragnarsson

    A famous Viking warrior and conqueror, Halfdan Ragnarsson is one of the most influential Viking leaders in the history of Scandinavian civilization. In the 9th century, when he founded the Viking kingdom of York, he was recognized as the most famous warrior of the Norse territories.

    Most active in the British Isles in the 870s. This is precisely why this man is a big absentee in the Canadian-Irish series Vikings. But why did Michael Hirst choose to omit this great hero from writing the script for his semi-historical series? To find out, here is the story of the famous Halfdan Ragnarsson.

    Who is Halfdan Ragnarsson?

    Even if there is a slight vagueness around his origin, Halfdan Ragnarsson is recognized as one of the 6 sons of the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok and more exactly the eldest son of Ragnar and Lagertha, his first wife. Apart from Ivar the Boneless and Ubbe, he had two half-brothers who are Sigurd and Bjorn. It is not uncommon to see historians identify him with Hvitserk , since this son of Ragnar is never mentioned when Halfdan is mentioned. For example, the Norse saga Ragnarr of the Hairy Braies tells that Halfdan was born to Ragnar and Aslaug and mentions Halfdan as Hvitserk.

    Thus, some believe that Hvitserk and Halfdan are not two separate people and that they are just two separate names used to refer to the same person. One can be tempted to add credence to this hypothesis, because in the Viking culture, the name Halfdan is a very common name while the name Hvitserk means "white shirt". This leads us to the hypothesis that the name Hvitserk is an epithet serving to distinguish Halfdan Ragnarsson from other Halfdan, given the number of people who would bear the name.

    Halfdan Ragnarsson


    In any case, like his father, his story spans two worlds, that of myth and reality. However, considering his impact on Scandinavian civilization, this does not change the historical scope of his personality. Find out why the Chronicle of Peterborough speaks of its sovereignty. And for those who don't know, this chronicle is the only manuscript in the world in which the history of the invasion of England is written.

    Thus, we note that if the origin or the name of Halfdan Ragnarsson is the subject of some controversy, it should be noted that his future is very clear. His future is that of a great and famous Viking warrior as many sagas confirm.

    The Legend of Halfdan Ragnarsson, King of Northumbria

    It is true that the assault on Northumbria in 875 was a reprisal for the murder of their father. However, this attack was the starting point for a massive Viking invasion of England. The story points out that Halfdan was so angered by the terrible announcement that with his hand he broke a knife in half.

    Halfdan was the first king of Northumbria in 875. In that year he killed Oistin Mac Amlaib, (Old Norse Eysteinn Óláfsson), king of Dublin. It should be noted that this king succeeded Ivar the Boneless who had become ruler of Dublin after the conquest of East Anglia. It happens that after a very short reign, the latter dies a mysterious death. Halfdan had therefore decided to take back Ireland. This is how he killed King Eystein, son of the former King Olaf. He later seized the kingdom of York until 877 when he died in battle against the Vikings of Ireland. It was during the Battle of Strangford Lough.



    But before that, Halfdan Ragnarsson had first taken part in raids in England in 855. He had been promoted to the rank of leader of the Great Viking Army. Following this, he landed in England and his army succeeded, in a few years, in seizing the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia. He led his soldiers to war against Wessex in the early winter of 870.

    It is precisely in this year that the name of the Viking warrior is mentioned for the first time in the English historical annals. On January 8, 871, after a series of battles fought against the Anglo-Saxons, Halfdan was defeated.

    The Viking army therefore moved from its base in Reading and then withdrew to London at the end of this year. He ruled London in 871 and 872 . It is in this city that his effigy was used on coins. Obviously, he only used his effigy to assert his authority.

    From 872, precisely in autumn, Halfdan Ragnarsson goes north and spends the winter in Lindsey, more precisely in Torskey.

    The death of Halfdan Ragnarsson

    Halfdan Ragnarsson's death comes as no surprise to anyone. As a great Viking warrior and leader, the ideal was for him to fall on the battlefield. It was the entrance path to Valhalla . The hero does not survive the wounds he received during the battle of Strangford Lough, an epic fight in relation to which it is worth saying a couple of things.

    The Battle of Stangford Lough was one of the greatest Viking battles. In the saga called “The Annals of Ulster” for example, the peril of Halfdan, identified as “Albann” is told. He is presented as the leader of the Great Heathen Army and King of the Dark Vikings. The account supported by that of the Irish War against the invaders, specifies that it is during this last battle that Halfdan Ragnarsson would find death. However, he does not fall without striking his enemy Baridi and wounding him.

    Why Halfdan Ragnarsson is absent from the Viking series

    When listing the evidence and historical sources, one is tempted to wonder why Halfdan Ragnarsson is not present in the Canadian-Irish Viking saga . The reason is very simple. You will notice, as we explained a little above, that Halfdan and Hvitserk are never mentioned in the same historical source. Stories that talk about one don't talk about the other and vice versa.

    More specifically, the observation made is that Halfdan appears more generally in Anglo-Saxon writings while Hvitserk is more present in the Nordic sagas. It is therefore to avoid creating confusion that Michael Hirst, the director of the Viking series chose Hvitserk and not Halfdan. He preferred to opt for one side to avoid duplicates.

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