The Historical Truth Behind Aslaug
Aslaug is one of the main characters in the Irish-Canadian TV series ‘Vikings’ on History Channel. Her portrayal in the TV series is based on the ‘Völsunga saga’, a legendary 13th Icelandic chronicle. Her name can also be found in different sagas under other variations such as Aslög, Kráka, Kraba or Randalin.
Aslaug is known for being a queen in the Norse mythology, married to legendary Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok. According to another Icelandic saga, ‘The Tale of Ragnar Lothbrok’ (written in the 13th century), she was the daughter of legendary hero Sigurd and of shieldmaiden/valkyrie Brynhildr.
Aslaug was, nevertheless, raised by her mother’s foster father, Heimer. The legend has it that upon the deaths of her parents she was hidden by Heimer in a large harp in order to be protected. Heimer used to travel as poor harp player and whenever he played the harp, he carried little Aslaug within it on through his journeys.
According to the same legend, when Aslaug was once bathing, she was discovered by the legendary Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar Lothbrok subsequently sought her hand. When he sent for her, he commanded her ‘to arrive neither dressed nor undressed, neither hungry nor full and neither alone nor in company’.
The same legend has it that she had arrived before Ragnar dressed in a net, biting an onion as well as being accompanied solely by a dog. According to the Norse sagas, she gave Ragnar five sons, namely Björn Ironside (as opposed to the TV series where Lagertha is depicted as his mother), Ivar the Boneless, Hvitserk, Ragnvald the Mountain-High and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.
Later on in Ragnar’s life, when he is said to have set sail for the last time to England, he didn’t listen to Aslaug’s warnings about the poor condition of his convoy. During the last moments of his life, when king Ælla of Northumbria captured Ragnar and subsequently thrown him into a pit full of snakes, he was protected by an enchanted shirt that Aslaug had made for him. Only when the shirt was removed did the snakes manage to bite and eventually kill him.
Nonetheless, all the information stemming from these sagas does not quite represent historical facts but rather fictional works, thus whether or not Aslaug really existed during the Viking Age is indeed a mystery.
Documentation sources and external links:
- Aslaug on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
- Tale of Ragnar Lothbrok on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
- Völsunga saga on www.wikipedia.org (in English)
- Ragnar Lothbrok and the Semi-Legendary History of Denmark on www.medievalists.net
- Tale of Ragnar Lothbrok (in PDF format) translated by Chris Van Dyke on www.turbidwater.com
- Studies in Ragnars Saga Loðbrókar and its Major Scandinavian Analogues by Rory McTurk on Google Books