The Historical Truth Behind Björn Ironside

Björn Ironside is one of the main characters in the Irish-Canadian TV series ‘Vikings’ on History Channel. In the show, he is depicted as the son of Ragnar Lothbrok and shieldmaiden Lagertha. From the historical point of view, Björn, along with most of the characters in the serial, have been inaccurately portrayed. This, evidently enough, stems from the artistic license of the producers and writers of the show in order to make it more attractive to larger audiences.

In reality, Björn Ironside was indeed the son of Ragnar Lothbrok, but not with shieldmaiden Lagertha. He was the son of Ragnar Lothbrok and of Aslaug, as opposed to his depiction in the show. He was later on the King of Sweden at some point during the 9th century (most likely during the early part of the 9th century), after he had inherited the Kingdom of Sweden from his father. He is believed to be the first ruler of the Munsö dynasty, a royal line of semi-legendary Swedish kings. He is referred to as Bjǫrn Járnsíða in the Icelandic sagas, while in Swedish he is known as Björn Järnsida.

Björn Ironside played by Canadian actor Alexander Ludwig in History Channel’s ‘Vikings’. Image source:

He is renowned during the Viking Age for his raids in modern France and England, as well as along the Mediterranean coastline. He, alongside his brother, Hastein, led successful raids in the south of France after pillaging various settlements in Spain.

He had also looted several cities from Italy on through his journey, cities such as Pisa or Luna (the latter of which he thought to be Rome when he had reached its walls). Björn Ironside also fought a Saracen fleet in Gibraltar, in his way to one of his raids from southern France. In the process, he lost 40 of his best ships but he had successfully fled to Sweden where he had lived the rest of his life as a rich man.

His life and deeds are documented in several early medieval chronicles such as the ‘Hervarar saga’ (also known as ‘The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise’), the ‘Ragnarssona þáttr saga’ (‘The Tales of the sons of Ragnar’) as well as the ‘Annales Bertiani’ or the ‘Annals of Fontenelle’, where he is mentioned as ‘Berno’, a Viking chieftain raiding modern France on the course of the river Seine throughout the 850s.

Documentation sources and external links:

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24 Responses to The Historical Truth Behind Björn Ironside

  1. Duan Anderson says:

    Good info.

  2. Jacqueline Forslund says:

    I was under the impression that it wasn’t known with any certainty whether Bjorn’s mother was Lagertha or Aslaug. Also, I think it’s interesting that most historical sources indicate the identity/existence of Ragnar is not certain, yet the father of Bjorn, Ivar the Boneless, etc., is invariably identified as Ragnar.

    • In fact the father of Ivar the boneless is not as clear cut as you assert. If Ivar and Olafur Hviti (his co-regent) and brother in arms were brothers as stated in the sagas (even if Olafur Hviti -Amlib Conung in Irish annals is not to be seen in the historically worthless Viking series), then the lineage to Ragnar is questionable.

      • Guðbjörn Ívar Kjartansson says:

        Ivar the Boneless is perhaps not the Ímarr of Úímar dynasty. There is no record of Ívar the Boneless to have had children. If you read the SAGAS and the Irish Annals, it points to that Ímarr is more likely to be Ivar Gudrødson, brother of Ólafur/Amlaíb, son of Gudrød Ragnvaldssson/Gofraid, king of Lochlann.

  3. Veritas says:

    I believe his burial mound is in sweden.

  4. Vincent Odenbrett says:

    Find it pathetic the History Channel does not require real historical accuracy from the producers and writers of shows.

  5. David E Hastien says:

    I am glad that,albeit with creative license, Tje Hsitory Chennel is bringing attention to my ancestral family history!

    David Hastien, Son of Hastien

    • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

      Excellent ancestry! I recently had my DNA done by National Geographic, and I always knew I had Canadian French on my mothers side, and on my fathers side there was Irish and English. The Atkinson name coming from No. Lancashire(Preston, Garstang) where the Vikings settled way back in the day….and this greatx 2 grandfather married back in the 1860’s and Irish woman from Tipperary North, Ireland, and that is also a huge area where Vikings settled outside of Dublin. So in the results, it showed Scandinavian DNA, which I was shocked! I knew I was Celtic, but to see the Viking DNA, was a big PLUS! LOL I could not stop laughing when we got our results back. My nephew did his also, and his showed the same! LOL Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised! So it goes to show, how far back that testing can see with my English and Irish people and that they got together with some Vikings! LOL

    • Jill says:

      Do you know how many people claim ancestry to Ragnar……and all his sons

    • Rune Bjørnsen says:

      I’d like to see proof of this. Normaly very few poeple can trace there ancenstry back more than a 3-400 tears as beyond that there is no official recorrds, except in so called noble families, but those where notorious for making up family lines to make themselves appear finer and more noble than they where.

      • Eric Gibble says:

        That’s a fairly negative and superfluous remark. For many, including myself, all that needed was a foothold, established by my great grandmother and her family research one hundred years ago. She joined the Daughters of the American Revolution and traced her ancestors back to England. A father and son were both knights and High Sheriffs of Yorkshire. The son had married into nobility through Neville linage. Through my research on Wiki-Tree it was easy to trace the connections to Plantagenents,Beauchamps,Percys,Bohuns,Berkelys, and many other Norman blooded ancestors. The research taught me that these were extremely tight knit clans with only occasional outsiders married in. One of the most interesting lines was that of William Marshall. His genetic heritage included Norse Irish and Welsh blood. Life is a long river, and having the ability to read about long distant ancestors, has been both entertaining and enlightening

      • William S Murphy says:

        Nearly everyone with any European ancestry can trace back to nobility. I have traced my ancestry back to Attila the Hun and a Roman named Flavius Afranius Syagrius. In my family tree I have 188 European kings. Again this is not unusual as someone like Charlemagne has millions of descendants.

  6. hans faber says:

    Great article! One comment. Probably Björn wasn’t buried in Sweden at all. Instead he died in Frisia, at least according to the oldest (hence likely more accurate) sources. Check this post including reference to the different sources:

  7. Simon Broberg says:

    Hmm quite good, If you read the real Heimskringla, you will notice that Ironside was son of Harald Halfdannerson, who had 18 wives, It’s a possible that Rothbrok had Ironside as Fostry. One of the other half brothers same father was Ragnar Rykill, who was younger than Rothbrok (Rothbrok does get a small mention in the Heimskringla. So when Rothbrok dies in battle as it says, the other Ragnar .. Rykill is still out looking for Alfred (who wanted to do a convert or die same as Charlemagne had done in Frankia).

  8. Simon Broberg says:

    I say that as if there is just one Ragnar, he lives to be over 150 years, and that was not posible, Most of us even back then were lucky to reach 90 and some did (one of my ancestors was king of Sweden and he lived that long according to history, and great great grandad lasted a long time too .. Gusef 5th)

  9. Simon Broberg says:

    No need to comment on this one, just information you might need if you don’t know who Harald Halfdanesson was, you know him better as Finehair… who was known as Moptop before he finished

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