Björn Ironside

Alex Rover | December 13, 2022


Björn Ironside (from Old Icelandic: Bjǫrn Járnsíða, from Icelandic: Björn Járnsíða, from Swedish: Björn Järnsida, from Danish: Bjørn Jernside; from medieval Latin: Bier Costae ferreae) – son of Ragnar Lodbrok, legendary king of Sweden, a Viking commander known in the mid-ninth century for his expeditions to France and the Mediterranean; for a time in the service of Charles II the Bald. His life dates to the 9th century. It is assumed that Ironside was the first ruler of the Englinger dynasty. In the early 18th century, it was assumed that the mound located on Munsö Island was that of Björn Zelaznoboki, or Björn Järnsidas hög. Medieval sources mention the sons and grandsons that Björn Zelaznoboki may have had. These included Erik Björnsson and Björn at Haugi. The descendants of Zelaznoboki in the male line are considered to have ruled Sweden until around 1060.

A powerful Viking chieftain and fleet commander, “Bern” appears in period source texts such as the Annales Bertiniani and the Chronicon Fontanellense. The first mention of him appears in the summer of 855. The oldest text describing its origin is a work describing the history of the Normans by William of Jumieges (c. 1070). According to Wilhelm, it was the custom of the Danish kings to banish their younger sons from the kingdom, thus removing them from the path to power. Following this rule, after King Ragnar Lodbrok took over from his father, he ordered his own son, Björn, to leave the kingdom. Thus, commanding a considerable fleet, Björn left Denmark and, invading the West Frankish state, began its desolation. Chronicles of the time indicate that Björn allied himself with another Viking named Sigtrygg and sailed up the Seine in 855, from where his own forces and Sigtrygg”s forces broke ashore. That same year, the allied Viking units were defeated in Champagne by Charles II the Bald, ruler of the West Frankish state, although the victory was not final. Although Sigtrygg retreated the following year, Björn”s forces were joined by reinforcements from another Viking army, making it impossible for the Franks to drive him from the Seine region. Björn and his men took up winter quarters at the so-called Givold”s Tomb. This place served as a base for the invasion of Paris, which was sacked around the new year 856-857. Björn erected fortifications on the island of Oissel near Rouen, which became his stronghold for years. Although it is certain that Björn took an oath of loyalty to Charles II the Bald at Verber in 858, it remains unclear whether he kept his oath. In the end, Charles decided to confront the unruly Vikings of the Seine and, setting out with all available forces, led the siege of Oissel in July. However, the Vikings fiercely defended their fortifications, and as a result, the attack ended in a resounding defeat. Moreover, Charles” brother, Louis II of Germany, ruler of the East Frankish state, invaded lands belonging to Charles, causing many of his previous vassals to secede from him. In September, therefore, the siege was broken.

We do not find Björn”s name in historical sources of the period after his encounter with Charles at Verber. It is certain, however, that in the following years the Viking warriors from the Seine continued their raids and even sacked Paris again in 861. In despair, Charles II the Bald tried to persuade another Viking chieftain, Veland, whose forces were operating in the Somme region, to attack the Vikings from Oissel. However, this plan was counterproductive, and the two Viking armies reached an agreement and joined forces. In 861-862, the Vikings camped in the lower Seine region, but after a while they separated again. Veland agreed to become a Christian and join the royal service. In turn, Vikings from areas near the Seine River went to sea. Some of them joined the struggle between the ruler of Brittany and some Frankish magnates.

Although Björn”s role in the event is unknown, several Frankish, Arabic and Irish sources contain references to a major Viking expedition to the Mediterranean in 859-861, in which he is said to have participated. After sailing along the coast of the Iberian Peninsula and breaking through the Strait of Gibraltar, the Normans plundered southern France, where they wintered before setting out for Italy. Their first victory in Italy was the capture of Pisa. During this expedition to the Mediterranean, the Vikings conquered many lands, including Sicily and areas of North Africa. However, it is noted that they lost as many as 40 ships in a storm. After retreating to the Strait of Gibraltar, they lost a further 2 ships when their fleet was attacked by Andalusian forces off the coast of Spain. The remaining 20 Viking ships returned to French waters in 862. According to reports by the later chronicler, Wilhelm of Jumieges, Björn Ironbeard was said to be the leader of the expedition, while in the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland the leadership of the expedition is attributed to the two sons of Ragnall mac Albdan, a ruler exiled by his own brother from Scandinavia, who settled in Orkney. Wilhelm of Jumieges identifies Björn as Bier Costae ferreae (Ironfoot), who was Lotbroci regis filio (son of King Lodbroek). The fragmentary description of the Mediterranean expedition written down by Wilhelm centers around Hastein, Björn”s adoptive father. Hastein and Björn jointly organized many expeditions to France, most of which were successful. Hastein was also the originator of the plan by which Björn would become Roman emperor. Together with Björn, he led an expedition to the Mediterranean where, thinking it was Rome, they attacked the city of Luni, but were unable to breach the city walls. To get inside, a plan was devised in which Hastein would send a message to the city”s bishop claiming that he was terminally ill and had converted to the Christian faith on his deathbed. In the letter, he also asked the bishop to administer the sacraments and bury him on consecrated church land. When he was carried into the chapel, assisted by a small honor guard, he rose from the stretcher, and the Vikings accompanying him opened the city gate, allowing their army inside. After capturing the city, they realized that it was not Rome, but, despite their initial desire, they ultimately decided not to attack Rome, as they learned that the city was well prepared to defend itself. After returning to eastern Europe, Hastein and Björn separated. Off the coast of England, Björn”s ship sank and he barely escaped with his life. After the incident, he sailed to Friesland, where he died. However, this account is historically problematic. Hastein appears in sources from the period later than Björn, which undermines the claim that he may have been Björn”s adoptive father. Furthermore, the city of Luni is believed to have been conquered by Saracens, not Vikings.

The story of Björn and his brothers, sons of the Scandinavian king Ragnar Lodbrok, was told in various versions throughout the Middle Ages. The Tale of Ragnar”s Sons (Ragnarsson þáttr) is an Icelandic Fornaldar Saga from around the 14th century, which combines a number of legendary and partly historical threads. The saga tells that Björn was the son of Ragnar and Aslaug, and that he had brothers Hvitserk, Ubba, Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson and Siegfried the Snake-Eye, and half-brothers Eric and Agnar.

The saga depicts Ragnar as the ruler of large areas of Sweden and Denmark. While he was still alive, Björn and his brothers left Sweden to conquer Zealand, Reidgotaland (Jutland), Gotland, Öland and numerous smaller islands. They then settled in Lejre in Danish Zealand, where Ivar the Boneless became their leader.

Ragnar”s sons Eric and Agnar sailed to Lake Melar and sent a message to the Swedish king Eysteinn, Ragnar”s vassal, demanding that Ragnar”s sons submit to his authority. In addition, Eric demanded that Eysteinn”s daughter Borghilda become his wife. Eysteinn replied that he would first like to consult with the Swedish commanders. The commanders rejected the offer and ordered an attack on the rebellious sons. So a battle ensued, during which Eric and Agnar were overwhelmed by the Swedish forces. During the battle, Agnar was killed and Eric was taken prisoner.

As a heads-up for Agnar”s death, Eysteinn offered Eric as much territory as he would like, as well as the hand of Borghilda. Eric announced that after such a defeat he wanted nothing more than to choose the day of his own death. So he asked to be impaled on spears that would raise him above the dead on the battlefield; his wish was granted. Upon hearing of Agnar and Eric”s deaths, Björn, Aslaug and Hvitserk, who spent their time there playing tablut, became enraged and sailed to Sweden with a large army. In a great battle, they killed Eysteinn.

According to the saga, their father Ragnar was captured and killed in England by King Ella following a risky attempt to carry out an invasion. In an act of revenge, Björn and his brothers attacked Ella, but were forced to retreat. Realizing that it would not be possible to defeat the English king right away, Ivar decided to agree to a reconciliation. He demanded only as much land as the ox hide would be able to cover, and swore to Ella that she would never make war against him again. Ivar then cut the skin of the ox into such thin strips that, when joined together, they would girdle a huge fortress (according to the older saga, it was York, in turn, according to the younger saga, London) that he could take over. Having gained notoriety in England, Ivar turned to his brothers to attack once again, and had already allied himself with them during the battle. As a gesture of loyalty to Ivar, the English chieftains and their troops did likewise. Ella was captured, and a bloody eagle was carved on his back in revenge. Björn and his brothers then plundered England, Normandy, France and Lombardy until they reached the city of Luna in Italy. Then they returned to Scandinavia and divided the kingdom in such a way that Björn Ironbeard received Uppsala and Sweden.

According to the 13th-century Saga of Herwar, Eysteinn Bela was killed by Björn and his brothers. This version is consistent with the one given in the Saga of Ragnar Rodbrok. In addition, we learn that the brothers conquered all of Sweden, and after Ragnar”s death Björn Zelaznoboki inherited it. Björn had two sons, Refil and Erik Björnsson, who became the next king of Sweden. According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Björn had a son named Asleik (Aslak), who was the ancestor of Thorfinn Karlsefni.

Anglo-Saxon and Irish sources, on the other hand, suggest that the Danish invasion of England after 865 was led by three brothers named Ingvar (i.e. Ivar), Ubbe and Halfdan. Based on an Irish source titled Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib, it can be inferred that they were the sons of Ragnall (this refers to Ragnar or another similar name). Björn is not mentioned in this context, although later Norman tradition suggests that he may have been one of the brothers. According to Wilhelm of Jumieges, Björn died in Friesland, which can also be linked to the Vikings invading England. Ubbe is sometimes described as the “jarl of Friesland,” and the invaders are referred to as Scalding (meaning people from Scald). Historical problems arise in the context of the figure of Björn as king of Sweden. Firstly, older sources do not provide information to support this, and secondly, there are insurmountable chronological inaccuracies.

The character of Björn serves as the inspiration for one of the leading characters in the Vikings TV series. Playing this character as a teenager is Nathan O”Toole, while the adult Björn is played by Alexander Ludwig. The character was partially modeled on Björn”s historical original and is portrayed as the son of Lagertha rather than Aslaug.


  1. Björn Żelaznoboki
  2. Björn Ironside
  3. ^ Old Norse: Bjǫrn Járnsíða [ˈbjɔrn ˈjɑːrnˌsiːðɑ] Modern Danish: Bjørn Jernside Modern Icelandic: Björn Járnsíða [ˈpjœ(r)tn ˈjau(r)tn̥ˌsiːða] Modern Norwegian Bokmål: Bjørn Jernside Modern Swedish: Björn Järnsida Medieval Latin: Bier Costae ferreae
  4. Old Norse: Bjǫrn Járnsíða [ˈbjɔrn ˈjɑːrnˌsiːðɑ]
  5. a b c Chronicon Fontanellense, [dostęp 2019-02-02] [zarchiwizowane z adresu 2018-12-03] .
  6. GustavG. Storm GustavG., Historisk Tidskrift II:1 (1877)., HathiTrust [dostęp 2019-02-02]  (ang.).
  7. GustavG. Storm GustavG., Historisk Tidskrift II:1 (1877)., HathiTrust [dostęp 2019-02-02]  (ang.).
  8. Lagerquist 1997:24
  9. Allen Mawer, M. A., The Vikings, Luis Echávarri (trad.), Cambridge University Press (ed.), Pleamar, Tucumán, Buenos Aires, 1944, p. 56.
  10. Lagerquist, Lars O. (1997). Sveriges Regenter, från forntid till nutid, p. 24. Norstedts, Stockholm. ISBN 91-1-963882-5
  11. Våre Forfedre, Bugge, Mogens Fraas, (Olso: I kommisjon hos Cammermeyers Boghandel, 1939), FHL book 929.2481 B865b., p. 25.
  12. Rosensverdslektens Forfedre, Hansen, Bent Billing, (Oslo: B. B. Hansen, 1990), FHL book 948 D2h., p. 73.
  13. Chronicon Fontanellense, Anno 855, 856 [1] Archivado el 3 de diciembre de 2018 en Wayback Machine.; Annales de Saint Bertin, Anno 856, 858 [2]
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