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Ivar the Boneless

Viking helmet

Ivar the Boneless was a legendary Viking chieftain. He led the so-called "Great Heathen Army" against Dark Age England. The warrior king reputedly captured York in 867 A.D. Later, he murdered St. Edmund of East Anglia and King Aella of Northumbria in cruel fashion. In the end, Ivar the Boneless' ruthlessness expanded the Viking domain while terrorizing and punishing the English enemy.

According to tradition, Ivar the Boneless was the son of Ragnar Lodbrok. Lodbrok himself proved a legendary raider and king. His sons built on their father's adventures. Supposedly, Lodbrok grew jealous of his sons' successes. In response, he decided to attack England with a skeletal force. King Aella captured the great Viking and tossed him into a pit of vipers. Ragnar Lodbrok succumb to snake venom and died.

Lodbrok's sons swore vengeance on their father's murderer. In 865, Ivar and his brother Halfdene invaded East Anglia, England. The East Anglians decided to support the Viking army. They arrived at an opportune moment as a civil war split the English. As a result, Ivar's Great Heathen Army captured York (Jorvik) without a fight.

Despite the early success, Lodbrok's sons lost to King Aella in battle. Ivar the Boneless decided to change strategy. He approached Aella for a truce. Then, he asked for peace and all the land he could cover with an ox's hide. The Northumbrian king readily agreed thinking the Viking a fool. However, Ivar cut the ox hide into thin bits that covered a large area. The heathen army built a strong fortress on the spot. Then, Ivar shared his wealth with as many local warriors as he could. This undercut Aella's support and dramatically shrank the king's recruiting pool.

Ivar's brothers attacked King Aella again. Ivar's strategy paid off and the Great Heathen army captured the king. The brothers discussed possible punishment for Aella. Ivar suggested the "blood eagle." This involved cutting the victim's skin at the spine, breaking their ribs, and ripping out the lungs until they resembled eagle's wings. King Aella suffered a very painful death.

King Aella was not the only luminary to die cruelly at Ivar the Boneless' hands. In 869, Edmund of East Anglia refused to be Ivar's vassal. The viking king was a pagan and therefore inferior. In response, Ivar strapped Edmund to a tree where the vikings fired arrows into him. After the executions, conquests, and successes, Ivar left England for Dublin. He appears to have died around 873.

Ivar the Boneless exceeded his father's legendary accomplishments. He eventually rose to the kingship of Denmark and Sweden. However, Ivar enters popular history as King Aella's enemy. Ivar led the Great Heathen Army into East Anglia, captured York, avenged his father's death, and created a realm in the British Isles.

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