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Three Vikings Who Were More Interesting (and Notorious) Than Ragnar Lothbrok

Three Vikings Who Were More Interesting (and Notorious) Than Ragnar Lothbrok

History Channel‘s Ragnar Lothbrok, although remarkable, is a character from legend. There is no telling whether he was real or a fable because there simply no concrete evidence one way or the other. His recent ascension to fame in popular culture is without a doubt a good thing for Norse studies, but now it is time to take a look at those Vikings who we know for sure existed and whose lives were, in fact, more remarkable than the legendary King of cable television.



A supposed son of Ragnar Lothbrok—although he likely claimed this for prestige, similar to how the nobility in France all claimed lineage to Charlemagne—Hastein lived a life envied by his contemporaries. He began his journey as a relatively unknown warrior who appears in a few mentions beginning in the mid-9th century. Hastein’s claim to fame was his voyage to the Mediterranean with his brother Bjorn Ironside, and together they sacked Cordoba on their way to the Mediterranean basin. Their fortunes were not consistent, however, and the islamic states of North Africa mounted effective resistance to them. Most notoriously, Hastein helped to sack the city of Luna, which at the time they believed to have been Rome. They tricked the local clergy into believing that their leader had died of pestilence moments after converting to Christianity. The local clergy took pity on him and allowed the Northmen to enter the city to conduct a Christian burial. During the ceremony, Hastein sprang to life, murdered the bishop, and with his men sacked the city (sound familiar?).

Hastein returned to his base on the French coast, an island now known as Noirmoutier, without most of his fleet—they had been ambushed by the Moors at Gibraltar and most of Hastein’s ships sank. Nevertheless, Hastein made a solid career out of raiding the Frankish Empire and earned the hearty reputation of Scourge of the Somme and Loire.

Primary Source authors and documents which attest to Hastein’s life and notoriety:

  • Dudo of Saint Quentin
  • William of Jumièges
  • Annals of St-Bertin
  • Chronicle of Regino de Prüm
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Leif Eriksson


Born to a father exiled from Iceland for being too violent, Leif undoubtedly lived a difficult childhood. The North Atlantic made for arduous subsistence, even for the Vikings. Due to his father’s reputation, he lived as an exile himself for the most part and did not attempt to make any significant return to Norway. Instead, he became an explorer, one of the most remembered to this day. Based on a rumor, he took ships across the seas in hopes of finding new fertile lands for his people. The rest is all very well known history.

Leif’s legacy helped to shape our view of the Vikings. He helped us to think of them as explorers rather than killers, as adventurers rather than rapists. Most importantly, he planted a seed in the consciousness of Europe, one which reignited in the 15th century and led Europe to global hegemony.

Primary source authors and documents which attest to Leif’s life:

  • Saga of Erik the Red
  • The Saga of the Greenlanders

Oleg of Novgorod


When discussing the Vikings, the Rus are often forgotten. It seems popular culture has had little trouble romanticizing the Norwegians and Danes who sailed West but has classically held little interest in those who sailed East. But one of the most influential men of the early medieval period lived there, and his legacy lasted well into the modern era. Oleg began as a regent to the throne of Novgorod whose duty it was to oversee the training of the next monarch, Igor, son of Rurik of Novgorod (yet another fascinating character). During his reign, Oleg consolidated power among the cities situated along the Dnieper river and eventually conquered the city of Kiev, which he then made his capital. Kiev was of strategic value as it was well placed to launch raids on Constantinople. Following several successful missions, the gentry of the city caved and struck a very favorable trade agreement with Kiev. This trade agreement helped to enrich the city under Oleg, and thrust the polities of Kiev and Novgorod into positions of power. Thus began the early history of the country we know today as Russia.

Primary source authors and documents which attest to Oleg’s life:

  • The Russian Primary Chronicle
  • The Novgorod First Chronicle
  • The Kiev Chronicle (which really only deals with his death and burial)

Christophe Adrien

A bestselling​ author of Viking historical fiction for young adults.

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Windows into History (Reblogging and Links) and commented:
    Suggested reading – a great blog about the Vikings, and well worth reading back through the previous posts, as there are so many interesting articles. Reblogged on Windows into History.

  2. Regarding Hastein: I saw a documentary some time ago about Harald Hardrada…and they showed exactly the same tactics of “jumping out of the coffin” as you did with Hastein…

    Ok…Ragnar Lothbrok is at the moment a bit of a hype….Wannabe-Reenactor are walking around with a raven on their chest and with an undercut/mowhawk hairs…but Ragnar Lodbrok/Lothbrok could be the one who raided Paris in 845 but under name of Reginheri…he even had an alliance with King Horik. A legend…yes…but not a fable… there is a truth in every legend.

  3. So, while there were plenty of other famous and well noteworthy vikings. How were they any more real than Ragnar? He is on my family tree and listed as my 45th great grandfather. haha. Seriously though, these people are “real” through readings. I don’t see how he is any less real than Leif Ericksson.

    1. Ragnar is considered to be semi-legendary because the sources about him, or thought to be about him, are inconsistent in both depictions, naming, timelines, and facts. It’s fairly well accepted among historians that he is an amalgam of perhaps several historical characters, rather than just one man. On the other hand, the more “real” Vikings are considered historical figures precisely because their stories and identities tend to be consistent across several sources.

      But you bring up a good point, the Viking Age is very difficult to point to with any certainty because the sources are so few compared to other times.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog!

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