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Ivar "the Boneless"?

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  Quote Huscarl Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Ivar "the Boneless"?
    Posted: 11-Jun-2009 at 11:29
This mighty viking warrior with a curious nickname was the chief commander of the huge and infamous "Great Army" of 865 that invaded England, along with his brothers Halfdan and Ubba, bent upon total domination of the land. They were said to be avenging their Ragnar Lothbrok's death in Northumbria decades earlier (despite his life timeline being incorrect)

Yet Ivar had to continuously carried about on a shield, according to sources. Given his strange nickname, was he;-

  • Disabled physically, perhaps with 'brittle bone' disease or even advanced diabetes or cancer?
  • Impotent, the cruel sexual metaphor being not contemporary, obviously.
  • A midget/dwarf, tiny compared to his 6ft tall comrades and thus then deemed ineffective in battle other than his nobility, courage and commanding qualities?
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  Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jun-2009 at 12:43
I have never heard any of those theories before. If he was seriously ill or a dwarf I'm certain the sources would have mentioned it, whether he was impotent I can't say but I doubt the connotation bone = erection existed back then.

From what I have read Ivar got his nickname because his face looked like it didn't have any bones in it. I have a hard time imagining what such a face would look like.
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  Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jun-2009 at 13:11
Can be anything. The bone-erection connotation doesn't exist in modern Scandinavian as far as I know, but it might have in Old Norse - that I do not know. His brothers were known as Ironside, Whiteshirt and Snake-in-the-eye. The former nicknames might come from them being badass respectively being baptised, but it would be interesting to know if Sigurd actually got a snake up his eye or if he just had a dead serpent gaze.

edit:ach, apparently he had something looking like a snake in his eye. So much for subtlety.


Edited by Styrbiorn - 11-Jun-2009 at 13:13
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  Quote King John Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jun-2009 at 17:55
I have heard all three of the theories you named, Huscarl.  I don't really buy the one about impotence, it seems to anachronistic.  The others just seem based on little evidence.
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  Quote Eigon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jun-2009 at 20:41
There was a documentary on British TV a year or so ago about Ivar the Boneless.  The maker of the programme had some sort of brittle bone disease himself, and therefore hadn't grown properly, and had suffered multiple bone breakages over the years.  He was putting forward the theory that Ivar suffered from a similar disease to himself.
The moment when he was dressed up in Viking costume and lifted up on a shield was quite clearly the proudest moment of his life!
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Jan-2012 at 19:37
I remember it. It was called "The Strangest Viking" and presented by an actor called Nabil who had the disease. Ivar the Boneless was apparently carried on a shield and fought with a bow
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Jan-2012 at 19:29
I bet nobody would call Ivar "boneless" to his face. Most of the nicknames were made up after that individual Viking's death
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Mar-2012 at 20:33
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  Quote Sidney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Mar-2012 at 11:29
So 'bone' could also mean 'leg'.
Ivar the Leg-less creates a great image of a Danish warrior tanked up on mead. Gives a different image to him having to be carried on a shield. No wonder they didn't trust him with a sword!!
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Mar-2012 at 19:25
Could Ivar have been double-jointed? He would have appeared "boneless" if he could contort himself into strange positions
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  Quote Jarns Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Mar-2012 at 12:57
R This has always been an area of intense interest to me (My username is just a personal short-hand for 'Jarnsida'), so here's my contribution:

 Ivar had children, so it seems unlikely that any impotence would have been public knowledge without his children getting slaughtered by their admittedly-vicious cousins and uncles. Ivar spent the later part of his life ruling out of Dublin (he had probably conquered it well before setting foot in England), and his claimed descendants continued to rule in parts of the British Isles into the 13th century.

 A lot of Lodbrok's children had really bizarre names when translated. Lodbrok, for instance, probably meant 'hairy pants.' Hvitserk is 'white shirt' and so on and so forth. Assuming Jarnsida references armor, only three of his immediate family members do not have names referencing clothing of some kind: Ubba, who had no real descriptive title (but has, in recent popular culture, been referenced as 'the Horrible'), Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ivar the Boneless. Even the names of Ivar and Sigurd seem relatively mundane, especially in comparison to the other names of their contemporaries: Harald Hard-Ruler, Eric Bloodaxe, etc.

 Whatever it was, I doubt it was anything as over the top as not having legs or being a midget. Just based on his family, I'd guess it's something extremely innocuous and probably not something you'd pick up on immediately.
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Mar-2012 at 19:12
Originally posted by Jarns

R This has always been an area of intense interest to me (My username is just a personal short-hand for 'Jarnsida'), so here's my contribution:

 Ivar had children, so it seems unlikely that any impotence would have been public knowledge without his children getting slaughtered by their admittedly-vicious cousins and uncles. Ivar spent the later part of his life ruling out of Dublin (he had probably conquered it well before setting foot in England), and his claimed descendants continued to rule in parts of the British Isles into the 13th century.

 A lot of Lodbrok's children had really bizarre names when translated. Lodbrok, for instance, probably meant 'hairy pants.' Hvitserk is 'white shirt' and so on and so forth. Assuming Jarnsida references armor, only three of his immediate family members do not have names referencing clothing of some kind: Ubba, who had no real descriptive title (but has, in recent popular culture, been referenced as 'the Horrible'), Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ivar the Boneless. Even the names of Ivar and Sigurd seem relatively mundane, especially in comparison to the other names of their contemporaries: Harald Hard-Ruler, Eric Bloodaxe, etc.

 Whatever it was, I doubt it was anything as over the top as not having legs or being a midget. Just based on his family, I'd guess it's something extremely innocuous and probably not something you'd pick up on immediately.

The children may not neccessarily have been his. When a widow remarried, her new husband adopted the children as his own, giving them the same status as blood relatives. The Vikings had a special ritual where the adopted child put on the man's shoes to accept him as the father
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  Quote Sidney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Mar-2012 at 20:05
Ivar is said to have died in 873 AD, but when did he first get the nickname of Boneless? It doesn't seem to be in the earliest sources (Anglo-Saxon & Irish Chronicles) and appears to be of a later date than those given to his father and brothers.

Saxo Grammaticus, in his 'History of the Danes' (written shortly after 1208) says that Iwar [Ivar] was Ragnar's youngest son, and writes;
"Iwar, who was in his seventh year, fought splendidly, and showed the strength of a man in the body of a boy."
Certainly no hint of a disability there. Saxo gives the nicknames of Ivar's father Ragnar (Lodbrog), and brothers Bjorn (Ironside), Siward (Snake-eye) and Erik (Wind-Hat), but none for Ivar himself.

The later (13th Century??) 'Saga of Ragnar' places Ivar as Ragnar's eldest son, and says that;
"The boy was boneless and there was cartilage where his bones should have been, but when he was young, he grew so strong that none was his match. He was of all men most handsome in appearance and so wise that none was known who was a wiser councillor than he...Ívar had himself borne on staves, as he could not walk, and he had advice for them [his brothers] in whatever they did.”
The same source says that Ivar was carried into and throughout battle on a shield, and that he used a bow and arrow (although that does not preclude his use of other types of weapon). In one battle the troops of the brothers are faced by a fierce sacred cow called Sibilja;
“Ívar spoke with his carriers, telling them that they should bear him forward so that he might be closer to the front. “And when you see the cow come at us, cast me at her, and it shall go one way or the other-that I shall lose my life, or she shall have her bane. Now you must take one mighty elm-tree and carve it into the shape of a bow, along with arrows.” And when this strong bow was brought to him along with the great arrows that they had made, they did not seem to them usable as weapons to anyone. Then Ívar encouraged his men to do their best. Then the troops went with great impetuousness and noise, and Ívar was borne before their battle array. Such a great din arose when Síbilja bellowed that they heard it just as well as if they had been silent and standing still. Then that caused it to happen that the troops fought amongst themselves, all save the brothers. And when this wonder took place, those who bore Ívar saw that he drew his bow as if he held a weak elm branch, and it seemed as if he drew the arrow point back past his bow. Then they heard a louder twang from his bow than they had ever heard before. And then they saw that his arrows flew as swift as if he had shot a strong crossbow and they saw it happen that the arrows came to sit in each of Síbilja’s eyes. And then she fell, but after that she went on headfirst, and her bellowings were much worse than before. And when she came at them, he commanded them to cast him at her, and he became to them as light as if they cast a little child, because they were not very near the cow when they cast him. And then he came down heavily upon the cow Síbilja, and he became then as heavy as a boulder when he fell on her, and every bone in her was broken, and she received her death. Then he commanded his men to take him up quickly. And then he was taken up, and his voice was ringing so that all heard when he spoke, and it seemed to all the army as if he was standing near each man, though he was far off. It became perfectly silent as he gave his orders.”
This source seems to be the one used in the documentary, but while it certainly portrays Ivar as being disabled, he has immense upper body strength, and it would be hard to believe that a person with brittle bone disease would be conscious, let alone able to continue to lead his men, after having been thrown across a battlefield into the path of a raging animal.

Another late source I found, the 13th century 'Tales of Ragnar's Sons', doesn't mention Ivar as having a disability, but does say;
“Ivar the Boneless was king in England for a long time. He had no children, because of the way he was: with no lust or love—but he wasn’t short of cunning and cruelty. And he died of old-age in England and was buried there.”

Are there any other sources for the life of Ivar?

Edited by Sidney - 14-Mar-2012 at 20:13
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  Quote Jarns Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Mar-2012 at 21:19
Originally posted by Nick1986

Originally posted by Jarns

R This has always been an area of intense interest to me (My username is just a personal short-hand for 'Jarnsida'), so here's my contribution:

 Ivar had children, so it seems unlikely that any impotence would have been public knowledge without his children getting slaughtered by their admittedly-vicious cousins and uncles. Ivar spent the later part of his life ruling out of Dublin (he had probably conquered it well before setting foot in England), and his claimed descendants continued to rule in parts of the British Isles into the 13th century.

 A lot of Lodbrok's children had really bizarre names when translated. Lodbrok, for instance, probably meant 'hairy pants.' Hvitserk is 'white shirt' and so on and so forth. Assuming Jarnsida references armor, only three of his immediate family members do not have names referencing clothing of some kind: Ubba, who had no real descriptive title (but has, in recent popular culture, been referenced as 'the Horrible'), Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ivar the Boneless. Even the names of Ivar and Sigurd seem relatively mundane, especially in comparison to the other names of their contemporaries: Harald Hard-Ruler, Eric Bloodaxe, etc.

 Whatever it was, I doubt it was anything as over the top as not having legs or being a midget. Just based on his family, I'd guess it's something extremely innocuous and probably not something you'd pick up on immediately.

The children may not neccessarily have been his. When a widow remarried, her new husband adopted the children as his own, giving them the same status as blood relatives. The Vikings had a special ritual where the adopted child put on the man's shoes to accept him as the father


 There's no reason to assume that this was the situation, however. If we're having to make wild guesses (that Ivar married a widow, when as far as I know there's no record of his wife's name, let alone her history) in order to make one of the theories more believable, we should just discount the theory.
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Mar-2012 at 20:05
Do the Chronicles mention how Ivar became lame? If it was from birth he's even more unusual as Vikings usually left crippled and deformed babies to die
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  Quote Sidney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Mar-2012 at 09:40
Originally posted by Nick1986

Do the Chronicles mention how Ivar became lame? If it was from birth he's even more unusual as Vikings usually left crippled and deformed babies to die



I don't think the chronicles do. He fought lots of battles, but I can't remember reading about injuries. He must have received some, but his lameness is either not mentioned, or he is said to have born that way.

As to exposing babies - I thought the custom was to expose only the unwanted babies; ones that society wouldn't be able to support i.e. illegitimate ones, children of poor families, or the disabled and malformed. However Ivar was the son of a rich and successful warrior who would have had no problem in supporting and protecting such a child, whether he was first born or a younger son, fit or disabled (the stories differ on those points). His survival into adulthood as a successful warrior himself would be unusual, but not impossible.

The Norse themselves had disabled gods - Tyr had one hand, Hoder was blind, and Odin is blind in one eye, injured in the side and walks with a staff (not to mention Sif who wears a wig and Vidar who might have had one leg longer than the other). Granted, most of these conditions were acquired during adulthood, but I don't think physical perfection was taken as a prerequisite for living.
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Mar-2012 at 19:26
Some good points there Sidney. However, it's still remarkable a handicapped child survived to adulthood in such violent times

Edited by Nick1986 - 16-Mar-2012 at 19:26
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  Quote Nick1986 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Nov-2012 at 08:10
According to this book, Ivar gained the nickname "Boneless" because he was a great sailor i.e. agile
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=DxTGnS3Gr20C&lpg=PA154&dq=ivar%20boneless&pg=PA155#v=onepage&q&f=false
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  Quote Joe, I swear it Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-May-2016 at 03:44
Greetings and peace to all! This is my first post:

I have just finished watching the BBC mentioned below. The one thing that sticks in my mind is when this question was asked: "why would the writer/writers of the saga, where it is mentioned that Ivar Benløs couldn't walk, have attributed a disability where none existed? I find the "ironic nickname" and "impotence" theories implausible as well, but I don't want to get too complicated with my first post. Wink


Edited by Joe, I swear it - 10-May-2016 at 03:57
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  Quote .Sidney Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-May-2016 at 17:03
He was Ivar the Bane-less, meaning 'invincible'.
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