Top 10 Famous Vikings of All Time

During the Viking Age, which lasted from 793 to 1066 AD, the Norsemen who traveled the high seas in their longships to explore, plunder, colonize, conquer, and trade made an indelible mark on the world. 

The Vikings were ferocious and bloodthirsty warriors who destroyed and plundered their way through Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries.

Today, Vikings are the contemporary term for seafaring people mostly from Scandinavia (present-day Norway, Denmark, and Sweden).

They journeyed to the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and North America. 

Likewise, the Viking Age is the countenance given to the era in some nations they attacked and established in.

The name “Viking” also commonly refers to the residents of the Scandinavian homelands as a whole. 

As such, the Vikings had a significant impact on the Scandinavian and British Isles’ medieval history and the French, Estonian, and Kievan Rus’. 

The evidence also implies that their notoriety is well-deserved and that the mere thought of a Viking warrior could instill fear into the hearts of their foes. 

However, in order to get to the top of Viking culture, you had to be more terrifying and vicious than the rest.

They engaged in a fantastic quantity of raiding and pillaging, earning an unrivaled reputation for ruthless aggressiveness. 

Indeed, the word Viking means “pirate raid” in Old Norse, so it’s safe to assume they were a violent group by definition.

Here are the top 10 Vikings of all time.

Are Vikings Norse or Celtic?

In the Celtic realm, there are quite a few Scandinavian influences. However, within Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, the Vikings’ influences were primarily Norwegian. 

What did the Vikings call themselves?

The term Viking does not originate from the Norsemen. There are no records of exactly what they referred to themselves as. The Viking term, on the other hand, is a 19th-century phrase. During the Vikings Era, other nations referred to Danes, Norse, or Norsemen.

Who is the most famous Viking in history?

Due to his prominence in pop culture via the hit television series “Vikings”, the popularity of Ragnar Lodbrok has been cemented in modern contemporary times. However, Ragnar Lodbrok’s legendary prominence was just as noteworthy in the age of the Vikings as it is today.

10. Bjorn Ironside

This runestone crowns the barrow of Björn Ironside in Uppland, Sweden.
This runestone crowns the barrow of Björn Ironside in Uppland, Sweden.

Björn Ironside was a legendary Norse Viking chief and king of Sweden. He appears in much of Norse folklore. 

Bjorn was the son of the legendary Viking king Ragnar Lodbrok (see below), according to 12th and 13th-century Scandinavian chronicles. 

He lived in the ninth century, between the years 855 and 858. Moreover, Björn Ironside is also credited with being the first ruler of Sweden’s Munsö dynasty. 

Indeed, antiquarians assert that Björn Järnsidas hög, or Björn Ironside’s barrow, is located on the island of Munsö and dates all the way to the early 18th century.

Björn Ironside’s sons and grandsons, notably Erik Björnsson and Björn at Haugi, are also mentioned in medieval texts. His male progeny are said to have ruled over the Swedes until around 1060.

Similarly, Bjorn is also mentioned in modern sources like Annales Bertiniani and the Chronicon Fontanellense. He initially appears in the summer of 855. 

William of Jumièges’ The Norman history is the oldest document that chronicles his origins (c. 1070). 

According to William, the Danes had a history of forcing the younger sons of monarchs to leave the country in order to strengthen the king’s authority. 

Hence, when Ragnar Lodbrok became king, he commanded Björn to leave his realm. Björn then set out from Denmark with a huge fleet to wreak havoc on West France.

9. Ivar the Boneless 

A fifteenth century depiction of Ívarr and Ubba
A fifteenth century depiction of Ívarr and Ubba

Ivar the Boneless was born in the 800s (c. 873). He was a semi-legendary Viking chieftain who raided England and Ireland. 

Ivar was also the son of Ragnar Lodbrok and his wife Aslaug, according to the Tale of Ragnar Lodbrok.

As such, Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Hvitserk, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Ubba were among his brothers. 

Similarly, the origin of the moniker is unknown. “Varr beinlausi” could be translated as “Ivar legless,” but “beinlausi” could also be interpreted as “boneless,” because “bone” and “leg” in Old Norse equate to the same word, “bein.”

Several sagas depict him as having no legs or bones, while a line in Ragnarssona áttr (also referred to as The Tale of Ragnar’s Sons) suggests it alludes to male impotence.

According to Ragnar Lodbrok’s Tale, Ivar’s bonelessness was the consequence of a curse. Ragnar’s third wife was his mother, Aslaug. She was classified as a völva, a form of clairvoyant or seer. 

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She stated that after Ragnar’s return from his raid in England, they must wait three nights before consummating their marriage.

Ragnar, however, was overtaken with passion after such a long separation and did not listen to her remarks. Ivar was born with weak bones as a result of this.

While the sagas illustrate Ivar’s physical infirmity, they also highlight his knowledge, wit, and command of war strategy and tactics.

He is frequently mistaken for Ímar, the founder of the Uí Ímair dynasty.

The clan controlled Northumbria from York from the mid-ninth to the eleventh century. They also ruled the Irish Sea territory as the Kingdom of Dublin.

8. Egil Skallagrimsson

Picture of Egil in a 17th-century manuscript of Egils Saga
Picture of Egil in a 17th-century manuscript of Egils Saga

Egil Skallagrmsson was a Viking Age war poet, magician, berserker, and farmer who lived between the years of 904 and 995. 

He is most known as the anti-hero of Egil’s Saga. Egil’s Saga is a historical narrative that spans the years 850 to 1000 AD and is believed to have been created between 1220 and 1240 AD.

Egill is the son of Skalla-Grmr Kveldlfsson and Bera Yngvarsdóttir, and the grandson of Kveld-lfr (whose name means “evening Wolf”). Hallbjörn, another of his ancestors, is Norwegian-Sami.

Skalla-Grmr was a prominent chieftain and the deadliest enemy of Norway’s King Harald Fairhair. He moved to Iceland and settled in Borg, where his father’s tomb landed.

Egill also wrote his first poetry when he was three years old. 

What’s more, he is said to have exhibited crazy behavior, which, together with the portrayal of his huge and unsightly head, has led to the notion that he may have had Paget’s disease. 

This condition causes bone thickening and can eventually cause blindness.

There is a tale where Egill was deceived in a game with local boys when he was seven years old.

Enraged, he returned home, obtained an ax, and cracked the skull all the to the teeth of the boy who had tricked him. 

His look is recounted in detail in Chapter 55 of Egil’s Saga. According to the tale, Egil had a huge forehead and heavy brows. 

Likewise, his nose was also not long but extremely thick. His lips were wide and lengthy, and his chin was very broad, as was everything around the jaws. 

In like manner, he was also thick-necked and big-shouldered beyond other men. He was hard-featured and nasty when angry. 

He was also well-built, taller than average, and had wolf-gray, thick hair that went bald early. Besides, he also had a brown complexion and black eyes. 

7. Erik the Red 

Erik the Red, 1688 Icelandic publication of Arngrímur Jónsson's Gronlandia
Erik the Red, 1688 Icelandic publication of Arngrímur Jónsson’s Gronlandia

Erik Thorvaldsson (c. 950 – c. 1003), sometimes known as Erik the Red, was a Norse explorer who is credited with founding the first settlement in Greenland in medieval and Icelandic saga traditions. 

The hue of his hair and beard most likely earned him the moniker “the Red.” 

As per Icelandic sagas, he was born in the Jren area of Rogaland, Norway, as the son of Thorvald Asvaldsson. Leif Erikson (see below), a well-known Icelandic explorer, was one of Erik’s sons.

The family names Kronick and Kronnich are some of Erik Thorvaldsson’s last descendants. There are a handful of members that are still alive today. 

Erik the Red’s father, Thorvald Asvaldsson, was exiled from Norway for homicide as a kind of conflict resolution that later became a family tradition.

He journeyed west from Norway with his family, including Erik, 10, and lived in Hornstrandir, northwestern Iceland, where he perished before 1000 CE.

Despite the common belief that Erik was the first to discover Greenland, the Icelandic sagas indicate that earlier Norsemen explored and attempted to colonize it before him. 

As a metter of fact, Gunnbjörn Ulfsson (also known as Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson) is credited with the first sighting of the landmass. 

Strong winds had pushed Gunnbjörn to the place he called Gunnbjörn’s skerries over a century before Erik.

However, because of the chance nature of Gunnbjörn’s finding, he has been overlooked in Greenland’s history. 

Snbjörn galti had also visited Greenland after Gunnbjörn. According to historical records, Galti led the first Norse expedition to colonize Greenland, which failed miserably. 

On the other hand, Erik the Red, though, was the first permanent European settler.

6. Leif Erikson

Leif Eriksson Discovers America
Leif Eriksson Discovers America

Leif Erikson, Leiv Eiriksson, or Leif Ericson (c. 970 – c. 1020), also known as Leif the Lucky, was a Norse adventurer who is claimed to have been the first European to set foot on mainland North America.

He did so around half a millennium before Christopher Columbus. 

According to Icelandic sagas, he founded a Norse settlement at Vinland, which is widely regarded as coastal North America. 

There is continuous speculation that the settlement created by Leif and his company correlates to the remnants of a Norse settlement called L’Anse aux Meadows. 

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This settlement was discovered in Newfoundland, Canada, and occupied 1,000 years ago (carbon dating estimates 990–1050 CE). 

Erik the Red, as aforementioned, was the originator of the first Norse colony in Greenland, and Thjodhild (jóhildur) of Iceland had a son named Leif. 

His birthplace, however, is unknown, although he is thought to have been born in Iceland, which had lately been settled by Norsemen, primarily from Norway. 

He grew up on the family estate Brattahl in Greenland’s Eastern Settlement.

Thorgils, born to noblewoman Thorgunna in the Hebrides, and Thorkell, who succeeded him as ruler of the Greenland settlement, were Leif’s two known sons. 

5. Freydís Eiríksdóttir

Norse exploration of North America
Norse exploration of North America

Freyds Eirksdóttir (born around 970) was a Norse warrior or female viking who was said to be the daughter of Erik the Red (as in her patronym).

She played an important role in the Norse exploration of North America as an early colonist of Vinland. 

As mentioned, her brother, Leif Erikson, is credited with discovering North America in the early histories of the region. 

The two Vinland sagas, The Saga of the Greenlanders and The Saga of Erik the Red, are the only medieval and primary sources that mention Freyds. 

However, the two sagas provide different stories, but Freyds is portrayed in both as a masculine, strong-willed woman who will defy her society’s odds.

The Saga of the Greenlanders is a simplified recounting of the events that occurred in Vinland. Freyds’s adventures in Vinland are recounted in Chapter 8 of this tale. 

In it, she is described as Leif Erikson’s full sister. This is the most well-known account of Freyds. Likewise, The Saga of Erik the Red followed The Saga of the Greenlanders. 

This saga depicts Freyds as a courageous and protective Viking warrior and Leif Erikson’s half-sister. She was a member of an expedition to Vinland commanded by ÞorfinnrKarlsefni. 

But she is only mentioned once in the saga when the party was attacked by indigenous (also known as Skræling in Icelandic). 

Nonetheless, her tenacity is well-known. According to tradition, while exploring North America with her brother, she is said to have singlehandedly fought off natives with a sword – while pregnant.

4. Ragnar Lodbrok

Ragnar Lodbrok with sons Ivar and Ubba
Ragnar Lodbrok with sons Ivar and Ubba

Ragnar Lodbrok was both a legendary Viking hero and a legendary Danish and Swedish ruler.

He is known for Viking Age Old Norse poetry, Icelandic sagas, and near-contemporary chronicles. 

During the 9th century, Ragnar distinguished himself by leading numerous attacks against the British Isles and the Holy Roman Empire, according to ancient literature. 

Ragnar Lodbrok is also mentioned in Norse legends. According to the mythical sagas, Ragnarssona áttr and Sögubrot af nokkrum fornkonungum, Ragnar Lodbrok’s father was the great Swede king, Sigurd Ring. 

Likewise, almost all of the sagas agree that Sigurd’s father was the Danish king Randver. The Hervarar tale also names his wife Åsa, the daughter of Norway’s King Harald of the Red Moustache. 

According to the stories, Randver was the grandson of the renowned Scandinavian king Ivar Vidfamne via his daughter Aud.

After King Ivar Vidfamne died, Aud’s eldest son, Harald, via Danish King Hrrekr Ringslinger, captured all of his grandfather’s realm and became known as Harald Wartooth. 

After Randver’s death, Harald’s nephew Sigurd Ring became the principal king of Sweden (Denmark according to Hervarar legend), possibly as Harald’s subking. 

Sigurd and Harald fought the Battle of Brávellir (Brvalla) in the plains of stergötland, in which Harald and many of his soldiers were killed. 

Furthermore, the 12th-century Icelandic poetry Krákumál also romanticizes Ragnar’s death and marries him to a daughter of Sigurd (Siegfried) and Brynhild (Brunhild).

They were figures from ancient Teutonic heroic literature. 

Additionally, Ragnar and his sons’ exploits are also recorded in the Orkney Islands poem Háttalykill.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the real Ragnar, he has appeared as a figure in a number of literature and films.

His character is also a protagonist, playing a pivotal role in the popular television series ‘Vikings’. 

3. Gunnar Hamundarson

Gunnar Hámundarson meets Hallgerðr, "Vore fædres liv"
Gunnar Hámundarson meets Hallgerðr, “Vore fædres liv”

Gunnar Hámundarson was an Icelandic chieftain from the tenth century. He lived in Fljótshl and is perhaps renowned as Gunnar of Hlarendi. 

He appears prominently in the first half of Njál’s epic, which recounts the circumstances that led to his death in combat.

He married Hallgerr Höskuldsdóttir of Höskuldsstair in Laxárdal, Dalassla, also known as Hallgerr langbrók (“Hallgerur longpants”). 

In the recount, he was her third marriage. It was said that she had murdered both of her ex-husbands, but she had only murdered the first.

Nevertheless, Gunnar was a well-known god-like fighter who was said to be practically unbeatable in battle. 

He was also a powerful, athletic guy “capable of jumping his own height in full body armor, both back and front,” according to Njáls tale. 

Similarly, he was also a great archer, and his weapon of choice in close battle was the atgeir, which academics believe was a halberd or glaive of some kind. 

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While on a Viking raid on the island of Eyssla, he was claimed to have captured this famous weapon in battle from a man named Hallgrmur.

Gunnar was also a skilled stone-thrower, capable of striking foes between the eyes from a distance of several meters and an exceptional swimmer. 

There was reportedly no game in which he could compete. His demeanor was also usually polite but firm — he gave solid counsel and was kind and moderate.

But he was not seen as a bright man due to his manner of speech. 

On the other hand, Gunnar’s astute observations and deep comprehension, on the other hand, strongly implied that he was as intelligent as he was blessed in his looks. 

2. Eric Bloodaxe

Coin of Eric Bloodaxe at British Museum
Coin of Eric Bloodaxe at British Museum

Eric Haraldsson (died 954), also referred to as Eirik fratrum interfector (Eirik Brother-Bane), was a 10th-century Norwegian king. 

It’s largely assumed that he reigned briefly as King of Norway and twice as King of Northumbria (c. 947–948 and 952–954).

The fight for the Norwegian crown, particularly as it presents itself in the careers of Haakon and his foil Eric, is the major theme of the sagas about Harald’s multiple sons. 

According to Heimskringla, Harald designated his sons as client kings over the different districts of the realm, with Eric, his favorite son, set to inherit the crown after his death.

During a feud with his half-brothers, Eric cruelly murdered Ragnvald (Rögnvaldr), king of Hadeland, and Bjrn Farmann, ruler of Vestfold, on his father’s orders.

According to certain texts, near the end of his life, Harald also let Eric govern with him.

Likewise, Egils saga, which is also a rich source for surviving skaldic poems from the 10th century, is one of the greatest sagas to deal with Eric Bloodaxe and his activities in England. 

It describes how, at the request of his wife Gunnhild, King Eric became embroiled in a protracted fight with Egill Skallagrimsson, a well-known Icelandic Viking and skald (mentioned above).

The story appears to be intended to improve Egill’s abilities as a warrior, wizard, and poet.

1. Harald Hardrada

Harald landed near York, 13th-century chronicle The Life of King Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris
Harald landed near York, 13th-century chronicle The Life of King Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris

Harald Hardrada, commonly known as Harald of Norway (c. 1015 – 25 September 1066), was King of Norway (as Harald III) from 1046 to 1066.

In addition, he fraudulently claimed both the Danish and English thrones until 1064. 

Harald had spent about fifteen years in banishment as a mercenary and military commander in Kyivan Rus’ and of the Varangian Guard in the Byzantine Empire before becoming king.

Moreover, he also fought in the Battle of Stiklestad with his half-brother Olaf (later known as Saint Olaf) when he was fifteen years old, in 1030. 

Olaf wanted to retake the Norwegian throne, which he had lost two years before to the Danish king Cnut the Great.

In the fight, soldiers loyal to Cnut defeated Olaf and Harald, and Harald was sent into exile to Kyivan Rus’ (the sagas’ Gararki). 

Following that, he served some time in the army of Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, eventually advancing to the position of captain, before moving on to Constantinople with his comrades in 1034.

He quickly advanced to become the commander of the Byzantine Varangian Guard at Constantinople.

His skirmish continued on the Mediterranean Sea, in Asia Minor, Sicily, and maybe also in the Holy Land

He also reached Bulgaria and led a skirmish in Constantinople itself, where he became entangled in imperial dynastic struggles. 

During his tenure in the Byzantine Empire, Harald amassed substantial money, which he transported to Yaroslav in Kyivan Rus’ for protection.

He finally fled the Byzantines in 1042, returning to Kyivan Rus’ to plan his war to restore the Norwegian throne.

Conclusion 

It is a remarkable paradox that the Vikings were so influential throughout Europe throughout the early Middle Ages that their reign is known as the Age of the Vikings, yet they left little evidence of their civilization behind them. 

As mentioned, the Vikings, of course, were huge talkers who valued oral traditions over the written word. In skaldic poems, their culture, histories, tales, and traditions have been passed down over the generations.

(Skalds were official poets who worked for a monarch, clan chief, or jarl. Their job – narrating epic sagas – was one of the most cherished but fleeting art-forms).

Similarly, cutting runes into rock, the only kind of writing available at the time, was not an easy means to preserve lengthier writings.

As a result, the Vikings’ rich heritage and remarkable influence throughout the northern hemisphere will remain legends for a long time.

Not to mention, their mark on modern art, culture, and varying forms of literature are also undeniable.  

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