In search of Ragnar Lothbrok
e fight. That is how we win and that is how we die.” These are the words of Ragnar Lothbrok, the main character in the successful History Channel series ‘Vikings’ and one of the mythical figures of the Viking era. King of Denmark and Sweden back in the 8th century, Lothbrok’s story is the story of the Nordic Vikings, a culture forged by the harsh climate and unique geography of Scandinavia.
Ragnar Lothbrok (both in history and in the series) was a defiant, ambitious, rebellious monarch, and above all a great innovative seafarer who set out determinedly to conquer England and Normandy, going against the opinions of other rulers. Seafaring tradition, a marked feature of the the Danish spirit, owes its existence to the first navigators who were pioneers in setting sail on the high seas. Individualism and democracy laid the foundations of Viking society, known for the egalitarian role played by women, who could also be warriors. Lagertha, Ragnar’s first wife, fought in many battles.
To Odin's health
Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city, holds the annual Viking Moot festival in July. An event where the Viking era becomes real again. Crafts and traditional food combine with warriors, period cavalry and classic ‘drakkar’ vessels.
Nowadays, it’s hard to believe that from Copenhagen, the capital of ‘hygge’, these tribes set out 1,200 years ago to write one of the most exciting periods in the history of Denmark. The National Museum displays jewellery, coins, weapons and other Viking artefacts that show how the Vikings were not only warriors but also poets, farmers, artisans and traders. And to dismantle a few myths too. For instance, they didn’t drink out of human skulls, they didn’t wear helmets with horns and they weren’t much more violent than any other army back then.
On the Roskilde fjord, 30 kilometres from Copenhagen, is the Viking Ships Museum (Vikingeskibsmuseet), which displays five Viking vessels -‘drakkar’- rebuilt from remains recovered from the fjord. The ‘drakkar’ (dragons) were long, narrow, lightweight boats with oars all down their sides. This design enabled them to slip between the rocks and the fog on the icy Scandinavian seas and manoeuvre rapidly in battle.
To see the biggest Viking settlements in Denmark you have to cross over to the rugged Jutland peninsula. Here, the cliffs give way to wide expanses of green pasture and jagged mountains on a journey that can be made either by road or on board the train that runs along the coast. The first traces of the Vikings appear in Ribe, the oldest village in Denmark, in the southern part of the peninsula. It was a major trading centre during the Viking era and as well as visiting the museum you can walk around a reconstructed, true to size Viking village and market. In Hobro, near Mariager fjord, is Fyrkat, the oldest Viking fortress in the country. You can get a feel for the Viking lifestyle by taking a look round the 16 houses built inside the circular defensive walls.
Also in Jutland is the Viking port of Bork, where you can walk around the massive carved Jelling runestones. The site includes a series of funerary mounds built to honour Viking kings. It’s a World Heritage Site and one of the key locations in Danish history as it preserves rune inscriptions used by ancient Scandinavians. Continuing northwards, close to the city of Aalborg you can see another funerary monument, Lindholm Høje, Denmark’s most important Viking cemetery. Its 700 stone tombs, triangular for men and oval for women, are marked with pictures that date back to the iron Age.
Further on from Aalborg, traces of the Viking gradually begin to disappear towards the most northerly coast. This is the where the border of Denmark ends and where the North Sea divides from the Baltic Sea. Where curiosity for the unknown led Ragnar Lothbrok to break the rules and become a legend.