Ivar the Boneless reportedly had a disease that left him physically deformed at birth. However, it is unclear whether the nickname referred to a disability or his reputation as a ruthless warrior. While some accounts suggest Ivar was born “without bones,” others claim he was “so strong that his bow was more powerful and his arrows heavier than those of his companions.”
The legend of Ivar the Boneless and his crippling disease are highlighted in the historical drama series Vikings.
The popular History Channel program, which debuted in 2013, is based on the legendary saga of Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok, his family, and his Viking brothers.
As reported by The History Files, The Tale of Ragnar Lothbrok is a 13th-century Scandinavian saga about Ragnar, his wives, his sons, and his eventual death.
In the sagas, known facts are traditionally embellished or exaggerated. For example, the existence of Ivar, who was the eldest son of Ragnar Lothbrok and his second wife Aslaug, is generally accepted as a historical fact. However, whether Ivar the Boneless had a disease or was deformed in any way remains a topic of debate.
According to Ragnar’s saga, Aslaug, who “had powers of sorcery and foresight,” told Ragnar their firstborn son would suffer “lasting harm” if they consummated their marriage too soon. However, Ragnar ignored the warning and “immediately made love to his new wife.”
Ivar was reportedly born nine months later with “gristle where his bones should have been.”
In the ninth century, infants born with obvious disabilities were often killed at birth. However, Ragnar and Aslaug reportedly let him live because he was their first-born son.
Although Ivar the Boneless was never diagnosed with a disease, it has been suggested that he may have suffered from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or Osteogenesis imperfecta.
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Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that causes unusually broad joint mobility. EDS also weakens the joints and may increase the likelihood of developing painful joint conditions.
Whereas Ehlers-Danlos syndrome affects connective tissues, Osteogenesis imperfecta is a genetic defect that weakens the bones themselves. Although Osteogenesis imperfecta can cause damage to the joints and muscles, the most common symptom is fragile bones that are prone to break and fracture “from little or no apparent cause.”
It has also been suggested that Ivar was nicknamed “Boneless” because he was impotent. Although there is little, if any, evidence that Ivar the Boneless suffered from erectile dysfunction, he is not known to have fathered any children.
If Ivar the Boneless had a disease that left him physically deformed, it did not deter him from becoming a powerful and ruthless warrior. As reported by English Monarchs, some sources describe Ivar as a “giant” who “dwarfed all his contemporaries.” He was also labeled as a “berserker” who had a reputation for “exceptional cruelty.”
Following his death at the hands of Ælla King of Northumbria, Ivar was reportedly buried in England. As reported by BBC History, some scientists believe the Viking warrior’s remains were unearthed during a 1686 excavation of a churchyard in Repton, England.
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The size of the skeleton, which is nine feet long, fits some of the accounts that describe Ivar as a giant. As the man was buried with Viking garb and tools and was obviously prepared for the “Viking afterlife,” it is believed that he was a warrior of high standing. Later excavations in the same region revealed further evidence that suggests a number of the skeletons belonged to members the Great Army.
Although there are theories that Ivar the Boneless had a disease, was impotent, and was a giant, it is unclear where the warrior got his famous nickname. The only thing that has been accepted as historical fact is that he did actually exist and was a brutal and fierce warrior.
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