Halfdan Ragnarsson Biography

(Viking Leader and Commander of 'The Great Heathen Army' in the late 860s)

Born In: Denmark

Halfdan Ragnarsson, the son of legendary Viking leader Ragnar Lodbrok, or Ragnar Lothbrok, flourished in the 9th century, and is remembered for leading the Great Heathen Army in their invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England, beginning in 865. The invasion began as an act of revenge of Halfdan and his brothers, against the Anglo Saxon king Ælla of Northumbria, who had killed their father, Ragnar. While Halfdan was initially accompanied by his brothers, Ivar the Boneless and Ubbe, he later took up the leadership of the army. Some legends also believe he was the founder of the Danish kingdom of York. He also tried reclaiming Ireland, but lost his life in the campaign. He did not find any mention in the iconic series on the Norse legend of Ragnar, Vikings, since he is not mentioned in any major Norse historical source and is considered a fictional character by many scholars.

Quick Facts


father: Ragnar Lothbrok

mother: Aslaug

siblings: Björn Ironside, Hvitserk, Ivar the Boneless, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Ubba

Born Country: Denmark

Military Leaders Danish Male

Died on: 877

place of death: Strangford Lough, United Kingdom

Origins: Who Was Halfdan Ragnarsson?

Halfdan Ragnarsson, according to Viking legend, was the son of Viking leader Ragnar Lodbrok, also known as Ragnar Lothbrok, or the person who was the historical basis for this legendary character, and Aslaug Sigurdsdottir. Halfdan’s father was the most well-known Viking of the 9th century.

Halfdan is also believed to be the brother of Ivarr inn beinlausi, or Ivar the Boneless. His other siblings were Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Hvitserk, and Ubbe, or Ubba. In fact, Norse sagas and poetry mention Halfdan as one of the six sons of Viking warrior and ruler Ragnar.

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According to Norse legends, Halfdan Ragnarsson was a Viking leader who commanded the Great Heathen Army in the late 860s and raided the Anglo-Saxon England of King Alfred the Great. The invasion was led by Ragnar’s sons, as a means of revenge against King Ælla of Northumbria who, in 865, had murdered Ragnar by throwing him alive in a pit full of snakes.

The Viking sagas mention how Ragnar’s sons Ivar the Boneless and Ubbe decided to avenge their father. Legends state that when Ragnar’s sons heard the news of their father’s death in a pit of vipers, Halfdan, who was playing chess at that moment, gripped the chess piece in his hand so hard that his fingernails began bleeding.

Along with his brothers Ivar and Ubbe, Halfdan crossed the North Sea, to get into England, and led the invasion of East Anglia in 865. He unfurled the Viking Raven flag in East Anglia, which was apparently woven by three of Ragnar’s daughters. The East Anglians opted for peace and offered the Vikings horses.

The following year, Hafdan’s forces took the old Roman road to Northumbria, which was then going through a civil war. In 866, the Viking army took over York. King Ælla, aided by his former rival, Osberht, tried to reclaim the city and breached the city walls on March 21, 867.

The Vikings slaughtered all the Anglo Saxon men who had entered York. Osberht was killed, and Ælla was imprisoned. The Norse sagas state that Ælla was killed by the gruesome Viking blood eagle ritual.

The Vikings soon named Ecgberht, their puppet king, as the Northumbrian ruler and tax collector. The army then marched to Mercia, and they soon captured Nottingham.

Burghred, the ruler of Mercia, asked for help from Æthelred of Wessex. Æthelred and his younger brother, Alfred, tried to re-capture Nottingham.

The Vikings paused the fight against the huge Anglo Saxon army. King Burgred convinced the Danes to leave in 868. The Vikings eventually withdrew from York but remained there for more than a year before moving to East Anglia in 869.

The Great Heathen Army executed King Edmund of East Anglia brutally. In around 870, Ivar the Boneless separated from the Great Heathen Army, or that is when Ivar’s name disappears from English records. Soon, Halfdan became the leader.

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The Viking army then marched to Reading, where Æthelred and Alfred won a victory at the Battle of Ashdown. The Danes later defeated the Anglo Saxons at Basing and Meretun.

Halfdan's forces got reinforcements as the Great Summer Army, under commander Bagsecg, joined them. Later, an inconclusive battle took place at Basing.

Ethelred and Alfred refused to surrender. The Vikings and the Saxons clashed again at Meredune. The Danes won the battle, and Æthelred ended up losing his life on April 15, 871.

Alfred succeeded Æthelred as the new king. The Vikings soon defeated King Alfred at Wilton.

Although Halfdan Ragnarsson commanded an invasion into Wessex and fought against them six times, the Great Heathen Army could not defeat them conclusively and had no choice but to accept a truce from Alfred. The Anglo-Saxons eventually paid the Vikings to leave.

Halfdan’s forces soon retreated to the captured town of London. They remained there throughout the winter of 871/872. In 874, Halfdan’s army took over Mercia and divided it into two parts.

One half of The Great Heathen Army, under Guthrum, moved south to continue battling against Wessex, while the other half, commanded by Halfdan, moved toward North (Strathclyde) and to Ireland.

Halfdan Ragnarsson settled around the area of Deira in Northumbria. Halfdan is thus, at times, also mentioned as the King of Jórvík, and some legends claim he ruled as the king of Northumbria from 876 until his death in 877. He thus became the first Viking King of Northumbria.

It is believed, after the death of Dublin’s ruler, Olaf the White, in 871, Ivar had declared himself the king of Dublin. Following Ivar’s death, Olaf’s son, Eystein, took over.

In 877, Halfdan went to Dublin to reclaim the city but faced resistance from those Vikings who had settled there earlier and came to be known as the Fair Heathens. Moreover, Eystein was supported by his ally, Aed Finnlaith, king of the northern Ui Neill.

Halfdan's forces, known as the Dark Heathens, clashed with the Fair Heathens at the Battle of Strangford Lough, or Strangford Loch, in County Down. Halfdan died at this very battle in 877, while trying to regain the Irish throne.


In-spite of being a prominent Norse character, Halfdan Ragnarsson did not find any mention in Michael Hirst’s iconic History Channel and Amazon Prime series Vikings, which blended fact and fiction of Ragnar’s story. The reason for this is said to be the absence of any mention of Halfdan in any major historical source on Ragnar.

While most Norse sources mention Ragnar’s other son, Hvitserk, Anglo-Saxon sources refer to Halfdan as Hvitserk’s brother. However, some scholars believe Halfdan and Hvitserk could have been the same person.


Some sources claim Halfdan Ragnarsson may have been a co-ruler of Denmark, with his brother, Sigurd.

Some scholars also claim that Halfdan could have been the legendary Danish king Albann, who died near Strangford Lough in 877. Other accounts claim Halfdan may have remained in York till 883.

See the events in life of Halfdan Ragnarsson in Chronological Order

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