Jonathan Hession/History Channel

Did Ivar The Boneless Really Exist? The ‘Vikings’ Character Is Based On A Legendary Leader

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Season 5 of Vikings followed the brutal rise of Ivar the Boneless, and with the return of the second half of the season, Ivar’s battle for power continues. The History Channel series is based on Norse history and oral traditions, and features real characters that made an impact on the world. Since Ivar’s presence has been so prominent this season, fans are wondering, did Ivar The Boneless really exist?

It turns out that the physically fragile, yet brutal Vikings character is based on a real-life person. According to Britannica, Ivar the Boneless was a Viking chieftain who lived in Ireland in the 800’s. While many details of his early life remain unknown, Ivar was attributed with being the son of Danish king Ragnar Lothbrok. Much of his life story has been fused with legend, noted Britannica, but he is best known for his invasions of the British Isles and several other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

Some historical accounts mention Ivar as a companion of the Danish king, Olaf the White. Together the two were said to have fought several battles in Ireland in the 850’s, while they formed short-lived alliances with Irish rulers and plundered lands, including the county of Meath in the 860’s.

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Britannica explained that one of Ivar’s biggest battles was one he fought alongside his brothers Hubba and Halfdan. The three pulled together a large Viking military force — referred to as the Great Heathen Army — which invaded Great Britain in 865 as revenge for Ragnar’s death, who reportedly died after being thrown into a pit full of snakes by Northumbrian king, Aella. Ivar and his brothers eventually captured the capital city of York in 866, and avenged their father's death by sentencing Aella to a torturous execution in 867.

According to Ancient History Encyclopedia, most of the stories involving Ivar come from the 13-century Icelandic sagas of his father, The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok and The Tale of Ragnar’s Sons. Along with telling tales of his journeys and conquests, these stories also detailed Ivar’s physical problems. While some accounts describe his condition to be similar to brittle bones (as is portrayed on Vikings), explained the outlet, some described it as his inability to perform sexually, which is why he never fathered any children. While specific details and accounts of Ivar’s personal experiences may differ, most historians can agree on the lasting political impact he made in the region.

Jonathan Hession/History Channel

In an interview with the History Channel, Vikings showrunner Michael Hirst explained that the show and characters are based on reality, and he continues to try to keep the show as authentic as possible. “It’s essentially a drama, but within the limits of drama it is as authentic and real as I can make it,” said Hirst. “We showed it to the head of Scandinavian Studies at Harvard, who’s Swedish [and] he said, “This is the first time my culture has ever been taken seriously and intelligently. I’m sure it’s full of inaccuracies, but it’s the Dark Ages and we don’t know a lot of things about that period.”

So far, on Season 5 of Vikings, Ivar continues to fight for his seat of power, and you can count on seeing more of him in the future. In an interview with The Gate, the actor that plays Ivar the Boneless on Vikings, Alex Høgh Andersen, revealed that he is currently filming Season 6 and that his character’s journey will continue forward.

New episodes of Vikings air on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on the History Channel.

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