Release the Kráka! Aslaug crowed for Ragnar Lodbrok

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Aslaug was a queen in Norse mythology.

She appears in The Poetic Edda, the Völsunga saga, and in Ragnars saga Loðbrókar as being Ragnar Lothbrok’s wife (Ragnar “Lodbrok” Sigurdsson).

In the Völsunga saga, Aslaug is said to be the daughter of the legendary hero Sigurd the dragon slayer (Sigurd “Fafnisbana” Sigmundsson, of Denmark).

A sculpture of Sigurd fighting Fafnir by Constantin Dausch in Bremen, Germany.
A sculpture of Sigurd fighting Fafnir by Constantin Dausch in Bremen, Germany.

The dragon Sigurd slew was called Fafnir, the dwarven prince that was cursed into a dragon for possessing Andvari’s stolen gold.

The saga also states that Aslaug is the daughter of Brynhildr, the shieldmaiden and valkyrie (Brynhild Budlasdatter).

Aslaug is the mother of “Ivar the Boneless,” Björn “Ironside” Ragnarsson, Sigurd “Snake-in-the-eye” Ragnarsson, Rognvald Ragnarsson, Hvítserkr Ragnarsson, and 2 others.  She is also he half sister of Swanhild.

Aslaug was also known as: Aslög, Kráka, Kraba and Randalin.

Her story begins after the tragic deaths of her parents.

With her parents now dead, she was now the last of the royal Völsung clan and her enemies were many, putting her young life at great risk.

Protected from rival clans, she was hidden away and raised by her mother Brynhildr’s foster father Heimer.

However, Heimer was concerned about Aslaug’s security, so he made a harp large enough to hide the girl. He then traveled as a poor harp player carrying the harp containing the girl.

One day, they arrived at Spangereid at Lindesnes in Norway, where they stayed for the night in the house of the peasants Áke and Grima.

Áke believed the harp contained valuable items and told his wife Grima. Grima convinced Áke to murder Heimer while he was sleeping, so they could steal the harp and get the valuables from inside of it.

However, when they broke the harp open, they discovered a little girl hidden inside of it.

622px-Mårten_Winge-Aslög_i_harpan
Áke and Grima discover Aslaug. Painting by Mårten Eskil Winge, 1862

Áke and Grima raised her as their own child, calling her Kráka (meaning “Crow”).

It is said, that in order to conceal her beauty (the accepted sign of her noble origins at the time) they rubbed her in tar and dressed her in a long hood.

One day when as she was bathing, she was discovered by some of Ragnar Lothbrok‘s men. They became entranced by Kráka’s beauty, became sidetracked (perving on her) and allowed the bread they were baking to burn.

When Ragnar inquired about why the bread had been burnt, they told him about the girl they had seen bathing.

Ragnar then sent for her, but in order to test her wits, he commanded her to arrive:

  • neither dressed nor undressed,
  • neither hungry nor full and,
  • neither alone nor in company.

Kráka arrived dressed in a net, biting an onion and with only a dog as a companion.

Artwork from 1862 by Mårten Eskil Winge (1825-1896).
Artwork from 1862 by Mårten Eskil Winge (1825-1896).

Impressed by her ingenuity and finding her a wise companion, Ragnar proposed marriage to her.  However, she refused his proposal until he had accomplished his mission in Norway. However, when Ragnar visited viceroy Eysteinn Beli of Sweden, Eysteinn persuaded him to reject Kráka and marry his daughter, Ingeborg.

On his return home, three birds had already informed Kráka of Ragnar‘s plans, and so she reproached him and told him of her true noble origins.

kraka-Galtaback-Vbg-110326-014

In order to prove she was the daughter of legendary hero Sigurd who had slain the dragon Fafnir, she said she would bear a child whose eye would bear the image of a serpent.

This happened and she bore the son Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

snakeintheeye
Snake in the Eye, drawing by Njord Kane

When Eysteinn learned of Ragnar’s change of mind to marry Kráka instead of his daughter Ingeborg, he rebelled against him. However, Eysteinn was slain by Ragnar’s sons at Kráka’s behest.

Kráka, now revealed as Queen Aslaug, gave Ragnar four sons during their marriage: Ivar the Boneless, Hvitserk, Ragnvald, and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

Ragnar’s sons grew and became great viking warriors by their own right. Desiring to show himself as a better warrior than his sons, Ragnar Lothbrok decided to conquer England with only two knarr ships.

vk_knarrship
Knarrs were a type of merchant ship used by the Norse traders at the time. The ships Ragnar had were built in Vestfold, Norway and were indeed enormous ships

Ragnar’s wife, Aslaug didn’t approve of this idea because such large ships weren’t fit for attacking the English coast, only the more maneuverable longships were capable for that task.

However, Ragnar refused to heed her advice and arrived safely with his army in England and began a campaign to ravage and burn his way across the country.

Sometime late in 864 or early 865 AD, Ragnar had made his way to Northumbria and became shipwrecked off the coast.

Hearing the news of Ragnar being shipwrecked, King Ælla of Northumbria mustered an overwhelming force and defeated Ragnar’s army while they were vulnerable. They were able to take Ragnar alive and held him prisoner. King Ælla, mocking the tales he’d heard of Ragnar’s immunity to snakes during the time when he courted Thora and slew the serpent, had Ragnar Lothbrok thrown into the snake pit.

The legend in the Sagas of Ragnar’s Sons (Ragnarssona þáttr) claims that some of the attention of England by Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons was because of the death of their father, Ragnar Lothbrok. The following year, Ragnar’s sons build a substantial force and sought vengeance for their father against King Ælla.

In 865 AD, the Great Heathen Army, otherwise known as the Great Viking Army was formed by uncoordinated bands of Norse Vikings that came from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. They were led by Ragnar Lothbrok’s sons, Ivar Ragnarsson (Ivar the Boneless), Halfdan Ragnarsson (Halfdene), and Ubbe Ragnarsson (Hubba), along with the Dane Viking chieftain Guthrum.

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by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing


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Njord Kane is an infantry and cavalry veteran who also served in law enforcement just prior to entering into the world of academia where he pursued the disciplines of military science, social psychology, and anthropology. Having left his profession, he now takes care of his adult autistic sons at home while passionately writing about early Norse and Mesoamerican culture and history at spangenhelm.com and readicon.com. Kane is also the author of numerous books including, The Vikings, The Maya, and The Viking Hero Series.

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