Ivar the Boneless

Viking leader of the 'Great Heathen Army'

Ivar 'the Boneless' (Old Norse: Ívarr hinn Beinlausi) was the principal leader of the 'Great Heathen Army' that ravaged the British Isles and Ireland in the 9th century. According to the Icelandic Sagas he was the son of Ragnar Lodbrok and his wife Aslaug. His brothers also include Bjorn 'Ironside', Hvitserk/Haldan, Sigurd 'Snake in the eye' and Ubba 'the wide embrace'.

The origin of the nickname 'Boneless' is not certain. "Ívarr beinlausi" could be translated to "Ivar legless", but "beinlausi" could also be translated as "boneless", since "bone" and "leg" translates to the same word. It is possible that Ivar was indeed disabled, lacking legs/bones or having a skeletal condition such as Osteogenesis imperfecta. References of his favourite weapon as a bow and during battles been held high upon a shield may refer to a disability. Disability or not Ivar became the most feared and cruel Viking warlord of the 9th century.


In the year 853, Ivar and Olaf 'The White' arrived in Ireland with a large fleet and an army powerful enough to collect tribute and hostages from other Vikings and the Irish. They secured the loyalty of the Norwegian settlements, especially Dublin and Woodstown in County Waterford.

Ivar ‘the Boneless’, established a dynasty that would change the course of Irish history. All of the leaders of the Viking bases at both Dublin and Waterford in the 9th and well into the 10th century were descendants of Ivar, including Reginald, the first king of Waterford and York.

With his power base at Dublin, Ivar challenged the authority of the most powerful Irish kings. He was also one of those who raided the prehistoric tombs of the Boyne Valley, Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, which were then 4,000 years old; the first time that this had been done.

In 865 after the murder of their father Ragnar Lodbrok by the Northumbrian king Aella, Ivar and his brothers invaded the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of modern day England. First they conquered East Anglia, executing king Edmund (later saint Edmund). Mercia and Northumbria quickly followed including the city of York, paving the way for the large-scale settlement of areas of eastern England by people from Scandinavia, which become known as the 'Danelaw'

This was the high point of Viking rule. They had created a sea kingdom based around the Irish Sea with both Dublin and York as its seats of power.

If you want to read more about Ivar, check out our free cultural magazine Hugin & Munin and also the paperback booklet about the history of the 'Great Heathen Army'