Tag Archives: England

Unfortunately Named Person of the Day: Ivar the Boneless

20 Sep

Back in the good old days (i.e. the Middle Ages), last names had not yet been invented. Instead, people just went around being called their first name and then some piece of information that was relevant to them. For example: Louis the Fat…because he was fat (real person, I swear) or Thomas, John’s Son (precursor to the modern Johnson). Of course, you didn’t really get to pick your name, or else there would have been tons of Hildebrand the Awesomes or Guibert the Incredibles running around everywhere. As a result, some of history’s characters have ended up being named really unfortunate things. Today’s person is the 9th century Viking warrior Ivar the Boneless.

I var the Boneless was a fairly notable Viking leader an warrior- he ran successful raids/attack on England in the 860s/870s and led the Great Heathen Army (I assume they didn’t name themselves either) alongside his brothers, Hubbe and Halfdene (also excellently named people).

Ah, but why is Ivar Boneless? Good question! The answer is: no one is really sure. There are, however, some main theories:
1) He was very flexible, which led the brilliant people of the middle ages to guess that he had no bones.
2) He had brittle bone disease. This was proposed by a person with brittle bone disease. It is unlikely, given the record of his battle/combat, especially accounts of him as a berserker that he could have had such a crippling condition.
3) He had some impotence issues. This is actually the most likely theory, at least for the name. It didn’t necessarily have to be true to have been something his warriors called him. There is a long tradition of calling your war leader impotent: Roman soldiers returning to the city victorious after battle used to yell out bawdy things about thier leader.
4) He was carried on a shield by his men after victorious battle, which made him look like he didn’t have legs. Which probably freaked people out and spawned the story. In this situation, boneless = legless, which is a pretty linguistically sound jump to make.