Poor Sigurd gets treated poorly in the History Channel’s Vikings series. The least memorable of Ragnar’s many sons, he is killed off pretty early in the storyline of Ragnar’s sons. Ivar throws a knife at him, which hits him in the chest and kills him. This is a plot point to exacerbate the conflict between Ivar and his brothers.
But the real Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye seems to have been one of Ragnar’s favorite sons and even succeeded him as king of Denmark. Here is the real story of Sigurd with the unique mark in his eye.
Sigurd is one of the many sons of the semi-legendary Viking warrior Ragnar Lothbrok. He is one of the sons that Ragnar had with Aslaug, who may have been his third wife.
According to legend, Ragnar’s first wife was the shieldmaiden Lagertha, whom he met while fighting the Swedish king For. The two married and had a son called Fridleif and two daughters. But the pair separated after a few years, and the young children stayed with their mother. Ragnar then married Thora Borgarhjort, the daughter of Jarl Herraud. Together they had at least two sons, Erik and Agnar. But Thora died not long into their marriage.
Ragnar then met a beautiful peasant woman named Kraka. The pair wed, and it was revealed that Kraka was a secret identity. The woman was really Aslaug, the daughter of the hero Sigurd, who had killed the dragon Fafnir, and the Valkyrie Brynhild.
According to Norse mythology, Sigurd met Brynhild and fell in love with her, and the two spent one night together. Sigurd then had to continue on his quest and was bewitched to forget Brynhild, and he married someone else. By a cruel twist of fate, Sigurd then helped his friend Gunnar trick Brynhild into marrying him. She agreed to marry despite her continued feelings for Sigurd, but when she learned of the trick, she conspired to have her husband Gunnar kill his friend Sigurd. In her own grief, she then threw herself on Sigurd’s funeral pyre.
Aslaug was apparently the illegitimate child of Sigurd and Brynhild, conceived on that first and only night that they spent together.
Ragnar had at least one more son, Ubbe, with another woman.
Sigurd of Marvel’s Loki
The Sigurd that appears in Marvel’s Loki is the father of Aslaug, the Sigurd of Norse mythology rather than the Sigurd of semi-legendary history.
Key to Sigurd’s storyline is the killing of Fafnir, though he is described as the brother of Sigurd in the comic series. In myth, Fafnir is the brother of Sigurd’s mentor Regin, who asks Sigurd to kill Fafnir and to bring him the cursed ring and Fafnir’s heart so that he can eat it. But Sigurd accidentally ingests some of the blood of the heart while he is extracting it, and this enables him to understand the talk of birds. Nearby ravens tell Sigurd that Regin plans on killing him to ensure his sole possession of the ring, and so Sigurd also kills Regin.
The conflict between Sigurd and Regin, and Sigurd working with Loki in bird form are also taken from the story of Sigurd in Norse mythology. But the blood of the heart giving Sigurd immortality and allowing him to see the hidden truth behind all things is Marvel’s invention for their rich fantasy universe.
According to the sagas about Ragnar and his sons, Aslaug predicted that she would give birth to a son with a snake in the eye. When her youngest son was born, he had a mark on his eye that looked like a snake biting its own tail, forming an unending ouroboros circle.
In the Viking world, the ouroboros may have represented Jormungandr. This is the Midgard Serpent that encircles the world of men and holds his own tail in his mouth. He will only drop his tail at Ragnarok, the world’s end.
The snake symbol may also have reminded Aslaug of Fafnir, the dragon that her father Sigurd famously killed, therefore taking possessions of the dragon’s gold, including a cursed ring. Dragons and serpents are not greatly differentiated in Norse mythology.
Perhaps it was the association with Fafnir that encouraged Aslaug to call her youngest son not only Snake-in-the-Eye but also Sigurd, after her own father.
Young Warrior Sigurd
While relatively young, Sigurd and his brothers were banished from their father’s kingdom. This was normal for a ruler with many sons, as it helped limit inheritance conflict. Ragnar’s sons with Aslaug, led by the eldest Ivar the Boneless, set themselves up as a raiding band and made a name for themselves in Zealand, Jutland, and Gotland.
But when they heard that the Swedish King Eysteinn Beli had captured and killed their older brothers Erik and Agnar, they were outraged and took revenge on the king. This apparently angered their father, Ragnar, since they acted without consulting him. Some sources suggest that he was also jealous and did not want the fame of his sons to rival his own.
Despite apparently being banished and in his father’s bad books for acting in Sweden without permission, Sigurd nevertheless seems to have been close with his father. The young Viking warrior apparently accompanied his father on an expedition through the land of the Kievan Rus and to the Hellespont. He may also have spent some time in Scotland and on the Scottish Islands, helping his father conquer the local earls. The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus says that he ruled these lands for his father after the conquest.
Avenging His Father
The big turning point in Sigurd’s life was the death of his father at the hands of King Aella of Northumbria. The English king hated Ragnar for the chaos that he had caused in Northumbria on several raids, and for killing his father. When Ragnar returned with a tiny force, apparently to prove that he was still a better warrior than his sons, he was captured by King Aella and thrown into a snake pit.
Apparently, just before his death, Ragnar proclaimed:
“How the young pigs would grunt if they knew what the old boar suffers!”
Thus Ragnar predicted the furious revenge that his sons would rain down on England.
Sigurd was so upset when he heard about his father’s death that he cut himself to the bone because of the knife he was gripping. He joined the Great Heathen Army gathered by his brothers to take revenge.
The assault on England started in 865 and lasted for 14 years, but Sigurd was probably only present in the early years when the brothers were specifically hunting King Aella.
When they captured him, they executed him using a ritual known as the blood eagle. This involved severing the ribs from the spine and pulling out the lungs to create a set of wings, all while trying to keep the victim alive for as long as possible.
King of Denmark
Once his father was avenged, Sigurd returned to Scandinavia. Ragnar’s territories were divided between his sons, and Sigurd became the ruler of Zealand, Scania, Hallan, the Danish Islands, and Viken. He then seems to have become the king of Denmark following the death of his brother Halfdan. This is probably an alternative name for Sigurd’s older brother Hvitserk.
Sigurd also married Blaeja, the daughter of King Aella, probably as part of a plan to secure the territory of Northumbria. The pair had at least two children, and through them, Sigurd is said to be one of the ancestors of Harald Bluetooth, the famous king of Denmark and Norway, Sweyn Forkbeard, the Danish king of Vikings: Valhalla fame, and Cnut the Great, who formed a North Sea Empire that included England, Denmark, and Norway.
It may be that Sigurd died in West Francia in 887. A Viking king called Sigfried, who had lost his lands, is described as dying there by local historians. The names Sigurd and Sigfried were often used interchangeably. It may be that he lost his lands or that, like his father, he was in West Francia looking for one final heroic conquest.
The Legend of Sigurd
By any standard, Sigurd seems to have been an impressive Viking warrior. He raided Europe from its easternmost point near the Hellespont to its westernmost point in England. He was part of the legendary Great Heathen Army that changed the course of British history, and he was a king of the Viking territory of Denmark.
We don’t know more about Sigurd since he is overshadowed by his brothers, Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless, and by his father, Ragnar Lothbrok. If the sources are to be believed, this may have been exactly what Ragnar wanted.