Bjorn Ironside is today remembered for his cunning tactics when his Viking warriors captured Luna, the ancient city of Etruria, Italy. However, this was not what he planned from the start. His initial plan was to capture ancient Rome, but things did not turn out as Bjorn Ironside expected. Capturing ancient Luna instead of Rome was in fact an embarrassing mistake that made him furious.
Who Was Bjorn Ironside?
Bjorn (Björn Järnsida in Swedish) was a legendary king of Sweden who lived sometime in the 9th century. He was also the first ruler of the Swedish Munsö dynasty. Just like his father, Ragnar Lodbrok, Bjorn Ironside was a fearless warrior and fierce ruler. He was considered a great Viking Chief as well as Naval Commander and he raided and pillaged many places in France, Spain, Italy, England, Wales, including ancient cities in Mediterranean Sea and coasts of North Africa.
Ironside was deeply impressed with Rangar Lodbrok’s conquest of Paris and wished to achieve something of equal importance. So, he decided to plunder ancient Rome, one of the most powerful and rich cities at the time.
In 859, a huge Viking fleet of 62 ships led by Bjorn Ironside and his brother Hastein set course towards the Mediterranean.
After raiding down the Iberian coast and fighting their way through Gibraltar, Bjorn and Hastein pillaged the south of France, where his fleet over-wintered, before landing in Italy where they captured the coastal city of Pisa.
Bjorn Ironside And Hastein Attack Luna
Ancient Rome was now the target. Bjorn Ironside knew it would be very hard to get to the city and it was heavily guarded and his Viking warriors would have difficulties breaching the walls.
So, Ironside and Hastein came up with a cunning plan. Hastein sent messengers to the city’s bishop. When the Viking approached the terrified clerics they said.” We have not come here to plunder. We have no strength left. We are exhausted and all we want is peace. Allow us to buy what we need. Our chief is very ill. He is dying. He had a deathbed conversion and wishes to receive Christian sacraments and to be buried on consecrated ground within your church.”
Upon hearing this, the relieved priests allowed the Vikings to enter the city. The “body” of Hastein was brought in by a small group of guards who, according to some accounts, carried swords under their robes. After entering the church, Hastein jumped out of the “coffin” surprising everyone and fought his way to the city gates. He then opened the gates to let his Norse warriors in.
The city’s residents had no chance to withstand the Vikings’ attack. All resistance was crushed and the city was now in the hands of the Vikings. Hastein was utterly pleased and demanded all residents to kneel before him and pay homage to him as the ruler of Rome. No-one said anything, expect for one person who had the courage to speak up. He explained to the Vikings this city was not Rome, but Luna. In their eagerness to conquer the world’s most powerful city, the Vikings had simply sailed more to the north than they should have.
Hastein was furious when he heard this. He roared that Luna would be punished for this. He gave the order to plunder the city of everything and then set Luna on fire. Residents were to be taken as slaves and if there wasn’t enough room on the ships, they would be slaughtered. Ironside’s Viking Fleet Encounter With A Muslim Fleet After Luna, Bjorn and his Viking fleet raided Sicily and the coasts of North Africa. According to some sources Bjorn Ironside and Hastein even reached as far as Alexandria, Egypt. The Viking fleet had been plundering for three years and the Norse warriors were tired and eager to get back home. On their way back home, they encountered navy forces of Al-Andalus at the Straits of Gibraltar. The Muslim fleet was ready and waiting to attack Vikings.
This was an unfortunate encounter for Bjorn and his men as they were hit by a really powerful weapon called Greek fire. The encounter with the Muslims was a disaster that ended as a massacre.
When the Viking fleet finally managed to escape, only 20 of the ships had survived the brutal and powerful Muslim forces. Bjorn Ironside wanted to restore the moral of his warriors and ordered his men to plunder the Christian parts of Spain. Then, the Vikings conquered Pamplona and demanded a large ransom for the release of the city prince. The Viking ships were once again loaded with priceless treasures.
In 862, the Bjorn Ironside and Hastein finally reached France again. Before their adventures in the Mediterranean Sea, they considered France an enemy, but now it felt almost like coming home.
Bjorn Ironside And Ivar The Boneless Revenged Their Father’s Death
After the huge success his sons Ivar the Boneless and Bjorn Ironside achieved throughout many raids all over Europe and Mediterranean Sea, Ragnar Lothbrok became jealous of his sons and did not want his sons to rule Sweden. He assigned Eysteinn Beli as a surrogate king and set on sail to raid the Kingdom of Northumbria and defeat his long-time enemy, King Aella.
However, Icelandic sagas and early English sources state Ragnar was eventually captured by the Anglo-Saxon Christian king Aella of Northumbria. It is said that Ragnar was shipwrecked on the Northumbrian coast, he and his crew survived the wreck but after meeting the Northumbrians in battle, most of his men were killed and he was captured by Aelle, King of Northumbria, who ordered him executed by throwing him into a pit filled with poisonus snakes.
Bjorn Ironside defeated Eysteinn Beli and became the King of Sweden. In the Kingdom of Northumbria Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless sought revenge for the murder of their father.
Viking forces raided Northumbria and captured King Aella alive.
The brothers decided that “the blood eagle” would be a suitable punishment for King Aella. They cut and opened King Aella’s spine, broke his ribs and pulled his lungs out as the brutal ceremony of blood eagle required and watched the king die.
When Bjorn Ironside and his brothers they came back to Scandinavia, they divided the kingdom so that Bjorn Ironside took Uppsala and Sweden.
Bjorn had two sons, Refil and Erik Björnsson and Erik became the next king of Sweden after Bjorn’s death.