There’s a good reason the sight of a Viking longship struck fear in the hearts of coastal villagers: the Vikings were bad news for everyone. When they weren’t raiding, pillaging, and demanding tribute not to raid and pillage, Vikings even fought with each other. There are so many badass Vikings that it’s tough to narrow it down, but these ten who made their peers soil their breeches.
10. Eric Bloodaxe
From age twelve through his teen years, Eric did what Vikings do and raided along the Baltic and European coasts. His father was the King of Norway and had plenty of sons to inherit the throne, so Eric solved that problem by murdering his brothers, which earned him his nickname “Bloodaxe.” One brother remained, though, and after a brief rule, Eric was driven out of Norway. The Norse sagas tell of Eric returning to raiding before settling in Northumbria and becoming its king. Northumbria was a hotly contested kingdom, though, and Eric was ultimately killed in battle.
9. Freydis Eriksdottir
Daughter of Erik the Red and half-sister to Leif Eriksson, Freydis earned her Viking warrior princess mantle by chasing off some hostile Vinland natives by herself, armed with only a sword, while pregnant. She was also an explorer; Freydis and her husband led the Viking’s fourth expedition to Vinland. While there, Freydis decided she wanted more than her share, so she lied to her husband, telling him that their partners had attacked her and demanded he kill them. (In fact, she threatened to divorce him if he didn’t.) He did but refused to murder their wives and children, so Freydis took an axe and did the job herself. When word got out about what she’d done, she was shunned, but since she was Leif’s sister, she got away with murder.
8. Sweyn Forkbeard
In 987, Sweyn Forkbeard rebelled against his father by going to war against him. Once his father was dead, Sweyn was King of Denmark. Of course, he’d hardly be a Viking without raiding, so in 982 Sweyn repeatedly attacked England. In 1000, he turned his attention to Norway, killed its king, and divided the country with his allies. Meanwhile, the English king ordered the murder of Danish lords in the St. Brice’s Day Massacre, including Sweyn’s sister, so Sweyn responded by spending the next eleven years laying waste to England until his death.
7. Harald Hardrada
Harald Sigurdsson went to war in 1030 when he was fifteen to support his half-brother, the King of Norway. Harald’s side lost, so he escaped to Kiev and spent the next fifteen years there and in Constantinople, where he became the leader of the Byzantine emperor’s Varangian Guard. Returning to Norway in 1046, he took the throne and became known as “Hardrada,” or “hard ruler”, both for his harsh rule and constant warring. Then the King of England died, and, believing he had a claim to the throne, Harald led a force of 300 ships to Northern England against another claimant, the man who would become known as William the Conqueror. Harald’s forces captured York, but at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, he took an arrow to the throat and died.
6. Bjorn Ironside
Bjorn spent most of his life raiding. He and his fleet raided along the coasts of France, Spain, Sicily, North Africa and Italy. In one Italian town, Bjorn’s forces were unable to breach the walls, so he pretended to be dead and had his men ask the town priests to bury him on consecrated ground. When his coffin was carried into the church, Bjorn jumped out, fought his way to the city gates, and opened them so his men could invade. He continued to raid until a defeat in the Straits of Gibraltar where he lost forty ships, then retired to Scandinavia and lived out the rest of his days in wealth and comfort.
5. Gunnar Hamundarson
Hero in the Brennu-Njals saga, Gunnar could fight equally with both hands and was so fast with his sword that “three seemed to slash through the air at once.” Along with his swordsmanship, he was reputed to never miss with a bow and be able to jump more than his height while wearing full battle-gear. His prowess in battle stood him in good stead as he raided along the coasts of Denmark and Norway, fighting and pillaging. Ultimately, Gunnar killed two men from the same family, and the rest of the dead men’s clan came after him. Gunnar was holding his own until his bowstring broke. He asked to use his wife’s hair to repair it, but she refused because he’d slapped her, and the attacking men overwhelmed and killed him.
4. Erik the Red
Killing was a habit for Erik; first he was exiled from Norway for murder. He moved, but after killing two neighbors, he was exiled again. Next he settled in Iceland, but, again, he fought and killed several men and was kicked out for a term of three years. Clearly, established kingdoms couldn’t hold him, so Erik sailed west, found Greenland, and spent his exile exploring. Back in Iceland, he recruited five hundred men and women to found a colony on Greenland, although only fourteen out of twenty-five ships survived the voyage. Erik founded two settlements in Greenland and declared himself the chieftain. He remained in Greenland for the rest of his life, fathering a daughter (Freydis, #8 on this list) and three sons, one of whom was explorer Leif Eriksson.
3. Ragnar Lodbrok
To win the hand of a princess, a fifteen-year-old Ragnar destroyed a poisonous snake infestation while wearing a snake-proof suit made of animal skin boiled in pitch and sand, earning him the nickname “Hairy Breeches.” Snake-killing aside, Ragnar spent most of his life raiding, using his longships to travel the rivers of France, attacking as he went. At one point, French king Charles the Bald paid Ragnar 7000 pounds of silver not to sack Paris. Those snakes would come back to bite him, though, because when Ragnar raided England, he was shipwrecked, captured, and executed by being thrown into a pit of vipers.
2. Ivar the Boneless
It’s thought that Ivar was called “the Boneless” because he had a medical condition that caused his legs to fracture easily. Not one to let broken legs stand in the way of a good fight, Ivar had his men carry him into battle on a shield and fought with bow and arrow. After the usual Viking raiding and warring, Ivar took the throne of Dublin in 856. In 865 , Ivar and his brother led a force of hundreds of longships toward Northumbria and the city of York. They captured and occupied York and then took on King Aelle, who’d had Ivar’s father executed. In revenge, Ivar ordered the king given the “blood eagle,” where the shape of an eagle was carved into his back, then his ribs cut and lungs ripped out. Following that, Ivar took the kingdom of East Anglia, having that king used as target practice and then beheaded. After his successful career as a warrior-king, Ivar returned to Dublin and spent the rest of his days there.
1. Egil Skallagrimsson
The warrior-poet Egil started at an early age; he wrote his first poem when he was three and killed another boy with an axe when he was seven. Egil continued writing poetry and killing as he grew and was eventually forced to run from Norway when the king decided he’d had enough. Being an outlaw gave Egil the chance to go pillaging and plundering, which he did, along with taking on eleven men by himself, using his teeth to tear out throats, and gouging out eyes. After a lifetime of fighting and writing epic poetry, Egil died peacefully in his 80s, after having killed the slave who helped him bury his treasure.