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hrafnsmerki - the Raven Banner

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  • Ubbe Ragnarssen, {Gesta Danorum} (deceased)
    from The first source to claim kinship between the two [Ivar and Ubba] is the Latin Annals of St Neots, a twelfth-century source from Suffolk that claims they were sons of a man whose name was Latini...
  • "Ivar the Boneless" (c.775 - aft.870)
    Born: Cir 794 Marriage: Unknown Another name for Ivar was Ivar inn beinlausi. General Notes: Ivar the Boneless (Ivar inn beinlausi) (c. 794 AD (birthplace unknown) - 872 AD Dublin) was the nick...
  • Ragnar "Lodbrok" Sigurdsson (aft.740 - c.840)
    NOTE (June 2018): the text below has not been modified to reflect recent changes to this profile, namely that it now conforms more closely to the sagas with a completely separate tree having been creat...
  • Hvidserk Ragnarsson (c.790 - 877)
    .................................................................................................................................................. Halvdan Ragnarsson, også kalt Halvdan Kvitserk, tiln...

The raven banner (Old Norse: hrafnsmerki; Middle English: hravenlandeye) was a flag, possibly totemic in nature, flown by various Viking chieftains and other Scandinavian rulers during the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. The flag, as depicted in Norse artwork, was roughly triangular, with a rounded outside edge on which there hung a series of tabs or tassels. It bore a resemblance to ornately carved "weather-vanes" used aboard Viking longships.

Its intent may have been to strike fear in one's enemies by invoking the power of Odin, who was often depicted accompanied by two ravens named Huginn and Muninn.

Earliest Records

Ivar and Halfdan

The first mention of a Viking force carrying a raven banner is in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 878. Two versions of the Chronicle, known as Manuscript A and Manuscript E, relate a battle in Wessex involving three brothers, supposedly sons of the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok:

And in the winter of this same year the brother of Ivar and Halfdan landed in Wessex, in Devonshire, with 23 ships, and there was he slain, and 800 men with him, and 40 of his army.

Manuscript E then finishes the entry with:

There also was taken the war-flag (guðfani), which they called "Raven".

Note: Scholarly studies of Manuscript E show that this portion of the document was written sometime between 1116 and 1121 (at least 238 years after the event depicted), it seems to have been copied from a version of the Chronicle which no longer exists and includes portions (this one being an example) which do not appear in any other versions of the Chronicle.

Ubbe

In the same period as author of Manuscript E Geffrei Gaimar's Estorie des Engles mentions a Raven Banner being borne by the army of Ubbe(another supposed son of the legendary Ragnar Lodbrok) at the Battle of Cynwit in 878:

The Raven was Ubbe's banner (gumfanun). He was the brother of Iware; he was buried by the vikings in a very big mound in Devonshire, called Ubbelawe.

Note: the Estorie is primarily a translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to about 959. Its accuracy is questioned by scholars.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/photos.geni.com/p13/52/59/63/24/5344483ea64a7dac/raven_banner_bayeux_tapestry_medium.jpg

Lodbrok's Daughters

Contemporaneous with both the Chronicle and Gaimar's History is the manuscript known as The Annals of St Neots. The Annals relate a story of three daughters of Ragnar Lodbrok creating a magical Raven Banner to be used by their brothers leading the Great Heathen Army:

The daughters of Loðbrók had woven that banner and finished it during one single midday's time. It also is said that in any battle where the banner was borne before them, if they were to win victory one would see in the middle of the banner a living raven flying; but if they were about to be defeated, it hung straight and still.

Further Reading