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The Real Meaning Behind Lagertha's Name On Vikings

The historical drama "Vikings" ran on The History Channel for six seasons. Created by Michael Hirst, who had previously been behind the Showtime historical drama "The Tudors," "Vikings" followed the exploits of Viking Norsemen from the medieval era of what would eventually become the Scandinavian region. 

One of the main characters the show followed over its run was Lagertha. Played by Katheryn Winnick, Lagertha was the first wife of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) as well as the mother of Gyda (Ruby O'Leary) and Björn (Alexander Ludwig). A shield-maiden, Lagertha fights in many battles over the course of the show's run, becoming an essential character in the process. In fact, Winnick appeared in 71 of the show's 93 episodes, more than any other cast member (via IMDb).

Many viewers wondered if there was a significance to Lagertha's name on the show, as Hirst has spoken about pulling the characters from history. Here's what Lagertha's name really means.

Lagertha's name symbolizes warrior women

The Gesta Danorum, a 13th-century text on Danish history, features the most prominent mention of Lagertha, per the World History Encyclopedia. The text talks about Ragnar going after King Frø, who killed his grandfather, for vengeance. On his way, he is met by a group of women warriors who want to join forces with him to take down King Frø. Lagertha is among these women, and she leaves the biggest impression on Ragnar.

Ragnar courted Lagertha for a while, and she ultimately sets a bear and dog to fight him when he visits her home. Despite being surprised by them, Ragnar defeats both of them, and the two get married, finally having two daughters and a son. However, Ragnar maintains a certain distrust of Lagertha due to her willingness to set animals on him, and when the opportunity arises to potentially marry King Herodd's daughter Thora, Ragnar divorces Lagertha.

Lagertha, however, returns later on in the story, responding to Ragnar's plea for aid during the Danish Civil War with 120 ships, and proves to be the deciding factor in the battle, turning the tide by outflanking the enemy when they seemed to be winning. She ultimately murdered her husband and took up the ruling throne in his place.

Lagertha's legacy in history is being that of a Viking shield-maiden, and a warrior woman in ancient times when not many women played that role. 

Lagertha is inseparable from Vikings

Numerous doubts have been cast on the historical accuracy of the Gesta Danorum, including the existence of a real-life Ragnar Lothbrok (per World History). In a similar fashion, there remain doubts about whether Lagertha was a real person or not as well.

The most common theory suggests that the Lagertha that Saxo Grammaticus wrote about in the Gesta Danorum was a shift in the name from Lathgertha, which was another name for the goddess Thorgerd, as discussed in "Mythology: Strange and Exciting Legends from around the World." Thorgerd herself had a reputation as a guardian, which lines up with the legends of Lagertha, especially with her coming to Ragnar's aid and helping turn the tide in the battle in the Danish Civil War. 

In the 2015 book "The World of Vikings," it's pointed out that "a shield maiden was a woman who often bore a burning grudge that could only be avenged through bloodshed, someone who put on men's clothes (somewhat taboo in Viking society) and moved into the realm of men." This establishes how Lagertha came to carry that title, as it's a perfect description of her when she is introduced in the Gesta Danorum and is further solidified by her final act of killing her husband and taking his throne.

"The Real Valkyrie: The Hidden History of Viking Warrior Women" attributes Lagertha's current fame to the show and Winnick's portrayal of the character, with "Vikings and the Vikings: Essays on Television's History Channel Series" also backing that claim.

"The strong, independent character of Lagertha is one of the best aspects of 'Vikings' and it is not surprising that she has become very popular, with her image appearing whenever an online search for 'Viking warrior woman' or 'shieldmaiden' is conducted ... Lagertha appears to have become the popular epitome of a shield-maiden," the latter publication reads.