The Viking Age was full of legendary leaders, power-hungry monarchs, and fearsome warriors eager to conquer distant lands and reign supreme at home. But who was the most powerful of them all? 

In this list, we focus on the three Ls: land, longevity, and legacy. How much land did they control? For how long did they wield their power? What contributions did they make both during their lifetimes and to posterity? 

Ragnar is credited with leading the Siege of Paris and inspiring the Great Heathen Army, although his historical existence remains debated. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number ten: Ragnar Lothbrok 

The fact that Ragnar Lothbrok is credited with leading both the Siege of Paris and various raids throughout the British Isles is a significant plus. 

So is the legend that his death inspired the march of the Great Heathen Army on England, which changed the course of both British and Scandinavian history. 

His apparent ability to sire half of the Viking leaders of the next generation is also highly impressive. Counting against him, however, is that historians are still undecided on whether he existed at all. 

Rollo raided the French coastline and secured a large territory in northern France, establishing the powerful Duchy of Normandy. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number nine: Rollo 

Rollo was undoubtedly a powerful man. After raiding the coast of France and terrorizing the Frankish locals, he cowed the king of Francia, Charles the Simple, into awarding him a large chunk of northern France. 

The Normans, the Frankish-Norse people who would go on to rule the territory of Normandy, became immensely powerful and commanded fear and respect throughout northern Europe and beyond. 

His great-great-grandson, William the Conqueror, would conquer England and help bring an end to the Viking Age itself. 

So why is Rollo only number nine on the list? Because he gained all his glory at the time and in posterity for Normandy and France, never for his Norse homeland. 

Harald Hardrada ruled Norway for two decades while also laying claim to the thrones of Denmark and England. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number eight: Harald Hardrada 

By some measures, Harald Hardrada was one of the most accomplished and successful Vikings of all time. 

After serving as the chief of the Varangian Guard on behalf of the Byzantine emperor, Hardrada ruled Norway for 20 years and laid claim to the thrones of Denmark and England. 

At the same time, losing his life in defeat against the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Stamford Bridge forever tarnished his legacy. After all, when your passing is regularly cited as the end of the Viking Age, you can hardly expect to find yourself too near the podium. 

Ivar the Boneless is credited with leading the Great Heathen Army and consolidating Viking power in York and other areas of England. Photo: The Viking Herald

Number seven: Ivar the Boneless 

Like Ragnar Lothbrok, the legendary Ivar the Boneless is thought by some historians to be a composite of several different figures. 

However, there is strong historical evidence that one Ivar did help lead the Great Heathen Army on its 13-year tour of Britain in the 9th century. 

This Ivar is thought to have established the Viking hold over York and helped the Norse secure control of a large portion of England, leading to the eventual establishment of the Danelaw

Whether this is the same Ivar who was mentioned in the Irish annals and is believed to have established the Uí Ímair Norse-Gael dynasty in Ireland is another question. 

Sweyn Forkbeard, the son of Harald Bluetooth, was a Danish king who ruled over Denmark and Norway and successfully conquered England. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number six: Sweyn Forkbeard 

At the time of his death, Sweyn Forkbeard held the crowns of Denmark, Norway, and England.

In his lifetime, he was a fearsome warrior and ruthless strategist who waged war against his own father, Harald Bluetooth, in Denmark before wreaking havoc in England. 

The fact that he only reigned over England for a few weeks before losing his life is the one thing that stops him from rising higher in the rankings. His legacy, however, was secured by his son, King Cnut. 

Emma played a significant role in Viking Age England by marrying two kings, mothering two more, and ruling during King Cnut's absences. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number five: Emma of Normandy 

The only female ruler on our list is the inimitable Emma of Normandy

Despite hailing from the Frankish province, Emma had Norse blood running through her veins and was also a major figure in the Viking rule of England. 

In her lifetime, Emma married two kings, gave birth to two more, and was also stepmother to another. 

She was also the de facto ruler of England during the frequent absences of her husband, King Cnut, and was an influential figure in the subsequent reigns of her two sons, Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor. 

According to tradition, Rurik was a Norse chieftain invited to rule over Novgorod, which led to the establishment of the Rurikid dynasty that governed large areas of present-day Ukraine and Russia. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number four: Rurik 

In terms of the vast amount of land acquired, Rurik was potentially one of the greatest leaders with Viking roots. 

Although there are few concrete facts about Rurik’s origin, it is believed he was originally a Scandinavian member of the Varangian Guard. 

The Rurik dynasty he established would go on to rule huge swathes of present-day Ukraine and Russia before the House of the Romanovs eventually succeeded them. 

Like Rollo, however, Rurik loses points for wielding his power outside the Scandinavian sphere of influence. 

Harald Fairhair, known for uniting Norway, is often regarded as the nation's founding father, although some historians question his existence. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number three: Harald Fairhair 

Harald Fairhair was famous for uniting the kingdom of Norway and is considered by many to be the Father of the Nation. 

Fairhair is said to have reigned for nearly half a century and even indirectly instigated the settlement of Iceland after Norwegians, unimpressed with his onerous taxes, left to settle the new land. 

Harald’s offspring also enjoyed success, with Eric Bloodaxe and Haakon the Good both succeeding Harald to become kings after his death. 

The one question mark on his legacy, however, comes from the accusations of modern historians that, rather like Ragnar Lothbrok, Fairhair’s existence is more legend than fact. 

Harald Bluetooth, ruler of Denmark and Norway, constructed numerous fortresses and is credited with introducing Christianity to Denmark. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number two: Harald Bluetooth 

King of both Denmark and Norway, Harald Bluetooth was a fearsome ruler who established a series of circular fortresses, whose remains today stand as a symbol of his power. 

Bluetooth is also thought to be responsible for introducing Christianity to Denmark.

His son, Sweyn Forkbeard, and grandson, Cnut the Great, would also rule England. And if that’s not enough, his legacy also extends to lending his name to Bluetooth, one of the most ubiquitous pieces of technology in the 21st century. 

Cnut the Great's reign marked the zenith of Viking power, overseeing a vast empire spanning England, Denmark, and Norway. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Number one: Cnut the Great 

For pure Norse power, however, no one can compete with Cnut the Great

At the height of his power, Cnut commanded the North Sea Empire, encompassing the kingdoms of England, Denmark, and Norway, and also held much influence in Ireland

His reign over the first three countries, which lasted for approximately 14 years before his death in 1042, was arguably the high point of the Viking Age in terms of power and influence. His death, on the other hand, marked the beginning of its decline.

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