5 Things The History Channel’s “Vikings” Got Terribly Wrong

One of the most popular history channel series at the moment called Vikings is loosely based on the Norse saga known as the Saga of Ragnar Lodbrok, a sequel to the Völsung Saga. As for the show itself, it is well-cast and well-acted one. Even though some praise the series for the high-quality acting, others such as historians find this television show inaccurate in factual terms.

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Ragnar Was Swedish

There are some historical facts that Ragnar never existed. Credits: Wikia.com

There are some historical facts that Ragnar never existed. Credits: Wikia

According to the show, Ragnar was a Norseman, but he was nothing like that for his origin was Swedish i.e. he was the son of the Swedish king Sigmund Hering. He also had some Danish origins, because he was a relative of the Danish king Gudfred. It is widely held and known that all of the Ragnar Lodbrok’s sons were actual historical figures (Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Björn Ironside, Ubba and Ivar the Boneless), but there are no factual proofs that Ragnar actually existed. Even if he did exist, he might not have been called Ragnar whatsoever. What’s for sure is that the deeds of this famous Viking coincide with the deeds of many other Viking rulers and heroes.

The Timeline of the Series Is Messed Up

The series's timeline does not match with the historical chain of events. Credits: Winchester University History Student's Blog

The series’s timeline does not match with the historical chain of events. Credits: Winchester University History Student’s Blog

In the series, Ragnar is depicted as a man in his mid-late twenties. He is portrayed as the leader of the raid on Lindisfarne, an island off the northern coast of England. Ragnar Lothbrok, the historical figure, happened to invade this island 50 years later. Therefore, he would have to be an elderly man in his seventies, because it was in the 840’s that he and his Viking fleet invaded and sacked Paris. Taking the historical period into consideration, it is highly unlikely that he was 90 years old when he died in Northumbria. Except in rare cases, no man lived that long 1000 years ago.

The Storyline Is Not Completely Based on the Historical Facts

Ragnar was not the first Viking to explore the west. Credits: Vikings Fan

Ragnar was not the first Viking to explore the west. Credits: Vikings Fan

The series also got it wrong when it comes to one another “line”. According to the show storyline, Ragnar discovers the unexplored parts of the world, i.e the North Sea, in order to raid England. Ragnar becomes the groundbreaker who explores the unexplored lands to the west, which the Vikings are even unaware of. Unfortunately, this is not in line with the historical truth. Scandinavian seamen are known to have been sailing to the west and raiding the British isles since the Roman era. There is no doubt that Ragnar and his people were acquainted with the English lands and people because the English themselves had confronted the Vikings in the 5th and 6th century AD in pursuit of conquering their lands.

Combat Styles and Armor Items Were Different

Vikings used shields as their primary weapon. Credits: Pinterest

Vikings used shields as their primary weapon. Credits: Pinterest

In the show, the Vikings are prone to using swords as their primary weapon. The history shows that the Vikings used shields as their primary weapon, and swords as their secondary weapon. Even though the sword is the major damage dealer, it was rarely used on its own. The Vikings age demanded a shield-bind combat, and blade-on-blade contacts were uncommon at the time. They either used only shields, or shields and swords concurrently. When it comes to armor, the show portrays the Viking warriors with the lack of armor. The Vikings wore shirts of leather or mail in battle, and iron helmets, as well. Apart from the enemies of Vikings, these warriors are presented bareheaded, which was not the case.

Chieftains Were Not Privileged

Chieftains were not as ruthless as portrayed in the series. Credits: The Chronicle Herald

Chieftains were not as ruthless as portrayed in the series. Credits: The Chronicle Herald

As pictured in the Vikings series, the jarl is the one who has control over the Thing. In the series, the jarl owning the Thing is depicted as a despot who thinks he is more important than his fellowmen. But, in reality, this behaviour of  the jarl would never have been tolerated. On the contrary, one of the Viking laws stated that chieftains who had too much power or were too arrogant had to be disobeyed.

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What do you think?

  • RobDegraves

    This is a very poorly written and researched article. 1. Ragnar is a mythological figure who’s exact origin could be based on a number of person, not all of which are Swedish. You can’t say he might not have existed as well as give him a definite origin. 2. Many people lived to a very advanced age, assuming they survived the various and all too common ways one could be killed. You would have had about the same proportion of people living to 90 as you do now, as long as they didn’t suffer any major illnesses, though this also depended on diet. It was the infant mortality rate that lowered the average life span. 3. No problem there, the Norse had been to England for centuries before. 4. Combat. The article has this almost completely wrong. Shields were very important but were not considered the primary weapon. The most common weapon would be the axe or spear, simply for economic reasons. Swords were expensive and only used by the wealthy. There are a lot of debates currently ongoing on how the Norse fought, considering that there is very little evidence since the Norse didn’t write. We have sagas and archeology to guide us, after that it’s all trying to recreate it from a practical stand point. Also, armor was also a question of practicality. Mail was rare because it was very expensive and even helms were hard to come by initially. Most Norse would have fought in what they could afford, leather and cloth most often. 5. The Jarl is badly portrayed in the first season, it was good to have him gone as it did not reflect Norse culture in any way. The show got better at that later on. I am all for bringing more correct historical content to tv and film, but this sort of article does not help. One also has to keep in mind how little we know about the Norse, particularly the details. There is constant debate on even well established facts about the various Norse cultures.

  • Shamis Sabri

    nice article

  • solerso

    The stylized, post modern hipster/red neck tough guy look is pretty dated and stupid too. As you’ve pointed out “Viking” society was not elitist anywhere near the extent assumed in the TV show..Viking “kings” (chieftans) were herders and fishermen. Men did not have the time or the interest in styling their hair – or in daily shaving, beards were ubiquitous, and worn long. From early medieval Scandanavian wood cuts and personal descriptions from period literature we have to assume that men grew their hair until it became an impediment, (this a matter of individual comfort/taste) then they cut it .Only slaves had shaven heads.The medieval tonsure worn (in humility) by monks may be, in part, a remembrance of this

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