12 Historically Inaccurate Details From History Channel's 'Vikings'

January 17, 2018

Well the History Channel seems to be not so accurate according to this article from Ranker. Which is kind of a bummer because we really love Vikings...

 

 

When viewers are watching a film or TV show, they really shouldn’t take for granted the “reality” presented in its plot. Actually, you would have to be really naive to do so. However, there are times when you really don’t know if you should believe what you’re seeing or not, especially if the channel you’re watching is called History. One such case is the History Channel’s Vikings, a historical drama that is supposed to be loosely based on facts and Norse sagas.

 

Despite the undeniable awesomeness of the series, the crazy-good acting, and the immense success of the show, there are some hilarious inaccuracies that any history buff can easily spot. Does this mean that the show isn’t good? Hell no! The show is truly good, and if it hasn’t gotten your attention yet, be advised that you should start watching it immediately. Just make sure you don’t take everything you see in the series literally because, as the following list shows, there are issues with the historical authenticity of the plot at times. 

 

Norse Men Were Not So Generous With Their Women

 

There's no doubt that ancient Norse society was male dominated. Accounts that exist from the period as well as the historical research that has been done on it generally corroborate this fact. Despite this, however, women were highly respected in Norse society and had great freedom, especially when compared to other European societies of that time. For example, they managed the family finances; widows could be rich and important landowners; and the law protected women from a wide range of unwanted attention. However, they did not participate in trading or raiding parties as the show depicts, and their role focused on the management of the household and farm in their husbands' absences.

 

The most blatant historical inaccuracy, however, is that, according to the series, Norse women slept around, cheated quite a bit, and their husbands had no problem sharing them with other men - who can forget when Ragnar asked Athelstan to have a threesome with him and his wife, Lagertha? - when, in fact, there were lists of penalties for offenses ranging from kissing to intercourse. So, it would be safe to say that what we see happen in the show in this instance is closer to the plot of a porn parody than what really went on back then. 

 

Rollo And Ragnar Probably Never Met And Were Definitely Not Brothers

 

Rollo’s character is based on the Norwegian Viking Gange-Rolf, the man who became the first ruler of Normandy. He is recorded as being the first Norse leader to settle in Frankia, and he continued to reign over Normandy until at least 928 CE. His descendants became known as the Normans, lending their name to the region of Normandy in France. He is also the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror, also known as William I of England, which means that Rollo is one of the ancestors of the present-day British royal family. He was born in 846 CE and died in 930, so not only was he not Ragnar’s brother (he also didn’t know Ragnar in real life), but he also gets included in historical events that occurred before he was even born. 

 

 

The Vikings Wore Helmets That The Show Totally Ignores

 

Any true fan of Vikings should feel relieved about the fact that Michael Hirst (the writer of the series) doesn’t present that ridiculous stereotypical image of the raiders wearing those funny little horned helmets, which it has been historically proven the Norsemen never wore in battle. In reality, those horned helmets were only used in religious ceremonies and for display.

 

However, Hirst falls into another trap and depicts the Vikings as fighting without wearing any helmets at all, which is simply wrong. Considering that most combat fatalities come from head wounds, the helmet has been the single most precious piece of armor for pretty much every warrior in history, and that doesn’t exclude the Vikings. One could claim that Hirst probably does this in order for the main heroes to be easily recognized by the viewers during a battle scene, but it’s still a historical inaccuracy since the famous raiders wore fighting helmets made from leather or iron.

 

The Vikings Didn’t Call Each Other “Viking”

 

During the Viking Age, the people of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden spoke a language called Old Norse, but there’s no historical evidence that they used the word Viking to ethnically identify each other. This, despite the fact that viewers see them proudly calling each other a Viking throughout the series. There are various theories as to how the word Viking came to be, but there are no credible historical sources that verify what the Vikings called themselves. What scholars know for a fact is that the people the Vikings invaded, such as the Saxons and the Franks, usually referred to them as Nords, Norsemen, Northmen, or Danes. In reality, the word Viking became popular worldwide for the first time during the Romantic era in the nineteenth century, when the study of Viking-age history became fashionable. 

 

The Show’s Geography Is All Over The Place (Except Its Actual Location)

 

According to the Old Norse poetry and sagas from the Viking Age, the real Ragnar Lodbrok was the son of the Swedish King Sigurd Hring and a relative of the Danish king Gudfred. Logically, he probably lived in Sweden or Denmark. However, in the series, Ragnar’s kingdom is located in a deep fjord that looks exactly like the ones you would find on the west coast of Norway. What complicates things even more is that Denmark and Sweden do not have fjords like the one in the series.

 

In the eighth episode of the first season, viewers see Uppsala for the first time, and the temple of Odin is shown as a wooden stave church in the mountains. In reality, the temple was actually situated on flat land, while stave churches were a hallmark of Christian architecture from the 11th century onward. After spotting these geographical inaccuracies, the fact that the Vikings refer to the British Isles as “England” when this name didn’t even exist at the time shouldn’t surprise anyone. 

 

 

Lagertha Wasn’t As Badass As The Series Portrays Her

 

Sorry to disappoint you guys and gals, but the whole concept of the “shieldmaiden” is based on Scandinavian folklore and myth, since there’s not even a single credible source that proves the existence of a group of Viking women who had chosen to fight as warriors. Sure, there’s archeological evidence that proves a number of women took part in some raids and battles, but this was a rare occurrence, and most historians speculate that their role in battle was limited. So they could never have compared to Lagertha in terms of fighting skill. In reality, Lagertha is pulled more from Scandinavian myth than she is from reality. 
 

Viking Clothing In The Show Is Completely Wrong

 

It’s an undeniable fact that the Vikings left very few images and written descriptions of their clothing and general fashion. What makes things even worse for people trying to recreate their clothes for TV is that archeological evidence is extremely limited as well. Thus, historians and researchers examining the evidence usually come to different conclusions. However, they would all agree that the Vikings didn’t dress with the kind of leather biker outfits that the show often depicts. Instead, they probably constructed their clothes from wool, using surprisingly complicated patterns with many pieces that needed to be cut out of the fabric and sewn back together. Also, they definitely didn’t limit their choice of color to black, brown, and gray as the show presents, but they instead loved vivid colors like blue, red, and yellow.

 

According To The Show’s Timeline Ragnar Should Have Invented Time Travel

 

Fans of the series probably remember Ragnar and his crew raiding a monastery on Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the northeast coast of what is today England during the first season, a real raid that took place in 793 CE. For the record, this is seen by many contemporary historians as the beginning of the Viking Age. Then, in Season 3, Ragnar and his crew haven’t aged a tiny bit and attack Paris, a historical event that took place in 911 CE, nearly 120 years after the sack of Lindisfarne’s monastery. In other words, Ragnar and his fellow Vikings were either vampires, or they had invented a time travel machine that the history books don’t tell us about.

 

Christians Didn’t Use Crucifixion As Punishment Or Execution

 

Many significant things took place in the fourth episode of Season 2, including Athelstan’s crucifixion, which, no matter how you look at it, is WRONG. Thankfully, Athelstan didn’t die because King Ecbert ultimately saved his life, but it's likely the case that - because of that wildly inaccurate scene - the show lost many religious fans. See, no matter how hard you might try, you won’t find a single recorded incident of the early Church in Britain using crucifixion as a tool of punishment for apostates. And if you think about it, why would you place a heathen in the same position as the person you worship? Especially during a period when Christians were trying to peacefully proselytize the pagans all around them. If history's any indication, you wouldn't.

 

Pitched Battles Were As Rare As Chinese Cuisine For Vikings

 

In the show, viewers often see Vikings lining up on the battlefield, facing their enemies, and running at them like the ancient Greeks and Romans would have done. In reality, however, this way of fighting was very uncommon for them, as they’d rather go raiding and take their adversaries by surprise. Their war philosophy was based on speed and effective ambush, which was the main reason why they wouldn’t send many ships on their first raids and made surprise attacks. So, in order to move quickly during a raid, they did not wear much armor - as the show correctly highlights - and used long swords and axes for weapons. Of course, that doesn’t mean the Vikings never engaged in pitched battles; they did, but just not in the way the show often portrays.

 

Soldiers Of Wessex Wear Italian Helmets Seven Centuries Ahead Of Their Time

 

If you don’t have an issue with how fashion has progressed throughout history, this minor historical inaccuracy might not bother you. But a true history buff should be annoyed with how the show depicts the soldiers of Wessex. In the land of King Egbert's rule, soldiers can be seen wearing helmets that not only didn’t exist during the period (they came about 700 years later), but also were designed in Italy, not England. See, what the soldiers of Wessex wear in the show are burgonets of an Italian style that came into existence in the 16th century and became particularly popular in Renaissance Florence. 

 

Saint Ansgar Is Depicted As A Failure In The Show (Which Was Not The Case At All)

 

Many of you might not even remember the young Christian missionary who was executed after he failed to impress Queen Aslaug in Season 3. This young man was Ansgar, one of the most famous missionaries of medieval Europe and the first archbishop of Hamburg. Ansgar was cordially received by King Björn and became the first-ever preacher of the gospel in Sweden. He also organized the hierarchy in the Nordic countries and was declared Patron of Scandinavia. What’s even more impressive is that Ansgar succeeded in thwarting a pagan rebellion before returning to his homeland, Bremen, in 854 CE. Despite his immense historical impact in Scandinavian countries, the writers decided to portray him as an absolute loser who died violently at a young age. The real Ansgar died peacefully at 64, quite an advanced age for his time. 

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