12 Historical Inaccuracies in The History Channel’s VIKINGS Series

VIKINGS is an Irish-Canadian television series written and created by Michael Hirst, for the History Channel, and is tremendously successful.

I love the show, but if you have an understanding of Viking, Anglo Saxon and Frankish history, then I would advise that in order to enjoy the series you should suspend disbelief, or at the very least take it with a LARGE pinch of salt. But hey, it’s TV, it’s entertainment, and it’s for fun, right?

The life and times of Viking Ragnar Lodbrok, “a farmer who rose to fame by successful raids into England and eventually became king of Denmark,” has gripped popular imagination and renewed interest in the Vikings.

Indeed, most of the enthusiastic fans of the VIKINGS series were probably not even aware of much of the history of the Vikings before this series were launched March 2013. VIKINGS is now in a fifth season, and with any luck, they will go on to do a sixth. One understands that some artistic licence needs to be made for films, but the series does consist of some minor and some quite major historical inaccuracies. 

1. Where are their helmets?

Inexplicably, none of the Vikings seem to wear any helmets in combat. Considering that most combat fatalities come from head wounds, the helmet was the single most important piece of armour for any veteran warrior. Viking helmets were advanced and effective, presenting a terrifying visage to their enemies. Viking helmets were effective at intimidating their enemies.

Most, when faced with these Viking warriors emerging from the sea, with helmet, shield, chain-mail armour and sword, or axe, and spear, fled without even attempting to oppose them. Presumably, the filmmakers wanted their stars to be easily identified and so have dispensed with helmets entirely. Many of their key actors, such as Rollo, survives despite wearing no armour at all and are presented as fighting wearing only trousers!

2. Looks are everything?

Many of the Vikings are depicted as having shaved their heads, including Ragnar, who apparently has his head covered in tattoos. There is no historical evidence that the Vikings did that. Anyone who has lived in Scandinavia would be aware that it gets incredibly cold in the winter. To deliberately remove the hair from ones’ head when living in often icy conditions and sailing the open seas, would be uncomfortable to say the least.

Ragnar Lodbrok in Vikings series 4, played by Travis Fimmel.

3. Absence of security for settlements.

There are some graphic scenes of massacres of civilians – women and children, depicted in VIKINGS. However, these are not of Saxon civilians killed by Viking invaders, but Viking settlers killed by Saxons. In a bizarre twist, the History Channel portrays the Vikings as settling without any semblance of security, with indefensible villages spread out in the open, without any form of stockade, fortification or protective measures.

Not even towers are erected. That just never happened. Considering that the Vikings were invaders, they took extraordinary measures to erect comprehensive fortified structures, normally in circles, surrounded by a moat and sharpened stakes, with all their dwellings neatly organised around a great hall within the fortification. Archaeologists are still digging up these Viking settlements within the British Isles.

Large Viking settlements were often surrounded by pallisades and the entrances protected by towers. None of this is in evidence in the TV series.

4. Inexplicably, Hirst’s VIKINGS television series depicts the temple to Odin at Uppsala as a wooden stave church in the mountains. The historic temple was actually situated on flat land and the stave churches were a hallmark of Christian architecture from the 11th Century onward.

5. Crucifixion by Christians

Hirst’s VIKINGS program portrays a crucifixion of a prominent character, the Christian monk, Athelstan, who had been abducted from Lindisfarne monastery, as being crucified by the orders of a Christian bishop in Wessex.

There is absolutely no case recorded where Christians used this form of execution to punish apostates. The Emperor Constantine officially outlawed crucifixion in the 4th Century.

Not only would such a mode of execution be abhorrent and blasphemous to any Christian, but there is no example of any Christians anywhere, let alone in Wessex, in the 9th Century, practising it.

6. Anachronistic clothing and fashions.

The wardrobe department has evidently had a lot of fun clothing the actors. However, many of the fashions seem more 20th and 21st Century, particularly the leather trouser designs. Some of the outfits seem to have come from a futuristic Mad Max episode. As for the bizarre and impractical hairstyles, shaven heads and abundance of tattoos, it would appear that great liberties have been taken with actual Viking culture and history.

7. The dates don’t add up.

Appropriately, the VIKING series begins with 793 A.D., with the launch of the Viking age and the notorious raid on the Lindisfarne monastery. However, the same man, Ragnar Lodbrok, who is meant to have been involved in the raid of Lindisfarne, is historically the one who led the siege of Paris in 846 B.C. That would have made him extremely old indeed by that time if he had also been at Lindisfarne in 793.

8. Rollo was not Ragnar’s brother.

The famous Viking Rollo (846 – 932 A.D.) seized Rouen in 876 A.D. and led the Viking fleet that besieged Paris 885-886 A.D. He was baptized as a Christian, married a French princess and it was his great, great, great grandson, William, Duke of Normandy, who invaded England in 1066 and became William I of England. Therefore, Rollo is one of the ancestors of the present-day British Royal family. Chronologically, there is no way he could have been contemporary with Ragnar Lodbrok, let alone his brother.

Rollo, (Clive Standen) as depicted in the History Channels hit TV series ‘Vikings’.

9. What do we know of Ragnar Lodbrok?

The Norse Sagas identify Ragnar Lodbrok as the father of Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Ubba.

He was married three times:  to the shield maiden Lagertha, to the noble woman Dôra, and to Aslaug (all Scandinavian women).

Ragnar was the son of the Swedish king Sigurd Hring and a cousin of the Danish king, Gudfred. He distinguished himself with many raids and conquests, including the first siege of Paris, 846 A.D. He was seized by King Aella of Northumbria and killed by being thrown into a pit of snakes. His sons avenged him by invading England with the Great Heathen Army in 865 A.D.

10. In VIKINGS, the Christian’s are made out to be more treacherous than the heathen. Hirst’s History Channel saga depicts the Christians as more (or on a par with) treacherous, vile and perverted than the heathen. Whilst Christian’s of the period did engage in acts of terror, they were no more or less ‘barbarous’ than their Viking neigbours.

11. The Missionary Ansgar

The Apostle Ansgar was not the failure that Hirst depicts being executed by queen Aslaug when he failed a test. In fact Ansgar (801-865) known as The Apostle to the North, not only lived a long life, but succeeded in winning Vikings to Christ.

Numerous miracles accompanied his ministry and so impressed the Vikings, that they concluded that Christ is greater than Thor. Not that you would know any of this from watching Hirst’s History Channel fiction.

12. Alfred was the illegitimate son of the monk Athelstan. 

Possibly the biggest stretch of the truth in the series, was to suggest that the Princess Osburh had an affair with Athelstan and bore him a child, the future King Alfred the Great.

In the series, the King of Wessex, King Egbert, encouraged this infidelity and then blackmailed Osburh (his son’s wife) into becoming his mistress. The King’s son, Æthelwulf, is then persuaded that this was all the work of Christ and that he should accept it. None of this is in any way true.

Æthelwulf and Osburh were said to be extremely pious Christians, and there is no evidence of infidelity or impropriety on the part of the future Queen, and Alfred of Wessex was very much Æthelwulf’s son.

Æthelwulf and Osburh

Original post by Dr. Peter Hammond

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Peter Hammond is a Missionary in Africa with Frontline Fellowship P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725 Cape Town South Africa, Tel: 021-689-4480 Email:  mission@frontline.org.za Website:  www.frontline.org.za.

For an account of how the Vikings were won to Christ, see “Winning the Vikings for Christ on www.ReformationSA.org. This can also be viewed as a PowerPoint with pictures though our Slideshare link. You can also listen to an audio lecture, “How the Vikings Were Won to Christ, on our SermonAudio.com link.

 

14 thoughts on “12 Historical Inaccuracies in The History Channel’s VIKINGS Series”

  1. Shouldn’t that have a spoiler alert on it! Lol. I Guess tv tends to be a bit more ‘dramatic’ for entertainment purposes. If ‘sold’ as a serious history programme though it’s wrong.

    1. Ha! Yes, I should have mentioned that there are some spoilers in this post! I was ok with most of the historical inaccuracies, the one that was difficult to accept was the parentage of King Alfred the Great. He is an icon of English history, and as a proud man of Wessex, I had to include this as an incorrect aspect of the Vikings genre.

  2. This is great! One of the biggest things about Vikings that really irks me are the inaccuracies. Not that I’m an expert, but if even someone with as little knowledge as me can spot the more glaring inaccuracies, that’s pretty bad. Lol! I’m OK with the show for when I’m bored, but I certainly don’t think it’s great. Now, if only the last kingdom series had this kind of budget, I expect we’d really be in for a treat!

    1. I couldn’t agree more Jessica. When I saw the Last Kingdom for the first time, I was hooked! I don’t think the two series bear comparison. I do like Vikings, but like you, I tend to watch with a tendency to hope that something great is about to happen, but I end up being a little disappointed at the end of the episode. There seems to be a lot of build-up and no crescendo. The invasion of Paris looks promising (that’s as far as I have got for now), but I fear that the outcome will be a let-down. I hope I’m wrong!

      1. Which season is the invasion of Paris? I have the first three seasons, and the third has something with Paris. Unless there is another invasion of Paris, then sorry to break it to you, but that was a disappointment, in my opinion. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but in the States, there were all these stupid “soap operas” that are on daytime TV. Shows like Days of Our Lives. Really awful, over the top hyped up drama, with lots of stupid love triangles. Well, at times, that’s how the Vikings is, I think.

      2. It’s the same here. The invasion is at the end of season 3. I have the first three seasons, I was hoping that the beginning of season 4 would be more exciting with the taking of Paris. I can’t imagine that it’s going to improve, unless Ragnar’s son’s do something interesting.

      3. Ragnar kind of annoys me. He tries way to hard to be cool, and it just doesn’t work. Some people might fall for his act, but I think it’s absurd. Best thing to do is watch it like it’s a comedy! 😂

      4. Do yo mean the way he talks? The actor who plays Rollo is tolerable, but the writing is fairly awful for his character, unfortunately. Björn also isn’t too bad, even if he has weird hairstyles that are not fitting with the times. 😂

      5. Yes, he has a strange pitch to his voice. Rollo is good, but Ragnar seems to spend far too much time whimsically looking at trees and gazing longingly out to sea. The long, hard stare he has is becoming a little tiresome. I do agree that Bjorn is a good character (odd hairstyle aside ;))

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s