The historical drama Vikings told the story of Ragnar Lothbrok and his family through six seasons from 2013-2020. Although Vikings provided a lot of historical information, many of the stories were embellished or changed for entertainment purposes. Still, Vikings piqued our curiosity and sent us running to find out more about all things Viking.
In 2022, Vikings: Valhalla again transported us to the world of the Vikings. Vikings: Valhalla purports to be unrelated to Vikings, but the two shows have a lot of connections. Vikings: Valhalla takes liberties with history just like its predecessor, but it also gets a lot right.
Obvious references to people, places, and events that connect Vikings and Vikings: Valhalla got our attention. Cnut the Great talks about Ragnar Lothbrok's sons, after all! But there are a lot of subtle links, too - ones that provide context, clarify aspects of both shows, and have us ready to watch them all again.
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Emma Of Normandy Is Rollo's Great-Granddaughter
Wife to King Aethelred II of England; mother to Edward, Alfred, and Godgifu; and stepmother to Edmund Ironside (Aethelred's son by his first wife, Aethelflaed), Emma of Normandy was one of the most powerful women of the 11th century.
In Vikings: Valhalla, she tells her ailing husband she will send Edmund to fight against the Northmen in Mercia, at which point Aethelred asks about Emma's brother in Normandy. He's referring to Duke Richard II, although he never says the name, and wants to know if he will support England's efforts against the Northmen. She says he will not, and Aethelred II laments leaving Emma with a "nightmare." Emma simply reminds him that she is a Norman - and Normans "create nightmares."
Emma's link to Norman "nightmares" can be traced to the foundations of Normandy itself and, ironically, to the Northmen she plans to fight. When Rollo (a character purported to be Ragnar Lothbrok's brother on Vikings, although he is not) entered into the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte with King Charles of France in 911 CE, he agreed to pay homage to the monarch in exchange for land in the north of France.
Rollo became the first "duke" of Normandy, and his son, William Longsword, succeeded him in 927 CE. Longsword was slain in 942 CE, after which his son, Richard, became duke. Duke Richard I was followed by Duke Richard II - the brother of Emma mentioned in Vikings: Valhalla.
In short, Emma was the daughter of Richard I, grandaughter of William Longsword, and great-granddaughter of Rollo - and a descendant of Vikings.
As Cnut rallies his troops in the first episode of Vikings: Valhalla, he reminds them why they're there - for their families, for their honor, and because they're Vikings. He recalls events from 100 years earlier - and revisits Vikings in the process - by referencing the Scandinavian army that set sail to England to "avenge the death of Ragnar Lothbrok."
Cnut asserts that it was a successful mission and explains that the Scandinavians were invited to settle in England. As he describes the Danelaw and the St. Brice's Day Massacre, Cnut continues to invoke their ancestors - Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless are both exemplars of Viking duty and vengeance. They're also Ragnar Lothbrok's sons.
The St. Brice's Day mass slaying did take place on November 13, 1002, and resulted in an unknown number of deaths among Scandinavians living in England. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, King Aethelred issued an order:
To slay all the Danes that were in England. This was accordingly done on the mass-day of St. Brice; because it was told the king, that they would beshrew him of his life, and afterwards all his council, and then have his kingdom without any resistance.
In 2008, archaeologists discovered nearly three dozen skeletons in Oxford, thought to be those of victims of the St. Brice's Day mass slaying.
In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such wise that the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber; Wotan and Frikko have places on either side.
Bremen also described a mandatory festival held every nine years during which "those who have already adopted Christianity redeem themselves" by making sacrifices:
[O]f every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads, with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple... Even dogs and horses hang there with men... the incantations customarily changed in the ritual of a sacrifice of this kind are manifold and unseemly; therefore it is better to keep silence about them.
When Freydis goes to Uppsala in Vikings: Valhalla, it is at the urging of Haakon. While there, Freydis receives a sword from a priest and interacts with the Seer (the lone character to appear in both shows).
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The 'Discovery' Of North America In 'Vikings' Is Essentially Leif Erikson's Story
Ragnar Lothbrok's son, Ubbe, arrives in North America during the sixth season of Vikings, fulfilling his father's desire to find new and exotic lands. In real life, Ubbe never actually went to North America. He lived a century before Scandinavians ventured that far west, and spent most of his time raiding England. But his activities on the show resemble the sagas' description of Leif Erickson's exploits, as well as what is described in Vikings: Valhalla.
The children of Erik the Red ventured to Vinland around the year 1000 CE. According to the Saga of the Greenlanders, Leif Erikson, "a great and strong man, grave and well favored, therewith sensible and moderate in all things," arrived in Vinland, built houses, and "found vines and grapes," then left after one winter. As a result of what he found there, Leif named the land "Vinland" when he left.
Leif's brother, Thorvald, believed "that the land had been much too little explored" and went to Vinland, as did Freydis, but Leif never returned. Thorvald, alongside fellow explorers like Thorfinn Karlsefni, found resources as well as natives they called "skraelings" - or wretched people.
The remnants of the settlement established by Vikings in North America can still be seen at sites like L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. This is perhaps the same location where Thorfinn Karlsefni's son, Snorri, was born. Snorri was, perhaps, the first European born in North America.
Lagertha Lothbrok's story in Vikings went in a lot of directions. She was Ragnar's wife, Bjorn Ironside's mother, a self-defined earl, and a shield-maiden who fights alongside men and leads fellow females into battle. Accounts of the real Lagertha are a mixture of history and myth. The 13th-century Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus described her in The Danish History:
A skilled [A]mazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. [All marveled] at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.
The tradition of strong female warriors extends from Vikings to Vikings: Valhalla. Freydis seeks to avenge the men who assaulted her, trains to become a shield-maiden, and endures a public test to earn the position.
Comparable to Lagertha's development as a force to be reckoned with and a woman who "thought it pleasanter to rule without her husband than to share the throne with him," Freydis was also described in the Saga of the Greenlanders as fierce and, in Erik's Saga, mocks men running from battle by demanding "a weapon... [because] I think I could fight better than any of you."
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Erik The Red's Legacy Lives On Through Both Leif And Freydis
Erik the Red appears in Season 6 of Vikings, saving Bjorn Ironside's life before allying with him against King Harald Fairhair of Norway. Erik's future travels to Greenland are still to come and, by the time Leif Erikson and Freydis Eiríksdóttir appear in Vikings: Valhalla, Erik has come and gone. That said, he's a tie that binds the two shows.
The historical timeline of Erik the Red doesn't actually overlap with Ragnar Lothbrok, his sons, Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless, or King Harald Fairhair of Norway. This makes Erik the Red's appearance in Vikings anachronistic, but the arrival of Leif and Freydis at the beginning of Vikings: Valhalla brings the family's escapades directly into the accurate time period.
Leif Erickson did leave Greenland around the year 1000 CE to go to Norway. There's no evidence he visited England, but he returned to Greenland in 1008 CE, according to the Saga of the Greenlanders. Freydis, for her part, was also in Greenland and later traveled to Vinland with her brother.