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 has "History" in its name. 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 undeniably awesome action, the great acting, and the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.