When you hear the History Channel is producing a series based on an ancient culture, you can’t help but automatically assume the show would be an accurate representation of the people.
But SURPRISE, while the ever-so-popular (and insanely amazing) TV series Vikings may have some historical truths, it’s also stuffed with several myths AND even a few fictional story fillers.
Like for example, did you know Vikings used their shields as a primary source for fighting and reserved their swords as secondary weapons? Or that although the men in the series (looking at you Bjorn and Rollo) may have incredibly fit, defined and intimidating figures, Vikings were actually quite small due to a shortage of crops?
One last shocker. Floki’s eyeliner, the one thing you’d expect to be added for creative effect, was actually a big part of Viking culture! Apparently Vikings loved to trace their eyes with a bit of colour because it protected their sight from the sun. So interesting.
Check out more myths and facts throughout History Channel’s Vikings series below:
FACT – Prominent dead Vikings were set on fire on a boat
When important people in the community died, they were honoured in unique funeral ceremonies. They would be laid in specially built burial ships with their clothes, jewellery, animals and all belongings. The ship would be set on fire and sent out to sea.
MYTH – Monk love
It’s very unlikely that Ragar’s best friend would have been an Anglo-Saxon monk and even more unlikely that his monk’s child would be the next King of Essex. These plotlines even have historians laughing!
FACT – The first raid actually happened
The series is set at the beginning of the Viking Age, marked by the Lindisfarne raid in 793.
MYTH – Fighting styles
Most shows and movies about Vikings tend to get one very key thing wrong about Viking combat. It was their shields that were used as the primary weapon and their swords were their secondaries.
FACT – Vikings abandoned sick children
They took pride in strength and power. If a child was sickly and not able to fight or be useful in their society, they were considered to be weak and a burden. They would leave these children to die either by abandoning them or throwing them into the sea. Children who were strong enough to survive the first five years (which only 80 percent did) would be expected to contribute to the family by learning how to fight, work the farm or work in the home. They were expected to take on tasks independently as soon as they were physically able.
MYTH – Clothes
Costumes and Armour: Everyone can agree that the actors portraying the characters in the series look pretty awesome. However, the clothing they wear is unfortunately not very historically accurate. The costumes they wear look more like something one would find in a post apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque story as opposed to a 9th century Scandinavian village.
FACT – Lodbrok means…
The name Lodbrok literally translates into “hairy trousers” or “hairy breeches”.
MYTH – What ‘Viking’ means
Many historians commonly associate the term “Viking” to the Scandinavian term vikingr, a word for “pirate.” However, the term is meant to reference overseas expeditions, and was used as a verb by the Scandinavian people for when the men traditionally took time out of their summers to go “a Viking.” While many would believe these expeditions entailed the raiding of monasteries and cities along the coast, many expeditions were actually with the goal of trade and enlisting as foreign mercenaries.
FACT – Vikings wore eyeliner
Vikings used a type of eyeliner known as kohl, which was a dark-colored powder, made of crushed antimony, burnt almonds, lead, oxidized copper, ochre, ash, malachite and chrysocolla. It helped keep the harsh glare of the sun from damaging one’s eyesight while also increasing the dramatic sex appeal of the wearer.
MYTH – Their physique
Due to the short summer seasons, growing crops was difficult and resources were always scarce. As a result, many of the Scandinavian people were much smaller than commonly depicted due to limited food sources. While the living conditions in Scandinavian regions were certainly harsh and made a hard people, many Vikings suffered from the scarcity of resources and the people set up their homes over great distances with no real unified leadership. During the Viking Age, the Scandinavian people were able to make a stronger push to the outside worlds and create a reputation for themselves beyond simple barbarism. While some Vikings were driven with the lust for riches, many sought more peaceful economic relationships with the surrounding nations.
FACT – Viking gentlemen preferred being blonde
To conform to their culture’s beauty ideals, brunette Vikings—usually men—would use a strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair. In some regions, beards were lightened as well. It’s likely these treatments also helped Vikings with a problem far more prickly and rampant than mousy manes: head lice.
MYTH – Ragnar had two wives
The show claims Ragnar was married twice, first to Lagertha, and, secondly, to Aslaug. Actually, according to legend, Ragnar was married three times. He was also married to a noblewoman Pora Borgarhjortr (his second wife).
FACT – Viking women enjoyed some basic rights
Viking girls got hitched as young as 12 and had to mind the household while their husbands sailed off on adventures. Still, they had more freedom than other women of their era. As long as they weren’t thralls, Viking women could inherit property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriages ended.
MYTH – Rollo and Ragnar are brothers
Sorry, folks. This is purely fictional. Rollo was a historical figure, and, if Ragnar did live, he and Rollo would have lived decades apart.Unlike Ragnar, Rollo’s history is well-known. In fact, the show is actually depicting Rollo fairly accurately, with the exception of being Ragnar’s brother. Rollo was born in 846 and died at the incredibly old age of 84 in 927. He founded the House of Normandy, and seven generations later, Rollo’s descendant William the Conqueror would invade England and become the first Norman King of England in 1066. Rollo is buried in Rouen, France.
FACT – The Vikings were expert boat builders
The Vikings traveled by sea were very skillful boat builders. Their boats were called longboats and were just that — long. They ranged from 52 to 120 feet (16 to 37 meters) long and as many as 60 Vikings could fit on each one. They were designed to be easy to steer on high seas as well as through shallow rivers. The longboat could land easily on beaches, which was an advantage during their raids.The boats were made out of oak or pine; any gaps were plugged with animal hair mixed with tar. They had both oars and sails, and the front of each boat had an elaborate carving designed to intimidate enemies — common examples were dragons or sea serpents.
FACT – Vikings were active in the slave trade
Many Vikings got rich off human trafficking. They would capture and enslave women and young men while pillaging Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Slavic settlements. These “thralls,” as they were known, were then sold in giant slave markets across Europe and the Middle East.