How Accurate Is: Vikings (TV Show, 2013-) S1E2

Norsemen_Landing_in_Iceland

Warning: this post will contain spoilers.
Today’s post will be focusing on the second episode of the show Vikings. Overall, I found this to be a strong episode; the fact that much of it was spent at sea did not diminish from the suspense of whether or not they would reach land (although it was fairly obvious they would). In a similar vein, there were less inaccuracies in this episode, as I covered many that focus on the whole show and on the life of Ragnar last episode. This does not mean that there were none, however, so here goes:

  • It is unlikely that a monk in Anglo-Saxon Britain like Athelstan would have traveled to Scandinavia; in the show he is able to speak and understand fluent Old Norse. In the time period the show is set in, he would have had little reason or way to travel that far; a monk who was travelling would more likely have gone to one of the pilgrimage sites instead. It is possible we will find out more details on this topic later in the show, however.
  • The number of vikings and the distance of the voyage would have meant that vast amounts of supplies would have been needed; these amounts of supplies are nowhere in evidence when they are loading the ship. Similarly, the voyage would have taken much longer than it appeared to in the show. (see much more detail on this after the break)
  • Slaves were a highly sought-after commodity during viking raids; Rollo should not therefore have objected to taking monks as prisoners to be sold as slaves.[1]
  • For more detail, continue past the link.

To get to Lindisfarne from Denmark, assuming that Ragnar lives on the coastline of the Kattegat as the name of his village indicates, the Vikings would have had to travel approximately 1800 kilometres, in each direction. Today, this voyage, in a modern boat, would take just over a day (as a generous estimate; see for yourself at this site). In the Viking Age, such a voyage would have taken much longer; one recent recreation of a voyage from Denmark to Dublin, in a viking longboat, was intended to take 44 days. (although it ended up taking longer due to difficulties, something the Vikings would hardly have been immune to) The voyage to Eastern England is only 200 kilometres less than this voyage.[2] Therefore, the voyage undertaken in the show would have taken perhaps 30-35 days in total, more if the weather conditions were unfavourable, as, indeed, they proved to be. There was no indication in the episode that this much time has passed; if it had, it would have been almost eighty days by the time they returned. I admit that there is no way to tell just how long the journey took in the show, but the fact that none of their hair appears measurably longer than before is a fairly good indication that either they brought a professional barber on the voyage or the creators of the show shortened its length substantially.

Now that the length of the journey is established, the number of raiders on a historical viking voyage is also important for our calculations; 25-40 appears to have been the general maximum number. [3] Ragnar had perhaps 20 with him, so this wasn’t all that inaccurate. Livestrong suggests that the average man needs about 1500 calories a day, as an absolute minimum, to survive; this would not be a viable figure over such a long period of time, but let us nevertheless assume that this is how much they consumed. This means that the men Ragnar brought with him, on the way there, (assuming 20 exactly) would have needed 30,000 calories per day to survive, and most likely much more to keep their strength. Columbia says that 3500 calories equals one pound, and so they would have needed to bring 280 pounds of food on the voyage in order to feed the crew on the way there; perhaps another 300-310 to feed the crew and their new monk friends on the way back.[4] Watching the episode, I didn’t see room for this much food in the ship, although I admit I didn’t go over it frame-by-frame; nonetheless, it seems to me that it would be essentially impossible for Ragnar to effectively provision his ship for the voyage, especially considering how much it would cost; they seem to have spent all of their money building the ship, according to the last episode, and this appears to be confirmed by the fact that they have to threaten the blacksmith to obtain an anchor. How, exactly, they afforded and stored the 600-odd pounds of food necessary for the voyage is, therefore, a mystery.

That wraps up today’s post. I hope you enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing you next time.

References:

1 Ryan J. Quinlan, “Lindisfarne Priory.”

http://public.gettysburg.edu/~cfee/MedievalNorthAtlantic/Lindisfarne/Lindisfarne%20Priory%20by%20Quinlan.pdf

 

2 BBC News. “Recreating a Viking Voyage.” Last modified January 5, 2008.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7171577.stm

 

3 Ryan J. Quinlan, “Lindisfarne Priory.”

http://public.gettysburg.edu/~cfee/MedievalNorthAtlantic/Lindisfarne/Lindisfarne%20Priory%20by%20Quinlan.pdf

 

4 Columbia Health: Go Ask Alice. “How many calories does it take to lose one pound?” Last modified November 19, 2007.

http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/how-many-calories-does-it-take-lose-one-pound

Bibliography:

BBC News. “Recreating a Viking Voyage.” Last modified January 5, 2008.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7171577.stm

 

Columbia Health: Go Ask Alice. “How many calories does it take to lose one pound?” Last modified November 19, 2007.

http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/how-many-calories-does-it-take-lose-one-pound

 

Ryan J. Quinlan, “Lindisfarne Priory.” n.d.

http://public.gettysburg.edu/~cfee/MedievalNorthAtlantic/Lindisfarne/Lindisfarne%20Priory%20by%20Quinlan.pdf

 

University of Chicago. “Lindisfarne”. n.d.

http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/britannia/anglo-saxon/lindisfarne/lindisfarne.html

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