How Accurate Is: Vikings (TV Show, 2013-) S1E4

(Spoilers are eternal. They are also present within this post.)

The_Ravager

Hello everyone! Today, I am going to do another post on Vikings, this time on episode 4. This was a fairly good episode all around, and it was certainly dramatic, with several large fight scenes scattered throughout the episode and a few smaller ones as well. Furthermore, the plot advanced significantly, setting up the final confrontation between the jealous Earl Haraldsson and Ragnar Lothbrok, the protagonist. In terms of historical accuracy, this episode wasn’t the worst yet; as always, however, there are some things to talk about.

  • As previously mentioned, the raid which was depicted in this episode was historically quite short; the Vikings slew the sheriff, as they did at the end of the previous episode, and then immediately left. They did not raid a nearby town.[1] (Obviously, I understand that that would have been boring; however, if I excused historical inaccuracies for plot reasons, I wouldn’t have much to talk about, would I?)
  • Furthermore, it appears that the specific raid depicted (i.e., on the village) was not a historical raid, or at least I could not find any trace of it if so. (for a theoretically complete list of viking raids, see here)
  • As previously stated, the fact that few slaves were captured in the raid is slightly inaccurate; historically, slaves were a major source of income for viking raiders.[2]
  • While it is possible that a (another, counting Athelstan) priest in Northumbria would have spoken Norse at this point in history, I don’t know how likely it is; I have been unable to find any sources on the matter, however. (Although this site does talk about the spread of Norse to England, it doesn’t give enough dates)

I am going to talk about some of the things the episode did well after the link. (Also, see references there, as usual)

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How Accurate Is: White Collar (TV Show, 2009-2014) S1E11

WhiteCollarJadeElephants

Today’s post will be a little shorter than most of the recent ones because I wanted to point out a glaring historical inaccuracy in a show I was watching recently, one I feel is representative of how television, movies, and other media often completely disregards history when it suits them, even if it would take little effort to ensure accuracy. In this case, the episode is White Collar, Season 1 Episode 11 (This post will have spoilers for this episode of White Collar: S1E11)

Around the middle of the episode, the protagonists discover the goal of a thief who has recently robbed several very wealthy men: obtaining a set of five jade elephants supposedly given to diplomats from “all over the world” in 1421 by the Chinese Emperor (Yongle, 1402-1424) to mark the opening of the Forbidden City. Before I get into what, in my opinion, was the worst mistake this episode made, let us examine the accuracy of this statement. It is true that the Forbidden City was formally completed in 1421, and that thereafter Beijing was the capital of Imperial China. [1] At the same time, the sixth treasure voyage of Admiral Zheng He left in March 1421 with the stated goal of returning diplomats who had been brought to China on a previous voyage. [2] Thus, this statement is not entirely absurd, although it is unlikely since a large portion of the Forbidden City was destroyed in 1421 in a fire. [3]

So, although it is technically possible that the origin story of the elephants could be true, the true mistake in the episode is odd and, frankly, inexcusable. Directly after establishing a vaguely plausible reason for the existence of these elephants (which, I remind you, involves China and Chinese history), the Japanese ambassador arrives and demands the two elephants they have on hand, since they are “a priceless piece of [Japanese] history”. It was at this point that I grew confused. I had been willing to swallow the flimsily constructed backstory for the elephants, but it is beyond confusing that the same set of writers, writing an explanation for the elephants involving China, would immediately claim that they are the property of the Japanese government. No further mention of China, in fact, is made in the entire episode. Did the writers of the show simply assume that no one would notice that they had switched the country they were referring to? Did they honestly not know that Japan and China are two separate countries? I could not tell you, and neither, I suspect, could the original writers.

So, as I hope you have seen, this error is emblematic of the way that today’s media often disregards history (and even internal consistency) in pursuit of an interesting plot. The writers never provide an adequate explanation for how all five elephants wound up in New York City, not in the museums of the countries who originally obtained them, nor do they at least succeed in repeating the same backstory twice. While I was amused watching this episode, I was not impressed.

References:

1 University of California, Berkeley. “Timeline: A Chronology of the Ming Voyages”. n.d.

http://orias.berkeley.edu/pallop/timeline.html

2 University of Maine Farmington. “Forbidden City- History”. Last modified January 2010.

http://hua.umf.maine.edu/China/HistoricBeijing/Forbidden_City/

3 University of California, Berkeley. “Timeline: A Chronology of the Ming Voyages”. n.d.

http://orias.berkeley.edu/pallop/timeline.html

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How Accurate Is: Vikings (TV Show, 2013-) S1E3

Warning: this post contains spoilers. (Seriously, do not read this if you find spoilers for Vikings concerning. You have been warned.)

Summary: Today’s post will be about the third episode of Vikings (don’t worry if you don’t find Vikings interesting, I am going to try to do some different content next week). Once again, this was a fairly strong episode, although I personally felt that the villainy of the Earl was already well established, and that the murder of that peasant child was therefore unnecessary. I also forgot to mention before that I like the opening credits; they seem very professionally done in contrast to some other shows that I have watched.

Inaccuracies:

  • Why did the Earl hang the other monks in the town square? As mentioned in my previous post, slaves were a fairly valuable commodity in Norse society; so, unless the show was simply trying to illustrate the villainy of the Earl,  this was not all that likely to happen historically. [1]
  • This is probably something that I should have mentioned in a previous post, but Ragnar did not have a brother historically, or at least not one who merits any mention in the sagas. I will go into more detail on the likely historical identity of Rollo after the break.
  • In keeping with what I said in my previous post, Lindisfarne was not the first viking raid; however, the show appears to have switched the first viking raid (as mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) with the Lindisfarne raid. I say this because the events at the end of today’s episode played out the exact same way they were described in the Chronicle. Considering that the Lindisfarne raid is much more action-packed and results in treasure being obtained, this makes sense. However, if they are going to continue to follow history in this respect, they will need to have Ragnar and his raiders leave now that the sheriff is dead.[2] This seems like an unlikely story decision.
  • Further expanding on why it is so confusing that the inhabitants of Kattegat have never heard of England, the Angles (one of the Germanic tribes who would become the Anglo-Saxons) were actually from Denmark.[3] So, unless they never shared their knowledge or no one returned, the rest of Denmark should really have heard of England by now. In the same vein, the first Angles to go to England went as mercenaries and so would not have brought their families, meaning they would have gone in waves. Therefore, the knowledge would have spread.

For more, continue past the link.

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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.

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How Accurate Is: Vikings (TV Show, 2013-), S1E1

Hello everyone! Welcome to the first full post on ButISawItOnTV!

For the first subject, I have chosen to review the pilot episode of Vikings, a television show which has been airing on the History Channel since 2013. This is, in my opinion, a good subject to begin with because it is such a good representation of how television tends to adapt history (such as it is; Vikings isn’t based entirely on history in the first place, which I will get to in a second) to its needs once the screenwriting process begins. Now, before I continue, I feel I should say that there will be spoilers for the first episode, and potentially the entire show, of Vikings, so if that worries you, stopping reading now is probably a good idea. Furthermore, we are still trying to settle on many of the formatting and other design choices that we aim to establish for the site, so don’t be surprised if the first few posts are a little disorganized and different as far as design goes. Also, please let us know what you think of this format, with a (relatively) brief summary before the cut and a longer post after it, in the comments below. If you are interested in references, you can find them after the cut. So, with all of that out of the way, please join us in officially opening the very first full post of ButISawItOnTV! Thanks for joining us, and we hope you have a great time.

Summary:  Vikings evokes a strong historical atmosphere, but also makes plenty of changes to the source material.  Many of the changes made, however, are in the interest of a stronger story. My impression of the episode was a positive one; the characters were well established, and I particularly enjoyed the choice of sets and filming locations to bring an authentically medieval feeling to the table. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the episode, I couldn’t help but notice that major changes from the source material (the twelfth-century Gesta Danorum, by the chronicler Saxo, and the Tale of Ragnarr Lodbrok, by unknown sources; translated by Chris Van Dyke) include:

  • In both the Tale and the Gesta Danorum, Ragnar is the son of the King of Denmark, Sigurdr Ring (alternately, Siward Hring); in Vikings, Ragnar is a farmer. [1]
  • In Vikings, Ragnar seems to be the first person in Scandinavia who has ever heard of Britain; the rest believe it to be a legend. In fact, the raid on Lindesfarne which Lodbrok perpetrates in the show was likely not the first Viking raid on Britain.
    • To expand on this last point, the show seems to place Lodbrok approximately 70-100 years earlier in history than when he likely existed; the Lindesfarne raid took place in 793 CE, and only a few of the potential historical figures to whom Lodbrok can be tied were alive during this raid, much less sufficiently old to be raiding. (However, the chronicles do state that Ragnar began fighting at a very young age.)
  • In Vikings, Ragnar has only one son and one daughter, Bjorn and Gyda; in the two sources, he seems to have had as many as nine children (only three of whom were with Lagertha, whom he divorced, according to the Gesta, after “changing his love”). [2] Supposedly, it was some of his sons who invaded Northumbria at the head of the Great Heathen Army in 865 CE to avenge his death.
  • And more: For more detailed information on the historical accuracy of Vikings, continue past the link.

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ButISawItOnTV: Introduction

Hello everyone! This website/blog, www.ButISawItOnTV.com, will be measuring the historical accuracy of pop culture- think television shows, books, movies, video games, and potentially even more. Keep an eye on this space for new content, which should begin uploading shortly.

You can also follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ButISawItOnTv, and on Tumblr at https://www.tumblr.com/blog/butisawitontvblog. Neither of these have any content yet, but they will soon.  Both of these links are also present in the side menu and at the bottom of the page, so you don’t need to keep track of this post.

You may notice a link to an About Us page at the bottom of the page- this contains essentially the same information as this post, so feel free to refer to it at any time. Please feel free to leave a comment on the About Us page suggesting a piece of media you would like to see reviewed- there is no guarantee it will be seen, but we will do our best. Thank you for visiting, and please enjoy.

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