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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