• 'Vikings' presents a, well, creative version of history. (SBS)
It's complicated.
By
Shane Cubis

3 Jan 2019 - 10:42 AM  UPDATED 3 Jan 2019 - 11:04 AM

Since it first began, there’s been a lot of debate around Vikings’ historicity, especially since it’s made by the documentary-focussed HISTORY Channel. And while most of us are happy to take the adventures of our Kattegutian heroes and villains at face value, it’s worth sorting the major diversions from what actually happened.

Or, to be more precise, what current historians believe happened based on the fragmentary evidence of the time.

 

The sons are real, but the dad?

You might want to sit down for this one. It turns out that while Ivar, Bjorn, Sigurd and the other one are considered to have been actual historical figures, there’s less evidence that the man from whose loins they sprang was real. (There has to have been a better way to put that.)

Yep, it turns out Ragnar Lothbrok could’ve been an imaginary folk hero like Robin Hood or King Arthur. It’s kinda like if, in the future, people credited Gough Whitlam with giving the Light on the Hill speech, delivering the Apology to the Stolen Generations and disappearing at sea.

 

England’s playing Musical Thrones

Sometimes the show takes glaring liberties with historical fact for the sake of narrative convenience. The most recent-slash-egregious instance of this is what’s gone on with the crown over in England. In Vikings, Aethelred steps aside at mother Judith’s urging so Alfred can take the big chair. But in the real world, it was a lot different.

For starters, Alfred had four brothers. And Aethelred – known to history as “The Unready” – ruled as king, fought Norse invaders, wasn’t amazing at war and died. In the meantime, Alfred learnt the business of the battlefield so when he bellied up to the throne he wasn’t wet behind the ears. He was *ahem* The Ready.

 

Rollo was a rolled-gold legend

And obviously not the brother of Ragnar, since we’ve already talked about him probably not being an actual guy. Even if he was, Rollo lived in a different era. A bona fide Norse hero, he was responsible for besieging Paris, became the first Duke of Normandy and probably didn’t have hair as beautiful or lustrous as our bloke.

On the other hand, they did write a play about him in the 17th century. And his descendant, William the Conqueror, is even better known to history. When people talk about the “Normans”, it all started here with Rollo.

 

Time is out of joint

Even when Vikings is portraying real-world events, it’ll often take the opportunity to shift them back and forth through time by a few decades or centuries. For example, when Ragnar and co. raided the Lindisfarne monastery back in season one and kidnapped Athelstan? That was 793.

Skip forward two seasons for the big Paris assault? That was 845 – half a century later. Alfred the Great took the throne in 871. And as we already said, Rollo was Duke of Normandy – from 911 to 927. This is like Gough Whitlam also being the driving force behind Federation, the Republic Referendum and the Postal Plebiscite.

 

Vikings airs on Thursdays at 9:30pm on SBS. Miss the previous episode? Catch up at SBS On Demand:

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