Vikings TV Series - Truths and Fictions
Vikings (2013-present) is a historical fiction TV series created and written by English screenwriter Michael Hirst for the History Channel. Filmed in Ireland, the show draws on Scandinavian and European history and lore as it follows the life of legendary Viking chief Ragnar Lothbrok, his descendants, and the kings and cultures the Vikings influenced in the 8th and 9th centuries CE.
Since its premiere, questions have consistently been posed by viewers as to the historical accuracy of the show and, while there are many, some of the major differences between history and the series will be addressed below.
Warning: Spoiler Alert - if you have not seen the show yet, you may not want to read further.
Although many of the characters in Vikings are based on historical figures, and a number of events actually happened, there are significant departures throughout. In order to create a seamless narrative and engaging story arc, historical events are often telescoped, combined, compressed, or otherwise altered.
A notable example of this is how, in Season 1:2, Ragnar attacks the Lindisfarne Abbey in Northumbria (carrying off the fictional Athelstan character) and in Season 3:10 Rollo is offered land and the princess Gisla in marriage to defend West Francia from any future Viking raids. The historical attack on Lindisfarne (for which no Viking leader is named) came in 793 CE while the deal brokered between Charles the Simple of West Francia (r. 893-923 CE) and Rollo the Viking chief (r. 911-927 CE) was in 911 CE Ragnar and Rollo would then be over 100 years old at the time of Rollo's treaty with Charles.
Sign up for our free weekly email newsletter!
The role historical regions such as Wessex or West Francia played during the Viking Age (c. 790-c.1100 CE) are accurately portrayed in the series but not always the events which took place in those areas.
In most cases, the characters who appear in the show (and the places they live or travel to) did exist but not in every case. The village of Kattegat, for example, which features so prominently, never existed. The real Kattegat is actually a sea between Denmark and Sweden and there is no record of a Scandinavian village by that name anywhere.
The character of Lagertha, although she is mentioned in the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, is a minor character, not the mother of Bjorn Ironside, and never was an earl she is, however, described as an Amazon warrior very much in line with how she is portrayed in the series. The character of Floki is almost wholly fictionalized but is based on the historical figure Floki Vilgerson (9th century CE) who founded Iceland.
Ragnar in History vs TV Show
Ragnar Lothbrok, the main focus in seasons 1-5, may never have existed or, if he did, not as he is presented in the series. He is the hero of the Icelandic epic Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok (13th century CE) who slays a dragon and engages with various other mystical and fantastic elements and entities in the course of his adventures. The present scholarly consensus is that the legendary Ragnar was probably based on the Viking leader Reginherus (also given as Reginfred, 9th century CE) who is known only for the 845 CE Siege of Paris. There are other possible inspirations for Ragnar, however, including King Horik I of Denmark (r. 827-854 CE), who appears as a character in the series.
Other Scandinavian poems, as well as European Latin writers, added to the basic outline of Ragnar's legend which was no doubt transmitted orally until appearing in written form in the 13th century CE. The character in the series shares a number of characteristics with the legendary hero but significant changes are made including:
Marriages – He was first married to Thora (who dies), according to the Saga, or to Lagertha, according to Saxo Grammaticus (13th century CE). After his first marriage ends, he is married to Aslaug, the mother of his famous sons, who he first knew by the name Kraka and who was disguised as a peasant maid. A number of elements from the Saga concerning Kraka/Aslaug appear in the show, especially her gift of second-sight.
Raids on Britain – In the saga, he invades Britain once, (against the advice of Aslaug who predicts his failure) and is killed by King Aella of Northumbria by being thrown into a snake pit (as is seen in the show). He never founds a settlement or has any interaction with a king of Wessex. In Season 3 of the show, Ragnar and his men are hired as mercenaries to fight the uncle and brother of Queen Kwenthryth of Mercia to restore her to power. The sequence in which the Mercian army is lined up on either side of the river, and Ragnar attacks and defeats the smaller force, is taken from accounts of the historical 845 CE raid on Paris in the Annals of St. Bertin (c. 840-880 CE). Reginherus, faced with the same situation, made the same choice afterwards he hanged 111 Frankish survivors of the battle to instill fear in those on the far side of the river.
Raids on Paris – The series combines historical events from 845 CE and 885-886 CE (the two famous raids/sieges of Paris) but with major departures from fact. In the 845 CE raid, Reginherus and his men found the city almost deserted, were stricken with dysentery, and would have probably left with little if the king, Charles the Bald (r. 843-877 CE), had not offered to pay them off. More of Reginherus' men died of dysentery in the 845 CE siege than in combat.
In 885-886 CE, the Vikings could not breach the walls and the city was defended (as it is in the series) by Count Odo. The character of Gisla, daughter of King Charles in the show, was a young girl at the time of the siege of 885-886 CE (possibly between 5-15 years old), and did not rally the troops or do any of the other things she does in the show.
Rollo of Norway (r.911-927 CE) was no relation to Ragnar Lothbrok and was not present at Reginherus' 845 CE siege but did participate in the 885-886 CE siege, did forge a contract with the king Charles the Simple, married his daughter, and founded Normandy in 911 CE. In Season 4:8-9, the Vikings are seen raising their ships from the Seine and hauling them overland to come at Paris from another direction this never happened in either of the Paris sieges but Vikings did move their ships overland in the manner depicted at other times and in other locations.
The dramatic scene in Season 3:10 when Ragnar feigns his death, is carried into the cathedral, and then leaps out to kill the cleric and open the gates to his army is taken from legends concerning the Viking chief Hastein (also known as Hasting, 9th century CE) who raided with Bjorn Ironside. Hastein is said to have used this deceit at least twice.
Relationship with Athelstan – There is no record of a Christian monk-turned-Viking-turned-cleric who was the best friend of Ragnar Lothbrok. The most famous Athelstan of this period was the grandson of Alfred the Great (r. 871-899 CE) and the first King of the English (r.927-939 CE).
Main Characters in History vs TV Show
Other returning characters who depart from the historical figures are Egbert of Wessex, Aethelwulf of Wessex, Alfred the Great, Kwenthryth of Mercia, Burgred of Mercia, Charles the Simple of West Francia, Odo of Paris, Aslaug, Rollo of Normandy, King Horik of Denmark, Bjorn Ironside, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Halfdane and assorted others to greater or lesser degrees. Ivar the Boneless is presented accurately although his engagements in Britain are a combination of different campaigns or battles (as in the case of the Battle of York in the show).
There is no hard evidence that Egbert (r. 802-839 CE) was as cold-hearted and manipulative as he is presented in the show and Aethelwulf (r. 839-858 CE) was not as dull-witted or quick-tempered. Aethelwulf, in fact, was known for his patience and consideration and was a positive role model and influence on his famous son Alfred the Great.
Alfred, of course, was not the illegitimate son of a Northumbrian princess named Judith and a cleric but the legitimate youngest child of Aethelwulf and his first wife Osburh of Wessex. Judith was actually the daughter of Charles the Bald of West Francia (r. 843-877 CE) and was a teenager when she was betrothed to the much older Aethelwulf as his second wife after Osburh's death he and Judith had no children.
Alfred the Great (r. 871-899 CE) was raised by Osburh as a scholar and was possibly heading toward a career in the church since he was the youngest of five sons. If it had not been for the Viking raids on Wessex – which systematically eliminated his brothers one-by-one – the chances of Alfred succeeding to the throne would have been minimal. In the show he has only one brother, Athelred, who is unfortunately depicted as weak and wistful in comparison. Although Alfred was sickly in his youth, as a young man he was an efficient and decisive leader and able warrior. It was Alfred, not Athelred, who won the Battle of Ashdown against the Vikings in 871 CE and defeated them again in 878 CE at the Battle of Eddington.
Kwenthryth of Mercia is almost wholly fictionalized but is based on three royal women from Mercia, Princess Cwenthryth (9th century CE), Queen Cynethryth (d. c. 800 CE), and her daughter Eadburh (d. c. 802 CE). The scheming and duplicitous aspects of the character are drawn largely from legends surrounding all three women.
The historical Cwenthryth was the daughter of the Mercian king Coenwulf (r. 796-821 CE) who was involved in a dispute over land rights with Wulfred, Archbishop of Canterbury between c. 805-832 CE. Cwenthryth lost her legal battles with the Archbishop in 827 CE and retired to the Abbey at Winchcombe. In the 12th century CE, a scribe at Winchcombe, most likely irritated by the account of a woman challenging the authority of the church, wrote The Story of St. Kenelm the Little King which casts Cwenthryth as the evil sister of the innocent young King Kenelm who plots his murder so she can take the crown. It is this version of Cwenthryth that is remembered little is known of her actual life.
Burgred of Mercia was not Cwenthryth's brother and no relation to Cynethryth but was king of Mercia 852-874 CE and husband of Aethelwulf's daughter Aethelswith (838-888 CE). The historical Burgred died of natural causes after retiring to Rome. The scene in which Kwenthryth poisons Burgred at the celebratory feast mirrors the scribe Asser's account of Eadburh poisoning her husband, Beorhtric of Wessex (r. 786-802 CE). in the same way. Stories concerning Cynethryth, wife of King Offa of Mercia (r. 757-796 CE), are along these same lines, claiming she either killed or persuaded others to kill anyone she did not like.
The Frankish king Charles in the show is an amalgam of the kings Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat (r. 881-887 CE), and Charles the Simple, none of whom were as frail or indecisive as the king in the series. Odo of Paris was the hero of the Siege of Paris 885-886 CE during which he held the city against the Vikings for over a year until they were paid to leave by Charles the Fat. Odo would later become King of West Francia 888-898 CE after Charles the Fat was deposed there is no evidence of the more lurid aspects of his character in the series.
The characters of the Viking leaders such as Horik, Bjorn, Sigurd, and Halfdane share little with their historical counterparts aside from their names. Bjorn Ironside did lead raids into the Mediterranean region and was said to be the son of Ragnar Lothbrok. He did raid in West Francia with the Viking chief Hastein and held the monasteries around Paris ransom but there is no record of him attacking the city itself.
Horik was the king Reginherus owed allegiance to and to whom he presented the spoils of the 845 CE raid on Paris. Whether Horik was engaged in the kinds of intrigues seen in the show is unknown but most likely he was since it seems most leaders then, as now, engaged in numerous underhanded deals. Sigurd and Bjorn were legendary sons of Ragnar who avenged his death, along with Ivar, by killing King Aelle of Northumbria. Ivar, however, never killed Sigurd as he does in the show. Halfdane (also given as Halfdan Ragnarsson, d. 877 CE) was one of the leaders of the Great Heathen Army of 865 CE, along with Ivar and others, which invaded Britain.
Aslaug is far more textured in the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok but aspects of her character appear in the TV series. As in the show, Aslaug was the daughter of Sigurd, the great Germanic hero, and Brynhild (also given as Brunhilde), the Valkyrie who both died when she was three years old. The Saga relates how she was raised in Norway by a peasant couple who call her Kraka (`crow') and conceal her noble parentage. When Ragnar meets her, in fact, he is put off by her low birth, and her true lineage is only revealed later. Aslaug's gift of second-sight enables her to accurately predict the future, including the appearance of Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye before his birth, Ivar's boneless condition, and Ragnar's failure in his raid on Britain.
As one can see, there are significant departures from history throughout Vikings. The series makes no claim to be presenting accurate history, however, and its aim is to entertain, not educate. Even so, it has had the effect of engaging millions of viewers in European and Viking history and literature. Michael Hirst and the other writers on the show take full advantage of poetic and creative license in dealing with the historical events and figures but maintain the essential truth of events during the Viking Age when Scandinavian raiders appeared on the European landscape as if from nowhere and literally changed the world forever after.
The series is inspired by the tales of the Norsemen of early medieval Scandinavia. It broadly follows the exploits of the legendary Viking chieftain Ragnar Lothbrok and his crew, family and descendants, as notably laid down in the 13th-century sagas Ragnars saga Loðbrókar and Ragnarssona þáttr, as well as in Saxo Grammaticus' 12th-century work Gesta Danorum. Norse legendary sagas were partially fictional tales based in the Norse oral tradition, written down about 200 to 400 years after the events they describe. Further inspiration is taken from historical sources of the period, such as records of the Viking raid on Lindisfarne depicted in the second episode, or Ahmad ibn Fadlan's 10th-century account of the Varangians. The series begins at the start of the Viking Age, marked by the Lindisfarne raid in 793.
- as Ragnar Lothbrok (seasons 1–4) as Lagertha as Rollo (seasons 1–4 special appearances season 5) as Siggy (seasons 1–3) as Floki as Earl Haraldson (season 1) as Athelstan (seasons 1–3 recurring season 4) as Horik of Denmark (seasons 1–2) as Aslaug (seasons 1–4) [a] as Ecbert of Wessex (seasons 2–4) as Bjorn Ironside (seasons 2–6) as Kalf (seasons 3–4) as Harbard (seasons 3–4) as Charles of West Francia (seasons 3–4) as The Seer (seasons 4–6 recurring seasons 1–3) as Harald Finehair (seasons 4–6) as Halfdan the Black (seasons 4–6) [b] as Ivar the Boneless (seasons 4–6) as Hvitserk (seasons 4–6)
- David Lindström as Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye (season 4) as Ubbe (seasons 4–6) as Aethelwulf (seasons 4–5 recurring seasons 2–4) as Bishop Heahmund (seasons 4–5) [c] as Oleg the Prophet (season 6) as Erik the Red (season 6) as Torvi (season 6 recurring seasons 2–6) as Gunnhild (season 6 recurring seasons 5–6) as Othere (season 6)
Season 1 Edit
An Irish-Canadian co-production, Vikings was developed and produced by Octagon Films and Take 5 Productions.  Michael Hirst, Morgan O'Sullivan, John Weber, Sherry Marsh, Alan Gasmer, James Flynn and Sheila Hockin are credited as executive producers.  The first season's budget was reported as US$40 million. 
The series began filming in July 2012 at Ashford Studios in Ireland, which at the time was a newly built facility.  This location was chosen for its scenery and tax advantages.  On August 16, 2012, longship scenes were filmed at Luggala, as well as on the Poulaphouca Reservoir in the Wicklow Mountains.  Seventy percent of the first season was filmed outdoors.  Some additional background shots were done in western Norway. 
Johan Renck,  Ciarán Donnelly and Ken Girotti each directed three episodes. The production team included cinematographer John Bartley, costume designer Joan Bergin, production designer Tom Conroy, composer Trevor Morris and Irish choir Crux Vocal Ensemble, directed by Paul McGough.
Season 2 Edit
On April 5, 2013, History renewed Vikings for a ten-episode second season.  Jeff Woolnough  and Kari Skogland joined Ken Girotti and Ciaran Donnelly as directors of the second season. 
Two new series regulars were announced on June 11, 2013: Alexander Ludwig, portraying the teenage Björn and Linus Roache, playing King Ecbert of Wessex.  The second season undergoes a jump in time, aging the young Björn (Nathan O'Toole) into an older swordsman portrayed by Ludwig. The older Björn has not seen his father, Ragnar, for "a long period of time". Lagertha remarries to a powerful jarl, a stepfather who provides harsh guidance to Björn.  Edvin Endre  and Anna Åström signed up for roles in the second season.  Endre had the role of Erlendur, one of King Horik's sons.
Season 3 Edit
Morgan O'Sullivan, Sheila Hockin, Sherry Marsh, Alan Gasmer, James Flynn, John Weber and Michael Hirst are credited as executive producers. 
This season was produced by Steve Wakefield and Keith Thompson Bill Goddard and Séamus McInerney acted as co-producers. The production team for this season included casting directors Frank and Nuala Moiselle costume designer Joan Bergin visual effects supervisors Julian Parry and Dominic Remane stunt action designers Franklin Henson and Richard Ryan composer Trevor Morris production designer Mark Geraghty editors Aaron Marshall for the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth episodes and Tad Seaborn for the second, fourth, sixth, eighth and tenth episodes and cinematographer PJ Dillon.
Norwegian music group Wardruna provided much of the background music to the series. Wardruna's founder Einar Kvitrafn Selvik also appeared as an actor in the show during the third season, portraying a shaman. 
Season 4 Edit
Michael Hirst announced plans for the fourth season before the third season had begun airing.  The fourth season began production in Ireland around the Dublin and Wicklow areas in April 2015.  Additional location photography featuring Ludwig took place in Canada.
Finnish actors Peter Franzén and Jasper Pääkkönen, as well as Canadian actress Dianne Doan, joined the cast of the fourth season. Franzén played Norwegian King Harald Finehair, a potential rival to Ragnar. Pääkkönen was cast as Halfdan the Black, Finehair's brother. Doan portrays Yidu, a Chinese character who has a major role in the first half of the fourth season. 
Former Toronto Blue Jays player Josh Donaldson is a fan of the series and in January 2016, it was announced that he would have a guest appearance in the fourth season of the show as "Hoskuld". 
Season 5 Edit
At the same time that the series was renewed for a fifth season, it was announced that Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers would be joining the cast,  as Heahmund, a "warrior bishop". Vikings’ creator Michael Hirst, explained: "I was looking at the history books, and I came across these warrior bishops. The antecedents of the Knights Templar: these are people who were absolutely religious, yet they put on armor and they fought. Don't let their priestly status fool you, either. 'They were crazy! They believed totally in Christianity and the message, and yet, on the battlefield, they were totally berserk.'" 
WWE star Adam Copeland was cast in a recurring role for the fifth season as Kjetill Flatnose, a violent and bold warrior. He is chosen by Floki to lead an expedition to Iceland to set up a colony.  Irish actor Darren Cahill plays the role of Æthelred of Wessex in the fifth season.  Nigerian actor Stanley Aguzie told local media he had landed a small role in the fifth season.  The fifth season also features Irish actor, musician and real-life police detective, Kieran O'Reilly, who plays the role of "White Hair".  In April 2017 it was announced that Danish actor Erik Madsen would join the cast for the fifth season, as King Hemmig.  He spent several months of 2016 on the set of The Last Kingdom, portraying a Viking.  Season 5 involved location shooting in Iceland as well as Morocco, the latter standing in for Sicily and Egypt.
Season 6 Edit
Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky joined the series for the sixth season, as Oleg of Novgorod, the 10th century Varangian (east European Vikings) ruler of the Rus people.  Katheryn Winnick, who portrays Lagertha in the series, directed an episode of the season.  Music for the series was contributed by Scandinavian artists with strong Nordic folk influences, including Wardruna and Danheim.   
|First aired||Last aired||Network|
|1||9||March 3, 2013 ( 2013-03-03 )||April 28, 2013 ( 2013-04-28 )||History|
|2||10||February 27, 2014 ( 2014-02-27 )||May 1, 2014 ( 2014-05-01 )|
|3||10||February 19, 2015 ( 2015-02-19 )||April 23, 2015 ( 2015-04-23 )|
|4||20||10||February 18, 2016 ( 2016-02-18 )||April 21, 2016 ( 2016-04-21 )|
|10||November 30, 2016 ( 2016-11-30 )||February 1, 2017 ( 2017-02-01 )|
|5||20||10||November 29, 2017 ( 2017-11-29 )||January 24, 2018 ( 2018-01-24 )|
|10||November 28, 2018 ( 2018-11-28 )||January 30, 2019 ( 2019-01-30 )|
|6||20||10||December 4, 2019 ( 2019-12-04 )||February 5, 2020 ( 2020-02-05 )|
|10||December 30, 2020 ( 2020-12-30 )||Amazon Prime Video|
Vikings premiered on March 3, 2013, in Canada  and the United States.  Vikings was renewed for a fourth season in March 2015 with an extended order of 20 episodes, which premiered on February 18, 2016.    On March 17, 2016, History renewed Vikings for a fifth season of 20 episodes, which premiered on November 29, 2017.   On September 12, 2017, ahead of its fifth-season premiere, the series was renewed for a sixth season of 20 episodes.  On January 4, 2019, it was announced that the sixth season would be the series' last.  The sixth season premiered on December 4, 2019.  The second part of the sixth and final season was released in its entirety on December 30, 2020 on Amazon Prime Video in Ireland, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria  and aired in Canada on History from January 1, 2021. 
In the UK, Vikings premiered on May 24, 2013, where it was exclusively available on the streaming video-on-demand service LoveFilm.  The second season premiered on March 24, 2015.  The third season began airing on February 20, 2015, on Amazon Video. 
In Australia, the series premiered on August 8, 2013, on SBS One.  It was later moved to FX, which debuted the second season on February 4, 2015.  Season three of Vikings began broadcasting in Australia on SBS One on March 19, 2015.  Season four of Vikings began broadcasting in Australia on SBS One on February 24, 2016. 
The nudity and sex scenes are regularly edited out for American audiences. For example, the sex scene between Lagertha and Astrid in the fourth-season episode "The Outsider" only showed them kissing. The scene continued for airings in other countries and on home video releases.  
The first episode received favorable reviews, with an average rating of 71% according to Metacritic.  Alan Sepinwall of HitFix praised the casting, notably of Fimmel as Ragnar, and observed that Vikings "isn't complicated. It . relies on the inherent appeal of the era and these characters to drive the story".  Nancy DeWolf Smith of The Wall Street Journal noted the "natural and authentic" setting and costumes, and appreciated that Vikings was (unlike, for example, Spartacus) not a celebration of sex and violence, but "a study of character, stamina, power and . of social, emotional and even intellectual awakening".  Hank Stuever, writing for The Washington Post, said that the "compelling and robust new drama series . delivers all the expected gore and blood spatter", but that it successfully adapted the skills of cable television drama, with the care taken in acting, writing and sense of scope reminiscent of Rome, Sons of Anarchy and Game of Thrones. He also suggested that the way the series emphasized "a core pride and nobility in this tribe of thugs" reflected "just another iteration of Tony Soprano".  Neil Genzlinger, in The New York Times, praised the "arresting" cinematography and the actors' performances, notably Fimmel's, and favorably contrasted Vikings to Game of Thrones and Spartacus for the absence of gratuitous nudity. 
In TIME, James Poniewozik noted that the relatively simple generational conflict underlying Vikings "doesn't nearly have the narrative ambition of a Game of Thrones or the political subtleties of a Rome", nor these series' skill with dialogue, but that it held up pretty well compared to the "tabloid history" of The Tudors and The Borgias. He concluded that "Vikings' larger story arc is really more about historical forces" than about its not very complex characters.  Clark Collis of Entertainment Weekly appreciated the performances, but considered Vikings to be "kind of a mess", lacking the intrigue of The Tudors and Game of Thrones.  Brian Lowry criticized the series in Variety as an "unrelenting cheese-fest" and as a "more simpleminded version of Game of Thrones", but considered that it had "a level of atmosphere and momentum that makes it work as a mild diversion".  In the San Francisco Chronicle, David Wiegand was disappointed by the series' "glacial pace" and lack of action as well as the "flabby direction and a gassy script", while appreciating the performances and characters. 
The second season received a Metacritic rating of 77%, and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 92% based on twelve professional critic reviews.
According to Nielsen, the series premiere drew six million viewers in the US, topping all broadcast networks among viewers aged 18 to 49. An earlier claim of over eighteen million viewers was later retracted by the channel with an apology.  
In Canada, the premiere had 1.1 million viewers. The first season averaged 942,000 viewers. 
Historical inaccuracies Edit
Some critics have cited historical inaccuracies in the depiction of Viking society. Lars Walker, in the magazine The American Spectator, criticised its portrayal of early Viking Age government (represented by Earl Haraldson) as autocratic rather than essentially democratic.  Joel Robert Thompson criticised depiction of the Scandinavians' supposed ignorance of the existence of Britain and Ireland and of the death penalty rather than outlawry (skoggangr) as their most serious punishment. 
Monty Dobson, a historian at Central Michigan University, criticised the depiction of Viking clothing but went on to say that fictional shows like Vikings could still be a useful teaching tool.  The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten reported that the series incorrectly depicted the temple at Uppsala as a stave church in the mountains, whereas the historical temple was situated on flat land and stave churches were characteristic of later Christian architecture.  The temple in the series has similarities with reconstructions of the Uppåkra hof.
Many characters are based on (or inspired by) real people from history or legend and the events portrayed are broadly drawn from history. The history of more than a century has been condensed people who could never have met are shown as of similar age, with the history amended for dramatic effect. Season one leads up to the attack on Lindisfarne Abbey of 793 (before the real Rollo was born). In season three the same characters at roughly the same ages participate in the Siege of Paris of 845. Ecbert was dead and King Alfred the Great was already on the throne, yet he is portrayed as a child in season four. Rollo is shown having his followers killed and fighting his fellow Vikings, whereas in history they were granted what became Normandy and continued to co-operate with their Norse kinsmen.
Little is known about Viking religious practice and its depiction is largely fictitious.  When Katheryn Winnick was asked why she licked the seer's hand she answered: "It wasn't originally in the script and we just wanted to come up with something unique and different".  The showrunner Michael Hirst said, "I especially had to take liberties with Vikings because no one knows for sure what happened in the Dark Ages . we want people to watch it. A historical account of the Vikings would reach hundreds, occasionally thousands, of people. Here we've got to reach millions". 
The depiction of Christianity in the show is also somewhat controversial.  In the fourth episode of the second season, the bishop of Wessex is shown inflicting crucifixion as punishment for apostasy, while it had been outlawed more than four centuries earlier by Emperor Constantine the Great,  and it would have been blasphemous for the Christian population. Athelstan is portrayed being heroic but an unfavourable attitude towards Christianity is implied from the narrative choices in the depiction of figures venerated as Saints by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, such as Heahmund the Bishop of Sherborne (who is portrayed as having a deeply questionable morality, being involved in several sexual relations and in the murder of another bishop) and the Missionary Ansgar, the Patron of Scandinavia (his death is inaccurately depicted as taking place in Scandinavia, and no mention is made of his effective evangelisation). 
|Season||Volume(s)||DVD release date||Blu-ray release date|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4||Region A||Region B|
|1||Season||October 15, 2013  ||February 3, 2014 ||March 26, 2014 ||October 15, 2013  ||February 3, 2014 |
|2||Season||October 14, 2014 ||November 3, 2014 ||November 5, 2014 ||October 14, 2014 ||November 3, 2014 |
|3||Season||October 13, 2015 ||November 2, 2015 ||October 21, 2015 ||October 13, 2015 ||October 21, 2015 |
|4||Part 1||August 23, 2016 ||October 24, 2016 ||October 12, 2016 ||August 23, 2016 ||October 12, 2016 |
|Part 2||May 2, 2017 ||August 7, 2017 ||March 29, 2017 ||May 2, 2017 ||March 29, 2016 |
|Season||N/A||August 7, 2017 ||N/A||N/A||August 7, 2017 |
|5||Part 1||April 3, 2018 ||October 1, 2018 ||June 20, 2018 ||April 3, 2018 ||June 20, 2018 |
|Part 2||April 23, 2019 ||October 7, 2019 ||May 22, 2019 ||April 23, 2019 ||May 22, 2019 |
|Season||N/A||October 7, 2019 ||N/A||N/A||October 7, 2019 |
|6||Part 1||October 6, 2020 ||October 19, 2020 ||October 14, 2020 ||October 6, 2020 ||October 14, 2020 |
Comic book Edit
Zenescope partnered with the History Channel to create a free Vikings comic book based on the series. It was first distributed at Comic-Con 2013 and by comiXology in February 2014.   The comic was written by Michael Hirst, features interior artwork by Dennis Calero (X-Men Noir), and is set before the events of season one. In addition to featuring Ragnar and Rollo battling alongside their father, the comic depicts the brothers' first encounter with Lagertha. 
Sequel series Edit
On January 4, 2019, alongside the announcement that the series would end after its sixth season, it was announced that Hirst and MGM Television were developing a spin-off series with writer Jeb Stuart.  On November 19, 2019, it was announced that this, titled Vikings: Valhalla, would take place a century after the end of the original series and would be released on Netflix.  The 24-episode series is set to be made by MGM Television, and filmed primarily in Ireland, working from the same Ashford Studios in County Wicklow. The series will focus "on the adventures of Leif Erikson, Freydis, Harald Hardrada and the Norman king William the Conqueror". 
By about 1100, Viking dominance diminished. Political power consolidated as scattered chiefdoms gave way to Scandinavian kingdoms and legal institutions. Vikings' targets had invested in fortifications and learned to defend themselves. The Battle of Hastings brought the end of Viking rule in England in 1066, and the adoption of Christianity within Scandinavia slowed the raids.
Though popular culture continues to depict Vikings as wearing horned helmets (they didn’t) and drinking from skulls (also a myth), their peaceful trading and cultural sharing belies the violent legend. The Vikings’ cultural power and contributions to the communities in which they settled were just as potent as their ability to sail and pillage.
The people of the far north, later called Vikings, were first noticed by the Romans around the year 100 BC. [a]  This is when the Cimbri and the Teutons moved into southern Gaul.  The Romans believed these war-like tribes came from Jutland. But the Romans suspected they were only a part of a greater threat located further north.  The Roman historians Jordanes described the destructive Ostrogoths and Visigoths as having come from Gotland.  The northern menace survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The Frankish Empire that succeeded them in Gaul became more and more aware of the northern threat.  As the later Carolingian Empire expanded into northern Germany they came into contact with the Danish people. This is when the Vikings first entered into written history.  The first recorded raid in the west was at Lindisfarne in 793.  Why the Vikings suddenly began raiding is not completely clear. But a popular theory is the populations had grown to the point there was not enough food to feed everyone.  The earliest raiders did not seem to want to move out of Scandinavia. They turned to looting, then returning home. These hit and run raids were made possible because the Vikings were master boat builders and they created flat bottomed boats ideal for journeys up rivers, where many monastic sites lay, ready for plundering.  This seems to indicate there was space enough for everyone.  Because they found raiding so easy, it became more and more popular among the Vikings. 
Three different groups of Vikings can be identified. They took three different, sometimes overlapping, routes. 
- Danes raided England, Gaul, and followed the Atlantic coast of Europe south into the Mediterranean to Italy. 
- Swedes went eastward into the Baltic Sea. They followed the Volga and Dnieper Rivers south as far as the Black Sea. One group, called the Rus', founded the settlement of Kiev. They called it Russland (later known as Russia). 
- Norwegians raided England but preferred Ireland and Scotland. They also traveled to Greenland and about the year 1,000 AD landed at a place they called Vinland (North America). 
Vikings in Europe Edit
Europeans were scared of the Vikings because of their strong weapons, swift attacks, and cruel fighting tactics. They were known for their bad treatment of women, children and monks in the places where they fought. When the Vikings came to England, the English kings paid them to leave the country, but the Vikings took their money and sometimes fought them anyway. These payments were called Danegeld. From the 9th century to 1066, when the French Duke of Normandy, who became King William I of England, conquered it, Danish and Norwegian Vikings ruled large parts of England.
Because of their longships, which could float in 4 feet (1.3m) of water, the Vikings were able to make their way up rivers and land deep inside a country. For example they sailed up the River Shannon in Ireland and built a harbour 60 miles (100 km) from the coast.
There was a difference in who led Viking raids. In the 9th century Viking Age raids were led by men who may have been exiles in their own countries.  The later Viking raids in the late 10th century and early 11th century and were led by Kings.  Some of the early leaders tried to become kings with the riches they plundered from Europe and Russia. Some were successful but most were not. 
In Russia and the Mediterranean Edit
The Vikings were called Rus' by the peoples east of the Baltic Sea.  The Vikings who settled in Kiev formed the first Russian state.  The Vikings (Rus') who served the Byzantine Emperors were called Varangians. They became the personal bodyguards to the Emperor and were called the Varangian Guard. 
The Vikings traveled through Russia, the Mediterranean Sea, southern Europe, northern Africa and south-western Asia. Some Vikings sailed across the Atlantic Ocean via Iceland and Greenland and may have explored places in North America. The ruins of a Viking settlement have been found at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland.  
Archaeologists used radiocarbon dating to find out how old the settlement was. Their tests gave them a range of dates from about AD 700 to about AD 1000. 
Some English words, and many place names, came from the Scandinavian and Viking language (Norse). For example, the words skirt and shirt came from the word skyrta, meaning a tunic. As English changed, the semantics altered to give us the separate words 'skirt' and 'shirt' we know today. Skin came from the Norse word skinn (which meant to strip the meat off something). Some place-names in the areas the Vikings conquered are still in use.  For example, in Yorkshire places ending with thwaite meant a clearing  and dale meant a valley. The word thorpe meant new village, such as Scunthorpe. 
The Anglo-Saxons called the Vikings pagans. They worshiped a great many gods. Viking gods belonged to two groups of gods in Norse mythology. They either belonged to the Aesir or the Vanir.  The Aesir were gods of war. Aesir means "gods". They were the rulers of Asgard.  Odin was the leader of the Aesir. He and the gods under him ruled mortal men.  The vanir were wise gods skilled in magical arts.  they live in Vanaheim, although nobody knows where it is. The Vanir can also predict the future. There was a war between the Aesir and the Vanir. When it ended the god Njord and his children Freya and Freyr came to live in Asgard. 
The pagan Vikings were exposed to Christianity from the beginning of the Viking Age.  They were surrounded by Christian countries.  Early Christian missionaries were either enslaved or put to death.  The Vikings came into contact with Christianity when they raided other areas around them.  Viking raids produced many Christian slaves who were brought back to Scandinavia. They called Christians "Cross-men" because of the cross in their worship.  In response many Vikings adopted Thors hammer as their religious symbol. When Vikings settled in Christian areas they converted to Christianity.  There are still Headstones in England with both a cross and a hammer. Perhaps they thought it was better to be safe than sorry.  That, or the more gods the better. As some Vikings turned from raiding to trading they found a nominal (in name only) profession of Christianity to be helpful.  Scandinavia, their homeland, was slower to change to the Christian religion. But by the mid-11th century most of Norway and Denmark had converted.  Sweden was converted by the mid-12th century.  Overall Scandinavia and the peoples of the Baltic Sea were the last to accept Christianity. 
The Viking's religion affected Christianity as well. The pagan celebration of Yuletide became Christmas along with the custom of the Christmas tree.  Priests blessing the fields took the place of pagan fertility rites of spring held to make sure there was a good harvest.  Norse kept their "farm gods" well after Christianity just to make sure they were protected. Santa Claus owes much of his legend to the Norse god Odin. With his snow-white beard he traveled the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir visiting his people with gifts. He became Father Christmas. Blended with the Christian Saint Nicholas he (they) became Santa Claus. 
In the late 19th century (1800s), Richard Wagner and other artists in the Romantic period made operas and other artwork about ancient Germanic culture. They liked the Vikings because they were not Greeks or Romans. They came up with the idea of Vikings wearing fur clothes and helmets with wings or horns on them and drinking out of hollowed-out animal horns. Some ancient Germans wore helmets with horns on them, but real Vikings did not. Wagner and his partners deliberately dressed the actors in the opera Ring des Nibelungen so they would look like ancient Germans and so the audience would feel like modern Germans came from medieval Vikings.  
Vikings: Valhalla's Setting & Story
Erik the Red and William the Conqueror.
Whereas Vikings covered the beginning of the Viking age in England, Valhalla will be about the years leading up to the end of it. Vikings took a lot of liberties with historical dates and events and generally avoided getting too specific about what year it was, and it looks like Vikings: Valhalla will continue that tradition. The series will feature the Viking explorer Erik the Red (who died circa 1003) and Erik's son Leif (who died circa 1020), but will also feature the Norman King William the Conqueror (who was born circa 1028) and begin with the death of King Edward the Confessor, which occurred in 1066. Broadly speaking, it looks like Vikings: Valhalla will be set in 11th century Scandinavia and England, but don't expect total historical accuracy.
Given how much time has passed, Vikings' characters will all be dead by the time Valhalla begins, but the sequel series will nonetheless reveal their legacy. In Vikings, Ragnar's brother Rollo left Scandinavia, his people and the Norse gods behind him to become the first ruler of Normandy - and Rollo's great-great-great-grandson was William the Conqueror. According to historical records Erik the Red was the first Viking explorer to reach North America, but in Vikings: Valhalla he could instead learn that Ubbe got there first - and find out what became of Ubbe's small settlement.
Ragnar Lothbrok's coastal home town of Kattegat, which had already grown to a large trading port by the end of Vikings season 6, will be one of the biggest trading ports in Europe by the time of Vikings: Valhalla. Speaking to Collider, Hirst explained how Vikings' characters will live on in Valhalla:
"Whenever [Vikings: Valhalla's characters] meet in the great hall in Kattegat, of course they talk about the great heroes who used to sit in the same hall at the same table, and they were Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha, and Bjorn Ironside, and Ivar the Boneless, who are now mythic characters even within the show. So everything connects in a useful, and interesting, and fascinating way."
Continuing the original series' themes of Christianity's conflict with the Norse pagan gods, Vikings: Valhalla will see a shift in the balance of power. Whereas for much of Vikings the kings of England were under siege by the Vikings and lost both land and gold to the Northmen, Vikings: Valhalla will see the gradual conversion of Scandinavian countries to Christianity (something that had already begun by the end of Vikings season 6).
Read a quick bio and recap of the various head coaches the Vikings have had throughout the team's history.
Norm Van Brocklin - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 18, 1961. The former quarterback had retired from the NFL following the 1960 season after 12 professional seasons with the Los Angeles Rams (1949-57) and Philadelphia Eagles (1958-60). "The Dutchman" led the Eagles to the NFL crown in 1960 and was the League MVP. Set an NFL record with 554 passing yards in the 1951 season opener. Threw for 23,611 yards and 173 TDs in his NFL career and played in 10 Pro Bowls. Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. Coached 84 games with the Vikings with a 29-51-4 record. Went on to coach the Atlanta Falcons from 1968-73. Born March 15, 1926, in Eagle Butte, SD. Died May 2, 1983. Attended the University of Oregon where he was an All-American.
Bud Grant - Named Vikings Head Coach on March 10, 1967. Came to Minnesota following a successful coaching career in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, leading the team to 4 Grey Cup championships and playing in the game 6 times. Coached the Vikings in 281 total games, retiring after the 1983 season only to be coaxed back to coach the team again in 1985 before retiring for good. Led Vikings to Super Bowl IV, VIII, IX and XI. Won 11 Central Division titles and made 12 appearances in the playoffs. Member of both the CFL and Pro Football Halls of Fame. Born May 20, 1927 in Superior, WI. Resides in Bloomington, MN. An avid outdoorsman who travels the world hunting and fishing.
Les Steckel - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 29, 1984. Coached the Vikings for the 1984 season, finishing 3-13. Served as an offensive assistant with the Vikings for 5 seasons prior to taking over head coaching duties. Came to Minnesota in 1979 after working on the San Francisco 49ers staff. Was the youngest Head Coach in the NFL in 1984 at age 38. Born July 1, 1946, in Whitehall, PA. Began his playing career at Kansas as a walk-on, playing 4 seasons for the Jayhawks as a running back. Worked for Senator Robert Kennedy's campaign as a volunteer following his 1968 graduation. Joined the Marine Corps and served as an infantry Lieutenant, seeing combat in Vietnam. Left the service in 1972 and began his coaching career at Colorado, working with the Buffaloes from 1972-76, the US Naval Academy in 1977 and the 49ers in 1978.
Jerry Burns - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 7, 1986. Served as Vikings offensive coordinator from 1968-85, guiding the team to 4 Super Bowl berths and 11 Central Division titles. Served as Vikings Head Coach 6 seasons, 1986-91. Coached the team in 101 total games, going 52-43 in the regular season and 3-3 in the playoffs. Led the Vikings to the NFC Championship game in 1987, earning upset wins at New Orleans and San Francisco along the way before falling to the Redskins 17-10 in Washington. Won the NFC Central in 1989. Coached in 6 Super Bowls, 4 as Vikings offensive coordinator and 2 as the Green Bay Packers' defensive backs coach in Super Bowls I and II. Played QB for Michigan on the 1950 Rose Bowl team. Began his coaching career in 1951 at University of Hawaii. Head Coach at the University of Iowa from 1961-65. Born January 24, 1927. Resides in Eden Prairie, MN.
Dennis Green - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 10, 1992. Came to Minnesota after reviving the Stanford University football program, serving as Head Coach from 1989-91, the only Vikings Head Coach to come directly from the college ranks. Coached 171 total games in 10 seasons with the Vikings, leading the team to 4 Central Division titles and the NFC Championship game twice. Vikings made the playoffs 8 of Green's 10 seasons and the 1998 club set the NFL single-season scoring record at 556 points, averaging 34.8 points per game. An advocate of community involvement, Green initiated Community Tuesdays, which had players active in the Twin Cities on their day off, a concept that spread to the entire National Football League. Born February 17, 1949 in Harrisburg, PA. Named NFL Coach of the Year in 1992 by the Washington Touchdown Club and in 1998 by Sports Illustrated and the Maxwell Club.
Mike Tice - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 10, 2002 after serving as the team's coach for the final regular season game of the 2001 season. Became the 1st Vikings player to go on and serve as Head Coach. Enjoyed a 14-year NFL playing career as a TE, including 1992-93, '95 with the Vikings. Played in 177 career games with Seattle, Washington and Minnesota. Originally signed by Seattle as a rookie free agent QB in 1981. Born February 2, 1959, in Bayshore, NY. Began coaching career with Minnesota Vikings as TE coach in 1996. Coached offensive line from 1997-2001 and added title of Assistant Head Coach in 2001.
Brad Childress - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 6, 2006. Led Vikings to consecutive NFC North titles in 2008-09. Won first game with Vikings over Washington on Monday Night Football. Joined the Vikings after 7 seasons with Philadelphia, working from 2002-05 as the Eagles' offensive coordinator. Helped guide Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX. Coached at University of Wisconsin from 1991-98. Got first taste of NFL coaching with Indianapolis Colts in 1985. Started coaching career at University of Illinois from 1978-84. Born June 27, 1956 and raised in Aurora, IL.
Leslie Frazier - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 3, 2011 after serving as Interim Head Coach for final 6 games of 2010 season, going 3-3. Currently 16-22 as Head Coach in the regular season. Made his 1st playoff appearance as a head coach in 2012 after going 10-6. Led the team to the biggest single-season turnaround in team history and finished tied for 3rd in Coach of the Year voting. Won 1st game as interim coach at Washington (11/28/10). Spent 2007-10 as Vikings Defensive Coordinator. The 1st Vikings Head Coach to come from a defensive background. Played for Divison rival Chicago from 1981-86, starting at CB on Bears Super Bowl XX championship team. Joined Bears as a rookie free agent in 1981 from Alcorn State. Entered NFL as assistant coach with Philadelphia in 1999. Began coaching career in 1988 at tiny Trinity College in suburban Chicago, starting the football program from the ground up as the 1st coach in program history. Part of Super Bowl winner with Chicago as a player and Indianapolis as an assistant coach. Born 4/3/59 in Columbus, MS.
Mike Zimmer - Named Vikings Head Coach on January 15, 2014. Posted 59 wins, including playoffs, in his opening 6 seasons as head coach, advancing to 2017 NFC Championship Game after a 13-3 regular season. Earned 2015 and 2017 NFC North Division titles and has led team to 5 playoff games. Vikings ranked #1 in NFL total defense in 2017. Served as a defensive coordinator for the previous 14 seasons for Cincinnati (2008-13), Atlanta (2007) and Dallas (2000-06). Has been a part of 13 playoff teams in his NFL tenure and teams that have won 9 Division titles. Coached Cowboys DBs when team won Super Bowl XXX over Pittsburgh. Had a top-7 defense 4 of his final 5 seasons with Cincinnati. Before moving to the NFL ranks with Dallas in 1994 he spent 15 seasons coaching at the collegiate level where he spent his final 5 seasons as defensive coordinator at Washington State from 1989-93. Was at Weber State from 1981-88 serving as defensive coordinator from 1983-88. Entered the coaching profession at Missouri where he served as an assistant from 1979-80. Played QB and then later LB at Illinois State. Has 3 children, son Adam and daughters Corri and Marki. Adam serves as the Vikings LBs coach. Wife, Vikki, passed in 2009. Born June 5, 1956 in Peoria, IL.
Written sources for the Viking Age
The contemporary Scandinavian sources for the Viking Age are few. Since Scandinavia did not have a literary tradition like the Christian and Islamic areas, we lack the Vikings’ own words. So the historiography about the Viking Age has often been based primarily on foreign sources, and on sources written down much later, in the 1200–1400s, based on oral tradition.
The Scandinavian written sources can be divided into chronicles, sagas, skaldic epics, laws and runic inscriptions.
Chronicon Roskildense (the Roskilde Chronicle) from around 1138–1140 and Saxo’s Latin work on the exploits of the Danes, Gesta Danorum (the Denmark Chronicle) from about AD 1200, are considered today to be the two oldest histories of Denmark. The author of the Roskilde Chronicle is unknown, because the usual practice for ecclesiastical scribes was to remain anonymous, but the author was probably a local cleric. The centre of interest of the Chronicle is the city’s cathedral.
An unknown author attempted a continuation of the first text and the chronicle has been copied several times. Many of these copies reveal that the copier has made changes to the text. So in one and the same text it is possible to find the original sentence: “Erik Ejegod (Erik I) made many unreasonable and unjust laws” and the correction “Erik Ejegod (Erik I) made many reasonable and just laws”.
Both histories of Denmark show the influence of being modelled on foreign accounts, notably Adam of Bremen's work on the history of the German archbishops, but Saxo’s Chronicle also has a rich gallery of characters based on the orally handed down sagas, skaldic epics and heroic poems.
Sagas and skaldic epics
Most of the sagas from the middle ages were written down in Iceland and are about Norse lords, chiefs and kings. They often take the form of “a good story” about heroic deeds. But the sagas are also full of information about Viking society. In Snorri Sturluson’s Saga of Olav Trygvason, there is important information about shipbuilding, what the ships looked like, and how boat wharfs and boat building was organised, and in Magnus Erlingssøn’s saga, we learn about ship provisions. It can seem as though useful information is rare, but after reading through these exuberant texts several times you discover definite information on the size of water barrels, arrangement of sleeping spaces, clothing for the Atlantic, rules for women on board, and not least the size of the fleets that attacked England.
The Scandinavian skaldic epics have been handed down by way of Snorri Sturluson's great work Heimskringla (the World Cycle) from 1230. Snorri was himself a skald (bard), and by writing a work on the poetry of his time (Edda), he helped posterity understand the skaldic epics.
Many of the epics handed down by Snorri or in other later texts bear not only the name of the king or chieftain they praise, but also the skald’s own name, so it is easy to see where they fit in with other written sources. The epics were handed down orally from generation to generation, but despite being retold many times they are considered today to be important sources for the Viking Age.
As Snorri argues in Heimskringla, a pride was taken in reproducing the epics correctly and in telling the truth: “It is of course the practice of the skald to praise most the one he is standing in front of, but no one would dare to tell a man of deeds he has done, if the whole audience knew it was all lies and bragging. That would be insult and not praise.”
A few legal texts written down in the Middle Ages contain regulations that can be traced back to Viking times. These can be rules prohibiting practices common a few hundred years before, rules for how to behave in the presence of the king, or rules for trading, and legislation about the organisation of shipbuilding.
The last applies to the Norwegian Gulatinglov. The Gulating was the main assembly for western and southern Norway. The law's construction and content was probably the model for the earliest Icelandic law, Ulvljotslovi, from about 930. So the Gulating Law must be even earlier, even though it was first written down in the 1100–1200s. The law’s main text contains several chapters on boat building, navigation, and rules on weapons, which add to our understanding today of Viking Age shipbuilding and the organisation of fleets.
The most reliable written sources are usually those written down at the time of the events they refer to. Runic inscriptions belong to this category. But runic texts are usually limited to just a few lines, and their occurrence is scattered both chronologically and geographically. Only a few wooden sticks with inscribed runes survive. The sticks were used to pass on information. In addition to these are the texts on the 140-odd runic stones presently known in Denmark. These runic inscriptions give a certain insight into the political and social conditions. For example, on the Jelling Stone, we can read: “King Harold ordered this monument made in memory of his father, Gorm, and his mother, Thyra the Harold who conquered all of Denmark and Norway, and made the Danes Christian.”
Apart from the runic inscriptions, the great majority of contemporary written sources about the Vikings originate from outside Denmark.
The foreign source material can be divided into:
Most of these texts are written in Latin and often against the background of political, military or religious confrontation with the Vikings.
Annals are chronologically kept yearbooks written by clerics about events in a country's internal and foreign policy.
The Annals of the Frankish Empire report that in 808 Godfred, King of the Danes, fortified his southern border with a bank because of conflict with the Emperor Charlemagne of the Frankish Empire.
The first plundering by the Vikings is mentioned in the Irish Ulster Annals in January 840: “Lugbad was plundered by the heathens from Loch n'Echach and they led away captive bishops and priests and scholars, and put others to death.”
The annals make it possible to trace the activities of the Vikings: plundering, conquests, and trade in much of the Christian world, and even though the annals were first written down in the 15th century, they are viewed as a reliable version of the earlier original annals.
Other foreign texts have the character of chronicles, biographies or travelogues, in which the information on the Vikings is just a small part in a greater story of the writer's experiences.
Adam of Bremen’s chronicle on the History of the Hamburg Archbishops from about 1075 is an important source for Scandinavian history from the time around 870 down to 1080, because the fourth book, entitled Description of the Islands in the North is based amongst other things on oral accounts from the Danish King Svein Estridson: “The Danish king, whose memory will live long, had the misdeeds of the barbarians as fresh in his memory as if they had been written down.”
It is difficult to ascertain from the text whether Adam of Bremen had been in Scandinavia himself, but in the third book he reports a meeting with Svein Estridson and states: “Much of that which I have collected in this book, I have heard from his mouth”.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles are also an important source for the Viking Age. The chronicles are a collection of documents covering the history of the Anglo-Saxons in England down to 1154. Although many of the documents are secondary sources and based on legends and stories, the chronicles also contain first-hand accounts of events not illuminated in other written sources. Among the many stories are accounts of the Vikings’ plundering and conquest of English towns.
Biographies and travelogues
Ansgar's Biography, written by Archbishop Rimbert, is primarily a description of the monk Ansgar’s work as a missionary and his path to the episcopacy. But since Ansgar's missionary activity was in Scandinavia, the work contains several illustrative accounts of Denmark and Sweden in the 9th century, including about the social life in the Swedish trading town of Birka.
Most of the Arab sources about the Vikings are travelogues.
The Arab envoy, Ibn Fadlan, met the Vikings in the 10th century by the River Volga, and his account of this meeting contains descriptions of Viking ceremonies and rituals associated with the burial of chieftains, including the sacrifice of slaves. But there is also a comment on Viking hygiene: “They are the filthiest of Allah’s creatures". But a Spanish Arab called Ibn Rustah, who visited Hedeby in the 10th century had a different experience and his account describes the Vikings as well-dressed and clean.
» Go to the next chapter 'Iconographic sources for the Viking Age'.
A unusual written source
Part of a human skull with runic writing.
It says: Ulfur and Odin and Hydyr helped Ris against Awærki and Tverkun Egbor.
The text is interpreted as an invocation of Odin and the skull as a talisman against sickness.
The 10 Best Books on the VikingsModern replicas of Viking armor and weapons (photo by Bernhard Staerck)
While portrayals of the Vikings in the popular imagination and culture often contain a large amount of fantasy and romanticism, there’s a core of historical truth within those fanciful depictions. The Vikings were indeed fearsome warriors, intrepid explorers, proud pagans, and far-traveling merchants. During the Viking Age (roughly 793-1066 AD), these Scandinavians could be found across most of the known world, from the Middle East to the shores of northeastern North America, which they discovered 500 years before Christopher Columbus. They pillaged and plundered throughout Europe, and conquered and ruled most of England. Europeans dreaded few things more than the ever-present possibility of a Viking attack.
But most of the Norse men and women of the period were farmers, craftsmen, housewives, or slaves. Their lives consisted mainly of seemingly endless hard physical labor in a demanding climate and brutal social/political environment. They were as likely to be targets of a raid as they were to be the ones doing the raiding, and other dire misfortunes such as malnutrition and serious illnesses could strike at any moment.
The books on this list (last updated in April of 2019) will immerse you in the fascinating world of the Vikings from the comfort of your armchair, and will help you to separate fact from fiction.
The order of the books in this list runs roughly from the most newbie-friendly to the most advanced. The lower-numbered books aren’t necessarily better than the higher-numbered ones, but the lower-numbered ones are generally more accessible.
If you find this list to be helpful enough that you decide to buy one or more of the books listed here, the best way you can say “thank you” is to buy whatever you decide to buy through the Amazon links provided at the end of each book’s description. When you do, I automatically get a small commission on your purchase with no extra cost or hassle for you whatsoever.
1. The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth
For most people, Lars Brownworth’s The Sea Wolves will be the ideal introduction to the historical Vikings. It assumes no prior knowledge, and is written in a highly accessible style. That style is also richly colorful, however, and Brownworth seldom misses an opportunity to convey the information through telling an action-packed story rather than just relaying the bare facts. The book thereby becomes as entertaining as it is educational.
While The Sea Wolves includes some discussion of most aspects of Norse life, its focus is squarely on the Vikings’ tremendous accomplishments as warriors and raiders. If that theme is the one you want to read about above all else – as it is for many people – then The Sea Wolves should suit your needs particularly well. If you’re looking for more about the Scandinavians’ domestic life during the period, or the design of their ships, for example, you should probably supplement this book with another from this list that discusses such aspects in greater depth. Click here to view or buy The Sea Wolves at Amazon.
2. The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth
Another top-tier introduction to the subject is Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings. It’s a bit more scholarly than Brownworth’s book. Some readers will appreciate that and others won’t. Nevertheless, it, too, is very accessible, and assumes no prior knowledge on the reader’s part.
Winroth certainly gives the Scandinavians’ military and piratical activities their due, but most of the book is devoted to other aspects of the Viking Age: exploration of far-flung and uninhabited lands, settlements, trade, ships, navigation techniques, political institutions, farming and other domestic activities, religion, poetry and the other arts, and more.
Winroth has a real knack for illuminating a widespread phenomenon by focusing on one particularly telling case study known through archaeology and/or medieval historical reports. This serves to really bring his material to life and to humanize the Vikings in a way that very few other authors have succeeded in doing. Click here to view or buy The Age of the Vikings at Amazon.
3. The Viking World by James Graham-Campbell
James Graham-Campbell’s The Viking World covers much of the same ground as Lars Brownworth’s The Sea Wolves and Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings, presenting a well-rounded overview of the Viking Age for the general reader. It, too, is written in easy-to-understand language and is perfectly newbie-friendly.
But what really sets Graham-Campbell’s offering apart is that just about every single page contains at least one picture that accompanies the text. These range from color photos of archaeological artifacts and landscapes to maps to drawings and diagrams of Norse buildings and technology. Like Winroth’s expertly-chosen case studies, these go a long way toward bringing the Viking Age to life, but in a more directly visual way. If you’re a fan of lots and lots of pictures in your nonfiction books, this one is for you. Click here to view or buy The Viking World at Amazon.
4. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood
As a standalone introduction to the Norse world, John Haywood’s The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings is somewhat less in-depth than the previous (and following) books on this list. It relates much of the same content, but in a more general fashion. However, what it lacks in length and detail, it makes up for in another area: maps. Lots and lots of them.
If you’ve ever felt that other books in this field don’t include enough maps, making it hard to follow where exactly the action is taking place, then you’ve found the perfect book on the Norse for you. The maps are all in color and are filled with multicolored arrows that indicate the routes taken by raiding parties, armies, explorers, settlers, merchants, and others.
In keeping with its visual focus, Haywood’s book also includes numerous striking color photos, although not quite as many as Graham-Campbell. If you’re an especially visual person and only intend to get either Graham-Campbell or Haywood, but not both, your choice will likely come down to whether maps or other kinds of pictures are more important to you. Click here to view or buy The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings at Amazon.
5.The Vikings by Else Roesdahl
At the other end of the spectrum is Else Roesdahl’s The Vikings. Roesdahl’s work includes its share of photos, maps, and diagrams, too, but they’re all in black and white, and serve to accentuate the text rather than to be a major focus in their own right. Instead, the strength of Roesdahl’s work lies in its sheer depth, which is quite impressive for an introductory book in this – or really any – field.
While Roesdahl’s writing style is certainly simple enough for the general reader to follow along without having to scratch his or her head, she doesn’t particularly go out of her way to make the writing entertaining. The style is more of a lighter, simpler version of conventional academic writing. Some readers will feel that this style is meatier than the more entertaining works and will appreciate the lack of “pandering.” Others will find it dry and uninviting. It’s all a matter of your personal taste.
However, if depth and detail of information is your primary concern, then Roesdahl’s book will serve as a better single-volume introduction to the Vikings than any other book out there. Click here to view or buy The Vikings at Amazon.
6. The Sagas of Icelanders
The medieval Icelandic sagas are wondrous literary works, written in a stark, matter-of-fact style that brims with unspoken implications. They were written by the descendants of the Vikings themselves, and recount the lives of particularly remarkable people from the Viking Age and earlier. Their contents are an intriguing blend of history and legend. This 740-page tome contains no less than ten of these sagas, as well as an assortment of numerous shorter tales.
The centerpiece of The Sagas of Icelanders is Egil’s Saga, which recounts the deeds of the nigh-invincible warrior-poet Egil Skallagrimsson. It’s among the best of the sagas, both in terms of its literary quality and what the attentive reader can learn from it.
The translations are all carefully selected and top-notch. This is the best introduction out there to the Icelandic sagas as a genre, and for less than $20, it’s quite a bargain. Click here to view or buy The Sagas of Icelanders at Amazon.
7. The Viking Spirit: An Introduction to Norse Mythology and Religion by Daniel McCoy
Now let’s take a look at a few books that go into some particular aspect of Norse life in a lot of depth.
The Viking Spirit was written by yours truly, so naturally I’m going to have a rather high opinion of it. But I firmly believe that it holds up very well on its own merits, and the many dozens of Amazon reviewers, who have given the book an average rating of four and a half stars, seem to agree.
The Viking Spirit is intended to be the ideal introduction to Norse mythology and religion for the total beginner. I wrote it after having spent years crafting this very site and getting tons of feedback on what my readers liked and didn’t like. It covers much of the same ground as this website does: the Vikings’ gods, goddesses, and other spiritual beings their beliefs about the nature of reality their religious practices their myths and so on. But it goes into considerably more depth than this site does, and even though it sticks to the same scholarly standard, it’s written in an even more entertaining and reader-friendly style. The book retells no less than 34 epic Norse myths, more than any other book of its kind.
If you’re at all interested in Norse mythology and/or religion, check out The Viking Spirit for yourself and see what you think. Click here to view or buy The Viking Spirit at Amazon.
8. Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen by Kirsten Wolf
As its title implies, Kirsten Wolf’s Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen focuses on the Vikings’ domestic lives, a facet of the Viking Age that, while certainly humbler than the great exploits of famous warriors and kings, played no less of a role in determining the character of the age.
In Wolf’s book, you’ll learn a great deal about virtually every aspect of Norse material and social life: farming practices, settlement patterns, clothing, jewelry, food, drink, kinship systems, gender roles, child-rearing practices, laws, political hierarchies, shipbuilding, navigation techniques, and much more. While many of the previous books on this list cover some of these topics to some degree, Wolf does so considerably more comprehensively. Click here to view or buy Viking Age at Amazon.
9. Viking Age Iceland by Jesse Byock
Aside from a few solitude-loving Irish monks, Iceland was first settled by Scandinavians during the Viking Age. They came seeking wide swaths of virgin pastures for their livestock to graze and to escape various problems in their home countries.
Early Icelandic society in some ways replicated the social and political structures of the lands from which the first settlers came, but in other ways created its own institutions that were better-adapted to the local conditions. They have aptly been called proto-democratic, but with a Norse twist.
Viking Age Icelandic society is fascinating to read about today due to its uniqueness and the fact that a striking proportion of our knowledge of Viking Age society in general comes from the proud record-keepers and storytellers among the Icelanders of subsequent generations. Jesse Byock’s Viking Age Iceland is a stellar introduction to this captivating slice of Norse history. Click here to view or buy Viking Age Iceland at Amazon.
10. The Viking World, edited by Stefan Brink and Neil Price
The previous books on this list are all written for a general audience. Stefan Brink and Neil Price’s The Viking World (not to be confused with James Graham-Campbell’s book of the same name, #3 above), however, is written by academics for an academic audience.
At 49 chapters and 674 pages, this book is about as comprehensive an overview of the Viking Age as you can fit between a single front and back cover. Each chapter of the book is a semi-standalone essay written by an expert in that particular niche, which means that each chapter presents cutting-edge research on its particular subject matter.
Quite frankly, this book will be too formidable for most readers. But for those who are looking to research the topic in serious depth, this volume is indispensable. Click here to view or buy The Viking World at Amazon.
If you’ve found this list to be helpful, you might also be interested in these other guides of mine: