The popular History channel historical series, Vikings is closing to its second season and will continue to a third season. An Canadian-Irish production it has proved to be a great historical drama based upon what scholars and historians have learned about Nordic culture and depicts many points of historical truths and showing how Denmark became the centralized kingdom for all Nordic tribes scattered throughout Scandinavia.
Ragnar Lodbrok was a real person, his Old Norse name: Ragnarr Loðbrók, translated to: “Ragnar Hairy Breeches”. As the History series presents, Ragnarr was married three times: Lagertha, a shield-maiden; Þóra Borgarhjortr, and Aslaug. Although in his youth he was a farmer, he like other Nordic villagers would go on Viking raids, exploration, and trading excursions. It has been recorded that Ragnarr was a relative of the Danish king Gudfred and son of Swedish king, Sigurd Hring.
Ragnar Lodbrok became a legendary Norse ruler and hero, described in Old Norse poetry and several sagas. He terrorized England and France and his sons would become just as famous: Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside (Nathan O'Toole), Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Ubba.
His foe, King Ælla of Northumbria, eventually captured him and killed him by pushing him into a pit of poisonous snakes. His sons avenged their father by invading England with the Great Heathen Army .
The Vikings series is pretty accurate, except that Norsemen were more hygienic than depicted. Backed by historical evidence at excavation sites, tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners were found made from animal bones and antlers. Vikings bathed at least once per week – far more often than the average European of the time, which is probably why the Nordic people, unless coming in direct contact, were not decimated by the plague as the rest of Europe. Norsemen enjoyed the natural hot springs and used them regularly. However, one disgusting habit they had, recorded by a visitor and ambassador from Arabia, is that Vikings passed a wash bowl around and thought nothing of blowing their nose in it as they passed it amongst themselves.
Vikings traded many things and one of them were slaves, captured from Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Slavic settlements, to which they called “thralls”, sold to the lucrative markets across Europe and even the Middle East.
Viking girls married as young as 12 years old, trained to take care of the household when their husbands went 'a-viking'. Viking women had more freedom and respect than European medieval women, as long as they were free women and not thralls. Viking women could inherit property, request a divorce, and reclaim their dowry if their marriage ended. Viking wives were guardians and keepers of the household and estates, often hanging its keys around their necks by a chain or thong – becoming a symbol of their important domestic charge.
Vikings spent more time farming than depicted in films and novels. It is true that some were raiders, but many lived peacefully, unless called to war by the local lord growing barley, rye, and oats for part of the year. They also raised cattle, goats, pigs, and sheep on their small farms. Their farms were small compared to other places in Europe because there was limited farm land available between the rising mountains and the beach and shorelines of Scandinavia. Denmark was probably the most fertile of the Nordic lands – having much more farmland than Norway and Sweden.
Norsemen developed the sport of skiing about 6,000 years ago, though it is thought that the invention by ancient Russians was even earlier than that. Norsemen, during the Viking Age, looked upon skiing as an efficient way to get around the snow covered mountains and hillsides. They even had a god of skiing – Ullr.
Here is some amusing outtakes from the Vikings series:
Practicing Battle Scenes – Lagertha, Shield-Maiden:
Travis – The Prankster:
Meet Ragnar Lodbrok :
Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (9th century)
Tale of Ragnar's Sons, legendary saga.
Krákumál, Raganr's death song, 12th century, Scottish skaldic poem.
Studies in Ragnars saga lðbrókar and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues, Rory McTurk (1991), Oxford, ISBN 0-9-7570-08-9
Review of Rory McTurk, Studies in Ragnars saga lðbrókar and Its Major Scandinavian Analogues, Alvissmál 2: 118-19, Ulrike Bolz-Strerath (1993)
The Saga of the Volsungs (translation), Margaret Schlauch (1964), American Scandinavian Foundation, New York
Norse Warfare: Unconventional Battle Strategies of the Ancient Vikings, Martina Sprague (2007), New York; Hippocrene Books, ISBN 0-7818-1176-7
Viking Empires, Angelo Forte, Richard Oram, and Frederik Pederson (2005), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-82992-5