I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… II

Plans to deal more deeply with subjects that were wrong have been put off, and I’ll just offer a few more notes gleaned from last night’s showing of “Vikings”…

One BIG Thing Before We Start

Geography and geographical knowledge. The Norse–and almost everyone until Washington Irving–knew that the earth was a globe. What they thought more than anything else was that all the land was in a circle on top of the globe. That is alluded to in the Fenris myth that was recounted last night. Everything was in a circle, so there was more land coming up (when Vinand was discovered, the Norse thought that if they went farther they’d just run into Africa). The Norse certainly knew about the continent of Europe and just as certainly England. I also wonder what route the raiders took if they were out of sight of land for so long. It made me wonder if the producers were representing the Scandinavian lands as some separate Ultima Thule way up north! Poetic license? License revoked!


• The subdued natural colors (though, from the still of Ragnar in an abysmal neon blue tunic that I’ve seen, I fear this was just to emphasize their poverty and will be changed later on)

• The shoes I got a good look at were apparently turnshoes

• The tent on the ship. I would have liked more details on what the tent covering was (I at first thought it was the sail, but that might havbe been a pre-conceived notion) and what the cross-pieces were; but for this being the first time such a thing was needed in the storyline, I can let those things slide)

• Appropriate grill on hearth fire (larger than those I’ve seen)

• Use of ravens to see if land was near

• Use of make-up for Viking warriors (although it seemed meant as if it was meant as war paint in the manner of Native Americans)

• The cleaning ritual was almost exactly what was noted by Ibn Fadlan (I shan’t comment on how much I think his prejudices were as evident in his account, just as those of the Christian chroniclers were evident in theirs)

• Tonsures on the clerics (that weren’t shown in the preview shots)

• One guy with shaved back of head (an interpretation of a contemporary description of Norse hairstyles)


• Too many candles. No rushes, and what might have been meant as oil lamps were too bright)

• Horn used as a light/candleholder (is there any provenance for this; I’ve not seen it!)

• The queen’s “nightgown”

• Blackmailing a blacksmith (I’ve been led to believe that smiths who could work iron were considered close to the gods and scarcely someone you’d want to get mad at you)

• Boots too tall

• Someone wearing his sword on back; for that matter, too many swords and no spears

• The horses are not proper for the time; in fact, there are so few animals, except ravens, that it is rather unsettling

• Uncertain of the pier; think they just had posts for tying the ships…which they also had in the film

• Did the vellum crumple like paper? (I did like Ragnar tasting it as if to see if it was leather)

• My wife the calligrapher, doesn’t think gold was used either as a paint or an application at this time

Things I’ll let slip…

These are just interpretations and done without provenance but with poetic license and necessity to tell the story.

• The “Domesday is coming” riff; it’s just as contrived and possibly as false as “there are no lands to the east” thing

• The killing of people who will become slaves (seems much like Christian propaganda; why indiscriminate slaughter of someone you can get money for?)

• The leather apron on the smith (we’ve been discussing this lately in Regia)

• This Cuthbert was not THE Cuthbert, who died about a century before, but since Cuthbert was so entwined with Lindisfarne, I’m not certain whether that name would have been used, especially so prominently

• Surprise about written word; runes were probably variations of Roman cursive and imo–controversial–well known and disseminated. I’d have been amused by Ragnar grousing that skins were being wasted instead of using stones

• The cages for the birds that have, to my knowledge, no provenance, but they had to have something like that!

One response

  1. Dan

    Please let me know the consensus regarding the leather apron. It’s something I was using from modern habit, though quite frankly it’s easy enough to smith without it for most operations.

    March 11, 2013 at 16:14

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s