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

From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… III

In the third episode, the series seems to be spiraling down toward outright cheap pulp fantasy. The true worth of the series for a serious Viking enthusiasts seems to be that it inspires the viewer to see what is true and what is purely fantasy and improvisational. You are urged to check what the provenance is for anything presented on the screen. In a few cases, you may be able to find to your delight that you may actually learn something that you did not notice or know!

But I think the producers may have done that purely by sheer luck! For example, a horn used as a candlestick holder seems, according to Chad White, to have been lifted from a fantasy role-playing game; how much more of this series has been provoked by fantasy games or novels and owes very little to any original research? It leads me to suspect that any correct research was something done by the game company or writer, and the producers are as willing to accept the incorrect as the correct research done in that manner because it doesn’t really matter to them. They are more concerned with dramatic license, a fair enough thing—see “Excalibur” or “300”—except that it is being shown on The “History” Channel, which implies a bit of responsibility. Maybe they were will have commentators at the end of the series, like they used to have on history movies, commenting on what was right and what was wrong…thought I doubt they will.

Correct

Proper use of hostages (see their instance in the invasion by Sweyn Forkbead)…but I do not think they realize that it is proper, just an old melodramatic ploy showing how evil the Earl is.

Lurs or horns used to make announcements.

The portrayal of Athelstane as a manumitted slave—a freedman, a person who owed allegiance to his former master but who existed in a caste between freeman and thrall—was very well done and common despite its presentation as something that was unique and uncommon.

Incorrect

Black costume. But it is deep and ominous, so that is more important in the minds of the producers than any accuracy!

The hangeroc worn by Lagertha is totally wrong. Even if we accept the flappy tabard style of hangeroc, it would have straps, and the tortoise brooches would be used to secure the flaps. Here, the brooches are placed just like brooches would be today; they are not tortoise brooches, but at least beads and jewelry are hung between them.

Hatless women. I hate to get tiresome and continually harp on this, but…

Jewelry worn by Earl’s henchman is rather large and rather uncategorizable. He’s also in black though…

Sleeveless underdress on the queen

Shield maiden. A great example of the descent into the cheap pulp fantasy of Red Sonja and Xena.

The armor on the Anglo-Saxon warriors is just pure fantasy. Where is the mail and the byrnies? At least we haven’t yet got to the helmets shown in the previews!

Uncertain

Silver hoards seemed to have been mainly deposited for reasons of religious sacrifice or simply for safety and not for use in an afterlife. Certainly items buried were for that use, but this appears to be either a confusion or a simple improvisation.

The Earl notes, after Ragnar’s successful return, that all before him have failed? What is he talking about? On the one hand, it might be an almost science-fictiony improvisation of a back story that might be used for later, albeit clichéd effect.

Dumping a dead slave overboard seems more like a reference to the American slave trade. I cannot find any clear reference one way or the other, so I can only assume that it is a bit of poetic license.

We mentioned before that only women wore earrings in the Viking Age, and apparently not that many were worn to begin with. The earrings worn by the women in this episode seemed rather striking and dangley, more in keeping with modern mores and based in many instances on the products of modern vendors who give ambiguous lip service to the accuracy of their products but generally no provenance.

The hood worn by Brother Athelstane drops down across one eye. That is obviously an attempt to show character and mood, but it is something that is familiar with me while wearing a hood! Accidental accuracy?

The group sex made reference to Norse sexual mores that were probably different from the monogamy. It was a part of the present culture and not quite, then, as naughty and titillating. An interesting point that draws us back to the earl’s earlier betrayal of the man who would sleep with his woman.

The distribution of the booty is really Hollywood. That is not to say that it was not done in this manner—look at the later pirate distribution contracts—but it seems a little too pat and a little too simplistic. The fear that the Earl will kill them if they put up a fuss goes against everything that I have read and learned about Scandinavian society of that time.

With the emphasis on shaving heads by the Norse—both conjecturally in history and certainly in the hairstyles shown in the series–the emphasis on Norse wonderment at the tonsure seems a little strange. Although it might be a comment upon the Norse astonishment at Christians shaving a part of the head the Norse do not, it seems more a modern-day comment upon how weird tonsures are.

The early English kingdoms were generally known as the Heparchy, indicating there were seven of them. Certainly, the number might well have varied, and geographic knowledge might have been vague enough to validate Athelstane’s number of English kingdoms, but I am in a foul enough mood about the produces’ research skills that I am tempted to take the exposition merely as the “truth” presented to us by the omniscient producers!

The fact that the earl took possession of the ship indicates an erroneous perception that you did not own anything but that instead everyone held things in a feudal manner, a largess from their betters. Or maybe socialism if we are to judge from some statements made by conservative commentators depicting the villains as wimpy and devious liberal socialists while the good guys are the straight-thinking and hard-hitting conservatives. William Short of Hurstwic notes that “The power of a earl depended upon the goodwill of his supporters. The earl’s essential task was to uphold the security, prosperity, and honor of his followers.” The earl was chosen by the followers, not as an inheritance, and was often chosen in terms of wealth. The son of a earl might have put him on a fast route to the positions, but it wasn’t dead set. The anonymous au5thor of an article by History World International notes that “Both kings and jarls had to rule according to law. No laws were written down until around 1100. Before then the laws were really traditions and opinions of the majority of the people. The people elected lawmen who had to know these unwritten laws and explain them to the rulers.” The role of his wife seemed rather ludicrous as well. From the sagas, she’d probably have been taunting him to get better rather than stroking his ego!

Next time, I hope to comment upon naming standards of the time and what I find those exhibited in the series to be so ridiculous, along with further notes on the correct, the incorrect and the uncertain areas. In the meantime, I cannot hope that everything I have written is a hundred percent correct; if you have any additional or contradictory provenance, I look forward to seeing it!

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