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

From the Stereotypes of the Norsemen deliver us… VII

As we move into cheap pulp fantasy, we have an episode with a lot of action and precious little accuracy. The mighty academic, Mr. Hirst, seems unable to keep track of dates or has just decided to cater to the images that viewers have of medieval living from later periods. Earlier inaccuracies, by this time, are SOP!

One must remember that there is a difference between high and low fantasy. For the most part, “Vikings” is not high fantasy in the style of “The Hobbit” and “Game of Thrones,” but it is fantasy all the same!

Accurate

Finally, ships of the field! (In England, but still…)

Attack is on foot by the Norse!

The Saxons seem not to have surnames

Does the Viking poop in he woods?

Th Saxons wanting to deal with a Christian and wanting to baptize one of the Norse.

Heathens respecting the conventions of other faiths…perhaps an early sign of their willing to assimilate (although there is an undertone of wanting to emulate your betters). Of course there are a few heathen hold-outs, in this case the demented Floki.

Inaccurate

A woman making decisions in court (þing? Weren’t they usually out of doors?)

Leather cloaks were used in an earlier period and not at this time.

No helmets for Norse.

Capes are in a later fashion. At least Ragnar wears a more correct cloak, even if the pin is rather fantastic.

So much flesh on the women! My eyes burn!

Shapes of the plates are rather inaccurate; the Norse would certainly be familiar with ceramics as well

Mounted attack by the Saxons.

More shield maidens in this one battle than even recounted in all the fantasies of the time.

Lantern hooks? In front of every tent? Have we seen too many farby RevWar camps?

Uncertain

Most raids were smash and grabs in this early era of Viking raids. They would hardly have erected such embattlements. The tactics are questionable for this point in time!

The Saxon banners are in a questionable style, but actual banners might look to the viewer more like kites.

Royalty would probably be leading the forces or at least on the field, even if physically unable

Sleeping in armor? Okay, stretching it but plausible. With the helmet on…?

“Steel is stronger than ours!” Doubtful.

I don’t think Dane-geld was offered that early

Uncertain if fences were done in the style presented at the Saxon manor.

Buttressed fence? I thought buttressing was a late development.

They call the king’s manor a villa, possibly referring back to a Roman dwelling. Would they still have been using that term or Roman houses this late? It looks as if some the king’s manor is stone; most buildings of this time were wood.

Religious chants at the meal? Actually, the whole meal stinks of later period to me.

Emphasis on Norse bad manners at eating.

The hall is too large and uncrowded, filled as before with almost Victorian bric-a-brac.

Athelstan wearing a coat almost like an overtunic.

Handle on cups are very rare.

The gate of the Norse palisade was very unlikely. Very cinematic, to be certain, but highly unlikely.

Florentine weapons, especially without a shield, would probably never have been done.

The inaccurate metal (leather?) plate armor is rather vulnerable.

Norse Forms of Government

The series shows þings but notes that the “Earl” makes all the decisions and rules in the manner of the later feudalistic heads of state. Actually, despite their—deserved but hardly unique—reputation for being vicious thugs by Christian writer, the Norse were actually a fairly peaceful people amongst each other. They tried to settle disputes personally but were willing to take disputes to a courts called þings or, sometimes, al-þings. The þing was a council of judges that listened to cases, and their decision was final. Much importance was given to juries, which were not the determining body it is today but was composed of witnesses for either side.

Most disputes were in the territorial or monetary form—the so-called were-gild—but more radical punishments dealt with more aggressive crimes such as assault , rape or murder. A death penalty was infrequently levied in such cases. Most of the times, violated was exiled from the hearth fires of civilized men; if the person found exiled was found in the land after a reasonable time to leave, he could be killed with no penalties. The short exile was three years; the longer exile was twenty years which, because of average lifespans, was known as a life-time exile.
Although most Norse lands also had both kings, jarls or chiefs, these authority figures seem to have operated parallel to the Thing system, not above it. Mostly kings were leaders of the armies that would protect Norse lands in times of war, but the Thing was the highest authority in times of peace.

Interestingly, if not for þings and exile, America might have not been encountered by the Norse. Eirik the Red was exiled and, during the time of his discovery, discovered Greenland and returned there with settlers after his exile was over (“Greenland” was chosen as a name because people would be more likely to want to settle a land with that name). His son, Leifr, voyaged to the mainland from Greenland.

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