Warning: contains multiple spoilers for Vikings seasons 1-5!!!

Old Norse: Hrólfr, played by: Clive Standen

In Vikings, Rollo serves as a frenemy/adversary to Ragnar, his famous brother, only to end up becoming a French aristocrat. Part of this is even historically correct. Rollo was born either in Norway or Denmark around 860, i.e. five years before Ragnar’s possible death, was a Viking, and became the first ruler of Normandy (“the Land of the Northmen”). As Snorri’s Heimskringla mentions, when he grew up into adulthood his name was extended to Göngu-Hrólfr, “Rollo the Walker”, since he became too heavy to be carried by a horse. Remembering that Heimskringla is a Saga, I would also assume that he was the most handsome, wise, and brave of all the men who were too large to ride any horse.

Rollo is possibly the most… adapted of all characters in Vikings. First of all, there’s the problem of Ragnar and Rollo being brothers, despite the fact that Rollo was born in 860, when Ragnar was at least in his sixties. Second, I am almost certain I saw the TV Rollo on a horse. Third, we know for a fact that he existed, but in this particular case unpacking the differences between history and History could fill a book three times as long as this one.

The earliest historical event noting Rollo’s existence is his leadership over the Vikings who laid siege to Paris in 885-886. At this point I already get a headache, because it immediately throws the chronology of Vikings off the cliff. The series depicts Ragnar, Rollo, the invasion of Paris, Rollo’s marriage and subsequent leadership of the French, glossing over the fact that Paris was invaded twenty years after Ragnar had died.

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The last time I was asked “do you have Viking blood?” was four days ago. I can’t remember what exactly my answer was, but I did write the question down to use for a blog post later.

My DNA-based ancestry report is all over the place. So is yours, by the way. And everybody else’s. Most importantly, there is no “Viking blood marker”, although I’m sure 23andme etc. wish they could sell that, and somebody probably does. Still, there is a chance you have Viking blood indeed, even if you have no Scandinavian blood at all. In fact, that might increase your chances…

 

Who were the Vikings?

The Vikings series on TV shares a certain characteristic with novels, books such as The World of Vikings, etc. Namely, the TV focuses on epic battles (and half-naked men and women, and amazing hairstyles, but I digress), longboats, settlements that never lasted too long. There are few craftsmen, farmers, animal herders who are mentioned other than in passing or when a blacksmith needs to make more axes faster.

Surprisingly, this is a correct representation.

The noun “víkingr” (feminine version: “víking”) means “pirate”. There is a reason why “Viking Age” is considered to be a clearly defined period between 793-1066 A.D. The Norse neither suddenly appeared in 793, nor did they die out in 1066. When used as a verb, (a-)víking meant raiding by sea. Farmers and craftsmen were not, er, viking around – unless they were particularly brave, I suppose. (I’ll admit I haven’t researched that yet.)

The exact date when the Viking Age began is known to the day: on June 8th, 793 the raiders invaded the monastery in Lindisfarne. They didn’t call themselves “Vikings”, same as they didn’t refer to their language as “Old Norse”. At the beginning they would raid, take what they could, then return home. Soon enough they discovered that they didn’t just have to take gold – there was land to be settled as well, in warmer climate, with more fertile soil. The raids started to turn into explorations. This would eventually lead to the discovery of America by Leifur Eiríksson – curiously enough it happened when he was on his way to bring Christianity to Greenland and got lost.

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Part one here.

The Norse deities rarely have just one task to be busy with. Freya, for instance, is a Goddess of love, sex, death, war, fertility, gold, and seiðr magic. This strikes me as an awful lot of work, but there are more Gods taking care of those things, possibly with the exception of gold, because Freya is a bit…possessive when it comes to gold. There are many types of fire, and many Gods who are “assigned” to take care of it.

Let me start with berating Wagner, who put it into people’s mind: Loki is not the “god of fire”. That’s Logi. (Which means “fire” in Old Norse, in case you forgot the name, but had a dictionary at hand.) In one of the Sagas, Loki is put to competition with Logi to see which one can eat faster. They meet in the middle, but while Loki ate all the meat, Logi also took care of the bones, plates, and the table itself. Later the deities involved find out that Loki was competing with the fire itself. Logi is the God associated with wildfire, and if you’ve seen any news from California in the recent months I don’t need to explain why Loki had to lose this contest. Loki plays with fire, Logi is fire.

There are good sides to forest fires, although I wouldn’t say Californians (and others) think the same way. A fire cleanses the nature, preparing it for new growth. You have to destroy in order to build. It’s when the destruction gets completely out of hand that the real trouble starts…but I will talk about Surtr in a moment.

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