Anyone who watches a period or historical drama is bound to wonder whether at least half of what the show depicts is true to life. After all, some of us just want to make sure we don't fail that upcoming history exam which is too tedious to study for using books.
History Channel's Vikings is certainly no exception to this and one of the most controversial aspects of that show is Ragnar Lothbrok, the Viking chieftain protagonist. Much of the debate stems from the fact that the accounts of Ragnar's exploits are the stuff of legend or even word-of-mouth. Some are true, while some are truly fake, here five historically accurate things about Ragnar and four more that are not.
In the show, Ragnar was first seen already married to shieldmaiden Lagertha, his first wife in some accounts and second in others. She is, in fact, a real person and a real wife of Ragnar according to the Christian chronicler Saxo Grammaticus who recorded her tales and exploits. Also, yes, she was very much a brave and skilled warrior, something which impressed Ragnar.
Meanwhile, Ragnar's second wife in the show, Aslaug/Kraka is also real. However, based on historical accounts and records, she was actually the third wife, meaning the show skipped the second (or first) wife Thora.
During the fourth season of Vikings, it can be recalled that Ragnar briefly became lovers with an Asian woman named Yidu. Initially, she was seen and presented as a slave or servant but turned out to be a legitimate daughter of a Chinese emperor. Apparently, she also provided and made drugs Ragnar became addicted to and this eventually led to him killing her.
Sad to say, she never existed in any form in any iteration of Ragnar Lothbrok's saga. It is also unlikely that someone of Asian descent, particularly a Chinese emperor's daughter, to make it that far into Scandinavia. For that matter, how she fueled Ragnar's addiction to drugs is also not real and had no historical accounts.
Björn, Hvítserkr, Sigurðr, Ubbe, and Ívar, are all real Vikings and all of them actually invaded England. Some of them, such as Ívar the Boneless, are actually legendary and prominently featured in Viking sagas and chronicles.
However, there is a certain difference in how the show handled the mother and ages of these dudes, particularly Björn, whose mother was actually Aslaug/Kraka and not Lagertha. Meanwhile, Ívar, in real life is actually Ragnar's oldest son, not Björn. In addition to sons, Ragnar might have also had two daughters born to Lagertha instead of just one.
In Vikings, Ragnar was depicted to hail from his hometown of Kattegat, Norway. Guess what? The place doesn't exist and never did in record... at least on land. You see, Kattegat is actually a sea between Denmark and Sweden. It was never a Scandinavian village which gave birth to the most legendary Vikings ever. That's quite a downer since Kattegat is featured so prominently in the show.
Additionally, a lot of the places the characters of the show travel to are nonexistent in real life, not just the hardy village of Kattegat.
Despite Kattegat being a truly fictional place and some of the places where battles and raids took place in the show being made up, Ragnar's raids are definitely real and they happened, just not where the show depicted. They also most certainly left quite an impression on neighboring European countries. One of the most notorious Viking raids in history was the sack (or siege) or Paris back in 845 A.D.
The Vikings who did that were led by a leader named Norse chieftain named "Reginherus", or Ragnar, according to Viking sagas. Still, whether it was Ragnar or not remains disputed among historians.
Floki is one of the first few characters introduced in the show since the first season and he has been established as Ragnar's balding emo best friend. While he does play a crucial role in Ragnar's conquests, Floki, like the brother Rollo, never existed alongside the legendary Viking chieftain.
However, that isn't to say there never was a prominent Viking named Floki in real life. His historical counterpart is Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, known as the first Norseman to deliberately sail to Iceland. There were no accounts of him coming in contact with the real-life Ragnar.
Ragnar's death was quite a big shocker for anyone who was not prepared or still in denial. However, it turns out being thrown into a pit of venomous snakes by an English king has some historical merit to it, meaning that's really it for Ragnar. Quite a painful way to die too.
Of course, obscure historical accounts being the way they are, there is another version of how Ragnar perished. His other manner of death links back to his invasion and sacking of Paris where he supposedly died of a deadly disease that was similar to diarrhea. That's a no brainer for the showrunners, death by venomous snakes is actually more merciful than death by diarrhea.
Plot twist: no one was really sure who Ragnar was or what his true name was. Conflicting historical accounts from Anglo-Saxon chroniclers and Viking sagas have made the details murky. Some historians even suggested that Ragnar could have been a compilation of many Viking chieftains and their exploits instead of just a single man, a theory also disputed.
Moreover, "Ragnar" was also a pretty common Viking name. There is no doubt that he was real and had sons that became even more successful than him. It's just that his name and identity is still an ongoing subject of debate among historians for nearly a millennia now.
In the initial seasons of Vikings we are presented with a fresh Ragnar sporting a badass braided high undercut hairstyle that hipsters and millennials go crazy for-- until he went fully bald. However, you'll find that such a hairstyle is quite common back then, circa the Dark Ages and even History Channel has guaranteed its authenticity, meaning it is most likely the hairstyle Ragnar would have chosen.
This is in stark contrast to the usual Viking depictions in other media forms. They most certainly do not look like WWE wrestlers with sweaty locks covering their face. That's just not very practical in combat.