I’ve learnt not to expect historical accuracy from Vikings, but, even so, I was lost for words when Ivar the Boneless and Oleg of Novgorod flew over 9th century Kiev/Kyiv in a sled-drawn parachute balloon. This was followed by the Varangian warriors spending their evening doing Cossack dancing. Meanwhile, back in Scandinavia, Bjorn Ironside was trying to rescue Harald Fairhair, who was being held prisoner by Olaf the Stout and Canute the Great (that’s Canute of holding back the waves fame) … which was quite surprising, considering that neither of the captors were born until a century or so after this was taking place, and Olaf was actually Harald’s great-great-great-grandson. It went belly up, and Bjorn Ironside and his men tried to swim to safety, only to end up surrounded by a ring of fire.
By this point, I really wouldn’t have blinked an eyelid if Bjorn Borg, Bjorn Ulvaeus and all four members of Bjorn Again had rolled up in a longboat to rescue them. I just wanted to know how Lagertha, who’d retired from public life to live as a private person (like Harry and Meghan, but without all the whingeing), but had then agreed to lead her female neighbours in an all-women army to resist attacks by bandits (Lagertha is far and away my favourite character), got her hair into that complicated coronal of plaits. It really did look very smart, especially for a farmstead on a beach.
I do love Vikings really. I’m very put out that this is the last series.
The Bjorn/Harald/Canute stuff was just beyond silly. OK, it’s hardly meant to be a documentary, but surely they could at least try to keep people in the right century? And why on earth had Canute been transformed into Harald’s dogsbody? Not impressed. The Lagertha storyline, whilst entirely fictional, was fascinating, though. The idea was that she was approached by a group of women and children who, with most of their menfolk dead from raiding ‘n’ trading and those still living being away, were vulnerable to raids by bandits. Their settlement had been attacked and the women raped, and some of the children murdered. And their food supplies had been stolen. It’s something that must have happened to a lot of real Viking-era communities.
And Kievan Rus. Yes, I know that Ukraine prefers “Kyiv” to “Kiev”, and I do usually respect that, but no-one ever says “Kyivan Rus”. As a Russian history specialist, and someone who’s been to both Kyiv/Kiev and Novgorod, I was rather excited to find Oleg of Novgorod featuring in this series. And most of what was shown was based on … well, the facts as far as they’re known. Oleg did indeed conquer Kiev and raid Constantinople, and the story about him refusing a cup of poisoned wine, also mentioned, is, if not necessarily a fact, a well-known legend. Like Canute and the Waves, probably! Looks like a pop group when written like that, but never mind.
What about the other Varangians? Well, we saw little Igor, Oleg’s eventual successor, the son of Rurik. Oleg was indeed his guardian, and, as the programme showed, quite possibly his maternal uncle. However, in this, Askold and Dir were also Igor’s uncles, Oleg’s brothers – whereas, in fact (as far as fact is known), they were the rulers of Kiev whom Oleg defeated. There is a story that Askold was actually Bjorn Ironside’s son, but the scriptwriters didn’t go for that. I suppose it was a bit late to bring in an adult son at this point! Or maybe the son of Hvitserk, another of Ragnar Lothbrok (I do miss Ragnar!)’s sons, but, although Hvitserk’s included in the series, they didn’t go for that option either.
It’s all a bit complicated! I’m so chuffed that the Varangians have been included, though. They usually get forgotten when people are talking about Vikings. But there’s certainly nothing in history to suggest that Oleg ever met Ivar the Boneless. As for the parachute balloon thing …
And I’m not convinced about the Varangian warriors doing Cossack dancing! They did generally seem very Russian/Ukrainian, although Oleg himself chatted away merrily in Old Norse. The issue of whether the Rus were of Scandinavian origin, Slavic origin, or probably a mixture, is complex, and quite sensitive. Russian history works much better if you downplay the Viking connection, just as English history works much better if you downplay the Norman influence. However, I don’t think the scriptwriters were trying to align themselves with any one school of historical thought. Cossack dancing just looks good!!
And it all looked good. OK, OK, it wasn’t very accurate, but it was really good fun – and it didn’t actually stray into the realms of fantasy. There was a bit of supernatural stuff going on, but that was mainly about prayers and rituals: we didn’t have elves or hobbits or even trolls running about. I’m just sad that this is the final series! There are more episodes to come, but we’ve been told that there won’t be a “Season 7”. I’ve watched it from the start, and will be sad to see it end. Balloons nothwithstanding …