Vikings was a phenomenal breath of fresh air for historical fiction fans all around the world. It’s packed with action, adventure, and drama. The storylines are compelling, the characters are strong and beautifully developed, the sceneries are breathtaking, and everything’s nicely wrapped around the overall awesomeness that is the Viking world.
Since 2013 we excitingly devoured every episode, waiting for our weekly fix of inspiring women warriors, tales of conquerors and defeated souls, marriages, children, and, quite honestly, pretty fantastic outfits that made us wish we got to be transported back in time. The tale of Ragnar Lothbrok, and later, of his children, will surely stay with many of us for years to come.
With the last season fast approaching, we can’t help but wonder just how much of the real-life events that inspired Vikings were transported into the screen. More specifically, how real were the characters that we grew to love and hate? How many of them actually existed, and which ones are pure TV-elaborated fantasy?
In honor of five incredible seasons, and before we dive into the finale, here are 5 characters from Vikings that were based on real people, and 5 that were pure fiction.
10 Based On Real People: Rollo
We know Rollo as Ragnar’s brother in the show. Rollo was, indeed, a historical figure, and the character we see on the show is based on him. However, there’s no chance he was actually Ragnar’s brother (more on Ragnar later) because they would have lived decades apart.
The real-life Rollo is pretty similar to the one we see on-screen, apart from the sibling thing. He’s credited with founding the House of Normandy, and his bloodline went on to become the first Norman monarchs of England. They also conquered Sicily and a part of what we know today as Sicily.
Rollo is probably the one character on the show depicted with greatest historical accuracy, considering tales of him and his descendants are very much alive still today.
9 Based On Real People: Floki
Floki probably strikes a chord amongst Marvel fans, who clearly see a resemblance between Floki’s mischievous personality and quirky ways and Norse God Loki. In truth, the character of Floki is based on the real-life historical figure of Floki Vilgerson, none other than the founder of Ireland himself.
While in earlier seasons of the show we see him depicted as the warrior who helped Ragnar reach new lands, at first the story doesn’t follow the one from his real-life counterpart very closely. However, during season 5, Floki’s storyline starts following more closely the events that shaped the life of fierce and intelligent warrior Floki Vilgerson.
8 Based On Real People: Lagertha
Lagertha is a fierce, strong, beautiful, and overall fantastic character that inspired every single fan of Vikings. It’s a joy for viewers to be allowed to see such a complex female character on screen, who is allowed to be both fragile and determined, fighting alongside Ragnar himself.
Lagertha’s story is told in the ninth book of the Gesta Danonum, and she’s described as a fierce warrior and skilled Amazon. Truth is, whether we’re talking about the real or the fictionalized version of Lagertha, knowing such a badass lady was once out there, slaying some metaphorical dragons and actual enemies, gives us a nice, warm feeling inside.
7 Based On Real People: Ivan The Boneless
We saw a slight departure from the original storyline of Vikings starting with season 5. The show gave the spotlight to Ragnar’s sons, allowing fans to rejoice in accompanying the adventures, fights and conquests of his bloodline. And even though Ragnar isn’t considered by specialists as an actual historical figure, his sons are (weird, yes).
One of his children is Ivan The Boneless, a nickname derived either from a curse cast upon him by the gods or from brittle bone disease. The latter seems a bit more believable, but the ruthless character from the show was very much a thing in real life, and his depiction in the show is actually incredibly accurate.
6 Based On Real People: Aslaug
Ragnar’s second wife, the mother of five of his sons, is also loosely based on her historical counterpart. Perhaps one of the most interesting moments both depicted in fiction and history is the riddle Ragnar presents Aslaug with upon their meeting, providing insight to Aslaug’s wits and powers.
Aslaug was of noble lineage, born from Sigurd and Brynhild, who died when she was just a child. Raised by peasants, Aslaug has the gift of second-sight, that allows her to predict key elements and events of the future. One of these events just so happens to be the condition that her son Ivar would fall victim to.
5 Based On Real People: Aethelwulf
Son of King Ecbert and leader of his army, with a less than joyful love life, Aethelwulf was a great character that brought a lot to the show. His demise didn’t quite make justice to the great warrior’s life (being stung by a bee and dropping dead because it turns out you’re allergic doesn’t quite make it to the top of the list on heroic ways to die).
In Vikings, he is portrayed as not being the smart type, being used as a pawn quite frequently, and hurting greatly for it (emotionally more than anything else). However, there’s no evidence the real Aethelwulf was the same, and he was very well known for his composure and willingness to endure – a fantastic example for his son, Alfred The Great.
4 Based On Real People: Judith
Yes, you read that right. Alfred The Great wasn’t the illegitimate son of Judith and her lover. He was very much the legitimate child of Aethelwulf with his first wife, Osburh of Wessex. Judith as a real-life, historical figure is quite different from the one we see on the show, mostly due to her age.
During the time period during which the show takes place, Judith, the daughter of Charles the Bald of West Francia, was only a teen when her hand was given in marriage to Aethelwulf, several years her senior. The pair never had any children, and much of what we see on the show, including the affairs, were very improbable at that time.
3 Fictional: Athelstan
Witnessing Athelstan’s struggle after being taken as a slave by Ragnar was, for many, one of the most interesting journeys in Vikings. The former Christian monk starts to seriously doubt his faith once he is confronted with a reality completely different from the one that he knew. His friendship with Ragnar is also an important plot point of the show, and kept many fans engaged.
However, there is no actual recollection of a monk turned Viking that just so happened to be Ragnar’s best friend. On the contrary, the most famous Athelstan of that time was related to Alfred The Great, first ruler of the English. While the show would not be the same without Athelstan and his struggles, such a character never actually existed.
2 Fictional: Ragnar
Yes, believe it or not, it’s true. While it’s almost impossible to picture Vikings as we know and love without the central part of Ragnar for the first four seasons, historians aren’t even sure Ragnar was a real person. There are many legends about the great Ragnar, and they are very much in accordance with what we see in the show.
However, the general consensus among historians is that Ragnar is most likely an amalgamation of several people. Tales of Ragnar, the king, and conqueror, actually come from Old Norse poetry, and not actual historical documents or artifacts.
What’s a bit odd, however, is that his sons, who are also presented in the show, are considered historical figures, while Ragnar is considered more myth than reality. Either way, real or nor, Ragnar was the first real heart of the show and we couldn’t be happier we got to see the legend play out on-screen.
1 Fictional: Kwenthrith of Mercia
The character of Kwenthrith of Mercia is pretty much fictionalized in its entirety. The traits that make the character very much dislikable by anyone who knows and watches the show are, indeed, based in some historical figures.
Kwenthrith of Mercia is actually an amalgamation of three historical figures, Princess Cwenthryth, Queen Cynethryth, and her daughter Eadburh. Her manipulative and conniving aspects are based on very unflattering tales of the latter two. While the single character of Kwenthrith didn’t actually exist, the showrunners did a great job introducing her to the show. Who doesn’t love a great villain, after all?
NEXT: What To Expect From Vikings Season 6