Documentary Explores Viking History: A Deep Dive Into Warrior Life

Fascination with ancient Viking culture and society seems to have mushroomed in recent years. There is the television show “The Vikings,” and of course “Game Of Thrones” which lifts much of its plot structures and characters from the Viking era.

Those, however, are fictionalized depictions, and many liberties were taken to enhance the stories and add drama.

Vikings. Do they deserve their blood thirsty reputation?

That’s not the case with “Vikings: The Rise and Fall.” This six-week television series, produced by National Geographic, began airing on its channel on June 21st. It does a deep dive into Viking warrior culture, and explores their bravery, bloodthirstiness, and belief in Valhalla – the afterlife. It is winning rave reviews  from critics and audiences alike both here at home and overseas.

For example, the documentary asks whether the Vikings’ reputation as being completely fearless and afraid of no one is a  deserved one. By examining the societal structure of Scandinavia back then, the show concludes that yes indeed, the warriors earned the image we have of them today. During that era, Scandinavia was divided into chiefdoms, as historians call them. Impressing those chiefs was how soldiers won praise, advancement and, often, land and farms.

Sailing off to distant shores and coming home with tales of invasions and all conquering battles earned Viking warriors credibility and value. Honour was another highly valued trait, and fighting in wars far from home earned warriors favour not just from local chiefs, but sometimes from the Kings.

Hundingbane’s Return to Valhalla (1912) by Ernest Wallcousins

The Vikings were incredibly brave for another reason, too, as the show explains. Most warriors did not fear death.

From a young age, boys were taught that dying in battle was not something to fear. Dying with honour on the battlefield meant a place in Valhalla was assured to them. Consequently, they took a “what will be will be” attitude in combat. And when a warrior genuinely doesn’t fear death, they are a formidable opponent in battle. Hence, the Vikings renown as fearless was justified, and lingers to this day.

The Vikings were outstanding sailors and navigators as well as warriors.

Their fatalistic attitude toward death, coupled with a level headed instinct about who made an easier target for invasion, served the Vikings well.

One of their first raids, recorded in 793 A.D., was on Lindisfarne, in England. A monastery was located there, and – according to the Vikings’ rationale – monasteries made easy targets because they were isolated and very wealthy. Nor were the occupants inclined to fight back.

This relatively swift victory gave them confidence, and they followed this up, about a year later,  with another raid, this time on a monastery at Jarrow.  Then a series of raids took place in Scotland, finishing around 800 A.D., historians say.

In particular, however, it was the initial one, at the monastery in Lindisfarne, that had a “tremendous impact” psychologically on the British, says one historian at a university in Liverpool.

Though peaceful today Lindisfarne saw much bloodshed.

But the documentary doesn’t only explore the bloody nature of the Vikings.

It also delves into the willingness of sailors to travel to faraway shores for wealth. One segment looks at the recreated trading post settled by the Vikings at L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, Canada. It is located at the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula. This outpost proves that the Vikings were in North America long before Christopher Columbus arrived – about 500 years before.

The series dives into not only the myths about the Vikings, but the reasons those myths have persisted for all this time. It is, in part, because the legends are based on facts and evidence.

Viking raids were indeed bloody events, lending credence to their reputation as brutal warriors with little sympathy for the conquered.

A formidable foe.

Read More: Rare Viking Coin Found In Hungary

And they still they hold allure to modern storytellers. This series goes a long way toward explaining why that fascination exists, and explains why it isn’t likely to abate any time soon.