The History Channel’s Vikings (2013-present) is historical fiction drawing on characters and events from the Viking Age (c. 790 - c. 1100 CE) and focusing primarily on the legendary Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons. Created and written by English screenwriter Michael Hirst, Vikings has proven itself a fan favorite of the channel.
The show is popular entertainment and should, of course, be appreciated in that light; not as straight history. The series makes a number of significant departures from historical fact and often compresses events, combines major battles, and changes important details regarding historical figures. Ragnar Lothbrok, for example, is presented as an actual Viking chief from history when he was not. He was possibly based on the Viking leader Reginfred (also given as Reginherus, 9th century CE) but is most likely an amalgam of various chiefs combined in the Icelandic Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok (13th century CE). In another example, Queen Kwenthryth of Mercia derives from the historical Cwenthryth, the daughter of the Mercian king Coenwulf (r. 796-821 CE) and later Abbess of the Parish of Minster-in-Thanet. Her character on the show is woven from largely unflattering later accounts of Cwenthryth, the Mercian queen Cynethryth, and Cynethryth’s daughter Eadburh.
Although Vikings makes ample use of poetic license and creative revision, it remains true to the spirit of the history of the Viking Age. The show consistently makes clear how the Viking raids destabilized kingdoms such as Northumbria, Wessex, and West Francia and forever changed the way the people of those kingdoms saw themselves and others. The series should be taken in the spirit its creator intends: not as a history lesson but as entertainment. Even so, once one has engaged in the show, it becomes even more enjoyable if one knows the history behind the characters and events portrayed. In this collection, we present the key historical figures behind the fictional representations.