Television series Vikings, season four of which is currently running on the History Channel, has proved a cult hit since it began. If you like medieval gore – and everyone seems to these days – it’s good fun, but it is also culturally significant in showing an increasingly anti-Christian and pro-pagan view of the medieval period.
The show starts in the AD 790s with Ragnar Lothbrok leading an expedition to England, having discovered a new means of sailing the western sea. Along with his jealous brother Rollo, a half-insane shipbuilder called Floki and some other violent Norsemen, they raid the monastery at Lindisfarne in Northumbria and begin the great Viking age.
The programme mixes historical fact, legend and fiction. Ragnar Lothbrok (literally “hairy trousers”) was a mythical figure who may have existed and the Lindisfarne raid was a real event that took place in AD 793. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles put it in its typically miserable style: “This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons flying across the firmament. These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine and slaughter.”
But much of the actual history Vikings covers is from the late 9th century when the raids intensified and after the Great Heathen Army landed in AD 865.
There is plenty of rapine and slaughter on display in the show, which is grizzly and absurdly violent, although that goes without saying with television these days I suppose; what’s perhaps more uncomfortable is that, as the first series goes on, we’re clearly supposed to identify with those doing the slaughtering.
This article continues at [Catholic Herald] Vikings: how TV drama fell in love with bloodthirsty paganism