The bottom line is that the out of the three of us, I’m the one with the most “medieval” costuming knowledge, and I freely admit I know approximately nothing about the so-called Viking age. Well, ok, that’s not entirely true … I know just enough to be dangerous — which is to say, nowhere near enough to speak with any authority on the historical accuracy of the costumes in this show. I do know, however, that Michael Hirst, the guy who gave us The Tudors is behind The History Channel’s Vikings (2013-), so that automatically puts historical accuracy at a distinct disadvantage over sex and violence and seriously questionable costume choices.
Academics have gone on the record decrying the appalling lack of historical accuracy depicted in the show. Author Lars Walker pulled no punches, calling out the show for its “lazy” writing and alleging that “telling it right would be Hollywood blasphemy.” Which is kind of sad because the show’s historical consultant, Justin Pollard, is a Cambridge-educated historian with, as the kids say these days, “legit cred.” And yet, he waves aside any notion that he’s obligated to get the history right because, “Our job is not to try to forensically recreate the past, but rather to understand as much about it as we can before we start telling our story.”
I dunno … I don’t think people are asking for much. Just, you know, getting the basic facts right. Like that the Vikings depicted in this show would totally have known that England existed, because there was established cross-cultural communication between the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse during the period that Vikings allegedly focuses on.
Historian Eve Siebert says it better than I can:
Creative license and minor linguistic flubs are to be expected, but in his depiction of the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons, Hirst veers into pseudohistory: the Vikings are savage morons who don’t know how the ocean works, don’t believe in England, and have never heard of Christians. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Saxons are effete incompetents who can’t find the pointy end of a spear until they’re impaled on it. It’s as if the two groups are in no way culturally or linguistically similar.
At least series costumer, Joan Bergin (again, from The Tudors), apparently did some amount of research in preparation for the show, visiting Scandinavian museums to study the fragments and reconstructions of clothing displayed there. Good on her. I’m still not totally convinced about some of her conclusions, though…
I can look at the costumes and armor in Vikings and know that something ain’t right, because these guys don’t look a thing like the Norse geeks I hang out with on the weekends, and I’ve heard plenty of complaints from said Norse geeks about how blatantly bad the costumes and armor are in the show. But despite approaching a number of these friends of mine to write a piece for Frock Flicks on the myriad of ways that the TV show Vikings gets it totally and completely wrong, no one has taken me up on my offer.
I also know that the so-called Vikings were an extremely diverse diaspora of people that spanned thousands of miles across Europe and can’t really be condensed into one overarching culture. Beyond that, I have really nothing of value to add to the discussion of whether or not the show Vikings is in any way historically accurate.
So, that, in a nutshell, is why we haven’t covered Vikings yet. This also stands for many other movies and shows, particularly ones with a heavy emphasis on the military … None of us at Frock Flicks know Thing One about military history and to even venture a guess would be contributing to the problem rather than discussing the finer points of military braid arrangements.
As we’ve said before, it’s a good bet that if we aren’t talking about it on the blog or in a podcast, it’s not because we don’t acknowledge it exists, but because the topic isn’t our bag and/or we really have no knowledge about that particular branch of costume history. And any good academic knows that you don’t open your big mouth unless you know what you’re talking about — otherwise you’re going to get bum-rushed by the masses gleefully telling you what a dumbass you are.
Are you an expert in clothing and armor of the Viking age? Want to write an article for us? Drop us a line. We can’t pay you in money, but we can give you our undying appreciation.