Is Vikings based on a true story? (Who was the real Ragnar Lothbrok?)

Michael Hirst brought us the brilliant story of Ragnar Lothbrok in Vikings on History. Was this series based on a real person and real history?

Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) from HISTORY's "Vikings." Two-hour season six premiere airs Wed. December 4 at 9PM ET/PT.. Photo by Bernard Walsh.. Copyright 2019
Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) from HISTORY's "Vikings." Two-hour season six premiere airs Wed. December 4 at 9PM ET/PT.. Photo by Bernard Walsh.. Copyright 2019 /

When it comes to historical fiction, there is always one question on the minds of viewers. Is this show based on real history? What about Vikings?

Now on Netflix, the History series followed Ragnar Lothbrok as he focused on gaining power and influence in Kattegat. We saw how he wanted to explore the world west of his home, but not everyone believed that there was anything west of Kattegat.

Over the course of six seasons, we watched as children grew and people went onto explore other lands. Floki left to explore the world of the Mediterranean and Iceland, while Lagertha looked at starting a new life in England. Back in Kattegat, we had the war between Ragnar’s sons after the death of their father.

Vikings is loosely based on real history

There is a connection to real history. Michael Hirst did do some research into the time period. There was a real Ragnar Lothbrok, and yes, his death in the show is linked to things that may have happened to him in real life. There was a real Ivar the Boneless, although it’s not clear if he could use his legs or not.

While Hirst took a lot of liberties with another of his historical dramas, The Tudors, for the sake of drama and TV, he didn’t have much of a choice when it came to Vikings. This is a time period before a lot of records were kept. We just have to look at other TV shows that cover the Viking period and how there is little information about the people who invaded England and the wars between sons.

There are some elements of the story that are changed for dramatic purposes. Hirst had people who shouldn’t have ever met due to when they were reportedly born meeting in the series.

Changes to the character of Ragnar Lothbrok

There are accounts of a Ragnar Lothbrok in history, but the show seems to combine three different people for the Ragnar in the series. We seem to have an amalgamation of Reginherus, a Viking leader known for the Siege of Paris in 845, King Horik I of Denmark, and King Reginfrid, who ruled after Horik. Interestingly enough, King Horik is even in Vikings, to make the amalgamation even more tricky.

Then there’s Rollo, who is Ragnar’s brother in the series. The Ragnar in the historical texts didn’t have a brother, but there are reports of a potential Rollo in the Siege of Paris in 885 instead of the one in 845.

There are even changes to the women Ragnar married based on history compared to the show. Bjorn Ironside was a son of Ragnar, but he was not a son of Lagertha. Instead, he was also a son of Aslaug, along with the other sons that we saw in the series.

Remember that Vikings didn’t keep the best of records, though. This leads to some changes to the real history in the story being necessary for TV. And while there are no records of things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t happen. However, there is no record of a Christian monk called Aethelstan being kidnapped by the Vikings and eventually becoming Ragnar’s best friend. There is an Aethelstan around this time. He was the grandson of Alfred the Great, who is seen in another historical series based on the same time period, The Last Kingdom.

Floki is based on the real founder of Iceland

The character of Floki is an interesting one. He is mostly fictional, especially when it comes to the earlier seasons. The part that is connected to real history is that a man named Floki founded Iceland.

Floki is loosely based on Floki Vilgerson, who was the man who founded Iceland. Again, there is just so little recorded, though.

There are mentions of real people in history. Hirst was limited in his options though with the lack of information recorded from that time. Plus, sometimes, history isn’t all that exciting and needs to be adapted or conversations need to be added in and fictionalized even when the situation is as real as possible. We don’t know everything that happens behind closed doors even when events are fully recorded.

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Vikings is now available to stream on Netflix.