I’m in the process of co-authoring a book chapter with a true expert in early medieval history and archaeology whose research has focused on the conversion of Scandinavia and Viking Age assembly places and practices: Dr Alex Sanmark. In our contribution to a forthcoming book, we are considering the character and authenticity of representations of thing places and practices in the popular television show Vikings. Our provisional title is “Things in Vikings“.

We haven’t been able to secure permission to reproduce stills from the show, and we are keen to visualise in a semi-schematic fashion the key spatial and material dimensions of the show’s open-air assembly places, as shown most notably in Vikings Seasons 2 and 4 part 1. We wish to explore how elements reflect historical and archaeological evidence, but in other regards prominent and important dimensions of Viking things are overlooked or misrepresented.

One of the key things we like about things in Vikings is the depiction of variable and changing assembly places and practices.

I have rapidly digitised and annotated still images from the TV show.

The first scene is when Rollo is brought to trial for his treachery against Ragnar and is judged by the lawgiver who stands on the lawrock at Kattegat. The law rock looms over the settlement and harbour. Warriors defend the space, and the law rock is framed by two posts bearing animal skulls. We are thus shown a ‘traditional’ assembly place inherited from before the Viking Age, with the lawgiver seemingly independent of the earl’s authority in his decision-making (at least nominally).

My simplified and annotated representation of Kattegat’s thing from Season 2 of Vikings

The second scene is when Ragnar’s son – Bjorn Ironside – addresses an assembly whilst Ragnar is dangerously ill following his injuries during the first raid on Paris. Again, warriors defend the law rock but now human skulls adorn the backdrop. Below, the crowd is far greater in size, the jetties and number of ships in the harbour attest to the growth and wealth of Kattegat as a premier trading station and court of King Ragnar. We are thus shown the shifting politics, wealth and power of Kattegat manifest in the use of the law rock in a more hegemonic political performance involving the distribution of treasure and the brandishing of a ‘key’ trophy from Ragnar’s successful raid: the gate lock from Paris.

My simplified and annotated representation of Kattegat’s thing from Season 4 part 1 of Vikings

I hope to create a third image: of the assembly place of Earl Kalf at ‘Hedeby’ – another Scandinavian central place featuring in the show. This one is similar in some respects but different in others. This thing features a number of material elements, most prominently a central carved ceremonial post. Rather than a law rock, there is a modest-sized mound, part-built from large boulders.

For the details of our arguments, you’ll have to wait for the academic publication to come out.  However, for this blog, I’d like feedback on my crude attempts to represent crowd scenes and conjure a sense of how the show evokes the social, political and judicial roles of things in the Viking Age.

My artistic skills are, however, limited, so I’ve tried to keep the details simple and the figures stylised. These stick-Vikings come in multiple forms:

  • standard stick Vikings
  • gesturing stick Vikings
  • robed/gowned (female-gendered) stick Vikings
  • staff/spear-bearing stick Vikings
  • fat stick Vikings
  • child stick Vikings

I’ve pointed out the placing of a few key characters involved in the brief portrayals we are gifted of the proceedings. Most of the crowd are anonymous stick people: mainly adult men, but some women and children. Let me know what you think.

While we’re at it, why don’t we give names to my Viking stick figures? Here are some opening suggestions:

  • Ragnar Hairy-Branch
  • Stickurd Stuck-in-the-Eye
  • Ivar the Rodless
  • Floki the Stick-Builder
  • Aslog
  • Bjorn Irontwig
  • Sticki
  • Logertha
  • Aethelstick
  • Torstick

Or maybe not….