Othere, Ubba and Torvi are among a single longship escaping in haste from the newly founded Greenland settlement. This takes place following the violent madness of Ketil Flatnose who instigates outright combat over the carcass of a beached whale.
Vikings creator Michael Hirst has clearly been inspired to create this scene by the vicious combat that breaks out over a beached whale following a storm, as recorded in chapter 12 of Grettirs saga. Forces amass and supporters of Flosi and Thorgrim come to blows, with people using axes and choppers, and even whale ribs, to fight over the vast cetacean corpse.
In Vikings, the ill-prepared mariners have little water and food. They also lack a means of navigation (in the TV show the Norsemen are using the fictional ‘sunstone’ for navigational purposes). They travel seemingly aimlessly in search of land, using sails and oars. During a storm, little Asa is lost overboard having had a vision of the huge Jormungandr (world-serpent). In a becalmed sea, their situation seems hopeless. To embody these grim events, he funeral of a young man is depicted. He is wrapped in undyed sail-cloth, tied in place with ropes, and a short-sword tucked inside the rope to accompany him to the watery depths. Using a stone as weight, he is dropped unceremoniously overboard.
In the context of the sagas, there are cases of ship-wrecked mariners bodies being recovered and brought back for burial (in the case of Lík-Lodin). I’m aware of dead bodies buried in ships on land (Aud the Deep-Minded, Chapter 7, Laxdaela saga), transported by sea (Skallagrim’s funeral, Chapter 61, and Bodvar’s funeral, son of Egil, in Chapter 81, Egils saga), bad deaths resulting in the scattering of cremated ashes over water (Olaf the Peacock’s slaying and disposal of Hrapp the draugr, Chapter 24, Laxdaela saga) and death at sea (casting lots to decide who will escape the longship and who will perish, Chapter 15, Erik saga rauda). However, I cannot recall to mind an instance where details of burial at sea are described, and certainly I don’t know of instances where weapons are submerged with the cadaver. The treatment of this unnamed and reluctant mariner is therefore without reference in the written sources, but chimes with the broader fascination in Vikings with linking death and water, exhibited by cremation and burial close to rivers and the sea, as well as death into the sea via voluntary action and cremation upon water.
The sombre, simple disposal might be seen as a timeless act of disposal created by circumstances and nothing more: an ode to mariners ancient and modern. Yet, I’m keen to hear of further, specific, parallels from medieval sources for this kind of burial at sea.