When Fake News about Vikings Makes It Into a Documentary

Is Everything Propaganda?

In episode 4 of Fall of Civilizations, the filmmakers treat the fall of the Viking settlement in Greenland. Voice-actor Paul Cooper opens with, “Some time around the year 1540, a ship full of Norwegian sailors made the dangerous voyage to Iceland. A frozen island, in the middle of the north Atlantic.”

But their boat was blown off course by heavy storms and winds, and the men landed on the coast of Greenland instead. There, they found the deceased body of a Norse-looking man dressed in native Inuit clothing. So far, so good, but the remainder of the documentary spouts anti-white and racist propaganda. The filmmakers appear to have deliberately misconstrued Viking history in order to fit it with a progressive narrative of diversity and inclusion.

Evil Men?

For example, early on in the documentary podcast, the narrator says of the white people who settled Greenland, “The people who made this journey were Norsemen, otherwise known in the Middle Ages as Vikings. They were sailors, soldiers and settlers from Norway and Denmark who had a terrifying reputation in all the lands they encountered.”

The stage has been set. Those evil, marauding, raping, killing, warring Vikings earned their bad rep everywhere they went. Right? Well, let’s see how evil they really were. One Anglo-Saxon chronicler wrote in the year 1002,

“The Danes [Vikings] made themselves too acceptable to English women by their elegant manners and their care of their person. They combed their hair daily, according to the custom of their country, and took a bath every Saturday, and even changed their clothes frequently, and improved the beauty of their bodies with many such rites, by which means they undermined the chastity of wives.” [1]

Those sons of bitches! How dare those Vikings be such good-looking, well-groomed men with proper hygiene. Now, if these were the “customs of their country”, do you still believe the anti-Viking propaganda? Obviously, the Anglo-Saxons had to kill the Danes to punish them. The Anglo women had been more than willing to run off back to Denmark with these Asgardian demi-gods.

Mind you that much of what we now know about Vikings comes either from Christian monks writing in Latin or from the occasional Arab or Greek observer. To what extent are we, perhaps, reading the works of anti-Nordicist propagandists? Christians, in those days, were still trying to convert the heathen Norsemen, and there seems to have been a heathen pushback against such attempts around the 10th century.

The narrator correctly asserts, “They were known as raiders and pirates to their enemies, but they were also expert sailors and shipbuilders, marvelous writers of epic poetry, and perhaps some of the hardiest explorers in human history.”

Viking Xenophobes?

The documentary does a good job at explaining the ordeals of the Norsemen who settled Greenland, centering around the Saga of Erik the Red and the Greenlanders’ Saga, and their subsequent discovery of ‘Vinland’, present-day Canada’s Newfoundland. The film offers some quality until the point whereafter the narrator describes what the Greenland Vikings called the Inuit inhabitants living in the North of Greenland: skraelings, or barbarians.

In modern Icelandic, srkaeling does indeed mean barbarian. And in Danish, it means weakling. But that’s not the meaning it had to the Greenland Vikings of the 10th through 14th centuries. In their time, and in their dialect, the word skrá meant dried skin, in reference to the dried animal pelts worn by the Asiatic Inuit. So it meant something like “pelt-wearers”. It may also have come from the verb skraekja, to yell. I.e., perhaps the Inuit they encountered were loud people.

The narrator then takes a dive to the dark side of rabid fascism, claiming that “in Viking folklore, the indigenous peoples of North America are often referred to as semi-mythical creatures, and less than human. In the stories, they transform into witches, pygmies, and trolls.”

Oh, so the Vikings thought of their Asiatic encounters as subhumans, ay? Check. Vikings were fascist racists. We all know it’s true.

In the sagas of the Icelanders, the stories recount of the Inuit, “They were short men, ill-looking, with their hair in disorderly fashion on their heads; they were large-eyed, and had broad cheeks.” [2] (Cited from Erik the Red’s Saga, chapter 10). The documentary film, however, twists these words into the following: “They were short in height with threatening features and tangled hair on their heads. Their eyes were large and their cheeks broad.”

Whaaat? In the original Icelandic Saga, the Inuit Skraelings were “ill-looking”, but in the documentary, they are described as being “threatening”. The purpose of this twist of the tongue is to make the Vikings appear as xenophobes, afraid of the unknown. And it is false, as we shall deduce from the actual Saga of Erik the Red.

It gets even more dubious when the narrator says, “And the Vikings’ inability to make lasting peace with their neighbors [in Northern Greenland] would certainly not help matters when their luck took a turn for the worse.”

Excuse me? Why is it the Vikings’ inability to make peace, but certainly not the Skraelings’ unwillingness to accept it? This is another racist plot twist unwarranted by the original saga. It’s always the white man’s burden to make peace with the world, isn’t it?

A Criminal Misrepresentation

Without warrant, the documentary film then completely makes up the proceedings of a violent clash between Vikings and the skraelings on mainland Canada (Vinland). This is not just an act of carelessness ror sloppiness, but an act of deliberate misrepresentation, namely to make the Vikings look xenophobic and racially violent when the truth was quite the opposite.

According to the documentary, the following events supposedly took place. Narrating about Thorvald, a son of Erik the Red, the documentary film claims,

“In the spring, they [the Vikings] sailed south, and came accross a strange sight on one of the beaches. They saw nine people sleeping under three skin-covered canoes. They were indigenous Americans, or what the Norsemen would have called skraelings. Thorvald attacked these sleeping men and killed eight of them. But among them, one managed to get away, and fled through the forest that fringed the beach. The Norsemen celebrated their victory and set up camp, but their celebration wasn’t to last long. Soon, they heard the noise of an approaching force and shouting voices coming through the trees. They realized too late that the man who had escaped had come back, and this time with reinforcements.”

Ha-ha! Those evil Vikings got what they deserved, right? If you go around killing people for no reason other than your own stupid xenophobia, you deserve to be slaughtered. Except, that’s not at all the story we read about in the Saga of Erik the Red. There, we read something completely different.

When three viking men named Karlsefni, Snorri, and Bjarni, along with the rest of their company, sailed south to explore Vinland (modern-day Canada’s mainland), they found there nine canoes. The Sagas describe what happened next:

Then Karlsefni said, “What will this [the nine canoes] betoken?” Snorri answered him, “It may be that it is a token of peace; let us take a white shield and go to meet them.”

The Vikings show no hostility or fear toward their alien encounters. They go over to them to greet them, bringing with them a white shield to return the token of peace. The Skraeling men “they stayed there awhile in astonishment. Afterwards they rowed away to the south, off the headland.” Clearly, the Inuit natives were the xenophobes, rowing off in fear.

And guess what happened next? The skraelings did return with a fleet but not to wage war.

“Now when spring began, they beheld one morning early, that a fleet of hide-canoes was rowing from the south off the headland; so many were they as if the sea were strewn with pieces of charcoal, and there was also the brandishing of staves as before from each boat. Then they held shields up, and a market was formed between them; and this people in their purchases preferred red cloth; in exchange they had furs to give, and skins quite grey.”

The natives returned to meet the Norsemen, and the Vikings set up a market for trade. What xenophobia? The Vikings weren’t being xenophobic or fearful whatsoever. They met with the Inuit, approached them with a token of peace, and when they returned, the Vikings set up a market to trade with them.

Why did the documentary-makers insinuate the Vikings were racists? The Saga of Erik the Red tells us the other side of the story:

“Now it came to pass that a bull, which belonged to Karlsefni’s people, rushed out of the wood and bellowed loudly at the same time. The Skrælingar, frightened thereat, rushed away to their canoes, and rowed south along the coast. There was then nothing seen of them for three weeks together.”

The skraelings were frightened by a bull the Vikings had brought with them, then fled for the second time. When they came back again, the Inuit launched a full-scale attack on the innocent peace-loving Vikings. The saga details the horrors the Norsemen suffered,

“When that time was gone by, there was seen approaching from the south a great crowd of Skrælingar boats, coming down upon them like a stream, the staves this time being all brandished in the direction opposite to the sun’s motion, and the Skrælingar were all howling loudly. Then took they and bare red shields to meet them. They encountered one another and fought, and there was a great shower of missiles. The Skrælingar had also war-slings, or catapults.”

The Vikings, outnumbered and under attack from every side, retreated and resisted the Inuit as well as they could. Clearly, the Inuit were beingg the xenphobic aggressors. The Inuit were the ones who resorted to war on peaceful traders. Next, the Vikings, fearing perpetual war, decide to leave,

“[Karlsefni and his company] were now of opinion that though the land might be choice and good, there would be always war and terror overhanging them, from those who dwelt there before them.”

Well, well, well! By all accounts, the Vikings were neither xenophobic nor bloodlusted racists. They were migrants trying to settle on new land, even promoting trade. So, next time you hear about Viking xenophobia, just read the Sagas and don’t bother with the fake news about “racist” Vikings.


  1. Frank, Roberta. “Terminally Hip and Incredibly Cool: Carol, Vikings, and Anglo-Scandinavian England.” Representations 100, no. 1 (2007): 23–33. Accessed November 22, 2020. doi:10.1525/rep.2007.100.1.23, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/rep.2007.100.1.23

  2. The Saga of Erik the Red, https://sagadb.org/eiriks_saga_rauda.en, chapter 10.

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