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11 characters in the Vinland Saga are based on actual historical figures

Vinland Saga is a history-rich adventure series. Consequently, some of the series' characters can be linked to iconic real-life figures.

Vinland Saga Historical Figures
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VIDEO: Real-Life Inspiration of Vinland Saga Characters: A Deep Dive
Weeb Dyewell
  • Vinland Saga is a historical anime set in the age of Vikings, featuring characters based on real figures from that time.
  • The backstories of the characters in Vinland Saga are incredibly fascinating, with some liberties taken but remaining faithful in certain areas.
  • The series promises a third season that will eventually reach Vinland itself, but it has not been confirmed yet. The mangaka and studio may incorporate more original content to describe Thorfinn's settlement and meeting with the Native Americans.

Vinland Saga is a rare historical anime. It unfolds during the age of Vikings, portraying their European conquests and worldwide explorations in typically stylized fashion. With that attachment to history comes many characters based on real figures. The series uses many prominent Vikings of the time for its cast.

The Vikings in Vinland Saga accomplish many amazing feats, but the backstories of these guys are arguably more incredible. In fact, people may be surprised not only by the liberties taken but by how faithful these versions are in certain areas.

Updated on September 15, 2023 by David Heath: The second season of Vinland Saga concluded on June 20th, 2023. Avoiding spoilers, it promises a third season, and the journey the series is named after. However, as of this writing, Season 3 hasn't been confirmed yet. Chances are it'll do well enough to get one soon enough.

If it does, it'll be interesting to see as it'll eventually reach the fabled Vinland itself. By then, mangaka Makoto Yukimura and Studio MAPPA will just have the Viking sagas to go on, likely skewing into more original content to describe Thorfinn's settlement and meeting with the "Skraelings" (Native Americans). Until that comes to pass, here are more real historical figures that feature in Vinland Saga. Watch out for potential spoilers.

11 Thorfinn

Thorfinn in Vinland Saga and a statue by Einur Jonsson, Picture by Michael W. Murphy

The main protagonist of the series, Thorfinn starts as a young boy who wants to be a great hero like his father Thors. After witnessing his dad's death, the kid casts himself into a life of hardship and survival. He trains as one of Askeladd's crew, hoping to attain the skills needed to finally achieve vengeance on him. This is where he fundamentally differs from the source.

The character is based on Thorfinn Karlsefni, who was less a warrior and more an explorer. He followed Leif Erikson's route to Vinland--or North America--to establish a Viking settlement. The accounts of his journey, along with that of Leif's father Eric the Red, became known as the "Vinland sagas", hence the name of the manga and show. With Leif as a helpful presence to Thorfinn, the anime's little killer may turn pioneer after all.

10 Askeladd

Askeladd in Vinland Saga, Arthur in King Arthur, Olaf the Peacock by The Historian's Hut

This is the roguish mercenary who kills Thorfinn's father. In following him, the young Viking positions Askeladd as an unorthodox teacher. There are plenty of worse characters to choose for this role. Askeladd is a charismatic leader who enjoys a good fight and takes on virtually any challenge if it pays. His name comes from Askeladden, a figure from Norwegian folktales. Yet his personality more resembles his historic counterpart: Olaf the Peacock.

This merchant was famous for his pride and flamboyant decorations, and would become one of the wealthiest landowners in Iceland. However, the series eventually reveals another inspiration for Askeladd. It turns out his mother named him "Lucius Artorius Castus." This was the Roman officer thought to have inspired King Arthur. Sadly, the name didn't stick, and Askeladd didn't become the king of England.

9 Thorkell

Thorkell the Tall in Vinland Saga

Thorfinn's grand-uncle is known for his mighty stature and battle prowess. Due to his love of combat, he serves as the right hand of Prince Canute, aiding him in his quest to become the ruler of the Danes. That's fairly accurate to the historical sagas. The character comes from Thorkell the Tall, a Jomsviking lord who raised Canute at his court.

They actually fought on opposite sides when the young prince invaded England with his father, Sweyn Forkbeard. In Vinland Saga, it was because he thought aiding the weaker English forces would be more interesting than another Viking victory. In history, it was over the death of his hostage, Elfheah the Archbishop of Canterbury, which disillusioned him from the Danish cause. In both, Thorkell would rejoin Canute's forces and be formidable again.

8 Sweyn Forkbeard

Sweyn Forkbeard in Vinland Saga and Vikings: Valhalla

Canute's father is villainous even by Viking standards. Sweyn a ruthless ruler who managed to conquer England and is willing to sacrifice anything for his ambition, including his own son. His heir disgusts him with his sentiment and failure to understand his station. This is a far cry from history, as Sweyn and Canute actually worked together to invade England. The former even left his son in charge at several points.

His relationship with his own father, Harald Bluetooth (yes, the wireless tech is named after him), was more strained. He'd end up revolting against him and taking his throne, leaving his father to die in exile. Forkbeard asserted himself as a calculating leader who won many battles and territories, claiming much of Norway and all of England and Wales. This laid vital groundwork for his son to expand on.

7 Canute

Canute in Vinland Saga and Vikings: Valhalla

The anime's rendition of Canute is a gentle-looking prince who grows into a confident leader. He wants to create a great kingdom in homage to God. That's why he takes command of the Viking army, albeit through unscrupulous means. Nevertheless, like his historical namesake Canute (or Cnut) The Great, he would take control of England, making it the first of many lands in his domain.

Canute was a revolutionary Viking who united various factions. Through careful strategy and intense determination across 12 years, he would become King of England, Denmark, and Norway in a vast North Sea Empire, earning the nickname "Cnut the Great". In Vinland Saga, he seems on the path to doing just that. Whether he'll also demonstrate the might of God over kings by standing on the beach and ordering the tide to go back out is another matter.

6 Ethelred II

Historical Vinland Saga Characters- Ethelred II

Vinland Saga tweaks some characters for drama, but it didn't need to do much to make King Ethelred II of England as hopeless as his historical counterpart. He's deposed from the throne after Sweyn and Canute's invasion of London, and then he tried to reclaim the throne after Sweyn's death, only to be poisoned to death by Canute's order. His lack of care and planning would earn him the title of "Ethelred the Unready".

Historical records used "unready" (or "unræd") to mean "badly advised", blaming his counsel for proposing to pay Sweyn to leave England alone ("Danegeld"). It might've worked if Ethelred hadn't also ordered the murder of Danish settlers in 1002. This led to the invasion and his deposition 11 years later. He would actually manage to reclaim parts of England, but he'd pass from (allegedly) natural causes, leaving his son Edmund to fight Canute for control.

5 Estrid

Historical Vinland Saga Characters- Estrid

Things wouldn't be any calmer on the Danish side of things for Sweyn and Canute. After poisoning Ethelred to settle his English claim, and following the passing of Sweyn, Canute would also poison his elder brother Harald II. As the eldest son, he inherited the Danish throne, making him an obstacle to his more ambitious little brother. Luckily, their half-sister Estrid would largely escape Canute's machinations.

As she did in history, which ironically led her line to succeed over Canute's. Through his and her father Sweyn's reign, Estrid would be married off to one prince or another. The most interesting was a proposed marriage to Robert, Duke of Normandy, father of future King of England William the Conqueror. But she'd end up marrying someone else, and have a son, Sweyn II, who'd establish the Estridsen Dynasty, which would rule much of Scandinavia for 300+ years.

4 Wulf

Historical Vinland Saga Characters- Wulf

Estrid's husband in Vinland Saga is Wulf, Canute's head thegn and battle instructor. He works with Thorkell as his personal guard during the Baltic Sea War, then loses an eye to Thorgil during the battle on Ketil's farm. This is quite a feat as Wulf's eyes looked closed by default, getting him known as "Beady-Eyes" to his peers. He's inspired by Ulf Thorgillson, who has no connection to the show's eye-gouger, despite the name.

Ulf was a distant descendant of Harald Bluetooth and a guardian to Canute's son Harthacnut. He would also marry Estrid, though after he attempted to install Harthacnut as king in Canute's absence, with himself as his regent, he would be killed on Canute's orders with Estrid's blessing. Still, he arguably got the last laugh with his son Sweyn becoming king after Harthacnut's death.

3 Leif

Leif in Vinland Saga and Vikings: Valhalla

A prominent supporting player and a quirky old traveler, Leif was a friend of Thorfinn's father Thors. Through this connection, he seeks to aid Thorfinn in his journey from seeking vengeance to seeking new frontiers. Namely, by boasting of his voyage to Vinland, "a new world full of ripe fruit and rippling plains". That's definitely worth boasting about, as it's what he's known for.

The anime derives this character from the real Leif "The Lucky" Erikson. He was the Viking sailor who first charted a course to Vinland, as described in the original "Vinland sagas". Experts believe that this was actually North America, possibly at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. Such a momentous achievement would make Leif the first European in the New World, preceding Christopher Columbus by 500 years.

2 Gudrid

Gudrid and Thorfinn in Vinland Saga

One avid listener of Leif's stories was Gudrid. Dreaming of sailing to escape her ex-husband Sigurd, she eventually joins the explorer, where she meets Thorfinn. Romance blossoms, and she marries the Viking hero, hoping to make a new living in the paradisaical Vinland. Those versed in history know the significance of this powerful paring, as she's based on Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, the wife of the real Thorfinn.

After being rescued at sea by the real Leif Erikson, and following the death of her first husband Thorir, Gudrid accompanied Thorfinn in his quest to Vinland. She was a Christian among pagans, which she passed down to her son Snorri. Aside from being the first European born in the Americas, he would later aid the Christianization of Iceland. Thus far, Vinland Saga has focused on an original character, Thorfinn's adopted son Karli. He's the lone survivor of a village massacre. But Gudrid is currently pregnant, so Snorri's debut may not be far off.

1 Thors Snorreson

Vinland Saga - Thors

The "Troll of Jom", Thors Snorreson, was one of the most formidable warriors in the Jomsvikings. He was known for his cold and remorseless actions on the battlefield. But after the birth of his children Helga and Thorfinn, he lost his taste for war, opting for more peaceful means of settling disputes before resorting to violence. He'd defeat Askeladd in a duel, but when Thorfinn is taken hostage, he opts to sacrifice himself in order to free his son.

Thorfinn's real father, Thord "Horsehead" Snorrason, wasn't quite as fierce a warrior. In fact, there's very little known about him at all. He raised Thorfinn in Skagafjord, Iceland on an estate founded by his grandfather Thord of Hofdi. The Vinland sagas claimed Thord's line was descended from Björn Ironside, famous for joining his father-figure Hastein in their takeover of Luni, a small town in Italy that they mistook for Rome. If there are any other mangaka wanting to follow Vinland Saga's lead, they'll find plenty of sources for inspiration.

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