Barbaric Beauty

We might applaud the tall, blond and ruggedly handsome Vikings of pop culture as being historically accurate, but authentic engagement with the past requires more than just convincing hair and make-up.

Members of the Danish Viking Olayers of Fredrikssund rehearse for a pageant marking the 75th anniversary of the Borough of Ramsgate, Kent

Avid viewers of Vikings, Downton Abbey or the 300 franchise share a recurring concern: the yearning for historical authenticity. It is the first topic any professed historian is asked about at a dinner party, a perennial question for the students who take our courses and a recurring feature in media coverage. Audiences expect to be entertained and titillated, no doubt, but – even when it comes to overtly fictional shows, films, comics and books – they also demand adherence to an exacting standard of period-appropriate realism. 

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