Was There Really A Black Viking Ruler?

Was There Really A Black Viking Ruler?

Vikings: Valhalla follows a new group of characters, among those Jarl Haakon, the current ruler of Kattegat – but was she a real person and was there really a Black Viking ruler? Historical dramas have become very popular in recent years, and one of the most successful TV shows from this branch is Vikings. Created by Michael Hirst, Vikings premiered on the History Channel in 2013 and lived on for a total of six seasons, coming to an end in 2020. However, six seasons weren’t enough to cover the most notable stories from the Viking Age, and a sequel series, titled Vikings: Valhalla, was announced in 2019. Here’s the true story behind Jarl Haakon, including whether Black Viking women existed as rulers.


From beginning to ending, Vikings explored the early years of the Viking Age, beginning with the Lindisfarne raid, and the series was initially led by legendary Norse warrior Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel). As the series progressed, it shifted its focus to Ragnar’s sons – Björn, Ivar, Ubbe, Hvitserk, Sigurd, and Ivar – and their own journeys, becoming the protagonists after Ragnar’s death in season 4. Vikings brought the arcs of all its characters to a full close, making way for new characters and stories from another era from the Viking Age in Vikings: Valhalla.

Related: Vikings: Valhalla Can Finally Show What Happened To Ubbe Ragnarsson

Set over a century after Vikings, Vikings: Valhalla follows Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett), Freydís Eiríksdóttir (Frida Gustavsson), and Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter), who embark on a journey that takes them across oceans and battlefields, from Kattegat to England, to the Pagan temple in Uppsala and beyond. Vikings: Valhalla features some historical events (like the St. Brice’s Day massacre and the fall of the London Bridge), real-life characters, and others that are adaptations of historical figures. Such is the case of Jarl Haakon (Caroline Henderson), ruler of Kattegat during the events of Vikings: Valhalla season 1 and the first Black Viking ruler in the universe of Vikings. Was Jarl Haakon real though, could Viking women be rulers, and did Black Vikings exist? Here are the historical facts behind the popular Vikings: Valhalla character.

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Did Vikings Really Have Female Rulers Like Jarl Haakon?

Jarl Haakon explained in Vikings: Valhalla that she took over the leadership of Kattegat after her husband was killed by Christians, as he refused to abandon his pagan beliefs. Haakon took Freydís under her wing, leading her to Uppsala to discover her destiny and letting her train as a shieldmaiden. Unfortunately, Haakon was killed during the attack by Jarl Kåre (Asbjørn Krogh Nissen) and Olaf Haraldsson (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), leaving her spot as ruler of Viking’s settlement of Kattegat open. As far as ancient societies go, the Vikings were relatively forward-thinking when it came to gender roles. Many legendary VIking heroes were women. Vikings own Lagertha was a real person, as an example. While the show dramatized her story somewhat, she was just as ferocious and as respected a warrior in real life as her on-screen counterpart. Freydís Eiríksdóttir is another near-enough true-to-life example from Vikings: Valhalla, and overall Norse history has no shortage of female warriors and heroes regardless of the specific century. However, the fact a woman such as Jarl Haakon is a ruler might be more fictional than fact.

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When it comes to the role of women during the Vikings Age, in most cases they were subordinate to their husbands and fathers and had little political power, but there are many sources that portray them as having a lot more freedom than in other cultures. Women had the right to inherit part of their husband’s property upon his death, and even the paternal aunt, paternal niece, and paternal granddaughter had the right to inherit from a deceased man. A woman with no husband, sons, or male relatives could also inherit property as well as the position as head of the family when her father or brother died. Women also had religious authority, were poets, rune masters, medicine women, entrepreneurs, and might have been active within military office. However, there isn’t evidence of a female Viking ruler, though, with all that in mind, there might have been some. It’s unknown whether Vikings: Valhalla‘s Freydís or someone else will take Jarl Haakon’s place as Kattegat’s ruler in Vikings: Valhalla season 2, and it’s a shame that she was only around for one season.

Were There Black Vikings?

Certain corners of the Internet were unhappy with Jarl Haakon for a repugnant reason – her skin color. Obvious thinly-veiled racist critiques aside, there was still some genuine good-faith confusion about a Black Viking in a reportedly more-or-less historically-accurate show. However, Black Vikings are historically accurate. The fact that Vikings were all white is a common misconception, one that mainly came to be when works like Wagner’s 1800s opera Flight of the Valkyries rewrote much of Germanic history to fit the emerging proto-Nazi sentiment that would eventually inspire the philosophies of Adolf Hitler. In reality, there were many Black and dark-skinned Vikings. In both the show and real history, Vikings traveled all over the world, including to North Africa, and brought back many slaves with them, a lot of whom bore children of mixed descent that were still considered Vikings. What’s more, there are many dark-skinned indigenous European populations that still exist today, such as some groups of Sami peoples of Norway, Finland, and Siberia, or the Tatar peoples spread throughout countries like Belarus and regions like the Crimea. While it’s true that Viking society wasn’t as racially diverse as the modern West, the idea that they were a race of blonde-haired, blue-eyed giants is a myth.

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Related: Every Vikings Character Who Ruled Kattegat (& Why)

Was Jarl Haakon A Real Person?

Jarl Haakon is a Vikings: Valhalla character who wasn’t directly based on a real person. However, she was influenced by several real-life historical figures that shared her name and title. A real Jarl Haakon – Haakon Sigurdsson – ruled Norway in the late 10th century, but the inspiration from the real Haakon seems to extend only as far as his name. The fictional Jarl in Vikings: Valhalla is a completely new story; an opportunity to explore Black Viking lineage in a way that hasn’t been shown before while amalgamating different stories from global Viking travels into a powerful and effective leader. Despite her creation for the show, a Black female Viking hero like Jarl Haakon could plausibly have emerged if history had played out a little differently.


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