Vinland Saga is my favorite anime and manga for many reasons. It was written by Makoto Yukimara who states himself that he was always fascinated with viking history and culture. He puts interesting information about this in the manga as well from how vikings traveled, slept, and cooked their food which I really enjoy and gives the manga an even better experience. Now, what I am most interested in is the truth behind many of the characters who are at least named after true people in history. So come on this journey with me and lets get deeper into Vinland Saga!
Thorkell The Tall
Also known as “Thorkell the High”, Thorkell was a prominent member and leader of the Jomsvikings around the 10th century. He had three brothers and a father who were also noble vikings and was the chief commander of the Jomsvikings ranks in Jomsburg, which was the Jomsvikings homeland on an island called Wollin in the Baltic Sea.
In many old documents Thorkell was always described as a noble leader and warrior. He lead an army into Kent in 1009 where he overran a good portion of southern England and kidnapped an infamous archbishop Elfheah. Elfeah was captured for 7 months and during that time managed to turn many of the Jomsvikings who were dedicated to their Norse god into christians which angered many. Elfeah refused to pay a ransom which lead to plots of murdering him.
It is said that Thorkell pleaded with the Jomsvikings not to kill Elfeah even offering his own silver but his attempts did not work and the prisoner was soon killed by an axe to the head. It is also stated that someone carried the mans body back to his home country of England and it is very possible this was Thorkell.
Due to strife between his own army and different opinions, Thorkell and a group of his men left the Jomsviking and joined England fighting against the Danish king Sweyn and his son Canute….. He also stole 45 ships from the Jomsvikings. It is not stated exactly how but Canute and Thorkell ended up teaming up and once Canute became king he granted Throkell a portion of Denmark. They had a falling out soon after but reconciled and Throkell was the god father of Canutes son Harthacnute. This was in 1023 and there is no mention of Thorkell after this time. There are theories he was banished to some island, chased by an angry mob, died in battle, or simply grew old and lived a peaceful life.
Thorkell was described as very shrewd, determined, and intelligent. Many things stated here do resemble his character in Vinland Saga. He is very intelligent when it comes to battle and definitely the most noble of the money hungry Jomsvikings. He never backs down from a battle and even in the anime joins the losing side for a challenge! Sadly Thorkell’s real height is unknown but it is clearly assumed he was taller than most vikings at the time.
Canute also known as Cnut the Great, was born to king of Denmark, King Sweyn. Canutes grandfather was the King before Sweyn and was the first Danish king to accept Christianity. Canute also had a younger brother named Harold. It is unknown when Canutes exact birth year was however he was seemingly of a very young age when he first started battle. It was written in the 13th century Knytlinga saga:
“Knut was exceptionally tall and strong, and the handsomest of men, all except for his nose, that was thin, high-set, and rather hooked. He had a fair complexion none-the-less, and a fine, thick head of hair. His eyes were better than those of other men, both the handsomer and the keener of their sight.”.
Canute won many battles alongside his father and lead his own armies until his father died in 1014. Harold ended up becoming king in his place and the people of Danelaw elected Canute the king of England. Harold immediately led an army to attack his brother. Canute tried asking for peace which was accepted by Harold on the condition that Canute join his ranks and attack England. Canute disagreed and went to take over more of England for himself bringing a Danish army to England with 10,000 troops and 200 ships led by Canute himself. It was a very bloody battle that lasted fourteen months. A witness recorded that Canutes troops were a sight to behold. Covered with gold horns and shield and each man being strong and noble, no slaves or poor or elderly.
Canutes troops ended up winning the battle and the people accepted him as their rightful king of all England. He ruled for nearly 2 decades and was generally well liked and respected as a King. Canute wed Queen Emma of Normady in 1017 and eventually had a a few sons and a daughter most prominently his son named Harthacnute
His brother Harold died and although some Danish people were rightly opposed, Canute became the king of Denmark as well creating peace between the Danes and English. Canute later referred to himself as king of Norweigians and some Sweeds. He was also known for being a christian before a king being very close with the church.
One famous story of Canute is “Canute and the Tide” in which he was illustrating to his people that no mans power could surpass god by standing in an ocean and trying to stop the tide. Many later on saw this as Canute thinking he had some sort of powers however it was just the opposite in him showing his followers that even though he is a king, he is also human like them and can not compete with god.
Canute died on November 12, 1035 in battle at the hands of his own people. He was succeeded by his son who was dropped by the English for being “too danish” but remained the king of Denmark. Canutes bones are burried in Winchester, England.
Reading the true story of Canute was very interesting to me. I saw many similarities to his character in Vinland Saga like his devotion to Christianity, and his good looks. There are also many differences like Canute being a noble child who never went to war and was very timid which did not seem the case at all but adds great development to the story. He also seemingly did not kill his dad or brother. If you have read further in the manga however, who Canute turns into is seemingly accurate to the real one.
Finally we get to the main character Throfinn known as Thorfinn Karlsefni. Karlsefni is a nickname translating to “markings of a man” or “real man”. He was referred to by this name in the anime which made him very confused.
Thorfinn was born in Iceland to Thord Horsehead and Thorunn. Not much is stated about him besides being an explorer with Leif Eriksson. They went on many expeditions one in which Thorfinn found his future wife (probable spoiler so won’t add that lol). It is also said his wife was the driving force in him and Leif going to Vinland and trying to make a settlement there.
Thorfinn and his group even reached what they called the “new world” which was the Amercia’s before Columbus where Thorfinn had his son Snorri said to be the first white child born in America. Thorfinn and his family ended up returning to their family farm in Iceland where they lived out the rest of their lives. Thorfinns cause and date of death is unknown.
I was very surprised so little was known about Thorfinn. Obviously his whole backstory did not happen and he was indeed just an adventurer turned into a peaceful family man. I feel like the Thorfinn in Vinland Saga would approve of who the real Thorfinn was.
Well there you have it everyone, these are the real stories of some of the characters from Vinland Saga! This was so fun to learn and research and made me love the manga and anime even more which I did not think was possible. Thors and Askeladd do not seem to be based off of any real person. Leif Eriksonis famously known as an explorer and really did go on an expedition with Thorfinn to Vinland. Bjorn was also based off of a real norse warrior named Bjorn Ironside who was son to viking king Ragnar.
Thank you guys for reading and let me know what you think!