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Vikings True Story: Did Ubbe Really Explore North America?


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While his brothers plan another raid on Wessex in Vikings season 6, Ubbe's ambitions lie a little further afield. As the History Channel show draws to a close, Ragnar Lothbrok's second-eldest son becomes the first Viking to reach North America, landing on the shores of Newfoundland after a detour to Greenland and a harrowing journey across the sea. Vikings has been known to take liberties with history for the sake of storytelling, so is Ubbe's voyage to the Americas based on a true story?

The answer is a mixture of "yes" and "no." As far as we know, the real-life Ubbe never sailed to North America; his best known role in the Norse sagas was as one of the leaders of the Great Heathen Army that invaded England in the mid-ninth century, as depicted in Vikings season 4 and 5. However, there was a man called Leif Erikson whom history records as the first Viking to lead an expedition to North America - which he dubbed Vinland ("Wineland") after finding an abundance of grapevines and grapes there. The area that Leif Erikson explored is known today as Newfoundland, but he didn't arrive there until approximately 1000 CE - more than a century after the time in which Vikings season 6 is set.

The Norse people's discovery of North America was accelerated in the Vikings timeline for the sake of bringing the show's themes full circle. The story began with Ragnar Lothbrok's dreams of exploring land that Vikings had never been to before, and season 6 saw the sons of Ragnar fulfilling his ambitions in different ways. While Ivar the Boneless paid tribute to their father's fearsome reputation as a warrior and raider, Ubbe pursued Ragnar's dream of discovering rich new land for farming and settlements. Speaking to Collider, Vikings showrunner Michael Hirst said that the show was always intended to end this way: "I knew that the ending would be the discovery of America, and Newfoundland. And that was what I always planned."


The description of Leif in the Saga of the Greenlanders does resemble Vikings' Ubbe (played by Jordan Patrick-Smith): "a large, strong man, of very striking appearance and wise, as well as being a man of moderation in all things." Unlike his more hot-headed and unstable brothers, Ubbe has always been Ragnar's most even-tempered, thoughtful and diplomatic son, at one point converting to Christianity in order to secure better relations with King Alfred the Great and his royal court. Ubbe exercises that same wisdom and diplomacy when his settlers encounter the Mi'kmaq people after arriving in England, leaving gifts for them as a gesture of good intent and working with the Mi'kmaq's leaders to try and cultivate peace between their people.

History's account of the Vikings' first meeting with indigenous North Americans is a lot less romantic. According to the Saga of the Greenlanders, Leif didn't encounter any natives during his first expedition, but his brother Thorvald did in his second summer exploring Vinland. According to the story, Thorvald's men discovered three hide-covered boats with three men aboard each boat, and slaughtered all but one of the men. A battle followed with a larger force of natives, during which Thorvald was hit with an arrow and soon died from his injuries. Later, a man called Thorfinn Karlsefni took his own band of Norse people to Vinland to establish a settlement, but despite initial efforts by the indigenous people to engage in trade, relations quickly soured into violence once again.

Ubbe's journey to North America in Vikings season 6 is particularly interesting in light of the upcoming sequel/spinoff series Vikings: Valhalla, which is set more than a century after Vikings season 6 and will feature Leif Erikson among its cast of characters. Vikings: Valhalla may well address Ubbe's expedition, and explain why history instead recorded Leif as the first Viking explorer to reach North America. If Ubbe never returned to Norway and his settlers either died out or integrated into the Mi'kmaq tribe, then he would have been presumed lost at sea and the story of his adventures in North America wouldn't be recorded in the sagas. But if and when Vikings: Valhalla's Leif Erikson reaches North America, perhaps he'll find some trace of those who were there before him.
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