Viking telling stories by the fire. (Dash Pictures/Adam Jandrup)

The Rise and Fall offers fresh perspectives in new docu-series

National Geographic takes viewers on a televisual roller-coaster ride to uncover ground-breaking new discoveries revealing who the Vikings really were, in the intriguing new six-part documentary series Vikings: The Rise and FallThis new six-part docuseries premieres on National Geographic (DStv 181, Starsat 220) on Wednesdays at 21:00 (CAT) from 29 June 2022.

For over 300 years, the Vikings waged war from the seas with brutal effect. But, were they blood-thirsty plunderers or cunning political operatives? Through National Geographic’s trademark premium lens, in the compelling new series, we witness the Vikings’ first voyages beyond the Scandinavian coast, the sacking of York, and sieges of Paris, as we uncover the trade routes the Vikings developed as far east as Baghdad and West, to reach America. We hear the myths, meet the legends and witness the rise and fall of the greatest warriors in history.    

Throughout history, Vikings waged war from the seas, notoriously ruthless and with their own set of rules. The Viking expansion was unprecedented in the veracity of its spread. Known for merciless bloodshed, the Norsemen became the most feared people in history. However, their story has generally been told from a one-sided point of view and only now, after rigorous research through mythical sagas and bioarchaeological finds, can we uncover the truth about who the Vikings really were.

This fresh perspective on the Vikings, narrated by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, is painstakingly pieced together by documentary producers with the help and onscreen input from 20 of the world’s foremost Viking experts. This includes Stefan Brink (Professor of Scandinavian Studies, University of Cambridge); Terry Gunnell (Professor of Folkloristics, University of Iceland); Anders Winroth (Professor of Medieval History, University of Oslo); Cat Jarman (Bioarchaeologist & Author of “The River Kings); Søren Michael Sindbæk (Archaeologist, Uni of Aarhus); Dr Clare Downham (University of Liverpool, Author of ‘Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland’) and many others.

Over time, tales of the Vikings have evoked images of slaughter and terror, wanton pillage and savage bloodletting. However, beneath the infamy of sordid violence lies a fascinating story. The Vikings were fierce warriors, but they were also seasoned navigators, intrepid explorers, craftspeople, merchants, politicians, and poets.

Between the years 700 and 1100, these Norse warriors conquered Britain and Ireland, laid siege to Paris, built complex trade networks as far east as Constantinople and Baghdad and were the first Europeans to set foot on the wild plains of America before fading into obscurity. Tracing their rise and fall, this incredible new series involves an epic journey across the globe, starting with the 8th Century and a detailed look at who the Vikings were and why they first sailed beyond their own shores.

Episode synopses

EPISODE 1: THE ROAD TO LINDISFARNE

An attack on a small religious community on the holy island of Lindisfarne in AD 793 heralded the start of the Viking Age of conquest and expansion but before this, we look at the Vikings’ beginnings in Scandinavia.

EPISODE 2: THE GREAT HEATHEN ARMY

The Siege of York occurred from 866 when the Great Heathen Army laid claim to the Northumbrian capital of York. We look at the major battles, players and strongholds in 9th Century England.

EPISODE 3: AS FAR EAST AS BAGHDAD

The “Silk Road ” opened up a world of trade for the Scandinavians in the East. Seeking further wealth, the Vikings known in the East as “the Rus” attacked Constantinople in 860. The Rus became a permanent and feared fixture in the Byzantine Empire.

EPISODE 4: THE FALL OF FRANCIA

The siege of Paris in 885 was the culmination of the Viking invasions of Francia. We look at the persistent Viking attacks on Francia and the enduring presence of the Scandinavians on the Frankish Empire and beyond.

EPISODE 5: THE WILD WEST

Political turmoil in Norway leads a voyage of discovery west. The Vikings discover Iceland where they established lasting settlement. Further exploration from Iceland leads to the discovery of Greenland and to the shores of Newfoundland, making them the first Europeans to reach America.

EPISODE 6: THE SECOND VIKING AGE

The mid-10th-century reign of Harald Bluetooth as king of a newly unified, powerful and Christianized Denmark marked the beginning of a second Viking age. But the reign was not to last with the Normans finally winning the English Kingdom in 1066. We look at the final days of the Viking empire.