10 Harsh Realities of Living in Vinland Saga’s Medieval World

vinland saga harsh realities


Vinland Saga is a medieval seinen anime taking place in the violent Viking Age, where ax-wielding Norsemen raided the British Isles and the northern French coast to plunder gold and treasures with wild abandon. It’s fascinating to watch this historical time period come to life in seinen anime like Vinland Saga, but no anime fan would want to actually live there.


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Some anime worlds look fun and exciting to live in, but Vinland Saga‘s grim medieval setting wouldn’t even be worth visiting for an afternoon, let alone living in. There are many harsh realities to living in Thorfinn’s time in the late 900s and early 1000s, some of which pertain to endless war in particular. And even in times of peace, it can be rough living in Thorfinn’s time.

10 War Is A Constant Reality In Vinland Saga’s Era Of History

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War exists in all eras, including the 21st century, but it hit differently in the medieval era. Back then, many small kingdoms or tribes would launch raids and fight over territory, and it was the norm, so no one questioned it. The Vikings were in the middle of it all, and any coastal town was fair game.

Any civilian living on the coast must fear the sudden arrival of Viking longboats and the armed warriors they carry. These wars often cost communities their strongest men when they became casualties, and many people saw their houses burned down or were captured as slaves.

9 Slavery Was Fairly Common In Thorfinn’s Time

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When villages and towns were raided in Viking-era Europe, the victors would claim more than gold or supplies as their prize. They would also capture a number of men and women as prisoners of war, then sell them to the slave market.

This grim practice turned human beings into commodities, and Season 2 made that clear when the new hero Einar got captured in England and sold into slavery in Denmark. Slaves would sometimes end up far from home, working hard for someone they barely even know.

8 Illness Was Common & Medicine Was Limited

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Sometimes, modern anime fans forget that in previous centuries, and even in the early 20th century, disease was the most significant form of population control the human race faced. War and natural disasters were also issues, but pathogens could kill people with impunity back then.

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It was common for people, especially young children or the elderly, to catch illnesses and perish. Even not including the Black Death’s outbreaks, the medieval world was a time of severe sickness and disease, and there were no antibiotics or penicillin with which to fight back.

7 Information Traveled Slowly In Medieval Europe

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Thorfinn ready for battle in Vinland Saga.

Characters in anime set in modern times are used to having access to off-brand Google, using smartphones, the internet, and even social media platforms to communicate with people and get information with ease. Back in the early 1000s, information was much slower and more limited.

In those times, messages might be delivered with courier hawks or horse-mounted messengers who may cross dozens of miles to deliver just one letter. This also meant the travelers ran the risk of capture, disease, or death, though that didn’t stop Askeladd the antihero from regularly getting solid intel in Vinland Saga‘s first arc.

6 Women Had Few Rights & Opportunities In Thorfinn’s Time

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Modern anime series are getting better at depicting strong, smart women who can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. Meanwhile, period pieces like Vinland Saga take place in previous centuries when men and women were far from equals in most societies.

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In those days, women had a narrowly defined lot in life, mostly based on child-rearing, domestic work, and the like. They had few other options and had no political power, though Vinland Saga will soon feature more independent-minded women like Gudrid and the tsundere Hild who take their lives into their own hands.

5 Manual Labor Was A Must For Everyone Back Then

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Assembly line robot arms and tractors were centuries in the future for Thorfinn and his countrymen, so everything had to be done by hand. Technology was very limited, so that meant everyone, men and women alike, had to work all day long to finish their chores and keep society running.

Men would work up a sweat chopping down trees for firewood or building houses and boats, while women had chores such as sewing, cooking, and perhaps helping the men harvest or plant crops. It was a strenuous and tedious lifestyle for all, but slacking off was not an option for anyone.

4 People Had Few Opportunities For A Good Education

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Thorgill eating in Vinland Saga.

The flow of information in medieval Europe wasn’t just slow and limited by 21st-century standards; it was also uneven. Only society’s elite such as royalty, aristocrats, and nobles would get a decent education, studying Greek classics, history, economics, and the like. Most people back then couldn’t read at all, and books were rare.

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Anyone who had a stronger mind than body might be out of luck back then. Not just any commoner could ditch their farm equipment to go study at college and become a white-collar worker. Instead, most people learned what they needed for their trade, and universities like Oxford were just a distant dream.

3 Autocratic Regimes Ruled Medieval Europe

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In the medieval world, autocratic kings ruled the land, and no one could defy their power. Any king of England, France, or the Germanic states could do whatever he wanted to his realm and its people, meaning the people had to merely hope they’d live under a good king instead of a tyrant.

An entire kingdom might go to war simply because the king demands it, and that means the troops must mobilize for war even if it’s a bad idea or the people would rather not fight. The dandere prince Canute didn’t like it either, being disturbed by his father Sweyn and the pit of vipers he inhabited.

2 People Rarely Traveled Very Far, Even Within Europe

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>Gudrid preview in Vinland Saga Season 2.

A few real-life explorers in the medieval era did wander far and wide and beheld many wondrous sights, such as the real Thorfinn Karlsefni, Leif Erikson, and Thorfinn’s deredere wife Gudrid. They were the exceptions, though, and most people of the time didn’t travel much.

A majority of medieval Europeans lacked the means, money, and reason to go very far, lacking airplanes or faraway vacation spots like Hawaii or the Bahamas. In fact, many commoners never traveled more than a few dozen miles from where they were born, leading unadventurous lives by any standard.

1 People Had Limited Diets & Might Starve After Bad Harvests

<!–[if IE 9]> <![endif]–>einar's sister and mom with lunch

Food insecurity was often an issue in Thorfinn’s time, and the people did not have canned goods, supermarkets, or convenience stores to rely on, either. People had to hunt and farm their own food, and a bad harvest could spell doom for an entire town that winter.

Even when food was available, it was fairly limited. In the 21st century, food is truly global, but in medieval Europe, no one had tomatoes, potatoes, or corn from North America, for example. Diets were tedious and involved the same few meats, vegetables, fruits, and grains over and over again.

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