'Vikings' Season 6: Did the Rus Vikings and Prince Oleg Exist in Real Life?

The Vikings two-part Season 6 premiere took us further east than the History and Amazon Prime Video show ever has before, as Ivar (played by Alex Hogh Anderson) found himself in Kiev in the court of Prince Oleg (Danila Kozlovsky). As with many of the characters on Vikings, Oleg is based on a real person who ruled a real group known as the 'Rus Vikings' in the 9th and 10th century C.E.

In Vikings Season 6, Ivar is traveling down the Silk Road after escaping Kattegat at the end of the last season. His group is at one point attacked by soldiers, who when they discover that Ivar was once a Viking king decide to present him to Oleg in Kiev, the capital of what is now Ukraine. Ivar meets a man who can speak Old Norse, who explains to him he is being taken to the Rus and "the Prophet," Prince Oleg.

In the first two episodes, we see that the Rus Vikings are just as bloodthirsty as their more western counterparts, with some of Oleg's courtiers torturing one of Ivar's companions to get information about Kattegat's former ruler.

However, Oleg and Ivar eventually bond after they share an adventure that sees them strapped to balloon ropes. They also bond over the fact that they have both killed their wives: Oleg because his was apparently unfaithful, while Ivar strangled Freydis (Alicia Agneson) after the baby she had promised him was born deformed.

Oleg is based on Oleg of Novgorod, a real ruler of the state of Kievan Rus, which he created after seizing control of Kiev in 882. According to History.com, Rus, which is the root of the modern-day Russia, may come from an old Nordic word meaning "men who row."

Relatively little is known about Oleg and his Rus Vikings, but we do know he was a conqueror who expanded their territory hugely. According to History of Russia, after conquering Kiev he also defeated rival peoples like the Drevlians, the Polians, the Severians, the Vyatichs and the Radimichs.

vikings season 6
Prince Oleg, ruler of the Rus Vikings, in "Vikings" Season 6 History

Among his most ingenious strategies, according to the 12th century text the Primary Chronicle, was in his raid of Constantinople in 907. After Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise closed the city gate, he turned his boats into land vehicles. As the Chronicle (translated on History of Russia) records:

"Oleg commanded his warriors to make wheels and to fit the ships with wheels. When a favorable wind rose up, they spread sail and bore down upon the city by land. The Greeks were frightened to see this and sent an embassy to Oleg saying, 'Do not destroy the city, and we will pay whatever tribute you desire.'"

prince oleg rus vikings
An 1899 illustration of Prince Oleg, leader of the Rus Vikings Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

The accuracy of this is debatable as other elements of the Primary Chronicle, which was written centuries after the events it described, seem more mythical than real. For example, how it depicts Oleg's death has been questioned. In the legend, an oracle tells him he will die "from the steed which you love." After that horse died, the Chronicle says, Oleg visited the place where its bones lay to gloat that he had cheated fate. He stamped on the skull of the horse, at which time a snake emerged from it that bit and killed him.

However, Vikings' version of Oleg could have a different fate, as he makes the decision to conquer Kattegat. After all, the History show has already added their own elements to his story⁠—for example, little is known about his wife/wives and whether he had them killed, while Oleg's passion for balloons also seems to be a scriptwriter's invention.

Vikings Season 6 episodes air on Wednesdays on History and Thursdays on Amazon Prime Video.

'Vikings' Season 6: Did the Rus Vikings and Prince Oleg Exist in Real Life? | Culture