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The Real-Life Golden Land That Ubbe Is Searching For On Vikings

Spoilers for Vikings season 6 below.

There's more to the story of the Vikings than raiding, conquest, and power struggles.

Though the final half-season of the hit series Vikings is largely concerned with political and military machinations back in the Old World (alongside surprising deaths), one thread the show returns to ventures farther afield. Much farther. That's because while his surviving brothers battle and betray their way to power and glory, Ubbe Ragnarsson (Jordan Patrick Smith) and his crew have sailed far to the west of Norway in search of what he calls the Golden Land, a land of plentiful resources where a good life might be had without the threat of Norse politics forever hanging over one's head. 

Which is not to say that Ubbe is taking the easy way. The journey across the ocean is plenty perilous. even leaving aside the possibility of encountering the World Serpent Jörmungandr. Ubbe's supplies of food and water run short, and his expedition nearly fractures over whether to stay in barren Greenland or sail on toward that which the stories promised.

Did Vikings discover the Golden Land?

Ubbe's storyline on the show references the long history of Viking exploration, not just throughout Europe and Scandinavia, but westward across the Atlantic. Colonies were established on Iceland and Greenland, but the Golden Land Ubbe is searching for doesn't correspond with either of these: Instead it's located in North America, which the Vikings explored and attempted to settle hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus sailed.

Viking sagas tell of a merchant, Bjarni Herjólfsson, who was blown off course on his way to Greenland around 985 CE and encountered land to the west before doubling back toward his original destination. He reportedly told his tales to Leif Erikson, who would eventually sail back the way Herjólfsson's came around the year 1000 and discover new islands that would be christened Helluland (likely Baffin Island), Markland (likely Labrador), and Vinland (believed to be in the vicinity of Newfoundland or New Brunswick).

Other sources, such as the eleventh century German writer Adam of Bremen, corroborate the general details of the exploration of Vinland, but archaeologists didn't uncover evidence of Viking presence until the 1960s, at a site known as L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. It's unclear which Viking expedition the site is connected to, but some historians believe Norse expeditions to the New World could have continued for as many as 400 years.

What kept the Vikings from settling in Vinland?

The historical Ubbe is believed to have died more than 100 years before Herjólfsson's voyage. Given the show's timeline, the fictional Ubbe actually brings forward the age of North American exploration by nearly 200 years. In addition, though Ubbe appears set on remaining in the New World, in actuality, it seems that Viking attempts at permanent settlement never took the way they did in Iceland or Greenland — possibly due to hostile relations with indigenous North Americans.

Ubbe's Golden Land also has its own population of natives, and they would present the final great challenge of his quest for the Golden Land. To stay in that place, Ubbe realizes, will require not the fighting strength of his father or the bloodthirsty realpolitik of his brothers, but diplomacy and the search for understanding with these people who are not like them. When one of his men kills a local while attempting to steal from them, Ubbe opts for an equally severe punishment, killing the offender himself to demonstrate his commitment to justice. 

Even in the New World, Ubbe can't escape politics, but he can change the old ways in search of peace.