‘Vikings’ Season 5: Were Buddha Statues Ever Found Among Viking Age Archaeological Sites?

Jonathan HessionHistory Channel

Episode 16 of History Channel’s Vikings saw the introduction of the Buddha to the Vikings. The event occurred saw an Asian merchant within Kattegat sell a small statue of the Buddha to Hvitserk (Marco Ilso) who immediately became interested in the Eastern philosophy behind the small figurine. But, did the Vikings really get introduced to this belief system during the Viking Age?

SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information about Episode 16 (titled “The Buddha”) of History Channel’s Vikings Season 5. Please proceed with caution if you have not yet viewed this episode and wish to avoid spoilers.

Prior to the episode airing, details were scant on why Episode 16 of Season 5 of History Channel’s Vikings was named “The Buddha.” As Carter Matt pointed out, the episode preview appeared to focus more on Ivar’s (Alex Hogh Andersen) storyline. However, all was revealed when the episode finally aired and it was discovered that Hvitserk had come across the statue of a Buddha in the marketplace in Kattegat.

While it seems somewhat unreal that the Vikings could have contact with such a statue during the Vikings Age, as Irish Archaeology points out, a bronze statue of the Buddha has actually been found in a site at Helgo that proved that the Vikings knew of the Eastern philosophy to some degree.

Known as the Helgo treasure, the bronze statue of the Buddha was discovered on the Swedish island of Helgo several years ago. Included in the Helgo treasure alongside the Buddha was “an elaborate crozier-head from Ireland and a bronze ladle from North-Africa.”

Helgo was known to be an important Viking trading and manufacture center during the 6th to 11th centuries. As a result of this, many artifacts found in archaeological digs on the island have come from different locations.

It is believed that the statue of the Buddha dates to the 6th century. However, it likely didn’t find its resting place in Helgo for another couple of hundred years. Instead, it was moved from location to location as it was brought and sold over the course of this timeframe.

The statue appears to have originated from Kashmir, on the Pakistan/India border. According to Irish Archaeology, this statue has “a silver urna on his forehead, symbolizing the third eye, while the ears have long lobes, the insignia of royalty.” The bronze Buddha also “sits in a meditative pose upon a double lotus throne, the latter representing purity.”

But, how did it end up in a Viking location?

Archaeologists believe the statue wound up in Helgo thanks to Swedish traders who traveled along Russian rivers such as the Volga. There is also some speculation that while it may not have converted the Viking owners to the Eastern philosophy, it might have held pride of place as a decorative piece within a Viking home.

So, even though it seems a fantastical story that Hvitserk would end up learning about the Eastern belief system surrounding the Buddha, it isn’t such aa far a stretch that this might have happened thanks to the vast trade routes of the Vikings during the Viking Age.

Vikings returns on Wednesday, January 9, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. History Channel provides the following synopsis for Episode 17 (titled “The Most Terrible Thing”).

“An unexpected turn amongst the settlers leaves Floki powerless. King Alfred confronts Judith. In York, Bjorn must strike a deal with Harald. Wessex is once again threatened by a Viking force, but who will lead the Saxon army to defend the Realm?”