The past is an endless source of inspiration for writers and TV show creators, with even the History Channel taking a turn at blending fact and fiction to create epic adventures for the small screen.
One standout example is the show Vikings, where we are given an in-depth look at Ragnar Lothbrok and his family line.
The success of the show paved the way for more leather-clad, iron shield-wielding conquerors to grace our TV screens.
From monster-hunting warlocks to ancient Roman warriors or pirates sailing the high seas – the Viking aesthetic has created an expansive visual universe that we are fortunate to sit back and indulge in.
That said, we dug in and found some of the best TV shows similar to History’s Vikings.
Vikings: Valhalla, Netflix (2022 – present)
What would be more like Vikings than a sequel?
Set 100 years after the end of the original show, Vikings: Valhalla carries on the legacy of the show while also showing the decline of these historic figures.
As Christianity is on the rise, the Norsemen find themselves at odds with The English as well as their own pagan beliefs conflicting with this new religion.
The show is centred on Lief Eriksson and his descendants, and we the audience know that the inevitable is coming: the Battle of Stamford Bridge, an event that is historically considered the moment the Viking empire came to an end.
Norsemen, Netflix (2016 – 2020)
Adding a touch of comedy to the mix, Norsemen invited the audience into the day-to-day life of a village in 790s Norway.
This ensemble production pulls no punches as it follows the drama of Norwegian life in the old days with a tongue-in-cheek style.
Neighbour villages bring drama to the table and a former Roman slave is determined to modernize his newly adopted home.
It’s an oddly anachronistic show as the characters face modern problems in an ancient Norse setting.
With a total run-time of only 9 hours, the show is a non-stop barrage of belly laughs that goes by faster than you can say all day binge-watch sessions.
The Last Kingdom, Netflix (2015 – 2022)
Meet Uhtred, orphaned as a Saxon by a Danish invasion and subsequently captured and raised by Earl Ragnar.
A compelling character with a deeply divided sense of loyalty to his saviors, his roots, and his own person.
As his world is wrecked once again, when his adopted family is killed, he finally succumbs to the anger of his grief and sets out on a quest for vengeance.
Based on The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell, The Last Kingdom is a beautifully compelling show that uses one man’s journey as a lens to view the larger conflict between the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons.
Knightfall, History (2017 – 2019)
Another visual feast from The History Channel, Knightfall takes a fictional look at the rise and fall of the Knights Templar under the order of King Philip IV of France.
Meet Landry du Lauzon, a veteran knight, who after the defeat of his order at the end of the Crusades, struggles to find meaning while being promoted to the role of Master and Commander of the Paris Temple.
However, that all changes when he discovers a shocking secret that could reignite the flames of the Knights Templar.
If he is right, the holy grail does exist and is in France and it could be the key to a larger conspiracy that led to the downfall of the Knights and the death of his mentor.
The show is brutal and visually compelling, drawing viewers into a medieval epic that could easily be as true as the historic events it draws inspiration from.
Barbarians, Netflix (2020 – present)
Taking things a few hundred years deeper into history, Barbarians gives us a fictional view of the Roman Empire’s occupation of Germania around 9 AD, and the consequences thereof.
20 years into the occupation, tensions are on the rise and the Germanic tribes under their oppressive regime grow restless.
However, any efforts of uniting these tribes and creating a single force to drive back the Romans are constantly hampered by the politics between various leaders and those with ulterior motives.
When Arminius, a Germanic child raised in a Roman army life returns to his homeland as a Roman soldier, he is appalled at what he finds and sets out to unify the tribes and begin a much-needed rebellion.
Romulus, Sky Italia (2020 – present)
Staying in ancient Rome, we take a look at the story of Romulus and his twin brother Remus.
It is said that the city of Rome was founded by the birth of these twins who were raised by a she-wolf, however, in Romulus, we are given a slightly more gritty look at the beginning of this mighty empire.
A group of young boys are expelled from their tribe and sent to the forest to endure a 6-month trial meant to test and harden them.
While this happens we are also given a look at the political climate of the time as 30 Latin tribes aspire for leadership in a time of prophecy, loneliness, and violence.
This Italian show is incredibly dark and compelling and stays true to its inspiration with the creators opting to recreate ancient Latin instead of having the character speak English or Italian – making the work of the actors an incredible feat.
Britannia, Amazon Prime (2018 – 2021)
Still staying with the Roman history theme, we move to the year 43 AD, set 90 years after the failure of Julius Caesar to conquer Britain.
We meet General Aulus Plautius and his follower Lucius who set out to succeed where their former leader could not.
However, Britannia is unlike any land they have conquered before as women and druids run the roost on these grounds.
Aulus becomes determined then to not only conquer the people but their gods instead. This sends him on a spiritual quest where he ultimately ends up talking to a demon.
In contrast, we are also introduced to Cait and Divis, citizens of Britannia who have their lives, traditions, and beliefs interrupted by the brewing invasion.
The show is a beautiful blend of history and fantasy, drawing on the facts and myths available to historians to create a vivid show about the lengths we will go to for power and to protect it.
Spartacus, Starz (2010 – 2013)
Before Vikings, we had Spartacus, an absolutely underrated masterpiece of visual storytelling and historical inspiration.
We follow Spartacus – inspired by the story of Thracian Gladiator Spartacus – a man who is condemned by death but ultimately leads the slave uprising in the Roman Republic.
Serving his death sentence in the gladiator ring, while his wife Sura is sold off as a slave, Spartacus rises in the ranks and becomes a crowd favorite in the fighting arena when he deftly deals with four Roman gladiators sent in to kill him.
This victory allows him to live – albeit as a slave to a brutal sport he has shown a talent for.
However, all is not lost when a sponsor purchases him and promises him his freedom and his wife if he succeeds as a fighter.
Soon, Spartacus is embroiled in the intricacies and betrayal of Roman life while working to free himself and his wife from the clutches of slavery.
The show is a tale of vengeance, tenacity, and love and is not for the faint of heart, as creators do not shy away from the real violence that accompanied life in the gladiator pit.
Boundless, Amazon Prime (2022)
Also known as Sin límites, this Spanish epic tells the story of Juan Sebastián Elcano and Ferdinand Magellan, two intrepid adventurers who took on the first trip ever around the world from 1519 to 1522.
As the two men and a crew of 237 set out on their voyage, they are faced with three years of turmoil – whether extreme weather conditions, mutinies or the sheer panic of hunger; only 18 men make it home alive.
What happened? How did they succeed and what did these men face in open water aboard their vessels?
The show is a perfect balance of epic visuals, deep character development, and perfectly paced storytelling.
It was released 500 years after the event, to celebrate this incredible achievement and moment in human history.
The Witcher, Netflix (2019 – present)
Heading in a much more fantastic route, we look to the story of Geralt of Rivia – monster hunter, monosyllabic agent of destiny, and unwitting protector to Crown Princess Ciri of Cintra.
The show is based on the hugely successful series of games, which in turn were based on the books by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski.
Three timelines cleverly converge as we follow Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri on their respective journeys linked by destiny.
Geralt is a Witcher – a mutated human with supernatural traits that allow him the strength to kill monsters, but what Geralt comes to learn through his travels, is that often the real monsters are humans behind the scenes.
Ciri is a young princess ousted from her kingdom by a coup, during which she discovers a frightening supernatural gift of her own that makes her a target.
Yennefer is an incredibly powerful sorcerer with a deeply tragic past who seeks power to fill a lack of love in her life – but Geralt soon changes that.
The show is a mesmerizing journey that feels like a puzzle, as we the viewer figure out how these timelines will converge and where each character might be in their own journey.
Once it all clicks, the story unfolds elegantly and we are left with nail-biting action, magic, and emotionally flawed but compelling characters to fall in love with.
Game of Thrones, HBO (2011 – 2019)
The epic of all epics, and a show that set the tone for fantasy and history-themed shows to come, none live up to the drama, intrigue, and heartbreak of Game of Thrones.
Here we find leather-clad warriors, monsters, epic journeys, dragons, and political games, and that’s just one episode!
Based on the insanely popular series of books by George R.R. Martin, viewers are invited into the intrigues of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the nearby content Essos.
Multiple stories are building to a coming war that neither side is ready for.
While noblemen plot for the succession of the Iron Throne, and an exiled Princess raises dragons; a deeper danger brews in the North – after all, as we are continuously warned “winter is coming” and with that a fearsome supernatural threat that none of these devious characters are ready for.
This is only one of many plotlines in the saga, and few words can convey the complexity and scale of Game of Thrones.
It is best to settle in and watch all 8 seasons.
Black Sails, Starz (2014 – 2017)
Operating as a prequel to the literary classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Black Sails is a daring epic that follows the lives of a group of pirates told primarily through the eyes of Captain Flint and his crew – including spunky new crew member John Silver.
Although a work of fiction, there are plenty of cameos by some of history’s greatest oceanic plunderers such as Anne Bonny and Jack Rackham.
In the first season, we are taken on a treasure hunt for the lost treasure from the Urca de Lima.
Among all the adventures we get to know the crew and their stories and begin to understand what might drive a man to the pirate’s life.
This is not a show full of tropes and stereotypes, but rather a deeply complex and dark look at life as a seafaring marauder.
At its heart is a group of people fighting for their way of life and survival of their haven in New Providence Island, where the laws are a bit more relaxed and the people enlightened.
Marco Polo, Netflix (2014 – 2016)
Based on the exploits of the real Marco Polo, an Italian writer, merchant, and explorer, the show follows a fictional take on his early years living in the court of Kublai Khan, the Khagan of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century.
Abandoned by his father, young Marco Polo finds his way to Mongolia, where a war with China is brewing.
Seeing the value of Marco’s skills, Kublai takes him on as a member of his court and allows him to observe and learn the Mongolian culture.
As the show progresses, our protagonist is drawn into familial dramas, sexual intrigue, and betrayal.
Although it only has 2 seasons, the show packs an incredible amount of history and plot into a very tightly-knit story.
Frontier, Discovery Channel (2016 – 2018)
Another must-watch, Frontier takes things in a different direction as we are introduced to the early days of the North American fur trade in the late 18th century.
Meet Declan Harp, a half-Irish, half-Cree outsider on a quest to conquer the fur-trade monopoly ruling Canada, the Hudson Bay Company.
As he ventures deeper into the trade, he discovers corruption and illegalities that could topple the entire empire.
Harp is not driven by money and greed though, he has a personal vendetta to settle, as he is seeking revenge for the murder of his family.
A fantastic blend of history, action, and a note or two on the price of power.