Vinland Saga is a popular seinen anime series based on author Makoto Yukimura's manga of the same name, telling the tale of Thorfinn Karlsefni the antihero and his quest for revenge. Along the way, Thorfinn will fight for, against and alongside many other people and groups, including the fearsome Jomsviking mercenary army.
In Vinland Saga, the Jomsvikings made a strong first impression not as reckless shoreline raiders seeking plunder but as military-style soldiers with unique uniforms, impeccable discipline and a well-earned reputation for incredible skill in medieval-style combat. In fact, Thorfinn has personal connections to the Jomsvikings through both his parents, though he is rarely friendly to them during his travels across Viking Age Europe.
The Rules, Equipment & Role of the Jomsvikings in Vinland Saga
The famed Jomsvikings appear sporadically throughout Vinland Saga, often being a neutral party or antagonistic force to Thorfinn. Although Thorfinn's late father Thors had been a well-respected Jomsviking warrior and his mother Helga was the chief's daughter, Thorfinn was never friendly to the Jomsvikings and vice versa. When Vinland Saga began, a group of Jomsvikings led by the blond Floki arrived and demanded that Thors help fight in a new war, meaning the Jomsvikings were the reason Thorfinn's happy family was being torn apart. Worse yet, Floki was conspiring with the villainous Askeladd to have Thors killed, souring Thorfinn on the Jomsvikings even more. Much later in the Vinland Saga manga, Thorfinn, Thorkell and other allies actually wage war on the Jomsvikings -- a difficult battle that Thorfinn and even Thorkell were fortunate to survive.
The Jomsvikings, unlike other Viking raiders, all wear uniforms consisting of white cloaks, the same helmet, the same eye-like shield and even the same battle ax, which includes an eye pattern etched into the metal. Every time the Jomsvikings appear in Vinland Saga, they move in perfect unison, impressing and intimidating everyone with their well-choreographed moves to remind all who witness that they're the best in the business. Even Askeladd's band, which survived many battles across the British Isles, can't compare to the Jomsvikings' top-tier training, skills and coordination in battle.
Throughout Vinland Saga, the Jomsvikings are there not to be Thorfinn's primary enemies but to remind fans that war and plunder are highly lucrative in this period of history, and everyone accepts it as a matter of course. An elite mercenary army like the Jomsvikings is a product of its time, making the most of this blood-soaked era of chaos and plunder. They are a vivid example of what the redeemed Thorfinn Karlsefni is trying to avoid, with Thorfinn aiming to create a land safe from war and slavery while the Jomsvikings profit greatly from such things. In times of peace, the Jomsvikings would have little business, and might even disband, only to come back together when the drums of war are beaten once again.
Historical Accounts of the Jomsvikings in Medieval Europe
The medieval and ancient worlds are difficult to study in real life, mainly because of scarce and unreliable documentation of the time. Many people and events were either not documented at all or were described years or even centuries later by people who saw none of it firsthand. Medieval and ancient sources are also notorious for exaggerating or distorting the truth for various reasons, which include mixing myths and legends with factual reality to create a hazy account of what life back then was truly like. Real people, kingdoms and battles are confusingly intertwined with tales of dragons, gods and armies larger than any army back then actually could have been. The same is true of the Jomsvikings.
Given the scarce and iffy documentation of the Jomsvikings, it's possible that this group never existed at all, or at least that the Jomsvikings were much different than some accounts of their deeds would suggest. For example, historians cannot agree on where the Jomsviking's supposed capital of Jomsborg is, or indeed, whether it was a place at all. Few, if any primary sources from the period describe the Jomsvikings directly, though some Old Norse runic poems refer to their battles. Whether those battles are factual historical events or the work of a medieval poet's imagination isn't entirely clear, though there's still a chance that these poems indeed referred to real people and their exploits across medieval Europe's battlefields.
Fortunately for Vinland Saga fans, there is no pressure for author Yukimura to be 100% accurate to history, which may be impossible anyway. As a historic epic and edutainment anime of sorts, Vinland Saga is beloved as a semi-grounded, semi-fanciful take on what the Viking Age was like, freely blending facts, legends and the author's own imagination into something unique. Bits and pieces of Vinland Saga are definitely real, such as King Sweyn, Prince Canute and Thorfinn's existence, while awe-inspiring groups like the Jomsvikings remind anime fans that being completely true to history shouldn't get in the way of a good story. Yukimura's take on the Jomsvikings is perfectly fine for manga/anime purposes, and those anime Jomsvikings, historically accurate or not, may still inspire Vinland Saga fans to dive deeper into real-life history about the Vikings and see what they can discover for themselves.