Historical TV shows are always a crowd pleaser not only to history buffs but also to those looking for some intense action and drama. Outside of its beneficial insight into the past, these type of series pack entertainment of a different kind because of its large-scale production and beautiful cinematography. They have to capture the essence of the past so a lot goes into the storytelling, the costume, and the setting, in terms of environment and mood.
One such show is History’s Vikings, which has a pretty solid following to date from its premiere in 2013. Now that it’s on its sixth season, the series continues to capture old and new viewers alike. It maintains its title as one of the most binge-watched historical shows on Netflix.
Much like the cast in HBO’s Game of Thrones, you practically see the cast grow in the series. You also see them leave as their characters depart.
However, not all good things are meant to last forever, and just like GOT, which ended after an eight-season ran, Vikings has until Season 6. It’s a good thing especially since the lead star Travis Fimmel is no longer in the show following his character’s death.
The series could have wrapped up with Ragnar Lothbrok’s death in Season 4. Regardless, with Vikings ending we thought we’d compile some of the other historical shows that are similar to its style, theme, period setting, and premise.
First on the list is The Last Kingdom, which chronicles the fictional story of one of Ragnar’s slaves. Then if you’re looking for a Viking story with a bit more sense of humor then that’s Norsemen, which is a comedic take on the lives of the Norse seafarers.
Meanwhile, Black Sails tells of the exploits of the pirates famous in the classic book Treasure Island. The other titles on the list below do not feature notorious raiders of the medieval world but cover the same element of greed, betrayal, and deception prevalent in the Vikings. Most of them also tell of actual events that happened in the past and highlight historical figures, much like Vikings chronicles the rise of Ragnar Lothbrok from a farmer to a Scandinavian King and follows the story of his family.
SHOWS LIKE VIKINGS
The Last Kingdom (Oct 2015 –)
Inspired by The Saxon Stories novels by Bernard Cornwell, this British fiction series takes place in the 9th Century AD and England is separated into seven kingdoms.
The Norse seafarers called the Viking Danes have conquered most of the kingdoms. Only Wessex stands defiant under the strong command of King Alfred.
The show follows the story of Uhtred, who becomes an orphan after the Vikings raid his village. Earl Ragnar then takes him as one of his slaves and he ultimately grows learning the ways of the Vikings.
However, certain life-changing events test his loyalties and he must choose between the Danes who raised him as one of their own and his real country of origin.
The Last Kingdom treks Uhtred’s quest to claim his birthright, which puts him on a dangerous path as he must play both parts in order to recapture the kingdom that shares his ancestry.
This show entertains throughout with action-packed sequences in each episode. There’s never a dull moment as you watch the story unfold and pine for your hero.
Similar to Vikings, this series provides room for character development and shows lots of deception at play. It also packs gruesome scenes of killing like death by guillotine, crucifixion, stabbing, and eye gouging, to name a few.
Directors: Peter Hoar, Jon East, Anthony Byrne – Screenplay: Stephen Butchard, Bernard Cornwell – Cast: Alexander Dreymon, Ian Hart, David Dawson, Eliza Butterworth – Run Time: 60 min
Black Sails (Jan. 2014 - April 2017)
Have you ever wondered what led to the events in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island? Do you want to know more about the adventures of Captain Flint and of course, Long John Silver?
If so, then Black Sails should answer your curiosity. The show takes us 20 years prior when Captain Flint leads a much younger crew on an endless search for treasures. Along the way, they meet several people who test their skills and patience and force them to fight for survival.
The series takes place during the Golden Age of Piracy, a period when every nation has branded the New Providence pirates as a threat and enemies to all. Among those they meet, include actual historical figures the likes of Captain Charles Vane, Jack Rackman, Blackbeard, Anne Bonny Governor Woodes Rogers, and more.
If you’re a fan of pirate stories then Black Sails should entertain you. It depicts the 1700s pirates remarkably well from their costume, their ships and props, and even the environment.
This show is not your usual seafaring drama that features many pirate exploits. It actually has a complex story and features a few surprising twists and turns that add to the tension. It also does not go behind in terms of the graphic scenes including the nudity, sex, and violence.
What it does away is the use of the flashbacks in telling the characters’ backstories, which can sometimes make the storytelling convoluted and confusing. Instead, character development happens at a timely pace as the show progresses.
Directors: Peter Hoar, Jon East, Anthony Byrne – Screenplay: Robert Levine, Jonathan E. Steinberg – Cast Jessica Parker Kennedy, Toby Stephens, Hannah New – Run Time: 56 min
Marco Polo (Dec. 2014 - July 2016)
Another Netflix original series that boasts excellence in storyline, visuals, cinematography and acting is Marco Polo. The show follows the Venetian explorer’s adventures in 13th century Mongolia, where along the way he becomes embroiled in the affairs of the Mongol empire.
Marco Polo moves at a leisurely pace but features a buildup that leaves you wanting more. This show has its own style of storytelling (with intense action to boot) that captivates.
However, going further, it forgets to touch base on its titular character and the focus switches to Kublai Khan and his conquests. Regardless, if you’re looking for another action-packed show to fill up your boring afternoons, then Marco Polo should fit in just right.
Directors: Daniel Minahan, David Petrarca – Screenplay: John Fusco – Cast: Lorenzo Richelmy, Benedict Wong, Joan Chen – Run Time: 60 min
The Borgias (April 2011 - June 2013)
Jeremy Irons plays the scheming and powerful Rodrigo Borgia in this 9-part miniseries that traces the diplomat’s quest to become Pope Alexander VI. The show tells of his family’s rise to prominence much like Vikings tells how Ragnar came to be known in history as a great conqueror.
Borgia manipulates, bribes, and deceives to ensure his family maintains its place in the Vatican, unaware that his very own blood holds contempt against him.
The Borgias is similar in so many ways to what happened to Ragnar Lothbrok’s family. In his search for greatness, he lost touch with what matters most, which is keeping his family together. Even his friends eventually turned their backs against him and conspired against him. Of course, this only led to tragedy and his family falling apart.
Directors: Neil Jordan, Kari Skogland – Screenplay: Neil Jordan – Cast: Jeremy Irons, François Arnaud, Holliday Grainger, Peter Sullivan – Run Time: 50 min
Spartacus: Blood and Sand (Jan 2010 - April 2013)
When it comes to graphic scenes of fighting, betrayals, raw violence, and numerous scenes of action in bed or on the battlefield, Spartacus is hands-down a top contender. This notorious flesh-and-blood show depicts the life of the Thracian Gladiator Spartacus, who in his quest for vengeance inadvertently led a slave uprising against the Romans who abused his trust and betrayed him.
This show offers countless plot betrayals, epic battle sequences, extreme scenes of nudity, and need I mention the graphic, unrestrained sex scenes?
Spartacus has more steamy scenes than Game of Thrones and Outlander and they look realistic enough to make you believe the actors are really doing the deed on camera.
Regardless, this sword-and-sandal series leaves a lot to the imagination and provokes serious thought about power, love, and humility.
Directors: Jesse Warn, Michael Hurst, Rick Jacobson –Screenplay: Steven S. DeKnight – Cast: Liam McIntyre, Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless, Manu Bennett – Run Time: 55 min
The Tudors (April 2007 - June 2010)
The Tudors tells the story of King Henry VIII during a trying time in his youth while the kingdom was under political threat. In his fear for the future, the young and lustful English royal goes through a handful of wives in his desire for a male heir, while he battles oppositions and betrayals from those who want to see him fail.
This Showtime drama is all about the struggle and thirst for political power. It provides an entertaining perspective on the monarch’s reign and past relations with his female companions, advisers, and his adversaries.
It contains scenes of nudity and gratuitous sex scenes, albeit it was received with open arms by television viewers because it’s concept was regarded as fresh at the time of its release in 2007. Suffice to say, The Tudors proved the need for historical shows and influenced the release of other period dramas including Vikings and Outlander, to name a few.
The series offers a compelling historical narrative about the life and reign of King Henry VIII. However, if you’re looking for an accurate interpretation, then look somewhere else because The Tudors doesn’t give that.
Directors: Ciaran Donnelly, Jeremy Podeswa, Dearbhla Walsh – Screenplay: Michael Hirst – Cast: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Henry Cavill, Anthony Brophy, Natalie Dormer – Run Time: 60 min
Medici: Masters of Florence (Dec. 2016- )
Richard Madden, best known as Robb Stark, King in the North, in Game of Thrones, plays a similar character of power in Medici: Masters of Florence. He portrays the affluent Cosimo de’ Medici, of whom his story is the focus of the series.
The show follows Cosimo’s life and the dangers he faces after he inherits the family’s Bank of Medici in the wake of his father’s death. He learns that his father was actually murdered and thus he goes on a secret mission to uncover the killer’s identity with the help of his brother Lorenzo.
This show takes creative liberties in depicting the life of the Medici family, although there are a few historical facts in place too. Politics, intrigue, treachery, and scandal, these elements drive the story to give the audience a brilliant and emotional series.
Directors: Christian Duguay, Jon Cassar – Screenplay: Nicholas Meyer, Frank Spotnitz – Cast: Richard Madden, Daniel Sharman, Annabel Scholey, Jacopo Olmo Antinori – Run Time: 60 min
Merlin (June 2009 - May 2013)
Merlin is a reimagining of the saga of the famous King Arthur and his wizard, Merlin and follows their young lives. It tells of their adventures and their hesitation to accept their fate.
This show delves more into fantasy and not much on the historical aspect of the medieval period. It features dragons, knights, and magic.
The first few episodes might strike the show as something fun and lighthearted, which is deceiving. As the season progresses it gets pretty tense, dark, and intriguing.
Directors: Jeremy Webb, Alice Troughton – Screenplay: Johnny Capps, Julian Jones, Jake Michie – Cast: John Hurt, Colin Morgan, Bradley James – Run Time: 45 min
Da Vinci’s Demons (April 2013 - Oct. 2015)
Some considered this better than Game of Thrones in terms of complexity in story and scientific aspect because it’s able to tell a story about science and discovery that’s rooted in history without being tedious. Though this show lacked viewership, probably due to poor marketing, it had a solid fanbase and even took home two Primetime Emmy awards.
Similar to Vikings, Da Vinci’s Demons traces the life of a famous historical figure. The story is set during the Renaissance in Italy and explores the life of a young Leonardo Da Vinci and his search for scientific knowledge.
It also digs into his relationship with his estranged father and his struggles with his inner demons and unruly imagination.
Da Vinci’s Demons is a historical fantasy about the famous inventor and the show took several creative liberties to make the plot interesting and entertaining. It’s a magnificent mix of drama, humor, action, and romance, so it’s definitely meant to be viewed not with a critical mind.
Directors: Peter Hoar, David S. Goyer – Screenplay: David S. Goyer – Cast: Tom Riley, Gregg Chillin, Eros Vlahos – Run Time: 59 min
Norsemen (Aug. 2017 - Nov. 2017)
Who says a good Viking story doesn’t have to be comedic in nature? When you have sibling rivalry, power struggle, and betrayal as driving elements in a story, then expect a sprinkle of sense of humor and sarcasm, which are present in Norsemen.
This show is not your typical Viking series although it treads on the same concept of political strife and social issues as with Vikings. Instead, it looks beyond the seriousness of it all and brings out the humor in each struggle that makes Norsemen into a satirical show with an ensemble of Norwegian actors who mostly speak English.
Set in the 8th century, the story revolves around the residents of a small Viking village as they struggle with the challenges that come with the ever-changing times. They must contend with the concept of modernization.
What makes this show funny are the characters who behave like any archetypical Viking. However, they talk with a contemporary influence.
Norsemen is also on the darker and grimier side but it is silly and fun, definitely worth your binge-watching hours. It is reminiscent of the classic Monty Python series.
Directors: John Vatcher, Brad Peyton – Screenplay: Brady Peyton, Rob Blackie, Peter Blackie – Cast: Jason Momoa, Landon Liboiron, Zoe Boyle, Greg Bryk – Run Time: 60 min
Peaky Blinders (Sept. 2014- )
The show follows the exploits of the Peaky Blinders gang under the command of their cunning boss Tommy Shelby. Despite attempts to apprehend the criminals, the Shelby family expands their reach in the South and North while keeping a stronghold in Birmingham.
The business eventually reaches an international scale, which not only brings progress but also problems. The family must contend with the challenges that come with the expansion. The farther they take their criminal organization, the more problems they face.
Ultimately, they have to bear witness to the consequences brought by their greed for power and watch as the empire they built with sweat and blood collapses. Peaky Blinders may be a crime show, but it still resonates with the same driving force that Ragnar defended until his death; the desire and struggle for power.
Directors: Anthony Byrne, Colm McCarthy, David Caffrey – Screenplay: Steven Knight – Cast: Cillian Murphy, Helen McCrory, Paul Anderson, Sam Neill – Run Time: 60 min
Knightfall (Dec. 2017 - May 2019)
If you prefer palace intrigue and intense drama than the melodramatic ones, then Knightfall is for you. This History original series takes creative liberties in recounting the success, persecution, and defeat of the Knights Templar. The story focuses on the fictional Templar leader Landry du Lauzon.
The show is historically incorrect in its depiction of the Templars and their tragic dissolution on Friday the 13th, which is understandable given it’s a historical fiction drama. So bet your history teachers to raise their eyebrows.
Regardless, there are a few factual accounts mixed in the story about these elite warriors of the 14th century. The show also delves into what the Templars held most dear: faith, loyalty, and brotherhood.
Knightfall lacks in viewership compared to Vikings although overall it’s also an interesting and enjoyable watch. No word yet if the show is canceled or renewed for Season 3.
Directors: Douglas Mackinnon, Metin Hüseyin, Rick Jacobson – Screenplay: Don Handfield, Richard Rayner, Kristen SaBerre – Cast: Tom Cullen, Pádraic Delaney, Simon Merrells, Julian Ovenden – Run Time: 1h 30 min
Roman Empire (Nov. 2016 - April 2019)
This show is similar to Vikings since it chronicles the reign of the dictator Commodus and the emperor Julius Caesar. This two-part story tells of their respective leadership styles, which led to the slow demise of the republic.
In Vikings, we saw the rise and fall of Ragnar and his demise, after which, his family, especially his sons, took over the reins.
Betrayal, politics, and war, all the elements present in Vikings are also in Roman Empire. Although if you must watch this show, don’t use it as a study about Roman history since its depiction of the period couldn’t be more incorrect.
Directors: Richard Lopez, John Ealer, David O’Neill – Screenplay: Christian Baker, Dan Benamor – Cast: Aaron Irvin, Sean Bean, Aaron Jakubenko – Run Time: 48 min
Versailles (Nov. 2015 - May 2018)
Just as Ragnar’s name will always stay in Viking history, King Louis XIV also retains his position as one of the influential people in France because of his war against Spain and his construction of the Versailles.
The young royal moved the court from Paris to Versailles. He turned the former hunting lodge into the most grandiose palace in Europe, where the rich, the famous, and all nobles converge for some fun and a bit of spying, which in this case is what the king did.
He used Versailles as a means to force the French nobility into submission. He used this magnificent structure to observe his enemies and control the French aristocrats who start to rebel against the monarchy.
The king especially considered his younger brother as one of his prime targets. This sly move by the king puts him on dangerous grounds amid political intrigues and conflict.
Directors: Christian Langlois, Richard Clark, Thomas Vincent – Screenplay: Simon Mirren, David Wolstencroft – Cast: George Blagden, Alexander Vlahos, Tygh Runyan, Evan Williams, Stuart Bowman, Anna Brewster – Run Time: 52 min
Borgia (July 2011 - Sept. 2014)
Borgia tells the story of the Borgia family and their eventual rise as one of the infamous family in the Vatican. The series follows the rise of the unscrupulous Rodrigo Borgia to the top of medieval society. It explores his actions as he pines for the ultimate prize on the holy seat and eventually become a Pope.
The story highlights the most infamous chapter of the history of the Catholic Church while under his rule. His ruthless reign brings his four children, Juan, Cesare, Lucretia, and Goffredo, into the spotlight, and drives the family into conflict with each other.
This show treads on rumors of incest in the family and tells the rise of the Borgia family in the Vatican. However, what sets this series apart from Showtime’s The Borgias is that it recounts actual historical events.
Moreover, this show doesn’t hold back on the graphic scenes of sex, nudity, and brutal violence, unlike the former which is rather tamed and has very little foul language.
Borgia also manages to captivate viewers from start to finish, which the other show falters. Rodrigo isn’t the only important character as the story also gives the others time to shine and their backstories develop.
Directors: Oliver Hirschbiegel, Metin Hüseyin, Christoph Schrewe – Screenplay: Tom Fontana – Cast: Mark Ryder, Isolda Dychauk, Diarmuid Noyes, John Doman – Run Time: 52 min
Reign (Oct. 2013 - June 2017)
If you’re a royal historian or a fan of stories about medieval kings and queens then Reign should also be on your list of must-watch shows. It’s another historical drama series that explores the early life of Mary, Queen of Scots.
It follows the challenges in her arranged marriage to Prince Francis and her adjustment to the outside world and its influences after having lived in a convent. Every season chronicles a different stage in her rise to power and her influence in the kingdom as the Queen of France.
The show explores how she manages to deal with religious conflicts, changing politics, and ultimately becoming a widow and letting go of her title in France. Reign eventually culminates with Mary returning to Scotland to reclaim her power over her homeland.
Much like Vikings, this show all has the elements of greed, love, betrayal, scandal, and death. It also incorporates historical facts from Mary’s backstory.
This is one of those shows where you become emotionally invested in the characters, especially the love between Mary (Adelaide Kane) and Francis (Toby Regbo). The cast did an excellent job of intriguing viewers with the level of intimacy they shared.
Everyone involved made the series interesting and never boring. They give an emotionally compelling performance that you can’t help but laugh and cry with them. Sadly, the show ended with Season 4 much to fans’ dismay, since they felt that there was more to tell with Mary’s return to Scotland.
Directors: Fred Gerber, Holly Dale, Norma Bailey – Screenplay: Laurie McCarthy, Stephanie Sengupta – Cast: Adelaide Kane, Megan Follows, Celina Sinden, Toby Regbo – Run Time: 42 min
A.D. The Bible Continues (April - June 2015)
This television miniseries is the sequel to the 2013 The Bible. The story picks up immediately after the events in the first show, opening with Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
The show follows the struggles of the disciples to survive and spread the Gospel despite the challenges that come from those who are against them, especially the Romans.
This series deals heavily with the Christian faith, a sensitive yet important part of the Viking history. The Norsemen were initially pagans but they quickly converted to Christianity when they came across the religion through their raids.
Despite it being a miniseries, this show did not disappoint and was able to deliver a strong message about the importance of having faith and compassion, which are the real force that drive humanity forward.
Directors: Ciaran Donnelly, Tony Mitchell – Screenplay: Simon Block, Ben Newman – Cast: Richard Coyle, Vincent Regan, Adam Levy – Run Time: 44 min
The Crown (Nov. 2016 - )
This Netflix original drama series chronicles the life of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy). It explores her early life from the 1940s and covers her marriage to Prince Philip.
Much like Reign, every season covers a different time in her life, with the second about the events that happened during 1956 to 1964. The third covers the period from 1964 to 1976 and the fourth is set in the 1980s with the introduction of Lady Diana Spencer.
The Crown covers most of Queen Elizabeth’s life from younger years to her reign and digs into the events that helped revive the British Empire from its decline during a time of political disarray. It provides an intimate look at the private life of the longest-reigning British monarch from masterfully researched scripts. The series gives a glimpse into the scandalous lives of the British royals.
Despite it being a historical drama, this show is superb in every way from the cast, cinematography, acting, storytelling, costume, and more. Each character portrayal is done very well, and need I mention the background score by Hans Zimmer, which is very accurate to any situation.
This series isn’t a Golden Globe winner for nothing. Even the minute details are captured in hawkish quality (you get to see white hairs in Winston Churchill’s nostril).
This show tells the truth which history books do not. It brings so much life to a period piece and leaves little to no room for contention since the story is told based on real-life events. Even Her Majesty approves of the stories told in the series and her endorsement clearly speaks volumes.
The Crown is definitely an engrossing series and one that captivates you from start to finish. Above all else, it gives a powerful message about courage, devotion, integrity, and honesty, qualities that can win any person even a country.
Similar to Vikings, Ragnar’s courage to sail oceans in his search for a better future led to him being one of the revered and feared conqueror and Viking king.
Directors: Benjamin Caron, Philip Martin, Stephen Daldry – Screenplay: Peter Morgan – Cast: Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Vanessa Kirby– Run Time: 58 min
Resurrection: Ertuğrul (2014 –)
This period drama tells the story of the 13th-century Turkish warrior Ertuğrul, who is the father of Osman, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. This series is based on historical facts and focuses on the life of Ertuğrul and his quest to bring peace and justice in his country of Turkey.
Similar to Vikings which traces the history of Ragnar Lothbrok from a farmer to a conqueror, Resurrection: Ertuğrul chronicles the titular character’s transition from a nomad to a leader, then to a hero. He fights off crusaders at one side and the Byzantines on the other, while he exacts vengeance on the Mongols who killed and drove the Turkic tribes away from their homes. In the midst of these battles, Ertuğrul struggles with his personal demons.
This is more than just an action-packed binge-watch series with a very precise representation and reconstruction of historical details. It’s also an excellent interpretation of the true Muslim faith and of the way of living of the nomadic life of the early Turkish people. It contains a large dose of political intrigue and betrayal, which were prevalent during the ancient times.
Director: Metin Günay, Akif Özkan, Hakan Arslan – Screenplay: Mehmet Bozdag – Cast: Engin Altan Düzyatan, Hülya Darcan, Cengiz Coskun, Esra Bilgic – Run Time: 120m