Athelstan is a young Anglo-Saxon Christian monk taken as a slave by Ragnar Lothbrok from the Lindisfarne monastery. He is torn between Viking and Christian beliefs. He becomes an adviser and friend to both Ragnar and King Ecbert.
Athelstan was born to a Northumbrian family that could not afford to have another child. At a very young age, he was placed in the monastery at Lindesfarne. Eventually, Athelstan found happiness, great freedom, and joy in serving the father of his church, Father Cuthbert. He had learned to forget about himself and has devoted his life to Christianity. Living in the monastery also saved him from possibly dying of fever like the rest of his family.
Athelstan is present at the raid of the monastery and is taken prisoner by the Vikings. He pleads with the Vikings to spare his life and begins speaking in their native language, to Ragnar's surprise. When questioned by Ragnar on how he learned the Viking language Athelstan tells him that at the monastery the monks are encouraged to travel to "spread the Word of God." Ragnar takes an interest in Athelstan and thinks he may be able give information that could be valuable for his next raid. Ragnar later gets him drunk and tricks him into divulging information and locations of towns.
After they arrive in Scandinavia Earl Haraldson is surprised at Ragnar's success but tells Ragnar that he and his crew of Vikings may only take one item per crew member while the Earl takes the rest of the loot. Ragnar chooses Athelstan and takes him to his home as a slave where his children make fun of his hair. That night Athelstan tries to sleep as Ragnar and his wife Lagertha have sex. They come to Athelstan and ask if he would like to join them but Athelstan declines their offer and explains that he has taken an oath of celibacy and God would know of his sin. Ragnar and Lagertha seem unaffected by this and continue on without him.
Days later Ragnar prepares for his next raid and Lagertha accompanies him while Athelstan is placed in charge of the children. Bjorn objects to being put under the authority of a slave, while Gyda, who's clearly grown attached to the priest, is pleased with the idea. After Ragnar and Lagertha return, Ragnar appears to be even more of a problem and possibly a threat to Earl Haraldson. Haraldson has men go to his home and attack him and his family. Lagertha leads Athelstan and the children to safety to a boat, while Ragnar fends off Earl Haraldson and his men. When Ragnar meets them at the river, wounded, he falls from the cliff into the river unconscious, and Athelstan jumps into the river to save him. They travel down the river to Floki's home.
They arrive at Floki's home where Ragnar receives care for his wound. While there, Ragnar's other allies are contacted and arrive at the house. Floki asks Athelstan about the Christian faith and the Christian creation story and tells the Monk the Norse creation story. Ragnar sends Floki to go to Haraldson's home and challenge him to a duel to the death and whoever wins will be Jarl (Earl). His challenge is accepted and days later Ragnar and the earl duel. Ragnar is wounded but is able to kill Haraldson in combat making Ragnar the new jarl.
Athelstan watches as Haraldson, Haraldson's personal guardsman, and Haraldson's son-in-law are killed and as crowds surround Ragnar in his championship. Athelstan attends Haraldson's funeral and accompanies the Lothbroks to their new home as he is installed as the new jarl. During this time Athelstan learns the Norse legend of Ragnarok and several other legends. A few months later Ragnar goes to meet with fellow Norsemen and Athelstan attends to serve as usual and attends to a pregnant Lagertha. Athelstan observes Lagertha's work as queen and is fascinated when she declares an unknown adulterer the Norse God Heimdallr. Athelstan cares for Lagertha when she has a miscarriage and loses her child and wonders what Ragnar will think when he returns as he was prophesized to have many sons.
A year or so later, Athelstan has been assimilated into the viking society and lies about his Christian faith and tells the Vikings that he shares their beliefs. Athelstan is questioned by a mourning Ragnar (one of the only people who knows he is Christian) what the Bible says about grief. Ragnar declares a pilgrimage to the Norse holy place of Uppsala and asks if Athelstan would like to join them. Athelstan says yes but before departing he goes to Ragnar's old home to read his hidden Bible which disintegrates in his hands as it was burnt in Haraldson's raid. Athelstan goes to Uppsala with the Vikings where he is asked by many if he is still Christian, which he denies.
Athelstan observes many of the pagan rituals and is given intoxicating mushrooms by Rollo. He then roams the campsite that night and watches the revelry of the pagan celebration. He is approached and kissed by Haraldson's daughter who washes him. When asked why she does this she simply says, "Because I must." The next morning Athelstan is approached by the Seer and taken to the main temple. There he is asked if he is still Christian and denies Christ three times. It is revealed that Ragnar brought him to Uppsala as a sacrifice. Athelstan is shocked and clutches at his cross hidden in his sleeve. This is noticed by the priest and he flees the temple. Later the Seer tells Ragnar that Athelstan is still Christian and his sacrifice is therefore unacceptable.
Athelstan and the Vikings return to their homes while Ragnar goes to Götaland. A plague strikes and Athelstan is one of the victims although he recovers. He is grief stricken when he discovers Ragnar's daughter has been killed by the plague and watches with the other Norseman as Lagertha performs a cremation and funeral for the girl.
After Ragnar returned and discovered the fate of his daughter he left to fight Jarl Borg and his traitor brother but eventually made peace by convincing Borg's clan and King Horik's clan (who Ragnar sided with) to raid together. He brought his brother Rollo back to his lands where he was put on trial but spared after Ragnar secretly bribed the Pagan priest. After, Ragnar confesses to his family and Athelstan that he had an affair with the princess Aslaug which he is forgiven for. Although just a few hours later, Aslaug arrives heavily pregnant. The arrival of Aslaug causes feud to the Lodbrok family to Athelstan's discomfort, and after Ragnar refuses to make Aslaug leave, his wife Lagertha leaves him along with his son Bjorn.
Four years later Athelstan has supposedly converted to Viking Paganism and is part of society although Floki doesn't think his conversion is true. He goes with Ragnar for his first raid (and Ragnar's first in three years). Although Horik goes with Ragnar and his men, Jarl Borg is not allowed to go because of Horik's distrust in him. While heading to England, a storm separates the viking long boats but they are able to meet at an unknown island. While exploring the island the group of Vikings is ambushed by unknown soldiers. Athelstan does not hesitate to help kill these soldiers and after the battle ends Ragnar gives Athelstan a bracelet of trust. Athelstan questions the captured Englishmen and discovers that the vikings are in Wessex, a country where the king is known for his wit and cruelty on the battlefield.
The Vikings continue their journey in Wessex and Athelstan discovers an abbey with the bones of saints and treasure. The Vikings raid the abbey church with barely a fight and Athelstan stumbles upon a Bible. While admiring the Bible and reversing his days as a monk, a monk surprises him and urging him not steal anything. A startled Athelstan killed the monk and begins to show regret. While standing over the body the abbot (Saint Ælfheah) intrudes and recognizes Athelstan as a monk and threatens him with crucifixion (even though Athelstan is trying to get him to escape) but, while the abbot is tormenting Athelstan, Floki interrupts and takes the Bishop Swithun, ties him to a pillar and shoots him with arrows continually for all to see. After watching this long enough Athelstan kills the Bishop, proving Floki's doubts in him.
After setting up a camp the Bishop of Winchester comes to negotiate with the Vikings and Ragnar agrees to meet with the King and after returning he discovers from men who have just arrived that his land has been taken over by Jarl Borg. Ragnar gathers his closest friends and best men to go and take back their land but Athelstan decides to stay in England with Horik. This creates friction between Ragnar and Athelstan but Ragnar doesn't stop him from staying.
While there Athelstan becomes weary of all the pillaging and death and while resting he takes out the Bible he found and receives a vision of a crucifixion. While hunting Athelstan and his Vikings are ambushed and Athelstan is tortured and crucified although before he is killed, the king of Wessex, Ecbert, thinks he will be valuable and tells his men to spare Athelstan's life and takes him back to his kingdom.
After being taken by King Ecgbert, Athelstan's wounds are mended and he is kept close by Ecgbert who even includes him in much of his royal business and even asking him for advice at times. Athelstan begins to have hallucinations much like with the bleeding Bible he had before his crucifixion. He begins to see visions of the Virgin Mary and a some sort of horrifying devil beast. Athelstan attends mass but lies about taking the bread of Christ as he spits it out after taking it, showing that Paganism is still a strong factor in his life.
Athelstan continues to grow close to king Ecgbert and after spending enough time for Ecgbert to trust him, he brings Athelstan to ancient crypts built by Roman Pagans who traveled to England years before. Ecgbert gives Athelstan a secret job where he will translate ancient Pagan writings that include legends, ways of life, and even battle strategies, a job Athelstan is very eager to accept.
Later a new raiding party lead by Ragnar, Lagertha, and King Horik comes to England to raid and after a massive battle between the Vikings and the Saxons Athelstan discovers a heavily wounded Rollo and takes him to be treated. Upon Rollo's awakening he is disgusted by Athelstan returning to his former ways and even attempts to kill him but fails. Later, Ecbert sends Athelstan to go and visit with Ragnar and his Vikings to negotiate peace. Upon Athelstans arrival he meets Bjorn for the first time in years and informs him along with all his fellow Vikings that Rollo Is alive and being treated. After meeting with Ragnar they have a small heart felt conversation about each other's gods and whether or not Athelstan will go back with Ragnar. Hours later Ragnar, Horik, and Lagertha meet with King Ecbert and arrange for raiding to stop only if they are given a large amount of land which Ecbert agrees with. During this time Athelstan and Judith fall in love and enjoy a brief affair from which Judith becomes pregnant. After the treaty Athelstan is faced with a choice between staying with Ecbert or leaving with Ragnar and after much consideration chooses his long and best friend, Ragnar.
An unknown amount of time later King Horik's wife and children arrive and a celebration is held. At this celebration Athelstan is mocked by Floki who says that he is the cause for Rollo's suffering. Later Athelstan is watched playing a game with Ragnar and Bjorn by Floki for unknown reasons although Floki seems to have gone unnoticed. Torstein is later found killed by an unknown individual and Athelstan is asked by Ragnar to be taught the Lord's Prayer, a request Athelstan accepts.
That night Horik launches an attack on Ragnar with what he believes to be the help of Siggy and Floki although it is revealed that all the information Horik has told them, they have told Ragnar, thereby letting him defeat Horik's forces. It is also believed that Torstein is alive and that Floki (who Horik told to murder Torstein) had Torstein fake his death so that he may grow closer to Horik. Ragnar orders all of Horik's family to be butchered then sends his men (including Athelstan) to leave so he may kill Horik himself. After Ragnar kills Horik he becomes the new king thereby giving Athelstan an even higher role at his side.
In season three Aethelwulf destroyed the Danish settlement in Wessex. When the word of what had transpired reached Kattegat the messenger was taken to Ragnar by Floki. Floki fearing this had happened because the gods were unhappy with them for cooperating with Christians. Floki also accused Athelstan of conspiring with King Ecbert to betray them. Later when building a boat Floki has a vision of blood coming out of wood and sees it as a sign he must spill blood. Floki later comes to Athelstan while he is praying, during the prayer and after seeing Floki, he realizes what is about to happen and prays to Christ for his soul to be received right before Floki strikes his head.
Later in this season it is revealed that Judith of Northumbria has given birth to the bastard son of Athelstan. After suffering mutilation she is spared death by Ecbert after she confesses to being Athelstan's love and the father of their infant baby boy, Aethelwulf is forced to believe that Athelstan was a man "touched by God" and that God had a hand in the baby's conception and is ordered by Ecbert to raise it as his own and the child is named Alfred.
Despite Athelstan's worldliness, extensive linguistic skills, logical mind, and knowledge of the Bible, he was hopelessly innocent when dealing with other people, especially the ambitious. Despite his intelligence, or perhaps because of it, he found himself torn between his old religious beliefs and cultural traditions and those to which he was exposed during his time with the Vikings.
Athelstan believes God is good and Vikings are a punishment from God for his people's sins. He takes his vocation seriously. His "greatest treasure" is an unadorned Bible, and he refuses to join a threesome with Ragnar and Lagertha because of his vow of celibacy. Ragnar is so impressed with his character he puts him in charge of the family farm while he's gone. Athelstan progressively becomes more Viking until he proves himself in battle and becomes Ragnar's thane, though he never gives up his faith. He is conflicted in his beliefs about Ragnar and the other Vikings when Ragnar continually shows him kindness.
Athelstan is "not interested" in escaping, but he'd rather be a free man. Of course, he's also aware that he's incapable of fighting and far away from home in a strange land. Even if he were to escape, he realizes he doesn't really stand a chance at getting home.
Although not technically a family member, he was a part of Ragnar's household. Athelstan is Ragnar's former slave but he is considered Ragnar's best friend, much to Floki's dismay. Ragnar considers Athelstan as his brother and the only person he truly trusts. Both being very intelligent and curious, they are drawn towards each other and share numerous ideas. Athelstan has a great influence on Ragnar, teaching him about the world and becomes his trusted councilor. Ragnar is tolerant and curious about Atheltsan's faith. He cannot protect him, however, as Athelstan is killed by Floki. His death crushes Ragnar, eventually leading to his own baptism.
Although not as strong as Ragnar's, Lagertha is consistently shown to have a good friendship with Athelstan. She even invited him to have sex with her and Ragnar. Unlike the other Vikings, Lagertha never displays any disdain for him after Season 1. She comes to view her former slave a real friend. And Athelstan seems to return the sentiment. She clearly trusts him enough to leave him with her children while she is away raiding with Ragnar. When Athelstan's survival is revealed in The Choice, she doesn't hesitate to follow Ragnar in retrieving him.
|“||For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under the sun. A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…||”|
– Athelstan, Raid
|“||I came back because you and Ragnar, all of you are my family.||”|
|“||I’ve asked for a sign. You have given me a sign. You’ve answered my prayers. I was blind, but now I see. I was dead, but… I’m reborn.||”|
|“||Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh.||”|
– Athelstan, Season 4 Trailer
|“||Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.||”|
- In Sacrifice, Athelstan denies being a Christan three times to the chief priest of the Uppsala Temple. This is the same amount of times Peter denied being a follower of Jesus in the New Testament.
- Athelstan had visions and hallucinations that he saw Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, but never had hallucinations involving the Norse gods. Athelstan unconsciously never abandoned his Christian faith.
- Since Ragnar became Earl of Kattegat, Athelstan appears to have been exercising the duties of a bruti, a slave-steward, in Ragnar's household.
- Athelstan's monastic life is probably partly based on the famous scholar and teacher Alcuin (Ealhwine) of York. Alcuin was born around 735 AD in York, Northumbria. He was a student of Archbishop Ecgbert of York and exchanged letters with the monks at Lindisfarne for years while at the court of Charlemagne. While in Francia, his friends at the monastery of Lindisfarne, Northumbria experienced the first Viking raid in England on June 8th 793 AD.
- King Ecbert said that Athelstan speaking Latin was rare. This is not entirely true, and Latin was common amongst clergy and ecclesiastics of the era. Many monks were charged with either translating Latin documents, giving services in Latin, or interpreting biblical works in the language. There were few English language Bibles at the time, and Latin was required to fully comprehend the messages of the book. There is a possibility that Ecbert was lying to Athelstan.
- Through Athelstan is referred to as a Saxon, the Northumbrians descended from Angles.
- The name Athelstan means "noble stone" in Old English.
- Athelstan as a name is a noted one in Anglo-Saxon and English history, as the first recognised King of England was named Athelstan. He was the grandson of King Alfred the Great of Wessex, and united Wessex, Norse York, and the Saxon Earldom of Bamburgh into a singular Kingdom of England.
- Athelstan expressed distaste at the nature of slave conditions in Norse society, however the Anglo-Saxons were noted keepers of slaves. The Normans, post the 1066 conquest, abolished the practice and replaced it with serfdom. Such distaste is inaccurate, as slavery was ubiqutous in Anglo-Saxon society, and in much of Europe at that point. As a man who knew several languages and had travelled to many cities and countries, it should not have been an extreme culture shock. But there is the possibility that Athelstan has always despised such practice, even among his Anglo-Saxon compatriots.
- Emancipating slaves, as Ragnar did to Athelstan shortly before becoming Earl of Kattegat, was a normal practice. This would have required him swearing fealty to him as an Earl, or possibly this was granted by Earl Haraldson before he died in combat with Ragnar.
- Whilst evidently fluent in Old English, his dialect of the language as a Northumbrian would have been different to those of Wessex. It may not have undermined communication at all, but when speaking with captured Wessex soldiers post-battle, or King Ecbert himself, he would have had a little time to adjust to their different dialect.
|Season one appearances|
|Rites of Passage||Wrath of the Northmen||Dispossessed|
|Trial||Raid||Burial of the Dead|
|A King's Ransom||Sacrifice||All Change|
|Season two appearances|
|Brother's War||Invasion||Treachery||Eye For an Eye||Answers in Blood|
|Unforgiven||Blood Eagle||Boneless||The Choice||The Lord's Prayer|
|Season three appearances|
|Mercenary||The Wanderer||Warrior's Fate||Scarred||The Usurper|
|Born Again||Paris||To the Gates!||Breaking Point||The Dead|
|Season four appearances|
|A Good Treason||Kill the Queen||Mercy||Yol||Promised|
|What Might Have Been||The Profit and the Loss||Portage||Death All 'Round||The Last Ship|
|The Outsider||The Vision||Two Journeys||In the Uncertain Hour Before the Morning||All His Angels|
|Crossings||The Great Army||Revenge||On the Eve||The Reckoning|