In 'Vikings', there are a number of characters with the title of Earl, which in the Vikings society (as portrayed in the series) is second only in rank to the King. Now, I've seen some criticism of the use of Earl since the Norse word for such a title was Jarl and Earl is an Anglicised version of that title. I think that criticism is silly, since the series is filmed (mostly) in English. They also fight in a shield wall instead of a Skjaldborg, and drink beer instead of bjórr (you get my drift...).

Anyway, there is one exception to this and that is the character 'Jarl Borg'. For this one character, they use the Norse term rather than the English one. I can't see why he is a Jarl while everyone of equivalent title is an Earl?

Does anyone have any insight?

  • Usually there was only one Jarl, as you mentioned. But, the Jarl was next in line for the throne. They may have used Earl to indicated the others aren't in line for the throne. No proof, just a guess.
    – Ben Plont
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 4:24
  • I don't think that's right. There's lots of Jarls/Earls going around. A Jarl/Earl was a hereditary ruler of some patch of land who had a bunch of freemen ('Karls' in old Norse) who had sworn fealty to them. In turn, the Jarls/Earls may have sworn fealty to a King, who is effectively the strongest Jarl/Earl in some region. So while Jarl/Earl is second in rank to King, there's many more than one (so it's a pyramid structure not a line if that makes sense). I just can't see why they used the Norse word (Jarl) once and the English term for all other instances. Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 21:54
  • shieldwall jarl borg was a very underrated character.
    – user26331
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 4:18
  • Jarl is the Scandinavian word for Earl...
    – user32438
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 13:18
  • Personally I think the user "Ragnar" (how fitting) above sounds about right, because after princess Aslaug and her men joined him they suddenly called him Jarl instead of Earl in S02E02! And Lagherta became Earl, which could really translate into the amount of regions you are in command of (1 in her case). But again that's only my personal logical thinking, I could be way wrong as well^^
    – Muhv
    Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 18:43

7 Answers 7


I believe this is to emphasize the fact that he is foreign/distinct from the other viking Earls. The character bio on the History Channel site states:

cunning and devious leader of Gotaland .... refuses to cede any of his land to King Horik, whom he considers to be a foreign king with no legitimate claim

emphasis mine above.

The foreign aspect is also supported on Vikings Wikia:

Jarl Borg was originally supposed to be a Swedish Jarl, living in Sweden. But Swedish actor Gustaf Skarsgård, who plays Floki, told Micheal Hirst that "Sweden" did not exist as such in the time of the Vikings and that Uppsala would be located within it if it did. Hirst then changed Borg to a Geatish jarl, since there would not be any motivation for Ragnar going home to Kattegat before visiting Borg if he was already in Svealand (Land of the Swedes).


Jarldom has been described as being similar to that of Dukedom.

Earl is equivalent to a Count if you try to compare early feudal societies with societies such as the Norse.

In relation to the series, Gotaland should be an island in the body of water adjacent to the southern coast of Sweden. It would make sense that Jarl Borg was much harder to subdue that other landlocked Earldom, and also that he rules over all of the Cheif's on his island.

Norse society was a very complicated, the show has gone to great lengths to keep it simple for us whilst still keeping it authentic.


Small but simple difference. An earl would control 1 area or tribe, and likely pay homage to a king with several earls. A jarl is a man who may not quite be a king, but may rule several tribes and even have earls under him, but a jarl's territory is likely to be OUTSIDE and separate of any king's territory, whereas an earl is likely to be under a king's rule and territory.


The OP is wrong about it being proper to use the title earl in Vikings merely because the show is made in England. Nobody ever used the title of Earl except in England and by appointment by an English king.

Everybody knows vaguely that a jarl is sort of a Scandinavian nobleman, so there is no need to translate jarl into earl so English audiences will have some idea of what a jarl is, while American, Canadian, Australian, etc. English speaking audiences will not have so much of an idea anyway.

Everyone knows that an English earl is sort of equal to a continental count, so it would not be necessary for English audiences to describe a continental nobleman as a French vice earl, or a princely earl, or a land earl of Hesse, or a border earl of Brandenburg, or a city earl of Nuremburg, or an earl palatine of the Rhine.

It would also be fairly accurate to translate jarl into English as lord.


I think i got an answer, Earl is name for nobble man inside the land of the King, Emperor, Despot, Knyaz, Furst etc. He control only a city and village around the city. His title is like a Count. Jarl is controller of a Province. He is independent from any King but not powerful as the King. His title is something like Duke or Furst.

Norse order was not like in other parts of Europe in other parts of Europe Earl must pay to the King tax but Earl in Norse lads must't(so he was independent on some level). But he will still obey a word of a King like Ragnar did with Horik.

It's a large topic it need time to be explain but this is in short. :D


Jarl literally means chieftain so there were lots of them throughout the Viking world all you have to do is read history. The only case I can see as to the reason why they call them Earl's instead is so some can understand


Purely educational, and - perhaps - culturally reverent reasons, I think, like when they occasionally (try to) speak norse. The reverence, however, stops with those tidbits of penance..

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