Who is Vikings: Valhalla’s Mariam based on? How a Netflix character differs from its real-life counterpart

Contains spoilers for “Vikings: Valhalla”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 2 introduced several new characters, including Mariam (Hayat Kamille), an astronomer who quickly bonded with Leif (Sam Corlett).

In Season 2, Leif, Harald (Leo Suter), and Freydis (Frida Gustavsson) briefly reunite after the invasion of Kattegat, only to separate again.

Leif and Harald traveled to Novgorod, while Freydis was taken to Jomsborg, the supposed new Uppsala.

In Novgorod, Harald and Leif sought the assistance of Harald’s uncle, Yaroslav the Wise (Marcin Dorociński), to gather an army, confront Olaf (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), and seize the throne of Norway.

When Jaroslav refused, Harald came up with a new plan to sell furs in Constantinople to raise money for an army.

Among the crew that Harald quickly assembled was Mariam, an astronomer who fascinated Leif with her unique knowledge and perspective.

What is the real-life inspiration behind “Vikings: Valhalla” Mariam?

Photocom of the show
Photocom of the show “Vikings: Valhalla” (@netflix)

Mariam, like many characters in “Vikings: Valhalla”, is based on a real person with an impressive story. She is inspired by Al-ʻIjliyyah, better known in modern popular literature as Mariam al-Asṭurlābiyya.

Although her first name “Mariam” is not mentioned in historical sources, she was a famous maker of astrolabes in the 10th century, living in Aleppo, which is now in northern Syria.

An astrolabe is an ancient astronomical instrument that functions as a portable model of the universe. It functions as an inclinometer and analog calculating device.

Astronomers use it to measure the altitude of celestial bodies, identify stars and planets, determine local latitude based on local time, conduct surveys and triangulate positions.

According to Arab Muslim bibliographer and biographer Ibn al-Nadim, Mariam was the daughter of al-ʻIjliyy, who was also known as an astrolabe maker.

Both Mariam and her father were apprenticed under Nasṭūlus, another famous astronomer and astrolabe maker. Mariam’s skills were so impressive that she was hired by Sayf al-Dawla, the first Emir of Aleppo.

Designing astrolabes requires complex mathematical calculations and precision. In recognition of her contributions to astronomy and science, the main belt asteroid 7060 Al-ʻIjliyya was named after her in 1990.

She also inspired a character in the book “Binti” (2015) and was recognized as an extraordinary woman of the Islamic Golden Age by 1001 Inventions in 2018.

The comparison of Mariam in fiction versus reality

Photocom of the show
Photocom of the show “Vikings: Valhalla” (@netflix)

In “Vikings: Valhalla” Season 2, Mariam and Leif met while eating with Yaroslav. Mariam explained meteors to Leif, sharing that she was in Novgorod to study “the burning stones that fall to Earth.”

Leif was captivated by Mariam’s knowledge, and they grew closer after she rescued him on an opium trip.

Leif, fascinated by the books in Mariam’s room, learned from her despite being unable to read himself. Mariam, who was very ill, wished to return to Constantinople for better medical care. Unfortunately, she died after their arrival at Olbia.

Mariam’s backstory in the show is just as mysterious as that of her real-life counterpart, Mariam al-Asṭurlābiyya. The series reveals that Mariam was born in Aleppo and traveled extensively, studying the heavens and writing books.

The real Mariam was also active in Aleppo and worked for the first emir. Both Mariams were expert astrolabes, and in the series, Mariam taught Leif how to use astrolabes and even taught him to read.

In the series, Mariam’s family background is not mentioned, unlike the historical Mariam, who came from a family of astrolabes and was mentored by an astronomer.

Both versions of Mariam were portrayed as intelligent women and skilled astronomers, however historical details about their lives remain somewhat limited.

“Vikings: Valhalla” trailer.

“Vikings: Valhalla” seasons 1 and 2 are available for streaming on Netflix.

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