The ferocity of Viking warriors is what made the Old Norse famous — or rather, infamous — and the entire reason there was a Viking Age at all. While it may not take a well-equipped army to knock over a monastery and roll a few monks, the Vikings faced formidable enemies on the battlefields of foreign lands and sometimes even from rivals within their own or other Old Norse communities. Hence, it’s time to take a look at the historical and cultural significance of Viking armour and weaponry.
The only way to fight a bad guy spouting a bunch of racist baloney is a good guy sharing valid information.
The stereotype of the raping, pillaging Norseman has its roots in the very earliest days of Viking raids. The plundering of Lindisfarne in 793 CE was one of the earliest recorded raids, and the target—a church—made the act all the more heinous in the eyes of the Anglo-Saxons, who wrote terrifying reports of the event. However, most Old Norse people were more interested in trading. (More taxes, fewer axes.)
Although Viking raiders and warriors certainly earned their reputation for brutality, most of the Old Norse people lived rather mundane domestic lives. They were largely subsistence farmers who traded for what they could not produce, and when prospects seemed better elsewhere, they moved to new areas. Sometimes they created new settlements in previously uninhabited lands, such as Iceland, but most of the time, they were the new kids on the block. You might be surprised at how well they got along with their new neighbours.
In Link Roundup #3.1, we took a look at the everyday roles of Viking women. This time, we’re going to consider some of the less ordinary roles that women may—or may not—have played in Viking societies.
The first duty of a Viking household was to show hospitality to any and all who came to their door. That white nationalists try to use the Old Norse religion to justify hatred against Muslims, immigrants, and refugees is an affront to the pagan heritage they claim to be protecting.
Trying to understand the Vikings takes some patience and careful research. They built homes of wood and turf, and their clothes were mostly wool and linen, so much of the physical evidence of their travels and lifestyle has been ravaged by natural processes. Viking societies depended heavily on oral communication, and many of the texts we have today were written down a century or more after the Viking Age. Determining how the information may have changed over that time is tricky business, and we can only guess how many stories were completely lost over the years. One story that has survived is the Christianization of Iceland. But did the Icelanders turn to Christianity out of fear of volcanic eruptions, as some researchers have suggested?
Life in Viking Age Scandinavia was harsh and unforgiving. To survive in a region with a long, cold winter and a relatively short growing season, you have to be savvy and tough, and sometimes you had to make hard decisions. You had to work from morning until night to get all your work done, and when winter came, you hoped you had done enough. As you can imagine, this had significant effects on the lifecycles of the Viking peoples.
The Vikings originally occupied Denmark, Norway, and Sweden as we know them today, but they didn’t exactly stay put. In fact, the term “viking” comes from the Old Norse term vikingr, a concrete noun that may be translated as “sea warrior”1 and an abstract noun that means “the act of going raiding overseas”. Given that their homelands were surrounded by oceans, it should come as no surprise that they developed some of the fastest ships in the world.