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.)
There is a lot of curiosity, fantasy, and misinformation about the roles of Viking women and whether or not there really were female warriors in Old Norse societies. In this two-part link roundup, I will try to give you a broader view of the lives of Viking women, starting with everyday activities and expectations.
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?
Loki and Odin have sometimes been described as mirror images to each other. Odin certainly pulls his share of dirty tricks, although for different reasons. The parallels and contrasts between these two characters will also shed some light on the myths and the people who believed them.
Ragnarök: the doom of the Gods and the end of the worlds as Odin created them. But this is no ordinary war. Ragnarök and Fimbulvetr, the three-year winter that precedes the final battle, symbolize the destruction of the natural order of society as the Vikings conceived of it, and the creation of a new society from the remnants of the old.
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.