Vikings/Myths And Facts

The Vikings have a well deserved and popular reputation for violence and unprovoked brutality…According to popular legend, they were masters of the quick hit, the killer surprise strike out of the fog and gloom, sweeping down on helpless seaport towns and villages that were unlucky enough to be in their paths… Invading, sacking and looting towns as they poured out of their fearsome dragon headed longboats, which had a shallow draft enabling them to penetrate up rivers as well as just land on beaches, the Vikings were a force to be reckoned with, and a terrible, often deadly reality to people who lived anywhere near their raiding areas…

This is all historical fact, and the popular success of the History channel miniseries spin off “The Vikings” onto an independent cable channel has fueled renewed rampant interest in the Vikings and their way of life…The extremely popular TV show with it’s main stars the king  of the Vikings, Ragnar and his estranged but loyal wife, the shield maiden Lagertha of course takes certain liberties with the actual facts we now know about the Vikings, but is mainly a faithful representation of their way of life, customs, religion and cultural import…

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The Vikings - Travis Fimmel (RAGNAR), Gustaf Skarsgard (FLOKI) & Vladimir Kulich (ERIK) picturedPhoto by Jonathan Hession / HISTORY Copyright 2011
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The Vikings were originally a pre-literate society, they did not especially know how to or care to learn how to read and write, and they thus left few or manuscripts behind to study….In later years, the discovery of the The Icelandic Sagas are a later recapitulation and an attempt to codify the oral traditions of the original Viking raiders…They were some of history’s original “bad boys” and as such fascinate many…

As per my Google sources “From the eighth to 11th centuries, as Norsemen from Scandinavia conducted raids into Europe and elsewhere, they became known as Vikings—named after a place called viken in the Oslo fjord. Over time, the word viking became synonymous with piracy, and the Vikings garnered a reputation as brutal plunderers that endured for a thousand years. But as archaeologist William Fitzhugh makes clear in an interview, their sordid reputation wasn’t entirely warranted. While ruthless, Viking attacks were more about survival than subjugation, historians now say.

Fitzhugh: “Well, the attacks were very diverse. One misconception we have is that swarms of Vikings raided constantly all over the place, and it really wasn’t that way. For the most part, the raids were totally independent. They were not the result of national armies or navies moving down into Europe, but rather the actions of individual Viking chieftains who grouped together followers and had one or maybe several boats.

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Occasionally, as in some of the invasions of Normandy, they organized whole flotillas and made a purposeful kind of attack, but generally they were much more individualistic. They had to find food, and they couldn’t carry their food with them. They had to live off the land, so they drove people out and took whatever money and other valuables people had. And, of course, the church centers and monasteries like Lindisfarne [a monastery in Northern England that Vikings pillaged in A.D. 793] constituted the major sources of wealth at that time…

For the monks, the attack represented the vengeance of Satan on the Christian outposts of Europe. The Vikings did in fact kill a lot of people in their raids… I think they were relatively ruthless, but remember, this was a ruthless age with far more than just peaceful farmers living peaceful lives.

All sorts of things were going on in the British Isles and mainland Europe, including constant battles between rival princes vying for kingship and control of local regions. The Vikings were just another crowd, though a crowd that was non-Christian and had no compunction about killing churchmen or women or children.” In a way, the monks spread the bad rap about the Vikings because they were so personally scandalized because they were individually attacked…

Fitzhugh continues: “In general I think the victims were men, because the Vikings were great at absorbing people. They needed slaves, they needed people to help row, they needed people to help maintain their lifestyle. They regularly set up small villages and centers where they could overwinter or stay for months at a time, and they needed people to help run these establishments.

So I think if you were able to put yourself back into the camp of a raiding Viking group, you probably would find Italians and Spaniards and Portuguese and French and Russians—a very diverse group built around a core of Vikings from a particular region, say, southern Denmark or an Oslo fjord. It wouldn’t just be blond, blue-eyed Norsemen.

Only in the past 20 years or so have archaeological and other studies begun to provide information that fleshes out and in some cases contradicts or even replaces the historical record. These findings are giving us a totally different view of the Vikings. We see them archeologically not as raiders and pillagers but as entrepreneurs, traders, people opening up new avenues of commerce, bringing new materials into Scandinavia, spreading Scandinavian ideas into Europe. This contrasts sharply with the early accounts, which were inevitably based on victims’ reports and were extremely one-sided.

A woman dressed up as a Viking takes part in the annual Viking festival of Catoira in north-western Spain August 3, 2008. The festival re-enacts past Viking raids in the area and is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of August. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal (SPAIN)vikings39longships

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I think the Vikings were very adaptive. They learned to take advantage of whatever situation they found themselves in. When they settled in Europe, they took farmlands, yes, but they also met new people; they took slaves, but the slaves became part of their families. Their languages were not that different; they were all Germanic-based languages. (Many of the place-names in the British Isles, in fact, date from Viking times.)

And the Vikings were not on a special crusade. They weren’t trying to bring paganism to Europe. Quite the opposite, in fact: They were receiving influences from a Europe that they saw as somehow technologically and maybe in some ways politically superior. They weren’t out to kill everyone in the countryside but rather to find a way to live, to set up shop, and I think they just readily mixed in.”

The Vikings’ greatest impact on the world I think  without question  was reconnecting humanity, making the world a smaller place by traveling huge distances, connecting peoples from Baghdad to Scandinavia to southern Europe to the north Atlantic to the mainland of North America.

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From a social or economic or religious point of view, no matter what you think of it, the Viking period was a kind of hinge in European history. It was the time you went from early history and classical civilization into what we know as modern Europe and a modern world, in which people are exchanging ideas and moving around rapidly and exploring new frontiers, looking for new resources and new connections. When we look into the future now, I think we implicitly look back to the Vikings as the origin of this kind of human endeavor to find new horizons, go new places, use new technology, meet new people, think new thoughts.

In a millennium era as we’re in now, this is the inspiration of the Vikings: It’s not only the historical impact that they had on Europe and in discovering the North American continent for the first time. These things are interesting and important, but I think that we should look at the Vikings in a broader sense, as a kind of a human myth come true that we can draw on—that is, we can look to space, to the oceans, to explorations among our own peoples, finding new ways of getting along, mixing, and sharing.”

Tomorrow we will explore Viking explorations as far as America, long before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon it, and get a general idea of daily Viking life and the cultural and religious traditions they lived by…

For more articles by John Whye, click on johnwhye@wordpress.com

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