Vikings2/More Myths And Facts

Vikings did not spend all their time on raiding, although this was certainly regarded as an admirable pursuit…The majority of Vikings were farmers and fishermen for the most part, and the raids were a way to enhance their wealth and power, as well as a means of providing sustenance for their families…In fact, medieval Scandinavians spent plenty of time farming and fishing, especially settlers to places like Iceland and Greenland….They were careful settlers and dedicated farmers who brought energetic and innovative farming techniques to the regions they conquered and colonized….. Vikings farmed rye, barley and wheat that they supplemented with nuts, fish, cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, and eggs…..

Raiding increased a man’s stature in Viking society. A successful raider returned home with wealth and fame, the two most important qualities needed to climb the social ladder. Raiding was often a part-time occupation. In the spring, a typical Viking oversaw the planting of grain on his farm . When the job was done, he went off raiding in the Hebrides and Ireland, but he was back to the farm in time to take in the hay and the grain in mid-summer. Then he went off raiding again until the arrival of winter..

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According to my Google sources: “The loot that Vikings desired was anything of value that was compact enough to carry on-board their ships. That included gold and silver, but also included iron tools and weapons, as well as clothing and food, all valuable items. Captured livestock was often slaughtered on the spot to provide fresh food for the raiders. One has the sense that Viking raiders also conducted legitimate trade while on their voyages, often with the very people they were raiding……..

The first recorded Viking raid occurred in the year 793, against the great monastery of Lindisfarne off the northeast coast of England….The attack sent shock waves throughout Europe: why had God allowed such a holy place to be defiled by pagans? Monasteries were frequent targets of Norse raiders not because the raiders were particularly anti-Christian, but rather because that’s where the money was…

The raids were usually opportunistic, against targets that could be attacked, plundered, and departed from quickly. Vikings stayed along the coast or on navigable rivers; overland marches were avoided. The goal was to grab as much valuable booty as possible before an effective defense could be raised. Typical booty included weapons, tools, clothing, jewelry, precious metals, and people who could be sold as slaves.

The size of the raiding parties varied. A small raiding party led separate groups of twelve men each from their shared long ship. A larger party is described as two ships, one with forty oars, and one with sixty. At the end of the summer, they returned from their raids with ten ships. One of the largest raiding parties was the Great Army which harried in England and the Continent and which probably numbered in the few thousands.

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The Norse pagan religion helped to propel the Norse expansion through two key beliefs. The Vikings had a strong religious attachment to the Norse god Odin, the “Father of Victories” who was the Norse patron god of war, and poetry, and believed that warriors who fell in battle could expect to be ushered into Valhalla, Odin’s palatial hall in Asgard, by Valkyries. In Valhalla, they would feast and train for the ultimate battle, Ragnaok, where the entirety of the cosmos would be destroyed and pave the way for the generation of a new universe.

The Viking religion was very prominent in their burial customs. The funeral was an event that required  a significant amount of preparation to transfer the dead from the community of the living to the community of the deceased. Before a chieftain was cremated on a funeral pyre, he was placed in a grave with a roof for ten days while they prepared for his burial. Like the ancient Egyptian kings, a chieftain was buried in the finest attire with a significant portion of his possessions, food, animals, and his wife. Once the chieftain and all of his possessions were ceremoniously placed on the ship, it was set ablaze.

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The second key belief of Norsemen is that the time of one’s death is determined by fate and is chosen by the Norns at the time of one’s birth. Therefore, nothing one did could change the moment of one’s death. However, what one did up until that moment was strictly one’s own doing. Therefore, one ought to make the very best of every moment of life, because the worst that could happen would be death, and the best that could happen would be fame and an enhancement to one’s reputation. Since one couldn’t effect the time of one’s own death, which was predestined anyway, there was nothing to lose and everything to gain by being bold and adventurous.

Worrying or complaining did nothing to improve the situation and only diminished a man. The greatest test of a man was to fight to the bitter end, even in the face of certain defeat and death. Norsemen expected a share of trouble, and the best of them attempted to use it, and to rise above it creating fame for themselves through bravery, loyalty, and generosity. As a result of these two key tenets of the Norse pagan religion, it is only natural that raiding became a common way to increase one’s stature in the community….

While the common consensus is that the impact of the Vikings during the Viking Age, which lasted from about 800 AD to 1100 AD, was not very enduring as the Vikings were skilled at assimilating into the local population, the Viking culture has had a lasting impact on the art, technology, society, and trade of every population they encountered. Not only does the concept of the Vikings have a firm hold in the Danish consciousness to this day, but Scandinavian traces are still apparent in the dialects of Scotland and Northern England today.

The truth is that while they may have been viewed as barbarian raiders by popular culture until recent times, the Vikings were primarily skilled traders and explorers who opened up a host of new trade routes and discovered a number of new lands during their brief, but significant, reign as a prominent empire of early Europe.

While some Vikings were raiders and warriors, the majority were explores and traders. Some of course were both simultaneously…. The Vikings undertook extensive trade and built a trade network that eventually covered all of modern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Northern India, and even China. They were the first to pioneer trade routes down the Volga and the Dnepr; they opened the routes to Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire; they traded with the Franks and the Baltic; and they even opened up the routes to the far east.

The Vikings were well known for their art which included metalworking, wood crafts and carvings, horn and bone crafts, pottery, glass, and literature. We find numerous examples of male and female ornaments and jewelry and garments, combs, gaming sets, cultic and religious items, horse bridles, weapons, and items with ruins, which include the mythical dragon head, a small figure of a woman, and amulets with runic inscriptions.

Similar finds were made in other locations which yielded cooking utensils, bowls, gaming pieces, jewelry (of gold, silver, copper, amber, and jet), and antler combs. Excavations of Viking Dublin  demonstrate the degree to which their technology and art influenced the local cultures they invaded”….

This brooch appears to be from continental Europe and contains gold textured in a waffle shape along with a cross made of red glass and semiprecious stone. The artifacts was made between AD 500-750, apparently predating the Viking age farm site. It's possible that it was acquired by a non-Christian at the site through exchange. It may have been worn by a high-ranking woman, perhaps on a dress. Photo © by Ole Kastholm/Roskilde Museum
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So in sum, harsh and feared and rightfully so, the Viking raids were primarily a means of expansion, discovering and extending trade routes and the establishment of more land for the Vikings to settle in…They even pushed westward into Greenland and Iceland, and there is ample evidence that some Vikings actually reached America long before Columbus…They had the technology in their superior sailing ships and mastery of the oceans, and their bravery is unquestioned… There is definitive archaeological evidence of their presence in America …

A closer look at the westward expansion of the Vikings and the mighty saga of Lief Eriksson becoming the first to discover the North American continent will be the subject of another blog…..

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

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