The historical image of a viking warrior is one of the best known and most misunderstood. It is also widely abused. Classical viking imagery witholds the picture of a scandinavian barbarian whith a horned helmet. Well, no horned viking helmets have ever been found. We have no knowledge how much helmets were used. One actual piece dated to viking age has been found from the whole of Scandinavia. This is the “Gjermundbo” helmet from Norway. It resembles the ocular helmets of the previous centuries found in Sweden and was propably a continuation of them. These found helmets from the previous era were in graves of mighty lords or petty kings. There is a nother type of helmet known from the wery end of the viking age. The conical riveted form wiht nasal guard, wich was widely used during the crusade period all over Europe. Wery few of those have been found either and none from Scandinavia. The whole idea of horned helmets was taken from bronce age helmets found in the 19th century from a bog in Denmark. Those horned helmets had allready been over 1000 years in the bog when the vikings sailed their ships. You may notice I do not use the word “longship”. This is a term often connected with vikings, and again incorrectly. Longship is an english translation of the latin “navis longa” for roman warships. So, it really has nothing to do with vikings.

Vikings did have ships and in their poetry they speak of at least to different types. Other is the wide transport and cargo ship called “knarr”, wich could be seen as a forerunner of the medieval cog. A nother type is the long and narrow “drake”, from which the misconseption about lonship may have derived. They were rather clever ship builders and that is the main changing technological advancement that could be said to be the cause of action called viking raids. It cerainly demanded some special seamanship and a good vessel to find Iceland and Greenland, not to speak about continous trafic between Scandinavia and these far of colonies. Ships had however been built for centuries before that, and ships that could sail the Baltic and North Sea had been in common use for ages. So, there was no singular innovation or event that actually launched viking raids or culture to spread.

Historians usually contribute the beginning of viking age to the Lindisfarne abbey burning 793. It was not the first raid. It was simply the first raid against men whose organisation could record it in historical annals. Raids between illiterate barbarians are not wery well known, though it would be naive to think none happened only because, there was no-one to record them.

It was a clash of cultures that the church eventually won. The viking raids have generally in english speaking countries said to have ended with the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. There allready both armies were christian. And both were led by a man called Harald. The raiding did not however end. The Scandinavians who had taken the cross continued to make raids across seas especially towards east, but they were now called crusades.

The whole concept of viking age is a name historians have given to the period they have defined somehow different from previous and following eras. Most of what we know of vikings is from archeological evidence and historical sources written by other people than they themselves. Even the sagas that are the basic source of viking cultural thinking were written centuries later by christian priests and one priest in particular Snorri Sturlusson, who was an icelander.

Not all scandinavians were vikings, and it was not a racial birthright to belong to any shipcrew that went “a viking”. It was an economical solution to the problem of ever growing population and division of arable land between brothers. Naturally in a pathriarcal agricultural society the firstborn son would inherit the land and younger sons either served him or went in search of their own fortunes. They were the vikings. In foreign lands they could make fortunes by raiding defenceless monasteries or churches, or raiding unwary villages or merchants. One way of making a living was selling their sword to whom any would pay for it. They did served many masters, like the Bysantine emperor, French king and even the caliph of Baghdad. They did not resent the different masters in accordance to their cultural, religious or racial differences. Some also made more money as merchants, so they had to be warriors only to defend their property. Alltough war is always a good busines for some merchants, it is also the merchants that make the earnings on war not the warriors taking risks. And this was the downfall of the vikings. The surrounding nations grew, and developed ever more efficient ways to counter the threat of a raid from the sea. Also in Scandinavia the time of the petty kings was slowly over, and mighty kings rose to power with the orgasitional support of international church and with the military support of the christian kings and emperors. Finally when the kings of Denmark, Sweden and Norway could get the backing of the ever mightier class of the wealthiest nobles, they could rule actual kingdoms and collect tithes.

The strong image of viking warrior and the violent content of that image has led weak people to admire them. For it is the weak who worship power, that they lack themselves, but would wish to borrow from ancestors or just from history. These weaklings include the nazis. They thirsted for viking imagery and abused it all they could. Even today there are many poor sods who lean on the nazi image of vikings. It is so strange how the nazis managed to incorporate the vikings, who were the cosmopolitan people of their own time, into a narrow racistic ideal. That only goes to show how dangerous it is if people do not know history. Then it may be abused by demagogues to lead people astray.

The vikings are cultural heritage of both Scandinavians and all the countries they travelled to, from Canada to Azerbaidzan. They were not an army set out to conquer the world. They were opportunists travelling the globe and obviously enjoying the different cultures they met. They did accumulate may ideas of the foreign cultures and sometimes even brought them home with them. Sometimes whith violence sometimes by trade or just as tourists they did travelled.

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