Vikings –The History and Mythology of the Norse Barbarians
Vikings –The Story of our forefathers
This post I’ve planed for a long, long time to write and I’m so excited to finally publish it. I grew up with stories of the Vikings, I’ve lived right next to several famous Viking sites and studied their way of living at the University. It’s about time to share my love of our history, and what I’ve learned about the era that are Scandinavias most famous one in the World history.
The Longhouse at Borre
Once upon a time, long ago in the Iron ages, there was these Norse seafarers and traders. They came from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, better known as Scandinavia (they later established in Iceland), and quickly got known in all of Europe. And history would make sure, they would never be forgotten.
•They spoke an old Norse language, which is very similar to todays Icelandic.
•The Viking era is from the late 8th century to the 1100th.
•The Viking era ended when Christianity came to Scandinavia in early Medieval times.
•Vikings were the first to discover the Americas.
•Vikings were talented seafarers and travelled all over Eureope, as well as North-Africa, Middle East and Central Asia.
•Runestones were their written alphabet.
•Norse mythology was their religion until Christianity won the many battles.
The Everyday Life of the Vikings
The Vikings had a three socio-economic class, there were Jarl, Karls and Thralls.
Thralls (also known as trall, træll, and ty) were the lowest ranking class as they were slaves. Slavery was very important in the Viking society, there were many chores that needed to be done, and thralls were essential in the everyday life.
The Karls were free peasant, they owned farms and land, and are what we call today “farmers” (bonde). They also built houses and wagons, many Karls were known as talented craftsmen in jewellery, equipment, tools and weapons.
The Jarls were the aristocracy in the Viking society. They were wealthy and owned large estates. They had huge longhouses with many animals and thralls. The Jarls were involved with administration, politics and sports. When a Jarl died, his household thralls were sometimes sacrificially killed and buried with him, so he could have them to help him in the afterlife.
Me in my homemade viking dress, made with linen
The Women in the Viking era had a relativevly free status, they had the right to inherit property from a deceased man. Women had much independence, except who to marry, it was usually arranged by the clan. A married woman in absence of her husband was in charge of the home. This of course changed (for the worse), when Christianity won over Scandinavia.
The Vikings were well dressed, and their status was easy to see by their appearances. The wealthy Jarls were well groomed with nice hairstyles, wore expensive clothes (often silk) and lots of jewellery. The more, the better.
The Viking Agriculture
When it comes to the Viking cuisine, you might be surprised to hear there were lots of different ingredients. They liked their meat cured, smoked and whey-preserved. They made sausages and fried and boiled meat as well.
They used bread, dairy products, vegetables, fruits, berries and nuts, not a huge shocker here, but they also ate much seafood. Seafood included whales, seals, oysters, mussels and shrimps. Fish like herring, salmon and cod were also popular choices.
To drink they like to drink beer, mead (mjød) and bjórr (a strong fruit wine). The wealthy in society also imported wine.
Lifestock that were unique to the Vikings includes the Icelandic horse and Icelandic cattle, the Danish hen and the Danish goose. The invention of the mouldboard plough revolutionised agriculture in Scandinavia in the early 800th century and made it possible to farm even the poor soils.
Flax was another important crop for the Vikings. Flax was used for oil extraction, food consumption and most importantly the production of linen. Almost half of the known textile recoveries from the vikings are linen. So we can assume it was much used.
Burial sites of the Vikings
When the Vikings died, it was normal to bury the dead with items they might need in the afterlife in Valhalla. In Sweden it was common to cremate the dead, mostly burn the dead in a ship at sea. In Denmark a burial was more common, and in Norway they did both.
There are burial sites where we’ve found items and ships, most famous ship is the one found at Oseberg in Tønsberg Norway. (I lived right next to this burial site as a child). The Oseberg Ship is one of the best preserved Viking ships ever found.
The Oseberg Ship
Not only can one find burial sites from the Vikings in Scandinavia, it’s also found in countries like Scotland, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia and Iceland.
Saga means story, and the Icelandic sagas are stories about famous vikings and ancient Nordic history. It tells the stories of the many battles and travels, and the about the migration to Iceland.
One of the most famous historians are Snorri Sturluson (Snorre Sturlason). Snorri ((1179-1241) was an Icelandic historian, poet and politician. He is the author of Prose Edda (The Younger Edda) and Heimskringla –a history of the Norwegian kings.
Thanks to Snorri’s works and the sagas we have a lot of information about the Norse culture and history. The sagas share much about the Norse mythologi and epic battles we know of today.
In Norse Mythology there are Gods and Goddesses, but also other mystical creatures like elves and dwarfs, there are trolls (like the Jötnar and thursar). Not to mention the enormous (and dangerous) wolf Fenrir, that had to be bound by the Gods. Fenrir bit off the right hand of Tyr as he tied the wolf.
The cosmology in the Viking era was that there were nine worlds, all inhabited. In the center there was this big tree, Yggdrasil. The Gods lived in Asgard and the humanity lived in Midgard. The nine worlds were inhabited by creatures like elves, dwarfs etc.
Elements of the cosmos are also personified, such as the Sun (Sól, a goddess), the Moon (Máni, a god), and Earth (Jörð, a goddess), as well as units of time, such as Day (Dagr a god) and Night (Nott, a jötunn).
The Vikings also believed in a future destruction and rebirth of the world, that they called Ragnarok.
Norse Gods & Goddesses
•Aegir – Norse God of the sea. Married to Ran and lives under the waves near the island of Hlesey.
•Aesir – A group of warrior gods led by Odin who inhabit Asgard.
•Balder – Son of Odin and Frigg. Known as gentle and a wise god. br> •Bolverk – The alias Odin adopted when disguised as a giant to win the mead of poetry.
•Bor – Son of Buri and father of Odin, Vili and Ve.
•Bragi – The Norse God of poetry and eloquence. Son of Odin and husband of Idun.
•Buri – Ancestor of the Norse gods. Created by the cow Audmula licking him from ice.
•Day – Son of Night and Delling. Said to ride around the earth on his horse Skinfaxi.
•Earth – Daughter of Night and Annar.
•Einherjar – Band of dead warriors in Valhalla who await Ragnarok.
•Eir – Goddess of healing
•Fjorgyn – Lover of Odin and mother of Thor. Also referred to as Earth.
•Forseti – God of Justice. Son of Balder and Nanna.
•Freyja – Main goddess of the Vanir (fertility gods). Daughter of Njord and sister of Freyr.
•Freyr – Important god of the Vanir. Son of Njord and brother of Freyja.
•Frigga – The main goddes and wife of Odin.
•Fulla – Goddess servant of Frigga.
•Gangnrad – Pseudonym of Odin when he visits Vafthrudnir.
•Gefion – Fertility goddess. Associated with the plow. Tricked the king of Sweden out of a tract of his land.
•Grimnir – Pseudonym of Odin when he visits his foster son Geirrod, King of the Goths.
•Gullveig – A Vanir goddess (probably Freyja) who is burned three times by the Aesir.
•Harbard – Odin disguised as a ferryman when he wrangles with Thor.
•Heimdall – Watchman of the Norse gods and owner of the horn Gjall. Son of nine mothers. Often identified with Rig, the creator of three races of men.
•Hel – ruler of Helheim, which is the realm of the dead.
•Hermod – Son of Odin. Rode to Hel to try and rescue his brother Balder.
•Hod – Son of Odin. A blind god who accidentally killed his brother Balder. he will return after Ragnarok.
•Honir – A long-legged, indecisive god.
•Idun – Guardian of the golden apples of youth and the wife of Bragi.
•Kvasir – The wisest.
•Lofn – Goddess of ilicit unions.
•Loki – The trickster of the Norse gods. Son of two giants. Becomes increasingly more evil. He is the one responsible for Balder's death Bound until Ragnarok.
•Magni – Son of Thor and the giantess Jarnsaxa.
•Mimir – Wise Aesir god. Sent to the Vanir to seal the truce between the two groups of the Norse gods. Killed by the Vanir, his head is kept by Odin.
•Modgud – Maiden guardian of the bridge over the river Gjoll in Jotenheim.
•Modi – Son of Thor and the giantess Jarnsaxa. Will inherit Thor’s hammer Mjollnir with his brother Magni after Ragnarok.
•Moon – Son of Mundilfari. Guides the moon on it’s course.
•Nanna – Wife of Balder and daughter of Nep.
•Narvi – Also known as Nari. Son of Loki and Sigyn who was killed by his brother Vali.
•Night – Daughter of Narvi and mother of Day.
•Njord – A Vanir god associated with wind and sea. Husband of Skadi and father of Freyja and Freyr.
•Norns – Urd “fate”, Skuld “being” and Verandi “necessity”. Three goddesses of destiny.
•Od – Missing husband of Freyja who she constantly mourns for.
•Odin – King of the Norse Gods, God of poetry, battle and death. Chief god of the Aesir. Also known as the “all-father” and "one-eyed" etc.
•Ran – Wife of Aegir who dragged drowning men down with her net.
•Rig – Pseudonym of Heimdall and the creator of three races of men.
•Rind – Goddess and lover of Odin. Mother of Vali.
•Saga – Goddess and drinking companion of Odin.
•Sif – Wife of Thor.br> •Sigyn – Wife of Loki.
•Sjofn – Goddess of human passion.
•Skadi – Goddess of Winter and of the Hunt
•Sun – Daughter of Mundilfari and guide of the sun.
•Syn – Goddess of the accused at trial.
•Thor – God of Sky, thunder and fertility. Checks upon the law and order in Asgard and guardian of the Norse gods. Son of Odin and Earth and husband of Sif. Also known as the “thunder god” and “charioteer”.
•Thrud – Daughter of Thor. Promised to the dwarf Alvis.
•Tyr – War god. Son of Odin who sacrificed his hand in the binding of Fenrir.
•Ull – God of archery and skiing.
•Vali – Son of Odin and the giantess Rind. Conceived to avenge the death of Balder.
•Valkyries – Beautiful women who carried dying warriors to Valhalla on flying horses.
•Vanir – Fertility gods.
•Var – Goddess of marriage oaths.
•Ve – Son of Bor and brother of Odin and Vili.
•Vidar – Son of Odin and the giantess Grid who will avenge Odin’s death after Ragnarok.
•Vili – Son of Bor and brother of Odin and Ve.
•Vor – Goddess who knows all.
Arms and weapons
The knowledge of the armour in the Viking ages are based upon the archaeological findings and pictorial prints in the Norse sagas.
The Vikings lived during the iron ages, which revolutionized the armour. A complete ensemble would have been a helmet, shield, mail shirt and a sword. In battles many would probably used a spear instead. Another weapon they liked to use was axes.
The Vikings were not as violent as we might think, but they did take pride in battle, and to die in battle was a honour. They believed in their gods Thor and Odin, the gods of war and death. It’s believed that Vikings sometimes had a furious way of fighting, known as berserkergang.
Berserkergang might have been developed to shock and scare their opponents.
The Myths of Vikings
In the 1850s the Romantic Nationalism spread all over Europe, and it was during this time there was this Viking revival. The Scandinavian forefathers first got there name “viking” popularised by Erik Gustaf Geijer’s poem The Viking. The poem is just a romanticised ideal of the viking and not based on historical facts at all.
That’s what happened a lot afterwards, this image of these barbaric wild men from the North were spread all over Europe. Vikings were mainly farmers and traders, they had their barbaric side, but most ships were out to explore and trade goods. Not to rape, kill and slaughter cities in Europe.
They didn’t wear horned helmets, that’s from the Bronze Ages, which are a couple of thousand years before the Viking era. Never mix a horned helmet with the Vikings.
There are also no proof that they used skulls as drinking vessels. But even though the might not have been these savage beasts, with horned helmets and drinking blood from skulls, you still shouldn’t underestimate a Viking. They were pretty amazing!
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