On Vikings

I found the perfect picture of the quintessential Viking warrior (notice that there are no horns on his helmet. This makes me happy, because they didn't wear horned helmets, even though the popular or "classic" image of them almost always includes horns):

This is why they're legendary. 

Strong. Deadly. Terrifying.

Suddenly appearing off the coastline in their dragon-headed longships, half shrouded by low-hanging clouds as they approach the shore. Monsters of the mist.

No wonder the villages they attacked were paralyzed with terror. Can you imagine a horde of these guys (anywhere from sixteen to seventy or more depending on the size of their ship) descending on your home? They were highly skilled warriors and determined to accomplish what they had set out to do. If you were in their way, they took you out of it or died trying.

And that's where common knowledge of the Vikings ends. The perception of them as barbaric marauders who swept across eastern Europe, looting and pillaging and massacring as they went seems to be frozen in time. Historians aside, no one really talks about the fact that they were predominately husbandmen who spent most of their lives caring for their livestock and tending to their homesteads (they went raiding between harvest times). No one talks about their abilities as horsemen. Their skill as shipbuilders is mentioned, but generally only in relation to their raiding. No one bothers to talk about how well they built their ships - fast, flexible, and light enough to be carried by the crew. Or that they went beyond mere functional excellence to make them beautiful. The dragon heads on the prows weren't the only part of the ship that were carved. Archaeologists have found intricate carvings on portions of the regular body of the ship.  

We know the Vikings as raiders and raiders only. We don't think of them as men whose families, immediate and extended, were the center of their lives. We don't think of them as being the skilled and successful merchants who were a primary part of the trade routes that ran from Scandinavia to China. We think of them as only wielding axes (although they were equally skilled with spear, bow and arrow, and the sword), not carefully handling the instruments necessary to create the incredible carvings of the Viking age or the ornate brooches and cloak pins that were worn on a daily basis. We're familiar with their mythology - Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya, the Valkyries, etc - but not with their system of law and governing.  

Yes, the Vikings were raiders. And yes, they were often ruthless and senseless in their violence. But the part of them that went down in legend is only a fraction (and a small fraction at that) of who the Vikings were as a people group, as a society, as a culture.

There is so much more to them than battle axes. 


  1. Fascinating. The only Vikings I know right now are the ones in How To Train Your Dragon. (Can you tell my kids have been watching that one? LOL!)

  2. Yes, they are :) I have an idea for another Viking novel but it'd be both historical fiction and fantasy. I know those two genres don't normally cross-over, but I think it could work fabulously.

    Lol, I actually enjoyed that movie - which is suprising given how much a stickler I am to accurate representations.


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