The VIKING Age

The name Viking brings up the image of seafaring savage warriors who plundered and destroyed regions of Europe. They had also been traders and settlers whose women enjoyed greater freedom and rights

WORDS: MADHURI. Y

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Between the 8th and the 11th centuries, seafaring Vikings expanded from Scandinavia and came to be known across Europe first as warriors, then as explorers and traders. It was the Viking age.
Scandinavia comprises present-day Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Sailing across the Norwegian and the Baltic Seas, the Vikings formed settlements in the Shetland, Orkney, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and in North America in Newfoundland, among others.

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Norse names like Egilsay, Ormskirk, Meols, Snaefell, Ravenscar, Vinland and more exist to this day. English words like Thursday, which stands for Thor’s day, axle, crook, berserk, skerry, ransack are a few of the Old Norse words.
The Vikings had not left a literary legacy, hence what is known of them comes from archaeological evidence and from Western Europe which was literate and came in touch with them.

WARRIORS AND RULERS
The Viking raids began during the reign of Charlemagne, King of the Franks, lending credence to the

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theory that their expansion from Scandinavia began with Charlemagne’s use of terror to spread Christianity among the pagans. This in turn led to Viking resistance and desire for revenge.

The other theory is that they simply expanded during a period when the other regions were weak and Viking ships travelled easily, facing little opposition on the seas. The fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Islam had affected trade between Western Europe and Eurasia, leaving room for the Vikings.
While the Norwegians moved north and westward towards Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland, the Danes moved to England and France and the Swedes to the east towards Kiev. The Rurik dynasty controlled the regions in Slavic and Finno-Ugric dominated areas of Eastern Europe as well as Kiev in Russia.
Vikings were the ancestors of the Normans who ruled over parts of Northern France during the 10th century. King Harold Godwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England traces his ancestry to Denmark while Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great became kings of England during the 11th century.
Emissaries from Sweden visited Byzantium during the 9th century and Scandinavians formed a large part of the Varangian Guard, the imperial bodyguard of Byzantium.

CULTURE
Three socio-economic classes, the Thralls, Karls and Jarls comprised Viking society with some mobility between the latter two. Thralls were slaves who worked for the Karls and the Jarls, tending to daily chores and heavy construction.
Karls were peasants owning farms and cattle while Jarls were the wealthy aristocracy, owning large estates and horses and were involved in administration and politics. When Jarls died, sometimes the Thralls in the households were killed and buried next to them. There were also the felag in civil and military.

Women held free status with the paternal aunt, niece and granddaughter having the right to inherit the property of a dead man. An unmarried woman with no male relatives or sons could inherit property and be the head of the family. When she turned 20, an unmarried woman had the right to decide her place of residence, although the clan decided whom she married.

Widows had the same status as unmarried women while married women could divorce and remarry. A free woman could live with a married man and have children with him without marrying him and these children held the same status as those born within a marriage. Women acted as priestesses and oracles, they were poets and rune masters, merchants and medicine women. The introduction of Christianity brought these practices to an end.

The Vikings ate cured, smoked and whey-preserved meat, including beef, mutton, pork, horse meat, sausages, hens, game birds, seafood of whales and walrus among others, bread, porridge, milk products, vegetables, fruits, berries and nuts. They used herbs and spices.
They liked music and played the harp, fiddle, lyre and the lute. Sports was encouraged, involving weapons and combat skills, mountain climbing, swimming, skiing and ice skating, horse fighting and a game similar to hockey. They played board and dice games too.
The Vikings did not stick to a single method of dealing with their dead, they buried them in the ground, or with mounds of earth or stones raised over the graves, they had ship burials and cremation, depending on local customs.

Norsemen sailed the river Volga, trading in furs, tusks, seal fat, which functioned as a sealant for boats, and in slaves. Silver was the primary metal for trade and they bought spices, glass, silk and wine.

TRADERS
Norsemen sailed the river Volga, trading in furs, tusks, seal fat, which functioned as a sealant for boats, and in slaves. Silver was the primary metal for trade and they bought spices, glass, silk and wine.
By the end of the 11th century, Christianity became legitimate, Denmark, Norway and Sweden took their independent identities and administrative centres, market sites and monetary economies emerged under English and German influence.
With the Church disapproving, slavery, which had been a driving force behind Viking raids, fell and raids lessened.

RUNESTONES
The Vikings wrote on runestones, leaving behind a record of the times. The Norse knew the runor, an alphabet that was not standardised but built on sound. While some runic inscriptions recorded Viking expeditions and the people who took part in them, others recorded those who died in these expeditions. The one by the Dane, Harald Bluetooth records the conquest of Denmark and Norway and Denmark’s conversion to Christianity.
SHIPS
Used in warfare and exploration, the long ships, which have been synonymous with Vikings, were agile and had oars and sails to navigate even without the wind. With a long, narrow hull and shallow draught, they could easily land troops in shallow water.
The knarr were merchant vessels and carried cargo with their broader hulls, deep draughts and fewer oars which were needed only to manoeuvre. The Viking built the beitass which was a spar mounted on the sail so that they could sail against the wind.
MYTHS
HELMETS: Viking helmets did not have horns or wings although they may have been worn for rituals. Their helmets were conical and were of hard leather with wood or metal reinforcement.
SAVAGES: The Viking image of dirty, unclean savages is untrue. They fought in a disordered style of fighting which, it is believed, was done to shock the enemy.
SKULLS AS DRINKING VESSELS: The Vikings did not drink out of the skulls of defeated enemies. The myth emerged from the mistranslation of a poem which referred to drinking horns.