There are two things everyone is required to say nowadays when discussing the Vikings.
- The Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets. The idea of horns comes from costume designers for Wagnerian operas, who picked up the idea of horns from images in certain decorative items found in Northern European archaeological digs. These images, however, are older than the Viking Age, and almost certainly represent priests in ceremonial dress. Horns on helmets are an incredibly bad idea in a fight. They give your enemy a lever to knock your helmet off with.
- Although the Vikings are commonly thought of as violent barbarians, they were really farmers and merchants, and no more violent than anyone else in their time. Because they attacked monasteries, the monks who were that ages chroniclers left biased reports about them to posterity.
My own opinion of these two statements above is that Number One has been repeated so many times that it shouldnt be necessary anymore (though Im constantly surprised at how many people dont know about it). As to Number Two, in my opinion its a half-truth at best, a political and philosophical statement rather than a historical fact.
In the past European history was written with a bias towards Christianity and Western Civilization. That bias has gone out of fashion. Today the bias goes the other way. Christianity is oppression. Western Civilization is all about racism. From this point of view anyone who fought against Christian Europe must be a hero or a victim. Under this scenario the Vikings become the good guys, the monks the oppressors and aggressors.
There is much to admire in Viking life and culture. Ive spent more than 40 years of my life studying them, so obviously I dont despise them. They practiced a form of democracy, lived by a heroic code of honor, gave their women rights that other women in
On the other hand, their democracy was constructed on oligarchic lines, and all men were far from equal, especially thralls (slaves). Their heroic code of honor led to blood feuds and long cycles of retribution. Their women (in my opinion) were not nearly as emancipated as is often implied by historians. A woman, for instance, could inherit a chieftainship but was not allowed to actually exercise it, because women werent considered capable of the kind of violence the job required. Their inheritance rights actually increased after the conversion to Christianity, for the pragmatic reason that the Church discovered they were more likely than men to make gifts of land to the Church, providing they had land to give. This made the Church their constant advocate in matters of property and inheritance law. A survey of Viking Age female skeletons from all over
The ships were really cool though.
The Vikings were the foremost European slave merchants of their time. When historians point to their trade activities as proof that they werent all violent, they often leave out the fact that a very large portion of that trade involved kidnapping and selling human beings. The Vikings harvested slaves from the Slavic tribes of
Since Im a Christian, I feel that the pendulum has currently swung too far in the Vikings favor. Certainly the Christian kingdoms of
I think Vikings are exciting, and I enjoy playing a Viking with the Viking Age Club of the Sons of Norway when I get the chance.
But you know what? I wouldnt want a real Viking to move in next door.