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Vikings' Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning To Fade
National Geographic ^ | 2-17-2004 | Stefan Lovgren

Posted on 02/18/2004 1:02:29 PM PST by blam

Vikings' Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning to Fade

Stefan Lovgren in Stockholm, Sweden
for National Geographic News
February 17, 2004

"Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. … Behold, the church of St. Cuthbert, spattered with the blood of the priests of God, despoiled of all its ornaments; a place more venerable than all in Britain is given as a prey to pagan peoples." So wrote religious scholar Alcuin of York in the late eighth century in a letter to Ethelred, king of Northumbria in England. He was describing a violent raid by Vikings on a monastery in present-day Scotland.

It is no wonder that the Vikings have a reputation for mindless savagery. Since the Vikings were unable to write, much of their history was recorded by British and French clergy—the very people who fell victim to the Viking raids.

Viking jewelry and crafts, such as the crucifix pictured above, were important to Viking culture. They offer evidence that Vikings were not merely barbarians, but also farmers, artists, shipbuilders, and innovators, according to researchers.

But were the Vikings merely primitive plunderers?

Far from it, say scholars. Using archaeological and other evidence, researchers have in recent years been piecing together a more complex picture of the Vikings that sharply contradicts the stereotype of the Vikings as mere barbarians.

"The Norsemen were not just warriors, they were farmers, artists, shipbuilders, and innovators," said Ingmar Jansson, a professor of archaeology at Stockholm University in Sweden. "More than anything, they were excellent traders who connected peoples from Baghdad to Scandinavia to the mainland of North America."

Exaggerating Atrocities

The origin of the word "Viking" is highly disputed. Some experts say it means "pirate." Others believe it refers to people coming from the region of the Viken (the old name for Norway's Oslo Fjord).

Today, the word "Viking" is used to refer to the people who lived in Scandinavia—Sweden, Norway, and Denmark—from around A.D. 750 to 1100. However, not everyone was a Viking.

"Viking is misused as an ethnic term," Jansson said. "The Vikings belonged to the upper class. They were the sea warriors. But most people were just Scandinavians. For them, the normal life was to stay home and be a farmer."

Still, the Vikings are best known for their sea voyages. Along the coasts of Western Europe, they traveled to the Mediterranean and North Africa. By way of the Russian rivers, they reached Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) and beyond to Baghdad in Asia.

The Vikings quickly developed a fierce reputation. In letters to their bishops, Christian priests in Britain and France chronicled the violent deeds of the Vikings, which included attacking wealthy monasteries and killing women and children. (Many churchmen believed the Viking raids were God's punishment on the Anglo-Saxons for their sins.)

But it was also in the interest of the churchmen to exaggerate the atrocities of the Vikings in their reports. Many of the Christian rulers at the time behaved equally unpleasantly, without being condemned on religious grounds.

"This was a ruthless age," said William Fitzhugh, the director of the Arctic Studies Center at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. He was the curator of a major Viking exhibit at the museum in 2000. "There were constant battles in the British Isles and mainland Europe between rival princes vying for kingship and control of local regions."

Reconnecting Humanity

Scholars say the Viking raids were about survival, not conquest, and were prompted primarily by a shortage of land. In most cases individual Viking chieftains gathered followers and set off on raids. Wherever they went, the Vikings lived off the land, often driving the locals out and taking whatever valuables they could get their hands on.

But the Vikings were also driven by a pioneering spirit. Their most spectacular trek took them across the Atlantic Ocean to Iceland, Greenland, and eventually North America. Around A.D. 1000, hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, the Vikings landed in Newfoundland, Canada, a land they reportedly named Vinland.

"The Vikings reconnected humanity and made the world a smaller place by traveling huge distances," Fitzhugh said. "We look back to the Vikings as the origin of this kind of human endeavor to find new horizons, use new technology, meet new people, and think new thoughts."

The only written monuments of the Vikings themselves are runic inscriptions. In Sweden there are some 3,500 inscriptions, mostly written on stone. They are often brief and laconic, and not very informative.

Instead, archaeological excavations have made the most important contribution to the understanding of the Viking world. Funeral sites are usually fragmentary—the Vikings followed the heathen practice of burning the dead—but some large, unburned ship burials have provided archaeologists with invaluable insight into the lives of the Vikings.

"Archaeology, not medieval texts, is beginning to set the record straight about the Viking history and achievements," said Fitzhugh, whose exhibit "Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga" highlighted the Viking discovery of North America.

Reconstructed Viking villages have become popular tourist attractions. In Birka, Sweden's first trading town, located near present-day Stockholm, large-scale models recreate a Viking harbor, life in craftsmen's quarters, and the splendor of the king's power. Birka has Scandinavia's largest Viking-age cemetery, with 3,000 graves.

Dualism

A tour of the Viking exhibition at the History Museum in Stockholm underlines the importance of trade to the Vikings.

The Viking's most important weapon was his sword. The best blades were imported from continental Europe and brought back to Scandinavia, where they were equipped with exquisitely ornamented handles, symbols of their owner's high status and wealth.

Viking art found its expression in everyday objects—in swords, belts, horse harnesses. But most Vikings probably also walked around with a pound of jewelry around their necks. The Scandinavian craftsmen borrowed motifs from continental Europe as well as Arabia, then made their artwork to fit their own traditions and needs.

"There is a dualism that prevailed in Viking art," said Kent Andersson, a senior curator at the History Museum. "We see strong influences both from the East and from the West."

Viking society was extremely unequal. Slavery was a fundamental contributor to the wealth of the upper class. Vikings participated actively in the lucrative slave trade abroad. The slaves had no rights and were owned like cattle.

But the Scandinavians also had a highly developed legal system, perhaps the most democratic in the known world. Decisions were reached by voting at open meetings where all free men had the right to speak.

Women also had substantial powers. They could own land, inherit, and get divorced. Keys have been found in graves of women, which suggest that women controlled farms and property. There are even legends that tell of women warriors.

The Viking culture was a heathen and rich in mythology. The Viking gods, all with human characteristics, directed and dominated everyday life. The supreme god was Odin, whose two ravens, Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory), flew everywhere and spied on everyone.

The end of the Viking age corresponded with the arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia. But scholars say Christianity probably did not finish the Vikings. At the time, many Vikings had become citizens of Europe. Well traveled, the Vikings assimilated into the new cultures, abandoning many of their own practices.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: bad; barbaric; fade; godsgravesglyphs; rap; vikings

1 posted on 02/18/2004 1:02:30 PM PST by blam
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To: farmfriend
GGG
2 posted on 02/18/2004 1:02:59 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
WHEW Now our Viking Kittens can face the world again!
3 posted on 02/18/2004 1:05:36 PM PST by areafiftyone (Democrats = the hamster is dead but the wheel is still spinning)
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To: blam
A BUMP for the "Pillage People".
4 posted on 02/18/2004 1:06:46 PM PST by Semper Paratus
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To: blam

5 posted on 02/18/2004 1:08:40 PM PST by billorites (freepo ergo sum)
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To: blam
Vikings' Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning To Fade

Scandinavians invented rap music?

They are often brief and laconic

Hmmm... that is repetitively redundant.

6 posted on 02/18/2004 1:09:20 PM PST by malakhi
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To: blam
Viking bad rap fades? Ha!

That pass by the Cardinals in the final game to win in the last second will never fade.
7 posted on 02/18/2004 1:09:55 PM PST by sergeantdave (Gen. Custer wore an Arrowsmith shirt to his last property owner convention.)
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To: sergeantdave
Addendum - the Viking's mascot ought to be a folding chair.
8 posted on 02/18/2004 1:13:26 PM PST by sergeantdave (Gen. Custer wore an Arrowsmith shirt to his last property owner convention.)
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To: blam
"But it was also in the interest of the churchmen to exaggerate the atrocities of the Vikings in their reports"

Hey, just like what Kerry did to Vietnam Vets.

9 posted on 02/18/2004 1:14:23 PM PST by The G Man (John Kerry? America just can't afford a 9/10 President in a 9/11 world. Vote Bush-Cheny '04.)
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To: blam; Zavien Doombringer; jriemer; MeekOneGOP; TheBigB; Constitution Day; mhking; ctlpdad; ...

Shouldn't that be "Rep"? As in, "Reputation"? Oh well.

Chant with me now: NO MORE BAD RAP! NO MORE BAD RAP! (Don't ZOT the poster, please!)

10 posted on 02/18/2004 1:16:55 PM PST by 4mycountry (If new people are newbies.... does that make me an oldbie?)
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To: blam
Did you know about this runestone in Minnesota, Blam?

http://www.vikingland.com/thingstodo/attractions/runestone/index.cfm
11 posted on 02/18/2004 1:17:38 PM PST by elli1
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To: blam
Actually the Normans were really Frenchified Vikings.
12 posted on 02/18/2004 1:18:18 PM PST by PJ-Comix (Saddam Hussein was only 537 Florida votes away from still being in power)
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To: billorites
Viking helmets never had horns on them. That was strictly an opera thing.
13 posted on 02/18/2004 1:19:42 PM PST by PJ-Comix (Saddam Hussein was only 537 Florida votes away from still being in power)
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To: blam
Very good, my grampa was of viking stock, being of Danish descent!
14 posted on 02/18/2004 1:19:43 PM PST by Ernest_at_the_Beach (The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States - and war is what they got!!!!)
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To: blam
Just when I'm getting sick of gossip articles on the Bush twins, vapid accusations, and silly commentary, I can count on you to post something of real interest.

Thanks. :o)

15 posted on 02/18/2004 1:20:56 PM PST by austinTparty
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To: blam
Vikings numbers diminished because they we're gay.

16 posted on 02/18/2004 1:25:23 PM PST by evets (Klinton/Kerry '04)
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To: blam
I’m not convinced. What explains my Norwegian wife’s ferocity?
17 posted on 02/18/2004 1:30:02 PM PST by Jagdgewehr (One sword, at least, thy right shall guard, One faithful harp shall praise thee!)
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To: 4mycountry; blam; yall

18 posted on 02/18/2004 1:33:15 PM PST by MeekOneGOP (The Democrats believe in CHOICE. I have chosen to vote STRAIGHT TICKET GOP for years !!)
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To: blam
The small populations of Scandinavia have had a very disproportionate influence, on western development.

Britain, Normans.

Discovery of North America. Later, Columbus used maps from the Vikings.

Mediterranean Norman empire, based in Bari, Italy (a relative of William the Conqueror).

Russia. The word Rus came from Swedish "vikings" and the elite Russian culture was largely installed from the Nordic one.

Western political philosophy. The "thing" was the nordic "town hall" meeting, or local legislative body. It became incorporated into British concepts, resulting with parliament (House of Commons).

With population of just 9 million, Sweden hosts Volvo and Saab, two good carmakers. Good enough to be purchased by major American carmakers (Ford, GM). Long leaders in safety and innovation.

19 posted on 02/18/2004 1:36:44 PM PST by truth_seeker
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To: blam
Good heavens.
I've read 17 replies to this interesting post and haven't found a single reference to Hagar the Horrible.
20 posted on 02/18/2004 1:40:41 PM PST by curmudgeonII (Quitters never lose and cheaters always win.)
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To: PJ-Comix
Swell. More Politically Correct blather about "respect for third world cultures". Bloody Vikings!
21 posted on 02/18/2004 1:48:02 PM PST by Ukiapah Heep (Shoes for Industry!)
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To: blam
The current rep of Scandanavians ain't so good , what with the articles of Norwegians wearing their skivvies for weeks at a time and all.

I say we need fully funded US Federal programs to stop the besmerchment of all scandanavians so as not to harm their self-esteem, and demand full reparations! I Similarly demand that any govenrment construction contract have mandatory particpiation "goals" at or above the 12% mark( Never to be called a quota, however) /sarcasm
22 posted on 02/18/2004 1:48:23 PM PST by Fierce Allegiance (I am of scandanavian descent, and strangely enough, so are my kids!)
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To: curmudgeonII

23 posted on 02/18/2004 1:49:40 PM PST by Jagdgewehr (One sword, at least, thy right shall guard, One faithful harp shall praise thee!)
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To: blam
Vikings did "Rap"??

Nawwww.

...what'd I miss.

24 posted on 02/18/2004 1:50:30 PM PST by Landru (Indulgences: 2 for a buck.)
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To: blam
btt
25 posted on 02/18/2004 1:55:35 PM PST by Cacique
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To: blam; *Gods, Graves, Glyphs; A.J.Armitage; abner; adam_az; AdmSmith; Alas Babylon!; ...
Gods, Graves, Glyphs
List for articles regarding early civilizations , life of all forms, - dinosaurs - etc.

Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this ping list.

26 posted on 02/18/2004 2:04:22 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: Ernest_at_the_Beach
My father was of Danish descent. My mother was a Scot.

This explains my fascination with swords.

27 posted on 02/18/2004 2:20:55 PM PST by Miss Marple
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To: sergeantdave
Sadly, as a life-long Vikings fan, I have to agree.
28 posted on 02/18/2004 2:25:29 PM PST by SoDak
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To: Fierce Allegiance
I believe most of the actual Vikings settled in the Faroes and Iceland. Apparently, they left all the more milquetoast segments of society behind in Scandinavia where they can manage their nanny states in peace. I'm thankful my Norsky forbears had the balls to leave and come to America.
29 posted on 02/18/2004 2:28:40 PM PST by SoDak
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To: blam
See? We weren't such bad folk.....LOL :-)
30 posted on 02/18/2004 2:33:53 PM PST by Viking2002 (I think; therefore, I Freep............)
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To: blam
Accompanying art:


Viking jewelry and crafts, such as the crucifix pictured above, were important to Viking culture. They offer evidence that Vikings were not merely barbarians, but also farmers, artists, shipbuilders, and innovators, according to researchers.

31 posted on 02/18/2004 3:03:16 PM PST by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: blam
Accompanying art:


Viking jewelry and crafts, such as the crucifix pictured above, were important to Viking culture. They offer evidence that Vikings were not merely barbarians, but also farmers, artists, shipbuilders, and innovators, according to researchers.

32 posted on 02/18/2004 3:03:28 PM PST by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: facedown
Oops. Don't know how that happened.
33 posted on 02/18/2004 3:05:15 PM PST by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: elli1
"Did you know about this runestone in Minnesota, Blam?"

Yes, It's in Sweden presently:

Kensington Runestone Goes To Sweden

34 posted on 02/18/2004 3:46:09 PM PST by blam
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To: truth_seeker
Did The Vikings Stay? Vatican Files May Offer Clues
35 posted on 02/18/2004 3:49:56 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
Scholars say the Viking raids were about survival, not conquest, and were prompted primarily by a shortage of land.

So they weren't the bad guys, they just needed liebensraum?

36 posted on 02/18/2004 5:56:00 PM PST by solzhenitsyn ("Live Not By Lies")
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To: blam
Even more interesting article than the one you started the thread with, blam.

I've mentioned it before, but anyone who is into the Viking thing will enjoy reading Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead. He goes into lots of detail about Viking culture such as housing, legal system, food...; the novel is set around the 11th century. It's a darned good adventure type yarn.

37 posted on 02/18/2004 5:58:24 PM PST by elli1
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To: blam
Cool post. Ever since I disvovered the sagas I've loved Viking culture and winced whenever you see the normal drunken barbarian thug descriptions.

My favourite angle is their love of lawsuit. A kills B. B's family sues A. Wins heaps. B's brother doesn't agree with size of settlement, kills A. A's brother slaughters' C, back to court, more slaughter and so on. Great stuff!

38 posted on 02/18/2004 6:00:18 PM PST by Androcles
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To: Androcles
Cool post. Ever since I disvovered the sagas I've loved Viking culture...

Scinece fiction author David Drake bases many of his books on historical facts or mythical tales. His Northworld trilogy is based on Icelandic tales.

39 posted on 02/18/2004 6:07:38 PM PST by Pilsner
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To: Pilsner
Thanks, I'll have to hunt them up. Cheers for the pointer.
40 posted on 02/18/2004 8:05:54 PM PST by Androcles
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To: elli1
will enjoy reading Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead

I'll second that opinion. I think 'Eaters of the Dead' by Michael Crichton is also a good Viking story.

41 posted on 02/18/2004 11:40:35 PM PST by yhwhsman ("Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small..." -Sir Winston Churchill)
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To: blam
Viking art found its expression in everyday objects—in swords, belts, horse harnesses. But most Vikings probably also walked around with a pound of jewelry around their necks.

I pity da fool, ya shure ye betcha.

42 posted on 02/18/2004 11:48:02 PM PST by Johnny_Cipher (Making hasenfeffer out of bunnyrabbits since 1980)
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To: NordP
See post #11 for Kensington runestone facts that the 'experts' continue to mock. Fie on them.
43 posted on 02/18/2004 11:56:51 PM PST by vikingchick
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To: vikingchick
The article that blam linked in post #35 has this little blurb about the Kensington runestone:

In making their case that Norsemen wandered through much of the American Northeast, Dr. Heyerdahl and Mr. Lilliestrom cited medieval European writings and maps suggesting that the Greenlanders were on to something big. They also mounted a fresh scientific defense of "Norse" artifacts that most experts have dismissed as phony or misidentified: a rune stone from Minnesota, a mysterious stone tower in Newport, R.I., and Yale's "Vinland Map."

44 posted on 02/19/2004 2:44:39 AM PST by elli1
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To: yhwhsman
Thanx for the tip. Judging from the title, it's not likely that I would have found it on my own. :)
45 posted on 02/19/2004 2:54:25 AM PST by elli1
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To: elli1
Hey! I read Byzantium a few months ago! I have a reasonable sized English section in my local library and have found the easiest system is to just go from one shelf to the next and read them all. I got this one without even reading the back cover and was delighted to find that the Swedish parts were probably set near where I currently live, and that wasn't it a nice coincidence that my son was also named Aidan! My one peeve--they had the Swedes calling him a-DUN (I think) when the kids at my sons school say it more E-dun. Made me smile! (Very interesting book! And as a history fanatic, I gave it an A!)
46 posted on 02/19/2004 3:20:35 AM PST by Rutabega (the only good thing about living in Europe was finding out that we captured Saddam two hours early!)
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To: MeekOneGOP; 4mycountry

The Kittens are vindicated. Sadly, my OTHER Viking team has not yet escaped it's bad rap.

47 posted on 02/19/2004 6:10:11 AM PST by timpad (Wait til next year!)
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To: Jagdgewehr
My father was a full blooded Norwegian and I am only half but I am one mean woman! :o)
48 posted on 02/19/2004 2:32:31 PM PST by ruoflaw
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Just updating the GGG information, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list. Thanks.
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on or off the
"Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list or GGG weekly digest
-- Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)

49 posted on 01/24/2006 10:41:17 PM PST by SunkenCiv (In the long run, there is only the short run.)
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