It all began in early times, around 800 B.C.,when the Northmen -as they were called-, began coastal raids in undefended sites, to find treasures and new places to conquer. They made an enduring reputation for themselves for being great traders, tactical fighters and courageous explorers. Vikings discovered the Americas about 1000 years before Columbus did and evidence of their existence was found as far as the distant Russia.
The word “viking” comes from the Old Norse word “vik”, meaning pirate.
Funny, because the Northmen were mostly farmers, blacksmiths, traders or craftsmen, mainly from Norway,Sweden,Denmark, even Finland or Estonia and mostly interested in trading goods from the north (iron, furs, amber, timber) for the treasures in the south (such as gold, silver, silks, spices). They turned vikings part-time, when travelling the seas and exploring new lands. Contrary to what some people believe, they were not a “race”, defined by any particularities or patriotic beliefs; they came from foreign lands, less civilized than the rest of Europe and the most important is that they were not Christians. In the next decades, adventurous vikings started raiding the British Isles and territories. Ireland,Scotland and England were major targets for raids and settlements for the Northmen. Established bases on the Irish coast so attacks could be launched to England and within Ireland, eventually moving to the east part of England ( Northumberland, Mercia and Wessex) and continuing to overcome throughout the ninth century, parts of France (Paris, Nantes or Limoges), Spain (Seville) and Italy (Pisa). In the next years, dauntless warriors initiated the colonization of Iceland, expanding to Greenland in North America, failing though to create permanent establishments.
Despite having a considerable amount of beliefs, activities and culture, the Vikings did not leave any literary legacy ,other than a simple alphabet and runestones. Most of the written proofs come from different cultures that had contact with them. In the old Norse world, we find gods, goddesses, giants, dwarves, elves and spirits, among other spiritual beings. The Center of viking religion is Yggdrasil, the ash tree growing out of the Well of Urd. It holds the Nine Worlds, home for the gods, men and other beings.
– Asgard and Vanaheim are the lands of gods
– Midgard is the land of humans
Following them, Jotunheim ( land of giants), Alfheim (land of elves), Svartalfheim(land of dwarves), Niflheim(world of ice), Muspelheim (world of fire) and the last, Hel, and of the dead. Some of the gods are: Odin -the allfather, Thor-god of warriors, Loki-god of discordia, Freya-goddess of love, Njoror- god of the sea, Freyr -god of agriculture, Frigg – goddess of home and family. Other spirits and beings are equally respected and honoured, they were considered to have power over the land and those who live on it. The Norse mythology is more complex and tangled,I’ve presented just a small part of it. I’ll share a bit more about their literal side : poems, stories and sagas.
As stated above, Norsemen didn’t leave a written legacy – people knew the history and lineage from the storytellers.However, the literature of Viking Age was likely to be lost, because younger people didn’t remember the old tales. Due to their contact with Christian priesthood, in the 13th century the Viking literature blossomed – Snorri Sturluson was among the first Islandic writers to put down in words the intricate history of the Vikings. First chronicles were written in the vernacular, the language of Iceland. The Norse poems were skaldic or eddaic. Skalds were intriguing, fascinating poems dedicated to kings created by viking poets, while eddaic were miscellaneous and inspired by random situations or emotions – were humorous, sarcastic, obscene, heroic, romantic or shameless bullying. One of the most popular Viking saga is Ragnarök/Ragnarøkkr ( meaning Fate of the Gods/ Twilight of the Gods). It describes the ultimate battle between gods, resulting into numerous natural disasters, followed by flooding their world completely. Afterward, the world will reemerge – a world formed of the surviving gods and two humans. Sounds familiar, right? 🙂
It begins as an unending winter (Fimbulwinter), where mankind becomes desperate for life resources, willing to do anything to survive, breaking all existent laws and social rules. It’s told despite the fact that gods knew the outcome of this clash, were prepared to sacrifice themselves so the new world will rise. Insatiable for power , Loki decided to start the war against the ruling gods, Odin and Freyr. Odin gathered his sons – Thor, Vidar, Modi and Magni -, along with other great human warriors that were standing by his side in Valhalla, against the mischievous Loki and his monsters, Fenrir and Jormungand, and other creatures. The evil wins ,and at the end of the battle, remains of the world sinks into the deep sea, leaving nothing but void, allowing the creation of a new world by the remaining gods. The humans – Lif and Lifthrasir – , will come out from the hidden forrest Wood of Hoddmimir, and start populate and care the new land.
10 FACTS ABOUT VIKINGS :
1.Vikings didn’t wear helmets with horns on – it’s an imaginary creation for a Wagner’s production costume from 1976.
2.Mead was their favourite alcoholic drink , developed from honey.Norsemen kept slaves – known as thralls – people captured from their abroad raids.
3.Their most notorious form of Viking punishment was the blood eagle – in which the back was opened with a dagger or sword, cracking open the ribs ,one by one and pouring salts into the wounds.
4.Vikings are intertwined with Russians – people coming from southern Sweden first settled in the land known today as Russia and the word “rus” it’s probable derived from the Finnish word fro SwedenThe
5.Viking explorers had contact with the native Americans too – battled many times in their raids in Greenland with the inuitsNordics had three social classes – Jarls, Karls and thralls.
6.Jarls were the nobility, the high-class – they owned large lands and had workforce under their command.
7.Karls were the middle class, mostly farmers and workers, and thralls were the slaves captured in raids – had the right to be treated normally and able to get some payment for their service.
8.They had a ritual before battles – called “Berserker”- according to history they were performing this ritual to acquire the qualities of a totem animal, usually a bear or a wolf. Putting themselves in a self-induced hypnotic state of mind helped them in combat.
9.Vikings celebrated Yule, something similar to what we call nowadays New Year.
10.The exact rituals are unclear, it’s said they were feasting for three days and nights, also decorating trees and houses with charms and carving runes on them, asking the Gods to protect them in the new year to come.The human sacrifice – was made to honor the God of Gods, Odin, and to assure their victory in the upcoming battles. Every nine years, at the beginning of spring, they sacrificed one human and eight animals for the following nine days. If they believed the animal sacrifice was not enough, in the next year they would sacrifice only male humans.
Have your ever checked your descendence? Maybe you’re a Viking!
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Salutări! Numele meu este Albert, sunt Graphic Designer şi Fotograf, cu sediul în Bucureşti, România. Călătoresc foarte mult, doar aşa îmi pot hrăni pasiunile! Călătoria nu este niciodată o chestiune de bani, ci de curaj.