Vikings 4 Essay, Research Paper
Throughout history, Vikings have been portrayed as graceless and boorish pirates. Their tale is notorious. They were well known, and feared, by those they conquered. They seemed intent on wreaking havoc on all civilizations, and blithe of the well being of their own. These accusations have originated, though, mainly from the victims of Viking conquests, and have, in most cases, been exagerated. Although Vikings have the stereotype of being cruel barbarians, they actually lived complex, emotional, and civilized lives.
The word Viking has many different interpretations. Most scholars belive it originated from Viking victims from such words as vikingr (Old Norse for pirate ), wic , and wicingas (Old English for pirate / sailor ; encampment )(p.13, Magnusson). The word Viking , however, is used as a broad term for any Scandinavian (Norseman) during the Middle Ages.
According to popular beliefs, Vikings were pirates, and the results of their piracy were devastating to those they conquered. Many of these views are correct. Vikings raided other countries. They looted treasure, destroyed towns and villages, and killed many people. Records of these terrible raids exist in the literature, and by word of mouth of the people in the countries they invaded. This may seem appalling to the modern ear, but invasions were executed by many cultures in the Middle Ages, not just by the Vikings. In a turbulent period, when piracy and casual raiding were a commonplace of everyday life all over Europe, the Vikings happened to be more successful at it than most other people; and they paid for it by getting an extremely bad reputation. (p.10, Golding). Vikings had little other to be identified with. They had very few written records, or literature, or works of art as many other cultures were developing at the time. Naturally, they became known for what they did best.
There are many Viking stereotypes that are hardly true. These exaggerations range from their lifestyle to their physical appearance (they did not wear horns on their helmets, for example; this stereotype was due to their anti-Christ reputation). Tacitus said that the barbaric Vikings were actually a free and noble people. Men were excellent fighters. Women were moral and obedient (p.14, Golding). Vikings were not extremely barbaric. They had a class system and religion. They had other practices besides merely sailing and raiding. They were also capable of showing an extent of different emotions. savage Vikings were not devoid of the noble emotions. If a Viking s anger could be terrible, his love could be strong and tender.
The Viking class system was much like other class systems during the Middle Ages. The supreme ruler of the land was the king. Below the king were the Viking men, the Viking women, and at the bottom of the list: the slaves. Slaves usually were captured enemies of the Vikings. They tended to farm-work and housework. Vikings slaves were not considered human by their masters. In fact, it was common to kill a slave of another Viking as an act of revenge (this was similar to killing a goat or calf). Killing a slave, at times, was even considered a noble way for a man to stand up for his rights (p.20, Magnusson).
Viking men were trained to fight bravely and fiercely for their possessions at a very young age. They were usually taken away from their mothers to be raised by men. Boys were raised this way to become warriors (the noblest of professions). In the midst of all the warlike training, Viking boys grew into a special relationship with their fathers. The greatest single bond was between a father and son. A man s legacy need not die with him if he had a son. A son was expected to avenge his father s death. This vengeance often resulted in family feuds that could last many generations. It was a great tragedy for a father to lose his son.
A big difference between the Viking social class system, and general Middle Age class systems, was the importance of women. Viking women were considered almost equal to Viking men. A free Viking woman did not plead for respect. She demanded it. It is curious how a seemingly uncivilized culture would have customs so far ahead of their time.
Viking women had household duties. They took care of the infants and female children, cooked, and cleaned. When a husband was off at sea, it was the wife s responsibility to run the farm and control the slaves. Women often had to organize the defense to protect the household against attacks during their husband s absence. They sometimes joined in the actual battle themselves.
In marriage, Viking men and women were equals. Women did not take their husband s name. Marriage was a business proposition by the parents of the couple, not an act of love. Romantic love was not a part of Viking culture. (Love songs were even banned as harmful during the whole Viking era.) The love between a husband and wife was out of mutual respect for one another, and out of the bond that grew between them over time (pp.20-23, Magnusson).
Vikings had a religion consisting of many gods and goddesses. Each was in control of some aspect of nature. There was even a social class amongst the gods. Odin was the chief-god, and the god of the sky. He had two ravens, Hunin and Munin, on his shoulders that brought him the news. He and the other members of Aesir (group of principle gods) lived in Asgard (heaven). When a Viking warrior died honorably by the sword, he hoped to join the gods and dine in Asgard.
Other well known Viking gods include: Thor, the god of thunder, Brono, the god of daylight, and Aegir, the god of the sea. These and other moral gods did battle with evil gods and beasts. These include Loki, a god who turned against Aesir, Hela (Hel), the goddess of the underworld, and Trolls and Ogres, who lived amongst the living (www.sneaker ).
Near the end of the Viking era, much of the civilization was converted to Christianity. This change came with many others. Viking s during this time became more peaceful. They settled down with less seafaring lives and focused more on the advancement of their Norse culture.
Viking civilization expanded from Scandinavia (and other neighboring countries) to countries all over the world. Although they went east to Russia for trading, most of their expansion was through Europe, and west to Iceland and Greenland. There is even evidence that the Vikings were the first Europeans to set foot on North America (pp.173-175, New American Desk Encyclopedia).
Vikings left little for modern man to remember them by. Few writings or artifacts remain from the Viking era. It is known from the brief bits of information that time has given, that the Vikings were a complex and martial people even though history gives them a brutal reputation.