Vikings Essay, Research Paper
Typically, the image of a Viking is a barbaric, bearded man plundering and destroying a neighboring village. This is actually the stereotypical viewpoint. In actuality, Vikings, have a very different image. For example, Vikings did not wear furry boots or furry armor, they did not have horned helmets, they invaded Britain, and they also were the first to discover America! They were also experts in nautical technology, crafts, trading, warfare and many other skills (Jonsson 1). With all of these traits, the Vikings seem like an unstoppable force in the European continent. But, who were the Vikings? The Vikings were actually venturesome seafarers. This means that they were travelers who were constantly exploring and looking for new areas of land. There roots can be traced all the way back to 6000 B.C. were nomadic men traveled in primitive crafts up the Denmark coast. Fast forward two millennia and these nomadic people have established permanent homes, but still using the boat for food and travel. As stated before, they were not just raiders, although they did do this frequently, but they were actually expert traders, trading all around the world. It wasn t until around 793 A.D. that a Viking explosion took place in northern Europe (Jonsson 2). Raids began to take place on neighboring villages and their places of worship. To some this is the only type of knowledge they have about Vikings. However, their culture was something to be admired. Trading, religion, and everyday life are all important parts of a Viking culture.
Trading was a critical part to the culture life of a Viking. This task brought in many important goods that the Vikings needed to live an ordinary life. The Vikings were the international tradesmen of their time. In Constantinople (Istanbul) they traded silk and spices for slaves that they had brought from Russia. They Amber they found in the Baltic area and they brought furs, skins, and walrus tusk ivory to the trading towns in Western Europe from the northern parts of the world such as Greenland. The Vikings founded trading cities in Scandinavia such as Birka, Ribe, Hedeby and Skiringsal. In Ireland they founded terrific trade in Dublin and, in England, they made the city of York flourish to become the most important trading town outside of London (La Fay 149-150). At a time when old trade routes between east and west through the Mediterranean were closed or unsafe, the Vikings kept the trade route between Byzantium and the west open by way of Kiev and Russia. It s interesting to note that Viking graves often contain Arab silver, Byzantine silks, Frankish weapons, Rhenish glass, and other products of an extensive trade. Silver coins from the caliphate and Anglo-Saxon coins from England flowed into the Viking lands and further stimulated economic growth (151).
As stated before, York was one of the biggest trading areas for that Vikings. This magnificent city for trade was discovered by the Vikings on one of their many raids against England. The Vikings appreciated the cities location and used it to their advantage to gain access to other bountiful trading routes. York grew and grew in importance as a trading center throughout the Vikings rein. Today, it is one of the larger cities in England (La Fay 25).
In the beginning, the Vikings religion centered on pagan rituals which center around three main gods, Odin, Thor, and Frey. Odin was the god of warriors and battles, but was also the god of wisdom and poetry. The dwelling place of Odin was the castle Valhall in Asgard, and was the place falling warriors went to when they were killed in battle (Jensen 200). Thor was the god of thunder, farmers and seafarers. When he rode through the sky on his chariot pulled by goats, thunder and lightening were all around him. The weapon he carried was a hammer, which was called Mjollnir, and he used it to protect the people from the monsters of the under world (211). The third god was Frey, the god of fertility, marriage and growth. To please Frey, the farmers placed bread, eggs, and some beer into a hole in the middle of their fields. This was their way of appeasing the god, thus allowing their crops to flourish (213).
It was also part of their religion to perform sacrifices. For the god Odin, it was an ordinary event to perform a human sacrifice. At three different points during the year, a sacrifice was made. At Yuletide, or Christmas, a sacrifice of food and drink was made in hopes of a new year. Spring was the most important time for a sacrifice since the crops were beginning to grow and they were very important to the family. And finally, there was a summer sacrifice thanking the gods for the plentiful crops, which was sometimes called a thanksgiving sacrifice (Jensen 197). Religious ceremonies were traditionally held outside in the open air. Later on, sheds or small huts were used, since they were in a cold area of Europe. It is also interesting to note the most of the church names ended with the suffix hov .
However, this type of religion was not the only type used by the Vikings. Christianity was also used among the Vikings in their later to middle years of existence, probably beginning before 995 A.D., which is the year that an English travel and several other priests claim to have brought the Christian religion to Norway. It also seemed that the two religions were living side by side, coexisting together in one culture. It was discovered that both Thor s hammer and the Christian cross were placed on gravestones of Vikings (Jensen 107). However, as time continued, the pagan features began to drift away, but they are still visible in our everyday life when we mentioned that days Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. These days are related to the Viking gods like Thor and Odin.
Throughout a Vikings day-to-day life, their main concerns of the family were on food, clothing, and housing. All members of the family shared in these tasks, more on one person depending on how wealthy the household was. The family usually lived in large groups, with an extended family. The man of the household, who was either the father or the eldest son who took over the farms, was in charge of providing the food for the family s survival. The wife or lady of the house was in charge of making the food last, especially during the long winters. She was also accountable for making cheese and butter, drying and smoking meat and fish, medicine, the farm animals, and the whole farm in case of the mans absence (Wernick 95). If the family was rich enough to own slaves, some of the burden could be placed on them. Slaves could be treated without regard and had no legal rights (96).
Certain foods that the Vikings ate included porridge, meat and fish, and shortbread and were typically in mostly all Viking towns. The main meat in the diet came from the domesticated animals such as beef, pork, mutton and lamb, chicken and goose. Sometimes the meat of hunted animals and birds, especially deer, hares, moorland birds, woodland birds and waterfowl, was part of their diet. The fish that was consumed came from the rivers and from the sea, though sea fish became more important in the eleventh century. Even shellfish was eaten (Wernick 120). Even though the Vikings ate a lot of meat, they still needed the basic foods for survival. The vegetables we are familiar with today would have been available in their time, including leeks, carrots, peas, field beans, parsnips, beet and cabbage. A variety of fruits and berries were eaten, amongst them plums, cherries, sloes, apples, blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, elderberries, hawthorn berries and rowanberries. Honey was used for sweetening and was also fermented to make mead. Hop remains have been found in during the excavations of many Viking cities, showing that beer brewing went on (121).
The clothing that a Viking wore during his life was probably made from wool. Consequently, the sheep was vital to their lives. Wool was woven into clothing by the women, giving them yet another job in the house. They used dyes from minerals and vegetables, which in turn gave the clothes red, green, brown, yellow, and blue colors (Wernick 69). Everybody wore many layers, considering the temperatures they had to deal with. Men first put on a long woolen shirt and long cloth trousers that were held up by a sash or a drawstring. On top of this was worn a sleeved jerkin or a three-quarter coat with a belt. On his feet he would wear socks and soft leather shoes or long leather boots. In battle he would wear an iron helmet and a mail-chain to protect himself. Women, on the other hand, wore a long linen dress, either plain or pleated. Over the dress they wore a long woolen tunic, a little like an apron. It was held up by a pair of brooches, sometimes joined by a chain or string of beads. Over the tunic she might wear a shawl. Her legs and feet were covered with thick woolly socks and soft leather shoes. Both men and women wore fur or woolen hats and cloaks in cold weather. The cloaks were fastened at the shoulder with a pin (71).
Most Vikings lived in a type of dwelling called a longhouse. The longhouse had usually one large room. The walls were made of wood, but usually in areas where it was plentiful, and the roof was covered with turf. In areas such as Iceland, where there were few trees, walls were made of peat blocks and wooden planks were placed on the inside of the walls. Benches for sitting or sleeping on were common around the walls. They were covered with furs, skins or cloths for warmth and comfort. Beds were only used in the wealthier houses. A central fire was the main source of light and heat in the hall and there was a hole in the roof to let out the smoke. Wooden chests were used to store furs blankets and other household goods (La Fay 50). When it was time to bathe, a Viking would take a trip to a type of outhouse near the farm. In some areas, it was actually called a Sauna. Another type of housing the Vikings used has recently been discovered. They are called pit house. The name pretty much describes what these houses are. Vikings would dig a hole, about 3 meters in diameter, and then they built a roof on it. Sometimes, the bottom would have a circular shape, but other pit houses have been discovered with a square bottom (53). The nice things about a pit house that was useful to the Vikings is that they kept the warmth in.
When compared to our culture in the U.S., we share the same basic needs of everyday life, religion, and exchange of goods with the Vikings. In everyday life, every one of us is in search of the right food, the best and warmest clothing, and the perfect place to live. Religion is still important to the American people, just like it was to the Vikings way back then. And even today, the American people exchange goods through the use of trading. However, in the present, we use plenty of money to get the supplies we need to survive. The Vikings culture can be seen as a way of survival. If they didn t work hard enough to get the items they needed to survive, they would die off. So, the Vikings were more than a bunch of wild men running around northern England destroying cities and killing people. They strived to lead a healthy life to the fullest extent possible during their time. Many people in northern England who are descendants of the Vikings are proud to be a progeny of such a dominant and prestigious culture.
La Fay, Howard. The Vikings: Washington, D.C., National Geographic
Jensen, Ole Klindt. The World of the Vikings: London, England. Berne
Wernick, Robert. The Vikings: Morristown, New Jersey. Time-Life Books