Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A word or two about the Vikings--Tricia McGill


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As you can probably guess I have a fascination for the Vikings. There have been many tales told of them and their exploits, their travels, and above all about their raiding, looting, ravishing, and brutality. Most of what we have learned of their exploits comes from findings in graves and digs in places around the world that they inhabited. My main fascination with them is because of their great seamanship and their wonderful skills at building the ships that allowed them to sail to far off places. Their navigational skills set them apart.

The Vikings came from all over the region known as Scandinavia. They didn’t get along with each other and fought with their countrymen as fiercely as they fought with their enemies. The word Viking comes from “vikingr” which means pirate, or “Viken” the area around the Oslo fjord in Norway. They were also called Norsemen (men from the north)

The deck of a longship
Vikings were skilled in metal work and this helped their society to create the sharp axes they used to cut down the wood needed for building their famous ships and houses. After the trees were cut down the land that was left was perfect for the farmers to grow their crops. The Vikings prized their swords and it was said they even gave them names.

Warriors would often be buried with their weapons so they could use them in the afterlife.
A Viking craftsman’s chest was discovered in Sweden in 1936 that contained amazing implements and tools that were used for metal working and carpentry. Is it any wonder their longships were a masterful work.

The Vikings did not invent the runes but adapted a script in use at that time in parts of central Europe. The Vikings had a 24 letter alphabet that was reduced to 16 letters by AD800. Runes were replaced by the Latin alphabet as the Vikings were converted to Christianity.
Viking 16 rune alphabet

Vikings were masters of their environment and because of this their culture flourished. So, coastal settlements obviously became over-crowded. Thus the first adventurers set of in their wonderful ships to find new lands. Early Viking raiders were known to arrive at a new land in the spring, spend the summer there looting, then sail home for the winter.
A Viking jeweler's tools
 
Domestic Viking objects found at Coppergate, York UK
Vikings despised weakness. Even their poor babies who were sickly were often thrown into the sea at birth or left outside to perish so they would not be a burden to the family.
If you watched the series on TV last year “Vikings”, which I would not have missed for the world, it had Ragnar’s wife in a quandary as by rights she should have had one of their babies killed when it was born with a slight deformity, but she refused and clung to the child, which caused all sorts of problems between them. This series was not for the faint-hearted as it contained brutality of the worst kind.

The Vikings loved their rituals. Some were horrific by our standards. They made sacrifices to their gods—of animals and people. Every nine years they held a ceremony in Sweden (according to a writer named Adam of Bremen) where animals and humans were sacrificed and their blood was offered to the gods and their bodies were then hung from trees.

I  could go on for pages about the Norsemen, but guess this is where I should end. 
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