Feb 13, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: Legend of the Norsemen

Art by Steven DeVon Jones
When most people think of Vikings, they picture a giant man with flowing blond hair, braided beard, and piercing blue eyes. They see them with a horned steel cap and chain mail armor with fur pushing out from underneath. Giant warriors charging into battle wielding a big wooden shield and sword or a giant axe that can’t be held with less than two hands. Some of the more popular with the female are the shirtless ones, but I can guarantee you that none of those men had hairless chiseled chests, and were rarely topless unless they were jumping in a hot spring.

The Norsemen never referred to themselves as Vikings. Viking is something they did. They were not Vikings. They were Norsemen who went Viking. Again, mythology has mystified the Norsemen into raiding and pillaging barbarians when they went on these Viking expeditions, but that was not always the case.

The Norsemen colonized a lot of locations that most other Europeans had no interest in or did not know existed. They explored as far as the northern eastern regions of North America and around Africa and as far as New Zealand hundreds of years before any other Europeans. So yes it’s true, Columbus didn’t really discover America, he rediscovered it.

Trade was also a major source of income for the Norsemen who traveled further than most people of other cultures with their swift and agile ships. These ships were shallow enough for rowing up rivers, strong enough for sailing the oceans and light enough to pull across land from one water system to a completely new one. There wasn’t a place that the Norsemen couldn't reach and they traded often throughout their journey, as long as their reputation didn’t scare away the business.

Raiding is where the Norsemen developed the reputation as barbarians, this and their seemingly suicidal battle rage. The myths about Norsemen as uncontrollable berserkers are just that, myths. The truth behind the Norsemen’s fearlessness in combat is their religious belief in that the only way to guarantee a place in Valhalla (The place you wanted to be in the afterlife) was to die in battle. So in their minds, dying in battle was a great honor. They believed when they had proven their worth, the Valkyrie would come down and take them in the midst of battle. The Valkyrie only took up the souls of the worthy warriors.

The Norsemen appearance with horned helm and armor was greatly exaggerated as well. Not every Norsemen owned a sword, but one who had earned enough could get one, and it was encouraged to collect as much armor and weapons as one could in a lifetime. Armor and weapons were the status symbol of Norsemen and the armor was included in their funeral ritual, so it was rare for a young man to have his father’s armor and weapons handed down to him. He would have to earn his own.

Legends of the barbarians of the north began around 790 AD when a Norseman raiding party sacked and burned an abbey on the island of Lindisfarne. This was considered a holy place by many and this single act set a ripple effect across Europe that the Norsemen were bloodthirsty pagan barbarians. The Norsemen probably fed off this reputation. They were taller than the average European by several inches. Their size combined with a cultural upbringing to fight and not fear death, made the Norsemen a formidable force. It is the perfect reputation for a warrior culture.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.

No comments:

Post a Comment