Vikings have been pictured as violent people in text and movies since the 900's. Rape, pillage, and plunder is the standard view of them. Much of what has been written about them has been fiction/fantasy books. The most popular, and really monotonous, title for a book is "The Vikings" in both fiction and historical. I checked out how many different authors have used this title for their book, and stopped counting after I reached 100. I have not checked this out, so it may not be true, but it looks like this is the number one title for a book. Factual history and wild fantasy seem to love this title. Somewhere the two become mixed in one giant blur of factual myth. Now comes the hard part, how do you separate the two?
Violence and bloodshed through out our history is not a new thing. Turn on the evening news and you can watch all kinds of violence, death, and grieving victims. The war that we have right now is only one example of these things on the news. Accidents, robberies, crimes, and even natural disasters bound off the television screen on all of the networks, and jump off the pages of our morning newspaper. These are the things that we see in the news media. The news media only gives us what we really want to see, so this is not really an indictment against them, but what human nature wants us to see. As a case in point I would like to ask you to check how many happy stories are on the television, or in the newspapers. I really do not believe you will find many, and if you do it will be on page 12 with the Walmart ad. Happy stories do not attract a lot attention from viewers or readers. Now if we may, roll back the clock to a thousand years ago, and what were the major news events of those days. Just about the same as we see today. Little has changed since the beginning of mankind. The same things that are important today are the same things that were important back then. When we read the history of the Vikings why are we so surprised at the violence that is recorded in those stories. We're just looking at human nature in its worst form. We, the human race, seem to be obsessed with only bad news.
Were Vikings really violent people? Yes, to some they were, but to others they were everyday people trying to make a living in very difficult times. How many times did the Vikings really raid the other nations of the world? The answer to that question will never be known. First you have to remember that Viking was a job title, and not a race of people. One of the great errors in history is to call all the Scandinavian people Vikings. For the most part they should be called Norsemen, and not Vikings. Vikings are raiders, and people that live a seafaring life. This would be a raider, or a trader. Today the name Viking has come to mean raider or pirate to the historically knowledgeable, and the Scandinavians to those there are not. Vikings were made up of everyday people from all over the world, and not just Scandinavians. Irish, Germans, English, Scottish, and even people from Africa were Vikings!. Did the people of Scandinavia really do all of these raids? There are numerous papers written from this time that tell of raiders from these other countries being called a Viking. It was a convenient thing to blame all the raids on the Norsemen, even if only a small percentage were actually done by them. We have stories of raids that really happened at the hands of the Norsemen. We have stories of raids that never happened, and were nothing more than political propaganda. Why would anyone want to lie about raids? The answer is really quite simple, and not a big mystery. The Dane Law controlled two-thirds of England, and was a giant threat to the English throne. The Norse, for the most part, were not Christian and that presented a problem to the Church. To go back to the original question, were Vikings really violent people? The answer to that is still yes. The real question is were those Vikings Scandinavian.
A thousand years ago you would report a raid as a Viking raid, and really did not care if they were Irish, or Scottish, or even Norse. What did concern you was that you were raided. There is one other possibility for raiders from Scandinavia, and that possibility is Vandals. The Vandals were still recorded, in Viking text, as existing late in the mid 900's. Most historians have said that the Vandal Age ended 200 years before the Viking Age began. This would not appear to be the case if the Vikings were still writing about them almost 500 years after they were to have disappeared. This group of Scandinavian were known for their violent ways, and brutal raids. We cannot discount the possibility that some of the raids were done by Vandals. Archaeological evidence in England has shown that they were there, and did raid England. How can you tell a Vandal from a Viking? By the color of their eyes, or hair? By the clothing that they wear? Maybe by the ship that they sail? All these questions seem rather foolish when you consider the fact that they are both Scandinavian.
Most of what I have written so far is just to add to the confusion about Vikings, and all those raids that they were supposed to have done. What I really would like to point out is that the history of the Vikings is more complicated than what many would have us believe. When we look at the Vikings are we really looking at the Norse people, or are we looking at people from many different nations that also called Vikings. I begin this article with the horrors that are presented in our news media everyday. I linked that news together with what we read in our history books. I really do not believe that any of you think that what is reported in the news media represents your daily life. The vast majority of us live a very quiet and peaceful life, a life that is filled with family, work, and our hobbies. I think you do get the idea that the image of the Scandinavian people during the Viking age may not have been filled with so much violence, and filled far more with work and family.
What was the everyday life of a Norse man and woman really like? We know from historical record that their family and friends were among the most important things of their life. Most of them want to own a farm, or a business. They wanted to provide the best that life could offer to their family. The last thing they wanted to see happening was violence. Violence and war put their families at risk, as well as everything they had worked for. Violence and war are a fact of life, and the real story is how you deal with it. Since man first recorded the events around him it was of war and violence, and how they delt with it. In all these thousands of years we never really found any different subject matters to occupy our attention, or how to deal with it.
It seems that we never really record the lives of people that have a happy and normal life. When we read those stories so carefully written down all those hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago try remember that 99 percent of them are no different than the headlines of today. I am the first to tell you that most of what I have written is fluff. No real news media would consider it more that that. What it is is a great way for me to lead into other stories. I hope to put flesh, and not fluff in the others. This will be a start to a look at everyday life in Scandinavia during what we call the Viking Age.
© 2005 Gary Anderson