Written from a kid perspective based on history seen online and other sources, in short story format:
Alrighty, peeps! Today I’ve got for you another “Let’s Talk” (wow this is really becoming a thing isn’t it?), and this time, it’s going to be about a very epic topic: Vikings! More specifically, seafaring raiders who were mostly from Scandinavia! Now, before we get into in in more depth, there’s something that I must clarify first: What exactly is a “Viking”? Well, to start, what comes to mind when you think “Viking”? Perhaps a bunch of Norsemen with painted shields, axes, and cool looking braided hair on a Viking warship comes to mind? Or maybe images of Loki, Thor, Odin, Freyja, Sif, Fenrir, Hel, and other such names from Norse mythology might come up, even if they are pictures from, say, the poster of Thor: Ragnarök the MCU movie… or, in a stretch, maybe even HTTYD. If so, then I’d like you to completely wipe those images from your head, especially if they come from a movie… there. Now that we all have a blank sheet of paper when it comes to Vikings, let’s continue.
First, let me specify to differentiate truth from Hollywood. The true meaning of Viking is “raider”, and indeed, that was what the Vikings did, raid most of England, France, and the rest of the coastland near them. But the thing about it is, it’s not just like the entire coast of Scandinavia realized it was a Saturday, dropped whatever they were doing, grabbed some weapons, hopped in the nearest boat, and sailed off shouting, “FOR GLORY!!”. No, no, and NO. Yes, a hefty number of coastal Scandinavians did raid some monasteries at some point in their lives, but not always! Raiding was just straight up unsustainable, and so most of the raiding that was being done in Scandinavia was a kick-butt harvest (like an actual great farming harvest). (1) That’s right: most “Vikings” were farmers, merchants, tradesmen, and other such jobs that were done at the time. Assuming that most Scandinavians were Vikings is like England and knights: Yes, some of England’s noble population were knights, doing knightly shenanigans, but that does not mean that all of England dressed up in armor, picked up their weapon of choice, hopped on a horse, and rode off into the horizon to go serve their lord or king. Absolutely not. And it’s the same way with the Vikings and Scandinavians. One of the reasons they are depicted in this generally quite savage way was in part because of the people they raided: Christian monks. These people had axe to grind with the Vikings, and they took this responsibility a bit far. When you want someone to look bad, saying, “They killed all the townspeople, burned my monastery down, stole all of my precious religious relics, then sailed off back to their own country to worship devils and sacrifice babies” was a lot worse than saying, “Yes, they are mostly peaceful farmers, and they only come raid us every so often, but they’re still really terrible!”. Thus, the Christians made the Vikings look pretty bad, and that’s why we see the Vikings today as stereotyped dragon trainers. Their descendants even became Christians, an irony that does not pass me. From History Summarized Vikings, Between the Romans and the Vikings, I find that the Christians have done really well. Some people say, “If you can’t beat them, become them,” but the Christians really took a different approach: “If you can’t beat them, make them you,” (1)
The Vikings and Viking way is a bit blurry to historians, for two main reasons. Reason number one was because the main accounts of Viking history were written down years after the Viking Age, and those accounts were based on stories passed down through word of mouth, which can be, at best, vaguely correct. Reason number two was that these records, and much of the things that the Vikings were known for passed through a sort of filter, specifically a Christian one, and this is hinted at through multiple writings. For example, in the re-telling of how Ragnarök (the end of time according to the Vikings) will go down, it says that after the battle, there were some survivors, like Magni and Modi, sons of Thor who inherited his hammer, Vídarr and Váli, sons of Odin, Baldr and Hödr, alive again, and miraculously, Lif and Lifthrasirr, two humans, who managed to survive. However, it’s also hinted at that the entire time there was this other god who is the “god of gods” and comes to the survivors after Ragnarök, and they can’t be named except by the the name “Fimbultir” (that’s how it’s pronounced, at least), which literally means “mighty god” and apparently they created everything, and they’re better than all the other gods and they are more powerful and stuff? This, children, is agreed upon by scholars to probably be a Christian addition, and not actually an original Viking myth. There’s also the problem that Loki is just generally matched up with Satan because of his mischievous attitude and his role in helping Ragnarök along… I mean, come on guys, Ragnarök isn’t entirely his fault! The problem is, the two main collections of myths, the Prose Edda, and the Poetic Edda, were both made with that previously mentioned “Christian filter”, so it’s hard to concretely say, “This is real Norse mythology, and this is Christian additions.”
Now, with that confusingness outta the way, let me launch into the epicness that are Viking warships. In a time when boats were generally pretty much ignored by the known world (due to the Mediterranean being chopped in half by the Muslim conquest, and just generally being pretty hard to sail across anyways), the Viking warships were like the gods of boats at the time: they were streamlined, with Mediterranean style square cut sails and oars, generally making them some of the fastest boats on the market at the time. The reason why they were so ahead of their time was because of the design: instead of the normal build, they created a design called the Klinker build (google a picture, you can see the difference). The klinker build strengthened the hull and gave it a more streamlined function. Another, very monumental thing about them klinker build was the fact that the draft of klinker hull boats was significantly less than the ones of the normal hulls. They were only one meter deep, whereas normal ones might be several. This allowed them to easily beach the boats and, even better, easily go up any river mouth they pleased. This is what led to them all out raiding Paris! With these amazing boats, they accomplished so many great things. Like, for example, “discovering” America 400 years before Columbus! Indeed, they sailed to the new world fairly easily, and not over a matter of weeks like Columbus, but rather over the course of a century. You see, they had several islands that they could sail to, like a bridge in a way, not a whole ocean to cross. They jumped to the Shetland islands, then the farow isles, then Iceland, Greenland, and then America, easily. So, I suppose credit to Columbus for making the journey, but credit to the Vikings for reaching America first.
However, all good things must come to an end, and that’s what happened to the Vikings: eventually they realized how much more sustainable it was to trade with people instead of killing and raiding them, and though the attitude was kind of, “trade with us or get raided” it was a start, and it worked out pretty well, all things considered! Eventually (aka after the second raid of Paris :P) the king of France was all like, FINE! HAVE NORMANDY! And then Normandy was all theirs hehehe.. except, important history side note, it’s important to remember that the Normans were not Vikings, because they didn’t raid, just like the Scandinavians. As a matter of fact, remember those descendants who became Christians? Yeah, uh, those were the Normans (oh and I guess they speak French now?)! After about 1060 or so, the raiding kind of slowed down. Christianity had spread throughout the land, and once easy pickings were now much more fortified, with standing armies becoming more common. Suddenly, raiding just wasn’t fun anymore. For many historians though, the last nail in the coffin was the Battle of Stanford Bridge in 1066, a failed attempt at conquering England. Mere weeks later, the Norman conquest began. (1) And so, that was the last huzzah of the Vikings? Perhaps. Or, maybe they live on in their Norman descendants. Anyways, as always have a good one, Karalaral out 😛
- Overly sarcastic productions, History Summarized Vikings, accessed May 15, 2022
- Overly sarcastic productions, Miscellaneous Myths Ragnarök, accessed May 16, 2022
As we allow the kids to expand the writing that they do, our Friday stories and posts continue to evolve to allow the kids to have more latitude while writing. We’re starting to work with them to give credit where it’s due and allow them to start sorting through fact vs. fiction (or internet factoids).
We live on a cruising sailboat with family, a Great Dane and a sailing kitty as we cruise south slowly trying to figure out what we wanna do when we grow up (the parents). We allow the kids to publish their writing every Friday when we have wifi and are not moving the boat….ie out cruising with no wifi access.
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