Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interesting facts about Vikings



        The word "Viking" was customarily used to refer to the Scandinavian pirates who raided and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic islands from the late eighth to the mid-eleventh century. 

  The Vikings used their expertise at seamanship and battle to make raids on the towns and churches of neighbouring kingdoms. The Church, as a wealthy and relatively defenseless target, may have suffered more heavily than many other sectors of European society. The monks and nuns alike are slaughtered in the attack, and some of them are tortured. Valuable treasures, such as gold, jewels and relics are looted. The surviving men and women are captured as well -- they will be sold as thralls, slaves to their new Scandinavian masters. As a result, most of the surviving written records come from Christian accounts and depict Vikings in a particularly harsh light. 
       Although they are often thought of primarily as raiders, the Vikings were also traders, explorers and settlers. Most Viking men knew how to handle a boat. They had a excellent navigation skill too. They settled in the Britain, Ireland, Iceland, France, Russia, Greenland and even Canada, while their raids took them to the Baltic, Spain and Mediterranean. Some went to fight and steal treasure. Others settled in new lands as farmers, craftsmen or traders. In the late 10th century,The Byzantine (Eastern Roman) emperors in Constantinople hired Vikings guards, called the Varangian Guards

Possible reasons for the Viking expansion outside of Scandinavia include population pressure, political pressure, and personal enrichment, or a combination of all three. It is recognized that the Vikings could never have begun raiding or indeed settling beyond Scandinavia if they had not first developed (about 4 centuries earlier) highly effective boat building and navigation skills. 

The year 1066 is frequently used as a convenient marker for the end of the Viking age. There are a number of interrelated factors that caused the end of the Viking Age - the formation of nations in Scandinavia under single, strong kings; the introduction of Christianity and widespread Conversion (willing or not). 

          At early ages Vikings worshipped a pantheon of multiple gods and goddesses. Central to their religion were two groups of gods, the Aesir and the Vanir. The gods lived in Asgard, a kingdom that was connected to mortal Earth (known as Midgard) by a rainbow bridge known as Bifrost. The pantheon included Odin, the primary god, Thor, the hammer-wielding god of thunder, and Frejya, the goddess of fertility and beauty. There were also evil giants, dark elves and dwarves. The gods were destined to fight against the giants and other evil forces in a battle known as Ragnarok. Norse prophecy predicted that the gods would lose this battle, allowing Asgard, Midgard and the entire universe to collapse into darkness and chaos. Later on Scandinavians eventually converted to Christianity, but more slowly than other peoples of Europe. 

          A dead person was buried or cremated (burned) with some of their belongings, to take into the next world. Some Viking chiefs were given ship-burials, with treasure, weapons, and favorite dogs and horses buried with them. If the deceased was a nobleman or great warrior, one of his thrall women volunteered to join him in the afterlife. 

A 10th century Arab Muslim writer named Ahmad ibn Fadlan produced a description of a funeral of a Scandinavian nobleman. There is a description of a slave girl who was to be sacrificed and who had to undergo several sexual rites. When the nobleman had been put in the ship, she went from tent to tent where warriors and traders make love with her. Every man told her that they did what they did for their love to the dead nobleman. Lastly, she entered a tent that had been raised on the ship, and in it six men had intercourse with her before she was strangled and stabbed. The sexual rites with the slave girl show that she was considered to be a vessel for the transmission of life force to the deceased nobleman. It was common to burn the corpse and the grave offerings on a pyre, in which the temperature reached 1,400 degrees Celsius; much higher than modern crematorium furnaces attain. The pyre was constructed so that the pillar of smoke would be as massive as possible in order to elevate the deceased to the afterlife. 

          Much like the ancient Greeks, the Vikings had neither a positive or negative view of the afterlife. They believed for the most part, the dead, if they had lived an unexceptional life, would travel to a place called "Hel" (which is where the modern word "hell" comes from) where people who had lived bad lives were gnawed upon by a serpent called "Nidhoggr" . Those who lived exceptional lives in a positive way could expect to travel to "Asgard", the home of the Gods. They would spend the afterlife in happiness. 

Since the Vikings were people who were known warriors, they believed that a warrior killed in battle went to Valhalla where they will live with Odin the king of the Gods and fight all day long and every night was spent eating and drinking like it was feasting. Viking warriors did not want to die in bed, because they were afraid they'd go to a foggy underworld called Niflheim. Better to die in battle and go to Valhalla. 

The Vikings also had many myths, about Eddas, or ancient folk tales of monsters, such as trolls, dragons, sea serpents, and the fierce wolf Fenrir, magical horse of Odin named Sleipnir, which had eight legs. There were some other facts that made them more remembered by the historians.  The Vikings built fast ships for raiding and war called long ships, also called “Dragonships”. The wooden dragonheads were lowered down in front of the ships when the Vikings were getting close to land. They put the heads out for everyone to see so they could intimidate, or scare the people that lived on the land. 

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3 comments:

  1. Did you know that the picture you have used for the vikings was used as a competition entry on the Drawplus.com site

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  2. some of the sentences are from other viking websites...

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