Vikings, Untold

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Gothan Dag!

 

I am the ghost of Ragnar Lodbrok, not Lothbrok, probably the most famous Viking alive. I have come to hear of the moving picture series called Vikings depicting my people and their ways. Honored I am, to see that I am the main character of the show, as all things should be. However, there are stories told within this moving picture timeline that is of utter myki, or in your language, bullshit (metaphorically of course). Now let me, the King of Kings, explain to you our beginnings, our culture and how we waged war.

 

Beginnings:

 

Well, to start things off, we were of the Germanic Norse descent and our language is known as Old Norse. We were generally sea-borne raiders from Scandinavia during the early medieval period, from the late 8th to late 11th centuries. This will in time come to be known as the Viking Age, stunning period for my people I must say. We flourished under my leadership and under the leadership of my many sons, who were to become indisputable leaders themselves.

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We started off as full-time fishermen and farmers, fairly domesticated, where men, women and children all contributed to the survival of the household as well as the tribe we were in. This may come as a disappointment, but most Viking men brandished scythes, not swords. It was only in Summer, that we would rally to the call of our leader, namely me: Ragnar Lodbrok, and venture across the sea to raid, trade or seek out new lands to settle down into. Yet, the vast majority peacefully sowed barley, rye and oats—at least for part of the year. They also raised cattle, goats, pigs and sheep on their small farms, which typically yielded just enough food to support a family.

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Our society was divided into three socio-economic classes: Thralls, Karls and Jarls. Thralls were the lowest ranking class and were slaves. Slavery was of vital importance to Viking society, for everyday chores and large-scale construction and also to trade and economy. Thralls were used as servants and workers in the farms and larger households of the Karls and Jarls and they were used for constructing fortresses, fortifications, ramps, canals, mounds, roads and similar hard work projects.

 

Karls were free peasants, who owned farms, land and cattle, they engaged in daily chores like ploughing the fields, milking the cattle, building houses and wagons, but employed the lower thralls to make ends meet. Other names for Karls were 'bonde' or simply free men.

 

Jarls were the aristocracy of our society, like me before I became the King of Kings. We were wealthy and owned large estates with huge longhouses, horses and many thralls. Jarls engaged in administration, politics, hunting, sports, paid visits to other Jarls or were abroad on expeditions. When a Jarl dies, his household thralls were sometimes sacrificially killed and buried next to him, as many excavations conducted by your people have revealed.

 

Culture:

 

Moving on, religion-wise, my people and I were of the Ásatrú religion. Freyr was the god of fertility, Týr represented bravery and could grant men victory in battle. Loki the Crafty played many nasty tricks on the other gods and was, amongst other things, to blame for the death of Baldur, the white god. But the greatest of all the gods was Óðinn. He was the god of poetry and the god of sorcery and rune craft. He was also the god of the dead and of war. The symbols of Óðinn included two ravens and a spear. Plus the fact that he only had one eye, having sacrificed his other eye for wisdom. Clearly, this was the only perception of us that you got right. I must add though, Odin was our greatest deity, but we also had other gods who we dedicated our time to.

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The gods were in constant struggle against the giants living in Jötunheimar (the Giants’ Land). Amongst them there were various monsters, such as the Miðgarðsormur (the Middle Earth Serpent) which lay in the ocean around the world biting its own tail, and Fenrisúlfur (the Monster Wolf), who showed mercy to no-one. In the end, the giants united in an enormous campaign against the gods. There followed a great battle in which most of the gods fell and the giant Surtr (the fire giant) burned down the entire earth. This is the history of the gods and the world of our people, also known as Ragnarök (the fate of the gods). But after the world fire, the earth rose a second time, fresh and green out of the sea. From then on, the best gods and people lived in the ancient homelands of their forefathers, that is the world as it was in my time and now in yours.

 

Ships were an integral part of our culture, because they facilitated everyday transportation across seas and waterways, exploration of new lands, raids, conquests, and trade with neighboring cultures. To my people, ships were of utmost religious importance. People with high status were sometimes buried in a ship along with animal sacrifices, weapons, provisions and other items.

 

Another misconception is that my people were dirty, and according to you, dirty to the point where we stank to the point of high Valhalla. MYKI! Our people actually made tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners from animal bones and antlers. We also bathed at least once a week, much more frequently than other Europeans of our day, and enjoyed dips in natural hot springs.

 

Farming and raiding were not the only things we did with our time. We were people as well and we needed our own entertainment. We had indoor board games and sports. The consumption of alcohol was in our blood, in our nature, so naturally drinking alcohol were one of the games we had. The game consisted of pairs of men trading drinks and verbally sparring. With each drink, the participants were expected to compose and recite a verse of poetry, boosting their own reputation and ego while distracting their opponents (with taunts of cowardly or womanly behavior). As the drinking progressed, the intensity of the taunts increased as the players became drunk. The goal was to maintain their speech throughout the game without showing the effects of the alcohol.

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We also had a sport that tests strength called toga hönk, in your world it is called tug-of-war. An equal number of men would sit on the floor on opposite sides facing each other, pulling a piece of rope toward whichever side. This rope was marked with a tag, and the game mimics the rowing in one of our majestic boats, genuinely testing the strength of a true Viking. The game is won when either man that faces each other, nearest to the tag is pulled over to the other side.

 

War Tactics:

 

Swords – The weapon that I used in my battles was the sword, which was also the weapon of choice of the wealthy warriors and the aristocracy of the Viking Age. The sword was a slashing weapon, not generally used for thrusting. Constructed in the early period by "pattern welding", the central section of the blade is made up of twisted rods of iron, beaten together to form a strong and pliable core, and also leaving the pattern of the twisted rods in the blade. A harder (but more brittle) edge was then welded to the core.

Axes - The weapon that most of my people use, the axe is found in many burials and is shown on several carved stones. It was to be wielded in two hands, which could behead horses with one stroke.

Spears – This is the most common weapon found in graves that we dug in Scandinavia. Shorter spears were used as javelins, where the opening rounds of a battle in would involve a salvo of missiles as the lines closed. These could also be used as a single-handed weapon with a shield, providing the reach of a spear while retaining the defence of a shield.

Archery – We also had bows of varying sizes which were used extensively in hunting, and in battles, particularly at sea. An arrow shot from a Viking bow would almost certainly pierce a mail shirt at short range, but at longer ranges could only threaten unarmored warriors unless a lucky shot hit an exposed area. The bows were made of yew or ash, with some late examples found of composite bows, strengthened with horn or iron. Quite advanced technology for ‘barbarians’ eh?

Shields - round and traditionally made of linden (lime) wood (although the available evidence suggests that in fact most were made of more common woods, such as larch, beech, oak, or even pine), most shields would be relatively thin, lasting no more than one battle. Shields were made from planks of wood, held together by a wooden or iron bar running from top to bottom of the shield. In the centre, a cutout hole allowed the shield to be gripped with the hand covered by an iron boss of hemispherical or conical shape.

Armor - the most common armor of the period was the mail shirt, referred to as a byrnie for most of the period. Made from iron rings which were individually punched from plates or wound from drawn wire, each ring was linked to four others. In later examples, every second ring was solid, with the split rings being linked into the shirt and then riveted closed.

Unlike the Anglo-Saxons, the miserable people who underestimated our might, we did not have a professional standing army like they did, and tactics and discipline were fairly rudimentary. We did not fight in regular formations, although the bonds of loyalty between my men and I gave them some form of cohesion. Weapons training would begin in youth in hunting and raiding. Those who aspired to be warriors sought armed service under me, for which they hoped to be rewarded with weapons and fame of their own. Therefore, I had to find an outlet to wage war frequently in order to keep my following and maintain my power against rivals, which in my time were Anglo-Saxons, like King Aelle. On a side note, this was the rotinn (rotten) man who ended my life by throwing me into a snake pit.

In preparation for battle the younger warriors would draw up in line, with their shields overlapping in a 'shield-wall' for better protection; and where I was well defended by a close bodyguard. The older, veteran warriors like my brother Rollo would form up in support behind them, or at least he was supposed to be. Battle would then begin by throwing a spear over the enemy line to dedicate themselves to Odin, where a shower of spears, arrows and other missiles followed this.

 

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What would have won us battles could have been attributed to our famous ' berserkrs', who only wore bearskins into battle, and we believed that Óðinn gave them both protection and superhuman powers so they had no need of armor. Of which my brother Rollo, belonged to this group of fearless warriors. They would work themselves into a battle frenzy by drinking large amounts of alcohol before a battle, so intense they bit on the edges of their shields, and ignore the pain of wounds.

All in all, the moment we discovered that there were kingdoms to the West of our settlements, we would continue to raid them through and through. Such is the fate of the Kingdom of Northumbria. We were a clear threat to them, as supposedly a more stable, powerful kingdom.

 

Well well, it seems Valhalla yearns for my return. I truly apologize for such an abrupt departure, but the Gods are calling. I hope after hearing the words I have spoken, you would now understand the truth of my people and I. FAR VEL!

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Oh, I apologize once again; in your language it would be FAREWELL!