Archive for May, 2009

The Vikings

Posted in Middle Age Europe on May 7, 2009 by woodly11

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By Woodly Sineus and Ryan Pogue

The Vikings

When you think of the Vikings you might think of wild, adventurous, barbaric, and sea exploring men going around and taking over their neighbors by force of swords and fires. These men swept across the seas of Europe smashing and destroying anything or body that got in their way. The word Vikings has sometimes been used to recognize all the people who lived in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden in early medieval times.

The Viking age is known as the period of Viking expansion. The Viking age occurred from the 790’s to until 1066 and the Norman Conquest. The Viking age meant invasions in not only the Scandinavian lands such as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden but also to North Germanic territories. The Vikings with the use of their navigators explored new lands north, east, and west.  The basis of the Vikings society was agriculture and trade with other people. They emphasized honor, in both combat, and in the criminal justice system. What triggered the Viking expansion is still unknown but some think that their Scandinavian population was too much for their land and was not enough food to feed everyone.

During the times of the Viking age childhood was not easy. For children in the Viking age surviving birth was a challenge. The reasons for this is that in Viking society infants were born sick or with physical disabilities and were taken away from their mothers to die similar to the Spartans. The children that were embraced by their fathers were given a special naming ceremony. In this naming ceremony children were given names of deceased elders, Viking gods and goddesses, and popular Vikings. Even if a child of the Viking age was selected to live, still many suffered. In the Viking society you will find diseases that were incurable and killed many children. It has been estimated that only one out of every five children would die before their fifth birthday. It is also known that nearly as many reached their 20th birthday, and even less past their 50th birthday.

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In the Viking society, a child is considered an adult at the age of ten. The children did not attend school; there weren’t any school systems in that time. There were not any books yet, except for the religious books found only in churches and monasteries. Ordinary Vikings were not allowed to read such religious books. There was basically no time for school back then, most of their time was spent finding food, clothing, and shelter. Event though there weren’t schools doesn’t mean the children weren’t educated. Children were required to learn the jobs of their parents; since every Viking was a farmer both boys and girls were expected to become good farmers. To better survive in the Viking society meant a person had to learn these skills early and well. The type of skills learned by the children depended on their specific gender boys learned how to manage farms and make items useable for daily life, and girls were mostly taught how to run a household.

The Vikings were known to have a unique type of clothing choice as shown by archaeological facts today. The clothing of the Vikings was made of fabrics such as organic linen and wool. Since these clothing were organic they rotted quickly. The clothing styles of the Vikings depended on the things: Where in Scandinavia the Viking lived, their significance in their village, and how wealthy the person is. The men and women Vikings dressed less of fashion and more because of purpose and comfort. Their clothes were designed for their specific jobs and because the Scandinavian climate is cold the clothes were very snug fit. The clothing of the Vikings included many bright colors, the linens and wool received their colors from dyes extracted from various types of plants. The clothing of the Vikings was produced by weaving machines, and was time-consuming. Since the creation of the clothes took a long time, the cut of the clothes was simple. Most of the clothes had hoods, and winter clothing was mostly made of animal hides and wools. Vikings were known to love jewelry. Vikings were able to make exquisite jewelry from bronze, gold, and silver. The made brooches, finger rings, arm rings, pendants, necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

The Viking people spoke the language of Old Norse called the Danish tongue. Though there were minor variations this language was spoken throughout the Norse lands during the Viking age. This language was one of ten branches that make up the Indo-European family of languages which was spoken throughout Europe and southern Asia. The alphabet that the Vikings used in writing was the futhork runic alphabet. At first the futhork alphabet used twenty four letters in the alphabet, but was simplified to sixteen letters. The letters of futhork alphabet consisted of straight lines which made it easy for the people to carve into wood, stone, or bone which were normal writing material for the Vikings. Some runes are found carved into some of the historical buildings all across the European continent which shows proof of the extent of Norsemen roam over Europe.

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Not all Vikings had great long ships. The most common vessel was much smaller boats that were used to cross the fjords and rivers. These smaller boats were used to carry only a few people from site to site, fish, and to move some livestock to better forage at other locations. These smaller vessels are known as a faering. This faering included a man at the tiller, who is at the steer board but is not needed for steering, there is also two men called rowers who use the oars to steer the boat, and a steersman. When the faering is sailed it becomes very imbalanced once it sails against the wind, at any second a sudden change in wind direction could veer a boat this way or that. Since there is no anchor on a faering, the men have to set on shore or tie up to another boat that is anchored. Some questions about these faerings is that with their angular keel and shape of the boat, once the boat touches shore the boat becomes unstable and the boat becomes liable to tipping over and throwing the crew overboard into the ocean.

Two other types of ships were the longships and the knarr. The purpose for the longships were for warfare and exploration, it design gave it great speed, agility, and was able to sail independently of the wind.  These longships had narrow and long hull, and shallow draft, in order to make it easier for troop development and travel in shallow water. On the other hand the knarr ships were designed for merchants for the use of carrying cargo. The knarr possesses a broader hull, a draft much deeper than that of the longships, and limited number of oars.  Longships were known to be mostly used by the Leidang, which were the Scandinavian defense fleets. The word Viking ships are sometimes identified as with a romantic connotation.

Most of the information about Viking warfare and weapons are based on archaeological findings, pictorial representation, and some form the Norse sagas and the Norse Laws. According to customs, it is said that all free Norse men were required to own their own weapons, and were able to carry them at all times. These armors also helped distinguish the social status of the Vikings. A wealthy king would have a complete set of a helmet, shield, sword, and chainmail shirt. A typical free man would have spear and shield for fighting, and would carry a seax as a backup knife or sidearm. Bows were used mostly in the beginnings of land battle and at sea, but to the Vikings were known as less honorable than a hand weapon. The elite guards of the kings where equipped with two- handed axes which could split metal helmets easily. Axes are known as the premium or main battle weapons of the Vikings. Helmets were also a key piece of Viking warfare. The traditional helmet of most Vikings was horned helmets. Some historians believe that Vikings did not use horned helmets, but believe that these helmets were for ritual purposes.

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After a period of thriving trade and Viking settlement, other cultural factors flowed from the rest of Europe that interfered with Viking dominance. Christianity began to rapidly rise in Scandinavia and with the development of central authority and coastal defense systems; Viking raids became less profitable and risky. The church diminished the practice one of the Vikings primary profit centers of trade which was slavery, and with the newly enforced quasi-feudalistic system in Scandinavian rule helped seal the fate of the Vikings.

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