The Viking Age

In many people’s minds, Scandinavians are regarded as a peaceful, even shy, people. This has not always been the case.

Roughly a thousand years ago, the Scandinavian countries were populated by a primitive, bloodthirsty, yet surprisingly ingenious and adventure-seeking people: the Vikings.

Some of the things we associate with the Vikings are pure myth.

For example, the Vikings did not have horns on their helmets. But a lot is still true. They did build impressive longships, and they navigated to distant seas to trade, explore and, of course, loot and wage war.

Despite their apparent limited interest in ethical behavior, the Vikings were deeply religious.

They believed in several gods, of which Thor and Odin were the most revered. Thor was the God of Thunder, who wielded a mighty hammer called Mjölnir as he rode across the sky, changing the weather to suit his mood. Odin was the God of Warfare and Death, and he reigned over Valhalla, the great hall were Vikings slain in battle would spend their afterlife.

The Vikings had a lot of traditions we today would find a bit off-putting. To please the gods, it was customary to sacrifice a wide range of animals, most often pigs and horses. Every now and then an unlucky war prisoner would also meet his fate in this gloomy way.

When a Viking had a dispute with another man, he could challenge him to a round of Holmgang. This meant meeting on a reef or small islet, and fighting to the death. Refusing to duel was seen as cowardly and embarrassing.

So maybe Scandinavians are not quite as shy and harmonious as they seem. After all, their ancestors really were Vikings.