Do You Know the Vikings? 6 Myths about the Norse Dispelled

Do You Know the Vikings? 6 Myths about the Norse Dispelled

Patrick Lynch - November 14, 2016

Do You Know the Vikings? 6 Myths about the Norse Dispelled
Visit Kent (Viking Ship)

5 – They Did Nothing but Fight & Raid

This myth suggests that Vikings did little other than raid and pillage as if their entire life revolved around plundering. While they undoubtedly pillaged, looted and murdered on their travels, it was an additional source of income rather than a way of life. A significant number of Vikings would have had farms back home which were tended to by females while the men went away for a spot of looting.

Those who returned resumed their farm duties. It is also important to note that it was a fairly small percentage of the Norse that were warriors. The rest were farmers, traders and craftsmen. They settled peacefully in a number of locations including Greenland and Iceland and were actually international merchants who traded with a number of countries.

It would be wrong to paint a soft and cuddly picture of the Vikings however. They were certainly violent at times and could slaughter and destroy with the best of them. Yet it is crucial to remember that they lived in a violent age when brutality was common on the battlefield and when invading armies were resisted by towns and cities. For example, Holy Roman Emperor (and King of the Franks) Charlemagne lived in the same age and is regarded as one of the great rulers of that era. He ordered the beheading of 4,500 Saxons at Verden in a display of brutality that matched anything the Vikings had to offer.

Perhaps the Vikings were singled out because they gleefully destroyed things of religious value such as monasteries and they also killed clerics. They did this at a highly religious age which would certainly explain the level of hatred towards them. The Vikings enjoyed a reputation for brutality which they probably exploited; especially when they found that people would flee for their lives rather than encounter them. This made it easy to plunder whatever they liked.

While they may have been hated by religious people, they also earned respect. French king Charles III allowed the Vikings to remain on land where they settled and his daughter married a Viking chief. These warriors repaid the king by fighting against other Viking invaders. Byzantine emperors used Vikings to form their personal bodyguard unit known as the Varangian Guard.

Do You Know the Vikings? 6 Myths about the Norse Dispelled (Vikings TV show on History Channel)

6 – They Were a Unified People

The ‘Vikings’ weren’t actually a unified group. They were never a nation nor did they possess a unified army. They were disparate groups of warriors, merchants and explorers led by their own chieftains. Vikings from Denmark and Norway would not go exploring together for example. During the so-called Viking Age, the land that makes up Norway, Sweden and Denmark were made up of a collection of tribes and they often fought against one another when they weren’t busy exploring and plundering.

In fact, the term ‘Viking’ is a term used to describe an overseas expedition. For these Scandinavians, they would take time out from tending the farm to go for ‘a Viking’. Some historians claim the word comes from the term vikingr which means ‘pirate’. In reality, the term used to describe these raiders would be ‘Norsemen’ (man of the north) if you are looking for accurate historical context.

To make things a bit more complicated; there is a difference between Old East Norse (from where dialects of Danish and Swedish emerged) and Old West Norse (from where dialects of Faroese, Norwegian and Icelandic emerged). The ‘West’ Norse colonized Greenland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Iceland. The ‘East’ Norse conquered most of Southern Britain which led to the establishment of Danelaw; they also conquered modern day Normandy in France.

The Vikings were also extremely adept when it came to adapting to the societies and cultures of other nations; even ones that they conquered. Those who elected to settle down overseas typically gave up speaking Old Norse and spoke the language of the natives. In Ireland they spoke Irish, in Normandy they spoke Anglo-Norman and in Sicily, they spoke Sicilian.


Some Sources and Further Reading:

ThoughtCo – Did Vikings Wear Horned Helmets?

Today I Found Out – Viking Warriors Didn’t Wear Horned Or Winged Helmets

BBC News – Were the Vikings really so bloodthirsty?

Thor News – Why Is This the Only Existing Viking Age Helmet?

History Collection – Do You Know the Vikings? 6 Myths about the Norse Dispelled

History Collection – 12 Essentials You’ll Learn in this Quick Crash Course on Norse Mythology