I am a Viking. I learned this recently when I read that anyone of Scandinavian descent whose name ends in ‘son’ is likely to have Viking blood in their veins. I know it’s probably not very Viking-like of me, but I have been afraid of admitting this possibility to myself forever. I only felt emboldened to accept my heritage because of recent scientific discoveries that put Vikings in a better light. And let’s face it, a total eclipse of the sun would have put Vikings in a better light.
I am not a practicing Viking mind you. I never have, and likely never will go around raiding, burning, pillaging, wearing horned helmets, drinking from human skulls, and just generally going berserk. But who didn’t do these things back in the carefree Viking days of the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries?
Well, in the Great Viking Makeover, it turns out that laying waste to the non-Viking world was only a part time job, and they never did wear horned helmets or drink from skulls. And only a small percentage of them were genuine berserkers, ingesting psychotropic plants like henbane or fly agaric to put themselves into a trance-like rage, howling and biting their shields while wearing wolf or bear skins into battle. But I think that every group has a few people like that, don’t they? We’ve just learned to look the other way.
In fact, Vikings didn’t have a lot of time for marauding shenanigans, thanks in part to those long, cold northern winters. Sure, they made the most of the time they had, terrorizing and ransacking their way through Europe and Russia from innovatively designed longboats that took them far up rivers to places the more run-of-the-mill raiders couldn’t go. But in my mind at least, that was just an early demonstration of what has widely come to be regarded as Scandinavian efficiency. I will admit that Scandinavian efficiency is probably much more appreciated now-a-days.
Most of the time Vikings were too busy farming, fishing, building boats, and exploring. It is unfortunate that they are not remembered more for their farming and fishing prowess, but then who is? Viking boat builders however were known to be far ahead of their time, and their ships took fearless explorers on expeditions deep into Russia, southern Europe, and the Middle East, and west to Iceland and Greenland. As there wasn’t yet anything to pillage in Iceland or Greenland, they continued west and even reached North America well before it became a popular marauding destination.
The Great Viking Makeover has also turned up evidence that Vikings liked to play games as much as anyone, and tell stories and poems to cheer their hearts during the long winter nights. One popular game had players split into two teams, with each trying to prove which could drink the most mead while delivering the most cutting insults. This usually led to another game in which all Vikings excelled – sword play – which featured a very different type of cutting insult. Stories and poems were told by the winners of these games, and they were no slackards when it came to word play either. Many Viking words greatly enlivened these sagas and are still in use today, such as slaughter, ransack, berserk, knife, club, hit, and skull.
And strangely enough, the new discoveries also reveal that any self-respecting Viking worth his name even bathed once a week, and in hot springs, not the blood of his victims. That’s saying something when Vikings tended to have names like Eric Bloodaxe, Thorir the Troll-Burster, and Harald War Tooth. Not only that, hip Vikings usually wore eyeliner, dyed their hair blond if it wasn’t already, and had it styled in fabulous braids. Perhaps not so strangely, no one criticized them.
Lastly, Viking society was also far ahead of its time in regard to women’s rights. Viking women could own property, hold jobs outside the home, get a divorce, and be a warrior if they so wanted. They did not, as previously believed, merely stay at home and scold their men when they came back late from a raiding party.
I am a Viking, and am now proud to admit it. Perhaps there is hope for all you Huns, Vandals, and Visigoths yet.