Essay on The Viking People Were Not Barbaric Savages

Submitted By jnic290
Words: 2773
Pages: 12

Between the 8th and 11th centuries, the people of Scandinavia invaded the shores of the European mainland and its islands (i.e. England, Scotland). Due to their reputation for brutality, non-monotheistic belief system, and the harshness of their native language, the Vikings were referred to as savages. However, this term does not accurately describe the Viking people (also referred to as Norsemen, meaning men from the north,). The Viking culture was one that was deeply entwined with their religious beliefs, had a definitive system of laws, and had technological advantages over many civilizations of the time. The term savage has been used throughout history to describe people of specific cultures, more recently by European settlers to describe the Native Americans. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word savage as "lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings," and "lacking complex or advanced culture." (Webster) When the Vikings were viewed from the perspectives of their European neighbors, it is understandable to see why the people of Scandinavia could be seen as lacking restraints or as having a non-advanced culture. As the Viking age occurred well before any industrial age, the Vikings relied on their abilities as farmers to provide food, their carpentry abilities to build houses and boats, and their blacksmithing abilities to provide weapons. They were a simple people with simple needs and desires, free from outside influences. Their language was much more coarse and rough than the smooth-flowing, Latin-derived languages that prevailed throughout Europe. They did not believe in one god, Jesus Christ, or the concept of sin. To the Christian Europe nations, the Vikings were uneducated non-believers who were hungry for violence. Looking at the Norse culture through this scope, which is what has been done throughout history, does not allow one to accurately assess the complexity and civility of the Viking people. The religious beliefs of the Viking people are rather complex with multiple deities who each have their own role/purpose in affecting the lives and afterlives of the living. These beliefs guided the daily lives of the ancient Scandinavians and shaped the basic foundation of the civilization. For the most part, the gods were represented in human form and, in the stories of the gods, seemed to have acted in a human manner and lived in communities with a rather strict configuration. Each deity played an important role in daily life. One of the most well-known gods was Odin, the head of the Æsir family. He was known as the god of power, wisdom, poetry, and battle. Of particular note is the combination of poetry and battle, two things that one outside of the Viking culture would not normally consider to be similar. The stories tell that due to the manner of his death and the deeds that resulted, Odin was given his supernatural powers. Stories also tell that he gave one eye to be able to drink from the well of wisdom, his horse had eight legs, and that his two pet ravens were scouts that reported to him the happenings of the mortal world. He lived in a great hall known as Valhalla, where Valkyries would usher his selected warriors who were slain in battle. Here, Odin and his warriors awaited the great, final battle between good and evil. It was every Viking man's goal to be blessed by Odin and join him in Valhalla (Roesdahl 149). The worship of these gods often took place privately in one's own home, but occasionally would occur either in a hall or outside in a consecrated grove, referred to as a vé (Roesdahl 152-153). During these more formal gatherings, an animal was often sacrificed and feasted upon. The sacrifices were made to show the gods that they were respected and put above mortal needs and material goods. The feasts were large celebrations that were to demonstrate to the gods the thanks that the mortals had for the gods and their protection (Rood). This practice