Lesson I — The Vikings and Their Era

Fjorn's Hall

I

The Vikings and Their Era

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“In the popular imagination, the Vikings are shaggy, unkempt, ax-weilding thugs in horned helmets who raped, pillaged, and plundered their way across Europe in the Early Middle Ages, nearly destroying Western civilization in the process. They have been blamed for everything from a decline in learning (thanks to the burning of monasteries, places of learning) to the break-up of the Carolingian empire that dominated Europe in the ninth century. So is the Viking stereotype of the burly, destructive barbarian remotely accurate? As usual, the myth is far removed from reality.”

— Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald, The Viking Age: A Reader, xv.


THE VIKINGS

Intertwined with imagination, enthusiasm, and even hostility, the ‘Vikings’ still remain a terribly misunderstood group within history. Their image as unkempt barbarians comes out of popular fiction, while their iconic horned helmet, completely unaccounted for in the…

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2 thoughts on “Lesson I — The Vikings and Their Era”

  1. I jumped across and read the original post – interesting stuff and thanks for the heads-up! I’ve always found it intriguing that we always envisage Viking helmets as horned these days. Of course they weren’t, and for good technical reason. As far I’m aware the fault was Richard Wagner’s set designer, circa 1860, trying to pep up the look of the costumes. (I have to admit, I always get this mental picture of Wagnerian opera consisting of a row of sopranos wandering on stage in horned ‘Viking’ helmet and breastplates before making the kind of noises that you usually associate with someone getting a delicate body part slammed in a door, and going on like that for about three days, but maybe that’s just me vs opera… :-))

    1. I can’t disagree with you about opera Matthew. Some German opera’s can indeed last for three days! I hadn’t realised that the set designer was responsible for this perhaps most significant of historical gaffs. Can you imagine all of those horned helmets beneath a shield wall? I can imagine it would get quite crowded. It would also have been a huge problem for troops disembarking Drakken long-ships. I would think that many troops would have found themselves tangled in rigging long before they had jumped ashore! Of course, the stalhelm is domed to deflect the blow of an axe or sword away from the head. Vikings rarely used metal helmets and used predominantly leather jerkins for armour, they were raiders, fast shock troops – more akin to todays special forces than infantry. Thanks as always for your comment.

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