Assignment 2: Given topic / HW2110 Sweden – Past and Present 2008 Autumn, Krisitianstad University, Sweden
NAME : Lee, Hunjae Title: The Vikings and the origins of Sweden
A. There have been several debates about Vikings. Mention two or three problems that have been discussed, and explain how opinions differ.
a) Interpreting Viking ages: An old controversy but still going on.
The old raiders-or-traders debate that has been discussed enough
This debate is about evaluation of Viking ages historically. For a long time, it had been told that Vikings are so cruel that they burnt, killed and destroyed everything including humanity. But after that, relatively recent historical truth revealed that how the stimulus Viking brought both to the economy and to the a few governments that were able to resist them was vital in developing Europe. This debate has been argued and argued persuasively. People on victim’s side insist that Vikings didn’t need to that so much land, house, slave and of course inhumane way. On the contrary people on counterpart accuse it with the cause of Viking age, taking food shortage or historical contributions like trade. Now we can see both sides even in the TV documentary series. (BBC, 2008)
New, never-ending controversy (Jarrett, 2008-11-11)
For some European that had been involved in this history, Vikings are always hot topic. And even the press knows that it is a hot topic. Therefore new debate about Viking is easy to be made. There are some debates about interpreting and depicting Vikings. Actually it aroused because some scholars strongly start to advertise that the common misconceptions about Vikings, well known like “Horned helmets, skull cups and uncleanliness”. According to them, Vikings didn’t use that stuffs and rather clean than people usually know. On the other hand, there are also people who resist the new attempt because it seems like curtain that hides their violence in colonial era.
Taking neutral position
In my perspective, the common controversy is too superficial to catch the core of this issue. I assume that hidden reason of this debate is that some people don’t want to lose their legendary Viking story. Because they are worrying that breaking misconception will reduce the wonderful interest of this culture. But historical truth should not be regarded as an entertainment. Not all Vikings are cruel and wearing strange helmets. But still there must have existed unclean, inhumane warriors. People could serve both of them with balance. Misconception should be broken. At the same time shameful history should me reminded.
b) Viking map: Is the Viking discovered America before Columbus?
A controversial parchment said to be the oldest map of America could, if authentic, support the theory that the Vikings arrived first. The map is said to date from 1434 and was found in 1957. Some people believe it is evidence that Vikings, who departed from Greenland around the year 1000, were the first to land in the Americas. The document is of Vinland, the part of North America believed to be what is today the Canadian province of Newfoundland, and was supposedly discovered by the Viking Leif Eriksen, the son of Erik the Red. The map was considered a sensation when it was found. Experts largely agree that the parchment dates from the 1400s, but by the 1970s some experts had begun arguing that the ink used contained materials that were only developed in the 20th century. (ABC, 2004)
B. What is known about their society, script, religion?
a) Society (Hauge, 2002)
Viking society was self-regulated. Law and order was based upon the Thing system, which had already been established via common-meetings dating to least 600 AD. The Thing had legislative and judiciary powers. Every free man had a duty to meet at the Thing’s common-meetings, except men who farmed alone and were unable to leave their farm unattended. Also, women and handicapped people could attend the Thing. Among other items, the Vikings elected their King at the Thing. These common-meetings might last several days, therefore the Thing was also an occasion for a large marketplace and festival.
The Vikings had no written laws. However, a man referred to as a “lovsigemann” – in English this means “law reader man” – opened the Thing by reading the laws, which he had memorized by heart. This was done to ensure that no one changed the laws. Every free man had to respect the law , including chieftains and the king. The Thing was a democratic constitution. Compared with the democracy of ancient Athens, which included only 10% of the inhabitants as citizens, the Viking system was more democratic. It included everybody as citizens, except the slaves and those exiled from society – the outlaws.
Why they look like outlaw, and always fighting?
Viking society was permeated by their religion, although the Vikings had no word for “religion”. Instead they used the word “siðr”, which means custom or practice. However, the moral code in Viking society was not directly tied to having a belief in the gods. Social behavior was based upon an unwritten system of honor or code of ethics. Right and wrong, gender roles, sexual morality, daily life, the timing of festivals; in all these circumstances the free man was evaluated by standards of honor. The explanation for the frequent in-fighting within Viking society lies not with a lack of respect for the law among its members. Rather, the basis was provided by the tension of living in a society which placed a premium upon maintaining personal honor. Men therefore took the requisite action to maintain honor or ward off dishonor. Revenge was a mechanism employed by individuals or families to maintain a positive balance in their own lives. This is the background for the many bloody fights written about in the family-sagas and history books.
b) Script (mainly from Cornish, 2007)
The Viking Runic Alphabet
The alphabet they used was invented by their ancient Norse ancestors around 200 B.C. The letters or runes may have been based on the early Latin or Greek alphabets or on Neolithic (stone-age) characters carved in rocks throughout northern Europe. The Viking alphabet is often called the Futhark after the first six letters of the original alphabet of twenty-four letters. The alphabet was later reduced to sixteen runes. Viking runes weren’t written with pen and ink on paper. Instead, runes were carved into stone, wood, clay and bone with a knife or chisel. To make carving into these surfaces easier, the runes were made using only straight lines.
The word rune means mystery or whispered secret. In Viking mythology, the runes were a gift from their all-powerful god Odin. In order to learn them and the magical powers they possessed, Odin hung upside down on the tree of knowledge for nine days. When he saw the runes, he used his sword to carve them into the tree. In return for gaining the wisdom and magic powers associated with the runes, Odin gave up his left eye. Because of this sacrifice, the Vikings considered the runes to be sacred.
Use of Runes
Runes were used for many ordinary and extraordinary things. Ordinary Vikings used them to label household items and personal belongings like the fishing sinker pictured above. Viking merchants used runes to keep records of items bought and sold. Viking warriors decorated their swords with runes to identify the owners. Because the Vikings though the runes were magical, the believed their weapons became stronger in battle. Warriors who knew how to read and write runes could blunt enemies’ weapons, break chains, cure illnesses and guard against witches. The runes were also carved on amulets, pieces of jewelry worn by a deceased Vikings for protection in the next world.
Why Runes disappeared?
The use of runes was not limited to the Vikings. Many others societies in Europe used these characters. But, because the runes were associated with paganism, their use ended when the Europeans converted to Christianity. The Vikings were one of the last group of Europeans to make this conversion. Consequently, their use of runes lasted longer than any other European society.
Pagan and Christian together
People usually believe that Viking as just pagan plunderers. But according to historical evidence even they adopted Christianity. It is true that almost the entire population of Scandinavia was pagan at the beginning of the Viking Age, but the Vikings had many gods, and it was no problem for them to accept the Christian god alongside their own. Most scholars today believe that Viking attacks on Christian churches had nothing to do with religion, but more to do with the fact that monasteries were typically both wealthy and poorly defended, making them an easy target for plunder. (Williams, 2001)
Paganism and its Rituals
Well known stories about their pagan belief is like this. The chief god Odin was sacrificed to himself by being hanged on a tree and pierced in the side with a spear, and this was followed by a sort of resurrection a few days later – a clear parallel with Christ’s crucifixion. And there are a huge amount of information about the gods, and their relationship with giants, men and dwarfs. The most powerful god was the one-eyed Odin, the Allfather, god of warfare, justice, death, wisdom and poetry. Probably the most popular god, however, was Thor, who was stupid but incredibly strong. With his hammer Miollnir, crafted by the dwarfs, he was the main defender of the gods against the giants. He was also the god of thunder, and he was particularly worshipped by seafarers. The brother and sister Frey and Freyja, the god and goddess of fertility, were also important, and there were many other minor gods and goddesses. The Scandinavian gods were served by a class of priest-chieftains called godar. Worship was originally conducted outdoors, under guardian trees, near sacred wells, or within sacred arrangements of stones. Later, wooden temples were used, with altars and with carved representations of the gods. The most important temple was at Old Uppsala, Sweden, where animals and even human beings were sacrificed. (Feri.com, 2008-12-03)
Why do we usually believe that they are just pagan?
Unlike Christianity, Scandinavian paganism did not revolve around devotion, worship and prescribed doctrine; it is much better to see it as a form of philosophy, a means to understand the world. (History channel, 2004) So in my opinion, mainly because of historians after Viking ages our contemporary misunderstanding about their religion had developed. There are occasional references to paganism in the Viking sagas – mostly composed in Iceland in the 13th century – But it was written down 200 years after the conversion to Christianity. I think they wanted to let Vikings as old people, not enlightened, not European. And it could be more helpful to make united Christianity culture after Christianization. Another reason that I popped up is, the people of northern Europe have had a fondness for Viking culture. People always like to have some old legend and mythology. And it is good source for making entertainment like movie, souvenir, child toy, literature and something like that.
C. How was Sweden “Europeanized” after it became Christian?
In the Viking era, the Swedish kingdom took shape but was not very centralized. Political power became more centralized with the advent of Christianity, which came gradually between the 9th and 11th centuries. During the 12th century, the Swedish kingdom consolidated internally and under the guise of the crusades began to expand into the Baltic, incorporating Finland, between 1150 and 1300. Among the institutions established in Sweden during the 12th and 13th centuries were Latin education, new modes and styles of architecture and literature, town life, and a more centralized monarchy with new standards in royal administration—all with significant economic, legal, and social implications. With this common characteristic of Europe in that time, Sweden could be regularized as a European.
ABC Science. (2004-11-26). Viking map may rewrite US history
Cornish, J. (2002-04-07) Viking Runes
Encyclopedia of the Nations. (2008) Sweden history.
Feri.com (2000-12-02) Scandinavian Mythology, pre-Christian religious beliefs of the Scandinavian people.
Hauge, A. (2002) Daily life in the Viking period.
History channel, The Vikings (2004)
Jarrett, J. (2008-11-11). Once more Mr Nice Guy: the Vikings and violence
Williams, G. (2001-11-01) Viking Religion