On Vikings

Not the football team. The actual Norse folk. I’ve been learning a little bit about them recently. I found this on the Viking Answer Lady website (aha! Didn’t know there was a Viking Answer Lady? Your cup of knowledge now reaches the running-over stage. Don’t say I don’t love you).

Jacqueline Simpson states:

“In medieval Scandinavian languages, a vikingr is a pirate, a freebooter who seeks wealth either by ship-borne raids on foreign coasts or by waylaying more peaceful seafarers in home waters. There is also an abstract noun viking, meaning ‘the act of going raiding overseas’… Strictly speaking, therefore, the term should only be applied to men actually engaged in these violent pursuits, and not to every contemporary Scandinavian farmer, merchant, settler or craftsman, nor even to warriors fighting in the dynastic wars of their lords or in their own private feuds. However, it was the raiders who made the most impact on the Europe of their time, so that it has become customary to apply the term ‘Viking Age’ to the period of Scandinavian History beginning in the 790’s (the time of the first recorded raids on Western Europe) and petering out somewhere round the middle of the eleventh century (by which time raids and emigrations had ceased, the settlements established abroad had become thoroughly integrated with the local populations, and social changes in the Scandinavian homelands had marked the transition to their true Middle Ages). Indeed, the term is such a convenient label for the distinctive culture of this period that one now talks not only of ‘Viking ships’ and ‘Viking weapons’ but of ‘Viking art’, ‘Viking houses’, and even ‘Viking agriculture’ – expressions which would have seemed meaningless to people living at the time.”

(Jacqueline Simpson. Everyday Life in the Viking Age. New York: Dorset. 1967. ISBN 0-88029-146-X. p.11).

Did I read that right? I hear you say. Yes, you could vike. Were you a late first-century-probably-male-person-of-Scandinavian-extraction, you could go vike all you like. You could vike on a vike-bike. Vike with a pike on a super-duper vike bike. With a guy named Mike. (Not likely of Scandinavian extraction. But hey, it was the age of exploration and abduction of peaceful seagoers, so who knows from whence Mike floated.)

My apologies to Dr. Seuss. Seriously, though, I find this fascinating. I really did think there were people who were Vikings. However, as I think about it, there is no Vike-land. Maybe it was a strange derivation of Finland? That’s stretching it a bit. So it should not surprise me. Just think, though, for a period of hundreds of years we have a general-purpose overarching name that pretty much means “Pirate Age.” Try Pirate art, pirate houses, pirate agriculture… it just sounds weird.

So my first thought was, what was life for the women like? The men were non-viking Viking farmers or they were Vikings who viked; the women… Well, further on the Viking Answer Lady site she mentions that it was common for people in this place and time to expose unwanted infants (infanticide) and that often these were girl-children, so that adult women were somewhat scarce and prized. This gave them some autonomy, though not much. During a discussion about homosexuality, VAL writes,

One’s sexual partners mattered little so long as one married, had children, and conformed at least on the surface to societal norms so as not to disturb the community. Those Scandinavians who attempted to avoid marriage because of their sexuality were penalized in law: a man who shunned marriage was termed fuðflogi (man who flees the female sex organ) while a woman who tried to avoid marriage was flannfluga (she who flees the male sex organ) (Jochens 65).

But then later she writes that women tended to gather in the women’s quarters or the weaving room, places where men would not go, for fear of appearing unmanly. In households where many women were connected to one man for economic reasons (so, wife/wives, daughters, concubines, non-concubine slaves or thralls) it was common for women to turn to each other for emotional and sexual relationships. Fair enough, said common law, as long as you reproduce. It’s all very well to have that bit of fun as long as you’re having babies, understand? None of this running away from male sex organs. (Aaaaiiieeee!) My point is, they probably got a lot done. Hanging out together, eating en masse, caring for each other’s children, weaving, nalbinding, dyeing, sewing, embroidering, and waiting waiting for news or a husband to come home. The wee Minklet said the other day to me, “I wish I had a friend who could come live with us, so I could play with him even while you are making dinner!” See, that’s time management there. And the women-who-didn’t-vike had time management down.

I have found a lot of sites (usually SCA-oriented) that talk about Viking clothing and this can be overwhelming (or fascinating, take your pick). I love the idea of wearing an underdress, over which was worn an apron-dress. I’m finding a lot of information on the apron-dress alone. Was it worn towel-style? Was it more of a dress than a wrap? It had straps, not sleeves, but how were they connected to the body of the garment? There were holes involved, and brooches, and somehow women would attach their small necessities to the brooches instead of to a pouch or purse…

I’m tired and this is way too interesting. Go make your apron-dress, then run away from men and do some viking. I’d love to see how it all turns out.

p.s. I am certain that I am the only person I know who re-injured a long-gone whiplash injury that I did not know that I had by doing archery. Ah well.


One thought on “On Vikings

  1. Regarding the other vikings, the only thing you are required to know is that Fran Tarkenton was quarterback during the famed “purple people eater” years.
    That information will help you win a trivial pursuit game, I promise you.

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