Viking Tid Bits 2

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My mother used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” As a child, it didn’t make much sense, but now, in this upheaval of political values, it is understandable.  And you may wonder how this might then lead into thoughts about Vikings.

Well, they may have had the right answer to how to handle different political views and where my mother got that little idiotism of wisdom. They had no formal king in the beginning. In fact, when a king was finally instituted, a few of them, not wanting to give up their independence, moved to Iceland. Even to this day, the closest you will ever get to the Old Norse way of government is in Iceland where they may still have the best way of doing things.

When a few hardy souls decided to live in the fjords and treacherous mountains of Norway and Sweden, they formed independent little villages or homesteads. Often a family would just farm a little plot of land and if the children made it to adulthood, they would branch off and farm a little more of any available land next to the old homestead. As you can see this would present some problems when they ran out of land.

As little villages were loosely created, they were hemmed in by the lack of growth. The fjords are steep, the weather harsh and there was not much farmland. Their only form of easy transportation was boats so you can see where they might become expert seafarers. Then, most of their goods had to be traded for.

They lived off the sea as well as farmed. They were quite resourceful, they had to be. This, of course, fosters independence. They became traders long before a few wild individuals took to plundering. During those long dark nights of winter, they became quite the craftsmen.

So as their population grew, and it wasn’t quick with the high mortality rate they faced, eventually little towns sprung up throughout Scandinavia.  Of course, they didn’t have much communication with other little hamlets, so each village became its own unit. The strongest male there would usually hold a position of being the final say.

So let’s say one family had a grievance with another over property lines. In the fall, usually during the final harvest, the nearby villages would get together to celebrate. There were many names for this gathering, like Althing, or the Thing. Remember each village developed its own beliefs and customs, but this was a pretty common event. Several heads of families would get together and hear out individual complaints. It was a court of sorts. So the two families feuding over property would bring this before the judges and they would hear the case, then the gathered crowd would vote on whatever decision the judges came up with.

Some historians will claim this was where democracy was born. Others say it’s the purest form of democracy and still exists in Iceland today. Due to the little villages being so isolated from one another, each one developed into its own little government. Beliefs varied from village to village as well as customs. But once a year they could come together and work out their differences.

Actually, this is the way of the human race. Even now we see in each country factions of belief and values breaking off, forming groups. The Vikings were a little smarter about it though. If they really couldn’t agree on something, even with their peaceful harvest get-togethers every year, they finally resorted to the sword as the final say.  They truly were Darwin’s first real test of his theory of survival of the fittest.

Interestingly though, the Vikings also valued life above all else, especially since so few of them ever made it past 40. Children were considered precious. So again, it behooved them to settle a matter before it came to the fight.

I find the Vikings fascinating in many ways.  They were truly a unique group. But when it came to government, we could learn a few things from them. Unfortunately, it also shows that no matter the system chosen, humans will always be contentious and want it their way. History truly is the best teacher.

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Viking’s and Romance

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If a Viking man spouted poetry to a love interest, he could lose his life. Why? As with everything about the Vikings, there is only tantalizing little clues. Through the Poetic Edda, an oral history that wasn’t written down until the 13th century, we see glimpses of everyday life. It has been speculated this rule was to keep men from falsely leading a maiden on. Or possibly it wasn’t considered manly for a Viking warrior to spout soft words of love.

Most Viking marriages were arranged much like a modern company merger. There were strict rules about property and how the bride’s dowry would be dispersed. Viking women had more rights and freedoms than any of their counterparts at that time in history. This would have been due to their traveling husbands. Viking men were traders, leaving in the spring and wandering all summer long while the world was ice free. The return rates weren’t all that great back then. Between the dangers of ship travel, diseases in foreign lands, and raiding, a Viking man might never return.

So the Viking woman ran things at home. She had to oversee the livestock, production of crops and profit. While she was at it, she also prepared meals and made things for around the house. There was no local Wal-Mart to help out. It was a tough life. For this reason, all land inheritance was usually passed down through the woman.

With various gods, traditions, and superstitions, a marriage ceremony usually lasted on average, nine days. The Vikings had a thing about the number nine. There was drinking and feasting of course, along with rituals to entice the gods to give fertility, wealth and health. Quite often family swords were exchanged, and proof given that the marriage was consummated.

Another interesting concept − Viking woman could divorce easily. All she had to do was stand next to the bed shared with her husband and in front of three witnesses, simply say out loud three times, “I divorce thee.” Yup, it was that easy. Maybe that is why the men treated their women so well.

While monogamy was practiced, it wasn’t set in stone. If the man was lusty and wealthy enough, and his wife agreed to it, he could take a second wife. It was nothing to own several slaves as well. In fact, he was encouraged by his loving wife, to have a slave for copulation during her later months of pregnancy.

What of possible bastard offspring? Those long summer days did get a little lonely while Olaf was gone. Unfortunately, if a woman conceived while her husband was away, he had the right to deny feeding or clothing any offspring. When a baby was born, if the head of the household did not claim it on the ninth day, the baby was ‘exposed,’ meaning it was left to die in the forest.

The Vikings liked to keep things simple.

(For More Information on the Viking Culture and Customs please check out  http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/)