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Viking Saga - Newsletters by Donald Hansen

Vol. 2 No. 1

Vol. 2 No. 2

Vol. 2 No. 3

Vol. 2 No 1

 

Did you know that Moscow, Copenhagen, Oslo and Tokyo are the world’s most expensive cities? It wasn’t always so. Dina is Russian, or more properly Tatar, and we left Denmark to live for some years in Moscow and other parts of the Former Soviet Union, leaving in 1996. Prices were low but there wasn’t much to buy. Many people likened life there to the US Great Depression (Now Russia has many billionaires amongst its oligarchy). But back to the Viking Age. About A.D. 800, villagers in what is now Ukraine were constantly besieged by raiders from the East and were impoverished in material goods, body and spirit. To protect them they selected a leader from Sweden, Rörik of the Rusfolk. He founded the city of Novgorod (“new city”) and through his son Igor and others left a lasting heritage in the region, which expanded into what is now Russia. Thus, the Rusfolk gave their name to Russia! In 882, a Viking leader, Oleg, stepson to Igor moved down the Dnieper and seized Kiev, making a commercial treaty to link with the Byzantine Empire. About this time the Viking Varangians (from Old Norse “var” meaning oath), appeared in Constantinople as guards of the Byzantine emperor and have remained there ever since. They still perform in Turkey, which we saw on a memorable visit some years ago.

 

Thor is the son of Odin and the favored deity of ordinary men and women. His hammer amulet was wore in celebration of births, voyages, deaths and any occasion to celebrate. His hammer was named Mjöllnir “crush”. He was the god of thunder just like Zeus and Jupiter. He was also god of the sky, rain and agriculture; hence his popularity to the mainly farm population. His name is commemorated in English in the day of the week Thursday, literally Thor's Day. He rode the skies in a chariot drawn by two goats, Tanngrinost “tooth-grinder” and Tanngrisni “gap-tooth”. His popularity was mainly due to the fact that he was far more understandable and approachable than the mysterious and complex Odin.

 

 

"Far may it be to a false friend

Even if he lives next door

A faithful friend may easily be found

Even if he is far away."

 

– From the Hávamál (words of the High One, attributed to Odin)

Compiled in Iceland in the 9th Century as maxims for the Viking to live by.

 

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Vol. 2 No. 2

 

We previously discussed Odin and Thor. Now, we turn to Frey, the 3rd of the 3 major gods. He was the son of Njord. Frey, his father and sister Freya, the goddess of sex, came to Asgard, as hostages in the stalemated battle between the Aesir (gods sired by Odin) & Vanir (the older fertility gods). They liked Asgard and stayed on. Frey was the phallic god of fertility – important to nurturing family and farm. Looking over the world one day he saw Gerd, the beautiful Frost Giantess. He fell in love instantly and couldn’t talk, eat or sleep. Finally, after Frey’s urging and trickery, she agreed to marry him after 9 nights. He complained in the Skirnismál:

 

"Long is one night

Two is even worse

How can I manage three?

Often a month seems shorter to me

Than half this night without my bride."

 

Women, take note; men, be on guard as women held a unique position in Viking times and still do in Scandinavia.

 

An Arabian emissary in Denmark about AD 970 reported that marriages were arranged between families, and not from love as many Norse poems and sagas tell of passionate love stories. Women had a great deal of freedom in marriage. They had the right to divorce and could get divorced whenever they wanted.  Women could also inherit real and personal property.

 

Adultery was severely punished. Adam of Bremen (AD 1070) wrote, “Men are sentenced to death for adultery; women are sold as slaves. Rape of virgins is punished by death.” Still, “men had mistresses depending upon their wealth. Sons of these relationships were considered legitimate.” No word about the daughters.

 

Women ran the households and farms, had many farm duties and were the basis for social discipline in the family. They carried the keys, a symbol of their responsibility and power. They would urge mediation for a crime and often urge blood revenge. A murderer’s family paid the family of the victim. There is one record of a payment of 180 cows ($200,000 in today's money).

 

 The Poetic Edda states: “Don’t believe a word a woman says in bed.” You decide.

 

– Many thanks to Marit Synnøve Vea, Project Director, The Avaldnes Project, Norway

 

Let us look now at events that shaped Viking culture and have impacted world history:

 

  • AD 840 – Vikings capture Dublin. They also inhabited Cork, Belfast, Shannon, Waterford, etc. (Ever wonder why many Irish have blue eyes & red hair?  One answer proposed by a customer: “Vikings dated a lot.”). By 847 they were defeated by Brian Boru (maybe) and later Olaf the White.
  • AD 950 – Icelandic Althing founded and is still standing as the world’s longest serving parliament!
  • AD 958 –  King Gorm the Old of Denmark died. Harald Bluetooth restored Danish dominance over Norway.

 

 

"Better weight than wisdom a traveler cannot carry

It is the poor man’s strength in a strange place,

Worth more than wealth."

 

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Vol. 2 No. 3

 

This term referred to the laws that prevailed in the Danish-occupied part of England after the treaty of King /Alfred & Guthrum in AD 886. These Danes were Viking invaders and settlers seeking new lands in nearby England. York (Jorvik) was a major Danish town. One important raider/settler had the intriguing name, Ivar the Boneless (perhaps not called so to his face). The boundaries between England & the Danelaw ran “up the Thames and then up the Lea … to its source, then straight to Bedford and then up the Ouse to Watling Street.” Later English kings brought the Danelaw under their rule but didn’t interfere with the laws & customs of the area, some surviving after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and into the early 12th century.

 

Recent studies indicate that all places in the Danelaw were not populated exclusively by Danish settlers. Old Norse naming customs were apparently adopted by everyone so a village with a Viking lord but an English population might have a Scandinavian hybrid name (called “re-naming.”). We know that many spoke some Old Norse, probably similar to present-day US/Mexican border towns with an English/Spanish mixture.

 

Here are a few Viking place name suffixes that you’ve probably encountered:

  • by as in Grimston and Derby, first meaning a farmstead but later a village or town
  • thorpe  as in Anglethorpe. A secondary settlement. Most –thorpes in England are still tiny settlements.
  • toft e.g., Lowestoft. Originally a small farmstead then any small settlement.
  • holme, originally an island or a farm reclaimed from a marsh
  • kirk, church (we make our jewelry in Kirke Såby, Denmark)
  • thwaite a small farm probably colonized by Norwegian Vikings rather than Danish.
  • wick maybe from Anglo-Saxon “port,” or Old Norse -vik for creek or bay.
  • borough meant a fortified place for defense against Vikings
  • ness, a headland or marker for sea navigation

 

 

"Bitter is the wind tonight;

White the tresses of the sea;

I have no fear the Viking hordes

Will sail the seas on such a night."

 

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