Tag Archives: Vikings

‘The Vikings and Their Enemies,’ by Philip Line

The Vikings and Their Enemies

Some books are a chore to read, even if the subject interests you, but a necessary chore. Like textbooks when you’re in school. For me, Philip Line’s The Vikings and Their Enemies: Warfare in Northern Europe, 750-1100 was that kind of book. It contained information I needed and from which I profited, but I thought it would never end.

Casual readers will probably find it long and daunting, as the Amazon reviews indicate. First of all, though “Vikings” is in the title, that word here indicates the time period, not the main subject. Most of the material does not focus on the Vikings themselves. The main reason for this is that the author, like so many historians, is skeptical about the Icelandic sagas as sources, and so uses them only lightly. That leaves him with limited source materials about Scandinavians. Most of the ink is devoted to the Vikings’ enemies, the British, the Irish, the French, the Germans, and a few others. For them we have a certain amount of documentary evidence (though Line handles that evidence with caution too).

The practical upshot is that he spends a lot of time telling us that popular histories are wrong about many, many things that have entered the general information pool. Which is the mark of a rigorous historian. But it does not make for an exciting narrative.

However, the book contained, in particular, some information on Viking naval tactics that I needed for the book I am writing. So the work I put in reading The Vikings and Their Enemies was well worth it to me.

The normal reader will probably find other books on the period more interesting and easier to consume. I recommend this one only for its appropriate audience.

Danish Day, 2017

I apologize for standing you up last night. My service provider, apparently, suffered a major outage in my area. At least that’s their excuse.

I wanted to tell you about Sunday. I’ve done this almost every year pretty much as long as I’ve been blogging. Danish Day at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis. The first big event of the summer for the Viking Age Club & Society.

As you know (or if you don’t, pay attention!) I finally broke down and got a smart phone last winter. I’m cautiously learning the pleasures associated with that device (though I never plan to tweet. I fail to see the charm of tweeting, or of following tweets).

On Sunday I did my first Food Selfie. I’d bought what they call a Danish Hot Dog (or pølse), and I thought I’d take a photo with my phone and post it to Facebook.

Poelse

Got lots of responses. Amazing what fascinates people nowadays. Our lives must be very dull.

But amidst all the discussion, in which I defended (for instance) the use of ketchup on hot dogs against the authority of Clint Eastwood himself, I got a response from my distant cousin in Denmark, who had intelligent and enlightening things to say about the Danish hot dog tradition.

It’s all quite silly, but I have to concede it’s fun. And if we can have international fun in these troubled times, why not? Continue reading Danish Day, 2017

We call them ‘wall hangers’ nowadays

Viking sword
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Via Dave Lull: An article from J-Stor by James MacDonald, on new Danish research that indicates that some Viking swords were never meant for a fight. “The trick to creating an ideal sword using this technique is to distribute different types of metal that balance hardness and flexibility—durable enough to hold an edge while absorbing the shock of contact. The scanned swords were not made in such a way that they can both cut and flex.”

I mentioned the story to a reenactor friend last weekend, and he wasn’t greatly surprised. The sagas do not speak of swords made entirely for show — what we call “wall hangers” today. But we know that sword making was an iffy proposition. The “Havamal” says, “Praise no sword until it has been tested.” And one unfortunate character in one of the sagas comes proudly home from Norway with a beautiful sword with gilded furniture. But when he tries it in a fight, it bends, and he has to set the tip on the ground and try to straighten it by stepping on it.

So it’s not unreasonable that a status-conscious Viking might have bought a sword purely for show, as a status symbol, but would depend in battle on his trusty axe, which was easier to use anyway.

News flash: ‘The Great Army’ was actually great

Via Dave Lull: A report from The Guardian on a new exhibition in England, devoted to the Viking Great Army (also known as the Great Heathen Army) which wintered over in England in 872:

A major exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum, staged in partnership with the British Museum, draws on new research by the universities of York and Sheffield. According to Professor Dawn Hadley, one of the co-directors of the universities’ project at the site of a Viking winter camp, archeologists and historians had thought that the invading Viking armies numbered in the low hundreds. But archeological work at the camp on the river Trent at Torksey, Lincolnshire, suggested otherwise.

Historians have been inclined to consider contemporary chronicles, which numbered the Great Army in the thousands, as exaggerations, because… because historians always think medieval chroniclers were very gullible and stupid, and exaggerated everything. In general, my impression is that trusting the most contemporary sources is generally a prudent approach.

New ‘Viking’ trailer

I’m weary of the world tonight. Can’t think of anything to write that I wouldn’t regret tomorrow.

So here’s the latest trailer for the new Russian Viking movie. My reenactor friends complain that the costumes aren’t accurate, but in my view they look punctilious compared to the costumes on the History Channel.

The latest news I’ve seen says international rights have been sold, but there’s been no announcement of a US release date.

Landmarks and visions

Landmark Center
The Landmark Center in St. Paul. Photo 2005 by Mulad.

The old US post office, custom house, and court house in St. Paul, built in 1902 and home to much graft and corruption in its time, is now called Landmark Center. They’re a little more tolerant of architectural treasures in that city than in Minneapolis, so it was saved from the wrecking ball and now exists as a cultural center. Once a month they host events for various ethnic groups. This month (yesterday) it was the Danes, and we Vikings were asked to man a table for the event. Three of us showed up. We had a pretty good time.

Lots of visitors, and lots of questions, many from children, which is always nice. I was able to explain how people got the idea that Viking helmets had horns, and how chain mail was made. Sold a couple books and several bits of leather work.

One of the best parts was that we were right next to the aebelskiver stand. Aebelskivers are Danish pancakes, formed by secret and occult methods into spheres. They’re generally served with powdered sugar and strawberry preserves. Delightful.

I also had the pleasure, over the weekend, of receiving another tip from Dave Lull. He remembered that I’m fond of the late D. Keith Mano, and he alerted me to a reprint of one of Mano’s old columns over at the National Review. They’re going to be publishing a series of them over the next few weeks. This one concerns a series of visions of the Virgin Mary in Bayside, Queens, New York back in 1975. Mano describes his “investigation” in bemused and gentle terms.

The church of St. Robert Bellarmine—now half school, half gym—stands two blocks up. There used to be a statue on the corner: large copy of those Virgins in telephone booths that wait outside Catholic houses. Veronica had her first visions here. But, as crowds grew, an unsympathetic Mother Church had the statue sledgehammered away. So much for mariolatry. You can still see the pedestal stump, cordoned off by wooden snow fencing.

It occurred to me to do a web search on Dave Lull. Turns out he’s not merely a reader of this blog, which would be enough to adorn the fame of any man. He’s a librarian (thus one of nature’s noblemen) and a facilitator of blogs. Blogless himself, he sends tips like this to a number of book bloggers.

I am honored to be among that number.

‘Vikings’ unearthed

I think I’ve written about the old TV show, Tales of the Vikings, here before. It formed the spark that first roused my interest in the Vikings. Judging by the clip below, which recently appeared on YouTube, it was about as cheesy as I figured.

According to the link, there are six extant episodes available on CD now from this site. I had been given to understand that all episodes had been lost forever. So this is good news. Except that I’m reluctant to order from an unknown site.

I probably will, though.

Minot Post-Mortem

I am back from Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota. The nation rejoices.

I have a couple mediocre pictures to share, taken with my Kindle, but Photo Bucket is moving very slowly tonight, so I’ll have to upload them later.

As you know, it’s been two years since I did Høstfest. Things tend to change when you neglect them for 24 months, and there were many changes for the Vikings.

One major change was that they moved us to a different building. That move had benefits and drawbacks, as I see it. The main benefit was increased space. We now share that space with other Viking groups and individuals, but that’s a benefit too (though it might be hard on our pride). There were several vendors, and several craftspeople showing off their skills. So it’s a much more educational event than it used to be. Also the music played in the building (Nordic and Sami) was more evocative than the Country and Western we generally had in our old venue.

The drawback was a certain separation from the mainstream of the festival. People had to pass through two temporary covered walkways to reach us, and there were a lot of people (or so we heard) who gave up on finding us, or never realized we were there at all.

Still, business wasn’t bad, and was quite good on Saturday, the final day. My own book sales were a little disappointing, though. I think I about broke even on the trip.

My most memorable moment came after I realized I had misplaced my cell phone. I went to the lost and found area the following morning and described it to the ladies there. After that they went all Jack Webb on me: “Do you have any idea where you might have lost it, sir?”

I said it might have been in the hallways somewhere. Then one of them went into a closet and came back with my phone. A note had been taped to it saying, “Porta-Potty.”

Then they broke up in laughter. “You’re just having fun with me, aren’t you?” I said. “I’m your morning’s entertainment.” They admitted that it was true. Theirs was a weary job, and they needed to wring from it whatever amusement they could.

I pointed to my security identification badge, which gave my name and (as was the case for all the Vikings) the designation, “Entertainer.”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for,” I said. “Entertainment.”

‘The Viking Spirit,’ by Daniel McCoy

The Viking Spirit

For that matter, these two poles [of friendly and hostile magic] were often two sides of the same coin; to help one person often meant to harm another. This was especially the case for the Vikings, who believed in an “economy of fortune:” there was a fixed amount of luck in the world, and when one person’s luck changed for the better, someone else’s luck must have changed for the worse.

A Facebook friend asked me about this book, and I was embarrassed to say I’d never heard of it. So I acquired The Viking Spirit, by Daniel McCoy, and read it. I was impressed.

Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Norse Myths has long been a standard introduction to the subject, and it remains valuable, but I think The Viking Spirit might supersede it. The book is divided into two sections – first an overview of the sources, scholarly views of those sources, and the nature of the Norse world view. The second section provides short synopses of the myths that have been preserved to us. The author attempts to strip them down to something like their “original” essences, while making it clear that much has been lost, that it’s possible to have more than one “original” version, and that our critical editing is necessarily a matter of guesswork.

My chief fear when I started the book was that it would be full of New Agey spiritual fluff, but nothing could be further from the case. Author McCoy is very hard-headed about his scholarship. He makes some fresh contributions that will be surprising even to old Viking buffs – for instance his view that the Norsemen did not see history as a cyclical phenomenon, but as linear. That contradicts a lot of 20th Century scholarship, but he makes a good case.

I caught McCoy in a few small errors, I thought, especially in his descriptions of Viking life. But I’d be hesitant to challenge him, because he clearly knows his stuff (and I’ve been known to be wrong).

If you’re interested in Norse mythology, I highly recommend The Viking Spirit. Not for young kids, if you want to shield them from some of the earthier facts of life.

Unleash the Dragon!

Dragon Harald Fairhair
Photo credit: Jack_IOM from Douglas, Isle of Man.

I wrote the other day about the problem the replica Viking Ship, the Dragon Harald Fairhair, has gotten into in the great lakes. They’re stuck in Bay City, Michigan, having discovered they’re required to take on a pilot, something that will cost north of $400,000.

The Sons of Norway Foundation has started campaign to raise money for these fees. The donation site is here. You don’t have to be a Sons of Norway member.

Personally, I think it would be more prudent to burn a few buildings and demand Danegeld. But that’s just me.

Coast Guard stops Vikings: Irish take note

Dragon Harald Fairhair
Photo credit: Peder Jacobsson.

All summer I’ve been looking forward to the annual Tall Ships Festival in Duluth. Among the featured ships was to be the Dragon Harald Fairhair, largest Viking ship replica in the world. Built in Haugesund, old ancestral region of the Walkers. I had been talking to the festival people about having my Viking group participate.

At the moment the voyage is stalled. The U.S. Coast Guard has forbidden the dragon ship from proceeding without a professional pilot, something estimated to cost around $400,000. They had understood that their short length made them exempt, but that, apparently was Canadian rules. It seems to be another case of people misunderstanding government regulations, inexplicable in view of their simplicity and rationality (sarcasm off).

Anyway, there’s a petition to get the requirement waived at change.org. I don’t know if it will do any good or not.