Were the Celts or Vikings better warriors?

Vikings: 7 truths about the Vikings


Read on one side

1. Gangs of murderers? Oh yeah!

It was not the first attack, but it became legend: The murderous attack on Lindisfarne Monastery on June 8, 793 is considered to be the beginning of the Viking Age. Among other things, this episode on England's east coast owes the Vikings their bad reputation. Witness statements by surviving Christian monks tell of a massacre and the desecration of holy places.

Since there are no independent sources for this event and much about the Vikings was only written down centuries later, some historians read these documents in the 1990s as propaganda or at least as tendentious representations of the opponents of the time. As a result, the image of the Vikings began to resemble that drawn by runic esotericists: the once terrible Norsemen mutated into a kind of friendly occupier in the perception of historical science.

The image of gentle beings is over again: the recently opened exhibition in Berlin shows enough evidence of the voyages of the Viking gangs. "Suddenly they showed up where no one expected them," says Matthias Wemhoff, curator and director of the Museum for Prehistory and Protohistory of the State Museums in Berlin. With their lightning raids, they waged a new kind of war. "And success gave her a taste for it." Like entrepreneurs, says Wemhoff, tribal princes would have gathered hordes together if necessary and then set out to plunder.

2. The Vikings, a people? No.

Even if the name today stands for Scandinavian peoples and cultures of the Viking Age - occasionally even as an "ethnic label", as Gareth Williams of the British Museum notes - there never was a "Viking people". However, loose kingdoms and village communities formed the nucleus for three states: Norway, Sweden and Denmark refer to Viking roots.

Originally it was presumably a violent hordes who were traveling by ship. In Old Norse, the masculine noun denotes víkingr a pirate, the feminine víking a foray. "Viking" meant military action at sea. The vocabulary is probably derived from the word vik ("Bay" or "Inlet") - which is also part of the city name Reykjavík ("Smoke Bay"). Williams suspects that the first "Vikings" were residents of a bay. Or pirates who hid in fjords and attacked ships from there.

Robbers and Traders

The Vikings

The term describes the population large parts of Northern Europe (and from regions on the Baltic Sea, North Sea, Irish Sea, in the North Atlantic and around Novgorod and Kiev) during the Viking Age. This lasted around 250 years, from around 800 to around 1050. The originally pagan Vikings gradually became Christians, especially under the aegis of the Danish king Harald Blauzahn.

The exhibition

The heart of the Viking Show is 37.27 meters long, but only had a draft of 84 centimeters. The wreck of the Roskilde 6 from the harbor basin of the Danish city of the same name is the greatest testimony to the art of Viking shipbuilding. The reconstruction fills the inner courtyard of the Berliner Martin-Gropius-Baus complete - diagonally and thanks to the sail almost to the roof. "Our airspace has never been so full," says curator Matthias Wemhoff. The exhibition was previously shown in Copenhagen (National Museum) and London (British Museum).

The English researcher also has a less spectacular interpretation ready. The Latin word vicus (Village or estate; Old English wic) can be found in the names of trading centers around the North Sea: in today's Wijk (Netherlands), Quentovic (France) or Ipswich (England) and the former Ludenwic (London). Located close to the water, they were used to handle goods. Were Vikings friendly traveling salesmen? "The dividing line between robbery and trade is sometimes blurred," writes Gareth Williams in the exhibition catalog. This shows the handling of the slaves that the Vikings obtained during raids - and sold legally.

3. thieves? Capitalists!

The Vikings increased their wealth with various strategies. Instead of just looting, you could also levy tributes. The trade in luxury goods, metals, food and slaves proved to be profitable. With barges weighing up to 60 tons, they sailed across seas and along rivers. Their routes stretched in the north to Greenland, in the east to the Caspian Sea and in the south to Constantinople and Seville. They moved walrus ivory and furs from the North Atlantic, supplied amber from the Baltic coast to Asia, slate from the area of ​​what is now Ukraine to northern Germany and wine home. Haithabu (in Schleswig-Holstein) was one of the most important long-distance trading centers.



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Gold, silver and glass beads were used as currency. The precious metals were subdivided as desired, one exchanged for silver coins, hacked silver pieces, silver bars or standardized jewelry units. Bracelets and chokers were specifically made so that they could easily be divided into whole ounces. The Vikings hung their wives with the fortune: "Every man has a necklace made for his wife as soon as he has 10,000 dirhams together," noted the Arabic writer Ibn Fadlān when he wrote about the Scandinavian residents of the greater Kievan Rus empire.