The Early Years
The Middle Ages. Not middle-aged. We’re talking the period of time around 700 AD, slightly before the invention of electricity and the fax machine. It was way back then where the Vikings roamed the world. Well, at least the part of the world they could easily get to and conquer with little or no trouble.
Have you ever commuted to work on the busy streets of your downtown community and hit every green light speeding up your trip to the office? Well, Vikings had much the same success whenever they raided a nearby village or territory. In fact, they got so good at it that some targets got hit annually. It eventually became known as “The Annual Raid Week” where pretty much everything in sight got annihilated, riches were collected – along with food – and the Vikings celebrated with even longer feasts because they could.
The efficiency used in each of these raids where virtually nothing breathing was left standing lead a pest control product company to use the word ‘raid’ on their most popular product. But the Vikings were a decent sort. They didn’t raid just for the heck of it nor did they do it because Tuesday night was a bad night on the TV either. Because the Viking culture gave the nod to men having several (translation: a lot) wives, it meant that the Viking population was exploding. In order to keep the hungry mouths fed and wives covered in jewels and pantries stocked with more than Boar meat and shrubbery, raids were more of a necessity than a pastime.
One important fact about Vikings that somehow got lost in history was that they were also clever business people. If you really wanted to, with no disrespect towards the Asian part of the world that at the time did not exist on the Viking GPS system, you could call the Scandinavian (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) raiders the first ever entrepreneurs. They engineered some amazing trades with nearby countrymen for food, slaves and even some babes. Of course, the Vikings were trading with the items collected from raids but hey, finder’s keepers, right?
Vikings continued to hone their trading skills and soon started to control the major trading routes in the region. One lucrative route went through many European countries to the West and into Eastern areas including Russia and down into Islamic territory and looped back via the North Sea. Imagine to tolls and services fees one would have to cough up in order to get past the Viking checkpoints. It also opened the doors to slave trafficking. Oddly enough, as respectful towards others not being raided as the Vikings were, they saw value in human life when it became a commodity that could be traded for goods, weapons and whatever else was up for grabs. Viking wives however, were a different kind of property exempt of trading rights.
It didn’t take long for Norsemen to take note of how awesome the Vikings were becoming and rather than get repeated beatings in the annual raiding season, they struck a deal. The two sides joined forces and entered into what was arguable the first ever business contract partnership in the world. Naturally the Vikings saw an opportunity with Norsemen lightening the raiding load and taking on much of the heavy work. The partnership was successful and continued for centuries making for the longest recorded partnership before the Modern Age. It was one of those partnerships where the spoils were not split evenly because, let’s face it, the Norse were more or less getting in on a good deal while avoiding getting beat to a pulp before signing a working arrangement. Everyone seemed happy as the raids continued and the Vikings still got the best pick of jewels, food, babes and whatever else was collected.
What made a Viking invasion sting the most was that they were sly and sneaky. Because most of the villages worth decimating were located near bodies of water, the Viking/Norse team would slip into town quietly from sea and strike without warning. There was barely enough time to send out a warning via Facebook to all your contacts on your Friend List to let them know that the Vikings had arrived and it wasn’t likely you would ‘brb.’
This brings us to about 1000 AD in our timeline with more to follow…but first:
Things You Don’t Know About Vikings
- They Smelled Pretty Good, Considering
There’s no getting away from the fact that living in filth, raiding, killing and boozing is going to leave a stain or two on your garments. Not to mention what is happening to your body underneath all that armor and stuff. However, Ancient Viking ruins have revealed a different story. Razors, combs and ear cleaning implements fashioned from animal bones indicate there was a level of person hygiene that other Europeans had not picked up on. In fact, Vikings bathed at least once a week and had regular access to natural hot springs for pool parties and massive social gatherings where body odor was not on the guest list.
- Behind Every Viking Was A Good Woman
Although several of the multiple wives the average Viking had were collected through raids and trades, the women were treated pretty well. Sure, on average they got married at the ripe old age of 12 and immediately took on household chores as their husbands were off on their regular adventures but there were differences. Viking women had a lot more freedom than most other women in the day. So much so, that there was never a need to examine their laptop browser history in case something funny was going on. The Viking wives could inherit things, request divorces and had respect within their community.
What may be a big surprise to you about Viking men is that they didn’t spend all their time raiding villages of riches, food and babes. In fact, since the raiding was more or less restricted to specific seasonal time frames, they had a lot of spare time on their hands. Since the average Viking was clever and entrepreneurial, the majority of them spent time not already allotted for raiding cultivating a different kind of booty. They actually farmed. Once the nearby village pantries were stripped bare and all consumables were well, consumed, the Vikings had to find ways to still feed themselves, their wives and they growing collection of children. Farming was the logical solution considering the immense amount of land being held by these skilled bandits. Things commonly grown at the average Viking farm included oats, rye and barley. They also had cattle, pigs, sheep and goats and the typical small Viking farm produced enough food to keep a family going between raids.
- Portable Fire Starter
It can’t be stressed enough that Vikings were entrepreneurs. They were even some of the early inventors. One fine example is the product they produced that could start a fire wherever they ventured whether to destroy a village or start up a BBQ to celebrate the destruction of a village. What they did was use touchwood. It was a fungus that came from tree bark and after boiling it for many days in urine it would then be pounded into a mass that resembled urine-soaked felt. The sodium nitrate that came from the urine made the product smolder and eventually burst into flames. Don’t try this one at home, folks.
- The Scandinavian Slalom
Another interesting invention that dates back at least six centuries was one that allowed the Vikings some form or recreation. I know, as if raiding wasn’t enough fun, Vikings soon bored of that and sought out other forms of entertainment. As it turns out, and Russians will argue that they did it first in Siberia, Vikings created what would be considered the first-ever skis. Sure, bones and bark would be the materials used but for fun times in the winter season Vikings skied. The held friendly, and sometimes not so friendly sporting competitions that rivaled the Modern Day (and probably the Ancient) Olympic Games minus the politics and most likely any participants from the Western World. To top it off, the Vikings even had a God of Skiing, known simply by the monosyllabic name of Ullr.
There’s More To Come…
We hope you are enjoying this updated History of Vikings Like You’ve Never Heard. It’s far from over as there is a lot of territory to cover to bring you along the vast history from the Middle Ages to today. Stay tuned for more!
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