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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

5 - Viking Violence

from Part I - Beyond Warfare: Armies, Tribes and Lords


The Scandinavian seaborne raiders known as the Vikings are famous for their violence. Initially operating in small bands, by the second half of the ninth century they put together large armies comparable in size and weaponry to those of the kingdoms of Europe, some of which were brought to their knees. The purpose of the Vikings’ violence was to acquire wealth, which fed into the political economy of northern Europe, notably in the form of gift-giving. Viking warriors were motivated by a warrior ideology of violence that praised bravery, toughness, and loyalty. Any fallen warrior who had excelled in these qualities expected to go to Valhöll, the great hall of the god Odin, where they would constantly be feasting. The unexpected raids by previously barely known peoples from northern Europe was shocking to their victims, who tended to exaggerate the fighting prowess of the Vikings and to ascribe a particular propensity for violence to them. The idea that the Vikings were more violent than others took root in European culture and spread also to Scandinavia itself, leading to unfounded myths such as berserks and the ritual of the bloodeagle. The violence of the Vikings was, however, not dissimilar from the violence of other early-medieval Europeans.