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Neither Brutes, Nor Sissies: Re-imagining the Vikings on a Swedish Online Forum

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2024

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Summary

“I have always wondered […] what [group] is most hated on Flashback? Is it immigrants or women?” The user Merapi asks this exasperated question after yet another heated discussion with anti-feminists on the Swedish online discussion forum Flashback. The site has a reputation for being the home of the populist radical right, represented in the Swedish parliament by the Sweden Democrats. The very existence of Merapi, however, demonstrates that not only radical right-wing anti-feminists use this site. In fact, the forum is widely used in Sweden for a broad variety of reasons. Some seek practical advice on DIY-things; others recommend movies; many more discuss current crimes and politics. But there are also sections dedicated to science and humanities, including one subsection called “History.” Unsurprisingly, the Vikings are among the many topics discussed in this subsection.

The Vikings have long been a topic of scholarly debate and a focus for re-imaginings. In late eighteenth-century Sweden the Vikings were interpreted within the framework of “noble savages,” hostile to modern civilization. During the nineteenth century, an era of intense nationalism, we see an increased use of the Vikings as national symbols. In 1811 the Gothic Society (Gotiska forbundet) was created. This was a patriotic society wherein members recited Eddic poems, drank mead from horns, and gave each other Viking names from the Icelandic Sagas. During this era, historians and authors underlined Sweden as a country balanced between the courageous, adventurous Vikings and the free and proud farmers. Both of these were necessary. Over time, the Vikings became used by and associated with National Socialism and, after the war, with Swedish Neo-Nazis.

In historical scholarship, the traditional view of violent Nordic berserkers went through a revision in the 1960s: the violence of the Vikings was downplayed, and the image of a more peaceful Viking-merchant appeared. While some scholars acknowledged the violent nature of Viking practices, they rejected the previous image of them as particularly brutal. Peter Sawyer, in line with this, claimed that the Vikings were violent in a violent time; they participated in typical Dark Age activities. Both scholarship and media clung to the image of the “trader-not-raider” and so emphasized these more peaceful activities that one historian famously asked whether we now should regard the Vikings as long-haired tourists who just occasionally roughed up the natives.

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Studies in Medievalism
(En)gendering Medievalism
, pp. 169 - 186
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2024

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