The Art of the Vikings (Documentary)

There is a considerable number of myths surrounding the Vikings and the Viking Age. Among the most well known ones are the claims according to which they there were ruthless barbarians who plundered Catholic abbeys during the Dark Ages only out of a cruel instinct, while others have it that they worn horned or winged helmets.

Last but not least, another tremendous misconception is that they didn’t have a proper culture. The vast majority of these myths can trace their origins in the writings of the Catholic monks who depicted the Norsemen in their chronicles as merciless savages and to this date many of these stereotypes have been perpetuated.

Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that nearly all the myths concerning the Vikings are absolutely erroneous and that the Viking Age can be analysed through a different historical perspective, without stereotypes and misconceptions.

The only near intact Viking Age helmet found to date. Image source: www.pinterest.com

The only near intact Viking Age helmet found to date. It was excavated on the site of the Gjermundbu farm in Ringerike, central Norway. Image source: www.pinterest.com

Thus, numerous myths regarding the Viking Age can be debunked. First and foremost, there are no solid archaeologic evidences which can prove the fact that they worn horned or winged helmets in combat (they might have worn these types of headgear for religious/ceremonial purposes, but certainly not on the battlefield).

Secondly, recent studies prove the fact that the Norse initially traded, then attacked or looted various settlements (including monasteries/abbeys).

Thirdly — and probably most importantly — some of the possible causes of the Norsemen’s exodus towards new lands include the limited good farming soil in native Scandinavia as well as the prospects of trading with neighbouring civilisations/cultures so as to ensure economic and social links on a long term. In addition, the Norsemen were not illiterate, given the fact that they had developed a special alphabet from that of other Germanic peoples known as ‘futhark‘.

Two sets of the Runic alphabet: first row depicts the common runes while the second depicts the Swedo-Norwegian runes. Image source: www.viking.archeurope.info

Two sets of the Runic alphabet: first row depicts the common runes while the second depicts the Swedo-Norwegian runes. Image source: www.viking.archeurope.info

The Norse culture comprised artworks made of durable objects like metal or stone. Other materials such as wood, bone, ivory or textiles were used as well, but have been rarely preserved to these days. Significant examples of Norse culture include the Icelandic sagas, the skaldic poems, the rune and wooden carvings, the ring citadels, the design of the longships as well as plenty others. Generally speaking, the Norse art can be defined according to design elements and artistic motifs as follows: Oseberg style, Borre style, Jellinge style, Mammen style, Ringerike style and Urnes style.

Timeline of Norse art styles during the early Middle Ages. Image source: www.viking.archeurope.info

Timeline of Norse art styles during the early Middle Ages. Image source: www.viking.archeurope.info

The Norse had as such a culture that in some respects shared common elements with that of other Germanic or Celtic peoples, but managed to preserve a certain degree of originality. The documentary below highlights some artefacts from the Swedish National Museum (Historiska Museet) in Stockholm. It is presented by Dr. Janina Ramirez and was made for BBC Four.

Documentation sources and external links:


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