Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Vikings on TV - Anomalies, Social Structure, Beliefs. Gudrid the Far-Traveler

Re:  The Vikings, media series, and anomalies.
Finding the Anachronisms, Media vs Saga.
Instead of swallowing the media view, we are going to Norway.

Gudrid the Far-Traveler

Compare the TV presentation of Viking life and raidings, with other research on Viking communities and life, from the Icelandic Sagas. A prominent such Saga is The Burnt Njal Saga written down in Icelandic finally in the 1300's, but,several hundred years after the events.  This may be as close to authentic as we can get. See the story outlined at Burnt Njal's Saga, and Otkell, Son of Skarf.  I am in process of reviewing it to find cultural clues about the life of the time.

Issues in the media series do not seem consonant with Burnt Njal. These may be explained, however, by the difference in time of the events, as pre-Christian, after Norse fled Christianization of their culture and centralization of power in the king, Charlemagne beginning 772 CE; and then to 960 or so, as the dates of the events of Njal's Saga. The TV series seems to put too much Christianity in Iceland at the time of the story, before the raiding of the British Isles and other areas.  However, the Vikings had long been traders, east and west.

The influences behind the new Christian drive predate that, however. Put the TV story in its context, of groups fighting against the centralized power of the king, and striving to preserve their own liberties free of the taxes, meddling of the king, and do we have the seeds of our own Libertarians in the US and elsewhere today, seeds dormant, and now showing some green shoots.

Events:  For a chronology of events leading to the migration of some Norse to settle Iceland, consider the impact of Christian invasions and forced cultural change unacceptable to many who left:

1.   9 CE -- Decentralized, libertarian Northern European Tribes Defeat Roman Legions, Varusschlacht Year 9 CE 

2.  To 780 or so -- Pre-780 or so.  Multiple decentralized tribes, some very large populations over wide areas, with leaders arising as needed, then blending back into the culture until needed again.  Old ways. Tribes invade Roman Empire, fall of the Roman Empire.

Roman Church takes over Christianity, fixing dogma, creeds, rules, and invasions, force, killing of unbelievers and empire-building begin anew, but in name of Christ.

3.  772 -- Charlemagne chops down the sacred Tree Yggdrasil, after long battles against Saxons who never stay defeated, and come back again and again, see history of the era at  http://www.burzum.org/eng/library/the_viking_age_and_christianity_in_norway.shtml
4.  780-82 -- Charlemagne, in name of Christianity, battles 30 years against Northern European Tribes, with notable slaughter of 4,500 prisoners at Sachsenhain Year 780-82 CE. Charlemagne's cultural implants and converted local chiefs begin process of forced conversion, culture change to centralization, emerging feudalism, weakening of old societies. The start of the defeat of the decentralized tribes.  

Charlemagne, invading from the south with his army and getting nowhere firm, finally decided to crush the Saxons who had fought him for 30 years.  Be done with the back and forth, and he slaughtered some 4,500 Saxon prisoners at. Charlemagne was a military-forced-conversion arm of the Christian invasions, later in close league with the armies of the Pope on the same mission, and he began the process of compelled culture so as to unify under one banner everyone in sight, and  by force.  He imposed, and then grew the new culture, of leaders to whom obeisance was owed at all times, a bureaucracy, centralization, taxation, loss of free-decision-making as to one's own.  

5.  793 -- Vikings, Norse, attack Christians at Lindisfarne, island off England.  Centuries of raiding and also settling ensue.

6.  850-932 -- King Harald Fairhair, Norse. Were his policies to centralize, as the pattern had been set by Charlemagne? Until the Christianization, is it fair to say that the issue was not merely "pagan" nonbelievers fighting against Charlemagne's true God and Dogma, but libertarians who liked their way of life and saw no reason to change.

7.  870-930 -- Norse settle Iceland -- these were the Norse who chafed at the power of the King in the new centralized society, wanted their old liberties. They came from Norway, I believe from the Saga, but the category of Norse included at the time unboundaried Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and set up towns and houses in Iceland. See this Gugenberg book site laying out Burnt Njal's Saga as to time, originally in Icelandic, and written down in later centuries, The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Burnt Njal Saga

8.  960-1020 -- Events of Burnt Njal's Saga, Iceland; what is the name of the successor King in Oslo?  Harald Fairhair would have been gone by then.  Do sources agree on this timeframe?

1050-1104 -- Time frame for Gudrid the Far Traveler in Iceland, and sojourns elsewhere and back

1066 -- End of Viking Era

9.  1100's -- Norse, Baltic State groups: became concentrated targets of Northern Crusades by Pope, 1100's 

10.  1300's -- Burnt Njal's Saga written down (anonymous), in Iceland dating back, in terms of motivation of the more Southerly Europeans to conquer North

Kings with strong centralized power had not been part of the early Medieval Scandinavian, Northern European area life.  Feudalism was Christian, with its nobles, the church, the serfs, and a steadily consolidating King.  Merchants arose in later centuries.

The King, then in Oslo, was intolerable for many Norse, who  set up settlements in Iceland where they could run their own affairs, to a far greater degree.  The King referenced at the time might be Harald Fairhair, see  the Saga, Burnt Njal's Saga, at this Gugenberg book site, The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Burnt Njal Saga

From reading Burnt Njal, and with the understanding of the setting as after the incursions of the Christian armies, perhaps the cultural anomalies of the TV Vikings make sense.  More useful to a TV series showing the old culture, however, would be an explanation of what life was like before the Kings, the libertarian orientation; showing that Kings over all had not always been so, and were being resisted.  Perhaps the series will do that.

1.  Capital punishment.  I do not recall that capital punishment was used against members of the community.  Outsiders, killed as culturally accepted; and even members of the community could be killed, but not with capital punishment ensuing.  There could be banishments, outlawry, taking of all positions and status, but not death to one of their own. Is this so?

2.   Social structure.  The libertarian set-up, not any obligation to swear fealty to a "lord" who had all decision-making power, can be examined in Burnt Njal.  I am doing that.  So far, I find that in the Norse Iceland groups, the people, men and women, made their own decisions and took the consequences as set forth in their old laws.   I find loosely knit or not-knit communities, with banding together for an annual Thing, or Althing, a gathering of all for justice, sharing, comaraderie, political discussions, and the leader for the Icelanders chosen by the group, not an "overlord."

3.  Religion.  I also recall no concept of atonement for sins, the very Christian term as was used in the series for the capital death of a found-guilty murderer.  It may be that the Christian incursion (when exactly was that as to Iceland and Norway?) is the explanation.  Did that take place mid-Njal? Early Christian missionaries, before the Charlemagne armies, had been tolerated.  See http://www.burzum.org/eng/library/the_viking_age_and_christianity_in_norway.shtml.  They seem to have brought the quiet help-the-poor approach and contemplation as individuals kind of Christianity, much like the Celtic Irish.  Both groups were swamped by the Popes in later years, as the Roman version took over.

4.  Trading in prototype longships had begun as early as the 4th and 5th centuries.  See http://www.burzum.org/eng/library/the_viking_age_and_christianity_in_norway.shtml

Vikings are interesting to our family, with heritage from both the Swedish side, that headed mainly East, into the Baltic and down the Volga and to the Black Sea and elsewhere; and the Norwegian, that we understand headed West, Orkney, British Isles, Northern Europe and down any waterway, including the Seine in France, and ending up with Normandy for themselves, the Northmen.  Also forays into the Mediterranean.

For the series, see http://www.history.com/shows/vikings.

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