When people typically think about interactions the vikings had with non-vikings, they think of what Christian monks wrote about the “godless” heathens and their spiky “horned hats” (vikings didn’t wear horned hats).
In this year dire forewarnings came over the land of the Northumbrians, and miserably terrified the people: these were extraordinary whirlwinds and lightnings, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the air. A great famine soon followed these omens; and soon after that, in the same year, on the sixth of the ides of Ianr, the havoc of heathen men miserably destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne, through rapine and slaughter. (The incident is dramatically recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles in the year of the Lord 793 AD: Source)
Fiery dragons eh? That’s some good historical accuracy right there.
But not all cultures and civilizations had the same reaction to the vikings.
The Norsemen during the “Viking Age” (the period between the 8th century to the 11th century) were a fairly sophisticated, sea-fairing people. While they did participate in raids, they also farmed, explored and engaged in commerce. They were prolific explorers for their time, exploring a vast region of territory, from the Americas to what is modern day Iraq.
In this incredibly prodigious age of exploration, the Norsemen met a variety of people (including Native Americans in what they called “Vinland”). And given that the Norsemen had trade routes in what we today know as Spain and Iraq, they had their fair share of encounters with Muslims. What is interesting is that the Viking Age (8th-11th century) also coincided with the Golden Age of Islam (8th-13th century.)
The Golden Age of Islam was a time when the Islamic world was ruled by various caliphates and science. This period is traditionally understood to have begun during the reign of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786 to 809) with the inauguration of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where scholars from various parts of the world with different cultural backgrounds were mandated to gather and translate all of the world’s classical knowledge into the Arabic language.
Unlike Western Europe during the dark ages, in the Near East, there was an explosion of science, scholarship, learning, philosophy, health care, poetry, cultural influence and wealth.
The Norsemen, who had a keen interest in trade, knowledge and exploration, had pretty active mercantile relations with Muslims during this era. In fact, aside from a few raids in Muslim Spain, a majority of Muslim-Viking interactions were dominated by commerce.
The proof of this is that Islamic goods have been found in ancient Scandinavian burial sites. A big find occurred in March, 2015, when a viking woman in a burial ground was found with a ring engraved with the inscription “For/To Allah.”
Why did she have this ring? Who knows. Perhaps she had no idea what the words meant, and it was merely a gift that ended up in her person as a result of trade relations with Muslim lands. Perhaps she herself was a Muslim. Maybe she just thought the ring was pretty. All we have is speculation. But the importance of the ring is that it shows that the Vikings were part of the Islamic trade network.
In fact, it is said that the Norsemen were obsessed with the silver dirham (Arabic coins). These were coins that had great value during the Viking Age. In Viking York and Dublin between the 10th-12th century, the dirham was used as a common currency (1001 Inventions).
This is highlighted by the discovery of King Offa’s (an Anglo-Saxxon King) coins in the British Museum engraved with ‘There is no other God but the one God. He has no equal,’ and on the outer margin of the coin “Mahommad is the Apostle of God, who sent him with the doctrine and true faith to prevail over every religion.” (Muslim Heritage)
(The Map above shows Viking and Muslim invasions in Europe. Source)
MUSLIM ACCOUNTS OF THE VIKINGS
So what did the Muslims think about their fair haired trade partners from the north? We can discover this in their writings.
The most famous account comes from Ahmad ibn Fadlān. In fact, the movie The 13th Warrior with Antonio Banderas is even based loosely on this historical account. Fadlān was a 10th century traveler who was a member of the embassy of the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad. On his way to meet with the Volga Bulgars, he wrote an account of his visit with the Volga vikings, who he called the Rus.
He mainly described them as being good looking, but crazy and unsanitary.
I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs – they are like palm trees, are fair and reddish, and do not wear the tunic or the caftan.
Ahmad ibn Fadlan describes funeral rites which generally conform to the Norse rituals of Scandinavia, but were very exotic for an Islamic intellectual:
In the case of a rich man, they gather together his possessions and divide them into three portions, one third for his household, one third with which to cut funeral garments for him, and one third with which they ferment alcohol which they drink on the day when his slave-girl kills herself and is burned together with her master.
An account of the men:
Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Every man is tatooed from finger nails to neck with dark green (or green or blue-black) trees, figures, etc.
An account of the women:
Each woman wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the husband. Each box has a ring from which depends a knife. The women wear neck rings of gold and silver, one for each 10,000 dirhems which her husband is worth; some women have many. Their most prized ornaments are beads of green glass of the same make as ceramic objects one finds on their ships. They trade beads among themselves and they pay an exaggerated price for them, for they buy them for a dirhem apiece. They string them as necklaces for their women.
He described “The Rus” as being hospitable.
The Rus are a great host, all of them red haired
But also filthy
They are the filthiest of God’s creatures. They have no modesty in defecation and urination, nor do they wash after pollution from orgasm, nor do they wash their hands after eating. Thus they are like wild asses. When they have come from their land and anchored on, or ties up at the shore of the Volga, which is a great river, they build big houses of wood on the shore, each holding ten to twenty persons more or less. Each man has a couch on which he sits. With them are pretty slave girls destines for sale to merchants: a man will have sexual intercourse with his slave girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes whole groups will come together in this fashion, each in the presence of others. A merchant who arrives to buy a slave girl from them may have to wait and look on while a Rus completes the act of intercourse with a slave girl.
Is this entirely accurate? We don’t know. Such writings of course are always subject to bias. Because of his Islamic concepts of ritual washing, perhaps the sanitary practices of The Rus were dirty in comparison. There is also reason to believe that the vikings were much more open about sexuality than their Christian and Islamic neighbors, so having sex to a live audience may not have been a big deal. It is also said that the Norsemen traded furs, honey and slaves in exchange for the valuable silver dirham.
When a great personage dies, the people of his family ask his young women and men slaves, “Who among you will die with him?” One answers, “I.” Once he or she has said that, the thing is obligatory: there is no backing out of it. Usually it is one of the girl slaves who do this.
The rest of the account can be found at Viking Answer Lady
Ibrahim ibn Ya`qûb (al-Tartushi), an Andalusian man who was born into the Jewish community of Tortosa (Turtush) said about the Viking women that “they part with their husbands whenever they like. They also have an artificial make-up for the eyes; when they use it their beauty never fades, but increases in both man and woman.”(Muslim Heritage)
Ibrahim was probably referring to the fact that Norse women were free to divorce their husbands whenever they liked. Whereas in the Islamic religion, while women can get a divorce, the procedure is much more complicated. It is also believed that Norse men and women wore dark makeup around their eyes to protect their eyes from their glare of the sun off snow and water, just as the Egyptians did in the desert.
According to 10th Century explorer and geographer Ibn Rustah, the Vikings were “handsome, clean and well-dressed” and he praised them even further.
They keep their clothes clean and the men adorn themselves with armbands of gold… They are generous to each other, honour their guests and treat well those who seek refuge with them, and all who come to visit them. They do not allow anyone to annoy or harm these. And whenever anyone dares to treat them unfairlythey help and defend them.” (1001 Inventions).
More quotes on Viking dress and the treatment of servants:
I have seen the Rus [Vikings] as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Itil…” (Ibn Rustah) “They [Vikings] treat their servants well and dress exquisitely because they are such keen traders” (Ahmed Ibn Fadlan) (1001 Inventions).
Accounts of Vikings who converted to Islam:
The possibility of some vikings converting to Islam is not that far fetched, considering that some vikings traded and settled in Muslim lands. After all, this is similar to how many vikings converted to Christianity because of trade relations and surrounding cultures.
Evidence pertaining to the Vikings converting to Islam includes a memoir recorded by the 16th century geographer from Muslim Civilisation, Amin Razi who is reported to have stated that:
They [the Vikings] highly valued pork. Even those who had converted to Islam aspired to it and were very fond of pork.”
Another written account is by Omar Mubaidin, whi states: “Vikings would make numerous raids against both Muslim and Christian states in the Iberian Peninsula. Eventually, a community of settled Vikings, who converted to Islam in southeast Seville, would be famous for supplying cheese to Cordoba and Seville.”
From what I’ve read, it seems that the relationship that the Vikings had with Muslims during the Viking era was predominantly one of trade, while there were a few raids here and there. However it seems that there were less Viking raids against Muslim lands than Christian lands. One, this is probably because of geographic proximity. The Christians were located much closer to Scandinavian lands. Two, this is probably because during the Viking Ages, the Islamic Near East was far more developed than Western Europe. So it was more difficult to raid Islamic lands. The Viking attempts at invading the Iberian peninsula were not very successful.
From the written accounts that I’ve read, it seems that many of the Muslims who documented their encounters with the Rus found them hospitable, brave, and lively, but also unsanitary and a bit crazy.
Is this entirely accurate? Who knows. But at least these accounts didn’t include fire breathing dragons.
Risala: Ibn Fadlan’s Account of the Rus (Viking Answers Lady)
5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT VIKINGS AND MUSLIM CIVILISATION (1001 Inventions)
A Tale of Two Civilisations: The Viking and the Muslim World (Muslim Heritage)
Old Arabic texts describe dirty Vikings (ScienceNordic)
Muslims vs Vikings (Islam21c)
(Historians have assumed this woman was holding a cleaning tool – um she looks more like she’s ready to cut someone’s head off with that thing than polish the floor.)
Cracked isn’t always the most accurate place for news, but the article I posted above makes some good points.
In modern depictions of the past, such as a TV series like Spartacus, we are shown an image of muscular slave men battling each other to death in the gladiatorial arena, while a woman’s maximum participation is cheering from the sidelines or later rewarding one of the gladiators with a blow job.
However, the truth is that female gladiators were quite common in Rome. There were many graves of decorated gladiators that historians assumed to be male, only to be surprised when the bone analysis revealed these warriors to be women – as if the woman just so happened to fall into the wrong grave!
The assumptions don’t just end there. Most heroic warrior figures, such as vikings or samurai are all assumed to be male, and this depiction is the norm in television dramas, comics and movies. Yet in most warrior societies – such as that of the Spartans, the Mongols, the Celts and the Vikings, the art of war was such an important skill that everyone was expected to know what they were doing – including the women. In ancient Celtic societies, there were even fighting schools where female teachers called a BAN-GAISGEDAIG taught boys the art of fighting and love.
In fact, in a DNA analysis of the Japanese battle of Senbon Matsubaru in 1580, 35 of the 105 bodies tested were female. Not to mention that this is only one of several archaeological finds that show a similar story.
Then there is the fact that most ancient societies had goddesses associated with war and death, such as Athena, Freya, Sekhmet, the Morrigan, Brigid and Kali. In fact, some of these named Goddesses were more terrifying than their male counterparts. If the idea of a woman fighting was really so unrealistic to the people of the ancient world, then why were there Goddesses entirely devoted to warfare?
So today’s reality of women in the military or police force actually isn’t anything new. If anything, it is a return to long term historical trends. Look at the fact that more than 30% of the Kurds fighting the ISIS scum are female. When a group of people are in danger, and bodies are needed to fight for survival, women will be among that number. This is why it is unrealistic for people today to think that women don’t need to know anything about fighting or self defense. What society has a better chance of survival – one where only half the population knows how to fight, or one where 100% of the population can kick some ass?
So next time someone complains that the portrayal of women warriors in historical dramas is “not realistic,” remind them that the more historically inaccurate fallacy is one where there are no women warriors at all in societies that prized the art of battle in all aspects of life.
Masha Scream of Arkona (Source)
LINKS OF INTEREST
One of the largest excavations ever made in Uppsala
YOU TUBE VIDEO COMMENTARY
(All information below is written by original YouTube Poster, not me. I simply cleaned up some of the grammar and spelling)
The Pillars of old Uppsala 800 BC – 600 AD:
In October 2013, Swedish archaeologists revealed that they had found a 900 meter long wooden pillar column near the royal burial ground. In February 2014, they found the oldest samples from the wooden pillars – the oldest ones were 2800 years old!
So the wooden pillars were erected and in use during a time period of at least 1400 years.
Experts believe the pillars would have been at least around 7-8 m high and needed around 1,5 ton of rock to support them. Also a smaller wooden column of over 500 meters long has been found south of this column but hasn’t yet been totally excavated.
The colonnades were found near a famous burial site where the three Iron Age kings Aun, Egil and Adils are believed to be buried.
In Ynglinga saga, Odin is considered the 2nd Mythological king of Sweden, succeeding Gylfi and was succeeded by Njörðr.
These ancient colonnades were found in the center of Old Uppsala during work on a new railway line. It’s the largest excavation ever made in Uppsala.
Well this explains why ancestryDNA told me that a mostly Irish lass like myself has a small percentage of Scandinavian blood. Maybe it was those viking raiders.
Blood is red,
Bruises are blue,
Axes smash faces
And these vikings are gonna kill you!
And….that’s the extent of my Valentines day poetry. Enjoy the film above!
(Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, I’ve been seriously sick.
When I kick this cold’s butt, I will pillage your wordpress feed with even more exciting metal vids and articles!
The Viking Society for Northern Research is making all of their publications available online.
This includes everything they have published from their inception in 1893 to the present day.
Much of this information includes The Eddas, guides to old Icelandic language, lectures on Norse culture and more. Check it out for yourself and enjoy.