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Ten Legendary Female Viking Warriors

Ten Legendary Female Viking Warriors



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In 2017 CE, Uppsala University archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson published her study of a Viking grave discovered in Birka, Sweden in the 1800's CE which she and her team had revisited. She claimed that what was formerly understood as a Viking warrior's grave was that of a woman, confirmed by DNA tests, and that this proved that female Viking warriors existed during the Viking Age (c. 790-1100 CE). However, Hedenstierna-Jonson's claims quickly unraveled when challenged by professor Judith Jesch, an expert not just on the Vikings but also on women in the Viking Age, who pointed out multiple problems with the procedures involved and the conclusions the team came to.

Jesch's opinion, which is also that of the majority of scholars, is that there were no female Viking warriors as this would have been antithetical to the Viking ethos. Even though women shared equal rights with men (they could own land, initiate divorce, serve as clergy, and run their own businesses), their sphere of influence was largely domestic. Women took care of the home, the elderly relatives, and the children and were unlikely to be tolerated slipping those responsibilities to join men in battle. Norse literature and mythology, however, depicts a number of legendary women who do precisely that.

These women are described either in the Icelandic sagas of the 12th and 13th centuries CE, in the work of Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE) – an Icelandic mythographer who wrote down and preserved earlier Norse works which had been transmitted orally – or in the historical and semi-historical works of other writers such as the Dane Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1160-c. 1220 CE). All of these accounts, of course, post-date the Viking Age and the sagas, especially, are considered unreliable as they often relate magical or mystical events which cannot be corroborated. Even so, they reflect a Norse admiration for the strong woman who takes it upon herself to get what she wants and go where she pleases.

The most famous type of mortal warrior woman known from the sagas is the shieldmaiden, a woman who took up arms & armor and fought in battle alongside men.

ShieldMaidens, Valkyries & Heroines

The most famous type of mortal warrior woman known from the sagas is the shieldmaiden, who is mirrored in the spiritual realm of the afterlife by the Valkyries. The shieldmaiden was allegedly a woman who took up arms and armor and fought in battle alongside men. The best-known account of this comes from Saxo Grammaticus in his description of the Battle of Bråvalla (or Brávellir) (c. 750 CE though its historicity has been challenged) in his early 13th-century CE Gesta Danorum where he claims 300 shieldmaidens fought for the Danes. The Valkyries, of course, were the supernatural women warriors who chose the dead in battle and led them to Odin's hall of Valhalla.

This concept of a strong woman warrior is epitomized in the Swedish legend Blendasägnen which tells of the heroine Blenda of Småland (c. 500 or c. 750 CE) who saves her country from invasion by the Danes by inviting the Danish warriors to a feast, getting them drunk, and – together with her army of women – killing them all while they sleep. This story first appears in print in the 17th century CE though it is thought to be much older. There is no way to verify its historicity but, as far as the image of the female warrior is concerned, there is no need to. Whether Blenda actually defeated the Danes is not as important as the fact the legend exists and was popular enough to be repeated. Clearly, if the legend is indeed that old, Norse culture respected women enough to elevate them to the same level as the great heroes.

This same paradigm can be seen in the Icelandic sagas and the myths of the Norse and is epitomized in ten Norse female figures:

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  • Skadi – goddess of hunting and skiing.
  • Freyja – goddess of fertility, love, and luck.
  • Brynhild – the Valkyrie who becomes mortal, avenges herself.
  • Lagertha – the victorious shieldmaiden.
  • Hervor – wielder of the magic sword Tyrfing.
  • Freydis Eiríksdóttir – explorer and defender of her party.
  • Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir – explorer in North America (Vinland).
  • Sigrid the Proud – ruled on her own, killed her suitors.
  • Unn the Deep-Minded – settled Iceland, commanded her own fleet.
  • Olga of Kiev – regent of Kievan Rus, avenged her husband's death.

Skadi

Skadi is the daughter of the giant Thjazi who was killed by the god Thor of Asgard. Since her father had no males to avenge him, Skadi “took helmet and all the weapons of war and went to Asgard to avenge her father” (Lindow, 268). Thus appearing at the gates fully armed, she is placated by an offer by the Asgardians to choose her own husband from among them but must do so only by looking at their feet. She chooses one she thinks will be the handsome Baldr but it turns out to be Njord, god of the sea.

Skadi enjoys the mountains where she hunts and skis while Njord likes his dark, damp cave by the water. They try a compromise of living in each other's residence for nine days at a time but Skadi cannot endure it and leaves him for her mountain home. She is possibly the mother of two of the most important Norse gods, Freyr and Freyja, but no mention is made of her having a part in their upbringing. After she separates from Njord she pursues her own interests, including having a number of affairs with Odin.

Freyja

Freyja is among the most popular of the Norse pantheon and was the goddess of fertility, luck, love, lust, the afterlife, and protection. She rides through the heavens in her carriage pulled by cats and gives freely of all she has to humanity. As a fertility goddess, she was invoked by the Vikings for good harvests but also for strong children and stable marriages, which were thought to benefit from her blessings.

Her association with warfare and battles has to do with her realm in the afterlife. Freyja presides over Fólkvangr (“Field of the People”) and is said to collect half of the fallen on the battlefield for herself; the other half are gathered by Odin for Valhalla. Fólkvangr is seldom mentioned in Norse literature but, from the little there is, it seems Freyja may also watch as warriors engage in perpetual combat or, at least, there is a part of Fólkvangr reserved for these contests.

Brynhild

Brynhild (also given as Brynhildr, Brunhild, Brunhilde or Brunhilda) is a Valkyrie who, after supporting the wrong hero in a contest overseen by Odin, is made mortal and is imprisoned in a castle behind a wall of shields, asleep within a ring of fire, until rescued by a champion. The hero Sigurd rescues her and gives her a ring, promising to marry her, but must first go to the court of the king Gjuki. Gjuki's wife, a sorceress, wants Sigurd to marry her daughter Gudrun and gives Sigurd a potion which makes him forget Brynhild.

As Brynhild rides with Sigurd to the afterlife, a giantess chides her for her behavior but Brynhild is unrepentant: she & Sigurd will now live their lives together as intended.

The sorceress also orchestrates Brynhild's rescue by her son Gunnar who will then marry her, but Gunnar cannot cross the ring of fire. Sigurd shape-shifts into Gunnar's form, rescues Brynhild, and she marries Gunnar, believing he was the one who rescued her. In an argument with Gudrun, Brynhild learns that it was Sigurd who rescued her but then forsook her and swears revenge on them all. She kills Sigurd's young son and then has Sigurd killed in his sleep. As his funeral pyre is lighted, she leaps into it and dies with him. As she rides with him to the afterlife in Hel, she encounters a giantess who chides her for her behavior but Brynhild is unrepentant, saying how she and Sigurd will now live their lives together as they were intended. According to the sagas, they somehow had a daughter in the midst of all this drama: Aslaug, one of the wives of Ragnar Lothbrok.

Lagertha

Lagertha (also known as Ladgerda) is only known from Chapter IX of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum ('History of the Danes'). The legendary hero Ragnar Lothbrok comes to Norway to avenge the death of his grandfather Siward and the humiliation of his wives and kinfolk at the hands of Frø, the King of Sweden. He is greeted by a number of women dressed as men who volunteer to help him and, as Saxo writes,

...among them was Ladgerda, a skilled female warrior who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over he shoulders. All marveled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman. (IX).

Ragnar is so impressed by her (he even attributes the victory to her specifically) that he decides to make her his wife, but Lagertha posts a bear and a dog outside her house to guard against him. Ragnar kills both animals, marries her, and they have two daughters but later, when he remembers how she had tried to set the bear and dog to attack him, he divorces her and marries another woman, Thora. Nothing more is known of Lagertha.

Hervor

Hervor is the heroine of the 13th century CE Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks and is also the name of her granddaughter, the daughter of her son Heidrek. Hervor's father, Angantyr, had a magic sword called Tyrfing but was killed in a duel and the sword was buried with him. Hervor travels with her crew to the island of Samsø in the Kattegat region where Angantyr is buried and summons his spirit, demanding the sword. Her father's ghost pleads with her to abandon her quest but she will not be denied. Finally, he opens his grave and gives her the magic sword.

The sword brings its owner nothing but trouble and Hervor has a number of adventures before settling down and getting married. Her son Heidrek inherits the sword which causes him as many problems as it did his mother. After his death, the sword passes to his daughter Hervor, who ends up dying in battle. The most impressive part of the saga is Hervor's defiance of convention and refusal to back down at her father's grave until she is given what she came for.

Freydis Eiríksdóttir

Freydis Eiríksdóttir (c. 970-c. 1004 CE) was either a great woman warrior or an evil, conniving murderess depending on which of the two stories about her one reads. She appears in Erik the Red's Saga (where she is the heroine) and The Saga of the Greenlanders (a villainess). In Erik the Red's Saga, Freydis, daughter of Erik the Red, accompanies a party to Vinland (Newfoundland, North America). They are attacked by a group of natives and the men of the party retreat, leaving Freydis alone. She calls out to them, "Why run you away from such worthless creatures, stout men that ye are, when, as seems to me likely, you might slaughter them like so many cattle? Let me but have a weapon, I think I could fight better than any of you” (Chapter 12). Even though she is unwell (possibly pregnant) and alone, Freydis grabs a sword from a dead comrade and, tearing open her shirt and beating her breasts with the blade, defies the enemy who retreat from her, thus saving her party.

In The Saga of the Greenlanders she accompanies her husband, his men, and two brothers/business partners to Vinland. She dislikes the brothers and feels they are too presumptuous so she frames them, telling her husband they abused and beat her and that she will divorce him if he does not avenge the insult. Her husband and his men kill the brothers and their party but will not hurt the women so Freydis kills all the women herself with an axe. It is likely that this second story, written later than the first, is an attempt to discredit the strong female figure from the earlier saga. Unlike the more clearly mythological and legendary characters discussed above, Freydis has a higher chance of reflecting an actual historical person, as the consensus is that these two sagas that mention Vinland remember real people and events that were at least partly preserved through an oral tradition.

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir

Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir (b. c. 970/980 CE) was among the earliest explorers of North America, according to both The Saga of the Greenlanders and Erik the Red's Saga. She was originally from Iceland but went with her father and Erik the Red to settle Greenland. In Greenland, her husband died and she soon after married the younger brother of Leif Erikson, Thorstein, and accompanied her husband and brother-in-law on their expedition to North America where she explored Vinland with the others in the party.

Thorstein died there and Gudrid returned to Greenland where she married one Thorfinn Karlsefni and, sometime later, returned with him to Vinland to establish a permanent settlement there. Their son, Snorri Thorfinnsson, was the first European child born in North America. Like Freydis, the Gudrid of the sagas is likely rooted in an actual historical figure.

Sigrid the Proud

Sigrid the Proud (c. 927-c. 1014 CE, also known Sigrid the Haughty, Sigríð Storråda, or Sigrid Tostadottir) was a Swedish queen who refused to live by other people's rules. She was married to Erik the Victorious, king of Sweden (r. 970-995 CE), and after his death preferred to reign alone. She was courted by Harald Grenske of Norway and Vissavald of the Kievan Rus but recognized that both were only interested in her for her land and wealth. She invited them to a party where, after they and their men fell asleep from too much drink, she barred the doors of the hall and burned them to death to discourage future suitors. Her historicity is disputed and thus, this juicy story may be no more than legend.

The infamous Olaf Tryggvason (r. 995-1000 CE) who converted the populace of Norway to Christianity through torture, allegedly also sought her hand but insisted she convert to Christianity first. When she refused, he slapped her in public and Sigrid vowed revenge. She is said to have then married Sweyn Forkbeard for his connections and power and orchestrated the Battle of Svolder (c. 1000 CE) in which Olaf was killed.

Unn the Deep-Minded

Unn the Deep-Minded (9th century CE, also known as Aud the Deep-Minded and Unn- or Aud Ketilsdóttir) was the daughter of Ketil Flatnose of Norway who fled to Scotland following the rise of Harald Fairhair (r. 850-933 CE) in Norway. When her father and her son Thorstein died she understood her position in Scotland was precarious and went first to the Orkneys in the north and then to Iceland which she explored before settling down. She commanded a crew of men who were so loyal to her that none would enter into marriage contracts which might jeopardize Unn's property or power.

It seems clear that Norse culture valued women enough to include female deities in their pantheon & attribute to them the same martial skills as men were allowed.

She presided over her family and lands in southern Iceland literally up until her dying day. On the day of the marriage of her grandson, Olaf Feilan, she oversaw the preparations and service and then retired nobly to her bedchambers where she died in her sleep.

Olga of Kiev

Olga of Kiev is better known as St. Olga (d. 969 CE) of Kievan Rus. Although she is definitely understood as an actual historical figure, the account of her early reign as regent for her son Sviatoslav I (r. 945-972 CE) in the Russian Primary Chronicle (composed c. 1113 CE) contains a number of mythic/legendary elements which places her among the legendary female Viking (Varangian) warriors.

Olga was the wife of Igor of Kiev (r. 912-945 CE), who was the son of Rurik (r. 862-879 CE) and the adopted son of Oleg the Prophet (r. 879-912 CE). Igor's excessive greed resulted in his assassination by the Drevlian tribe (a tribe of Early East Slavs). Afterwards, the Drevlians wanted Olga to marry their prince Mai to consolidate the region but Olga was only interested in avenging her dead husband.

She first requested emissaries from the Drevlians whom she tricked into being carried “in honor” in a boat toward her residence and then had them dumped into a pit and buried alive. She then asked for the wisest among the Drevlians to come to her palace and, after inviting them to bathe before dinner, set fire to the bathhouses and burned them alive. She then requested the Drevlians prepare a great funeral feast to honor Igor, allowed everyone there to become drunk, and had her soldiers murder them all.

Her final act of revenge was to drive the Drevlians into the city of Iskorosten, where Igor had been killed, and then lay siege. When she found she could not take the city, she offered the lightest terms: she demanded three pigeons and three sparrows from each home. When these were delivered, she had her soldiers fasten sulphur to their claws and release them and, when they returned to their nests in the city, they set everything on fire. The entire city burned and those who survived were killed or sold into slavery but Olga spared a certain number so they could continue to pay her tribute.

Conclusion

All of these women, whether they were active warriors or strong female rulers, embodied the Viking ideal of independence and personal strength even though they were, largely, idealized women; there is no evidence of actual shieldmaidens. Judith Jesch has noted that the interpretation of the Birka, Sweden warrior's grave as that of a women warrior by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson is symptomatic of a general 21st-century CE fascination with female Viking warriors. She comments:

I have always thought (and to some extent still do) that the fascination with women warriors, both in popular culture and in academic discourse, is heavily, probably too heavily, influenced by 20th-and 21st century desires. (Newitz, 1)

While that may be, there was obviously an equally strong fascination in the past as evidenced by the work of Saxo Grammaticus and the Norse sagas. It seems clear that the Norse culture valued women enough to not only include female deities in their pantheon but also attribute to them the same martial skills and ability to determine their own fate as men were allowed.

There are, of course, strong female deities in the literature and mythology of many ancient civilizations. The Greeks had their amazons and powerful goddesses like Athena and the Romans her counterpart, Minerva and other deities like Fortuna, who decided a person's good or bad luck in life. Even so, actual women in Greece and Rome did not have the same level of autonomy that Norse women enjoyed. Among the most ancient civilizations which worshipped female deities, only Egypt recognized women's rights on par with those of men.

In Norse culture, however, even after the coming of Christianity which notoriously and repeatedly denied women equality, women were not only appreciated but conceptually elevated to a status they themselves might not attain. The woman who brewed the ale would not ever be a Freyja or a Lagertha but knowing that women could be so highly honored would probably have been a great comfort.


10 of the Most Badass Vikings of All Time

Vikings have come to be known as a multitude of things in popular culture. Some depict Vikings as horned-hat wearing, constantly drunk Neanderthals, some as comic book characters like Marvel’s Thor t

Vikings have come to be known as a multitude of things in popular culture. Some depict Vikings as horned-hat wearing, constantly drunk Neanderthals, some as comic book characters like Marvel’s Thor there is even an entire form of music dedicated to Vikings. Yet, for all of the stereotypes, the majority of people do not know that much about what a true Viking was.

Yes, Vikings were violent and Vikings raided and plundered coastal communities to earn a living, but, save for those Vikings who became kings, most of their time was actually spent farming to sustain their families. Perhaps consider Vikings as outcasts of their own societies who did what they felt they needed to do in order to survive and support a family.

Furthermore, Vikings were skilled in combat, but not barbarians. It was a Viking’s advanced and expert technology in seafaring and shipbuilding that allowed them to sail the coasts in the first place. Beyond this, Vikings also discovered large parts of the world for the first time parts of Eastern Europe, Greenland and of course North America. So, while we may know Vikings as pirates or killers or caricatures of an entire culture above all else, they were also deft sailors, farmers, warriors and even poets.

The ten Vikings on this list are all well known for their exploits, primarily involving violence and plunder, but also for how they shaped the modern United Kingdom, Eastern Europe and North America. Here are ten of the most badass and important Vikings of all time.


10 Welsh Women From History Who Changed The World

If you live in Wales you cannot have missed the fact that this past week the BBC have (quite rightly) been celebrating Hidden Heroines – the monumental Welsh women from history whose incredible achievements helped shape modern Wales.

There is a reason for this celebration. There is currently no outdoor statue of a woman in the capital city of Cardiff. But all that is going to change. A shortlist of five inspirational Welsh women from history was drawn up from an initial long list and voting is currently open online to see who will who will be the first real women to be immortalized in an outdoor statue in Cardiff.

Choosing one person was never going to be easy. There are literally hundreds of famous Welsh Women from history – here’s my top ten!

  1. Bridget Bevan aka Madam Bevan – Educational Reformer and Public Benefactor

Bridget Bevan (1698-1779) was chief supporter of rector Griffith Jones and his system of circulating schools. The Circulating Welsh Charity School system moved from village to village and fostered education for children and adults throughout Wales, in the Welsh language. Much of Madam Bevan’s considerable wealth poured into these free schools, and she even ended up managing the project for 18 years.

Between 1736 and 1776, 6,321 schools were founded and 304,475 scholars taught.Wales achieved one of the highest literacy rates in Europe. News of the schools’ success even reached the ears of Catherine the Great in Russia, who ordered her ministers to make enquiries.

Lucy Thomas (1781-1847) is also known as the mother of the Welsh coal trade. Lucy took over the running of her husband’s business when he died in 1833. He had discovered a rich coal seam in Merthyr but Lucy turned it into one of the most successful mines in Wales.

It was seen as acceptable for a widow to continue her husband’s business, but Lucy still had to fight a lot of misogyny along the way. She once attended the coal exchange in Cardiff only to be told she could not enter. She sent a male clerk into the exchange with a letter informing the establishment ‘My coal is equal to any mans, failure to grant entry will lead to my business lining another’s pockets’. You go girl!

Although Lucy couldn’t read or write, she had a great head for business – she was the first person to export steam coal from Wales. By the time of her death in 1847, she’d increased the worth of the business to over £11,000.

3. Margaret Mackworth, 2 nd Viscountess Rhondda –Welsh peeress, business women and activist

Born Margaret Haig-Thomas (1883-1958), she is Wales’ most famous suffragette. In her youth Margaret brought Emmeline Pankhurst herself to Wales, confronted Prime Minister Asquith by jumping on his car AND set fire to a post box – all in the name of equality!

Margaret also did her bit for the war effort. In the First World War she ensured women played a vital role, recruiting them into the women’s services. She rose to become Chief Controller of women’s recruitment at the Ministry of National Service in London. She even survived the sinking of the Lusitania when it was torpedoed during the war, claiming more than 1,100 lives.

She was the greatest global businesswomen of her era. She sat on the board of 33 companies, chairing seven of them, and oversaw an industrial empire of mines, shipping and newspapers. She also became the first and only female to be President of the Institute of Directors.

And Lady Rhondda is the reason women of today can sit in the House of Lords. She campaigned for female peers for 40 years – though sadly she died before the law she fought for was changed.

(P.S. If you fancy learning more about this remarkable woman, check out the guest post about her I wrote for the Queens Podcast blog.)

4. Katheryn of Berain – Welsh Noblewomen

Also known as Mam Cymru or Mother of Wales, Katheryn was born in 1535 to Tudur ap Robert Vychan of Berain, Denbighshire and his wife Jane (who was the daughter of Sir Roland Velville – an illegitimate son of Henry VII himself!)

Katheryn is important in Welsh history due to her four marriages and her extensive network of descendants and relations. She is the ancestress of several notable Welsh families who have played important parts in the history of Wales and Britain.

Her first husband was John Salusbury (yes, that same Salusbury family as William Salusbury, who translated the bible into Welsh). Their first son Thomas was executed for his involvement in the infamous Babington plot, which sought to replace Elizabeth I with Mary, Queen of Scots.

She then married Sir Richard Clough, rich merchant and spy for Elizabeth I. They married in 1567 and in the same year Richard built them the first ever brick house in Wales. After Richard’s death 12 years later marriage to Maurice Wynn of the Wynns of Gwydir swiftly followed (the Wynns went on to hold important roles in the court of Charles I).

Katheryn’s fourth and last husband was Edward Thelwall. But her legacy lives on in her VERY extensive network of descendants.

5. Gwenllian ferch Gruffudd – Princess Consort of Deheubarth

Gwenllian (c.1100-1136) was the daughter of Gruffudd ap Cynan, prince of Gwynedd, who married Gruffydd ap Rhys of the ancient Welsh Kingdom of Deheubarth shortly after 1116.

At the opening of the great Welsh uprising in 1136, she led an attack on the Norman fortress of Kidwelly, in her husband’s absence. She was captured fighting and was executed (even though she was a woman). The spot where this happened is still known as Maes Gwenllian to this day.

This is the only known example of a medieval period woman leading a Welsh army into battle. Her story became almost legendary and for centuries after her death, Welshmen cried-out’ Revenge for Gwenllian’ when engaging in battle. Her patriotic revolt and murder sparked several further uprisings.

Forget about Xena Warrior Princess – it’s all about Gwenllian Warrior Princess!

6. Lady Charlotte Guest – Aristocrat and translator of The Mabinogion

Charlotte Guest (1812-1895) was an aristocrat and wife of Welsh ironmaster Josiah John Guest. He ran the vast Dowlais Iron Company that became the largest ironworks in the world.

Lady Charlotte has a highly intelligent and educated women. Her most significant translation work was what we now call ‘The Mabinogion’. She translated into English the 11 stories along with the Tale of Taliesin. This is even more impressive when you consider she had to learn Middle Welsh from scratch to do this!

Her translation was the only English version of this Welsh prose masterpiece until the mid 20th Century. The Mabinogion is a cornerstone of Welsh culture, identity and language – and the importance of Lady Charlotte’s work cannot be overstated.

7. Megan Lloyd-George – Welsh Politician

Megan Lloyd George (1902-1966) was more than just the daughter of one of Britain’s great Prime Ministers. She was a political hero in her own right.

Megan may have grew up in Downing Street but her mother gave birth to all her children in Wales to make sure that they were Welsh-born, and Welsh was always the language of the home.

In 1929, Megan Lloyd George campaigned successfully (in Welsh, as she always did) constituency of Anglesey and joined her father and brother in the House of Commons, becoming Wales’ first ever female MP. She also went on to become Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

In 2016 she was named one of the 50 greatest Welsh men and women of all time.

8. Emmeline Lewis Lloyd – British alpine mountaineer

A personal fave of mine as she only lived down the road from me, Emmeline Lewis-Lloyd (1827-1913) was a true trailblazer and pioneer.

Emmeline and her friend Isabella Straton were two of the rare women who climbed the Alps and Pyrenees in the 1860s and 70s. In fact, it is believed that Emmeline was the second ever female alpine mountaineer in Europe (after Lucy Walker of Liverpool).

Isabella was the eighth women to climb Mont Blanc. In 1870 she and Isabella became the first women to climb Monte Viso and the following year they made the first ascent of Aiguille du Moine near Chamonix. The summit is at an altitude of 3,412 m and it requires climbers to abseil on the descent. And Emmeline did it all in a skirt and crinoline!

9. Frances Hoggan – Welsh doctor

10. Sarah Jane Rees aka Cranogwen – Master mariner, teacher, poet

I think it’s fair to say that there’s little Sarah Jane Rees (1839-1916) couldn’t do.

Her first claim to fame was as a master mariner. Born in Llangrannog, she accompanied her sea captain father on ship. She went on to gain her master mariner’s certificate – a qualification that allowed her to command a ship in any part of the world. Back in West Wales she became a head-teacher at the tender age of 21, educating the children of the village, and also taught navigation to local men.

In 1865 her immense writing skills meant she became the first woman to win a major prize at the National Eisteddfod of Wales. Writing under the name of Cranogwen, her winning poem Y Fodrwy Briodasal (The Wedding Ring) was a satire on the married woman’s destiny.

So who is your fave Welsh women from history? Let us know in the comments below.


Scandinavian immigration

An elderly woman of high-status was buried at Scar with her possessions © Scandinavian immigration had a greater impact on the more sparsely-populated areas of the British Isles, especially the Northern Isles and the Hebrides. In these rural and maritime regions, the settlement pattern is less like England and more like the Scandinavian colonies of the North Atlantic, with the difference that there were indigenous populations (such as the Picts) to contend with. Whether these were driven out or whether they reached some accommodation with the incomers, the place-name evidence is compatible with an almost total Scandinavian takeover of Orkney and Shetland.

Pagan graves provide plentiful archaeological evidence .

Pagan graves provide plentiful archaeological evidence for early Scandinavian settlement in Scotland, and for female settlers. Two graves from Orkney show us two very different women: the young, stout and wealthy mother of newborn twins from Westness, and the high-status, elderly woman from Scar, buried in a boat along with a younger man and a child, a matriarch, perhaps even a priestess of Freya.

While the Northern Isles are completely Scandinavian in language and culture, the Viking-settled areas in and around the Irish Sea had a more varied population. The rich female grave from the Isle of Man, popularly known as the 'Pagan Lady of Peel', shows a woman with almost wholly Scandinavian affinities, but the 30 or so Christian runic monuments of that island reveal a much more mixed picture. These are basically Celtic crosses with some Scandinavian-style decoration, including mythological scenes. The inscriptions are in runes and Old Norse, but the personal names (both Norse and Celtic) and the grammatically-confused language suggest a thoroughly mixed community. At least a quarter of these monuments commemorate women, mostly as wives, though a stone from Kirk Michael appears to be in memory of a foster-mother, and the inscription notes that 'it is better to leave a good foster-son than a bad son'.


Sigrid the Haughty was, according to the Icelandic sagas, the queen consort of the King of Sweden Eric the Victorious and, later on, the queen consort of the King of Denmark and England Sweyn Forkbeard. There is, however, conflicting information in medieval literature concerning her existence.

Sigrid and King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway as depicted by Erik Werenskiold in a late 19th century Norwegian translation of Heimskringla by Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

While the medieval German chronicler Adam of Bremen claimed that King Sweyn Forkbeard was married to a Polish princess, Snorri Sturluson provided ambivalent accounts. According to the latter, King Sweyn might have been either married to her or to Gunhild of Wenden, a Slavic princess. Contemporary historians tend to regard her as a literary invention rather than an actual person, even though she might have been based on a historical character. Regardless of her existence/non-existence, she was described in the sagas as beautiful, proud, but nevertheless vengeful.


The Vikings only pillaged, raped and murdered #2

Even though the Vikings did raid plenty of cities throughout Europe including their own neighbors, it was actually only a very small percentage that was warriors. The majority of the Vikings were farmers, traders, craftsmen, and merchants.

For the Vikings that did set sail to raid and explore new lands for riches, it was not just in the search of silver and women. Many Vikings settled more or less peacefully in places such as England and France, but also in new and unexplored lands like Iceland and Greenland.

They also loved to explore for new trade routes and traded with almost every country of the then known world, and in their search for new lands, the Vikings even crossed the Atlantic and reached America 500 years before Columbus.


Some male Viking names and their meaning

The main male Viking names, some of which are still being used today and inspire names in many countries, come either from the Norse warrior tradition or from its divine and sacred origin.

50. Aila

For many centuries this male Nordic name was given to children to bless them with a good and long life. It literally meant "holy, blessed."

51. Alf

Name several kings and warriors of the Nordic sagas had that in their original language referred to the elves, the mythological beings.

52. Aren

Because of its sound it may look like a woman's name, but it is one of the most popular male Viking names that meant "he who reigns like an eagle".

53. Arnbjorn

Name of one of the most famous Viking warriors that appears in several chronicles of the heroic sagas. It is still used in Iceland and Sweden.

54. Arngerdur

This is one of the oldest male Viking names, and it appears in the main chronicles and sagas of Norse mythology.

55. Ax

Several northern warlike tribes began to use this name as a masculine appellation from the diminutive Axel, which means "the father of peace".

56. Baggi

This name is no longer used but it had its peak moment, especially in the Viking tribes that used to fight. It means "bag, bag."

57. Bjorn

One of the most popular male Viking names, used by several kings and Nordic warriors, it was also given to the son of the famous Ragnar Lothbrok.

58. Bergljot

Compound male Viking name that comes from Berg (protection) and Ljot (light), very used in the main sagas of Nordic warriors.

59. Bo

This simple name translates as "life". Originally it was a masculine name, although eventually it could also be feminine.

60. Bodil

Name of Danish origin and with warlike reminiscences, because in original Nordic language it meant "commander".

61. Dag

This term meant "day" and was, also, the divinity related to the day. It was also widely used as a male Viking name.

62. Daven

The name Daven, which literally meant "beloved," was also widespread. It is one of those that is still in fashion among parents these days.

63. Dustin

Another name of Nordic origin that has survived in the main languages of the peoples of northern Europe. It comes from the word Dorstein, which referred to the "stone of Thor".

64. Egil

Typical Scandinavian name very popular in the Viking era because it had a sacred origin: he was the keeper of Thor's flock.

65. Einar

It was a word with a warlike meaning, "warrior chief", and it was also the name of a popular Viking military leader.

66. Eindride

Etymologically it comes from the words ein (one) and ride (ride) and was related to the importance of the horse in the way of life of the Vikings.

67. Elvis

In the Scandinavian ancestral language, Alvia meant "wisdom", and evolved into Elvis being a very name in the ancient Nordic peoples, and very widespread even today.

68. Erik

This name is already popular in many parts of the world and it originally comes from Eirikr: combination of ei (always) and rikr (governor). It was the name of kings and warlords.

69. Esben

This name has been consolidated over the centuries as one of the most popular in the northern towns. It is the Danish variant of Asbjorn: as (god) and bjorn (bear).

70. Gerd

Male version of the female Viking name Gerda, referring to fertility. It is still used for boys in Germany and Finland.

71. Gisli

Name of several Viking warriors that was quite successful for its epic meaning: "ray of light".

72. Haakon

Norwegian dynastic name that since ancient times has been transmitted until today, because it gives name to the current heir to the throne. It means "right-handed, useful."

73. Hallr

It was, at its root, the denominator of the "rock" that later gave rise to many other names such as, for example, Hallstein.

74. Halstein

It comes from hallr (rock) and stein (stone) and was a very common name among the reigning dynasties because of their meaning of hardness.

75. Halvar

Another name derived from hallr is Halvar, which in this case combines hallr (rock) with var (guardian) and gave name to several warriors and kings.

76. Holger

This is also a compound name that combines hólmr (island) and geirr (spear). He gave a name, for example, to a Danish noble who held the position of general under Charlemagne.

77. Helge

This popular Viking name, which still survives in several Nordic countries, is formed from the root helling (saint).

78. Harald

Name of a famous king of Norway of the ninth century and of a long saga of monarchs of that region, where that name is still very popular.

79. Inge

Unisex name, which can be either female or male, although in girls it usually takes the form of Ingeborg.

80. Ivar

Viking masculine name very popular, among other things, for having given name to the son of Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok Ivar, who in turn was also a courageous warrior known as Ivar the Boneless.

81. Jensen

Name of Scandinavian origin that today is one of the most widespread in many Nordic countries. Its origin is Finnish and means "son of Johansen".

82. Jorgen

Scandinavian name that is often used as the namesake of the Anglo-Saxon George. It is a very popular name in Nordic countries and has been used by kings and rulers.

83. Knut

This name will also be familiar to ‘Vikings’ fans because it is one of the key characters of the first season. It comes from knútr (knot). Historically it gave name to the Danish prince who defeated to the king of England in century XI.

84. Lars

In German-speaking countries it is a very widespread name that has its roots in the dawn of the Nordic peoples. It was the diminutive of Laurentius (laurel).

85. Leif

In aristocratic circles and military Vikings, it was a widespread name because of what it meant: ‘heir’.

86. Niels

This literally translated the name Nicolás in ancient Danish language, and had as meaning "the triumph of the people"

87. Odd

One of the favourite names of the Viking warriors to give to their children, because this word meant "the edge of the sword".

88. Olaf

Its origin is the Old Norse word Anleifr, which conjugates the words anu (ancestor) and leifr (heir). It was named after kings, like Olaf the Great, of Norway.

89. Olson

Appeal that refers to its meaning "son of Olaf", used to give the name to the descendants of a lineage headed by an Olaf.

90. Porir

Literally it means "the warrior of Thor" and it was common for a Viking warrior to give this name to a son in veneration to the god of thunder.

91. Ragnvall

This strange name is composed of the parts reign (council) and valdr (power) and is considered the precedent of the current Ronald.

92. Sigurd

He was one of the children of Ragnar Lothbrok, known as "Sigurd Eye of Serpent". It means "guardian of victory."

93. Sven

This name that is still very popular in some northern countries literally means "boy".

95. Viggo

Name that sounds familiar for being the name of the actor Viggo Mortensen, but actually comes from the ancient root vig (war).


10 of the Most Badass Warrior Women Ever

In honor of the recent archaeological revelation that half of all Viking warriors were, in fact, women, we've decided to take a stroll down memory lane and check out the fiercest female warriors in TV and movie history. And we're not talking gun-toting Tank Girls, either. This is an ode to brute force &mdash swords, staves, spikes, sweat, and sheer muscle. Here are ten of the most brutally capable women of all time.


7 Of History's Forgotten Female Outlaws

Growing up, children's imaginations are filled with stories of bandits and sheriffs, and everyone knows the name of some of history's most infamous outlaw cowboys — but what about all the female outlaws you never heard about? Contrary to popular belief, they existed. And some of them were just as infamous as their male counterparts.

If you think about it, it made sense that the American frontier provided an opportunity for women to turn to life of crimes. Free from the conventions of proper city life, women experienced a lot more social and economic freedom. They could run businesses, own land, and engage in politics or crime if they wanted. Often the two were somewhat related.

Many of the women taking advantage of this freedom found their livelihoods through gambling or prostitution, two professions that brought them in close contact with gangs that roamed the frontier. Other women owned homesteads and worked with cattle. But what these women all had in common was a need to survive in an extremely trying environment. Some turned to crime or other "unladylike" ventures — but most are forgotten.

Sure, we remember Annie Oakley, the shotgun shooting star of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, or Belle Starr, the "bandit queen" who stole horses and sold bootlegged liquor. But there are probably more than a few of their associates that history has forgotten.

Laura Bullion

From a young age, Laura Bullion was destined to be an outlaw. Her father was a Native American bank robber, and while working as a prostitute in Texas she joined the Wild Bunch gang, where she ran with outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Bullion helped the gang with their robberies, and came to be known as "Rose of the Wild Bunch." Bullion would help sell the stolen items, forge checks, and is suspected to have disguised herself as a man to help with heists. In 1901 she was arrested for robbing a train. After serving a three-year sentence, she appears to have retired from her life of crime.

Rose Dunn

Rose Dunn fell into a life of crime when she fell in love with George "Bittercreek" Newcomb. Newcomb was one of the members of the Doolin Gang, which robbed banks and trains in the Indian Territory for two years. Dunn was a full member of the gang for the most part, and though she didn't take part in the heists, she provided them with ammunition, helped Newcomb escape from authorities, and nursed him back to health. Newcomb was later killed after Dunn's brothers (also outlaws) turned him in for a bounty. After that, the appeal of crime seemed to wear off for Dunn, who went on to marry a politician and settle down.

Mary Fields

While Mary Fields, often called "Stagecoach Mary," wasn't an outlaw, she was definitely way tougher than most of the women on this list. Fields was born into slavery around 1832, and after being emancipated at the age of 30, made her way west to Montana. Fields, who was very tall and extremely strong, worked as a general handyman and laborer at a school for Native American girls. She had a reputation for being strong, blunt, and more than willing to get in fights with people who annoyed her. At one point the local medical examiner claimed, she had "broken more noses than any other person in central Montana."

One popular story cites a time that Fields got stranded on a supply run and fought off wild wolves at gun point. Given her penchant for fighting and refusal to put up with bullshit, Fields was fired from her position after having a shoot out behind the school (during which she literally shot her opponent in the butt). At age 60, Fields went on to work for the U.S. Postal Service, becoming the first black woman to work for the service. After 10 years of driving coaches and traveling hundreds of miles, Fields retired and started a cleaning service. But she didn't stop fighting.

Lillian Smith

Lillian Smith was the only woman with the potential to eclipse Annie Oakley, but instead she's an often forgotten figure from the Wild West. Smith gained popularity after she joined Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show at age 15. Like Oakley, she was an incredible shot — but she favored the rifle, instead of Oakley's preferred shotgun. Because of her young age, colorful clothes, and penchant for swearing, Smith was substantially younger than Oakley, and the two were rivals. But while touring in London, Smith shot so badly that she was ridiculed. Soon after, her career ended.

Big Nose Kate

Big Nose Kate, whose real name was Mary Katharine Haroney, had an unfortunate nickname. While working as a prostitute in Kansas in the 1870s, she adopted the name as a way to differentiate herself from another prostitute named Kate. But while in Kansas she met Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. She would go on to be in a relationship with Holliday. On at least one occasion Kate helped Holliday escape custody by setting the jail on fire and threatening a guard at gunpoint. She stayed with Holliday until his death several years later.

Pearl Hart

Although Pearl Hart may have been inspired by Annie Oakley, the two women were very different. While Oakley shot for show and entertainment, Hart used her skills for crime. Hart was Canadian, but found herself in Arizona after her second husband went to fight in the Spanish-American war. After hooking up with a man named Joe Boot, she also disguised herself as a man, and she and Boot robbed a stagecoach. But they weren't very good at it, and were promptly caught. During her sentencing, Hart delivered the wonderfully feminist statement, "I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making." Unfortunately, the law didn't care. After serving some of her sentence, Hart became pregnant while in prison and was quickly pardoned by the governor. Her life after prison is a relative mystery.

Eleanor Dumont

First and foremost, Eleanor Dumont was a businesswoman. Although her background is unclear, when she showed up in Nevada City with a French accent and a plan to open a casino, she was an instant success. She was a hit among the gamblers, and her business was so profitable that she opened a second casino as well. But over time she grew tired of the life, bought a ranch, and fell in love with a man named Jack McKnight. But as it turns out, McKnight was a conman, who sold her ranch and ran away. Not one to let that stand, Dumont tracked him down and shot him dead. Broke, but free of charges, Dumont went back to gambling, and created an even larger name for herself. There were (largely unsubstantiated) stories of her foiling robbers, or threatening steamboats at gunpoint. She eventually killed herself when her gambling debts became too large, but her reputation lived on.


Vikings And Their Warfare: 10 Things You Should Know

There is more to the fascinating scope of Viking warfare than just shooing away the misconception about their horned-helmets. So, without further ado, let us take a gander at ten things one should know about these fearsome Scandinavian raiders and their warfare – a potent historical ambit that dominated the northwestern swathes of Europe for over 200 years.

1) The Fundamental Military Unit of Vikings Was The Family –

The Scandinavian society had always relied on tribes as their nominal units of warfare. As historian Ian Heath noted, the ‘sub-division’ of such a unit mostly pertained to the extended family or the clan. In essence, the family was considered as the fundamental combat group, and these interwoven clans were known as aett. Suffice it to say, the intrinsic relation between familial ties and combat rather aided in the induction of a warrior culture within the societal fabric of the Vikings. Simply put, the aett trained together, raided together and even fought together in battles. There are also mentions of mass burial grounds that were specifically reserved for the members of the aett who died in combat.

2) The Artificial Tribes And The Jomsvikings –

As can be gathered from the Viking reliance on tribal structure, the basic framework of such a body was centered around the relation between the leader and his followers (who tended to be free members of an extended family). However, there were also instances of ‘artificial tribes’ that adhered to the notion of the non-blood related loyalty that was expected between a warlord and his band. These artificial clans were mainly forged by landless men who probably belonged in the fringes of the Viking society.

And gradually such artificial tribes morphed into warrior-brotherhoods who made their living through banditry and warfare. Also known as Viking-laws (derived from Vikinge-lag), these organizations/clans became critical to the success of overseas Viking warfare, mainly due to the expansionist tendencies of the later Scandinavian warlords. As a result, they were organized as free companies of mercenaries – with their members comprising experienced soldiers who lived under a strict code of conduct. Interestingly, these military brotherhoods never undertook campaigns on their own instead, they presented themselves during summers and relied on patrons like Viking kings and princes who paid high sums for their services in upcoming conflicts – thus initiating a private military contract of sorts.

One of the famed (and often historically disputed) Viking-laws were the Jomsvikingelag or Jomsvikings, who were supposedly founded by none other than Harald Bluetooth. Though not mentioned in contemporary sources, their tales were made renowned by later Danish accounts and the famed Jomsviking Saga.

According to many such literary tidbits, their mighty home fortress of Jomsborg was situated near Wollin, by the mouth of the Oder river. As for their might, the members (ranging from 900 to 2,000 warriors) were always chosen from between the ages of 18 to 50, and they had to prove their prowess in a tough fighting duel known as Holmgang. And after induction, the Jomsvikings were expected to show no fear or tendency to flee even when they were hopelessly outnumbered in actual battles.

3) Shield Walls Might Not Have Been As Defensive As One Would Think –

The Viking shield wall (or skjaldborg in Old Norse) was a pretty conventional tactic used by the Norsemen in land battles. It entailed a phalanx-like formation of warriors who were up to five ranks deep. The front line was composed of the most well-armored troops, and their closely-held, upraised shields faced the enemy onslaught. Judging from this simplified description, one would be inclined to think that the Viking shield wall was a purely defensive maneuver.

Now while initially, such a tight formation might have depended on the reactive charge of the enemy, there are other dynamic factors to take into account on a battlefield. For example, practical observations have proven that in hand-to-hand combat, an extra room (elbow length) could turn the tide of engagement, as it endows the warrior with space to swing his ax or melee weapon.

So in the case of the shield-wall, the seasoned warriors in the front ranks probably overlapped their shields, and this interlocking ‘facade’ absorbed the first impact of the enemy charge. But once the charge ran out of steam, the Vikings generated their own momentum by pushing off the enemy forces with the help of their shields. This in turn automatically loosened their own formation and allowed for the elbow-length room that was needed for a good-ole, lusty swing of their axes.

4) Vikings Sometimes Initiated Specially Prearranged Battles That Were Akin To Duels –

With warfare being ingrained intrinsically in their culture, the Vikings looked forth to new ways to conduct their conflicts. According to historian Ian Heath, one of these military measures of the Viking Age pertained to the ‘hazelled field’. In basic terms, it was a chosen battlefield which was intentionally fenced with hazel branches on all sides. So if one side issues a challenge to their opponents, the enemy forces were bound by their warrior-code to answer the challenge on this prearranged battlefield on a specified date and time. Failure to do so was considered dishonorable, especially before any invasion was to take place.

Interestingly, it seems even the English were aware of such a tradition inculcated among the Vikings. And probably in one instance, King Athelstan took advantage of this warrior-norm and issued a challenge to his Viking opponents (whose forces were swelled by Welsh and Scottish allies) at the Battle of Brunanburh, which was supposedly fought in a hazel field in 937 AD. There was a strategic angle to this challenge, with the English king possibly trying to delay the assorted enemy forces from pillaging his territory before their invasion commenced.

5) Most Viking Battles Took Place At Seas, And They Played Out Like Land Warfare –

Considering the popular image of Vikings being associated with dragon-headed longships, it might not come as a surprise that marine-based expertise is what the Norsemen excelled at. However quite interestingly, when two opposing fleets met at a naval battle, the Vikings made sure that the encounter played out like a land-based battle.

How so? Well, before the start of the battle, the Vikings arranged their fleets in lines, with the largest ships being roped together gunwale to gunwale – thus resulting in enormous floating platforms. In such a ‘formation’, the biggest and longest ships, commanded by the king and other warlords, were kept in the middle and their prows extended beyond other ships. Suffice it to say, these prows (also called bardi in Norse) faced the thick of the battle and were therefore reinforced with armor plates and even iron spikes known as skegg that were designed to puncture holes into enemy ships.

These huge floating platforms were obviously supported by smaller vessels on their flanks. They were tactically deployed for additional reinforcements and for pursuing the defeated enemy in flight. Now given the arrangement of the slightly wedge-shaped formation of the platforms, the main battle was conducted with the two naval forces (in their platforms) meeting almost head-on and then trying to grapple and board their enemy ships.

Before such a chaotic action commenced, the archers were handy in peppering the enemy with arrows, javelins and even stones. So simply put, the Vikings didn’t employ (at least intentionally) the classic naval tactic of ramming their prows into the enemy ship’s oars-section. Instead, they mainly relied on the ferocity of their crew members for fighting the purely naval engagements – just like land battles.

6) Initially, The Vikings Didn’t Differentiate Much Between Their Warships and Merchant Ships –

While Viking raiding ships were one of the defining features of Viking raids and military endeavors, these vessels had variance in their designs – which is contrary to our popular notions. According to historians, this scope of variance can be credibly hypothesized from the sheer number of technical terms used in contemporary sources to describe them. To that end, the Vikings before the 10th century made very few distinctions between their varied merchant ships and warships – with both (and other) types being used for overseas military endeavors.

Simply put, the first Viking raids along the English coasts (including the plundering of the Lindisfarne monastery in 793 AD, that marks the beginning of the Viking Age) were probably made with the aid of such ‘hybrid’ ships that were not specifically tailored to military purposes – as opposed to the ‘special’ ships showcased in The Vikings TV series.

However, in the post 10th century period, the Viking raiders boosting their organized numbers by military establishments or ledungen, did strive to specifically design military warships, with their structural modifications tailored to both power and speed. Known as snekkja (or thin-like), skeid (meaning – ‘that cuts through water’) and drekar (or dragon – derived from the famed dragon-head on the prow) these streamlined longships tended to be longer and slimmer while accounting for a greater number of oars. On the other hand, increased trading also demanded specialized merchant ships or kaupskip that were broader with high freeboards, and depended on their greater sail-power.

7) Few Viking ships Could Even Carry Over 300 Men!

Given their svelte design credentials, the Viking longship traditionally required only a single man per oar when cruising through the neutral waters. But when the battle was at hand, the oarsman was joined by two other soldiers whose job was to not only give a lending hand (for increasing the ship’s speed) but also to protect the oarsman from enemy missiles. And as the Viking raids became more profitable and organized, the wealth was translated to even bigger and better warships.

One good example would pertain to King Olaf Tryggvason’s (who ruled Norway from 995 to 1000 AD) aptly named Long Serpent. According to legends, this ship supposedly carried eight men per half-room (or oar) at the naval Battle of Svolder, which would equate to over 550 men overboard if we also count the other combatants. Now in practical terms, this scenario might have been a bit exaggerated with probable translation issues. But even if we account 8 men per room (or 4 men per oar), the total number of men that Long Serpent could carry would have gone beyond 300!

8) The ‘Great Heathen Army’ Of The Vikings –

As the renowned Anglo-Saxon Chronicle documented, the ‘Great Heathen Army’ (or hæþen here in Old English) of the Vikings descended upon the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms starting in 865 AD. Unlike most Scandinavian raiders, these Vikings entailed a coalition of sorts, with the Norse warriors originating from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, fighting under a unified banner. According to some legends, they were commanded by the so-called sons of Ragnar Lothbrok (the very same character portrayed in The Vikings TV series). Now while the contemporary source talks about an army of a substantial size, they don’t really delve into the actual numbers of the invading forces.

However, some modern historians like Pete Sawyer have taken the etymological route in defining what actually constituted an ‘army’. In that regard, one of the law codes of King Ine of Wessex (issued in 694 AD), defines an here or army as consisting of only 35 men (sourced from The Vikings by Ian Heath)! Now historically, as the conflict dragged on – after joined by two other Viking invasion forces in the coming decades, the Heathen Army grew restless with various stalemates in the actual battlefields.

Finally, in 896 AD, most of their forces dispersed, with one major group making way for the profitable Seine in ships. According to accounts, this group traveled in only five vessels and thus may have numbered less than 400 men. This once again alludes to the total number of men in the actual invasion force, which may have ranged from just 2,000 to 3,000 men – as opposed to their apparent ‘greatness’ in numbers.

9) Berserkers Might Have Thought Of Themselves As Lycanthropes or Werewolves –

A big chunk of the Viking Age coincided with paganism among the Vikings, and during these centuries, the berserkir or berserkers were seen as humans who possessed supernatural powers by the blessing of Odin himself. In that regard, much had been said about their so-called berserk fury which allowed such men to forgo pain and demonstrate fanatical levels of strength, like killing well-armored enemies in just a single stroke.

However, in reality, going ‘berserk’ was probably just a form of delusion/paranoia also known as lycanthropy. In medical terms, lycanthropy is defined as the rare psychiatric syndrome that encompasses a delusion that the affected person can transform (or has transformed) into a non-human animal. Literary pieces of evidence do point to such cases of lycanthropy – like in the example of the Volsunga Saga where Sigmund wears wolf skins, howls when aggravated, and even goes on to use the speech of wolves.

Other possibilities of going berserk might have entailed hereditary conditions and even epileptic seizures. There may also have been some pretty mundane reasons for taking up the role of a berserker – with some vagabond outlaws preferring the theatrics that would have intimidated the passers-by. Some researchers have also put forth the hypothesis that berserk fury may have been induced by the ingestion of materials with psychoactive properties. In any case, berserkers did project an aura of awe and fear even during Viking times – as is evident from their frequent postings as high-level bodyguards of pagan Viking chieftains (as described in Hrafnsmal and Harald Fairhair’s Saga).

10) The Raven Standards Were Believed By Vikings To Have Magical Properties –

As Ian Heath suggests, one of the defining features of the invading Vikings other than their renowned longships is associated with their rampant use of banners. These war-flags or gunnefanes had fantastical depictions ranging from winged monsters to serpents. But the most widely recorded of all Viking standards pertains to their bearing of some raven device. Known as Reafan (or Raven), these flags were given a special status within the pagan Scandinavian religion. In fact, according to most contemporary accounts, the Vikings believed that the raven standards had the ‘power’ to impart victory as long as they kept fluttering proudly in the battlefield.

Now from the perspective of religion, this shouldn’t be too surprising, since the raven was considered as the bird of Odin, the All-Father (or Alföðr) associated with the supreme god of war and slaughter in various Germanic traditions. To that end, many Vikings believed the raven standards to be imbued with pure magical energy, and henceforth were the works of sorceresses who supposedly knitted and embroidered such war-flags. And intriguingly enough, the motif of the raven continued long after Christianity arrived in Scandinavia. For example, it was said that Harald Hardrada (a Viking who fought as a Varangian Guard for the Eastern Roman Empire) proudly displayed his famed Landeythan (‘Landwaster’) flag with the raven device.

Book References:The Vikings (by Ian Heath) / Viking Hersir (by Mark Harrison) / The Viking Ship (by Per Bruun).


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