Monday, August 4, 2014

What You May Not Know About Vikings!


In an earlier release, Rose of Hope, set in post-Conquest England, I feature a scene set in a fictional Viking village on the Essex coast that I called "Ljotness", founded two centuries earlier by a Viking jarl.

In my newest release, Viking Sword: A Fall of Yellow Fire - The Stranded One, the hero and his family live in Ljotness (his father is the one who took the town from its Anglo-Saxon thegn).

Even though Rose of Hope came first, it seemed a natural progression back to Viking Sword, because the Normans (the heroes of Rose of Hope) were direct descendants of Viking ancestors (the great Rollo was William the Conqueror's many times great-grandfather). 

I'm having a lot of fun learning about Vikings and thought I'd share some of more interesting tidbits I've come across.

"Official" Beginning of the Viking era in England
Historically, the Viking age in England began with the famous raid on the "Holy Isle" of Lindisfarne in 793. The account, with the accompanying prophesy a few days previous, was recorded in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle:
In present day English:
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
Year 793.
"Here were dreadful forewarnings come over the land of Northumbria, and woefully terrified the people: these were amazing sheets of lightning and whirlwinds, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. A great famine soon followed these signs, and shortly after in the same year, on the sixth day before the ides of January, the woeful inroads of heathen men destroyed god’s church in Lindisfarne island by fierce robbery and slaughter."

"Forbidden" love songs
The Viking goddess of love, Freya, adored poems and songs about love, but oddly enough, in many parts of the Viking world, certain love stories, called "maidensongs" were forbidden. Why? Because love was considered the most powerful force in Midgard (the earth), and that made the songs too powerful to tell. It was feared a maiden might be seduced and ensnared by a love song and be tempted beyond enduring to yield her innocence or elope with the wrong man.

We today find the concept of slavery horrifying, but it was a common, accepted part of the Viking world. Slaves were often people stolen during raids, and most were taken to trade centers and sold. They were called "thralls' and occupied the lowest rung on the ladder of Viking society. The average Viking family had only one or two slaves. These people had few rights, and could legally be mistreated or killed, including being used for human sacrifice. When a slave could no longer work - for whatever reason - and was therefore 'useless', they were killed. Slaves were allowed to marry, and one interesting 'right' a male slave held was the right to kill a man, even a freeman, who "messed around" with his wife against her will. Under Norse law, freemen could not kill another man for that reason.

Have you ever wondered what you'd do if someone gave you a húdfat as a gift? Chances are, you've already used one while on vacation. A húdfat was, essentially, a sleeping bag. When rolled up, personal items were rolled into it for safekeeping. The interior layer was wool, the outer layer a durable, moisture-resistant material such as oiled leather (they were also called "leather-bags"). They had ties to hold them on the body while rowing and also to keep the rolled-up húdfat in a closed bundle when not in use. They could be worn for warmth or protection from the weather while an oarsman rowed. Some were single-man size, others were two-man size, for extra warmth.

Runic Language
The Viking language consisted of runes, symbols that stood for a specific letter of the runic alphabet. While the runes were not considered 'magical' in and of themselves, they were sometimes used in the casting of spells or the telling of fortunes. The runes were carved into pieces of wood or stones and might be used for anything from writing letters and offering prayers ,to necklaces spelling a person's name. They might also be worn as a pendant or amulet, by both men and women, as a charm for protection or good luck. Runes were carved into stones (runestones) as memorials to those who had died. 

The Norse had no system of coinage before the late 9th century. Instead, they practiced a "bullion economy". A few coins (usu. silver or gold, and to a lesser extent, copper and bronze) found their way to the Scandinavian trade centers, but to the Vikings they were simply chunks of metal and often ended up being melted down or turned into jewelry. Vikings bartered using what they called "hack-silver" - pieces of silver and gold such as links in a silver chain or sliced up coins. Bars (ingots) of precious metals were also used. To preserve accuracy, traders and merchants carried their own precisely calibrated scales.

I hope you've enjoyed this quick jaunt into the world of the "Northmen" (and maybe even find inspiration for a Viking tale of your own). I'd love to hear your 'favorite facts' about these fascinating people.  

Màiri Norris


  1. Great blog Mairi!!! Gotta love those Vikings!
    And congrats on your Viking romance release!

  2. Thanks, Renee! You inspired me, you know, with the Emerald Isle trilogy.

  3. Thanks for sharing this interesting information, Màiri! I find the Viking culture fascinating. And congratulations on your book! I downloaded it onto my Kindle and can't wait to begin it.

    1. Hi Cate! Of all the cultures I've researched so far (quite a few), the Vikings are my favorite. They were so curious, so vibrant and enterprising. I'll be staying in the Viking world for a while.