Rage Of The Norsemen
From the Norse culture come many of our ideas about trolls, dwarves, elves and giants. They believed in an afterlife and the end of the world, or Ragnarok. They would bring in new ideas from their travels and apply them to strengthen their position as wolf-warriors and shrewd traders of the Northern seas. They were individualists resisting any attempt to curb their freedom, yet could accept adversity with self-control. Any man prepared to die for what was important was held in high regard by friend and foe alike. Perhaps in part because their countries had extremely short growing seasons, very poor rocky soil, and long winters, this hard life shaped these men into daring, adventurous and aggressive sailors. Their ships were among the finest ever made.
They gave us the concept of the Assembly, where justice was administered. They believed in retaliation for injustices. There was no room for softness. Their land was harsh and fraught with hardship. So was their justice. They would pass sentence, fine or outlaw (banish) an uncontrollable man. The had a strong weregild, repayment of some kind for the death or injury of a domestic animal or human. The “good name” was the highest importance and gossip was one of the worst crimes possible. Often offensive slurs resulted in blood-feuds that lasted many generations.
Theirs was one of the few cultures where women had a great amount of freedom and protection under the law. The Norse concept of marriage allowed great companionship and cooperation between husband and wife. In addition to housewives, women were priestesses, wise women, rune-mistresses, healers and warriors. They could go before the assembly and be granted justice, or even a divorce, just as men could. Seldom was a women married off against her will.
Family and clan was their strongest bond. The Norse took pride in knowing their genealogies and had a strong sense of what was due from a kinsman. An insult to one family member was an insult to all; likewise disgrace by one member affected the whole.
Dreams were important as they were one of the ways the gods contacted humans. Luck ranked high in desirable qualities. When fighting men prepared to go viking, they chose a leader known for his battle luck.
The Norse were divided into three classes, Thrall (slave), Karl (farmer), and Jarl (chieftain or aristocrat). There was no pure warrior class. Every man had to be a fighter. Even women were trained to handle weapons for defense.
During the Viking period (roughly 750 to 1050AD) iron smelting was not an exact science. Foundries produced soft iron, and hard (but brittle) steel. The brilliance of the Norse blacksmith was the discovery that when these two metals were welded together they could forge a blade that was springy and tough like iron, but held a sharp edge like chisels, axes and other steel tools. Many of the examples in museums and private collections show detailed patterns where these welds were made, including swirls and “snakes” that run the length of the blade.
Generally, swords in this period ranged in length from 28 to 40 inches, and weighed around three pounds – including cross guard and handle. While Vikings are frequently portrayed as large, muscular warriors, they were still human men, and subject to limitations of human endurance. The Viking’s weapon needed to be designed to allow for long periods of hacking, slashing and stabbing villagers who were poorly armed and untrained for combat, but great in number compared to the raiding party. Armor evolved to make slashing attacks less dangerous, and the sword became more tapered for thrusting through mail and gaps in heavy plate. The emerging superpowers in England and France had frequent contact with the Norsemen and patterned their weapons after the Vikings’ style, which became the pattern used for knights’ swords.