AcademicIamA Author, Viking expert, and speaker at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds AMA!
Jan 21st 2017 by cjadrien • 36 Questions • 4177 Points
C.J. Adrien is a French-American author with a passion for Viking history. His Kindred of the Sea series was inspired by research conducted in preparation for a doctoral program in early medieval history as well as his admiration for historical fiction writers such as Bernard Cornwell and Ken Follett. He has most recently been invited to speak at the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds this summer.
Thanks to everyone who participated and asked questions. If you'd like to read more about the Vikings, check out my blog. This was my first Reddit experience, and I had a great time! That's it for me, Skal!
I received a phone call telling me this thread was getting a lot of questions, still. I am back for another hour to answer your questions. Start time 11:35am PST to 12:30pm PST.
Ok folks, I did my best to get to all of you. This was a blast! But, alas, I must sign off. I will have to do one of these again sometime. Signing off (1:20pm PST). Thank you all for a great time!
The show has its merits, but of course it falls short in several respects. The timeline is all out of whack. It jumps around hundreds of years, and cares little for the actual timeline of the Viking Age.
But despite all its shortcomings, I think the real question is, "how accurate does it need to be?" It is, after all, historical fiction, and while we all expect a measure of authenticity in its presentation, the goal is to entertain. In my mind, the show Vikings' greatest merit is that it has cultivated tremendous attention to the actual history of the Vikings, which in turn is giving this field of study a much needed boost.
Whilst you and I know what "historical fiction" means, I think it needs to be more accurate when dealing with people/situations that may have existed on any level... at least slightly. As if these stories need exaggerating anyway!
Titanic and The Tudors taught us that this stuff is widely believed these days. There are actually 18 year old guys who now believe Cardinal Wolsey broke his own neck on his way to the tower, for example. Some bloke called Jack who died on the Titanic? His grave is now a goddamn PILGRIMAGE site...
Source: Educator, though not a teacher. I help teach the kids that believe this shit.
I tend to agree with you, the show creators really deviated from any shred of credibility. The opening season was actually quite good. But ratings, it seems, are too powerful a force for History Channel to ignore.
What are the main myths concerning their culture. Are they the gruesome barbarians the history books are depicting them?
Well, they didn't have horns, that was an invention of a costume designer at the Berlin opera in the 1880's.
I think the big myth that should be dispelled is that they were not more violent that the other peoples of Europe at the time. In fact, one of the [many] causes of the launch of the Viking Age may have been war atrocities committed by the Carolingians against the Danes' neighbors, the Saxons. So to say that they were terribly violent barbarians is not entirely accurate. They were violent, but so was everyone else.
It has. Particularly, we are more aware than ever of just how good of progenitors the Vikings were. They spread their seed far and wide, and now we can track where and how much through DNA. Great question.
I love to relax at the end of a long day by watching a good documentary or two; what documentaries do you recommend that pertain to your area of study?
The Ulfberht by PBS was pretty good! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FsfV5A6ktk
Have you spent much time in Sweden? We have significant Viking memorials, such as Haväng, Ales Stena, Kungagraven, Anundshög (also includes a MASSIVE Stone burial ship and an entire village complete with working ships, huts and food.
I have not spent much time in Sweden, but I began my studies on the Vikings on the subject of the Swedish Vikings, the Rus, and arguably they are the ones I know the most about. I do plan on a longer trip to Sweden in the near future.
How were women treated in Viking society? I've heard they were considered equals in many aspects.
It is true that women held certain rights their southern neighbors did not. How this played into the fabric of their society is a complex question, and one must be wary not to conflate out of romanticized optimism as I have seen done recently. But, if this is something that interests you, the historian Judith Jesch has done the most extensive work of anyone out there on the subject of women's role in Norse society, drawing from textual and archeological evidence to form her conclusions. I encourage you to look up her books to learn more.
What is your favorite, most recent finding about vikings?
The reindeer antler comb that predates academia's general understanding of the Viking timeline. I wrote about it here: https://cjadrien.com/2015/05/19/the-reindeer-antler-comb-that-is-rewriting-history/
And there are also massive hoards that were recently discovered in England and Sweden, and I just read that they've found a new settlement in America. So, lots going on!
I've always wondered about the validity of the belief that vikings were heavily tattooed.
Did viking culture favor tattoos? What significance did they represent culturally? And how did they tattoo themselves?
The problem with tattoos is that they do not survive very long after death. So, archeologically, we have no evidence for them, nor are there is there any evidence of tools or ink that would have been used. The only reliable account we have for their tattoos is from the Arab chronicler Ibn Fadlan, who described their blue tattoos. Outside of that, the rest is guess work.
Have you ever been to "Vikingar" in Largs up in Scotland? I used to go a lot when I was younger and it really cultivated an interest in Viking history and culture for me.
I have not, but I'll be in the area this summer, so I'll add it to my itinerary. Thanks!
What did the Vikings call themselves? How unified were they as a people?
The Annales D'Angouleme state that the Vikings who sacked Nantes in 843 A.D. were Vestfaldingi, or Men from Vesfold. This tells us two things: 1, Scandinavians referred to themselves regionally, like Vestfold, and not generally as Norwegians, Danes, or Swedes, although they did refer to themselves as such in some cases; 2, Vikings introduced themselves to their victims before killing them.
As far as being united, they had a common culture and language, but were far from one people politically. They often fought each other, even abroad, based on regional differences.
I have always enjoyed the Legend or the story of the Kensington Runestone. Do you give it any merit? Is there any merit to Norsemen and Western Plains Indians having substantial contact? Thanks for your time.
There really isn't. The Kensington Runestone was definitively proven a fake quite some time ago. Does this mean the Vikings did not travel that far? No. They could have, and they had the skill to do so. But there simply is no evidence to prove it.
The bodies buried in the Osberg and Gokstad ships showed signs of having worn undergarments, but only the important people.
I talk about it on my website here.
Am I imagining things when I see lots of similarities between pre-Christian Irish and Viking art? I'm from Ireland and spend a lot of time in Norway, and it seems like all our properly-ancient stuff is largely interchangeable.
There's a cultural link there that goes back a ways, before the Vikings even. And it's not really my area of expertise, but there is ample literature out there about it.
What evidence dictates that vikings were tougher or more fearless warriors then their neighbours?
We know very little about their battle tactics and fighting style. But here is what we do know: they are thought to have been fearless because they were portrayed as such by their victims, chiefly christian clerics (those who could write this stuff down). Therefore, this perception may very well be a result of their biases. Militarily, they were not particularly effective against well-trained and organized armies. This is particularly evident in the early interactions they had with the Carolingians and the Arab Emirate of Al-Andalus (Spain). Their true strength was the sheer speed at which they could appear and disappear again, which struck fear in the hearts of those they attacked. The best example of this is by Noter the Stammerer. Later on, when their ambitions shifted from raiding to colonization, this myth of their invulnerability disappeared as they fought in pitched battles with the armies of Europe with very mixed results.
My expertise as far of this subject goes it what I learned in High school over 20 years ago- so not much.
How much of the travels outside Scandinavia to the British isle were about colonization, and how much of it was a protection racket?
What were the social differences between the folks who stayed at home and herded goats, and the sailors who took off on long voyages and then returned home?
Were the voyages pretty much for the young folks, (then they came home and farmed) or was it one of those life-time career things were you keep going until you dropped (or someone dropped you.)
Did medieval Scandinavians get sick of everyone being named "son of" , "Daughter of" like the modern folks Reference or did the fact that they lived in a more agrarian community help? (identity tied to the farm they lived at)
When doing genealogy (Norway) in the 1800s, my relatives took their names from the farm they lived at.
firstname, son of, farmname.
How far back in the past was this practice used?
EDIT: How far back in the past was the practice of taking military last names go? My assumption that there were WAAAY too may Olesons in one spot, and everyone got confused.
Lots of questions! Ok, so as far as the names are concerned, you should check out The Viking Answer Lady, she's done all manner of work on the subject of names and that should answer your questions in regards to that.
As far as colonization vs raiding, in very general terms the early Viking Age started as raids, and toward the end of the 9th century we see a concerted effort to invade foreign lands, such as Britain, Brittany, Normandy, and the slavic lands in the east. Throughout the Viking age there existed a didactic in which both types of interactions happened at the same time, driven by different groups for different purposes.
Where did Vikings get their slaves? Also, do you have any theories as to where the 2nd settlement in America was?
Salves were typically taken from the people they conquered. At first, these would have been other Scandinavians, but later it came to include people from all over, including black slaves from North Africa.
Vikings are often portrayed as larger and more physically intimidating than other men of their time. Is there evidence of this, or is it just a result of their portrayal in other texts and the notion that they were somehow more violent than other cultures at the time, or was it something else?
Also, briefly, since I know this would take a long time to really get into, how did religion "work" within their society? Do we have much information about how the "everyday" Viking treated their faith?
The chroniclers who wrote about them were also their victims, so this view that they were bigger, meaner, etc is just an affirmation of their own biases.
How their religion actually worked is actually still mostly a mystery. We have the broad architecture of their pantheon, but texts attesting to their practices are vague. Anskar, a famous bishop who went on missions across Scandinavia, reported human sacrifices in Sweden, and described the ritual. Further east, Ibn Fadlan wrote about their funeral practices. But both are, again, framed within the cultural lens of the chronicler, and so not particularly good evidence for Viking culture and religion. Archeologically, we have lots of artifacts to support which deity one person or settlement followed, but outside of that we really don't have much to go on to describe their rituals.
do you think the kensington runestone found in Minnesota is a 14th century Scandinavian artifact or a 19th century hoax?
It was definitely proven to be a hoax years ago.
I read (unsourced) that the vast majority of Viking activities took place in the east all the way down to Byzantium, or was the British isles and France where most the raiding and settling took place? Was most of the activity settling or raiding and going back?
The Vikings known as the Rus did travel east and established an extensive trade network along the volga and dniepper rivers. They founded the principalities Kiev and Novgorod which would form the nucleus of the future Russian state. It started first as raids, but to secure the trade routes from raids by the Slavs, they began asserting dominion over Slavic lands and establishing fortifications along the way. So trade was the segue to conquering the east.
In the west, it also started as raids, but as politics at home, and indeed populations sizes and food supply, changed, many resorted to exoduses to new lands for survival. This is thought to be the driving factor of the settlement of Ireland, Iceland, and later, America. In England, the Danes who attacked were of a different kind. They were a conquering army with close ties to their home land. So the aims were not colonization, but conquest.
As far as which area, east or west, had more activity, it is hard to say. We know the most about the Danes and their activities because they were the ones the chroniclers of the day documented the most.
I am from a sami family and have always wondered how the relatio between them were, you don't happen to know that? Like, did they trade alot and did they have borders or something?
I don't know much about the Sami, but I do know they were present before the Vikings, and early on there wasn't much interaction between them. That changed later on, but it's not my area of expertise, but I encourage you to research the subject further.