I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Vikings exhibition, a most informative and complete presentation sponsored by the Scandinavian embassies at Canada's largest museum, the Museum of History in Gatineau QC. Like many people, I had a limited and quite distorted image of the Vikings, as nothing but bloodthirsty barbarians, who murdered, pillages and enslaved more advanced societies across Europe. There was some truth in that stereotype, especially when they first became a force to be reckoned with, but this exhibition was designed to show more of their daily life and evolution, for early Viking men were only part of the overall Norse culture. For a broad overview see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings.
The barbaric kill-and-rob period of Viking men lasted from the late 8th through the late 11th centuries. They marauded and pillages coastal settlements all around Europe and the British Isles, carrying off captives to become their slaves. As their society slowly evolved and became more civilized, they created villages with a three-tiered social structure, consisting of Thralls
, and Jarls
, with some movement possible among the Thralls and Karls. Basically, the Thralls were captive slaves who tended farms and did mostly menial labour; Karls were freed slaves who were
The purpose of this exhibition was to show the many aspects of their lives and to dispel the common belief that all Norse were just bloodthirsty
craftsmen and small farmers; Jarls were the wealthy landowners, traders and explorers, for whom the other classes worked.
They became merchants: using their longboats they traded glass, silk, spices, gold and gems by sea throughout northern Europe as far east as Russia, and as far west as Greenland and northern Newfoundland. They told of their adventures in oral 'sagas', but they did have a limited form of written language inscribed on stone. Although their original gods were rather vengeful entities, they gradually adopted Christianity, which may have been the main catalyst for their becoming peaceful. Eventually the Norse regions became the Scandinavian countries we all admire today.
I hope that this article will give you a better understanding of these much-misunderstood people. As usual, to view any of the photos in full size, just click on the thumbnail.
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