The Vikings Exhibit, the Canadian Museum of History

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May 12th 2016
Published: May 12th 2016
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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

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, Karls, 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 Viking barbarians.
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.

Additional photos below
Photos: 50, Displayed: 23


It was rough and toughIt was rough and tough
It was rough and tough

Medicine and dentistry as we know them were unknown, and most lives were short and filled with pain and toil. Skeletons unearthed indicate that few lived beyond age 45; many died much younger.
mockup of a battle helmet, with chain mailmockup of a battle helmet, with chain mail
mockup of a battle helmet, with chain mail

This is roughly what an iron Viking helmet looked like. It was hot and heavy, BUT there were none of the mythical 'horns'.
archaeological evidencearchaeological evidence
archaeological evidence

What we know about Norse culture and life-styles has been pieced together by teams of archeologists, most notably in the Scandinavian countries

They were mostly made of iron, and thus they have rusted badly over the centuries
the usefulness of skeletonsthe usefulness of skeletons
the usefulness of skeletons

Bones are able to give us indications of their wounds, infirmities, and causes of death.
Norse cultureNorse culture
Norse culture

Not all were dreaded warriors, living to kill or be killed and go to 'Valhalla'.
village lfevillage lfe
village lfe

Most Norse lived in small villages along the coasts of modern-day Scandinavia. The village were supported by small farms, with farm work done mostly by thralls and karls.
a simple dwellinga simple dwelling
a simple dwelling

Of course there were large meeting halls and farm buildings too, some of which have been unearthed or replicated in modern Scandinavia.
everyday homespun articleseveryday homespun articles
everyday homespun articles

These would be worn by Norse doing village chores, or under their armour by Viking warriors.
remains of a cooking potremains of a cooking pot
remains of a cooking pot

It would have been hung over a fire, probably permanently, with ingredients simply added to the pot as they became available.
Appearances matteredAppearances mattered
Appearances mattered

The Jarls above all were particular about their clothing, as befitted the Norse 'ruling class'.
more '' formal'' attiremore '' formal'' attire
more '' formal'' attire

In this depiction we see how a woman of the Karl or Jarl class might have dressed, probably preparing to receive guests
formal table settingformal table setting
formal table setting

My brother Ed is looking over a table as it might have been set in preparation for a large banquet in one of their great meeting halls.

Some would have been made by Karl craftsmen, but the more intricate ones were likely stolen during raids.

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