In the course of history, the Vikings actually appear for only a brief stint of time, but the mark they made is undeniable. They terrified their contemporaries, and have made such a lasting impression that they are still being seen in stories today. Few cultures have captured our imagination as vividly. The most notable example is the How to Train Your Dragon movie series. Though not historically accurate by any means (don’t gasp when I hint that training dragons wasn’t actually one of the occupations of being a Viking), the How to Train Your Dragon series draws upon images of Vikings that have been ingrained into our minds from the very beginning. Can you be a Viking and not have horns in your helmet? Yes. The image was developed in the Victorian era; real Vikings didn’t have horns in their helmets. What about a gruff mannerism where you fight a lot, over everything? Well, if you thought the Celts were hot blooded, step back! The Vikings literally invented the word beserk.
As fun as modern Viking movies are, historical accuracy tends not to be on the list of details for the plot. And it’s not just the dragons.
The Vikings appear in the late 8th century, which is the beginning of what is called the Viking Age. The Viking Age lasted until the late 11th centuries. It’s characterized by extensive exploration, expansion, and settlement on the part of the Vikings.
In the heyday of their expansion, they traded as far east as Russia, central Asia, and the Middle East, went to North Africa, and sailed west as far as Canada. The Vikings were Germanic seafarers, and they had developed advanced sailing skills which, combined with their longboats, allowed them to go to places most other cultures had only heard of in stories. They traded and raided along coast lines and rivers, and were feared for their ferocity in battle. Their travels led them to settle in remote places, including Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland (modern Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada).
Their influence was long-felt. One group of descendants, the Normans, invaded England in the 11th century. There were even two Vikings on the English throne for a bit: Sweyn Forkbeard (1013-1014 A.D.) and Cnut the Great (1016-1035 A.D.). Scandinavian bodyguards were used in the Byzantine Empire, and in the 10th century, the Varangian Guard, a unit of the imperial bodyguard, was formed.
Viking Dynasties, later Christianized and then recognized as legitimate, founded the kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Probably the two most recognized influences the Vikings left behind would be their Runes and their mythology. Though there are very few written sources left behind from the Vikings, there are thousands of Runestones. They’re usually dedicated to the dead and depict heroic deeds and achievements. The fact that they’re not based on a standardized alphabet, but off of sounds, help with the growing interest in them.
Norse mythology is, hands down, one of the most recognized mythologies in the world. Even if the stories themselves aren’t known, characters such as Thor, Odin, Loki, Freja, and Baldr are easily recognized. Marvel’s Thor and The Avengers have helped make Thor, Loki, and Odin almost globally recognized. Though Thor has become a hit as a superhero, the original stories were just as captivating.
For one thing, unlike most gods, Norse deities can be killed, and many of the stories deal with the death of gods. The fact that the exploits of the gods often mirror real-life human possibilities makes the stories stand out, and makes them fascinating and relateable. There are supernatural elements, as should be in mythology, but there are truths found in the myths that aren’t easily seen in other mythology.
For instance, Thor is the god of thunder, and he’s portrayed as a warrior-type: big, bulky, destructive. However, in order to save his mother and recover his hammer Mjolnir from the King of Frost, Thor dresses up as the bride-to-be in an attempt to trick the King. Loki, the Trickster God and often portrayed as the bad guy, is asked to help just as often as he gets into trouble. In one instance, the gods make an agreement with a builder in exchange for the hand of Freyja. There are several stipulations, though, and when the deadline nears, the gods realize that the builder might actually succeed. To this end, Loki helps distract the builder by shape-shifting into a mare and leading the builder’s stallion away. It’s from this union of Loki as a mare that the eight-legged horse Sleipnir comes into the world.
With such a rich background, we strive to make the best Viking-style products in the world. Viking art is unique: it’s similar to Celtic art in that there are spirals and knots, and the art flows easily, but it’s more ethereal, less concrete. We take this into account when we make our belt fittings, arm rings, cloak clasps, necklaces, brooches, pendants, and pins. For those looking for more historically accurate items, or unique items, we also have ear spoons, fire strikers, hat tips, keys, and tweesers. And, of course, we offer a wide variety of Thor’s Hammers.