Vikings lecture

Lena Hejll, 24 March 2018

Adrienne:  Welcome everyone to Melbourne Museum for this special event, this special lecture on Vikings. As you can see, we've just opened our new Touring Hall exhibition, which has come to us from Sweden. It's called Vikings: Beyond the Legend. If you didn't get a chance to see it today, please come back and have a really good look at it. Come twice, three times if you like.

Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. These are the people of the Kulin Nation, and we pay respect to their elders past and present.

My name's Adrienne. I work in the community programs and education team here at the museum. I create programs for general audiences. If you've got any suggestions, please meet me after the lecture.

Today's lecture is being presented by our in‑house expert, who's actually going home on Monday. We've managed to grab her for the special lecture today. She's been trying to train me to say her name properly, so I hope I do. It's Lena Hejll.

Lena is going to speak today. Then we're going to have time for some questions at the end. We're really honored to have Lena here today. She is a Senior Curator and Project Manager at the Swedish History Museum.

She is responsible for the touring of these artifacts to museums around the world. Lena is an archaeologist and an ethnologist. She's got more than 35 years of experience with working with museums and objects.

For most of the time, she's been working with and responsible for the exhibition production of all different kinds of topics right across different Swedish museums, but since 2003 she's been working at the Swedish History Museum. She's been the project manager exhibitions there, since then. Please give Lena a very warm welcome.


Lena Hejll:  I'm honored to be here, I must say. We are really, really happy from the Swedish History Museum that we have been able, for a couple of years now, to go around with this exhibition and to be able to share with you and with other people around the world some of the best objects we have, the new stories, new research, and everything.

We have also understood that Vikings is something that interests you, and that is fascinating. I will try to tell you a little bit about Vikings, and about the background to why we made this exhibition, and then walk you through it in a way that I also present the sorts behind and so on, why we did it the way we did.

As Adrienne said, I'm an archaeologist. I've been working in museums for almost 40 years now. That is very often my second home. My family often thinks that that's a competition with them. I will very soon retire and start a [laughs] new part of life. This has been the most interesting travel ever to work with museums, and exhibitions, and so on.

I think the most interesting, all of the time, is this tour with Vikings because I've met so many wonderful people and also have been able to meet the reactions of what we are doing.

The Swedish History Museum is a public authority, owned and financed by the state. We are the central museum for archaeology and also for medieval church art in Sweden. We have exhibitions spanning from ice age up until today. In our collections, we have about 10 million objects.

Most knowledge and historical facts about the Vikings, we have from archaeological excavations and some few written sources. The Viking Age is today dated to around 750 to 1100 AD. The people who lived across Scandinavia during the Viking Age were not a unified group.

They did not even call themselves Vikings unless they were out on a Viking ‑‑ a trade trip or a raid. Men, women, and other lessons could go on a Viking. Recent discoveries have replaced the popular view of Vikings ‑‑ a fierce raider with horned helmets ‑‑ with a more complex picture.

The idea to produce an international travel exhibition about Vikings first came up in 2009 in discussions we had with our collaboration partner, the Austrian company MuseumsPartner. They were really interested in touring an exhibition about Vikings due to the big interest about Vikings.

For us at the Swedish History Museum, it was also an interesting idea to challenge the stereotype image of the Vikings by using results from new research and, in this wake, making our objects and ideas accessible for more people outside Sweden.

We decided to title our exhibition as a working name, We Call Them Vikings. The main reason for that was, apart from the fact that we thought it was a great name, that it also, hopefully, could encourage people to start thinking and realizing that Vikings Age people did not call themselves Vikings as this is 19th century invention.

Going around the world, it has not been called We Call Them Vikings, but it has always been called Vikings and then with a subtitle. I really love this one “Beyond the Legend” most because that is really what it is.

The collaboration and the responsibilities were divided between us, the Swedish History Museum and MuseumsPartner, by using the best experiences and knowledge from each part.

The mission was to produce a travelling exhibition with a turnkey concept, which means that we were to sell and travel a complete exhibition where we are responsible for all transports, unpacking, mounting, object handling, dismantling, and packing again.

The design was made of another Austrian company, The Studio Exhibit. As you will see, or have seen if you already have been in the exhibition, each section of the exhibition has its own style, which is created with reference to what is on display.

The Swedish History Museum is responsible for the historical facts and the content, including the objects, the texts, the pictures, as well as the content of the interactive stations. We first opened in 2012 at the Drents Museum in Assen, Holland, and have, since then, been on the road, thanks to the fact that MuseumsPartner has been so successful in selling our exhibition.

It soon became evident that there would be room for another version, that we call The Vikings 2. The second version has the same content, identical stories and architecture, but different but equal objects.

Already in April 2014, we opened the second version at the Museu Marítim in Barcelona, Spain. Plotted on a world map, you can see where we have been so far. Together, the two exhibitions have, until now, been seen by almost, any day now actually, two million visitors.

The spreading over the map maybe says something about where the interest for Vikings are. You see, it's really different parts of the world, but not so much in between.

Already from the start, we agreed upon that we wanted to make a modern exhibition in which the old artifacts were given new stories and to present them in sometimes untraditional ways when it comes to, for example, architecture and showcases.

Interactive stations and pedagogical activities, both digital and analog, were also to be important parts of the exhibition. The exhibition is narrative and the objects are chosen not primarily for their exact age, but for their possibility to support the stories.

It is not chronological, but it has eight themes, which you see here. We try to twist the message and, hopefully, present something slightly different. In each theme, we also try to debunk existing myths and stereotypes about the Vikings.

What you see here is a try to see how you can interpret the same theme by saying it differently. The most important stereotype to break is, of course, the mighty strong and proud male Viking, blonde and blue‑eyed, wearing a horned helmet and double‑bladed battle axe. That's the Viking, but, when you go out from here, I hope you will think something else.

First, how did the horns get there? I have to tell you where and how the Vikings first got their horned helmets. In 1876, the complete set of Wagner operas "Der Ring des Nibelungen" was first performed in Bayreuth in Germany.

The content was built on myths from some Old Norse far away history. The costumes for the operas were made of Professor Carl Emil Doepler from Berlin. He visited a lot of museums to get inspiration and made more than 500 drawings of weapons, jewellery, and tools. To make the character of the role figures more obvious, Doepler gave the bad guys horned helmets.

Even earlier, in 1965, another costume maker Frank Seitz made the costume for the Wagner opera, "Tristan und Isolde." In this opera, the story is taken from the old Celtic sagas. It is the evil character Hunding from the Ring operas that has been the inspiration for all these later horned helmets, and which has become related to Old Norse history.

This is invented truth. So far, very few real Viking Age helmets have been found, and none with horns.


Lena:  In the first section, which is called "Meet the Vikings," the visitor is introduced to the people living during the Viking Age, and can see and read about how society was formed in meeting and with inspiration from other peoples and areas through long‑distance travels.

The Vikings were no ethnic group. Viking was an activity. To go out on Viking meant to travel far in an organized way, to create alliances, to trade, or to plunder or fight as warriors. There never was a Viking Age culture shared by everyone in Scandinavia. Different regions could express the same thing in different ways.

In the exhibition, we chose to illustrate this with the female dress code, for example. Wellborn women in the 9th and 10th centuries often wore gilded costume brooches and colorful, exclusive sets of beads with their dress. The classical set consisted of two brooches pinned to the cloth to keep the brace skirt up. One or more rows of beads hung between the brooches.

The opening of the blouse or the shawl over the shoulders was held together by a third brooch. While the women in mainland Scandinavia normally had a pair of oval brooches to hold the brace skirt up, and a third brooch (equal‑armed or trefoil) to hold the coat together, the women of Gotland preferred another variant with two triangular or animal head‑shaped brooches, in combination with the round box brooch.

You could see that they had the same kind of clothes, but they have symbols signaling where, really, they came from. On the other hand, there's no lack of proof for that ideas also were shared on an interregional level.

On a broader Scandinavian level, there was a kind of a similarities that united people apart from the language. It included mythology and pantheon, which to some degree appears to have been shared by much of Scandinavia. We encountered it particularly via the decoration on artifacts.

A good example, as you see on this map here, is the gripping beast style. All over Scandinavia, many kinds of artifacts were created and adorned with these intertwining figures, clinging firmly to each other. Another example is this motif, the bird of prey. The face of a bird of prey that decorates several exclusive pieces of jewellery, found wildly scattered in the Viking homelands.

Certain aspects of the mythology are another example. During the Viking Age, exotic and exclusive goods flowed into the Viking homelands in Scandinavia and were made available for those who could afford them. To this, we can add all the ideological, political and religious ideas that came with the merchandise.

We have found a Frankish glass beaker, an Irish cross, an Irish ladle, a necklace with Oriental beads of cornelian and rock crystal from the Black Sea region, or shells from the Red Sea, and so on. The ones I said here, you can all find in the exhibition.

The artifacts are evidence of what great melting pots many of the Viking Age communities were. Much of what we call Viking Age culture was created in the encounter between “naorraenir men” and other peoples.

The people who were not Vikings spent most of their lives at farms. They had contacts with faraway places through the tradition of storytelling, and through the imported exotic fabrics, jewellery, and household items. Your relatives were important for your position in society, and it is obvious that there were specific male and female roles, for example, marked by different symbols on costumes.

The Viking society was unequal, but the biggest difference between people was if you were free or unfree. We can probably say that Viking Age women, in general, were more equal to men, that they became, in later periods, provided they were free women.

Women were allowed to divorce from their marriage. They could also replace the husband as the head of the family and farm. They could pay for runestones to be raised, which was a major public action. This demonstrates that women could have or acquired legal and socioeconomic potential to act independently. For instance, through inheritance and widowhood.

Although the women‑owned runestones are usually named as mothers, daughters, wives or sisters of the men to whom the stones were raised, in most cases one can read about and understand the important roles they had, such as this one on the picture.

It says, "Steinhildr had this stone erected in memory of her husband Vidbjorn the Traveller to Greese. May God and God’s mother help his soul. Amundr Karason marked”. Runestone U 956 Bedyxa, Danmark parisch, Uppland.  

As you can see, the stone is in the shape of a chair, maybe a bowler chair, and thus as a symbol for the high seat on the manor. The little silvery pendant there was found in a woman's grave.

It is hard to find evidence of people who owned nothing, but they were there. The degree of lack of freedom varied. The unfree in society were far from being a homogeneous mass. From the literary sources, it is obvious that there were many different designations for slaves and unfree people.

(praell) Thrall, for example, seems to have been a general designation for all slaves. Of the male slaves, the bryti is particularly interesting. In the Viking Age, it was a title roughly corresponding to a steward on an estate or a bailiff.

In Old Swedish, we also find the word fostri, which is masculine, and fostra, which is feminine, as terms for slaves. The words mean a slave born and raised at home, which indicates that they were not captured in war.

Here we notice a difference between home‑born slaves and bought slaves. The fostri or fostra are interesting because the medieval laws show that they had a certain judicial status. They could be sold, and were thus unfree, but they were still trusted to carry the master's key ‑‑ that is, to manage the home.

Traces of the unfree sometimes come to life through finds of fetters and chains. On rare occasions, we meet the unfree also own runestones, such as this one mentioning Tolir Bryte.

The farm was the center of people's lives, but also the center of Norse mythology. That is why the farm mistress was very important. Inside a house, it was probably quite dark, but comfortable and surely decorated with textiles, painted walls, and woodworks. The food was cooked on open fires with household utensils made of iron, wood, copper, and ceramic.

What do we know about Viking hygiene and personal care? This is how the Arabic traveller, Ibn Fadlan, describes the Norsemen, or the Rus' people, he met on the River Volga in the early 9th century, but is this description true? Perhaps it is true just of the people he actually met?

There are quite a lot of finds of combs, razors, washbowls, pieces of mirrors, and even ear spoons. Objects, fabric finds, and even human remains testify that people liked to dress up and make themselves beautiful.

Beads, pendants, buckles, made of silver or bronze, were worn with their garments. Even everyday tools like whetstones, fire‑strikers, needle cases and small purses were made of exclusive materials and were worn as decorations on the clothes.

During several hundreds of years the society was characterized of a combination between the Old Norse traditions with its rich realm of gods and goddesses and Christianity. The ornamentation on much jewellery and inscriptions on runestones show how the different beliefs were rather woven together than causing conflicts.

It was not until the institutions of Christianity changed the conditions of power in society, which broke the old systems based on family relations, that the polarization between the Old Norse and Christianity really had an impact on people's lives.

We cannot compare Norse religion with a religion in the conventional Western sense. There was no shared theological teaching, nor was there even any Norse term for religion. Instead, the sources talk about Forn Sior, the Ancient Custom.

Just as the Viking Age culture was not uniform, archeological excavations have revealed significant local variation in religious practice and cult, both between different areas within Scandinavia and even between different regions within the same area.

Amulets represent the different gods and help people in their communication with the gods. Small, thin sheets of metal with rune inscriptions are also sometimes found in graves. It is important to bear in mind that contacts with the Christianized continent occurred even before the Viking Age. Christianity was scarcely anything new for people who had travelled, or for much of the aristocracy.

Traces of these continental ideas can be observed on artifacts at least from the sixth century and onwards. For much of the Viking Age people in Scandinavia, thus had two different religious systems to relate to. The older, indigenous Norse religion, Ásatrú, and Christianity.

Often, the two seemed to have been blended through a process of acculturation, of which we have evidence in the archeological record from graves and other material culture from the time. As in this set of a box brooch and 35 fishtail-shaped pendants.

The box brooch has ornamentation and carries motifs in the Old Norse tradition. The pendants, on the other hand, are all being cross‑motifs, signs of Christianity, and the fish is also a symbol of Christ within the early church. There are other signs as well.

The deer or the stag was also a symbol of Christ. On a special type of round, silver brooches are four small sculptured deer gathered either around a well or a mountain, from which four rivers flow. The well has been proposed as the well of life, and the mountain with the rivers as a symbol of paradise.

This scene has been interpreted as a picture to a few lines of Psalm 42 in the Book of Psalms. "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God." Other examples of Christianity symbols are cross‑trade pendants.

There are no contemporary sources describing in detail, the religious beliefs and customs of the Scandinavians in the Viking Age. The most coherent account was written in the 13th century by the Icelandic chieftain and author, Snorri Sturluson, in a prose work which he called the "Edda."

He presented the world of the Norse Gods and conception of the structure of the universe. According to Snorri, the supernatural world was inhabited by two different types of mythological beings, gods and giants. Alongside these were also Norns, elves, Disir, and dwarfs.

The Gods were of two kinds. Aesir and Vanir and they lived in Asgard. Gard is the same word as farm in English. The giants lived outside the world of the Gods in Jotunheim. Heim is the same as home in English.

Most gods and goddesses belonged to the Aesir and appear to be very complex characters. Odin, for example, the god of war, knowledge, and death, is the most important of the Aesir gods. He carries a lance called Gungir. In Old Norse mythology, Odin sacrificed one of his eyes for the gift of wisdom.

Then we have Frigg, who is married to Odin. She protects marriage and all mothers. She is a Valkyrie and does magic.

Thor, the God of Thunder, is Odin's son. In his battle against chaos, Thor is chief protector of both gods and humans. He has several magical attributes. Best known is his hammer, Mjölnir, with which he fights giants.

Snorri tells us that there were only three Vanes living in Asgard: Njord, and his daughter, Freyja, and his son, Freyr. The Vanes were fertility gods, which is really obvious here, I think.

Freyja is the most important fertility goddess. She owns the magnificent piece of jewellery called Brísingamen. The small silver pendant depicts a pregnant woman with a large button‑on bow broach and over her chest are six rows of beads. The pendant may portray a pregnant Freyja with Brísingamen around her neck.

Freyr watches over the harvest, the cattle, and maintains the peace. Amulets such as sickles and fire strikers are associated with Freyr. Like his sister Freyja, Freyr is a god of fertility, so perhaps the phallic figurine is a representation of him.

Each farm had its own grave field and the dead continued to be present close to home. In this way, the long traditions of the family were manifested. There were different ways of burial customs in different parts of Scandinavia. Both cremation and inhumation burials were used. In both ways, the dead were buried in their clothes and with personal belongings.

Often they got useful items in the grave to be used on the way to the Kingdom of Dead. To which Kingdom of the Dead the dead came depended on who he or she was and the way they died. For example, it was only warriors fallen in battle who came to Odin's Valhalla or to Freyja's Fólkvangr. They who died in sickness could not hope for anything better than the icy road to Hel.

Within the Old Norse pre‑Christian tradition, there were beliefs about several separate realms of the dead. Different fates awaited people after death. Some of them better than others. A common notion in the Icelandic family sagas is that the dead person lived on in the burial mound or in the mountain, Helgafjell.

Both these ideas have a distinct folk character, not occurring to the more aristocratic Eddic or skaldic poetry.

A third realm of more common character is Hel. The descriptions of Hel are full of contradictions. If it is a nice or a bad place to end up in. It seems clear, though, that it was located underground. Unlike the Christian Hell, which is described as glowing hot, the Norse Hel was an icy place where severe cold constantly prevailed.

The road down to Hel was also icy and slippery, which gave rise to the tradition of tying Hel shoes on the deceased. In grave context, this idea is manifested in countless finds of shoe spikes beside the body.

To the right you see a Thor's hammer ring. A twisted iron ring with varying number of pendants attached to it. Among them, hammers. The ring became a part of the death ritual very specific to the easternmost parts of the present day central Sweden, in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The ritual was performed after cremation during the burial of the remains and involved a placing of the ring on top of the urn containing the burned remains.

Half of those who fall on the battlefield are selected by the Valkyries for the goddess Freyja, who welcomes them to her realm, Fólkvangr, where she has the beautiful hall, Sessrúmnir. Unfortunately, the descriptions of Freyja's dwelling and what awaited the fallen warriors there are very brief compared with what took place in Valhalla.

Because Freyja is portrayed in the Norse literature as a bold and liberated woman, and from a Christian viewpoint immoral, perhaps the parts about this did not survive the editing of the Christian chronicles. The name of the dwelling, Fólkvangr, can be translated as People's Field or Field of the Army.

Valhalla is Odin's hall where he receives the other half of the fallen warriors. The name means the hall of the fallen. Valhalla is the mythical counterpart to the hall of secular lord, but is immense and far more magnificent. It is said to have 540 doors, each of which is so wide that 800 champions can go out through it at the same time.

The roof is made of golden shields and no more light is needed indoors than what radiates from Odin's shining weapons. In here, Odin holds his magnificent feasts where the food and drink never run out. The Valkyries serve the fallen ones with mead, which they can drink in abundance because it pours endlessly from the teats of the goat, Heidrun.

In Valhalla, the warriors are also trained by Odin in preparation for the final battle at Ragnarok. Every day, there is a weapon drill. No matter how badly injured a fighter may be, he is restored the next day. Valhalla is thus a gigantic army camp filled with the cream of the warrior elite, the dream of every chieftain and warrior.

The large picture stone, from Tjängvide in the picture from Gotland, is perhaps one of the clearest and most obvious illustrations about the mythological Valhalla ever depicted. The smaller picture stone is also from Gotland, and can be seen in the exhibition.

One of the most famous burials in Scandinavia is the one from Oseberg in Vestfold, Norway, where a ship was excavated in 1904. The two women, one old and one a little younger, buried in the ship, were extremely richly equipped.

Dendrochronology analysis has shown that the timber for the grave chamber were cut in the year 834. New re‑investigations of the documentation and of the buried remains have shown that the ritual act performed in connection with the burial there took place over a period of at least four months, but it could have perhaps been several years.

DNA samples were taken from the younger woman and the examination suggested that she came from the area around the Black Sea, Iran, or Iraq. She was in her 50s at death. The older woman reached an age of 80 or more and the cause of death was probably an advanced stage of cancer.

These two women clearly demonstrate how far from the stereotype Vikings we are when the source material gets examined a bit closer. One who probably could trace her ancestry to Southeast Europe and one whose appearance must have been far from the athletic strong hero, yet they both belong to aristocracy of the time.

A specific challenge for us when producing the exhibition was how we could possibly illustrate an aristocratic ship burial apart from showing objects. Every museum wants a Viking ship. The problem is that there are not so many grave ships around.

Ship burials have been excavated in different parts of Scandinavia, but due to preservation conditions, what remains of the ships is usually only the nails and rivets. We have a lot of them in our collections.

One of the highlights in the exhibition is now what we call the ghost ship. An excavated shape where the preserved iron nails and rivets have been hung up in their original positions. At the interactive digging table beside this ghost ship, the visitors just can conduct their own excavations of the ship grave.

Many craftsmen and craftswomen were very skilled. The intricate animal ornamentations that often decorate objects were carefully prepared. Many crafts were connected to mythological tales.

For example, the Norns were spinning the threads of lives and could, in that way, control the destiny of people. Something that surely was reflected in the rule of the person spinning and weaving. Also, the smith was considered to have magic power and was in direct contact with the realm of gods. By melting the metal, he could transform an object to another.

Pictorial art in the Viking Age was predominantly decorative and intended to adorn artifacts. The main motive was highly stylized animals, sometimes combined with the pictures of human‑like faces. The form differed over time, which meant that different styles of Viking Age animal ornamentation were created.

Six major Viking Age styles are distinguished. Each one named after the place where an object with the style was first found. Broa, Borre, Jelling, Mammen, Ringerike, and Urnes. Over time the styles form a chronological sequence with each style overlapping the subsequent one. Hybrid forms does occur and they are not uncommon.

The oldest is the Broa style which started in the mid‑8th century and peaked during the first half of the 9th century. The youngest is the Urnes style, which began in the mid‑11th century. The early Broa and Borre styles are the classical gripping‑animal styles that was mentioned earlier.

The artisans made exquisite gold and silver objects and decorated weapons that gave status to magnates and aristocrats. The artisans mastered every process from casting and forging to gilding bronze and practicing filigree technique, soldering thin threads of gold or silver to a base.

The fact that the work was done in dark, indoor settings makes it even more impressive. To achieve the design precision in the work, the artisans used polished lenses of rock crystal as magnifying glasses. Much of what was made by the Viking Age craftsman is of such high class that it is difficult to copy today.

Rites and beliefs were closely associated with craft, perhaps especially with metal craft. The Seeress's Prophecy in the Poetic Edda says that the Aesir smithed things. In this context, the verb smioa means create or manufacture.

The gods were perceived as craftsmen in one sense or another. Does this mean that craftsmen, too, could be perceived as gods? Researchers have discussed whether smiths and artisans were among the free or unfree people in society.

The reasoning has often been based on the assumption that craftsmen lived an itinerant life, that they travel from place to place to offer their services to those who are paid highest, but itinerant crafts does not pre‑suppose unrestricted personal freedom.

In the world of mythology, the social status of smiths is more clearly illustrated. There, the ugly dwarves are the best smiths. They are not masters of their own destinies. They are entirely in service of the gods for whom they make the most precious possessions. They live in mountains, in rocks, or underground, close to just outside the god dwellings.

The Viking travels were often a combination of trade and raid travels. They had no navigation instruments, but related on their knowledge of nature conditions, winds, and stars. The travels meant that Vikings got new knowledge about political and geographic circumstances from the Middle‑East in the East to North America in the West, and from Greenland in the North to North Africa in the South.

Many travellers ended up as immigrants and settled in new areas. One stereotype that we often come across and hear is voyages to the West were mainly about raiding and voyages to the East were mainly about trading. In fact, both activities were very closely connected.

A big difference is, though, that in the East there were almost no chroniclers that wrote down what went on, nor were there any big rich monasteries to raid. What did they trade with on these eastern trail? What commodities could they offer to sell? Furs, bee wax, amber etc., is what usually is mentioned.

We are missing to see the biggest and most valuable merchandise here. People. There were a lot of people living in the East. We know from Central European sources that the slave market had a really big upswing on the continent and the Near East during the 9th and 10th centuries. There are written accounts that states that the Norseman were very much involved in this business.

There are also indications that point to that women were engaged into this business, at least at some degree. On the eastern trail, there are quite many richly‑equipped female graves and quite a few of them also contains weights, scales, and other trade indicating artifacts.

What we see here is perhaps the payment, coins in masses from the caliphate. Some for being melted down and transformed into Scandinavian jewellery such as neck rings and bracelets. Other stuffed away and buried in depots, often underneath family houses. Of course, raiding did occur in the West as well.

The ships were important for transportation, for cultural contacts, and in the sagas/myths. The ships were an important symbol in grave rituals and, as shown before, a lot of people during Viking Age were buried in a boat.

The real ships had metaphorical names like Sailing Horse or The Ski of the Sea. The warships which made the Vikings famous were slender and fast, but most boats were built to be used for trading and were slow sailers with room for cargo. Lots of resources from nature, mostly wood, were required to build a ship, which resulted in severe consequences for the landscape.

About the Vikings who settled on the English East Coast there are written sources saying that they rather quickly became assimilated into the new homelands and that they forgot their native tongue after a generation or two.

Today, their presence and impact are known in Britain from a lot of Scandinavian place names, a few lone words in the language, and, of course, the archaeological objects found in excavations.

Also, it might be good to remember that quite a few of the new lands that the Vikings discovered were actually discovered by accident. Even Iceland is an example of that, when a smaller fleet were driven off course on its way to Scotland and Ireland.

After that, from 1874, a real colonization, the landnám process of the island took place. Ship wrecks were no doubt frequent occurrences, especially in journeys over open seas. The saga of the Greenlands, for example, tells how fewer than half of the 25 ships that set sail together with Erik the Red, when he was to colonize Greenland, reach their destination.

Many of those who had no thought of immigrating or settling somewhere else, but had, instead, intended to return home again, never did so. They were killed in some battle or died in some other way.

How many suffered this fate we shall never know, but a quick survey on the inscriptions on the runestones in Scandinavia that were raised in memory of people who had gone to England, Greece, and Russia shows that a considerable number did not return alive from their travels.

The inscription on their runestone in the picture reads, "Sigrid had this stone raised in memory of Sven, her husbandman. He often sailed a valued cargo‑ship to Semgallen, around Domesnäs." To conclude, trite stereotypes are removed and the Viking manifest themselves in a new, more nuanced and fascinating light than ever. Thank you. [laughs]


Adrienne:  I'm absolutely sure that people want to ask questions. We'll start down the front.

Audience Member:  First off, I want to say that was an amazing lecture. I'm actually just finished my bachelor's in archaeology. I want to study Vikings as a profession. I'm just wondering, what exactly is your specialty in Viking archaeology in Sweden?

Lena:  I don't have that high academic degree in Viking. I am more of a field archaeologist from the beginning. I have been studying Viking Age through producing Viking Age exhibitions and working with objects and so on, so I don't think I can answer that very specifically, no.

Audience Member:  You almost seem to use unfree and slave interchangeably when you were talking at the start. I was wondering if there were any groups of people in the Viking communities who were unfree, but weren't slaves?

Lena:  That is quite hard to answer that because, as I said, there are several different ways in the written sources on runestones, in chronicles, and so on that we have different names for people we have interpreted as unfree. The word slave is, in a modern interpretation, a very unfree way of living your life, maybe with fetters and so on.

Probably some people who were living like that, but they were also...I think it's better to compare with, for example, the Roman Empire and all the unfree people living there that we know much more about. You could be unfree and live a very pleasant life. The only thing you cannot decide over was your own life and not going away from where you live and so on.

I think it's the same in the Viking Age, that it's hard to define the word slave. I think we should just interpret it like being unfree is that you are not allowed to go away as someone else decides what you should do.

Audience Member:  I have a question about Viking celebrations and Viking parties. We know from the evidence the sort of instruments that they played, and from the historical record we know about that I had lost these celebrations. [laughs] They had lots to celebrate.

Can you make comment on things that will be the same at parties today and things that will be different in terms of the way Vikings would celebrate a victory, or a birthday, or whatever it was?

Lena:  What I could say is that, in Scandinavia at least, we have a lot of traditions connected to different parts of the year, to harvest, and so on, and most of all around the light. We have the mid‑summer, we have the celebration of the darkest period of the year, and so on. We think that the traditions around this is at least as old as the Viking Age.

I think what we can say, that celebrating, having feast, and so on would definitely mean a lot of drinking.


Lena:  We know that they were able to make alcohol. We also know that they did import alcohol from the south, but they could...The mead could be very strong. There are written sources talking about that, but more in detail, I don't think that I can answer that more in detail. I'm sorry. [laughs]

Audience Member:  Thank you for your presentation. I love maps and one of the images that struck me was the green trade route that went down into the Middle East.

I'm hoping you could talk a little bit about the evidence that supported that and whether it was based on just objects either in the Middle East or in Scandinavia, or perhaps there's lingering genetic evidence that shows mixing of people from those two different parts of the world.

Lena:  There are some written sources from travellers and from merchants from other countries, from the Arabic countries and so on, telling about Rus' people or Scandinavians coming very far south and also from Constantinople, today's Istanbul. We know the Vikings were there. Absolutely, from written sources and from rune inscriptions down there.

There are also burials that are excavated objects all the way down along the rivers and so on that tells about the Vikings going down there. There's also the word Rus'. People coming from the eastern parts of middle Scandinavia or from Sweden today, just east of Stockholm and so on, and the region there, they were called Rus'. That is the same word as Rus' and that is what is Russia today.

We know, also, that the people forming the Kiev state, the princes there, one of them was married to a Rus' girl, a girl coming from this part of Sweden, so they were related in many ways. I'll just tell you a little story there because I was in Ukraine, in Kiev, just a year after the liberation from Soviet Union and becoming a state of its own.

Going around in Kiev then, I saw some stones with typically Viking Age animal ornamentation. The people I was with, they're from Ukraine. I said, "Oh, that is a Viking Age ornamentation." "No, it's not, they are Slavic," they said.


Lena:  "No doubt." We went on talking and arguing about this a long time and now, many years later, say, "You were right. We have changed the history."


Lena:  What I mean with that is that there are lots of evidences, lots of obvious evidence, but it is always a matter of interpreting, putting them all together to be sure of things. There is archaeological evidence and its written sources telling that they really were there.

Audience Member:  It seems that ice and cold is a big part of Swedish mythology, probably for obvious reasons. I was wondering if Sweden's glacier past, in the way that glaciers have formed the landscape and made many lakes and so on, if you see that in other parts of the history, and the culture, and mythologies.

Glaciers, they have covered Sweden for long parts of history and they have sculpted the lands, carving out lakes. It's a very different landscape than other parts of the world that have not had glaciers, and if you see that in the mythologies or in the history.

Lena:  No. I don't think, and I don't think that the Vikings had any idea about the glaciers either. I think it's more the climate at the time. Long, dark winters with lots of snow and ice. The climate have changed over the centuries also. Viking Age was a quite cold period.

The winters were long and as you have seen, if you have been in the exhibition, there are skates. They had skates. They had spikes on their horses to be able to ride around in the winter and so on. They were used to cold weather and cold climate. I think that is maybe the reason for...

In this holiday and so on that you talk about ice, icy places, and so on, not anything about anything further back, no.

Audience Member:  You'd spoke about the Christians and the pagans in Scandinavia actually getting along for the majority of the time. At what point did that change and how much of the Christians liked the fact that the Vikings went and destroyed monasteries, took all their stuff, and came back with it?

Lena:  I think that, first of all, the people have knowledge of a lot of things, but they didn't have phones. A lot of things they didn't know about what was happening in other places and so on. What I think is that the first missionaries came even before Viking Age to Scandinavia. The ones really made people listen and had some reaction of it, it's from the, I will say, eighth and ninth centuries.

People were listening. We used to say that the Vikings were very pragmatic. They had a lot of gods before. They had gods for whatever they needed them for, and there came people talking of another god. Maybe he was good for something else. They could use...We shouldn't say that about [laughs] serious things like that.

We can see that people used both religions and beliefs parallel, and it didn't seem to cause any conflict from the start. People could be Christian in one region, but not in another. You can see in the same grave field there were Christian graves and Old Norse graves.

It seemed, too, that they worked along quite well up until, I would say, the 11th and 12th centuries, where Christianity slowly took over. That was not just the religion becoming more important, it also changed society in a very thorough way.

It also changed from having been small, chief things before to becoming bigger and bigger, sort of small states with the more powerful man at the top having bonds with a church, which related people's lives. It changed it socially in a very high degree.

I would say that around the 12th century the Christianity changed everything. Before that, it was more like two beliefs used in the best way for everyone.

Adrienne:  Could you please put your hands together and thank Lena Hejll.


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