The Icelandic Sagas are a big source to our knowledge about the Viking cultures of the Scandinavian-speaking Nordic countries (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway). Many different researching fields are having a significant use of them. Examples are religious studies and cultural history, but these are only two of many fields. What about sports for example? Did the Vikings performed any sporting activities?
The answer is yes, they had many sports. Ice skating, wrestling, board games, horse fights and knattleikr.
THE SAGA SOURCES ABOUT KNATTLEIKR AND VIKING SPORTS
In the Egill Skallagrimssons saga it is written about the game. It was played with a ball and a bat/stick but we do not know the rules of the game. The equipment they used are not know either, there are no archaeological findings of them.
In Egills saga we get the feeling that this was a violent game with huge passion. Disputes and blood spilling are mentioned. Egil himself killed a younger boy with an axe because he could not take losing repeated times.
The saga is one of the better looks in to this game. Some people are now trying to recreate it, for example Hurstwic (hurstwic.com).
Now, I have chosen to compare it to field hockey for fun. The problem is that we do not know what the best comparison is. Different authors have done different comparisons with modern sports. These are ranging from cricket to lacrosse, rugby included.
So what are then the sources for this ball game? Is it only the Egil Skallgrimssons saga? No, there are also mentions in the Grettis saga, Gisla saga and Eyrbryggja saga.
HURSTWIC – VIKING SPORTS RE-ENACTORS
Hurstwic has from this concluded that (quotation):
“The bat was such that it could broken in anger, and that it could be mended on the spot (G.s. ch18). The word used in the stories is tré, meaning tree, but used for many wooden objects. However, in one instance (Gr.s. ch15), the word used is knattgildra, which has the sense of “ball catch” or “ball trap”. Perhaps the bat had some element or elements that allowed it to catch or hold or carry the ball.
The ball was hard enough that when thrown in anger at another player, it could cause a bleeding injury (Gr.s. ch15). And if thrown with enough force, it could knock over another player (G.s.ch15). Loose balls bounced a long way over the ice (Gr.s. ch15).
The playing field was usually near a pond. (The pond where Grettir played is shown to the left as it appears today.) Some modern scholars have suggested that the game was played on the surface of a frozen pond. Ice certainly figures prominently in the stories (G.s. ch18, Gr.s. ch15). Gull-Þóris saga (chapter 2) specifically states the game was played on the ice at Berufjörður (á Berufjarðarísi), and Þórðar saga hreðu (ch.3) says that games were played on the ice at Miðfjörður (á Miðfjarðarísi) between the farms of Reykir and Óss because the fjord froze easily there. (That location might be more accurately described as the estuary where the river meets the fjord.)”
Want to know some of the Viking History that Swedish towns and cities have to offer? If YES, then read below.
Uppsala was a national center of the Svear (“swedes”) kingdom in the Viking age, especially before the Christianization of the country. In Uppsala there was pagan feasts that German church historian Adam of Bremen wrote about. Before I present his text, please note that this was written by a Christian about pagans in the 1070’s. His chronicle is far from non-partisan.
Adam is saying that the pagans/Vikings meet for a sacrificial feast every ninth year. If you were a Christian you could buy yourself free from the blot, the sacrifice. Here is his account, please note that this is my translation of a Modern Swedish translation:
“The sacrifice is being performed in the following way: of every male living being, nine are scarified, their blood pleases the gods.
The bodies are hanged in a grove near the temple. This grove is sacred to the pagans, every tree is regarded to have a divine power as an effect of the bodies death and rotting.
There hangs dogs and horses beside humans, and one of the Christians have told me that he has seen 72 bodies hanging there “
Adam is also telling of a temple called Uppsala, he wrote that it was covered in gold. The “temple” might have been a meeting place where people gathered for ritual feasts, a hall building. And was it really covered in gold?
The present city of Uppsala is from the medieval times, you find the Viking history in Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala). There are burial mounds of approx. 60 meters in diameter and a great museum that tells the history of the place and the age. The museum also displaces Viking and Vendel Era artifacts. You can visit it on a custom tour with us. Enquiry by e-mailing email@example.com
One of the most Viking dense areas in the world. The area around lake Vallentuna is covered by rune stones (at least 27 within 1 kilometer from the lake) and grave fields. There is also one of few preserved Viking councils here, Arkils tingstad. There is also a place called Jarlabanki’s bridge. This Viking causeway was reconstructed in 2005-2006 before the inauguration of Runriket, a Viking attraction area. (runriket.se)
Sweden’s oldest town is Sigtuna and it was found by Vikings. Around year 970, king Erik the Victorious (Segersäll) established a settlement by a bay linked to Lake Mälaren.
Mälaren is the third largest lake in Sweden, 120 kilometers long from Stockholm in the east and towards the west.
Sigtuna was founded as a Christian settlement in a time when Sweden where starting to form as a nation and to become Christian. King Erik formed bonds with the Viking elite by giving them plots in Sigtuna where they could build houses and produce luxury goods.
By forming these alliances King Erik layed the foundation for a Swedish kingdom and his son Olof, king Olof Skötkonung.
In Sigtuna today you find:
A great museum with many artifacts from the towns Viking and Medieval History.
3 amazing church ruins which gives the place a sense of mystery.
A main street with lovely shops, cafés and restaurants.
Anundshög is one of Sweden’s most indcredible Viking age sights and very important in Swedish Viking History. Anundshög is the name of one of place’s huge burial mounds. It and the other graves was situated by an important trade route. Therefore, it was a central meeting place in the Western Mälardalen region. A major Viking assembly meeting where also held here (thing).
The mound is 64 meters in diameter and 9 meters high, making it the largest burial mound in Sweden’s Viking History.
There is also a stunning ship setting in Anundshög.
I’m a native of Stockholm County and dedicated to tell you about the history of my county. My trips are focused on the epochs of history and the people who lived back then. I will take you back in time!
I am very interested in history and service. I have worked as a guide before I started the company and been praised by both Swedish and international visitors. I grew up in Orkesta, a parish with a lot of history. From an early age, I have been interested in the past and how it lives on in today’s society. I will guide you in Swedish or English.
I became I guide because I’m passionate about history. I love to educate and entertain people about it. I have always been very interested in this subject and History was my number one subject in school.
Come join me as I guide you to the Viking age and other intriguing epochs of the history of Stockholm and Sweden! You are invited to travel back in time with me at Stockholm’s own time machine!
VIKING FACTS INFOGRAPHIC IN NORMAL TEXT FORM, READ BELOW.
THE HORNED HELMETS ARE A MYTH.
The first “surprise” is today not so suprising any longer to all. You have likely heard about the fierce Vikings with horn helmets.
Vikings did plunder and was in that sense fierce. But there is not historical or archaeological evidence for helmets with horns. There is example of a Bronze age helmet from South Scandinavia.
The myth was created during the National Romance in the late 1800-hundreds. For example we have horned helmets is some of the operas of Richard Wagner.
THE VIKINGS PLAYED “HOCKEY”
In the Icelandic Sagas there is a part of the Egil Skallagrimssons saga telling about the Vikings game “Knattleikr”. Scientists don’t know the rules of it. However it included some type of stick and some sort of ball.
THE VIKINGS CAME TO AMERICA BEFORE CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
Leif Eriksson came to present-Canada. He and his men bulit a ship-reperation station at L’Anse aux Meadow in New Foundland.
The colony was short-lived likely because of problems with the native tribes. It seems like the colony only existed for a few years.
Recent discoveries by space archaeologist Sarah Parcak have discovered a colony further south in Canada. Remnants of iron production not know to the natives of that area was found. It resembled Viking crafts and traditions.
Women Had Some Rights in Viking Culture
The idea that Viking women were treated like sh*t is not correct. Most, if not all evidence points towards that they were active in society.
They could inherit land and money. If they had such an inheritance they could also participate at the local assembly meetings. But most inheritors where men.
The Viking woman also hade the right to divorce. In Icelandic law it is written that a woman could divorce her husband, if he had not slept with her for 3 years or more.
To the divorce in the Christian Catholic medieval North Europe was much harder than in the Viking Age Nordic region.
Women were more active in the religion under christianity. They could do sacrifices and have important religions positions like being a VÖVLVA. That was a woman who worked with magic and propechies. They fortold the future and affect people around them. Some of the völva were bad and viewed as “witches”.
Global Warming Helped the Vikings in their Raids
The Vikings where living in a warmer time period between 950-1250. That made it easier for them to travel, because you had less ice on the coastal lines. The season for seafaring became longer.
26 Things You Might Not Know About Vikings: http://www.ranker.com/list/viking-history-facts/
Hurstwic, about Knattleikr:
On Richard Wagner and the Vikings: http://www.viking.ucla.edu/volsungs/wagner.html
Swedish Vikings and the Eastern World – Vikings in Russia
There are evidence for that a East Slavic empire was created by Vikings in Russia. A Viking called Oleg in Russian. This information comes from the “The Russian Primary Chronicle” that tells about Oleg and the foundation of Kievan Rus. Oleg took control of Kiev in around 882 and the city/town became the capital of the empire. It should be said though before I continue this text that there are a lot of speculation regarding this matter and controversy. Some view the Swedish Vikings as the origin of the Russian nation, and you can imagine the controversy in that. And also some more background on this story.
VIKINGS/SWEDES IN THE EAST, EARLY SIGNS.
It is known that even before the Viking age (650-800) Scandinavians established colonies at the shores of the Baltic sea at the Grobin (Latvia) and Libau (Latvia). Both these are right by the Lativan coast.
RURIK – THE VIKING WHO TOOK CONTROL OF NOVGOROD.
Rurik established a Viking dynasty in the present-day Russian town of Novgorod. According to the far from accepted “Russian Primary Chronicle” Rurik was invited by the local Slavs to form a new and just government. Perhaps he was not invited but conquered the place.
I will continue by going back to Oleg because he was the inheritor of Rurik.
If we belive that the relationships was based on the Slavs being plundered/conquered we may have reached a conclusion on my question. It is not that easy. The Viking dynasty kept contacts with their ancestral lands but also showed signs of assimilation into Slavic culture. The signs of trade and political exchanges are many. This must be described as signs of good relations.
Finds from the two international Swedish Viking towns of Birka and Sigtuna in present-day Sweden, give a great idea of their connections. There are many objects that are Eastern in style and produced in the east. A lot of the graves are also having non-Viking burial traditions that points towards the east. For example the native areas of the Khazarian Turks and Volga Bulgarians.
RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE SCANDINAVAIAN-RUSSIAN ROYALTY AND THE SWEDISH KINGDOM.
We can see that they had a lot of contact at least in a political context. As an example I will use the Swedish-Russian saint Anna of Novgorod. She is known as Irina in Russia and Ingegärd in Sweden. She was the daughter of the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung that ruled Sweden from 995-1022. Ingegärd was married away in a politically arranged marriage to Jaroslavl I or Jaroslav the wise.
IBN FADLAN AND THE VIKINGS – THE ACCOUNT OF AN ARAB
The Arab Travellers and writers who encountered Vikings did so in Bagdhad and in the Kiev and Novgorod areas. One of them was IBN FADLAN. He and the other Arabs did NOT refer to the Vikings as “Vikings”. Instead they called them “Rus”. That might derive from Routsi that is a Finnish term for Sweden and Swedes. The origin of the word is though very much debated and there is little agreement on its origin.
So if not the Arabs called them Vikings, who did? That is of course another story that will be covered in a future post but I can tell you that it was the English (Anglo-Saxons).
Contrasting with the English accords of Vikings as pillaging barbarians, the Muslim accounts tell that they are well-armed but that their prime reason for going east was trade. Ibn Fadlans Risala contains a very detailed account of the Vikings he meet at the Volga river.
THE VIKING SLAVE TRADE IN EASTERN EUROPE
One of the biggest drivers of economic growth in the Viking age was the slave trade that was active by Vikings and other peoples across Europe and of course, the world. It was a part of daily life back then and not viewed with any disgrace by most peoples. However there existed a divide between Pagans and some Christians. Some Christians disliked the slavery and tried to free fellow Christians from the pagan Vikings.
Eastern European was one of the common origins of Slaves in Viking age Sweden. The Vikings had different words for referring to a slave, one was “Slave” itself, referring to a Slavic person and “est”, referring to a Estonian person. Exactly how many Eastern European Slaves that lived in Sweden during the Viking age and their ethnic origins are hard to say, but we know that the slave trade was very active. The Arab Caliphate are often viewed as the biggest slave owning nation/kingdom/empire of that time and therefore it should have been lucrative for Vikings to kidnap Slavic persons and sell them to Arab merchants.
In closure, was the Viking age relationships better between Russia and Sweden? Well, Russia and Sweden as we know it did not exist, but the relationships seemed to have been better in general. However, the sources are few and does not give a enough detailed information for me or anyone else to be able to conclude this.
The view of the Viking warfare is often the glorified romantic one. The mighty long-boats with big dragons in the front and the red and white sail. A real Viking man is a big and strong macho-man and he wears a horned-helmet in the battle, yielding his axe in the neck of some terrified English monk.
This picture is far from accurate, and some of the ideas about Vikings are TRASH. The view of the Viking with a horned helmet is CRAP. We now know that the Vikings did not wear horned helmets. Vikings who went abroad where not only plundering but also trading. Some “Vikings” were just peaceful traders and settlers in new lands. The term “Viking” means a “pirate”. Or just someone who plunders from the sea, what you and I would call a pirate. There are also some other theories about the etymology of the term but I will not focus further on that in this blog post. Blog posts about the Viking language and culture will come later.
So you have now received the knowledge of the myth about the horn helmets. I guess that this was not new information to you. So, is everything in the romantic pictures just myths? NO, absolutely NOT, but some “truths” in the world are “modified”. The long-boats is not a myth but these ships were made for the long-distance travel on the ocean and was nothing of the ships that Swedish Vikings used on the rivers and lakes of Sweden. Our ships (I am Swedish, you can read more about me here), who was much smaller (7-12 meter) and just to be clear, these were made for travel on inland waters and the calm Baltic Sea. The Baltic Sea is not an ocean rather more a big lake with a tiny strait connecting it to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Danes and the Norwegians used the ships for longer journeys on the Atlantic. It is not know if the sails had a certain coloring or pattern. We do not know if the “movie Viking-ship sails” really existed in their “cinema-form”. The long distance ships of the Danes and the Norwegians was one of the main reason (perhaps the most important) to the success of the Norsemen raiding in the British Isles and elsewhere. Because of their low hull construction, they could go into low water and were easy to navigate swiftly. They would take the enemy by surprise in ambushes. Their swift movement could help them to get away easily before local forces could come and attack them. The Anglo-Saxons often came when the village or abbey was already looted.
The fact that the Danish ships combined a sail with oars was also to a good advantage but it was primarily due to the building technique that made the ships very light-weighted compared to English ships. The Viking ships were built with a special technique. It was achieved by heating up the planks with steam and bending them and nailing them together. The ships therefore became very swift and flexible.
The Norsemen did not have any real cavalry and they predominantly fought on foot during battle. They only used their horses to get to the battles and after that they mounted of the horses. Even in naval battles they preferred to fight pretty much like they did on land. They formed formations with their ships and “bound” them together. This forced the enemy to board the ships and fight sword to sword.
The Vikings can be classified as a warrior culture and boys practiced with sports, hunting and weapon training begun from a very young age. Skeleton findings indicate that boys as young as 7 years train regular with sword.
Another thing that shows the importance of battle was the different war-bands that young men could join to try to gain honour. To keep these bands alive, the leader need to continue carrying out new raids and attacks. The plundering was the way to get that fame and to keep up the motivation in the group, since the war waging was the purpose with the band.
One of the famous groups are the Joms Vikings at Jomsborg. How ever there are some uncertainties about their existence.
A “berserker” was someone who wore bearskins. These famous fighter men are believed to have put themselves in to frenzy (almost to the brink of hallucination) before heading into battle, perhaps they used some sort of drugs to that. There is strong evidence that Viking women who were “magicians” used hallucinating spices to get into ecstasy/trance. These were called völvor the findings of the spice are from graves identified as these women. Because of this it seems more likely that the Berserks also used some “drug” from the nature, in my opinion.
The Berserkers belonged to warrior-bands who had a cult of the god Odin, a God popular in the Viking aristocracy and military environments. It is said that in battle the berserkers would not feel the pain of a wound and that they were wild and put their teeth in their shields.
A little recap, the idea about the horned helmets is a modern myth. There are no archaological findings of Viking Age helmets and nothing in written sources that indicates this. However there is a finding of a horned Bronze age helmet from Denmark that were probably for ceremonial use and not for battle.
The real helmets of the Vikings were often made of iron but also bronze have been found. Some of the findings had been produced locally with the similar technique that the Romans used to do their helmets. They were often decorated with Nordic mythology symbolism, for example snakes that were a protecting symbol and heads, like the head of the warrior god Odin according to interpretation.
The Vikings used circular-shaped shields made of wood and in the center, they had a hole for the iron hand grip. To protect the hand, they placed a part over the hole so you could hold the shield with your hand unexposed. In the late Viking age though they are changing to the continental shields that was kite-shaped. To protect the legs better.
Viking body armour
To have a mail shirt was very expensive and it is believed that reindeer hide was used and might even have been more resistant to arrows and sword cuts than the mail shirts. The mail shirt is believed to have been used predominantly by the leaders of the Vikings. Therefore it was very expensive to buy.
Even though they never used plate armour, there is some occasional findings of scale or lamellar armour. They got it from the trading with the east. Findings of this come from Birka, a Viking age Swedish trading town that had a lot of international contact with the Eastern World. The Swedes traded a lot in the bigger settlements along the Russian rivers of Volga and Dnepr. A lot of goods and ideas from Constantinople meet them here and some Viking traders went all the way to present-day Baghdad. Some of them became mercenaries in the Byzantine emperor army. They were part of his life guards. The Viking regiment was referred to as the “Varingian Guard”.
We have a lot of law texts from the Middle Ages in Sweden and Scandinavia (1100 AD – 1500 AD). But even better, we have some law texts from the late Viking Age. The laws speak about free men and not the slaves who did not have rights. These texts tell us that every man should own weapons. Your lord should provide one for you and all other of his men.
The most common offensive weapons were the sword, battle-axe and the spear. Arrows were used far less common. Weapons had other meaning than just being a tool to kill someone with, they showed the social status of the owner. Finely decorated inlays and adornments in silver, bronze as well as copper shows this. Some swords was not made for battle use but for showing the huge wealth and might of the bearer, often a powerful lord.
The spears were often made from ash tree and they were 2-3 meters long and could be both thrusted and thrown at the enemy. It is believed that the very skilled spear fighters could throw two spears (one with each hand) at the very same time. mMybe even catch a spear in its flight and then hurl it back on the unlucky and probably very frightened opponent.
The offensive idea of the Shield Walls
The shield wall tactic is called “skjaldborg” in Old Norse language. It was not an unusual tactic of the Vikings but a very common one in battles on at least land. One might think that the shield wall was very defensive because the most armored soldiers went in the front-line of the rectangular-shaped formation. They were also protecting the rest of the group with their shields.
But it was far more than just a purely defensive tactic. When the enemy formation charged on the Viking shield wall they had to get through the big shields of the front rank. This was of course not the easiest thing to do and it takes a lot of energy to charge in an offensive. When the enemy ran out steam the Vikings loosened the grip of their shield wall formation and the rank behind the front-line charged with axes. The tired enemy was now exposed and vulnerable to the swift attack.
The biggest warships
The ship of king Olaf Tryggvasson of Norway (he ruled from 995 to 1000 AD). He had a ship called the Long Serpent. The legends say that it carried “eight men per half-room at the naval Battle of Svolder”. There are estimations about how many men it can take. 68 rowers + an additional crew.
How big was the huge Viking armies that went plundering in 9th century England?
In the 9th century the Vikings were very into plundering in England, of course they did so in other parts of the Viking age (800-1100 AD) but the late 9th seem to be a very active period if one looks at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles written by English monks.
A big invasion started around 865 according to the chronicles and York was conquered by the Danes in 866 (a strong Viking heritage there today) but there have been a lot of thought about how big the army really was and if ideas of ten thousands of men are exaggerated. Well they most likely are.
The historian Pete Sawyer wanted to define what an army was (called here in Older English) in Viking Age England. There was a King Ine of Wessex in the 694 that stated in a law that a here consists of 35 men. When the pagan armies left England around 896 there are accounts of 5 ships leaving for France. If you compare that to how many armies that seem to have come in from Scandinavia that were probably at its height an army of 2000-3000 men according to Realm of History (http://www.realmofhistory.com/) who are referring to Sawyer in their article. http://www.realmofhistory.com/2015/11/25/10-things-show-know-vikings-warfare/
The Vikings and the raven
The Viking warriors are not only symbolized by their long ships but also their use of banners. The war-flags called gunnesfannes in Old Norse had great depictions ranging from monsters with wings and serpents and dragons.
But depictions of ravens were the most common of all. The bird had a special status within the pagan religion of Scandinavia, the Raven had the power to help you win the battle. The raven is in general connected to warfare and to the warrior god Odin. They are the “eaters of the fallen men”. Because of the mythological connection the Vikings believed that the raven had a magical energy concentrated to them.
More about The Joms Vikings
The members of a warrior band where often member of an “extended family” or “artificial tribe as Realm of History likes to call it. These are bands that are not based on blood-ties within some kin. It is thought that these groups were created by people without land, Viking men longer out on the fringe of the social ladder who dreamed of a better life and a more honorable reputation and probably a sense of brotherhood. So because they did not have any land they instead got their wealth from pillaging and waging war.
These Vikings were not only seen as a social problem but also an military advantage occasionally. When Viking lords and kings wanted to go plundering they hired Viking bands like the Joms Vikings (if they existed) to plunder with them, as mercenaries. So the Joms Vikings are very famous but did they after all exist?
According to sources it was founded by no other than Harald Bluetooth, the Danish king who states that he made the Danes Christian. He also stated that he was the king of Norway. The sources that we have about the Joms Vikings are not contemporary but were written down by later accounts from Danmark in the Joms Vikings Saga. According to these sources they had a fortress at Wolin by the river Oder, this is in present day Northwest Poland.
Our guided Viking tours take place in an area called the Rune Kingdom. Situated just north of Stockholm, this is an ideal excursion for any tourist coming over to experience Swedish culture and history.
It is called the Rune Kingdom because it has rune stones by the 9 sights in the area. Rune stones were commemoration monuments that the Vikings put up to honor a dead family member.
But you can see much more than just rune stones. The rune kingdom contains a Viking parliament, Viking bridge, two medieval churches and much more.
The idea of the Rune Kingdom.
Stockholm county museum wanted an area to where people could learn about and experience Viking culture and history. The Täby-Vallentuna area was a great choice because it is one of the world’s most Viking dense areas.
In the area we find more than 20 rune stones, tens of grave fields and unique sights. The Viking parliament is one of the best preserved in the world and the Viking bridge is reconstructed to its former glory.
To get more information about the Rune Kingdom, go to runriket.se
Take a 3-hour excursion from Stockholm and immerse yourself in the Viking stories. Hear about the Jarlabanki family and their great men and women who ruled the area.
Lord Jarlabanki was a cocky guy who raised a rune stone to tell people that he owned the whole of the area. Jarlabanki’s grandmother Estrid was a powerful Viking woman, her skeleton was identified in an excavation in 1995. Hear her story as a powerful woman in what usually was a man’s world.
Most of us have probably heard about the Vikings plundering in England. The English people were not only affected by the warfare of the Vikings but also their the Viking impact on English language. The trading and raiding were not the main source of the loan words that came into the English language but the settlement, conquering and ruling from the Danish Vikings. Anglo Saxons and Danes lived together for centuries in England, especially in the north where York was conquered around 866. So how many are the loan words from Old Norse (mostly Danish) in English? According to the language learning company Babbel it is at least 139 words so we are likely talking about hundreds of words.
Babbel have chosen to not focus specifically on any words so I will link to their words and then write some more about a few of them. https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/139-norse-words
First of all. The names for the weekdays come from the Nordic-Germanic mythology.
Monday means the day of the Moon.
Tuesday means the day of the Tyr, a war-god in the mythology that lost his hand to the Fenrir Wolf.
Wednesday means the day of Odin, the high god in the mythology.
Thursday is the day of Thor, God of thunder and lightning.
Friday refers to Freyja, a goddess of fertility and erotica who took fallen warriors to her hall. It is also suggested that it could be refering to Frigg, the wife of Odin.
Interesting Viking Norse loan words to English
Berserker (Old Norse: berserkr)
The berserkers was a specific warrior type that were famed for their bravery (or foulness to some) in battle. They put themselves into a rage before charging on the enemy with full force. The word berserkers is separated in to “ber” and “serk”. Ber meaning “bear” and “serkr” “chemise”. Historians think berserks hade chemises made of bear skin.
The modern Swedish and Danish word for the Christian christmas is “jul”. This go back to when “christmas” was a pagan holiday at the time of the winter solstice. It is believed to have been a feast to the high God Odin.
window – vindauga (lit. “wind-eye”)
The English word window had a complete different meaning in the Danish language. A “window” or vindauga was not an opening in the wall covered by glass. Instead it was an opening in the gable under the roof. This “eye” of the “wind”. (“ow”/”auga” means eye) was used to lead out smoke from the buildings and they were probably closed by a wooden lock.
lad – ladd (young man)
The word lad is today commonly used in the North English and Scottish English language, but it is originally Danish.
The elves are of course a famous part of both Scandinavian and English folklore traditions.
The bigger impact of the Old Norse on regional English dialects
Old Norse has affected all of the English language but the presence of loan words and other words of more distant Old Norse origin is bigger in the Yorkshire region that was in the Danelaw for around 100 years. York were conquered by Danish Vikings in year 865-867 and the Danish control of the York area was once and for all put to an end 954 but the Dane Sweyn II tried to take the English crown in 1069. He is not the only one to try this though, nor before or after his own attempt. Harald Hardrada tried in 1066 but failed at Stamford Bridge and the last serious attempt failed in 1085.
By Hel-hama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sigtuna is a pretty historical town just north of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. Where ever you walk, the history is always around you with a great presence. Among the historic buildings, the church ruins make an ever lasting impression.
Saint Olof’s ruin
Saint Olof’s ruin, named after the Norse Norweigan saint king Olof the Holy. He was a very popular saint in Sweden as well during the medieval ages and he continues to be frequently mentioned in our Lutheran Church as well today.
Olof is today the national saint of Norway and he used to be called “the eternal ruler of Norway” and had such legal status in the early Middle Ages. He lived in the 10th and 9th century. Hear more about him and some other saints on our tours. And of course also about Viking pagan culture.
So why is a church named after Olof? Sigtuna is first of all the oldest existing city/town in Sweden and has several church ruins that are both pretty and sometimes a bit mystical. Olof was a saint, and the saints were crucial in the Catholic Medieval Sweden and European Culture. In the late Middle Ages (15th century) they were so holy that critics started to call it idolatry.
By naming a church after a saint, the Christians were giving the church a sense of holiness and also legalization. For a building to be called a church it even needed to have a relic of a saint, these were all most never real bones from a specific saint but worked as a representation of that saints holiness. It was inscribed in Swedish law that the church need a relic by the high altar.
Olof became very popular in Sweden for several reasons. Norway was close both geographically and politically and Olof himself was involved with the Swedish monarchy. According to the Icelandic sagas he had an army with a lot of Swedes with him when he tried to retake the Norweigan throne in 1030 and he was about to marry a Swedish princess, even though it never happened.
Olof died at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030. The miracles that happened after the battle laid that foundation to his sainthood and huge popularity. One of his opponents touch Olof’s blood after his death, the opponent’s wound was healed.
Olof was as said one of Sweden’s most popular saints. This can be seen in the hundreds of church that have been honored to him and a lot of holy springs named after him.