The Vikings Were Peaceable People
As we Brits gaze into our navel and berate ourselves over empire, slavery and colonialism, the Scandinavians stand apart. They appear the epitome of civilisation, wealthy, highly social and beyond reproach. History, of course, tells another story. When I was writing my third book, I wanted an overview of our ancestors, the people of the Neolithic. In particular, the people who built Stonehenge. Firstly, was their society a violent one? Secondly, how would you tell? I spent two years researching and writing the book and I had formed a view. Perhaps you are puzzled about what the Vikings were peaceable people has to do with this?
My view of our Neolithic past was formed by soil. English soil is some of the most fertile. Out of it grew a quiet, rural people whose main interest was crops and cattle. My visits to British museums confirmed this view, that grain and meat on the table was all that mattered. Stonehenge confirmed that view, a temple to farming gods. However, I then had to ponder about entering a European museum. Would the Neolithic galleries suggest a similar farming image? My chance came on a cruise to the Baltic. During a stopover, we walked into Copenhagen Museum. I said to Ann, ” Let’s do a swift walk through the galleries and form an immediate view. We did that and we saw – weapons! They were the most beautiful flint knives and daggers, cabinet after cabinet of them. Violence was the main crop in Scandinavia, not cattle or grain.
The land forms us
Neolithic Scandinavia was at least 500 years behind Britain simply because the Ice Age held on somewhat longer. They never had the rich soils of England and so fought over what they had. That macho fighting background stayed local but, as they created their Viking Age with efficient ships, they began raiding. England was their principal target and was basically undefended. The museum had an English tour that afternoon, so we joined it. In fact, we were the only ones. The young woman soon suggested that we Brits have given the Vikings a bad name. However, she ignored the fact that most of the gold in the museum had been stolen from Britain. She showed that the Scandinavians are aware of their violent past. Should they apologise for what they inflicted on Britain? What would be the point?
The Vikings were peaceable people
I was not aware then that only the western Scandinavians ravaged Britain. The eastern ones, from what we call Sweden, traded down freshwater rivers from the Baltic and all the way to Constantinople. Amazing as that is, these people were noted for their violence. They were also noted for their slavery, principally of the Slavs. That is where the word slavery arose. Imagine that, the Swedes as violent raiders inflicting untold horrors. The Islamic people down in Constantinople considered them little better than animals. However, see it another way, that time really matters. The Scandinavians today are not those of the past. Neither are we the perpetrators of slavery and colonisation. None of us were the past and we cannot apologise for it.