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THE VIKINGS

In the year 2001, a person's description of a Viking could be anything from a large woman in a horned helmet singing opera, to warring tribesmen in a longboat, to the cartoon character "Hagar The Horrible". In the years of 750 through 1100, if you were to ask someone from a western European country such as Ireland, France, or England to give you a description of a Viking, their answer would most likely give you goose bumps. In those times the Vikings were well known throughout South-West Europe, North Africa, and many other lands for their surprise attacks that left blood stained earth and burning heaps of rubble where there was once a thriving village or monastery. Though this brutal view of the Vikings was what most people saw, there was an unexpectedly civil side to these people's lives, similar in many ways to the lives of those who fell prey to the Viking raids. The Vikings began as simple farmers In Scandinavia. They built villages wherever the land was fertile and good for farming. They hunted and fished, using the forests around them as sources of food along with the cattle, geese, sheep, and other live stock they raised. They were well skilled in metal and stone works, and were amazing boat builders, building the swiftest and strongest boats - boats that would carry them as far across the world as North America. With the help of these boats, the Vikings set up large trade posts in many lands. As they prospered, the population of the Viking people grew rapidly. Food, and the good land to grow it on, became scarce. Homes were over-crowded and the feuds between families and villages were becoming especially frequent and violent. The Viking life became dangerous, and the future generations were raised to be warriors. To The Vikings, raiding the nearby countries was the simplest way out of their problem.

The first of the raiders appeared in the late 700's off the shores of England. The inhabitants of these lands were Christian Anglo-Saxons -scholars, farmers, craftsmen, and monks: easy targets for the Viking warriors. The Viking longboats were narrow, lightweight and fast. Usually 60 ft. long, 8 ft. wide and made of oak, these boats could be easily maneuvered through the water and carried on land if necessary. This made it easy for the Vikings to attack a village or monastery and be far out in the water before a party of men from a nearby village could come to fight. When caught by surprise, most villages did not stand a chance against the brutal slaughter and destruction set against them. The Vikings would choose villages with many animals or much food, and taking the villagers as slaves was very common. Those who were too old or weak were killed, and after the food storage had been emptied and the houses searched for valuables, everything was burned. Monasteries were also commonly raided for the treasures and relics that the monks held in their possession. The Vikings had no qualms against killing these men of God, for they did not fear the Christian God. They considered him a weak God of peace, humbleness and mercy. By nature, the Viking people followed the strongest leader. The strongest man led the people as king or chieftain, and the strongest god ruled over them all in life and death. The Vikings worshipped many gods and, being the oldest and strongest god of all, Odln ruled as King. These Viking gods are divided between the Aesir gods of war and the Vanlr gods of fertility. If the Vikings wanted victory in battle, they would pray and make sacrifices to Odin or Thor. If someone were sick, the people would pray to Frigg, the protector of all humans. When compared to the Vikings, it is clear that these gods were formed after character traits the Vikings valued in their own lives. Violence, betrayal, love, loyalty, fleshly desires, hate, hunger, thirst, courage in life, and dignity in death

were common similarities between god and man. The Vikings related to their gods in almost every aspect of life, and saw nothing that could tie them to the Christian's God of peace. In many ways, what you believe influences what you do. Initially, the Vikings could not grasp the concept of believing in and living a life of peace. However, as the Vikings became wealthy again they began to settle communities in the lands that they had conquered. Without the need for raiding, the Vikings again became relatively quiet farmers and craftsmen. With the lack of violence in the Vikings' lives, the great gods of war such as Odin and Thor were remembered but no longer needed. God sent missionaries to the Viking people In this time when their hearts were open to the Gospel, and many of the Viking kings and their people were converted to Christianity. The Viking people now built and lived in communities similar to those they had come from in Scandinavia. Some of the Vikings and their descendants even grew to be great leaders In Russia, England and France. The Vikings now held little resemblance to the fierce warriors of their past, and certainly didn't fit the description of opera singers or cartoon characters. In 350 years, the Viking way of life had come full circle with one addition: the Vikings had discovered that God Is also a warrior; a warrior who fights His battles with love, and is stronger than any god the Vikings had ever Imagined.

Written by: Kerissa, age 15, as a writing assignment (not timed) for Week 4.

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