Oslo Norway’s National Historical Museum provides high-level overviews of the histories and cultures of different scions of the world, including sections devoted to Egypt, the Americas, the Arctic and to East and West Asia. It also has a couple of special exhibits: one on how Norway transported its gold and other wealth out of Norway to protect it from the Germans in WWII and one on personal adornment (fashion, cosmetics and jewelry) across cultures and the ages. Joyce sent Tom onto this museum alone. Although he browsed each of them, his goal was to learn about the history of Norway—especially in the age of the Vikings.
The museum also had two small galleries devoted to Norway: one devoted to the Middle Ages; and a one-room alcove that displaces gold, silver and other valuables that were plundered by the Vikings. He spent most of his time in the history and culture of the Viking era. This section, as was the case with most of the museum, had little interpretive information and even less in English. Most of that which did exist gave a one or two word description of the artifact (sword, ring, etc.) and an estimate of the century in which it was created.
His primary source of information was a 50 page photocopied pamphlet that provided an overview of Viking history, war, life, customs and religions.
For all the long-perpetuated legends and myths, the Viking era lasted fewer than 300 years, from the late 8th through the mid-11th century. Derived primarily from peaceful traders from the northern provinces, they banded together to become ruthless, but primarily opportunistic pirates, typically attacking little-defended targets, like churches, monasteries and local villages.
They then took to the sea to find additional, similarly opportunistic targets, such as in Denmark, France, England and Ireland. Their seafaring adventures expanded rapidly, from a total of about three ships in the year 836, to 350 a mere 15 years later. These longer excursions also led to longer raids, from quick hits on local targets to longer, several month-long raids in other countries. But even there, as soon as regular armed forces arrived to challenge them, they departed for new, easy targets.
And since they targeted soft targets, they had little need or discipline for sophisticated military tactics. They relied primarily on surprise, numbers, strength and brutality rather than strategy or tactics.
This is not to say that all Vikings were militaristic brutes. Although family honor was important and retribution common, they abided by strict laws in their home lands, typically relying on mediation or judges to settle disputes and paying very stiff financial penalties for injuring or killing fellow citizens—even for accidental injuries.
Moreover, most Vikings, contrary to their reputation, were farmers, craftsmen and traders, rather than pirates and warriors. Although farming was the economic mainstay of most Viking towns, they also hunted, traded pelts and furs and produced textiles, iron pots and tools (not to speak of knives, swords, spears and axes), soapstone bowls and glass. Even many of those Vikings who left for other lands ended up staying and integrating into foreign communities including York, Dublin and Northumbria. Some historians, in fact, suggest that it was the lack of productive farmland and commercial opportunities that prompted international forays and settlement in the first place.
Viking settlements were, as explained in the pamphlet, stratified with slaves and seven classes of freemen (including kings, nobles, soldiers, craftsmen and farmers). Class was determined primary by heredity. And when they died, it was, as shown in a couple of exhibits, common for people to be buried with the tools of their trade, such as swords or sickles.
Although early Viking tribes worshiped many gods (such as Oden as the wisest and most noble and Thor (with his hammer) as avenger of the common man. Even by the time many Vikings had converted to Christianity they often continued to honor their traditional gods. They also had a number of scared places. Although they found their primary holiness in nature, they also consecrated their own sacred places, as by marking them with hazel branches.
And what did their diets consist of? Certainly the grains and vegetables they grew, the fish they caught and the game they hunted. Their primary source of protein, however, appeared to be horsemeat. Their libation of choice: beer. After all, water was not always very clean by itself.
While Joyce wasn’t much interested in the History Museum, she did join Tom to go to Oslo’s Resistance Museum. The Museumj provides a detailed history of the country’s resistance to German Occupation from 1940 through 1944. It discussed Germany’s initial invasion and the decisive roles of its navy and air force and how Norwegian Nazi Party leader Vidkum Quisling capitalized on the German invasion to take over the government and conspire with Germany in ruling the country thorough much of the war. It discussed the ongoing role of the government in exile, the resistance and resultant arrests, imprisonments and executions of Norwegian judges, teachers, clergy, policeman, university students and professors and so forth, and especially the emergence and roles of the resistance movement in keeping citizens informed via underground newspapers and pamphlets, in providing intelligence to the allies, in sabotaging German military facilities (most notably of their destruction of a German heavy water production plant and battleship) and of tying down German troops, ships and planes that could have otherwise been deployed to one of the fronts. While the museum had a lot of information and artifacts in it, the setup was strange. Joyce found it disconcerting and difficult to follow the timeline. Still, it certainly made one happy they were not living in those times.
Leave a Reply