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New Viking Study Points to “Love and Marriage” as the Main Reason for their Raids

Tijana Radeska

When we think of Vikings we think of fearless, brave, strong, and bloodthirsty warriors who conquered the seas and were pioneer explorers of the North – Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland.

Until recently, it was believed that blood-lust was the Vikings drive for raids and conquering.

The reason for the pillaging of the Scandinavian seafaring warriors might actually have been a very romantic one – love.

The Landing of the Vikings by Arthur C. Michael (1919).

The Landing of the Vikings by Arthur C. Michael (1919).

A new study by Mark Collard, a biological anthropologist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia reveals that the Vikings’ main drive for raiding could be credited to their complex social organization.

Scandinavian polygyny (a form of polygamy) practices allowed powerful men to monopolize and marry multiple women, which left the rest unwed.

Wanting to marry, many of those unprivileged, single men went on raids to gain wealth, status, and captives, in order to be able to secure brides and concubines for themselves.

According to Collard’s study, men further down on the social ladder began to look to lands beyond their borders in order to gain wealth and status – and to secure brides.

According to Collard’s study, men further down on the social ladder began to look to lands beyond their borders in order to gain wealth and status – and to secure brides.

For a long time, it was believed that the trigger for the Vikings’ raids had been their interest and will to improve their sailing technologies.

But Collard denies those claims saying that if the cause was “innovations in sailing technology, why did Scandinavians elect to go raiding rather than focusing their efforts on peaceful trade?”

Typical Viking village.

Typical Viking village.

The Viking Age lasted from the 8th until the 11th century. They raided the shores of Britain a thousand years ago.

Their violent killings, thefts, and vandalism were recorded as savage, cruel, and ruthless.

Viking re-enactors from all over the world at the Battle of Clontarf millennium commemoration in Saint Anne’s Park, Dublin (lining up before charging at the opposition). April 19, 2014.

Viking re-enactors from all over the world at the Battle of Clontarf millennium commemoration in Saint Anne’s Park, Dublin (lining up before charging at the opposition). April 19, 2014.

During the height of the Viking age, the Vikings also explored the rest of Europe through sea and rivers.

It was believed that they went exploring for trade, colonization, and sometimes retaliation when they had been attacked.

Vikings weren’t always crazy – they were also peaceful farmers.

Vikings weren’t always crazy – they were also peaceful farmers.

In part, this is due to the persecution by Charlemagne and incursion by Christian missionaries into their homelands.

And in fact, it could all have been for the simple reason of getting a bride and establishing a household.

Stone ship from the Viking age on the island of Hjarnø, Denmark. Photo by Erik Christensen CC BY-SA 3.0

Stone ship from the Viking age on the island of Hjarnø, Denmark. Photo by Erik Christensen CC BY-SA 3.0

In an interview for Live Science, Collard said: “We were able to reinvigorate an explanation for Viking raiding that has been around for nearly 1,000 years.”

He highlights ancient texts such as the “Sagas of Icelanders,” medieval German chronicles, and reports by travelers such as the 10th century Arab envoy Ahmad Ibn Fadlān which describe the customs once practiced among Scandinavians of keeping concubines.

Egill Skallagrímsson in a 17th century manuscript of Egils Saga.

Egill Skallagrímsson in a 17th century manuscript of Egils Saga.

The practice of marrying more women allowed the eligible bachelorettes to have high expectations about their future husbands, and impoverished or underprivileged men didn’t fit the criteria.

Another thing is that proportionally, the number of women eligible for marriage was very limited, due to the polygyny and concubinage.

In order to raise their chances of getting married, young Viking men joined the raids, hoping to enrich themselves. Sometimes, they even kidnapped Celtic women on their warrior “voyages.”

Young Vikings engaged themselves in a very risky behavior. Not only in the raids but there was also a great competition among them. Written sources claim that they were very sensitive to insults, which was also a reason for bloody, brutal, and deadly fights.

Read another story from us: Vikings in Minnesota? The Mystery of the Kensington Runestone

With these new hypotheses which were based on archaeological evidence, contemporary writings, and theories of evolution, cast the Vikings’ violent and aggressive behavior in a new light.