#Viking is not a verb!

The Gjermundbu Helmet

The Gjermundbu Helmet in Kulturhistorisk museum, Oslo. Photo (c) R. Dale, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

I have expanded this blog post in the light of comments received on Twitter, and to clarify a couple of issues that were not expressed particularly clearly when it began its life as a short rant.

I fear I neglect this blog too much. There is, and has been, so much going on in my life that I find making time to write on the blog a little difficult. For starters, I spent most of last year working on The World-Tree Project, an interactive, digital archive for the teaching and study of the Vikings. Check it out. There is some great material on there from weird and wacky expressions of Vikingness to brilliant teaching resources. And now I am working on Danelaw Saga: Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands at the University of Nottingham. Follow the Centre for the Study of the Viking Age website to see what events we shall have this autumn and winter. There will be a full programme of public lectures, as well as events and the main exhibitions.

So, to the point of this short post/rantette. Every so often I come across someone earnestly explaining that ‘Viking’ is a verb in online discussions. Let’s get this straight: it is not a verb. I really don’t know why this assertion exercises me so much, but it does, so I shall repeat: Viking is not a verb.

For a more detailed discussion of what Viking means and how it is and was used head over to Norse and Viking Ramblings where Viqueen discusses the topic in more depth. And you can also read Prof. Judith Jesch’s piece on the meaning of ‘Viking’ in The Conversation. It’s all fascinating stuff, especially when considering how the modern meaning has evolved to suit our needs, and can influence our engagement with the past. Although the Oxford English dictionary does not include it yet, Viking is used as an ethnic identifier these days, as well as to refer to those warriors who sailed abroad in search of plunder. The meaning has moved on, and is not a reliable indicator of what it meant in the medieval period.

If Viking is not a verb, what is it then? The words from which our modern English word ‘Viking’ ultimately derives were Old Norse which is, broadly speaking, the language spoken in the Viking Age and medieval period in Scandinavia. See Viqueen’s blog for a brief discussion of how ‘Viking’ came to be an English word. Old Norse víking is a feminine noun that probably refers to a voyage abroad. Context suggests that it was probably violent but its actual meaning is not really known. Old Norse víkingr is a person that goes on one of these voyages. Að fara í víking means ‘to go on a viking voyage’. The word víking is still a noun in that expression, and the modern English word is also a noun according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The next question for English speakers is likely to be “Could víking have derived from a verb?” because the ‘-ing’ suffix sounds awfully verb-like in English. Modern English commonly uses the ‘-ing’ suffix to form present participles and gerunds (verbal nouns) from verbs. Thus ‘to sail’ becomes ‘sailing’. However, this is not the case with Old Norse víking and víkingr. Instead, the ‘-ing’ suffix indicates that they belong to a particular group of people, a form that we occasionally see in modern English surnames and in examples like the Old English Wuffingas (the people descended from Wuffa). Vikings were people who belonged to a group named for whatever we think the etymology of ‘Vik-’ is. For a discussion of that etymology see Norse and Viking Ramblings, but, the one thing that Old Norse víking and víkingr cannot be is a verb. The word formation does not permit it. For it to be a verb in modern English, there would have to be an English word ‘to vike’. Similarly, there would have to be an equivalent of that in Old Norse, but none exists. If it did, then the expression að fara í víking would almost certainly not have come into being, with a simple verb (perhaps að víka) being used instead.

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Northmen – A #Viking Buddy Movie


Can’t believe how long it is since I first drafted this post. I guess that tells you something about the movie and my enthusiasm for it. Anyway, here it is now, in all its stream-of-consciousness glory.

In northern Europe in 873 a gang of ruthless Vikings are exiled from their homeland and find themselves shipwrecked in Scotland. They must carve a bloody trail through their enemies to find sanctuary in England. Where do I even begin with this movie? It’s a chase movie. It’s a buddy movie. There is gore. There is testosterone to excess. There is only one female character. I guess the Viking theme makes it easier to ignore the female characters except as objects of desire or by introducing them as women warriors, but it still feels wrong for the films to be so male-oriented. Maybe it could be remade with shieldmaidens and only one male character. After all, shieldmaidens are in vogue at the moment. At least she is front and centre in the movie poster, while Tom Hopper (Asbjörn) does the whole looking back over his shoulder so you can see his arse pose, even if it is hidden by the others.

So, snark aside, how does it play out? Not well, I’m afraid. It looks good with fantastic scenery. I’ll give it that, and Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth fame plays Valli, so it has Viking metal cred. There is also plenty of action that will appeal to many, including a ninja monk. Ok, he’s a Christian monk really, but in the Friar Tuck super-warrior with a staff mould. I can imagine that I would have enjoyed this movie much more if I were quite a few years younger and less critical in my approach. I mean, it did pull me along with it, and I did not notice the time going by as I watched it, so it was not bad in that sense. But …

The start of the bad: only one female character. And she is more prize than protagonist.Charlie Murphy plays Inghean, a Scottish princess who is kidnapped by the Vikings after a fight on the cliffs at the start.  The Viking ship is wrecked. They climb the cliffs. At the top, a coach is going past, so the Vikings and the coach guards immediately attack each other. Here’s where the film started going wrong for me. Why do Vikings on film never try to talk to the other side first (one notable exception being Vikings)?  There is never even any thought of talking to the other side. It’s all, “Yeah, we don’t know where we are. Let’s just kill the first people we see.” It’s men playing up to stereotype refusing to ask for directions! Throughout the film, this sort of attitude is prevalent. It reminds me of a dominant trend in some companies I have worked for where the bosses demanded action rather than thought. Act first, think later don’t even bother thinking. It’s a bit of a shit way to work, and does not generally lead to constructive outcomes.

So, the Vikings capture Inghean. Asbjörn is smitten. Stockholm syndrome takes over and she falls for him in the end. Cheesy! Capturing her leads to a chase across Scotland. The baddies, who are really bad and thoroughly earn their baddie credentials by various bad acts, pursue them. You’ll have to watch the film to learn how, but I doubt any of it will surprise you. While being pursued, the Vikings argue a lot. Vikings don’t make decisions by consensus. They argue and bully until all other voices are silenced by voice or blade. Respect is gained only by being louder and more aggressive or more willing to kill than the rest of the group. Camaraderie is not really present, and I cannot imagine any members of this group of Vikings actually having a bromance. They are all too macho for that. The way the Viking group works reminds me very much of Patrick’s work on street gangs in Glasgow in the 60s.(1) The leader of the gang was the one who was most willing to go the extra mile in the pursuit of violence, being the most violent and dangerous.

There is not really a lot more to the film beyond the chase. The performances are not the worst I have ever seen. The scenery is pretty, and the cinematography and production standards are pretty decent. But it still felt like it could have been a lot more than it was, and I found some disturbing values being foregrounded. In common with most of the more recent Viking films I have watched, this film emphasises violent and aggressive masculinity at the expense of thoughtfulness. It seems to be reflecting and/or reinforcing a view of masculinity as aggressive and action-oriented with no soft edges and no room for friendship. This may be a response to recent dialogues about masculinity being in crisis, with the movie presenting a model of masculine behaviour that reverts back to perceptions of older, less civilised times when men could be real men, or it could be an escapist fantasy about such things. Nevertheless, I find it ultimately unsatisfying.

  1. James Patrick, A Glasgow Gang Observed (London: Methuen, 1973)
Posted in Masculinity, Movies, Vikings | 6 Comments

Viking World: Diversity and Change: 2016 Conference

Adam’s take on the excellent The Viking World 2016. Well worth a read to get a sense of what went on.

Blueaxe Reproductions

From the 27th June to the 2nd of July, I was privileged to be invited to attend the Viking World Conference 2016, hosted by the Centre for the Study of the Viking-age, at the University of Nottingham.


As part of my invitation as well as being a full delegate at the plenary conference, I also would be manning a stall before and after lectures, and also during the breaks and lunch hour. This would contain both reproductions of original objects I had made, as well as a small display on some of the experimental and investigative work I had done into craft techniques, and objects use and function.

I have found previously that there is often a reluctance from professionals and academia to engage with a display such as this, particularly as until they spoke to me, most did not know I was also a professional within the…

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Norwegian #Food: How #Vikings invented Norwegian delicacies

Over on Thomo’s Hole he has a handy guide to how Norwegian cuisine was invented. I heartily recommend reading it before you head over to Scandinavia. I fear that much Scandinavian food was invented in the same way. Just follow this link to find out the horrific truth: Norwegian Cuisine

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#Vikings: The #Berserkers (2014) – A Review of Sorts #Movies

A random corvid does not Odin’s presence betoken. In the earliest scene where a young man has his heart cut out and held up to the camera, the scene cuts to a close-up of a jackdaw. I guess the producers could not afford a raven, or thought that we would not notice the difference. Sadly this omen is not a good one for the movie.

The date is 835AD and a fearsome, extremist Viking faction called ‘The Berserkers’ has arrived in Saxon England intent upon carnage, pillage, and probably sackage, sockage and tillage too. They capture some Saxons and start a ritual man-hunt to honour Odin, or something like that anyway. It’s a chase film with the Saxons being pursued through the woods by the vicious Vikings. There’s a lot of fighting, not a lot of dialogue and some gratuitous drug-taking by the Vikings to induce frenzy, just like Samuel Ødman suggested berserkers did, based on Siberian shamanic practice. Sadly, there is no historical evidence for this practice, but, hey, this film should not be judged on its historical accuracy. I could go on and on about that, and it would get tedious really quickly.

Vikings: The Berserkers is advertised as the ‘Viking Hunger Games’ and really needs to be considered as a fantasy film with a thin veneer of Vikingness. It revolves around the Berserkers and their five victims, two women and three men. After a large group of Saxons have been captured, five are chosen for the ritual hunt. Their hearts will be cut out and presented to the völva whose penchant for extreme make-up knows no bounds. Her appearance made me think more of Mad Max than Viking Age Scandinavia. The Berserkers also adopt whiteface make-up for the hunt. They froth at the mouth, wear animal skins and are bestial in nature. To be honest, they remind me more of Celtic Frost than real Vikings but we’ll let that slide for now.

The Saxon characters are more diverse than the Vikings. There is the cowardly male, the needy female, the heroic but slightly shrill monk, the young male with a lot of growing to do during the film, and the pretty and feisty female, plus a cage full of children. Guess which ones die and which survive.

I guess that sets the scene enough. So, how was the film? Well, I found it virtually impossible to engage with any of the characters. I cheered neither for the Saxons nor for the Vikings. Something was really lacking. Perhaps I have just watched too many films like this to care about the characters any more. The actors seemed competent enough. The script was ok with a few holes where characters suddenly knew things, such as that the Vikings could not follow their scent if they covered their faces in blood. The cinematography, and the landscape in which the film was shot were probably the best bits about the film, although there were a couple of odd moments with some weird ‘bloom’ in the lighting. I wonder if those were artefacts of my DVD. I did rather like the moment where the children in the cage ate the mushrooms and turned into berserkers themselves. I wonder if they needed counselling for biting Vikings’ throats out afterwards. That moment made me laugh a little because it seemed a tad OTT and silly. Overall, I was not particularly taken with this film. It was ok, but unengaging. Not bad in the way that some of the other films I have written about on here were bad, but not exciting enough to make me want to watch it again. I can see where it would appeal to some, and it might easily be the focus of a student Viking film night with snacks, beer, and friends to marvel at it together, but it’s not one for the lone viewer or a couple’s night in.

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My 16th International Saga Conference Experience #Vikings #OldNorse

I spent 9th to 15th August in Zurich at the 16th International Saga Conference. Contrary to what most of my friends have to say on the topic, this is not a conference about holidays for retired people. Instead it is an entire week spent geeking out about Vikings, Old Norse literature and related topics. The week was brilliant, despite the heat. The team of organisers and volunteer staff pulled all the stops out to make sure everything ran like clockwork and did a great job. They all deserve hearty congratulations for their work

I was particularly pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response I received for my paper on generic naming practices in the sagas. Although my main conclusion was negative, it appears to have been appreciated by the audience who provided some useful feedback and ideas, and many of whom approached me afterwards to discuss the paper in more detail. This has left me feeling very positive about the article I am working on that the paper summarised.

There were a lot of very interesting papers presented at the conference: more than I could physically attend, and many of which were on at the same time. Some of those that particularly inspired me were:

Tsukusu ‘Jinn’ Ito’s paper on Viking themes in manga. He emphasised the popularity of Vikings in Japan, highlighting the idea that what we in the West might consider mainstream is perceived as ‘other’ and ‘exotic’ in Japan. Interestingly, there is sufficient knowledge of the Vikings in Japan for the authors of Viking manga not to have to explain details, thus permitting them to dive straight into the story. It is always interesting to get alternative perspectives, and really helps stop us from taking particular ideas for granted.

Sean Lawing gave a great and grisly paper on the disposal of severed body parts as legislated for in Grágás. This was clearly a thing in Iceland at the time the laws were codified, because they legislated for being able to recognise individual body parts and treating them as if they were the whole body, as well as how to dispose of the bits of people that you cannot recognise.

Heidi Støa’s paper on golem constructs in Old Norse literature highlighted the social effects of the artificial people and led to an interesting discussion on why they were made of wood in particular. One area of the discussion that intrigued me was the idea that ON draugr also means ‘dead wood’. Given that Askr (ash) and Embla (elm) were the first people according to Old Norse mythology, I am keen to have a deeper look at this concept of the undead as dead wood.

Andrea Whitacre, Marie Novotná and Gwendolyne Knight Kempeima all presented in a session on shape-changing where their papers neatly dove-tailed together to form a coherent discussion about shape-changing, the skin as a liminal area (thin veneer of humanity?), and notions of the integrity of the individual. Given that they were all so neatly related, this session might have benefited from the round-table format instead but I really enjoyed it anyway, and felt inspired by it. I look forward to seeing how all three sets of research progress.

One final shout-out goes to Sirpa Aalto’s paper on the construction of space between Sámi and Norwegians in the sagas. She examined a range of sagas to see where interaction took place and considered how the Sámi and the Norwegians interacted in those sagas. I have a strong interest in such cross-cultural relations so it was fascinating to hear such a good analysis of how the social space was constructed. I hope Sirpa publishes more on this soon, because I want to read it.

There were many other good papers, but space precludes mentioning them all, so I apologise to those I missed out. There were many more papers that I would have liked to attend but could not. I hope they all appear as articles soon, so that I can catch up on what I missed.

Overall, the Saga Conference was brilliant, despite the excessive heat in Zurich this week. Note to future conference organisers: I study Vikings because I like cooler climes! I took something positive from every paper I attended, and from all the discussions I had over the week. I met up with old friends and made new ones. I got to see Bede’s death Song, the Isruna tract, Notker the Stammerer and the Nibelungenlied, as well as several books of law codes that were over a thousand years old, all at St Gallen. Talk about blissing out! All this means that the 2018 Saga Conference in Reykjavik has a lot to live up to. I’m starting saving for it now just to make sure I can go.

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