By Shani Asokan Ceylon Today Features
Thousands of years ago, there existed a community of fierce seawarriors. They were some of the first sea explorers, and often travelled huge distances to neighbouring lands by ship. These sea-warriors are called Vikings. They originated from Scandinavia and lived between 800 C.E. and 1066 C.E. They mainly raided and plundered nearby lands, but sometimes engaged in trade. In fact, Viking means ‘a pirate raid’ in the Old Norse language.
The first explorers
Approximately 500 years before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the American Continent, the Vikings had sailed up to its shores, and landed on what is now Canada. This is evidence of their abilities to weather long sea voyages, as the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean lay between Scandinavia and the American continent. A long time after the Vikings had walked the Earth, the British Empire struggled to accomplish the same feat when sending its first colonists to Roanoke, a small island off the cost of North America.
The Norse Gods
The Vikings also believed in and worshiped many gods. Among them were Odin, the god of wisdom and war, Thor, the god of thunder, and Loki, the god of mischief. Each god had various characteristics, weaknesses and attributes. Records left behind on rune stones and other written material show that gods often had human traits and could behave like humans, and were even depicted with human forms. However, the Vikings gave their gods great importance and did all they could to avoid their wrath. This meant that they held regular sacrificial ceremonies in their honour.
The Vikings were experts when it came to boat-building. Structures called ‘Keels’, central spines along the bottom of the boats made their longboats east to steer. These boats were between 16 and 37 meters long and were designed to float high on the water, which made landing on beaches easy. This genius in construction also extended to the houses the lived in, which used turf roofs to keep the heat in. Turf roofs meant that the roofs had grass on them, providing extra insulation during the winter months, and natural cooling in the summer.
Viking farmers cultivated cabbages, beans, peas and endive. They also had wild apples and berries available to them. They also grew a wide range of herbs and seasonings, like coriander, cumin, mustard, and wild horseradish. The Vikings also ate some kind of meat every day. This was mostly fish, as they were skilled fishermen. Excess fish was often salted and dried and stored for the winter. There is also evidence of them eating pigs, raised on their land. They also raised cattle, sheep, goats and chicken, but these were mostly kept for milk and eggs. They only slaughtered and ate this meat during the harsh winters. A large part of the Viking diet consisted of grain products like bread and porridge. Barley was the most common grain, followed by Rye, Spelt and Oats.
When Vikings of great importance died, they would be placed with all their belongings such as clothes, jewellery and sometimes animals in a burial ship. This would then generally be set alight and pushed out to sea. The Vikings believed in the afterlife, and thought the smoke from the fire would guide the departed souls into the afterlife. They also believed that the Vikings who died in combat would travel to Valhalla, the hall of the slain.