Monday, August 24, 2015

Myths, Lies and Misconceptions about the Medieval World.

We head back to the Middle Ages, and this week we will resume a conversation we have had before; Myths about the Middle Ages.

Now it is the time I plug my book. As most of the readers of my blog know I am the author of "Legend of the Mystic Knights" , and is currently on SALE . In terms of living history, I try to be as accurate as I can be in describing medieval life in my novels.

We must always keep in mind when we look back onto an era, that it spans generations. Defining a special time is also difficult. Many historians consider the middle ages from the 5th to the 15th century; this may vary a few centuries earlier or later.

Now imagine our society post World War II, during the 1950’s, and then compare the morals of society during that time, to that of today only 60 years later. Consider how our lives look today, compared to those of 100 years ago. Then examine today’s culture per region, examine New York City compared to rural Texas.  Now consider the difficulty you would have doing that same examination over a span of 1,000 years and over numerous countries.

Another issue we face when we research history, we must consider the political influence on our perception of history.  Frank Harte once said “Those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs.” I believe this to be true, so we must always examine the entire culture, not just those who are writing about one specific portion of it. Remember for any time period; it was not a bad living when you are wealthy and much harder when you are poor.

First on our list are the Vikings. We perceive them are these blood thirsty warriors who are pillagers and marauders and have no regard to art or civilization.

During the period of 790’s until the Norman conquest of England in 1066 A.D. is commonly referred to as the Viking Age. This was an era when what we refer to as Scandinavian countries, spread their influence across Europe and as far south as the Mediterranean. This influence included many “raids” on numerous countries.

I will admit these raids were brutal. The Vikings did have a culture that rewarded those who were brave in battle, and these raids did reflect that attitude. But, we must also look at how brutal the rest of Europeans were at the time during battles. This was not a time for chivalry, and civilians were casualties and pillaging, no matter who attacked who.

Although they did perform in raids, they also established trade with these countries after their raids. This enhanced and furthered trade routes throughout Europe. With trade comes the exchanging of ideas, which laid the foundation for the coming of the Renaissance.

There are many misconceptions about the Vikings and the truth about them has been hidden from us by the passage of time.

Woman Rights- Unlike many parts of Europe, woman were respected in the Viking culture and enjoyed rights. Woman managed the family’s finances and the farm in their husband’s absent. If widowed, they could own land, and could become wealthy by themselves.

Also, unlike in European countries, a woman could divorce her husband if he did not treat her or her children with respect. The divorce could be easily accomplished, she merely had to gather witnesses and declare that she was divorced from her husband.

Being blond was a good thing; for a man. We imagine Vikings having blond hair, this was more than genetics. It was common for MEN to wash their hair with a special type of Lye that would bleach their hair white. Also, this was done more for vanity, as they had other options for washing their hair.

One major misconception about Vikings is they had Horns on their helmets. This never happened; the Vikings did not wear horns on their helmets in battle. This misconception may have arisen with some drawings of Loki, the Norse god of mischief and lies that is depicted as having horns on his helmet also this may have popularized from the operas of Wagner which always depicted Valkyries singing with horned helmets. The Valkyries would carry the slain in Norse Mythology to Valhalla and Fólkvangr in Asgard upon their winged horses.

There is one issue I would like to mention about the Vikings. Although they were brave and fearless in battle, they lacked skills in metallurgy. Their weapons were not up to the quality of those in other European countries. In fact, some raids by the Vikings were not after gold or riches, but to obtain weapons of good construction.

This weekend I will be attending Fantacon in Albany, NY. So next week we will take a break from medieval times and talk about that event.

Thank you for reading, and as always leave a comment if you want.


  1. William, as always, I love learning about history through your posts. The fact that women had a say - actually quite a strong voice - during that time is pretty amazing. Of course, the myth that they didn't have horns on their helmets was enlightening - always believed they did.
    Will be looking forward to next week's post about Fantacon.

  2. Loved this lesson! I am so glad that you clarified the story about Vikings! I love the History Channel Series but had questioned the rights of women, and particularly the divorce thing. I thought it was fiction, but you've really done a nice job clearing that up!

    1. The Vikings series is very entertaining, and it does get some things right. However, it does show chieftain's as woman. They could hold that office, but had no power in it.
      Also, there is a big debate right now, if woman did participate in combat.
      I might also add, that Ragnar's son,Ivar the Boneless, was a great warrior, and they think he got that name because he was so limber, not because of lack of bones.

  3. Interesting information about the Vikings. Sounds as though they were outright enlightened in their attitude toward women compared to other groups in the Middle Ages.

  4. Go Vikings! And lady Vikings especially ;) I didn't know that the quality of their weapons was subpar, but it was interesting to learn some of their raids were to gain weapons of better quality.

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  6. Good description of the Vikings apart from the fact that you didn't mention that they discovered America which is nowadays recognized by historians.

    1. Being part Native American, makes me wonder where we were when they discovered us.

  7. I knew absolutely nothing about Vikings so this was very educational. I love the example of how much has changed in the last 50 years, and using that to give perspective to the existence of Viking. I tend to view periods in history as so static, so it is a nice reminder that the world was changing then, just as it is now.

  8. Not surprised to hear that the Vikings gave women a voice - didn't they worship goddesses? Women occupied a special status in the so-called pagan cultures, no doubt thanks to the worship of earth goddesses and such. In some ways, much ahead of our own "civilization!"

  9. Wow, interesting post about the Vikings.
    Thanks for sharing William. I always learn something new via your posts.
    Very educational x

  10. I'll sleep better tonight knowing that the comic strip "Hagar the Horrible", in which Hagar's wife Helga 'wears the pants', has a basis in reality. ;-)

  11. Very interesting. I know NOthing about the Viking culture, but they sound very progressive. Have fun in Albany!

  12. Really fascinating William! The thing about the men washing their hair in lye sounds like a 'fad' that took on a life of its own, and the example of the horns on the helmets is another illustration of how much of our history is based on myths. Your point about who writes the history is well taken and another example of that is right here where I live in Hawaii where so much of the history was written by the missionaries. Having been actively involved in the local culture over the years I've learned how much of those stories is based on biases and outright falsehoods. Great post!

  13. This is some good info. I can;t wait to hear about your experience at the event.