Tag Archives: skalds

Viking Berserkers

Berserkers were Norse warriors who fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury.  Whether their fighting fury was due to simply working themselves into a rage prior to battle or induced by drugs is debatable.  The berserkers were considered Odin’s special warriors and sometimes wore wolf’s pelt and carried a spear into battle.  They are featured prominently in the sagas and poems from yesterday’s posts where they were portrayed as ravenous men who looted, plundered, and killed across Europe.

The earliest reference to berserkers is in a skaldic poem composed by Thorbiorn Hornklofi in the late 9th century in honor of King Harald Fairhair, as ulfheðnar (men clad in wolf skins). The 12th century Icelandic historian and skald Snorri Sturluson description of berserkers in one of his sagas

“Odin’s men rushed forwards without armor, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them.”

Imagine waking up to or being confronted by a horde of marauding Vikings sprinkled with berserkers while going about your daily business.  Going from free to dead or enslaved in a day. Tomorrow, check out a Viking raid gone REALLY bad – for the Vikings.  Rita Bay

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Skalds & Sagas

Skalds were the poets of the Vikings.  During the 9th and 10th centuries, they composed and performed stories in old Norse associated with the kings, nobles and heroes of Iceland and Scandinavia.  The poetry recorded historical deeds they performed or eulogies after their death.  A popular skald held a high status at his sponsor’s table. Some kings and nobles wrote and performed themselves. 

The sagas are epic tales in prose about Viking voyages and battles that took place during the voyages and legends of heroes and saints and bishops. Many of the stories relate toIcelandand the settlement ofIceland. The tales are generally true with some embroidery. Many of the sagas were preserved by the people of Iceland.

Snorri in his History of the Norwegian Kings in relates how, early at morn, before the fatal battle of Stiklastad in 1030 AD, King Ólaf the Saint asked his skald to recite a song.  Below are the last two stanzas of Exhortation of the Housecarls which he recited to the army before it went to battle with defeat and death certain:

“Here by my chieftain’s head I shall sink now, by his feet thou shalt find thee a rest.
Booty-seekers on battle field shall bear me out, the great-souled king’s gifts even the dead forget not.” 

 “Soon greedy eagles will gorge on our bodies, ramping ravens will rend our limbs.
to high-minded, hardy hero it is seeming dying to dwell by his king rich in deeds.”

Tomorrow, Berserkers & Bones       Rita Bay

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