Our ancestor’s fearlessness
When reading our sagas, heroic poems and history, we are often inspired and fascinated by the total fearlessness of our ancestors. They set out on hazardous journeys over the stormy world seas, navigated by the guidance of the stars and ocean currents, and reached all corners of the world long before the Viking Age. They fought courageously in battle, on the battlefield - not infrequently in the vast minority of the enemy, and ran straight in with their heads raised, in a storm of steel and blood.
We know that our ancestors cultivated heroism, blood, and soil. To them this was honor and immortality. We know that they built their values on reincarnation, and thereby hero worship within the family. To bring the lineage further, one had to be an idol to one's descendants. We are fascinated by this today and have an admiration for it. This is perhaps the main reason why the Viking Age is, and has become in our time, an increasing part of our pride and identity. We like to be compared to this part of our history - which unites an impressive maritime knowledge, innovation, weapon technology and unconventional martial arts, wonderful embellishments and art, an advanced direct real democracy, along with total fearlessness and loyalty. "Good luck seeks the brave" was a mantra for our ancestors.
This attraction to "hardness and strength" just seems to increase, in line with today's social development. The fact that popular culture has embraced it is just a sign that we are more distanced from the original values, than ever before.
Without speculating deeply in the background and the cause of this total fearlessness, we can let selected and more potent excerpts of our own literature shed light on this.
One of the oldest sources we have about the fearless achievements of the Germans is the famous battle of the Teutoburg Forest in year 9. The Roman Empire was at its strongest, and the expansion wars increased in strength as the empire was rallied and consolidated by Emperor Augustus. Through conquest, the Roman Empire had to create provinces, win lands, slaves, taxes and resources. Now the Germanic tribes were to be defeated, and the Germanic territories conquered.
The Germanic tribes were led by Chief Arminius. His Germanic name was Hermann. Hermann was as a little boy taken hostage to Rome, where he had received military training, and was now an adviser and entrusted to the Roman army chief Publius Quinctilius Varus. Hermann had on other occasions fought on the Roman side, but he was a patriot who now wanted to free his people from the Romans, on his own soil.
Hermann was aware that the Roman legions were invincible on the battlefield. In September of year 9, Varus's three legions stood near the Rhine. Hermann organized a rumor of an uprising among the Germanic tribes, and with this, asked Varus and the three legions to strike down the rebellion, and seize the opportunity to attack what they thought was divisions among the Germans, and then defeat them. Hermann was allowed to mediate with the Germans on behalf of the Romans, after the legions had entered deep into the forests. Blood is thicker than water, and he turned against the empire from the south. He used Germanic guerrilla tactics, in forest terrain, with a series of ambush attacks and pending defragmented Germanic forces against the Romans.
This helped to pull the legions further and further apart, drawn and vulnerable. Roman weapons and equipment were poorly suited to such "disorganized" strife. Varus was forced to try to get out of the woods, in open terrain, where the Roman war organization could benefit. In order to do this quickly enough, all wagons and other equipment had to be burned, and thus all supplies. The Romans camped in a forest, near open land, but without supplies. The Germans let the Romans wait and starve, and the legions had to go through the woods again to get supplies. At this time, the Germanic front was further strengthened by other tribes that had joined in.
Hermann knew that the Romans would follow open countryside, so he had the forces to build moat and fortifications along the forest edge so that the Germans could attack with weapons of arms along the Roman column. When the Roman legions in the column were worn out, the Germans marched, stormed the fortress, and wiped out what was left of the legions in what is called a massacre in the history books. 25,000 Roman legionaries with officers fell in the Germanic forests, and thousands were hung in the sacrificial trees.
The Romans never came further than this in Germania. Hermann is considered Germania's liberator, along with his fearless tribes of guerrilla warriors.
Warlord Hermann on the horseback.
By Otto Albert Koch.
The Roman senator and historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, later tells of his experiences with this people, in his annals "Germania" from the year 98:
"Peace is considered repugnant to this people. The road to honor and glory lies in struggle and strife .... throwing shields and weapons is treason. Such a dishonorable man is cut off from rites and access to the parlament. Most who flee in battle, hang themselves in shame. "
"Each Germanic squadron or line is not just a random gathering, but is composed of men in one family and their relatives. Their families go with them to the front line, and the screams of their wives and the whim of their children ring them in the ears. Each man feels bound to perform heroic deeds in front of such witnesses. "
"On the battlefield, it is a shame for a Germanic chief to be surpassed by his own. At the same time, it is a shame for the others to be surpassed by their chief."
"Rapid movements are considered weakness. Slow and determined movements are considered courageous."
"When a youth stands towards manhood, he lets his hair and beard grow out, and does not cut it until he has found courage and killed one of the enemies. Triumphant over the bloody corpse, he proclaims that he has proved his existence, and is worthy of his land and people."
It seems clear that the foundations for hero worship and the emergence of archetypes had good but demanding conditions in the old Northern European societies.
Norwegian saga literature tells about a number of fearless deeds and heroism. The conditions here at home cannot be said to have been significantly different from our fellow friends any further south.
From the story of Håkon the Good - at the forefront of the battle with the Eirik Sons, where Håkon's men were in a strong minority, and Håkon asked his men for advice:
"There was a farmer there, named Egil Ullserk; he was far into the years then, and had been bigger and stronger than everyone else, and a great fighter. He had long been bearing the mark of Harald Hårfagre. Egil answered the speech to the king: "I was in many battles with King Harald, your father. He often fought with more people, and often with fewer. He had a steady victory. I never heard him ask his kinsmen for such advice, that they should teach him to flee. Nor will we give you such advice, King. Many supported Egil in this. The king said he would rather fight with the few than the many, and this was then decided. Then the king cut the “battle arrow” and sent it to all. Then Egil Ullserk said, "I was afraid for a while, when this long peace was, that I was going to die of old age in the bed. But, I'd rather fall in battle and follow my chieftain. Now it can finally look like it will be ".
King Håkon the good: "Hold fram som du stevner!"
From Eirik Jarl's battle with the Jomsvikings during the Battle of Hjørungavåg:
"Torkjell Midlaug then chopped Bue Digre, and he cut off his lips and chin so that they fell down to the ship floor. Bue's teeth also came out at the chop he got there. When Bue got wounded he said:
" Now it will be worse for the Danish girls to kiss us ".
Bue Digre also got both his hands cut off. He tucked his remaining arms into the rings on a gold chest, jumped overboard, and never came up again.
"..... but eventually his ship was cleared and Vagn was captured himself, and thirty were tied up and brought ashore. Then Torkel Leiva said," That promise did you, Vagn, to kill me, but to me it seems like I'm killing you." Vagn and his people all sat on a log. Torkel had a heavy axe, and he chopped the one sitting on the log. Vagn and his men were tied so it was twisted a rope around the feet of them all, but their hands were free. Then one of them said, "I have a brooch in my hand, I'll stick it in the ground, if I feel anything when my head is chopped off." His head was then chopped off him, and the buckle fell out of his hand.
There was a beautiful man sitting there, with big, long hair. He wrapped his hair over his head, straightened his neck and said, "Don't let blood come in my hair." A man took his hair in his hand and held it tight. Torkel swung the axe to chop; The Viking pulled his head back hard, and he who held his hair yielded, the ax fell on both his hands and chopped them off, so the ax hit in the ground.
Then Eirik Jarl came and asked, "Who is this vein man?" "Sigurd they call me," he said, "and they say that Bue is my father; not all Jomsvikings are dead yet." Eirik says: "You are probably the true son of Bue, do you want grid?" (grid: pardon). "It depends on who bids," says Sigurd .... "
Jomsvikingene. Eirik Jarl, Torkel Leira and Sigurd Buesson.
From Harald Hårdrådes saga, where Hårdråde negotiated with King Harald Godwinsson and the Englishmen before the battle of Hastings. Harald Hårdråde and his men were in a strong minority:
"The two armies were standing above each other when twenty English riders rode from Tingmannalid and stopped in front of the Norwegian warriors. Both the men and their horses were armored. One of the riders shouted:
"Is Toste Jarl in the army? "That is not to be denied" shouted Toste back," and here you can find him!" Another of the riders said: "Your brother Harald sends you his greetings, and the words that you will get grid (pardon) and the whole of Northumberland. He will give you dominion over the third of his kingdom The Earl replied: "That was something diferent than the dissatisfaction that was offered to me this winter; many a man who is now dead would be able to live today, and England's power would remain intact. But I accept these terms, what offer does King Harald Sigurdsson get for all his trouble? “The rider replied:" What the king wants to treat him with from England, he has probably already hinted: He will give him seven feet land, or as much more as he is taller than the other men."Then the Earl said:" Now turn back and tell King Harald that he is going to fight, for it cannot be said with certainty that Toste Jarl departed from King Harald and his enemy flock when he was going to fight west in England. So, rather common destiny: Death with honor or England with victory! "
Then the riders made a complete turnaround, but King Harald Hårdråde said to the Earl: "Who was he, this man of words?" "It was King Harald Godwinsson," replied the Earl. "That, you kept silent for too long, if I had known that this Harald was so close to us, he would never have to report on any of our men's destiny." The Earl replied, "True, it was reckless to go forward like that of a great chieftain, and it could easily have ended as it is said. I realized he was coming to offer me grid (pardon) and a great kingdom, and I knew too, that if I had known it was him, I would have become his man of bane (killer). But I would rather he be my man of bane, than I his. "Then King Harald Sigurdsson Hårdråde said to his men: "He was not big that man, but he stood firm in the stirrups."
The battle at Stamford Bridge by Peter Nicolai Arbo. King Harald is killed by an arrow in the throat.
From the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle we can read that this battle was fierce and bloody. The battle lasted a long time, and on several occasions. At the time, Harald Hårdråde's army was divided into two, and the troops were separated on the west and east sides of the Dervent River. At this time, Hårdråde and his men were aware that they were going to lose the battle.
A Norwegian berserk then came forward and asked to die on the bridge over the river alone, when they had realized this. The Norwegian was a huge man and bigger than Harald himself, according to the Chronicle over two meters. He had a large double-edged ax. He defended the narrow bridge for over two hours alone against the Anglo-Saxon army, before they managed to get under the bridge and kill him with a spear from below.
This heroism allowed King Harald to gather his army on a high ridge, so the English had to fight uphill with the river below. After hard fighting, in a strong minority and with poor equipment, finally the Norwegians fell with Harald and Toste, after one of the longest battles in Norwegian history. A battle that in several ways marked the end of over 200 years of Norwegian resistance and struggle against power constellation, forced Christianity, with defense colonizations and Norwegian domestic civil war. The Norwegian Empire was disbanded with the last fallen berserker on the Stamford brigde.
The examples are many, and the stories are magnificent. However, this heroism and fearlessness are really basic. In the literature, this heroism and fearlessness appear in more destructive contexts, such as war and struggle. Unfortunately, at this point in time, history is often written under such circumstanses. Heroism and fearlessness, however, are so much more than this, and probably belonged just as much, and were equally important, in the more mundane contexts.
You may not be reborn yourself as your children or grandchildren. Who knows? We have as little knowledge of this as our ancestors had. The importance of leading an honorable life, and being an idol to your descendants, is something our ancestors carefully pursued, whether in war or peace.
They put the basic values first, home, family, kin, blood and soil. If you do not return yourself from Hel and attain the sacred hall and rebirth of the spirit after your death, your own descendants will live this life for you, after you, in your spirit - and perhaps even surpass you. This is basically one of the same. Can you ask for something more?
Some are valiant | who redden no sword
in the blood of a foeman's breast."
«No man is brave old,
If he was a coward young"
"Better is heart | than a mighty blade
For him who shall fiercely fight;
The brave man well | shall fight and win,
Though dull his blade may be.
"Brave men better | than cowards be,
When the clash of battle comes;
And better the glad | than the gloomy man
Shall face what before him lies.
"It´s better to die with honor,
than to live in shame"
- Jomsvikingenes saga