The Viking Expeditions from Central Sweden (700-1000):

The Causes and Effects that the Expeditions and Viking Culture Had on Each Other.


Chapter 4 : Effects that the Expeditions had on the Svear.
4.1: Sources of Violence
Violence was part of life to a much greater extent then than it is now. Defense and enforcement of laws and customs was dependent much more on the individual and his or her relatives. Early Swedish law required the common man to have a shield, sword, spear, and iron hat per person, plus a mail-coat or jerkin, a bow and 3 dozen arrows per rowing bench. (Foote 272) The large quantities of carefully wrought weapons and armor found in the many graves in central Sweden speak for themselves as to their importance and availability to the people. It was often necessary to defend oneself personally and attacks on others were permitted as long as they were not kin and the attack was made openly16. Several sources mentioned that it was good to have the "strength to turn deceitful men into open enemies" An excerpt from the Hávamál, a collection of maxims in the 10th century attributed to Odin, emphasizes caution and the importance of strong relationships with others. "Out in the fields a man should never be parted from his weapons. No one knows when a man in the open has need of a spear." (Jones 351) Even the gods had their weapons, Odin had the spear, Grugnir; Thor had the hammer, Mjollnir, Freyr had a sword that could fight by itself, etc.
The effects of such events as betrayal and surprise attacks from enemies appear enough in the remaining literature that they must have occurred frequently enough to concern the ancient Scandinavians. Each of these can be troublesome. If such events occurred frequently enough to appear in accounts of their culture, then the effects must have influenced society, either through a manifestation of individual problems, or by the culture developing a method of ameliorating the problems, or both.
The concern over betrayal can be seen in the law and mythology of the Vikings. An old Norse term for the worst type of shame, níðingr, was recorded in the old law to refer to one who had betrayed people who had reason to trust him or her (Foote 426). A lot of societies probably have the concept of betrayal, but here it is the act of betrayal itself, not necessarily the effects of the betrayal that are punishable under the law. This was reflected in the Viking mythology as well. Among the Aesir, Loki was often in trouble over his frequent betrayal of them.
The Viking, were known for their surprise attacks and were probably subject to them as well, particularly on their way home, laden with cargo. Even the gods of the Vikings, were subjected to surprise attacks, and posted Heimdal to keep watch. The final battle, Ragnarok, was to be an attack of short notice, the exact date of which was not known to the Aesir, not even to Odin who had been preparing for it for quite a while. There were many other smaller examples of surprise in the myths. However, the conclusion can be that surprise attacks occurred enough to affect the culture of the Vikings.
Betrayal and surprise attacks are similar to some of the concerns resulting from guerrilla warfare, the effects of which have been well documented since the Vietnam war. The modern set of psychological conditions known as post-traumatic stress disorder seem to have existed among the ancient Scandinavians to such an extent as to be an influence on the culture. The behavioral problems are thought to be the result of re-experiencing components of an earlier, profoundly bad experience, such as experiencing or witnessing extreme violence or disaster. Perhaps the most commonly known example of this in recent decades is found in many veterans of the Vietnam and Korean wars, where certain events, even in peace time, trigger a response more appropriate to combat. Additionally, the effects can be found in survivors of catastrophes and it is suspected that areas of high crime can produce such effects. Components of this disorder are often depression, anxiousness, difficulty concentrating, emotional lability, painful guilt about surviving, and often heavy drug use. (APA : 249)
According to the American Psychological Association, the problems associated with post traumatic stress disorder does not always take the form of "flashbacks." Impairment may be either mild or severe and effect nearly every aspect of life. Phobic avoidance of situations or activities resembling or symbolizing the original trauma may interfere with interpersonal relationships such as marriage or family life. Emotional lability, depression, and guilt may result in self-defeating behavior or suicidal actions. Psychoactive Substance Use Disorders are common complications. (APA)
The key phrase in this passage is, "phobic avoidances of situations or activities resembling or symbolizing the original trauma", which can cause complications in behavior. In a group were the members are dependent upon each other legally and through custom to maintain their place in the community, this could become a severe problem and would need to be dealt with in some way that does not threaten survival. Current treatment appears to be to help the subject address the event and their reactions to it, rather than to let them continue to avoid it (Doctor 325). It appears that many components of the Viking culture would work quite nicely to ameliorate the symptoms resulting from such experiences.
4.2: Adjustments by Society
In addition to confirming the status of the deceased, the funeral customs reestablish the status of the survivors by their connection to the deceased and are an outlet for many feelings, including grief, guilt, affection, fear. The descriptive passages of funerals in the poem Beowulf, The Death of Balder as recorded by Snorri Sturluson, and Ibn Fadlan's account of a Swedish boat funeral, contain observations of similar practices by similar groups of people, which have significance in compensating for the effects of battle.
The poem Beowulf, took place in the lands of the Danes, Goths, and Swedes and was written around the end of the Viking era. It contains a description of the funeral rites for the warrior king, Beowulf, who was of the Goths17 and lived in or near what is now southern Sweden. The poem goes into great detail about how the funeral was carried out.
The Geatish people then built a pyre on that high ground, no mean thing, hung with helmets, strong battle-boards, bright coats of mail, as he had requested, and then they laid high in the center their famous king, their beloved lord, the warriors weeping. Then on that headland the great fire was awakened. The wood-smoke climbed up, black above the flames; the roaring one danced, encircled by wailing; the wind died away until the fire had broken that bone-house, had burned to the heart. Sad and despairing, the warriors grieved for the death of their lord. In the same fashion a Geatish woman, her hair bound up, [wove] a grief-song, the lament [for Beowulf.] Over and over [she said] that she feared [the attacks of raiders], many slaughters, the terror of troops, shame and captivity. Heaven swallowed the smoke. The men of the Weders built on that cliff a memorial barrow that was high and broad, to be seen far off by ocean travelers, and it took ten days to build that monument to the famous man. The remains of the pyre they buried in walls as splendidly worked as men wise in skill knew how to fashion. Within this barrow they placed jeweled rings, all the ornaments the brave-minded men had earlier taken from the hoard; they gave to the earth for its final keeping the treasure of princes, gold in the ground, where it lies even now, as useless to men as it was before. (Beowulf 3137-3168)
The death of Balder, as recorded by Snorri Sturluson, gives a description of a boat funeral for a god. The Scandinavians held similar religious beliefs and worshipped the same deities. Therefore, although some details may have varied from region to region, this passage may be used to represent the typical model of Scandinavian boat funeral.
A pyre was built round the body of Balder and his wife Nanna, dry faggots that needed nothing more than a spark to leap into their own life and consume the lifeless bodies that lay upon them, releasing their spirits to travel on. Then many treasures were laid within Ringhorn18 - buckles and brooches and rings, clasps and pins - and not only treasure but knives and buckets and scissors and spindles and spaces and all the fabric of life.
Now Odin strode through the shallows and gripped the gunwale. He climbed into the boat and stood over the body of his dead son. For some time he gazed at him. Slowly he too off his arm-ring Draupnir, the gold ring that dropped eight rings of equal value on every ninth night, and slipped it on to Balder's arm. Then Odin bent down and put his mouth to Balder's ear. Again he gazed at his son; then he left Ringhorn.
At a sign from Odin a servant stepped forward with a lighted brand. He set fire to the pyre and at once a steady plume of smoke, twisting and spiraling, rose into the calm air.
Thor raised his hammer. Slowly and solemnly he intoned the magic words to hallow the cremation.
Then a dwarf called Lit, who had lost all interest in the proceedings, came running along the water's edge. He passed right in front of Thor and Thor was so enraged that he put out a foot and tripped him. Before Lit had time to pick himself up, Thor gave a terrible kick. The dwarf flew through the air and landed right on the licking and curdling pyre. In this way he was burned to death beside Balder.
The painter was released and with it the pent emotions of the mourners. They wept as the boat began to drift out, rocking, across the water. They wept and talked about Balder... (Crossley-Holland 157-158)
Ibn Fadlan's lengthy description of a funeral along the Volga around the tenth century for a chief among the Swedes is recounted by H. R. Davidson in a concise summary and also contains common elements of the two funerals above.
The man was first buried in the ground, and later taken out, dressed in rich clothes and placed on a bench covered with carpets and cushions within a tent on the ship. Two horses, a dog and two cows were killed, and the pieces thrown into the ship, then a cock and a hen, and finally a slave woman was put to death with long and elaborate ceremonial, and laid beside the dead man, after which the pyre under the vessel was set alight. (Davidson 1976 : 118)
In all three passages, the slain is burned upon a pyre at the waters edge with his own treasures and treasures from his people and the remains placed in a large barrow. The fire is to burn quickly to free the spirit of the deceased. In Nordic mythology the water is a place where the everyday world and the spirit world meet (Beck). Lastly, the deceased is given items to help in the next world and placed in a monument.
Additionally, the funeral ceremony reaffirms the status of the deceased and the participants' status in relation to the deceased. Living members have a public forum to express their loyalty, grief, affection, and guilt for the deceased. The quick fire, its location, the provisions provided with the deceased, and the monument afterwards are provided to express loyalty or affection to the deceased by the survivors. Such an elaborate funeral shows the concrete nature of the survivors' concern or duty to the deceased. Norse mythology relates several possibilities for afterlife. The many ship burials, with the ships laden with supplies, indicate belief in the continued activity of the dead (Davidson 1967 : 118). Two apparently contrasting ship burials indicate that concern was expressed for the future of the deceased. One grave ship had its anchor stowed for departure, yet another was weighted down with rocks. (Davidson 1967 : 118) However, by performing such actions as provisioning the dead for travel, they indicated loyalty to the deceased and not a just wish to be rid of their spirits.
Loyalty also plays a large role in the accompaniment of the deceased to the other world. Although, the funeral of Beowulf does not contain the accompaniment of the dead by a loyal person, both Ibn Fadlan and Snorri Sturluson both describe human sacrifices at the funeral. Balder's wife Nanna, was not killed necessarily for the funeral, unlike the slave-girl on the Volga, but having died of a broken heart, nonetheless accompanies her husband in death. Thor, however, ends with a spontaneous sacrifice, kicking the dwarf, Lit, into the flames. Although the slave girl was technically a volunteer, and Nanna had her funeral with Balder, both accompanied the dead to the other world out of loyalty to the deceased. This is contrasted by the dwarf, Lit, who was not fulfilling the obligations of a loyal member of society and was punished by Thor, who kicked him into the fire.
4.3: Result (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
When surrounding stimuli have triggered a re-experience of the traumatic event, the subject's perception of reality becomes distorted and he or she often enters a dissociative state, potentially placing the subject in greater danger. In two such flashbacks that I have been witness to, the people experiencing the attack became less able to function, not from fear, but from not being in the same reality as others, resulting in increased hazard to those nearby. The problems appeared to be what the descriptions from the Viking period called 'battle fetters'; the person bound by the "battle-fetters" was briefly unable to act because of what was beyond their control, in the case of post traumatic stress disorder, past events.. This, quite temporarily and unintentionally, increases their physical danger by several orders of magnitude. A verse from the Icelandic Harðar Saga describes the effects of the war-fetters.
The 'war-fetters' came upon Hord and he cut himself free once and a second time. The 'war-fetter' came upon him a third time. Then the men managed to hem him in, and surrounded him with a ring of enemies, but he fought his way out of the ring, and slew three men in so doing. (Davidson 1981 : 63-64)
Apparently Hord was killed when the fetters came a fourth time. H. R. Davidson commented that, according to the rest of the saga, Hord was not under panic and that he was quite brave; but still he was unable to act during those few moments.
The Viking emphasis on loyalty and their fear of betrayal was probably the result of their continued exposure to violence. The Swedes, who often experienced ambushes along their trade routes did not have the benefit of a ritual beginning that formal battle and declared war had. The result was that their culture integrated customs that ameliorated the effects that the violence on its members.
Chapter 4 index.
Summary. The Viking expeditions from central Sweden primarily influenced by their culture, which was in turn heavily influenced by the expeditions. On one hand, the technologies, customs, and way of life of the Svear provided the prerequisite material for organized expeditions through unsafe lands. On the other hand they had contact with the well established, wealthy, literate, and scientifically advanced cultures that they traded with, such as the Greeks and Arabs, and additionally, their travels to and from these lands appears to have had an even greater effect on the culture of the Svear than their contact with the wealthy urban regions.

End Notes
16 Miller
17 Geats, Swedish: Götar , West Norse : Gautar, Old English : Geatas (Foote 25).

The Goths probablly lived in Östergötland and Västergötland, they possibly originated from island of Gotland (Jones 22).
18 Balder's boat
19 Most likely female slave, not wife.