I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!



A reader looking into the histories of tattoos must realize that they were not known as tattoos since that is a Polynesian term that originated in the eighteenth century in a journal by Captain James Cook (it is one of two words in the standard English lexicon that comes from Polynesian sources; the other is taboo). Tattoos were indelible pigmentation inserted under the skin and were before 1760 known as markings, incisions, pricking or even painting. We see samples on the “Iceman” Ötzi, in China, in Egypt, Japan and, of course, Polynesia.

Tattoos were used by the Celts, by the Anglo-Saxons and by the Norse. Ahmed ibn Fadlan’s description of the marks on Rus Vikings is well known, and tattoo enthusiasts have come up with an exaggerated history of their use that takes the slightest indication and expand it immeasurably. For the most part, these tattoos were symbols of heathen faith, and there was a steady attempt by the Church to get rid of them, though that never seems to have been complete.
What were the tattoos for? Apparently as magical symbols, as medicinal marks, for identification and for the same reason that many tattoos are applied nowadays, because they’re cool art. Were they part of the sex life or considered sexually attractive? Probably so, though you can never tell since they are not generally talked about.

What did the tattoos look like? Well, we have those on the body of Ötzi, which predates the Viking Age quite a bit; and we have the ambiguous description by ibn Fadlan, that the Viking males were covered from “fingernails to neck” with dark blue or dark green “tree patterns” and other “figures.” Whether this was actual flora knotwork or runes remains uncertain, so we do not know what tattoos were worn by the Norse!

It is interesting to note that some folk—particularly prudes and modern tattoo-removal doctors—insist that the Norse had no tattoos. The ultimate truth, perhaps, will not be revealed until we find a flash frozen Norse Ötzi!


The most prevalent form of transportation during our era was by foot. This was not only inexpensive, but most people never traveled more than ten miles away from home! Skis and skates (both used with ski poles) were known for balance and propulsion across the snow and ice in the North.

Asses, Horses and Mules

Other animals were used for locomotion, no doubt. Dogs and goats were used to draw such things as buggies, carts and sleds, both then and in later times, but for the most part oxen, asses and horses were used to pull waggons and perhaps carts. When it came to riding, asses and horses were predominantly used. We can see them being used in illustrations such as the Bayeux Embroidery, the Oseberg Tapestry and the picture stone from Gotland.

Saddles had an ancient pedigree, and the invention and dissemination of stirrups in the eight century made riding on the beasts more convenient and led to mounted warfare (soldiers used their mounts to travel to a battle site before then, but then dismounted for combat, sort of like dismounted cavalry later. These were sometimes very ornamented and like the horses themselves were an indicator of wealth and social status.

Prior to the introduction of the larger Arabian horses and the development of palfreys in the eleventh century, the horses were primarily small. Hybridization and breeding changed the size of the animals, and today the closest horse to what was used in the early middle ages is probably the small, intelligent and agile Icelandic horse. No other type of horse has been allowed on the island, and any Icelandic horse that leaves the island or that is born elsewhere is not allowed to return.

Camels and elephants, while known in other cultures for providing transportation, were almost certainly not used in Northern Europe, though these animals might have been used as modes of transportation when the northern Europeans were in the Mid-East. The offspring of an ass and a horse, the mule, has an ancient pedigree and was no doubt used this time. The Old English word for a mule was mul while the Old Norse was múli, indicating that the hybrid was used in those cultures.

Four-Wheel Waggons

This was a common design that dated both to earlier times and to later. The waggons were plain in some cases, but they could also be carved and decorated. See, for example, the waggons in the Oseberg tapestry, as well as the one found in that burial.

The waggons were large and cumbersome, able to carry large loads but were drawn by oxen and by horses, not by human power.

Sleighs or Sledges

Especially in Scandinavia, sleighs appear to have been popular. In many aspects, they were similar to waggons, being used for both transportation of people and goods, pulled by draft animals. The popularity of sleighs might be indicated by the presence of four separate sleighs in the Oseberg burial. Three of these were carved and decorated.


The “Viking ship”—the drakkar, the knarr and other sorts designed for special purposes—was important enough that it gave the name to an entire era. It was the most advanced technology of the time; the Viking Ship was exemplified by its low draft (generally no more than three feet when loaded), was swift (as swift under the right conditions as modern racing yachts), moved in both directions (which allowed quick raids) and was propelled both by oars and—the thing that made the ships really unique—wind. The clinker construction—where boards were laid atop each other, made water tight with caulking or rags, and this method of construction seems to have created an airfoil kind of effect.

The design was developed by the Norse and copied by many other cultures, some related to the Norse and some not. The ships seen in the Bayeux Embroidery are examples. Earlier designs did not use the sail as well as the Viking ship did. There are many examples of these ships, for example the ship used in the burial at Sutton Hoo. Some earlier and later ships were propelled by slave power at the oars, but the oarsmen on Viking ships all appear to have been freemen.

The predominance of Viking ships was overtaken when cogs started to be built in the early new millennium. In earlier combat, the ships were brought together, and warfare ranged over the ships in pretty much the same way that land warfare was waged. The higher towers of the cogs meant that ships drawing close to each other could engage, throwing rocks and shooting arrows down from the towers. The Viking ships tried to get the best of both and started to build towers on their decks, but they succeeded only in creating ships that were easily toppled. The cogs were predominant by the twelfth century. Viking-style ships were still being built, and they are still built today, but they are no longer the size of the stereotypical drakkar or knarr.

The cogs were phased out by the development of gunpowder and the use of cannon on shipboard. The new ships were more in the style of later galleons.

Two-Wheeled Carts

Two-wheeled vehicles were most frequently seen at this time, mainly for poorer people, since they were less expensive. Some define carts as conveyances that are propelled by only human labor, and carried timber, vegetables and other goods. See, for example, the June illustration of the Julius Work Calendar; this cart might well not be human-propelled, since we see oxen waiting nearby as the coach is loaded.

Chariots were popular in many civilizations early than the Viking Age, including the Roman, but had largely fallen out of use and popularity by this time, although once again semantics and definitions are important.


That is, leathers which are appropriate for Viking-Age reenactments is a fairly straight forward subject. For the most part, leathers of the period were brain, alum or vegetable tanned (tawed is a term used to describe a hide tanned with fur kept on one side) and were not specifically dyed another color, so the leather as generally brownish or a light tan. There is an indication that some of the leather found in York was dyed or painted red, but this remains controversial. It is safer just to assume that the leather would not be colored, and it certainly would not be colored black even though finger oils, consistent wear and use of the leather will darken it into a fine patina.

It is sometimes difficult to find these leathers nowadays. Certainly chrome-finished leathers is more frequently found and is less expensive but at the same time is more anachronistic. Its use should be avoided unless you get special permission from your Authenticity Officer to substitute the chrome-finished leather for what should be used.

It is far easier to find out where leather would be used during the period. In the earlier days, leather and fur were commonly used for clothing, but this had mostly died out by the Viking Age and is today the province of bad cinema and worse reenactors. Leather was commonly used for ropes—which were not part of the outfit—and for shoes, for belts (men’s belts were invariable half an inch to an inch wide) and for other straps, although there is some indication that leather was used for trousers. Some translations of Ælfric’s Colloquy, for example, the translation used by Kevin Leahy in Anglo-Saxon Crafts, notes: “I buy hides and skins and repair them by my skill, and make of them boots of various kinds, ankle-leather shoes, leather breeches, bottles…”

The use of leather for smiths’ and other craftsmens’ aprons is logical, but no artefacts or literary evidence has been found for such usage!

As to whether leather was used beneath byrnies, it is hard to say. In fact, it is hard to say if anything was used as padding beneath byrnies at all, whether it was mere a padded gambeson, a firm layer of leather or fabric or a quilted gambeson. On the other hand, it little matters because whether the fighter in period wore a gambeson or not, the gambeson should be hidden beneath the modern reenactor’s byrnie and should not only be viewed with difficulty but virtually unseen at all. What this means, very simply, is that when the reenactor removes the byrnie back at the wic after the combat, the public should not see the gambeson if such a thing is worn!

An essential work from the York Archaeological Trust, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York, is available for a free download.//  //


MoPs are “Members of the Public,” and Micel Folcland has long developed and used a series of 10 general rules for dealing with them in conversations:


Do not bring modern conveniences behind the ropeline unless they can be hidden or disguised—and are! This includes spex, communication devices, plastic cutlery, modern drinking or eating receptacles such as styrofoam plates or plastic bottles and modern furniture such as a folding chair or a twentieth-century style chest. Many MoPs will notice this and make a pointed remark about your farbiness or, if they say nothing will be wondering what else is being lied about.


Learn to smile even when you are not feeling like smiling. Be friendly, even if you are not feeling friendly! Do not be afraid to steer the conversation toward light-heartedness and humor, but never disregard the question!


Do not use vulgar language, especially when children are around. If you must use a period term that is seen as vulgar or obscene today—we are, after all, dealing with Anglo-Saxon terminology in many instances—explain that this was an historical term and considered appropriate and polite at the time.


Use out of period history and historical incidents only in relation to what is known about period history.


When doing an activity, explain the process and the technology and do not let the MoP think that he is breaking in on your time and activity. Miss Julie keeps her weaving activities simple so that she can answer the MoPs’ questions without screwing up what she is doing! In the same way, MoPs are often interested in period foodways, so you should never refuse to talk with them merely because you are eating or drinking, though you can comment on what you are eating or drinking. Never offer any food or drink to a MoP!


Treat every MoP respectfully, and answer any questions graciously. MoPs—and their interests and curiosity—are why we are doing this, and we must never treat them in an off-handed and demeaning manner!


Tell the truth. Do not make up facts. If you do not know the facts, admit this. If someone else at the site has the knowledge, refer the MoP to him or her. Since listen to what that person sys so that you can answer the next questioner!


If anything in your kit is not thenty—for example the quality of the metal in tools or weapons, the quality of fabric used for an accurate fashion or something from an earlier time or a higher culture (unit regs allow people to have one such item)—admit it!


Do not discuss political or religious theory except where it deals with the Viking Age. We are a Not-for-Profit entity, and we are forbidden to participate in contemporary political and religious matters. Do not contradict or debate MoPs in such matters since they often sincerely believe their beliefs are true. Besides which, they have nothing to do with our reenactment!


Be polite even when the MoP asserts something extraneous and is trying to teach you the incorrect belief. State the true answer, if you know it—especially when other MoPs are around, listening—but do not argue with MoPs who really believe in what they are saying!



Great variation in toys for obtaining sexual gratification has been known for nearly as long as humans have had sexual organs and opposable thumbs. Vibrators, for example, might only date back to no earlier than 1870—with a steam-powered model invented in Britain to treat female genital congestion and hysteria—the manual dildo was invented in Germany about 30,000 years ago and by the Third Century bce, was well enough known that one was featured in a Greek play.
Dildos were, therefore, period and were used almost universally. However, there are no real examples of dildos from the Viking Age, though that might be because people are looking in the wrong place. The Norse chieftain, Ivar the Boneless, is a famous war leader, though the exact character and extent of his illness remains controversial. Some think it refers to skinny legs, some to actual crippling and some to impotency. It is interesting to note that in his grave, “he had been buried with a small Thor’s hammer and a boar’s tusk,” It has been suggested that the tusk was because of his supposed impotency as a substitute for his penis. It is amusing then to think that the boar’s tusk was used as a dildo, though we can of course never validate any such supposition!
The use of other sex toys is similarity vague. “Chances are the archeologists (many of whom lived during the ultra-conservative Victorian era) were just a little too embarrassed to report back to the scientific community that they had discovered the world’s first sex toys.” Manacles and chains were known but were generally assumed to be used for slavery and managing slaves. Since we know that bondage—just like homosexuality and many other alternative lifestyles—was popular before they received names, the chances are that chains and other cords were used for sexual purposes as well.

A good example is that of the whips of the time. Although the whip // http://www.museumoflondonprints.com/image/61027/unknown-leather-whip-with-wooden-handle-11th-century // is now said by the Museum of London to be a slaver’s whip, it was originally classified as a sex toy used by prostitutes. However, despite being made of rawhide, the whip is so light that its use for herding slaves is a little doubtful, and I think that the original classification might be correct and prudery dictated the reclassification.



What name do you use in reenacting? The modernization or Anglicization or the other transformation of Norse names or the original Norse name? The use of the former is rather endemic in many of the books that are otherwise full of vital information. There is an attempt, it seems, to make the modern spellings and pronunciations of the names, probably to make things more comfortable for the mainstream reader. However, looking at any good book, there is often an attempt to compromise between these two. Whereas the name of a person is given in the modern, more instantly recognizable form, the traditional form is given as well, generally in parentheses, a footnote or even an endnote.

A volume that does not go to this trouble should probably not be overly trusted!

Even in the Viking Age, it would seem that many of the Norse were known by different names in different lands. There are a variety of Gaelic names that were used to describe the person—such as Cammán for Sigytuggr—and at the end of the era, after conversion to Christianity, a use of Latinized names as in much of Christendom—for example, an attempt to Latinize Knútr as Cunetti on some coinage. And there is also a tendency to refer to a person by his baptismal name, such as Guthrum of East Anbglia being known as Æthelstan, As a side note, there was often a cycle of names which were used a family (sort of like “Junior” today but in this case usually not succeeding one so named but used every few generations. In this way, ironically, it is similar to the Anglo-Saxon standard of using names with the same beginning sound to indicate relationships within the same family, such as Æthelwulf, Ælfred (generally modernized as Alfred, so modernization not merely a Norse practice), Æthelweard and Ælfthryth

Using a modernized or an original name is up to you. Neither is wrong or right. If you use a modernized name, do you also use original names for friends? While some people might look a bit askance at this—it is after all like referring to gods in a classical pantheon as Zeus and as Mercury—but I am not inordinately disturbed by this. However, it is my feeling that no matter what you use and in what combination, you should know about what you are talking.

Many of the more common names—particularly those that are still used in some form today—have an Anglicized version as well as the original. Many of the more common names—particularly those that are still used in some form today—have an Anglicized version as well as the original. We list a few below, with the variant spelling on the left and the original on the right.

Many of the changes are in duplicate letters

Egil Egill
Gunnar Gunnarr
Hrein Hreinn
Jokul Jokull
Ketil Ketill
Njal Njall
Ragnar Ragnarr
the addition of letters (especially the use of the ending r)

Bork Borkr
Dag Dagr
Finn Finnr
Hauk Haukr
Hrapp Hrappr
Odd Oddr
Ozur Ozurr
accents and letters that are no longer used in English

Frodi Fróði
Jon Jón
Kari Kári
Thorir Þórir
Thorkel Þorkell
Thorbjorn Þorbiorn (there are also modern letters which were not used in period)
Vali Váli
Combinations of the above

Armod Ármóðr
Hord Hórðr
Hrut Hrútr
Ingolf Ingólfr
Ivar Ívarr
Ornulf Ornólfr
Thorald Þóráldr
And in some cases, totally new and totally different spellings were used

Anlaf Ólafr
Canute Knútr
Cnut Knútr
Oleif Ólafr
Othere Óttar
Sweyn Sveinn
Swegen Sveinn
There are variations for female names as well, though there were not only fewer female names that were recorded but fewer names which have been Anglicized.

Aud Auðr
Bergthora Bergþóra
Fridgerd Friðgerðr
Nidbjorg Niðbiorg
Ormhild Ormhildr
Signy Signý
Thora Þora
When you choose a name for your impression, make certain that you have researched the name and know where the name originally came from and how it was original spelled.
(Note: The Old Norse spellings may vary since they are the transliterations by a Latin-letter-literate culture of names from a rune-literate society where several spellings could be inferred from a single word)

Erotic Poetry & Art

You will find no real erotica during the Viking Age, at least in the way we perceive it in today’s sexual culture. It was not written during the time such as it was in later times. However, the poetry and riddles that were common during the time are not exactly polite, reserved and timid. “The Anglo Saxons seemed to love a riddle and, like the rest of us, couldn’t get enough of sex.” The results are winking double entendres bits of humor:

Exeter Riddle 44
A strange thing hangs by a man’s thigh,
hidden by a garment. It has a hole
in its head. It is still and strong
and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
When the man hitches his clothing high
above his knee, he wants the head
of that hanging thing to poke the old hole
(of fitting length) it has often filled before.

Exeter Riddle 54
A young man made for the corner where he knew
she was standing; this stripping youth
had whipped up her dress, and under her girdle
(as she stood there) thrust something stiff,
worked his will; they both shook.
This fellow quickened: one moment he was
forceful, a first-rate servant, so strenuous
that the next he was knocked up, quite
blown by his exertion. Beneath the girdle
a thing began to grow that upstanding men
often think of, tenderly, and acquire.

Exeter Riddle 61
A lovely woman, a lady, often locked me
in a chest; at times she took me out
with her fingers, and gave me to her lord
and loyal master, just as he asked.
Then he poked his head inside me,
pushed it up until it fitted tightly.
I, adorned, was bound to be filled
with something rough if the loyal lord
could keep it up. Guess what I mean.

Speaking of Anglo-Saxon poetry, not just erotic poetry, a fan notes:

The best Anglo Saxon poetry speaks with a directness and simplicity you won’t often find in the sophisticated and cosmopolitan utterances of the Roman poets. And though stark, the Anglo Saxon temper also comes with a rugged humor and gamefulness typical of poetry in simpler and less self-conscious cultures.”

You will not find any erotic prose, though. One major reason appears to be that prose was almost never used for a creative purpose; for example, even though most translations of Beowulf are done in standard prose, the original is poetry. However, the major reason appears to be that this was not done; direct and step-by-step erotica just was an alien concept to the Anglo-Saxons!

You will not generally find erotic or even romantic poetry from Norse sources. This is not because the Nose did not have sexual or romantic desires, but because there was a “fear in pagan times of magical ensnarement of the woman so immortalized by the power of the verses.” In addition, some have observed that romantic poetry—courting a beloved—was unnecessary since”The majority of Viking marriages were prearranged.” There was no need for romantic poetry, and erotic poetry is as far as we know rather infrequent.
So-called erotic Icelandic poetry, often known as mansöngr, was a form of skaldic poetry that was written quite infrequently. The romantic or erotic poems of the Ljóðatal section of the Hávamál are less than erotic or even romantic but are the practical warning verses that might be expected from the Norse:

The love of women
who are deceitful in spirit
is like riding a smooth-shod horse
on slippery ice,
a spirited two-year-old
and one badly trained,
or on a rudderless boat
in a raging wind,
or like a lame man trying to catch
a reindeer on a thawing mountainside.
Not exactly what I would call erotic or even romantic!

In the same way that erotic poetry was well known in earlier cultures and only slyly seen during the Viking age, there is precious little erotic art during this time. Art was often zoological knotwork, and the earlier erotic depictions of Greek, Roman and neolithic art is not easily found. In fact, the earlier favorable view of the heathen and pagan toward nudity, sensuality and sexuality in art was usurped by the Christian clerical dislike of these things, and there is very little depiction in surviving art of this time of sheer nudity except in such cases as biblical appearances of Eve, of the damned in hell and of Christ (who is depicted as semi-nude but who Is certainly not at all erotic?).

This is not say that there was no erotic depictions at all, but much would not today be called or recognized as erotic. For example, the Bayeux Embroidery shows a few naked figures, but they feature rape and are more documentative than erotic; certainly, today rape is considered very non-erotic!

In Viking art, there is a statue of Freyr in which the god is stroking his beard. He was associated with virility, and he was wed to Freyja, the Norse goddess of beauty and sexuality. That beard has been associated by many critics with the penis and virility, so that stroking the beard becomes something else!

The fact that the beard is so considered indicates to me that perhaps what was considered suggestive or erotic during this time would not be so considered nowadays. One has to wonder what things considered erotic at the time might be overlooked today!

[Riddles translated by Benjamin Thorpe]



There are a great number of terminology that is unique to living history, but there s also terminology that is not unique to living history, that is commonly used elsewhere and which might be wrong elsewhere but it is extremely wrong in living history. Here are three examples.


Authentic is often used to describe something that is historically accurate, but it is also often used to describe something that dates from the time. Many years ago, I used the term as carelessly as anyone, but at a display, a young girl asked if the helmet before me was authentic. I said that it was, and her eyes grew wide. “You mean that this was actually worn by someone back then?”

Ever since then, I use the term “accurate” or “historically accurate,” which is what people often want to know. But of course, I still use “authentic” when describing a technology from the time or an artefact that dated from the time.


The term is used to refer to the English people after the migration but before the Norman invasion. It was used three times in period but in times since, especially in modern times, it is used as a racial epithet meaning white and especially white superiority.. I referred to the Regia scope as Anglo-Saxon years ago; then at a fair, two MoPs saw the sign as they walked through gave me the white power sign and said, “Yeah, keep them niggers in their place.”

Ever since, I have used the term “Englisc,” which is also period but which is not confusing and tells the MoP exactly what we are referring to. I still use Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman.


In period, Viking was a verb that meant sailing out to do trading and/or raiding. It was first used as a noun in English around the start of the eighteenth century. It refers to avocation and not to a nationality and certainly not a race. It is often incorrectly used to refer to Scandinavian culture; I use “Norse” most often.

I still say the Viking Age and refer to pirates of the time as Vikings though.


It should go without saying that there is a scale of accuracy in living-history practices, and it is this scale that I would like to examine today.

If they’da haddit, they woulda used it. The existence of objects—or references in accounts written before the present or modern interpretations or period facts or a desire to believe that fantasy is actually true—is seen by many dabblers in living history as provenance for its existence and use. For example:

•    The trousers of Ragnar Lodbrok (Shaggybreeches) were made of fur coated with pitch
•    Leather reindeer armor is mentioned in a saga
•    Bersarks were a common feature of the Scandinavian culture
•    Shields were elaborately detailed
•    The so-called “blood eagle” was a common Norse torture
•    Viking warriors all wore horned helmets
•    The copper Buddha indicated that there was a Buddhist subculture in Sweden

Unfortunately, there is little reason to justify the existence of many such objects. Most if not all of these are reenactorisms. Even the single physical existence of an object—or an interpretation that such an object or action might have existed—does not provide justification for its wide use. Let us look closer at these cases of “provenance” for wide and justified usage.

Fur trousers has no provenance except in the stores of Ragnar, and there it might be a fantasy or might simply be so unusual that it is not only stressed but giv3es him his soubriquet.

While leather trousers might have been worn as work clothing (in one translation, Ælfric indicates that leather breeches were manufactured), they do not appear to have been armor.

Because many of these are so obviously plot devices in sagas, or misinterpretation of earlier writings. The concept of bersarks, for example, certainly seems not to have dated much earlier than the twelfth century (the object in the Lewis chessmen of a warrior biting his shield) and perhaps no earlier than the thirteenth century). The appearance of the bersarks in sagas—tales written down by Christians for a Christian audience—are both late and obviously plot devices. Reindeer leather—not only notoriously thin but enchanted—is obviously not a practical thing. We cannot assume that every warrior went around in leather armor (enchanted or not) because of its appearance in a saga, but it becomes a reason for many reenactors to wear leather armor. Accepting even the appearance of the enchanted reindeer armor in the sagas as true fact is somewhat similar to embracing ghosts, divination and other supernatural events as the gospel truth since they appear in sagas!

Most shields seem to have had simple geometric designs (see the Gokstad shields) and not elaborate motifs. After all, most shields were apparently expected to serve for a single battle so elaborate designs would only have been temporary and had to be repeated for any later shields.

The blood eagle—the lungs of a living person are drawn out through incisions in the back so that they look like wings—was a discreditrf interpretation of a poetic kenning in a poem of Ivar the Boneless in which the poet marked an eagle on the back of Ælla, his enemy. It was probably a poetic kenning, referring to the fact that he was killed and made likely food for carrion birds, but later interpretations changed into a factual appearance and has continued to evolve so that now salt is rubbed into the wounds to increase Ælla’s torment.

Undoubtedly, the idea of Viking helmets with cow horns first appeared in the nineteenth century, although there is some indication that heathen priests of a thousand years before performed rituals while wearing metal protuberances which could be interpreted as horns, and many people wishing to justify their use of horned helmets will spin this as provenance.

There is little doubt that the Buddha actually exists, but that does not mean that it was commonly found. The Buddha was manufactured in India and was apparently passed from merchant to merchant until it ended up in Holgö Sweden. It seems to have been a unique object in the Scandinavia world, perhaps picked up for sentimental reason and not an indication of the proof the Buddhist faith in the culture and certainly not that everyone went out to obtain a Buddha to be part of the in crowd (the so-called Buddha on the bucket is merely an imaginative interpretation in my opinion).

Many people religiously believe the old trope that something would logically exist—using modern logic—even if such an article has not been found. For some people, especially members of fantasy LARPs, a single occurrence or literary reference is all that is needed to adapt these into their appearances, and the multiple appearance of a unique artifact is not only tolerated but encouraged. To have a whole bucketload of supposedly unique things is considered commendable. One such person said that his personal attempts to “recreate” the culture of the past hinges on the appearance of unique and romantic items. They speak the loudest to him, and they represent what sort of an impression that he wishes to present. He seeks to avoid the more usual and conventional objects and to present unusual items as the artifacts that define that earlier time. It is as though he has been most influenced by popular culture, by novels and film about the era.

I call this trying to find an individual occurrence to justify an existing supposition to be retro-research. For me, retro-research is frustrating and causes anyone who does it to grasp at straws: To read something and then to try to interpret it in the manner that best supports the theory the reader wants to prove.

At the other end of the scale from what I choose to call romantic recreation is a more common convention in living history, that reenactors should be trying to recreate the ordinary life of the time. A person must find at least three occurrences of an artifact or three separate literary descriptions before it can be considered factual and routinely used or done. Determining what are three separate descriptions and not merely a duplication of something from an earlier account or source can sometimes be difficult, but this is one reason that extensive research is essential to good living history!

There are people who proclaim that they hate the authenticity police and want to be able to do anything that is not from the present day or at least common in the present day. There are people who say that unless an object or action has at least three proven and separate instances, you should avoid its use even if some object is needed and the proven article is unavailable, too expensive or dangerous. Many people take up a position somewhere in the center, and I suppose that if I was totally honest, I do as well. But I certainly veer toward the more accurate end of the scale!

What about you?


Homosexuality did not exist until 1869, when the German Austrian-born novelist,  Karl-Maria Kertbeny, used the term in a pamphlet against Prussian anti-sodomy laws. It did go into popular use until almost twenty years later, when Richard von Krafft-Ebing used the terms homosexual and heterosexual in his book Psychopathia Sexualis, and it did not lead to the creation of a distinct sub-culture until even later.

Before this time, homosexuality was neither a culture nor a description; instead, people were more concerned with physical activities. Therefore, a common description of what we now call a homosexual was sodomite, which referred of course to sodomy—defined as man on man sex—which was decried by a church which was concerned with any sexual activity that did not lead to procreation.

And that brings us to the whole question of homosexuality in the Viking Age. By this time, the Anglo-Saxons had been converted for several centuries, so they probably followed the Church’s prejudices fairly well, at least in public. However, the Norse converted toward the end of the era, and we already know of the various ways in which the Norse went their own way in cases of activities, beliefs and practices. Let us look for a moment at the manner in which the Norse approached sodomy and same-gender affection.

Let’s face it, the Church little cared about same-gender affection; it was the act of sodomy to which they objected. If you look at correspondence and actions later in time, such intimate friendships were criticized only when they involved people of different classes. Norse laws, poetry and folklore were not written down in general until after the Viking Age, when Christianity was already deeply rooted, and much of what is generally thought of as indicative of Norse culture was invented by Christians from Christian viewpoints.

As Christine Ward-Wiedland motes, “myths and legends show that honored gods and heroes were believed to have taken part in homosexual acts, which may indicate that pre-Christian Viking Scandinavia was more tolerant of homosexuality.” The fact that during the Christian era that laws had to be drafted which dealt with and had injunctions against homosexuality is of the same cloth as etiquette rules: Their very existence indicate that people performed these activities.

Wolf notes that “Heterosexuality was the norm in Viking-age Scandinavia, but that homosexual relations between men were recognized as social phenomena were clear from Old Norse-Icelandic literature, especially the sagas.” While on the one hand, there was a general Norse dislike of effeminate men as well as non-effeminate women, this apparently had nothing to do with private sexual practices but instead with public behavior. In fact, the only offense noted in the secular law only prohibited the actions of the passive male.

However, it is interesting to note that “The secular laws of Viking Age Iceland do not mention homosexuality. The only place where homosexuality is documentably prohibited is by the Christian Church.”

From all this, a single decision is inevitable, that the Norse allowed homosexuality so long as the homosexual was not betraying gender stereotypes. Literary evidence is unavailable except when seeing what the Church warns against—suggesting that such activities were being practiced—and since any literary accounts were written down by Christians, and of course adhered to the Christian mythos.

It is interesting to note that lesbianism was not mentioned, but it was pretty well standard. After all, “according to the church sexual desires were evil and sinful…therefore women were not to orgasm or enjoy sex. Many times sex with men was not gentle because it was not meant to please the woman. It seems likely to me that since there were often more men than women in a stead, that they might have turned to each other, like cowboys on the range in a later time, for sexual release. The men did not apparently object to this and, in that manner, they might have been behaving in ways very close to conventional sexist ways seen today!

It seems obvious from these and other references that the Norse were very likely to behave in a manner that was convenient and pleasurable, a freedom that is duplicated in the modern time!

Christine Ward-Wieland’s take on the subject may be found at The Viking Answer Lady.