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Was the Viking Culture Healthy?


A Landscape Once Ruled by the Unruly

     In order to determine whether the Viking culture was a healthy culture, we first must know a little bit about the people.  Most of us understand the Vikings were a proud and strong Nordic tribe’s people that came from familiar and distant lands now known as present day Denmark, Sweden and Norway.  And most of you are familiar with Leif Eriksson the son of Eric the red, the first Viking to step foot in Newfoundland, Canada.  Also these Nordic Vikings terrorized and conquered peoples of Europe and the British Isles from the 8th to 10th centuries.  

     Let’s now take a closer look at the day-to-day lifestyle of these raiding Scandinavian’s, or better known to those they terrorized as Northern Barbarians.  Although they settled and assimilated well into the cultures they conquered such as Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland, you also may know they had a well structured and elaborate societal hierarchy system.  This system was composed of a 3-level societal classification order.  Starting at the lowest level on the food chain was the slave.  Of course these poor lots were taken from lands conquered and used for labor intensive needs.  The next level up in the Viking class was the Freemen.  This class of people would be equivalent of our current middle class citizens.   Their skills classifications included craftsmen, farmers, traders, hunters and warriors.  At the top of this societal hierarchy were the Nobles akin to our high society figureheads and socialites.  They were the chieftains and kings in charge of lands and people.  And in order to become a king an aggressive chieftain would conquer other areas of neighboring and distant lands.  Of course the weaker of the two warrior kingdoms would suffer immensely and those that were not killed were made slaves.  “To the victor go the spoils.”  

     During the times Viking tribes were at “relative” peace they made a comfortable living for their families with eating habits that were surprisingly healthy.  They tended to sheep, pigs and cattle which were the main protein diet staples.  They also grew vegetables and grain, making bread from barley.  Other Essential vitamins and minerals were also obtained through gathering the seasonal wild strawberries, raspberries and hazelnuts, etc.  Since these tribal colonies mostly settled on main coastal river ways, fish was plentiful as a major protein source to all of the tribes people.  The children obtained plenty of nutrition from milk and buttermilk produced by livestock.  Of course, what would the Viking culture be without wine, or honey mead?  Most likely a very sober society void of the highly intoxicated and often dangerous spirited fighting activities while in garrison.  

     As excellent hunters they supplemented their meat source when the stable livestock began to dwindle by taking wild boar and deer native to the lands.  And as they were excellent hunters they were also effective fur traders that could barter and supplement other necessities to diet and personal comforts.  And of course, if they could not sustain their nutritional and comfort needs… Well, since they were an evolving culture as well as a warrior class of people, they fought and concurred for what they needed, wanted and desired.   

     Just like any culture that flourishes so do population and demand for limited resources.  At some point supplies would become strained as population grew, so did competition for scarce resources.  When this happened just like in today’s society people complain about the services and products as they become too expensive and/or limited.  When this occurred unhealthy living conditions would typically follow.  Often the lower class of people became susceptible to illness and disease first.  And when limited resources impacted various middle-class Viking families than action had to be taken to correct the situation.  

     When the complaints overwhelmed a tribal chieftain or king, often the solution to needed shortfalls was handled through warring activities by taking from others.  These decisions to battle for what was needed did not discourage the Viking people.  The Vikings craved an honorable death that could only be achieved through battle.  To die in battle was the greatest honor one could receive with a Viking funeral to follow.  So to die most honorably met warriors would take forcibly from others using sword, shield, and spear and of course the dreaded battle axe.  Vikings also carried a stealthy and deadly little scramasax (dagger) designed out of iron and decorated with gems and silver made for hand-to-hand combat.   

     So who do you think made the biggest stink about pushing the tribal leader and king to get up and do something about needed shortfalls?  Why the farmers of course.  Yes, the farmers also dubbed as warriors and sought opportunity (more land, treasure and slaves) off the Northern Europe territories.  Slaves were needed to continue providing labor to farm the fields and provide other essential sanitation services.  Treasure was desired by the top hierarchy to buy and secure more territories, barter other products and services and build bigger warrior Viking forces to secure what was taken.  

     Not only could they provide the provisions needed to travel great distances overseas, they had the skilled craftsmen to build the feared Scandinavian flat bottomed longboats.  These boats where long feared by distant village people because of their maneuverable abilities to run deep upriver.  Each long boat could carry a sizeable show of force, approximately 40-50 warriors.  Distant coastal and protected waterway tribal inlets were no match against Viking attack on these villages.  As many as 8-12 warrior ships traveled together terrorizing and taking whatever they wanted.  

     Now we get back to the question, was the Viking culture a healthy Culture?  From a nutritional aspect the Vikings were well fed with highly nutritional sustenance.    As a matter of fact all of the fruits and vegetables of the times were of higher quality of what we now call “super foods” and equivalent man-made supplements.  Since the lands were highly fertile everything consumed had a high nutritional value with little comparison to the dietary foods absorbed today.  Our foods nutritional values are in the toilet compared to the times when the Viking people farmed and consumed their own foods.  And the hunted game during the Viking days were of the highest quality that could beat our finest organic meat, poultry, pork and fish products for lack of industrial pollutants on land and sea. Our commercialized farming practices are now dependent on chemicals to fertilize-spray our fields and grow our livestock.   

     All Vikings especially warriors and farmers got at least 3 times the daily exercise of some of our best trained athletes.  Although many Vikings road horses, for the most part, walking, farming, festivities and warrior activities kept all in excellent physical shape.  These tribal villages were constantly buzzing with activity.  

     The Vikings biggest downfall in my opinion was their inability to separate the spiritual warrior beliefs from the civilized and growing world around them.  Vikings had many rituals to gods and goddesses that interlocked their beliefs honoring and glorifying a warrior’s death by ceremony.  And because of these hard set ritual and warrior practices, Viking culture ceased to exist.  Other civilized Kingships grew tired of these ransacking raids… So grew the opposing forces to remove these barbaric heathens.  A culture of people that slaughtered and terrorized thousands unmercifully for centuries seized to exist as a Viking culture after 200 years of rule.  The remainder of the common Viking tribe’s people assimilated into the lands of which a barbaric people once ruled supreme.  

     So the answer appears quite clear.  The “civilized” living conditions within the tribal village’s relative of the times were quite healthy.  In many respects healthier from a nutritional and daily exercise regiment than most of our current civilized cultures.  However, since the Vikings warring activities also included over consumption of what would otherwise be described as healthy beverages consumed in moderation (wine), over intoxication lead to many dangerous confrontations and accidents within daily activity, tribal festivity games and conflict in negotiation skills that got tribes people killed and “no doubt” battle lines drawn.  

     The Vikings as a barbarian class of people was doomed for lack of assimilation in a growing and civilizing world.  And for these reasons the Vikings although a physically strong, healthy and proud people… Overall became an unhealthy culture because of the dangerous barbaric warring practices that lead to its cultural extinction once feared by all it terrorized. 

Special thanks to the referred site for specific facts in writing this article: http://health.learninginfo.org/vikings.htm 

 Author:  Marc T. Woodard, MBA, BS Exercise Science, USA Medical Services Officer, CPT, RET.  2010 Copyright, All rights reserved.  Mirror Athlete Enterprises Publishing @: www.mirrorathlete.org, Sign up for your free eNewsletter.