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Levene Äng - a traditional hayfield on the site of an Iron Age burial ground; reflecting Norse culture's focus on farming and Västergötland's old farming traditions. This view of ancient Scandinavia is seldom relayed in popular culture, where the Norse tribes tend to be bloodthirsty and backward savages with a culture based on warfare.
The Norse tribes were probably somewhat warlike, sure; but were they a race of battle-scarred superheroes, which film and literature would have us believe? Not so much.
Old Norse society was based on agriculture. As cattle farming was the dominant livelihood there were probably often disputes concerning grazing grounds (as animal husbandry of most types demand larger land areas than the raising of crops) as well as frequent cattle raids. This may well have produced pillage- and violence-prone people who glorified death in battle, but above else it produced ... farmers. Go figure.
The pillager mentality is obvious when we consider the Viking raids. Vikings preferred easy targets and overwhelming odds in their own favour. They sure didn't welcome death to the extent that they attacked a heavily defended garrison when instead there was a conveniently peace-loving monastery or helpless village nearby. Logical? Yup. Brave? Nah.
But to be a Viking berserker hero and charge into battle naked but for the occasional loincloth you had to be pretty friggin brave, right? Sure, if this berserker ever existed. In myth, the bärsärk (Swedish) was a warrior sworn to Odin. He was famous for his ability to enter a kind of battle trance or euphoria. According to most modern interpretations of the sources, however, the berserk was a villainous figure. He also wore clothing made from bear pelts (bär=björn=bear, särk=shirt). In other words, berserkers are mainly mentioned in myth (even if there might be a historical kernel in these myths), they were not particularly heroic and they probably weren't in the nude. Most of our ideas concerning the berserkers come from national romantic balderdash. As does the notion that Vikings had horned helmets and about 90% of the other things we are frequently told about the Vikings.
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