Vikings were outlaws like Hells Angels: exhibition

The Local Norway
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Vikings were outlaws like Hells Angels: exhibition
The 37-metre-long Viking warship Roskilde 6. Photo: Paul Raftery/British Museum

A warrior identity was at the centre of what it meant to be a Viking, with the coastal raiders embracing an outlaw mentality like punks or Hells Angels today, according a London exhibition on Norway's most famous historical export.


'Vikings: life and legend' which opens in the British Museum on Thursday, brings together new finds from across Europe, including a magnificent 37-metre-long Viking warship found in Denmark in 1997, in the museum's first Viking exhibition since 1980. 
"Cultural contact was often violent, and the transportation of looted goods and slaves reflects the role of Vikings as both raiders and traders," the museum said in a press release on the exhibition, arguing that the exhibition would bring to life "new interpretations" which undermined "the peaceful trader of post-1970s Viking studies". 
Gareth Williams, one of the curators behind the exhibition, argued in the catalogue that it was important to remember the upheaval that the Vikings had caused on British shores.  
"While a broader view of the Viking Age is a good thing, it is important not to forget that it was the warlike aspects of Scandinavian society from the late eighth to eleventh centuries that give us the concept of ‘Vikings’ and the ‘Viking Age’," he writes. 
"The masculine noun víkingr in Old Norse meant a pirate or raider, and the feminine noun víking meant a raiding expedition," he continues, adding that "in the sagas at least,
the term often carries negative overtones, and it seems that being considered a ‘Viking’ was not entirely respectable." 
He argues that the term "Viking" was not simply synonymous with Dane, Swede or Norwegian, nor that not even all warriors from the Nordic countries qualified for Viking status. 
Instead, a viking was a particular type of warrior, who embraced their outlaw status. 
"There may have been a conscious element of social deviance among them," he argues, pointing to reports of their filed teeth, tattoos, eye make-up, and eccentric clothing. 
"This has parallels with modern groups such as punks and Hell’s Angels, both of which combine a fierce visual image with a rejection of conventional social values," he writes, noting the parallels drawn by the archeologist Neil Price with the flamboyant appearance favoured by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pirates.
Later in the Viking Age, the exhibition explains, the raiding parties and pirate bands grew to become small armies, as the petty kingdoms in Scandinavia consolidated, and the people we know as the Vikings increasingly sought to conquer, settle and trade, as well as loot. 



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