Viking Gate & Pagan Berserkers

Over at Spiegel, Matthias Schulz reports on a “sensational” archaeological find in Northern Germany.  In 808 CE, King Gottrik of Denmark ordered the construction of the longest earthwork in Europe.  It was approximately 19 miles long and had only a single gate (the “Danevirke”), which archaeologists are now excavating.

This was a turbulent time in Europe, as northern pagan tribes were marauding throughout Europe and fending off the advances of Christian armies from the south.  This sentence caught my eye and imagination: “The pagan king was guarded by fanatic warriors wearing animal costumes — so-called ‘berserkers‘.”  If you have ever seen a Molly Hatchet album cover, you know what I mean:

While Schulz frames the conflict largely in terms of trade, the Norse pagans fought a five centuries long battle against advancing Christianity.  The Frankish Emperor Charlemagne was just one of several Christian rulers to the south who wanted to convert the Vikings, but only after taking their land, valuables, and women.

All this brings to mind the History Channel’s Clash of the Gods episode on “Thor and the Fall of Paganism,” which I happened to watch last night. It was rather entertaining and somewhat informative.  I laughed when one scholar commented that Norse Scandinavian tribes were “pagan” but that Greeks and Romans were not.  He based this distinction, which is utterly false, on the supposed fact that Norse paganism was a religion of “country folk.”

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