The Funeral of a Viking

The 10th century chronicle of the violent, orgiastic funeral of a Viking chieftain

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The Vikings then built an earthen mound over the burned vessel. Modern archaeologists have been hoping to find it for decades.

When a Viking king died, 400 men and 40 slave girls died with him, Fadlan wrote.

Keep in mind this death rite or orgy that Ibn Fadlan described was for a chief, and it happened among the warriors and leaders of the Viking society who were in the Volga viking. Presumably the farmers, hunters, bakers, craftsmen and other plain folk—the great majority of Viking society—did not practice this lurid death celebration. Also, this was one Viking group at one point in the 260-year history of the Viking raids and settlements, and we have no way of knowing how many Viking groups practiced these wild funeral celebrations over their vast territories.

Featured image: “The Funeral of a Viking,” painting by Frank Dicksee, 1893 (Wikiart photo)

By Mark Miller

 

Comments

A comparison that I never think before. Thanks for the post

As has already been mentioned but previous comment we judge their rights as barbaric while being blind to our own barbarism. All societies have barbaric practices but because that society accepts it as a norm it's not seen a barbarism. What can be surmised is the lands that were home to the Vikings (Scandinavia) are now the apex of civilization. Arguably, Norway leading the pack, has the highest standards of living on the planet (figuring living standards for entire populace not just the aristocratic caste). They must have done something right.

The problem is that we see the events from our modern point of view. If we want to understand why this girl was lifted up on men's hands and why they did what they did,we should understand that wikipedia's info isn't enough. Because if you don't know anything about a Golden Gates game and 12 boys who guard the gates and play roles of two "angels", about old tradition of "say my greetings to my dead relatives there...", about animal sacrifices: why dogs, why hen, why horses...without knowing who were the people of Ibn Fadlan's story, it's just a description. The author forgot to tell about the wooden pillar on the top of a barrow which is a symbol of central axis of the world, the worlds tree...The story of burial has more important details than just a sexual rituals which are not clear and understandable for modern minds.

Fascinating article, Mark. I just have to wonder why you started it in the context you did. Does the fact that they had bloody rituals negate their skills as craftsmen, artisans, sailors and soldiers? If you look back, I can't think of a single ancient culture (this ritual dates back that far) that didn't have human and animal sacrifice. Is Ibn Fadlan more civilized because the founder of his religion single-handedly decapitated 500 nonbelievers in a single day? Are we more civilized because we prefer to kill people with a bomb dropped from 30,000 feet from a drone flown by someone 6,000 miles away? The only thing that makes us less brutal is the increased degrees of separation between us and death.

Mark Miller's picture

Hi Adam. I think I will let my article do my talking except for this: I think Ibn Fadlan was probably far more civilized than those Vikings. Ibn Fadlan can’t be blamed for what the founder of his religion did.

Thank you for writing.

Mark Miller

 

 

 

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