Finn’s Fate Background: A Norse Story

This story is about a journey. It charts the long odyssey of three brothers as they travel to make their fortunes and meet their fates.

The brothers’ mother belonged to an ethnic group called the Sami. These incredibly hardy people once roamed all over the north of Europe following the reindeer which at first they hunted, but later learned to herd. The Sami have a sad history of exploitation by their southern neighbours and disputes about their land rights continue to this day.

Viking villages have been reconstructed based on archeological evidence. This one is at Hedeby in what was once part of Denmark.

Viking villages have been reconstructed based on archeological evidence. This one is at Hedeby in what was once part of Denmark.

It may seem fanciful that such a journey as the brothers made, would be likely around the year 1000 AD for, just as in Britain until recent times the geographical limit of experience of the majority of Scandinavian people was the boundary of their own village. The livelihood of most depended on peaceful farming and fishing. And yet, out of the countries we now know as Norway, Denmark and Sweden came the greatest travellers of their age. Many of them were traders, some were explorers, but the most feared and famous were Vikings.

No one is sure where the name “Viking” came from. “Wicing” is an Anglo Saxon word which in the ninth and tenth centuries meant “pirate” or “piracy”. However, in the Old Norse language there is a term “vikingr” from which is derived “I viking”, that is plundering. Yet a third explanation is that the name “Viking” referred to seamen who came from the Vik district of the Oslo Fjord.

Whatever the source of the name, these men struck terror into the hearts of their victims for the 300-year period of their activity, until about the year 1100. Indeed, such was the scale and longevity of the raids that the English Church sought to rationalise the reason for them as being God’s punishment inflicted on a sinful Anglo Saxon people.

Rune stones were originally coloured. This is a monument created by a modern rune stone sculptor which illustrates the colours the Vikings used.

Rune stones were originally coloured. This is a monument created by a modern rune stone sculptor which illustrates the colours the Vikings used.

The contemporary accounts we have of the savage Norsemen are almost exclusively written by their victims. The only records the raiders left were in the form of monumental stone carvings called rune stones. Most of these are found in Scandinavia, but some have been found in Britain; indeed, one was found in St Paul’s churchyard: http://www.archeurope.com/index.php?page=st-paul-s-rune-stone

But the Vikings were not just raiders. Some of them settled in Britain and lived fairly peaceably with their Anglo Saxon neighbours. Traces of these settlers can be found in some place names, in particular in the north of England and East Anglia. Town names which end with “by” or “thorpe” indicate that they were once Viking settlements.

Gold jewellery from the Viking period, found in Denmark

Gold jewellery from the Viking period, found in Denmark

It is also true that despite the Viking’s reputation for merciless brutality, there was a sense of order and culture in their society. The Vikings revered things of quality. Their skilled craftsmen produced objects of immense beauty and intricacy and there was a strong tradition of poetry and story telling.

The story of Finn and his brothers is played out during this tempestuous and violent period of history, which in 1013, culminated with the Danish King Sweyne Forkbeard becoming the monarch of England, Denmark and Norway.

 

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