Viking Children And The Art Of War

We know from historical records, the norse sagas and archaeological evidence, that children (especially boys) were often trained, almost since birth, to wield a sword, axe, strengthen their muscles to lift a shield and start to practice the bow and arrow at a very early age to widen their shoulds and backs during the process of growth to be able to push the bow-string as further back as they could. It was completly understandable that these people were so violent in nature because the world of violence was upon them as soon as they were able to speak the first words.

Women also knew how to fight. It isn’t strange to us to hear that from viking women; it’s perfectly normal to accept warrior-women in viking society during the medieval ages, and strange when we hear of other warrior-women from other societies of the time. They would accompany men in their raids, but before that, womem were left behind to take care of their properties and to take care of the children. They had an important role in continue to educate the children in the art of war because someone had to protect their properties when mom and dad were away.

It was instilled in the mind of boys that they would only become real men through warfare. Blood and honor, bravery and strength, that would get you in Valhalla among the best of the best, the bravest warriors. There are historical reports and even archaeological evidences of this – children killing children – sometimes a youngling no more than twelve winters of age capable of killing a fifteen-year-old. According to the Eddic poem for instance, children learned a variety of combat skills and techniques, including fighting with your bare hands.

Even three year-old boys played the war game with wooden swords and throwing spears covered by a piece of leather so that they should not hurt themselves or others. As children grew older, they could be lucky and get real weapons of iron, forged in a child’s size. Archaeologists have found several such weapons, including a small sword and an ax in a child’s grave. Besides playing with weapons, wrestling was one of the most popular games and something boys were doing throughout the year. It was a type of martial arts of the viking society. Through wrestling matches, they practiced speed and agility, and the training was a good preparation for future close combat situations.

Through this fighting technique children also learned game rules and discipline. The Children had to promise that they would not hurt each other intentionally during play, and their word meant more than a thousand contracts, it was their honor that was at stake and honor meant everything in the eyes of men and gods. These rules were taken very seriously and strictly enforced. Those who broke the rules, committed “níð” and were often called “níðingr” – one of the worst epithets in the Viking Age. being a “níð” implied the loss of honour and it was the status of a villain. It meant a person had no honor, was a coward, was nothing at all in the sight of every living thing. Much like a “Vargr” which was the term given to an outlaw, a criminal, but in that case that person would become a “wolf” and lived in the wilderness, unable to return to society or else could be killed on sight by anyone since he was a threat – a wolf. While a “níð” could still live amongst men but would forever be stigmatized and people would always treat that person with indiference.

But not everything during children’s training was violent and terrible. When it was snowing, children built ramparts and fortresses that they used as battle arenas. Snowball fighting was not only entertaining but also effective training in siege techniques and different throwing skills.

Most important of all this was that the young ones learned about the warrior society’s code of honor. The Norsemen were convinced that a number of Norns (goddesses of fate) spun the threads of life, and that every human life was predestined. No man could change his destiny and only the brave warrior would come to Valhalla. A Viking warrior therefore had to fight like a man and die like a man if the gods had decided it. Even if some did not believe that their fate was sealed, there was always Valhalla, the great hall of the slain where only the most honorable and bravest warriors would go after death to be with the All-father Odin. That was their ultimate goal, and to achieve that one had to die with sword in hand so to speak.

It was easy for a warrior soeciety to understand the implications of battle. Either one will fall, or survives,  therefore the only thing to do was facing every trial with bravery because everything is predetermined by the Norns and nothing could change that. Nothing could kill them if their time had not yet come, and no one can save the one who is destined to die. Dying in battle was the most honorable thing a Viking could achieve, and also the ability to plunder was highly respected. Ordinary thefts were considered cowardly actions, but plunder took skill and bravery; taking riches highly defended by other skillful warriors was indeed something to praise.

Viking boys had to prove that they had the courage and skills before they were considered as grownups. If they belonged to a powerful family, they could prove themselves worthy by participating in a battle or go on Viking. The sagas mention that Olaf Tryggvason (963 to 1000 BCE) killed his first man when he was nine years old. Olaf Haraldsson (995 to 29 July of 1030 BCE), (who later became Olaf the Holy), went on Viking when he was twelve years old.

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