Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Women, Swords, Warriors, Vikings?

We've got a pretty firm image of the "vikings" (Viking is, of course, actually a verb - to 'vik' is to raid). Many men going to sea, raiding, pillaging, raping, hauling back lissome slave girls while their wives wait on land (and presumably hope not to have to take in too many slave girls).

Supporting this image - warrior burials with swords and shields, men with the tools of war. And presumably the burials with just jewelry were their patient, long-suffering wives.

Evidence, of course, indicates that these wives had power - that they were in charge on land as men were at sea. But it's always been assumed...

...until now. Some nice archaeologists in, of all places, Australia, decided to go back and take another look at those warrior burials.

And they actually bothered to look at the skeletons.

Surprise surprise. Half of the warrior burials were of...yup. Women. Shieldmaidens. Lady warriors.

Now, other people are doubting these findings, but they're not doubting one basic fact. Women were buried as warriors in the early Medieval period.

Women may have gone a-viking with the men in some numbers. Or they may, like Samurai women, have trained to defend the farmstead when the men were away...but that doesn't quite explain why they would be buried as warriors specifically.

And there's an intriguing idea that comes out of this. Those lissome slave girls, especially on Iceland, Greenland and in other isolated settlements - there are villages in Norway accessible only by sea - would have been a valuable source of new genetic material. Just as a stock breeder might go import a few mares, so the vikings imported extra women to increase the size of the gene pool.

But as every stock breeder knows, sometimes there's a cheaper way to do so, and that's to put your mares out to stud. Although this is an anecdote, Icelandic women have a reputation for going overseas to look for "holiday romances" with the explicit purpose of getting pregnant.

Did some of these warrior women go a-viking to catch themselves a man who was not a blood relative? (Heck, did some of the women keep concubines as well as the men). Even if it's not real, it leads the mind along interesting sociological tracks.