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Guest blogger: Tanya Nellestein

25 July 2021

Vikings: fierce and feminist

The Vikings existed between the 8th and the 11th centuries and, if we are comparing these Norse warriors by today’s standards, they weren’t exactly progressive—although sometimes it’s hard to tell. Medieval times were violent and extremely patriarchal … watch the news and you can see where the confusion comes in.

It’s true that Norse men certainly had more rights than Norse women. However, Viking society afforded far more respect, dignity and freedom to women than probably any other people on earth at the time.

For example, women could divorce their husbands with relative ease. No woman was forced, by law, to remain married against her will. Acceptable reasons for divorce were varied, but it was possible for a woman married to a Viking to cite grounds such as domestic violence, a lack of financial support or even sexual incompatibility.

Hmmm, that’s actually a huge improvement over the reality of today’s standards!

Women were permitted to reclaim their dowry as part of the divorce, as well as keep assets from the marriage. And of course, they could remarry.

De facto relationships were also common among Vikings. It was socially acceptable for unmarried women to live with unmarried men. There was also a completely permissive attitude towards children born out of wedlock. ‘Illegitimacy’ wasn’t a concept and women were never shamed for falling pregnant or having a child while unmarried.

Harassment or assault of local women was punishable by law, and was seen as shameful and something to be looked down upon. When the crime was rape, the woman’s family could even be given the right to kill the perpetrator.

The law might have protected women in Viking society from sexual assault, but legend has it that Vikings raped and pillaged their way across many foreign lands. While there was definitely pillaging, the raping may not be as accurate. They were ferocious warriors and rather merciless when invading and expanding their empire. However, there’s very little proof that they committed widespread sexual violence while doing so. At least, no more than anyone else.

That’s not exactly a defence, but there are many stories of heroism in Norse legend, and sagas that depict women’s honour being protected, and any fabled acts of aggression or sexual assault were generally met with an axe to the head.

In the Middle Ages, throughout the world, women were seen as spouses, mothers and housewives. The closest a woman would get to a battlefield would be to tidy one up after her husband and his clan had killed everyone. Not so with the Vikings.

The entire premise of The Valkyrie of Birca series is based on DNA evidence that backs up the existence of these ‘female Vikings’. Birca, in Sweden, is the site of the 10th-century grave belonging to an ancient warrior who was given a prestigious Viking burial, complete with deadly Viking weapons, a bag of gaming pieces (possibly to represent military command) and two horses, one bridled for riding. This mighty warrior—long thought to be a man—made headlines in 2017 when researchers in Sweden announced that the individual was, in fact, a woman.

Even if women didn’t see battle, they were not hidden at home while the men went off to fight, as with most other cultures and civilisations throughout history. Vikings would often bring their wives and children with them while claiming new land and territories.

For those women who stayed home while their men were away, they would have full authority over the house, farm or business. In the event of her husband’s death, the surviving woman would take over the house, farm or business and run it with complete impunity.

And like Brenna in The Valkyrie of Birca series, and Lagertha in Vikings, women could become rich and powerful, achieving the highest of status. The most notable example of this, outside of creative works, is ‘The Oseberg Queen’; a woman who was buried in a beautifully decorated ship alongside her many expensive possessions back in 834 AD.

Many archaeological digs have discovered multiple graves of females buried with ornate and decorative rings and keys. These trinkets were symbols of the woman’s role and her power within it.

While the rest of the world was burning witches, Vikings valued them above most others, relying on them for guidance and advice. They were revered rather than feared.

Of course, we’ve all come to enjoy the fictionalised depiction of a Viking—strong, buff, fierce, ridiculously gorgeous and overly protective of his woman. I, for one, am more than happy with this representation. After all, a Viking protects his woman not because she is weak, but because she is important.

Books 1 and 2 in The Valkyrie of Birca series, The Valkyrie’s Viking and The Valkyrie’s Rule are available now on Amazon in print and digital. The third book, The Valkyrie Queen, should emerge sometime in the coming weeks.

You can find Tanya here: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

 

2 Comments
  1. 26 July 2021 6:05 am

    LOVED Book 1 Tanya. And terrific post.

  2. 25 July 2021 8:56 am

    Hi Tanya

    Great post, I have read both of your books and loved them, I have always loved reading about Vikings because there is something I love about them the passion they have.

    Congrats on the new release

    have Fun

    Helen

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