Traces of the Vikings : Saxo's Gesta Danorum and the warrior culture of the Vikings

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Title: Traces of the Vikings : Saxo's Gesta Danorum and the warrior culture of the Vikings
Author: Lehto, Anna
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Humanistinen tiedekunta
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Helsingfors universitet, Humanistiska fakulteten
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2022
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Historian maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in History
Magisterprogrammet i historia
Specialisation: Historia, suomenkielinen
Historia, in Finnish
Historia, finskspråkig
Abstract: In my master’s thesis, I have examined Saxo’s portrayal of the warrior culture of the Vikings in his work of history, Gesta Danorum. Even though the source value of Saxo’s work regarding the Viking past has been questioned by many scholars, I have argued for Gesta Danorum’s potential as a source of the warrior culture of the Vikings. In fact, the connection between Saxo’s accounts and the historical research made on the Viking past is quite striking. References to the Viking-age mentalities, practices and beliefs are both numerous and diverse. As I have sought to demonstrate in my work, the warrior culture of the Vikings emerges from various themes, covering the traits of the warriors along with their pagan ways, the notions of masculinity and the idea of warrior women, the conceptions of honour, revenge and death as well as the definitions of an honourable combat. The militarism of Saxo’s warriors mirrors the typical characterization of the Viking Age as a violent period. In Gesta, military activities, such as war campaigns, military training and warlike achievements are at the centre of the narrative. In fact, Saxo’s descriptions of the traits of the male warriors and their activities resonate with the current scholarly appreciation of the Viking communities. Interestingly, the pagan elements in the work are also clearly perceptible. Several of Saxo’s kings and warriors have associations with Odin and the pagan tradition. Furthermore, Saxo introduces more specialized groups of warriors, berserks and the wielders of magic, who have close connections to the Vikings’ pagan past. As to Gesta’s warrior women and women with masculine qualities, I argue that there may be more to read about their characters than it has previously been observed. In the light of the recent historical and archaeological research, it is possible to argue that Viking-age societies may have respected masculine qualities both in men and women, even though the more traditional female role was relevant and appreciated. Of this, Gesta serves as a versatile testimony, describing numerous women leading a warrior’s life and participating in masculine domains. In addition to these themes, there are many more Viking aspects in Gesta that have not received much attention, such as the conceptions of honour and rightful revenge. Gesta is filled with the examples of blood feuds as well as the reasons behind them and their severe aftermaths. The Viking views on death and the afterlife are also presented, including descriptions of the Viking funerary rites and the ideas related to them. In fact, Gesta serves as an illustrative source of the conceptions the Vikings had of an honourable, warrior’s death. Viking mentalities are further represented in Saxo’s definitions of an honourable combat, as he goes through different rules, battle tactics and types of combat, such as duelling.
Subject: Vikings
the Viking Age
warrior culture
Saxo Grammaticus
Gesta Danorum

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