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Quote of the week
Myths which are believed in tend to become true.
The quote this week fits very well into something I read recently. Something I thought was fact, but might turn out to be a myth. Close to where I live there is a small place called Uppåkra. It is not even a centre, but scattered farms. Once upon a time, archeologists and historians think that this was one of the most advanced societies in Sweden. The name in those days? Unknown.
There is something tickling with historical mysteries. Uppåkra, let’s call it so, was in its heydays from around A.D. to 1000 A.D. Archeological finds show that it was well advanced in its time, even more than Birka (outside Stockholm) which is the most famous pre- and viking site in Sweden. Furthermore, it kept its position for around one thousand years, which even beats the time of a successful Roman empire.
I have just read Dick Harrison’s (famous Swedish historian) book “Tusen år i Uppåkra” (Thousand years in Uppåkra) which is very interesting. However, I will not talk about this place, but something else he wrote as a reference to the times. A historical account from this time relies much on the very few historical notes available, as well as, nordic sagas.
The Vikings and Ragnar Lodbrok
Short background story
Those of you who watch Vikings are familiar with this famous name in Viking history. He is the main character of the series and we follow him, his family and clan in their quest for new land in the west. A very short background to the man
According to legends, Ragnar Lodbrok (Ragnar Lothbrok, "Ragnar hairy-breeches") was a Viking hero, and a Swedish and Danish king. He is known from the Icelandic sagas and near-contemporary chronicles. According to tradition he distinguished himself in conducting raids against the British Isles and the Holy Roman Empire during the 9th century.
He was supposedly killed by King Ælla of Northumbria who cast him into a pit full of venomous snakes. He had several sons and daughters, among them: Ivar the Boneless, Ubba, Halfdan, Björn Ironside, Hvitserk and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.
Real life, legends and myths
Historians spend their lives trying to find proofs of earlier times. Much research goes into each of the historical facts we know today. It is a jigsaw puzzle to put it all together. Even more difficult before there was written accounts. In the case of Ragnar Lodbrok it turns out that this viking hero seems to belong more to the myths and legends than in reality.
The sources are the various sagas which not necessarily were written at the same time as events. It is difficult to distinguish characters from the saga, if there are no other written evidence. Other more historical sources, like Saxo Grammaticus ‘Gesta Danorum’ (written in the 12th century and thus hundreds of years after actual events) contains captivating tales of ancient heroes, some partly historical, others more likely to be fairy-tale characters.
To add to the confusion, what is supposed to be Ragnar’s father and children, are traceable through historical evidence from the Middle Ages and even later on. How come they are real historical persons when Ragnar is not? The experts think that Ragnar might be a mix of several persons living at the times, and whose deeds have gone down in history as that of Ragnar Lodbrok. Scholars have distinguished a few historical candidates:
the Reginherus or Ragnar who besieged Paris in 845
the Danish King Horik I (d. 854)
King Reginfrid (d. 814), a king who ruled part of Denmark in tandem with his brother Harald Klak, but was expelled by Horik I and his brothers and later fell in a battle against them
possibly the Ragnall (Ragnvald or Ragnar) of the Irish Annals
No reliable connections have been established due to difficulty in reconciling the accounts and chronology. However, the tradition of a Viking hero named Ragnar, who fathered many famous sons has been persistent up until today. Maybe more historical facts will be found, or we just have to live with the fact that we don’t know. Maybe we just have to agree with George Orwell that Myths which are believed in tend to become true. We can still believe in Ragnar Lodbrok.
Musings this week
Continuing with the Viking theme, I can recommend another Viking saga TV-series; The Last Kingdom. This excellent series is based on Bernard Cornwell’s 13 novels The Saxon Stories. It centers on King Alfred and the making of England. I like this series better than Vikings.
The Month of March
The month is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. The ides of March, refers to the first new moon of a given month, which usually happens between the 13th and 15th. Once upon a time, the ides of March signified the new year, a day for celebrations.
For Julius Caesar it was an ill-fated day, since he was assassinated on this day in 44 B.C. According to historians a soothsayer, Spurinna, had warned Caesar that there would be danger ahead. Obviously, he did not listen. William Shakespeare made the words famous in his play Julius Caesar with Beware the ides of March.
In the northern hemisphere we look at the month as a hope for spring, sunshine, and warmer weather.
The Content Reader blog posts
No new posts from last week. I have read four books so far in March. Check out The Content Reader.