Oseberg viking ship, taken by mararie in 2010. Courtesy of The Commons, Flickr.
For the more astute among you, you may recognize two things. The first being the title of this entry is in Old English (and roughly translates to “the one who owned it before”) and the second is the image for today is the Oseberg Viking longship, which dates back to 800 CE and is considered to be one of the most complete, if not best preserved, Viking longships ever discovered. The dragon’s head of the Oseberg longship is also one of the inspirations for my latest tattoo.
This longship has become so synonymous with Viking and Viking maritime way of life, any documentary or history show on Vikings will 99% of the time have some cut in shot of the ship or the presenter will be at the Viking Ship Museum, using the ship to illustrate their point of the moment no matter how tenuous because — Vikings!
Now, the Vikings didn’t speak Old English and the Anglo-Saxons weren’t Vikings and I am currently not learning Old Norse, but go with me here because there is a method to my madness.
(However, I am dipping my toes into learning Old English. And researching the hell out of Vikings, or anything beginning with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476CE and ending at the beginning of the Renaissance, though I’ll squirm my way into that area on occasion. Once the world starts moving into the age of the Industrial Revolution and forward, my interest starts to wane and I get bored. What is this steam power nonsense?!)
The journey how this became my topic du jour is a zig zag walk. The facts are these: I always found history through primary school and my undergrad years to be dreadfully boring. It was stuffy, staid, and tired with old repetition of facts and figures, battles, dates, and names. There was no context and no story. I thought anyone studying history was insane because it seemed like a punishment, not something you would actually enjoy.
On the flip side, what appealed to me so much about English Literature was not just the stories themselves, but we were not just introduced to the writes, but also their lives, their cultures, their ways, and thus the story’s story. You got a feel for why someone wrote a certain thing, or the influence of another, or why this particularly symbolism was used. And of course the instructors have a hand in it too. My prof for Shakespeare had built a 1/16th (or was it 1/32?) replica of The Globe Theater. Reading about the groundlings, the actors, the playwrights, and the period itself was fine and dandy, but getting a glimpse to the world they lived in and seeing how it all came together in 3D and not some one dimensional picture that would not do it justice? You could almost smell the peanuts and the feel the sawdust beneath your feet.
Five or six years ago, during the beginning of my second masters degree, I was reading a book for one of my archival classes when topic of social history came up in the text. Realizing, for it never occurred to me the story’s story was actually social history, what that bit was changed everything. The bits and bobs that fill in the corners when facts and figures, battles, dates, and names are just not enough. The exciting tidbits and details that makes up our world. It had a name – social history.
Somewhere in this murky mess, I became intrigued with medieval life because it represented to me not only a 180 degree departure from my modern life but it was the dawn of when some really fucking cool things were beginning to happen. Socially, politically, economically, agriculturally — we start to see a big shift in how people work, live, fuck, and exist. And that’s exciting stuff! The more I read or watched on the topic, the more I became keen on honoring them in some fashion and by that it seemed to learn more about their world.
From reading about the medieval world, this lead me to the Anglo-Saxons, who historically always seem to cozied up with the Vikings. More digging into the Vikings came up with how amazing their world and empire was though it lasted such a short period of time. In less than 300 years, they established trade routes all over the fucking place that no one had even thought was possible at the time, they founded Russia, established Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and gods knows where else. And then on to NORTH AMERICA multiple times. Yo Vinland, we’re coming for you. Holla!
It also seems wholly appropriate for my Viking dragon ouroboros tattoo — the Normans were several generations later Vikings who had integrated with native Merovingian society. The invasion of 1066 – they in fact had invaded themselves.
The Roman empire? Latin could take its lack of prepositions and eat it for they have nothing on the Vikings.
My current chief interest is perception and role of women during the Viking Age which runs roughly from 793 CE to 1066 CE. Though I will read anything and everything on the Viking Age that I can get my hands on, related to women or not.
There is also another tie in to all of this — my last name. Rabey is Old Norse and means “boundary settlement.” The first recorded use of it as a name dates back to 544CE. Now this is a bit hazy because the researcher who gave me this information made it pretty clear this use is in early medieval England, though it predates the Viking invasion by several hundred years. It IS, however, recorded in the Domesday Book from 1086CE. And interestingly this tiny bit of history, of me, connects me to a much larger world I never even knew existed until now.
So what am I going to do with all of this information? Reading (and watching) about Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and the medieval world in general, whether non-fiction or fictional, has become my passion. I’m dipping into primary and secondary texts, loading up on sagas and chronicles until my eyes bleed. I’m also dancing around other periods, and inhaling knowledge everywhere I go. History! Is! Finally! Exciting!
I have been toying with using this material professionally, such as get a third (!) masters but as my education has been so varied and non-linear, I would have to almost get a third bachelors to qualify for the masters program. Plus pick up a few languages, at least Latin, modern Swedish, and Old Norse with some French thrown in for good measure. There would be structure to the program, and I would not be all over the place as I am now, which for me is something I definitely need. But there is the time and the money plus the cost of the program, plus living expenses, while not generating an income..I have the passion, but after being in academia for nearly a decade, and finally getting free, I am not sure I could do it all over again.
The other option is to write about it, something I have had on the back burner for a few years now. The seed of the idea is there, but I have not done anything with it.
P.S. Work has been a bit insane so I have not started the making happy project yet, so I’m opting to clean out my drafts in the interim until the timing is a bit better, which should be in the next few days.
P.P.S. I’m thinking of putting together a large resource guide on materials on what I’m reading relating to Vikings/Anglo-Saxons/medieval history. Once a librarian, ALWAYS a librarian.
This day in Lisa-Universe in: 2009