From Heathen to Heaven...

How and why the Vikings became Christian
Transcript

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This time we had the very great privilege and pleasure of welcoming Dr. Anders Winroth to the show for our first episode on one of the most important game changers in the Viking Age Nordic world — the introduction and acceptance of the Christian faith in Scandinavia. The Vikings would never be the same.

Anders is one of the world’s foremost scholars on medieval Christianity. He is currently faculty at the University of Oslo after spending several years at Yale University and has published widely about the topic and about Vikings, so we knew he was the right person for the job when we wanted to explore the story around why on earth Vikings — who seemed to be at the top of their game as European menace #1 — would end up settling down and embracing Christianity.

And, it’s not the story you might think.

Scandinavia underwent a lot of change during the roughly 3-1/2 centuries that constitute the Viking Age. They went from traders to raiders and back to traders again, from chieftains to kings, from Nordic to European, and from heathen to Christian. And all of these changes were intertwined.

We asked Anders about how the conversion process played out in various regions of Scandinavia and what it might have taken to convince people who had been pagan for as long as anyone could remember to make that switch. Turns out it depends on whom you would have asked at the time. Chieftain or peasant? That mattered a lot.

But what about a legit Viking warrior? You know, the sword-and-shield badass types we see in modern pop culture? Weren’t they having too much fun sailing and pillaging to think about baptism? Wouldn’t they prefer the excitement of a good raid to being tamed by Christ? Evidently not, as Anders explains, when one could look at Thor and Jesus and, over time, begin to see the same god.

Another important factor: the perennial Viking question, What’s in it for me?

Never underestimate the power of self-interest. It appears that even when it came to the coming of Christianity, the Vikings were the same old opportunists we’ve always known them to be.

Tack så mycket, Anders!


You can find Anders’ books about Vikings at all the usual book outlets. We highly recommend you take a look if you’re interested in a good general history about the Viking Age or prefer a deep dive into what it took to make them Christian.

Click the images to buy at Amazon. We provide this for your convenience only. We have no affiliate relationship and make no money by including this link.

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Vikingology Podcast
Vikingology Podcast
Terri and C.J. are first and foremost educators passionate about the Viking Age and Viking history. Theirs was a meeting foretold in the myths of old. Both are historians of Viking history, both live in Oregon in the U.S., and both share the same birthday. It seemed only natural they team up for something epic. The Norns have woven this fate.
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