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Violence and the Viking Warrior Ideal

A discussion with Ben Raffield about warriors, violence, and how our knowledge about Vikings is changing
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After a 6-week hiatus, Terri and C.J. are finally back together for this podcast with a guest we have been looking forward to speaking with for a long time, Dr. Ben Raffield of Uppsala University. Ben is an archaeologist who also thinks like a historian and anthropologist in his approach to researching conflict, military organization, violence, and warrior culture during the Late Iron Age in Scandinavia, that period many of us know as the “Viking Age.”

Ben and Terri gettin’ their Viking on at the site of the Alþingi assembly. Thingvellir National Park, Iceland.

Was the Viking world a place rife with violence? What forms might it take? Who was allowed to commit violent acts? Our conversation provides some context for the reputation the Viking Age has as being a particularly brutal time to be alive.

Connected to the theme of violence, there is one image that usually comes to mind for most of us when we think of Vikings — a sword- or axe-wielding warrior. The “badass” quality that many of us ascribe to the Viking Age is due to this stock character who was supposedly rough, tough, and more violent that anyone else in the room. But was this true? Who was a Viking warrior?

Ben helps us answer these questions by discussing what constituted a warrior, the nature of Viking “armies,” how they operated, what their aims were, and just how many resources it took to put large numbers of both men and ships into the field. He also tells us about the massive and complex mobile communities that made up army encampments abroad. These are not your simple hit-and-run Viking farmers.

It turns out some things we have long thought about these topics are now being overturned, while others are being confirmed. The study of Vikings — like the Vikings themselves — is an exciting, fluid, ever-changing story.

We hope you enjoy the chat as much as we did. Hang on to your horned helmets kids….thanks to the ongoing research by Ben and his many colleagues, the Viking ride is gonna get even more interesting in the years to come.

Tusen tack Ben!


Do check out Ben’s latest book, which he co-authored with Neil Price. You may have read about it in a previous post we did. It’s called The Vikings. It is an excellent, concise introduction to the topic. We at Vikingology highly recommend!

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