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Were Viking Raiding Parties Just Lonely Hearts Clubs?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 6:28
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New research has suggested that the influx of Viking raiders in England, starting in 793 CE with the terrifying raid of Lindisfarne, might have been motivated by nothing more than the search for a mate.

An international team of researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden and the University of Aberdeen in Canada says that the Viking Age, characterized by violent Norse incursion and settlement in the British Isles over the course of several hundred years, was caused in part by societal changes in Scandinavia that made it difficult for young men to find marriage partners.

With social inequality and polygamous marriage on the rise in the late Iron Age, the number of single women shrunk, creating intense competition among men – especially those of lesser social status, according to the University of Aberdeen’s Dr. Mark Collard. With richer Norsemen taking multiple wives or concubines, less affluent Viking men had little to no chance of finding a wife of their own unless they had fame – and riches – to back them up. The best way to gain both would have been to raid the close-by coast of the British Isles.

Raiding would have been a way to build up power and wealth in a society that was becoming increasingly stratified, Dr. Collard remarked in an interview with The Telegraph. The environment would have resulted in a sex ratio that became biased as time went on, the archaeologist said, adding that even the smallest amounts of bias could have had a major impact; in a society where an upper class of rich, older men had two, three, or even more wives, the number of single young men without the necessary power and influence to attract even one mate would have increased very quickly.

This form of multiple marriage where males each have multiple wives – referred to as polygyny – increases competition among males and creates a wide pool of unmarried men, said Dr. Collard. The result is that high-risk behavior that has the potential to elevate the status of one of these unmarried men is increased as a result – behavior like shipping off in a longboat and plundering coastal towns and monasteries for their wealth.

The new explanation for Viking raids has historic precedent, as ancient historians dating back as far as the tenth century claimed that the bloody forays into Anglo-Saxon territory were precipitated by an overabundance of unmarried young men in Nordic lands. Modern historians had up until now largely abandoned the theory, choosing instead to focus upon the raids as retaliatory. In the face of Charlemagne’s vicious crusade to eradicate pagan worship in Scandinavia – something that often involved Christian baptism at the edge of a blade – raids into Western Europe were seen as motivated by bloody reprisal.

However, Dr. Collard feels that tribal ethnographic study and psychological research lend additional plausibility to the new theory, especially in light of several recent studies finding increasing aggression when the number of unmarried men in a society increases. Archaeological evidence, in the form of Viking graves, that the majority of Scandinavian raiders weren’t seasoned soldiers but young males also reinforces this new theory.

The new research study, published recently in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior, can be found online at http://www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(16)30307-5/abstract

The post Were Viking Raiding Parties Just Lonely Hearts Clubs? appeared first on New Historian.

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