Icelandic Vikings: More Portlandia Than Pirate Paradise - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Icelandic Vikings: More Portlandia Than Pirate Paradise

Icelandic Vikings: More Portlandia Than Pirate Paradise

Published July 17, 2015

Ragnar Egilsson
Photos by
Art Bicnick

The above photograph shows a recreation of the fictional construct celebrating violence in front of the very real institution of Alþingi. Alþingi being the world’s oldest extant parliamentary institution, created during the so-called “Viking Era”. This charts our progress from the Age of Iron to the Age of Irony.

Every summer, a new Authentic Icelandic Viking Village seems to spring up in Iceland. While some would say there isn‘t much harm in this “creative history” as long as it keeps the tourists happy in their plastic, horned Viking helmets—it does obscure the actual creative history of Iceland

Here are the problems: Iceland didn’t have any real villages to speak of until the 17th century, and the social class of “Vikings” (i.e. seafaring raiders) wasn’t prominent in Iceland at any point in history. In all likelihood, Iceland harboured close to no Vikings. The Vikings mostly came from Norway and Denmark and were in the prime in the first half of the ninth century. Although there is indication that some of the Icelandic settlers may have been “retired” Vikings (again: “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnic group)

It’s also worth noting that nobody really considered themselves an “Icelander” in those days, as this was prior to national identities the way we know them today.

You may have belonged to a family, a clan, a language group, etc. but none of the modern Nordic countries were unified under a single flag. There was no real state to speak of—at most, you would have a king collecting his dues from a relatively large region. The number of slaves a person owned was a more important part of their identity than their geographical location at the time. Which makes the development of Alþingi all the more noteworthy.

Even if you looked past the lack of sizable villages and the lack of national identity, the only way you could talk about “Viking settlements” in Iceland is if you determined everyone “a Viking” who happened to live in the Nordic region during the “Viking Era”. This would be the equivalent of determining everyone in the Caribbean a “Pirate” during the Golden Age of Piracy. It immediately renders the word meaningless.

In short, “Icelandic Viking Village” contains three fictional constructs.

However, this barren and insignificant rock in the North Atlantic actually did generate some amazing individuals. With a kind heart and a pair of rose-tinted glasses, one could argue that the true Icelandic heritage is composed of tax dodgers, free thinkers, pioneering explorers, pioneering social engineers, writers, mythologists, craftsmen, and creative people. This is the culture that discovered North America, crafted new ways of self-governance, built engineering marvels, wrote colourful historical narratives, and documented folklore.

All of this is a good thing and infinitely preferable than viewing ourselves as the descendants of a race of sea thugs and picturing Iceland in the middle ages like some Scandinavian version of Port Royal.

This might go some way towards explaining people like Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Björk has enjoyed an amazing career while the “Outvasion Vikings” in the financial sector ended up in prison and/or bankrupt. The financial Vikings bought into their own lie and donned the plastic tourist helmets while they would have been better off writing pagan poetry.

We are not the sons and daughters of Vikings. Iceland was founded as a tax shelter, a Viking retirement home and a haven for freethinking anarchist liberal arts bastards. The Icelandic heritage is more Portlandia than Port Royal.

Further reading: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_outvasion
http://www.why.is/svar.php?id=4790
http://www.why.is/svar.php?id=5434
http://www.visindavefur.is/svar.php?id=3720

 

 

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!

Go travel with Grapevine tried and recommended tours by Grapevine. Fund Grapevine journalism by booking with us.


Magazine-articles
Opinion
Icelandic Executions: Punishing The Weak

Icelandic Executions: Punishing The Weak

by

Magazine-articles
Opinion
The World Is Like Inflight Smoking

The World Is Like Inflight Smoking

by

Magazine-articles
Opinion
Editorial: The Race For A New Airline

Editorial: The Race For A New Airline

by

Magazine-articles
Opinion
Well, You Asked: God Left Us Aeons Ago

Well, You Asked: God Left Us Aeons Ago

by

Show Me More!