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Great Vikings In History


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Be warned: adult themes and language lay ahead. Nothing over-the-top, but still. I warned ya.

 

 

It’s not exactly a startling, ground-breaking revelation to suggest that the Vikings were pretty much the most face-rockingly hardcore bastards to ever beat a bunch of monks to death with their own iron church bells, throw them through a stained-glass window onto some pointy rocks, and carry off all of their valuable artifacts. We all know that these psychotic, axe-wielding Norsemen are more or less the epitome of everything it means to be tough as nails, what with their looting and pillaging and huge beards and all, but it never really hurts to drive home the point every once in a while that these guys totally kicked ass.

 

Of course, there are a couple of Vikings everyone has heard of. We have King Harald Hardrada of Norway and the anonymous Viking at Stamford Bridge whom I mentioned earlier, but there are so many other great stories of sea-raiding warlords that qualify as righteous, jugular-rending badasses. I will present the stories of six such men - and one woman; beginning with...

 

 

RURIK

 

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The Viking nobleman known as Rurik, which is apparently some utterly-bastardized derivative of the name "Hroerkr" somehow, was a massive, badass, face-smashing Norseman who terrorized the countryside with his freakalicious murderous rampages, plundered with a high degree of impunity, and enthusiastically destroyed all who opposed him. As that sort of mayhem, while pretty righteous, generally isn’t the sort of thing that would set him apart from his fellow medieval Norsemen, he is also now widely credited with inventing the country of Russia, which is pretty sweet.

 

Back in the 9th century the Vikings were having a blast sailing their totally rad dragon-headed longships down the twisting waterways of present-day Russia, cruising around and stopping every so often to bludgeon the holy living bejeezus out of anything stupid enough to be situated on waterfront property and steal anything more valuable than a pile of dirt. Their basic m.o. was to plunder, incinerate, slaughter people, gank all their valuables, and then sell the captured slaves, furs, and honey off to Constantinople for a one-hundred percent profit. While this is a pretty excellent business plan on the part of these forward-thinking bloodthirsty pillagers, it turns out that the Slavic peoples of Russia weren’t huge fans of this rather one-sided arrangement. So, one day the citizens of the wealthy trading city of Novgorod went up to our friend Rurik – a guy who had been a pretty notorious plunderer and sea-raider in his own right – and asked him to use his powers of crotchal annihilation to protect them from his berserker brethren. Rurik jumped at the chance to make an assload of gold running a cushy medieval protection racket, and moved right in to the babe-filled hut the Novgorodians had prepared for him.

 

Rurik lived the good life for a while, but eventually got bored of everyone fawning over him and paying him tribute to keep them safe so went back to Scandinavia to resume his old life of drinking mead and freezing his balls off like a good Norseman. The Novgorodians went out and recruited another Viking to serve as their minister of defense, but that guy was a totally incompetent douche-bag, so they fired him and went back to ask Rurik to return. Rurik told them he was kind of busy with the ball-freezing and all, but when the people of Novgorod promised him more gold than he could pack into a rented U-Haul, he decided he could probably take a little bit of time out of his day to return to Russia and rule as the Defense Minister of Novgorod.

 

Unfortunately for our boy Hroerkr/Rurik, when he got back to Novgorod in 862 he didn’t find the piles of gold and babes that had been promised him. Of course, his natural reaction was to freak out and start setting stuff on fire and swear that he would never stop killing people until his demands were met. A Novgorodian nobleman named Vadim rode out with an army to try and placate Rurik by smashing him in the face with a sword a few bajillion times, but Rurik crunched that dillhole’s balls into paste, destroyed the Novgorodian Army, and seized complete and total control over aspects of Novgorodian life. So by flipping out like a bearded ninja, Rurik had essentially upgraded his position from Public Safety Official to Iron-Fisted Autocrat. Rurik and his descendants would continue to conquer territory, annex lands, and dominate the country as merciless tyrants for seven hundred years – a dynasty of neck-punching Tsars that would finally end with a dude named Ivan the Terrible. Now there’s a legacy you can be proud of.

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Today, we will be examining the tale of:

 

 

IVAR THE BONELESS

 

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Or, as I like to call it: "How to Butcher An Entire Nation From The Comfort of Your Wheelchair: A Lesson In Bad-Assery"

 

Ivar the Boneless was just one in a long line of excellently-epitheted Viking badasses. The son of Ragnar Hairy-Breeches (no joke), and brother of Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye and Björn Ironside (name sound somewhat familiar? lol), Ivar invaded England in the 860s to avenge the exceedingly brutal murder of his somewhat-misguided but unquestionably-manly father. Apparently, the Hairy-Breeched One had got some crazy notion in his head that he was such a mega flaming hardass that he could conquer all of Great Britain with an invasion force consisting of just two longships and his own apparently-raging testosterone production glands. This was a plan that, not surprisingly, backfired somewhat spectacularly. Ragnar’s laughably-puny force was annihilated out of hand by the Northumbrians, and their King, a total jerkburger named Aella, captured Ragnar and executed him Bond-villain style by throwing him into an elaborate pit filled with hundreds of venomous snakes. I’d say that this “totally bit ass”, but that would be really cheesy and I am simply above those sorts of groan-inducingly terrible puns, no matter how hilarious they may or may not be.

 

Upon hearing about the gruesome, untimely demise of his poor hair-covered dad, Ivar did what any face-cleaving Viking son would have done and swore bloody delicious vengeance on King Aella of Northumbria. He crash-landed his ships on the shores of England at Mach 3.5, looted East Anglia, captured York, and destroyed any armies dumb enough to stand between him by headbutting their skulls out the backs of their faces.

 

I should mention that Ivar the Boneless got his sweet nickname because he had a degenerative disease that left him unable to stand, and not because he needed to talk to his doctor about Viagra or anything like that. However, as a badass medieval sea-raiding shitwrecker, Ivar wasn’t going to let a little thing like “not being able to use his legs” stop him from raining death on his enemies at every turn. All Norse kings were expected to do battle with the men, and Ivar did this in a most excellent manner – he had his men carry him around on his shield, and he fired his longbow from a seated position. I think we can all agree that this pretty much kicks ass. Ivar should be the modern-day poster boy for what it means to be "handi-capable".

 

Either way, Ivar the Boneless shattered the spines of his opponents, slaughtered the Northumbrian Army, captured King Aella, and ritualistically eviscerated him by chopping open his ribcage with an axe, pulling out his still-pulsating lungs, and leaving him to die a slow, painful, unconstitutionally-cruel-and-unusual death. Ivar had so much fun putting Aella out of his misery in this manner that he later went out and did the same thing to King Edmund of East Anglia, putting the “martyr” in “St. Edmund the Martyr.” Ivar also captured Northumbria, Mercia, and much of Anglia, headed out to Ireland, beat up some Celts, conquered Dublin, and subsequently died of some mysterious illness. With his quest for bloody vengeance complete, I guess he had nothing left to live for.

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Next up...the story of:

 

 

 

ROLLO THE DANE

 

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Rollo the Dane, also known as Rollo the Viking, Rollo the Norseman, and Rollo the Homicidal Psychopath, was a gigantic axe-swinging maniac who was a trailblazing pioneer in the timeless art of amphibiously invading the Normandy coast. It was way back in the year 885 that Rollo – a man whose name isn’t really Rollo (he changed it to Robert after he was baptized), and who may not even have been a Dane (some people believe he was from Norway) – decided that he was really pissed off with the French for some reason I just can’t seem to figure out (likely just being spiky and..well...French). As any Viking worthy of his animal hide loin cloth did when he flipped out and decided he needed to pulverize cities into grave dust with his junkbag, Rollo put together a fleet of 700 ships and led 30,000 bloodthirsty barbarian warriors on a balls-out invasion of the French countryside. The massive Viking armada plundered Northern France, captured Rouen, and headed down the Seine River in a six-mile-long convoy of longboats, axes, colorful shields, burning villages, and wild out-of-control beards. Eventually they reached Paris, and decided that they definitely needed to destroy that place, so they laid siege to it relentlessly over the course of thirteen months. Luckily for the medieval Parisians, the Vikings weren’t able to penetrate the unscalable city walls, and eventually Rollo and his associates got sick of waiting around and headed back home.

 

Well if there’s one thing Hagar the Horrible has taught us about the Vikings, it’s that they don’t just give up and start crying into their ale simply because they spent over a year of their lives bashing their heads into an impenetrable network of heavily-reinforced stone walls and getting assorted food products thrown at them by their toxic harpy wives. Rollo returned in 911 with another equally-impressive army of blood-lusting berserkers, and this time they were even more cantankerous than they’d ever been before. The assault force plundered the countryside, razed cities, and destroyed everything they could get their hands on, and it looked like nothing was going to stop them in their mad desire to incinerate every living person and torch all the inanimate objects in the Frankish Kingdom.

 

Despite his unfortunate name, it’s obvious that the Frankish King Charles the Senseless apparently wasn’t a complete raging moron. This famously-moronic ruler did see the benefit of not being hewn into tiny pieces, so he came out and offered Rollo a huge tract of land on the French coastline to rule as his own as long as he promised to stop killing, plundering, and disemboweling French people. Rollo was down with this agreement, and spared Paris once again. He moved in to the coastal area near the conquered city of Rouen, and renamed the area Normandy. Rollo and the Vikings would remain in this area for generations, and Rollo’s descendant – William the Conqueror – would go on to stomp faces across the Channel, invading Britain, defeating the Saxons, and taking over as King of England in 1066.

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I now bring you the heart-warming tale of:

 

 

EGIL SKALLAGRIMSSON

 

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Egil was a psychotic, super-aggravated Icelandic warrior skald with a massive, misshapen head that kind of resembled an eggplant. This hell-raising Juggernaut of Violence flipped out and went berserk on anything with a pulse pretty much every fifteen minutes, and never stopped swinging his axe around wildly until everyone within a ten-foot radius was missing at least one appendage. Egil killed his first man at age seven, and by the time he died of old age at 80 he had won nearly a hundred duels, fought in a dozen wars, plundered countless cities, and amassed a veritable fortune in plundered gold and silver.

 

Egil was known for his sunny disposition and his tendency to take a hatchet to anything he didn’t like, appreciate, or understand. Eventually, this got him on the wrong end of King Erik Bloodaxe of Norway, and while you and I would understand that you don’t want to screw with a man known as “Bloodaxe”, Egil was a fearless bastard who didn’t stop to consider things like epithets once his battle-rage took over and he started groin-shotting his enemies in the nards with a spear. King Bloodaxe voiced his frustration with Egil’s wacky antics by sending a raiding party out to kill him with swords, but this didn’t work out so hot – when Egil heard about the assassins, he turned his ship around, hunted THEM down, ambushed them in their camp, slaughtered all of them in combat, and stole all of their ships and plunder.

 

During his adventures pissing off everyone in Scandinavia, Egil placed a curse on the ruling family of Norway, burned down the home of a prominent noble, destroyed towns along the British coastline, killed a Scottish Earl in a battle, and survived an ambush by killing fourteen men by himself. He also fought a legendary berserker in a duel, and when they both smashed their swords and shields to pieces, Egil took the guy down like Lawrence Taylor destroying Joe Theisman on Monday Night Football and then tore out the dude’s jugular with his teeth. He was pretty serious.

 

Another interesting aspect of Egil Skallagrimsson is that he is considered to be one of the most eloquent warrior-poets of the Dark Ages, which is something you probably wouldn’t expect from a guy who spent most of his time cleaving people’s torsos in half with an axe. Of course, Egil was the kind of guy who tended to use his intelligence simply for his own advantage – one time he used a poem to convince his captors not to execute him, and in his numerous duels he routinely sang insulting, derogatory songs directed at his enemies in an effort to get them so pissed off that they would make mistakes – but his writings, as published in the Viking epic Egill’s Saga, are still studied today by many Scandinavian scholars and are held up as some of the most eloquent literature medieval Iceland has to offer. So that’s something.

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And now we face...

 

 

KNUT THE GREAT

 

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Knut was the second son of King Svein Forkbeard of Denmark and Queen Gunhild the Haughty, and grew up to become the “King of All the English, and of Denmark, and of the Norwegians, and Some of the Swedes,” which is quite honestly one of the greatest kingly titles ever devised by any human being living or dead. Trained from a young age in the fine art of bifurcating peoples’ brains with a battleaxe, Knut was raised in a secluded fortress and educated in the badass arts by some of Denmark’s toughest and most brutal Viking warriors – a skill that would serve him well in his career as a knut-smashing master of carnage.

 

In the year 1002, King Ethelred the Unready of England got really sick of these annoying Vikings raiding his towns and torching all of his subjects to death, so he decided to celebrate the obscure festival of Saint Brice’s Day by ordering the bloody massacre of all Danes living in England. Svein Forkbeard took quite a bit of umbrage with this decree, especially since his sister and brother-in-law spent the holiday being locked inside of a church and burned to death, so he decided to head over and show Ethelred the Unready that ordering a Viking genocide is kind of a bad idea… unless of course you enjoy having a broadsword rammed so far down your throat that you’re stapled to your own throne.

 

Knut, Svein, and the Viking army crushed Ethelred, who by definition was unready for the asskicking he so generously received, and when King Svein died a few years later Knut took over as the all-powerful ruler of England. Ethelred’s son Edmund Ironside got his panties in a wad about the whole thing and tried to re-take the throne from the Danish berserker, but Knut dragon-punched that jerkwad so hard that his decapitated head sailed across the channel, passed forward in time a few hundred years, and landed eye-first on the Eiffel Tower. Then he married the guy’s widow just to rub it in.

 

Special K’s first order of business was to exile, execute, and/or imprison all of Edmund Ironside’s relatives and supporters, mostly because it’s never a good idea to have people hanging around swearing blood oaths to avenge their friends’ deaths by stabbing you in the balls until you die from it. Then, despite the fact that this new King of England had come from a long line of people who made names for themselves by wading through knee-deep rivers of blood, Knut established a twenty-year period of unprecedented peace in England, where he went around to the different cities and counties building churches and merry-go-rounds and giving everybody high-fives. He ruled fairly and justly, and is now remembered as being a pious and holy man because he gave lots of gold to the Church, only assassinated people that deserved it, and only took good Christian women to be his mistresses. He later went back to the old country, took over the throne of Denmark, almost single-handedly turned back an invasion by the Norwegians, conquered Norway, annexed the parts of Sweden that he liked, and died at the age of 40.

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So how about some...

 

ERIK THE RED

 

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Erik the Red is famous for discovering Greenland, a feat he accomplished simply by being such a compete mega-bastard that he was exiled from every civilized nation in Scandinavia and had nowhere else to go. Erik was originally from Norway, but was exiled for having really loud parties, and brutally murdering a bunch of Viking warriors who were pissing him off. No longer welcome in Norway, Erik – who was totally Metal to the extreme gonzo back at a time when metal was simply an implement for making weapons – got in his boat and headed West until he hit Iceland. The red-bearded Viking ass-wrecker hung out there for a while, but one day one of his jackass neighbors borrowed his favorite axe and forgot to return it in a timely manner, so Erik went out and killed him and his entire family with a broadsword. So, once again, Erik was banished, and once again he just got in a boat and headed west. This time he bumped into Greenland, which was really only a semi-mythical place at this point in history, so good on him for finding it.

 

It turns out that Greenland is actually just a gigantic hunk of inhospitable ice, but Erik had the good sense to name it Greenland because then he could potentially trick people into coming there. This worked out pretty well, and he eventually established a decent-sized Viking colony there, and ruled over the area as chieftain. This was a pretty good idea, considering how he was usually on the wrong side of the law, and my guess would be that one of his first acts as all-powerful ruler would have been to pull the trigger and legalize violent homicide as long as you can provide one good reason why the victim deserved a hatchet implanted in their brain.

 

Erik’s son was a guy named Leif the Lucky (aka Leif Eriksson), who is the dude that’s nowadays credited with discovering North America only several hundred years earlier than Columbus. Leif had heard about all the success his father had simply getting in a boat, sailing west, and discovering things, so he decided he’d try his hand at aimlessly stumbling across the ocean in the general direction of the setting sun. As his name would imply, Leif got lucky and hit land. He called the place Vinland because it had wine, which he liked, but eventually Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese discovered it again and decided that Vinland was a stupid name so they changed it to America.

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Nice! What about Harald Hadraada?

 

Your Majesty,

 

As I stated in my intro, Vikings such as Harald Hardrada are well-known to most of us. It was my intent to sort of hit on the less well known but equally awesome.

 

__________________________________

 

Our last Viking in this series is a femme fatale with a gift for arse-kickery. Today, we look at:

 

FREYDIS EIRIKSDOTTIR

 

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Sure, Leif was cool and all, but if you want to talk about badass Vikings, you should really give a shout-out to his sister Freydis because she had an insane, vengeful penchant for slaughtering people with an axe that would have brought a single tear of manly joy to her old father’s cheek.

 

When Leif and his crew were looking for Canada, Freydis decided to tag along because Greenland was kind of a crappy hellhole and she didn’t really have a whole lot else going on at the time. It turns out that discovering new stuff isn’t quite as safe as it may seem, because not long after discovering Vinland, the Vikings realized that it was already inhabited by indigenous peoples, some of whom presumably had discovered the land even before Leif or the Portuguese had. The Vikings didn’t know what to call these crazy tomahawk-hucking natives, so they called them Skrellings, which was the default word the Norse used for pretty much anything they couldn’t identify. Well these Skrellings decided they weren’t huge fans of having Viking raiders patrolling their land, so they put together a war band and made a concerted attempt to forcibly evict Leif and his buddies by beating their faces in until they passed out and died face-down in a pool of their own blood.

 

So Leif and his homies were just chilling, when all of a sudden out of nowhere these Skrellings came flying in from every direction, attacking them with slings, axes, and strange exotic weapons the Vikings had never seen before. Many of the big ripped Viking warriors decided they didn’t want to fight demons or whatever the hell Skrelling people were and started hauling ass outta there at top speed.

 

As these big, bad Vikings were fleeing for their lives like horror movie vixens in high heels, only one of the Norsemen decided to make a stand and see whether or not these Skrellings were susceptible to conventional weapons – Freydis Eiriksdottir. This hardcore Viking woman was pregnant, pissed off, and didn’t feel like running away from anything. She faced the fleeing Vikings and derisively shouted:

 

Why do ye run, stout men as ye are, before these miserable wretches, whom I thought ye would knock down like cattle? If I had weapons, methinks I could fight better than any of ye!

 

This pump-up speech went pretty much nowhere, and the Vikings didn’t even give a little stutter-step as they were rapidly fleeing from the oncoming Skrellings. Well, forget that. Freydis decided to show them she meant business. She grabbed a sword off a dead Viking, got super-psyched up about killing people, ripped open her shirt for some reason, and banged the sword against her chest Tarzan-style while screaming like a friggin banshee. For the record, taking off your shirt and staring down an army of mysterious warriors by yourself is the definition of “tits-out”, which is like the estrogen-fuelled version of “balls-out”. The Skrellings saw this crazy chick daring them to screw with her and got so freaked out that they turned and fled. Freydis had saved the day, and proved that she had the biggest nuts of all the Vikings in the process.

 

But that’s not even the end of it. On a different expedition to Vinland, a couple of total douche-headed bros were totally pissing her off, so she led a Viking raiding party out in the middle of the night to kill them and their families, steal all of their stuff, and bring it back to Greenland so she could sell it. When none of the Viking warriors in her party had the cojones required to kill the women, she sacked them in the groin with a steel-toed boot, grabbed an axe, and killed five women herself. She ended up taking a lot of heat for this stone-cold quintuple homicide once she got back to civilization, but it was totally worth it.

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