New study suggests Viking society was more civilized than previously believed


Vikings were so savage they gave birth to legendary tales of brutal warfare and conquest. At least that’s what we’ve been taught to believe. However, a new study suggests that Vikings may have in fact had much more complicated social structures than previously thought.

Science Daily reports that a new study from researchers at Coventry University examined more than 1,500 characters in Viking literature and finds similar tales to those found in other cultural histories, including “family sagas.”

"This quantitative investigation is very different to traditional approaches to comparative studies of ancient texts, which focus on qualitative aspects,” said Professor Ralph Kenna of Coventry University's Applied Mathematics Research Centre. “Rather than individuals and events, the new approach looks at interactions and reveals new insights -- that the Icelandic sagas have similar properties to those of real-world social networks.”

According to the 2002 article, “ The Origins of the Imaginary Viking ,” the concept of the “noble savage” Viking was first formulated in the 18th century and became an accepted form of popular history over the next 100 years. Of course, the concept of a purely savage culture does not comport with a set of people who produced vast sums of literature and were known for their expert boat craftsmanship, amongst other qualities.

The results of the Coventry study were published in the new issue of the European Physical Journal. They say the relationships and social network found within the texts of the Sagas of Icelanders provide insight into how the actual Viking societies operated.

While the tales themselves are fictional, Kenna and his fellow researchers believe they may reflect historical truth about which the societies from which the tales sprung.

An analysis of the Sagas, which were written about 1,000 years ago, from The Guardian in 2008 describes their narrative voice: “The style in which The Sagas are written is, like some of today's best fiction, unpretentious and unadorned. Characters move from A to B to C (often by long-boat), and the narrators remain unemotional and impartial; people live and die without sentimentality or judgment. It is up to the reader to provide that.”

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