Friday, November 06, 2009

The Gustavus Adolphus theory of Viking Conquest

Today is, as we all know Gustavus Adolphus Day. It is a day of solemn celebration of this great Gustavus Adolphus won the Thirty Years War and secured religious freedom for all Europe through the sheer magnificence of his nameman, of marzipan medallions eaten on no other day (thanks for the factoid Betsy!) and of general Gustavus Adolphusness all around. But it is also an occasion to consider Gustavus Adolphus's greatest achievement: his awesome name. As a keen student of Renaissance European history I feel I can say with no fear of exaggeration than Gustavus Adolphus' is the awesomest royal name of the entire era.

But a closer look at the history of the Swedish monarchy will reveal that Gustavus Adolphus is by no means the awesomest of Swedish regnal names. Amongst Gustavus's royal forbears of the Houses of Munsö and Stenkil you will find such awesome names as Eric the Victorious, Emund the Evil, Magnus the Strong and my favorite, Blood Sweyn (this last king was so awesome, his less awesome nickname was Sweyn the Sacrificer). All these are good, manly names. They are names to strike terror into the hearts of recalcitrant subjects and people who are tardy with their taxes. These are, then, names that inspire hardened warriors to get into boats, sail to distant lands, rape, pillage and carve blood eagles into their enemies.

That last point is an important one. For many years, historians have puzzled over the ferocity, bloodlust and sheer military prowess of the Vikings that terrorised the known world (and parts of the unknown) from the 8th century to the 11th. These bloodthirsty beserkers made their presence felt from Newfoundland in the west to Azerbaijan in the east, from Iceland in the north to Morocco in the south. They toppled long established kingdoms, harried others, and founded nations that bear their mark to this day. This is all historical fact. What is not so well understood is how they did it. The Vikings were not superior in any outward way to their adversaries. They shared a common descent and language family with their victims in England, France and Italy (all ruled at the time by Germanic kingdoms that had not long ago conquered the Latin civilisations there). They were at a similar level of technology and culture. Their strategy and tactics were not vastly different from the way the Saxons, Franks and Lombards they faced would have used at the time. Why then did were the Vikings able to carve a swath of war and destruction across all lands within their reach?

To answer that question, I now ask you to consider the names of their Kings. The Kings of the Swedes we have already seen. The names of their counterparts across the Oresund are no less dripping in cojonidad*. The Danish Kings rejoiced in such names as Sweyn Forkbeard, Halfdan the Cruel and Ragnar the Hairy. Across the Scandinavian mountains, the hardy Norwegians knelt to Kings such as Eric Bloodaxe, Harald Hard-Reign and Haakon the Broad-Shouldered.

Clearly these are names to inspire awe and strike fear into the heart of the disobedient. When Eric Bloodaxe tells you to get into a boat, cross the Atlantic and scalp some Skreylings, well, by Odin, you do it. Hafdan the Cruel probably never had his subject question his orders. Blood Sweyn's nobles surely quaked in their boots, tormented in their dreams by fear of the consequences of not obeying his foolhardiest command.

This theory seems doubly strong when you consider the names of these Vikings' adversaries. The King of England at the time of Sweyn Forkbeard was widely known as Aethelred the Unready. His forbears included such kings as Edgar the Peaceable and his successors included Edward the Confessor. The French were ruled by kings such as Louis the Pious (and as if that were not bad enough, his alternative name was Louis the Debonair) who was succeeded by such men as Louis the Stammerer, Charles the Fat, Charles the Simple and Louis the Lazy. The Lombard Kingdom of Italy from about that time was ruled by such men as Rodoald the Lecherous and Hildeprand the Useless. Clearly, no sensible man would fight for kings such as these. When in the army of one of these kings, facing an army led by say Harald Hard-Reign or Emund the Evil, abandoning one's colours and fleeing for one's life certainly seem like good, prudent choices.

Thus, we have a working hypothesis for the success of the Viking bands against the armies of the Germanic Kings of Western Europe. The question remains, then, of what we can gain from out newfound knowledge of this piece of history. The answer to that, I think is simple. Too often we have found our leaders, the leaders, indeed of the entire free world lacking in the authority to deal with their adversaries and contemporaries in the rest of the world. The simple solution to this issue is to give them manly, bloodthirsty regnal names along with their Presidential and Prime Ministerial dignities. Would Mahmoud Ahmadinejad feel free to defy Barack the Disemboweller with as much impunity as he does now? Would plucky MEPs dare to question Gordon the Blood-Drinker on the floor for the European Parliament? Would upstart Pakistani generals dare to upstage Manmohan Iron-Fist? The answer, I hope you will agree, is no. They would not. And the world would be a better place for it.

The way then is clear. Let us do what we can to bring this about. Write your representative, sign petitions and make phone calls to bring about the necessary constitutional amendments and laws in your country to do this. Let us make this so, and together we shall create a better world.

(* I just made this word up)

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Blogger Arnold said...


1:52 PM  
Anonymous Arka Bhattacharya said...

living as we do in a land ruled by at best Manmohan the balding Surd I salute thy insightful theory

4:44 PM  
Blogger buddy said...

karunanidhi the glared, jayalalitha the jijantic and mayawati the megawati? :P

nice read!

9:47 PM  
Blogger Kunal said...

fantastic post!

You forgot Harald Bluetooth! Imagine their communication prowess...

3:47 PM  
Blogger Ajachi said...

Ooh, ooh... Mamata the Malignant!

Definitely the funniest blog post I've read in a long time. Though I'm pretty sure you had to eat a hundred babies in less than an hour to get a nickname like Halfdan the Cruel.

And cojonidad? Pure gold.

3:39 PM  

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