Viking Sky Cruise 14: Viking helmets did not have horns, plus Viking link to Bluetooth

ABOARD THE VIKING SKY – Vikings did not have horns on their helmets. With apologies to Minnesota football fans, Jeremy Paterson added with a smile.

A wonderful part of a Viking Sky cruise is the guest lectures by experts such as Paterson. As resident historian, Paterson is giving talks in the ship’s Star Theater almost every day.

Jeremy Paterson explains the significance of The Bayeaux Tapestry which depicts the Battle of Hastings. Reproductions of the Tapestry are displayed in the ship’s stairwells.

Today he talked about the Vikings, challenging traditional Viking stereotypes as well as examining the Norsemen’s influence and legacy.

“Think about how crazy it would be to put horns on your helmet,” Paterson said. “Your enemy could twist your neck off … But it is very difficult for misconceptions to disappear.”

That horn mistake probably started when costume designer Carl Emil Doepler thought it would look cool to have Vikings wearing helmets with horns in the opera for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. The look was such a big hit that folks began believing it was true.

“Why on earth anyone thought they should have horns on their helmets is amazing,” Paterson said. “But because of the 1876 costume designer for Wagner’s opera, Vikings have had horns on their helmets ever since – until now.”

A scale model of a Viking longship is in the ship’s Viking Heritage Museum.

The ship also has a first, at least for me. It has a small Viking Heritage Museum with artifacts, photos and interesting information. After all, Viking Cruises founder and chairman Torstein Hagen is Norwegian.

“We have Viking helmets but no horns,” Paterson said, noting that the Viking Age dated roughly from the late 8th century to the 11th century AD. And the people we now call “Vikings” were not a unified group or a culture.

Rather, they were the Norse people of Scandinavia – modern-day Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Principally, the Vikings existed as farmers but they also were settlers, traders, crafters, explorers and raiders.

Extraordinary shipbuilders and sailors

The ancient Vikings ventured as far afield as North America and Asia. “They were extraordinary innovators in ship building which allowed them to travel tremendous distances,” Paterson said.

But the primary goal of the Vikings was not to rape, pillage and loot. “They were looking for a world in which they could be free,” Paterson said. “They didn’t want to be under the rule of one man” as was happening in other places in the world.

A Viking comb was not only decorative but useful.

A good example of that, Paterson said, is Iceland, considered the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. The Iceland Parliament, the Althingi, was established in 930.

“You can see it most dramatically in Iceland. When the Vikings settled in Iceland, they said they would not have rulers. They would have a parliamentary system which they did and do today.”

The Vikings also were looking for a place where they could eke out a living. The home of the Norsemen had very little land that could be used for farming.

“It is quite clear that there were harsh living conditions in Norway,” Paterson said. “It was a world in which it was quite difficult to make a living and survive.”

Dominated by mountains, ice and boulders, Norway had limited land to grow crops and raise animals. So Vikings ventured abroad to see what was out there. Objects found in Viking burial sites  show that Vikings traveled for trade so they were aware of what their neighbors possessed.

Certainly, the Vikings had a brutal reputation based on reports recorded by Europeans, Paterson said. “But the times in which they lived were equally violent.”

Living in a violent time

The ship has a small Viking Heritage Museum.

In those times, knights of the Crusades lived off the land as they journeyed – looting and stealing as well as turning their anger towards the Jews of Europe. The Crusading knights killed an estimated 25,000 as they traveled to the Holy Land. And the Arabs they conquered were given a stark choice – convert to Christianity or die.

Instead of wanting to destroy, Paterson said, the Vikings wanted to assimilate into a new land. That is what they often did, marrying local women who considered Vikings to be quite handsome men concerned about their appearance.

Paterson noted that writings describe the Vikings as combing their hair, taking baths and wearing clean clothes – something that not all people did in those times.

“The Vikings are exploring the known world and want to become part of the local population in which they settle,” he said. “They were actually really quite sweet, brilliant, well-educated individuals.”

Certainly not the picture of Vikings that I remember from old movies and books.

But one of the most surprising parts of Paterson’s talk was when he projected on the theater screen the logo for a very famous piece of modern-day technology.

Today’s Bluetooth symbol was modeled after the initials for Viking king Harald Bluetooth.

The logo is composed of two runes for the name of a 10th century Viking king who united parts of Denmark and Norway into one nation and converted the Danes to Christianity.

Know who that is?

Harald Bluetooth.

Yep, today’s Bluetooth that was designed to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link. Jim Kardach, an Intel engineer working on wireless technologies, figured old Harald Bluetooth was an ideal symbol for bringing competing parties together.

Not only that, Kardach used the initials of  Harald Bluetooth written in Scandinavian runes for the omnipresent blue oval symbol for Bluetooth devices.

I’ve included a photo of the two runes. Fascinating that an ancient Viking inspiration was used for a modern unifying technology. Never know what you might learn on a Viking cruise.

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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