"Barbarians...thrusting their swords through everything, taking pity on nothing. The destruction is universal... Like a whirlwind or a typhoon or a torrent or I know now what to say"; "... inhumanity"; "...barbarous tribe"; "...harshness of its manners and the savagery of its character"; "...not respecting female weakness, not pitying tender infants".
Above are a few of the terms used by the Constantinople patriarch Photius to describe Vikings and their actions; but similarly horrific descriptions of the Vikings are to be found in numerous sources, Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh and the writings of Alcuin of Lindisfarne to name just two. To a large extent this image remains, even today, the stereotypical image of Scandinavians during the "Viking Age". However this is a very one-sided view, and ignores the full picture. A society where everyone behaved like the men described in the above quote simply would not last, let alone reach the degree of organisation that existed, for example, in Denmark.
The way Vikings are viewed in countries outside the Scandinavian region is slowly changing, but unfortunately the classic Viking stereotype still reigns. In order to get a fairer and more balanced view of the Vikings, it is necessary to look at the topic from the point of view of the Vikings themselves as well as from that of outsiders. This can be found in the sagas.
The sagas "Graenlendinga Saga" and "Eirik's Saga"; are two of the best known Icelandic sagas, since they are the main literary sources for the Vikings in North America. Therefore there has been a tendency to study them from a very narrow point of view, with the primary objective of using them to establish the exact locations of the parts of America reached by the Vikings. However this is not the most useful way to study...