Leeds hosts Viking revival

July 12, 2002

The Vikings are back. Historians have charted the rise of a sub-culture of highly politicised and often violent men who have adopted the Dark Age Scandinavian raider as their role model.

At the International Medieval Congress at Leeds University on Tuesday, three academics revealed how this group has romanticised an already mythologised perception of the Vikings.

Katherine Lewis, a medievalist at Huddersfield University, said the popular image of the Viking matched the "metal masculinity" idealised by a particular set of male youths.

Using the American band Manowar as a case study, she found that "their lyrics, appearance and ethos are predicated on perceptions of the Vikings as embodying both the muscular heterosexual barbarian and also the heroic champion of liberty".

Simon Trafford, a medievalist at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, said one set of fans had gone much further in the past decade, forming the black and Viking metal scenes around northern Europe and North America.

Dr Trafford and Aleks Pluskowski, an archaeologist at Cambridge University, have studied how this group had adopted an image of the Vikings refined from an already mythologised picture constructed by romantic nationalists in the 19th century.

A handful in Norway have been responsible for church arsons and murders. The most famous, Varg Vikernes, is in jail for killing a former bandmate.

Dr Trafford said the trend emerged in part from the post-communist rise of nationalism and in part from pure escapism.

"They see themselves as Vikings but their ideal has very little to do with reality," he said. "They should really be out farming."

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