Were there any gay Vikings?

GSN visits Oslo to improve our Nordic history and embrace the tall, blond warriors of the future

You might need to find it online, but lately I’ve been a bit obsessed with the television series Vikings. It’s a bloody and violent depiction of life at that time, I’m guessing it’s not too far from the truth.

I’ve been watching it in the UK via the LoveFilm website. They tag all of their content with helpfully searchable categories – Vikings is tagged with ‘Historical Drama’; ‘Action/Adventure’; and ‘Gay and Lesbian’. There aren’t any gay or lesbian characters or story-lines in the entire series, but there are a lot of bearded men running around killing each other, and shield-maidens regularly engaging in fierce battle, so I guess LoveFilm have done their research.

I was sitting on the couch watching an episode with my friend Anthony, when he asked: ‘What do you think the Viking’s view was of our people? Do you think they liked the gays?’

A good question and one I didn’t have the answer to.

By coincidence I was in Oslo a few days later, wandering around the impressive Viking Ship Museum, staring at wooden ships from around 900AD which had been buried with their owners to transport them to the next life – it was a good opportunity to do some research.

There’s not a lot of documentation about same-sex relationships during the Viking age, and the earliest references seem to date from about 200 to 300 years after the end of the Viking period (when Christian monks began documenting their account of Viking rule). So it’s not really possible to get an objective view on what the Vikings thought of the gays.

I wondered what sort of funeral I would have had if I had been born into Viking society – probably not buried in a big boat with the household treasures. They valued fighting, farming, and procreation. Not really my strong points.

This was my first visit to Oslo and my first visit to Norway. A solid walking tour is a great way to get your bearings in a new city and in Oslo you can book them through the Tourist Information office just near the impressive City Hall (which is worth a look – a dramatic exterior and an elaborately decorated interior).

My guide was Inger-Johanne Bryde. After having worked as a stewardess for Pan-Am airways for 16 years, Inger-Johanne was a woman of the world with a dry sense of humor:

‘I don’t run after buses or men!’ she declared as we embarked on our expedition.

Regardless of what the Viking’s attitude was towards the gays, the Oslo of today seems a particularly accepting and relaxed kind of place. The city was gearing up for its annual LGBT Pride celebrations (known as ‘Skeive dager’), and we also checked out a number gay bars.

The Vigeland Sculpture Park is worth exploring – an extraordinary showcase of the work of eccentric sculptor Gustav Vigeland, with over 200 sculptures in bronze, granite, and iron, exploring the themes of love, family, and life.

Another famous son of Oslo is the painter Edvard Munch. 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Munch’s birth which is being celebrated with a major exhibition hosted jointly by the Munch Museum and the National Gallery. The National Gallery is showing his works from 1882 to 1903, while the Munch Museum presents works from the period 1904 to 1944.

Munch is widely recognized as a pioneer in modern European art and one of the most important artists to have emerged from Norway. He is noted for his evocative treatment of psychological and emotive themes such as angst, love, jealousy, and death. Both parts of the exhibition are comprehensive and clearly presented. My favorite pieces were from the Bathers series, but also great to see his iconic work The Scream.

I had four days to get a feel for the rhythm and pace of the city. Catching trams across town, swimming in the local pool, hanging out in cool cafes (where they take their coffee very seriously), sitting in the sun and enjoying incredible seafood, and simply bobbing along on ferries across the fjord.

I was impressed by Oslo. The city has a strong sense of confidence, a sense of purpose, and of knowing its place in the world. Resource-rich, Norway’s strong economy obviously helps – they are building iconic buildings and investing in the capital’s infrastructure, as well as delivering its citizens an enviably high standard of living.

It’s also a dramatic and impressive landscape. The city is nestled within the folds of the fjord, surrounded by islands and forest-clad hills.

‘Oslo’ translates roughly as ‘field of the gods’. You can see why the Vikings liked this place.

by Gareth Johnson
Source – Gay Star News