The following chronicles are of different dates
and all relate to the Swedes and the Vikings.
During the beginning of the second century A.D, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitius wrote his book Germany and Its Tribes. In some hundred words he described the people living in Sweden, making him, to our knowledge, the first man ever to write about them. And clearly, we stand facing a people who are seaborn, labourious and with a rigorous military organization. They are ruled by a king who his mighty and powerfull. These few words, though no real facts or evidence is presented, gives us an insight in a people who centuries later would in fact try to sack Rome herself.
And now begin the states of the Suiones, situated on the ocean itself, and these, besides men and arms are powerful in ships. The form of their vessels is peculiar in this respect, that a prow at either extremity acts as a forepart, always ready for running into shore. They are not worked by sails, nor have they a row of oars attached to their sides; but, as on some rivers the apparatus of rowing is unfixed, and shifted from side to side as circumstances require. And they likewise honour wealth, and so a single ruler holds sway with no restrictions, and with no uncertain claim to obedience. Arms are not with them, as with the other Germans, at the general disposal, but are in the charge of a keeper, who is actually a slave; for the ocean forbids the sudden inroad of enemies, and, besides, an idle multitude of armed men is easily demoralized. And indeed it is by no means the policy of a monarch to place either a nobleman, a freeborn citizen, or even a freedman, at the head of an armed force.Beyond the Suiones is another sea, sluggish and almost motionless, which we may certainly infer, girdles and surrounds the world, from the fact that the last radiance of the setting sun lingers on till sunrise
Adam of Bremen
The German priest Adam of Bremen is better known for his history about the bishops of Hamburg and Bremen, The Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesia pontificium. In this work he also desribes Sweden, the Swedes and Birka.
The land of the Sveons and Nordland
After passing the Danish islands you will encounter a new world. It is the land of the Sveons and Nordland, which are two large countries in the North. Until now these countries have been unknown to us.
The well informed Danish King (Sven Estridssen) has told me that the country of the Sveons is hard to pass through even in a month. This, he said I know because i fought with king Jacob for twelve years in these countries. They are surrounded by high mountains, especially Nordland. The mountains surround the entire country of the Sveons.
The old authors Solinius and Orosius tell us of the country of the Sveons. They say that the Sverbs live in the largest part of Germany, and that these mountainous areas go all the way to the Riphenian mountains. There the river Elbe, which Lucanus mentions, flows from the mountains through the land of the Goths down to the ocean. The river is also called Göta Elb. The land of the Sveons has rich soil and an abundance of crops and honey. Beside this they have many animals, their forests are large.
The country has a lot of foreign merchandise. They have an abundance of all things and lack nothing. Despite this they are not arrogant. All worldly items we praise so much means nothing to them. Only when it comes to adultery they know no bounds.
They have many wifes, chiefs and kings have countless. The find all children born in such a relationship legitimate. If one of them rapes a maiden or another mans wife they are punished with death.
The Temple of Uppsala
The Sveons have a famous temple called Uppsala not far from the town of Sigtuna. In this temple, which is decorated with gold, they worship their gods. The mightiest, Thor, has a throne in the middle of their large hall. On both sides of Thor Odin and Frey sit.
They have given their gods several priests who bring sacrifices from the people to give to the icons. If a famine or plague strikes the land they sacrifice to Thors icon. If there is a war they sacrifice to Odin, and if they celebrate a marriage they sacrifice to Frey.
Every ninth year they celebrate a large feast in honour of their gods. All the tribes of the Sveons participate in this celebration. Kings and powerful clans send gifts to Uppsala. All Christians must pay a fine when this year.
The ritual sacrifice that occurs at this celebration follows the following procedure: Of all living male species nine are sacrificed. Their blood is shed to please the gods. Their bodies are then hung in a sacred grove. This grove is so sacred that the heathens think the trees have turned magical from receiving the strength from all the dead bodies. Beside humans they hang dogs and horses. A Christian who witnessed this celebration has told me that he count seventy-two bodies hanging there. They sing songs to honour their gods, the contents of these songs is better to leave unsaid.
Close to the temple a large tree stands, its branches and leaves are green the entire year, in Winter and Summer. There is no telling what species this tree belongs to. By the tree there is also a spring by which the heathens sacrifice. They throw living people into it. If the person is not found the peoples wishes will come true.
A chain of gold surrounds the temple. It hangs over the roof and shines towards people approaching far away.
The Vita Ansgarii
The German priest Rimberts chronicle, The Vita Ansgarii, the life of Ansgar, tells us of the German missionary Ansgars journey to Sweden and life in Birka. We aslo witness an attack on Birka.
Ansgars journey to Birka
Ansgar accepted the mission given him by the emperor, to travel to the land of the Swedes and investigate whether this people was prepared to accept the Christian faith. The messengers sent by the Swedish king had said so.
What terrible dangers Ansgar encountered on this journey father Vitmar can account for. We are satisfied telling that he encountered pirates, as he had travelled half way. The merchants Ansgar travelled with defended themselves bravely. The pirates, however, were victorious. Ansgar nearly did not make it to the shore soon after. In this way all the gifts the emperor had sent to the Swedish king were lost. They lost forty books that were going to be used in mass.
After this accident some of them who travelled with Ansgar wanted to turn back, but Gods servant, Ansgar refused, and continued his brave journey. He put his faith in God and swore that he would not return until he had finished preaching in this land.
With difficulty they travelled a great distance on foot. Sometimes they had to pass lakes and rivers. At last they arrived in the harbour town the Swedes call Birka. They were kindly met by the king, who was called Björn. After listening to them he held council with his men and they decided that they would allow the Christians to preach in kingdom. Many Swedes listened to Ansgar and many found faith. One of them was the kings own steward, a man called Hergeir. He built a small church on his estate. Ansgar stayed in Birka for a year and a half then returned to Germany.
After Ansgar returned to Germany a new Bishop, Gautbert, was appointed Bishop of Sweden and the North and was sent to Birka.
Nithard becomes a martyr
The bishop Gautbert and his followers encountered great hardship. The Swedes had been influenced by the devil, and with fanatical frenzy they began to attack him and there were many intrigues. Some of them swore to throw the Christians out of the town and attacked the house Gautbert was staying in. They killed his nephew Nithard, who in my eyes now is a martyr of God because he was killed by people who hated the gospel. Gautbert and the others in the house they tied up, and after they had stolen everything they owned they told them to leave their country. This did not happen by the orders of the Swedish king but was an act committed by the heathens. God did not allow in any way this atrocity go unpunished. All of those who had taken part in this crime were shortly punished i some way or other, all in different ways. About this there was much talk among the people.
Birka is attacked
King Anund had been exiled from his kingdom and lived as a refugee in Denmark. He was anxious to win back his kingdom and asked for help from the Danes. He offered them, if they helped him, an abundance of goods and merchandise. He offered them the town of Birka itself. In Birka there were many rich merchants and a superflow of goods of all kinds and money and valuables in great quantities. He promised to lead them to the town and without any military losses take the town in their possession. The Danes were content with the promised prises and equipped twenty-one ships with able men. Anund had eleven ships of his own.
After leaving Denmark they arrived to Birka, and the inhabitants were taken by surprise. The king of the Swedes was at this moment far away with his chiefs and the army did not find time to gather. Only Hergeir, the kings steward, was in the town. In this critical situation the inhabitants fled to the fort. They began to sacrifice to their gods, or devils, hoping to be saved. But the fort was not very strong and they were too few to defend themselves so they sent a messenger to king Anund and asked for friendship and alliance. King Anund let them know that they had to pay a hundred pounds of silver in ransom. Only on this condition would they be saved. The inhabitants immediately payed the sum to the king.
The Danes, however were not pleased, because this alliance was not part of their arrangement. Instead they wanted to attack the town, take everything and burn down the town. They said that the merchants owned more than what had been offered and that the payment was an insult. When they discussed this they agreed to storm the fort.
The inhabitants in the fort came to hear of their plans and agreed to pay more silver to the Danes and sacrifice to the gods. When Hergeir heard them speak of this he became furious and said: May God curse your promises and your heathen gods. How long are you going to serve the Devil and ruin yourselves with meaningless promises.
The inhabitants were struck with terror and did not know what to do. They all answered: Our salvation depends on your advice. Hergeir answered them: If you want to give promises, give them to God.
Meanwhile King Anund had begun to negotiate with the Danes, he suggested they should decide the fate of the town by lottery, in order to find out if it was the will of the gods or not to spare the town. There is, he said, many and powerful gods and there is a Christian church where they worship Christ. It is therefore necessary to find out if it is the will of the gods to destroy the town. The Danes could not deny this.
So it was decided through lottery if the town was to be spared and the lot said that they could not destroy the town. The Danes now asked what they should do instead because they did not wish to return to Denmark empty handed. The lot then decided that they should go to a town in the land of the Slavs. The Danes now thought that this was what the gods wanted and left. They travelled to the town and attacked it.
King Anund, who had come to conquer, declared peace with the inhabitants and gave them their silver back. He settled down and lived with them in peace. In this way God spared the inhabitants of Birka.
Ibn Fadhlan was an Arab who travelled to Russia on the river Volga. By the river Atil he meets Vikings (Rus) and describes them with fascination.
I Have Seen the Rus
I have seen the Rus. They had come down to the river Volga to trade and they had settled by the river Atil. I have never seen more perfect bodies. They are tall as date palms, blond and ruddy. The Rus do not wear a Curtak or a Caftan. Instead they wear cloaks that covers only one side of their bodies and leaves one arm free.
Each man has an axe, a sword and a dagger that he keeps by his side at all times.
All their women have beautiful brooches over their breasts. These are made of iron, silver, copper or gold, depending on their husbands wealth. To every brooch a there is a ring with a small knife attached to it. Around their necks they carry a necklace made of gold or silver.
They are Allahs filthiest creatures. They do not wash after relieving themselves or after intercourse. They do not wash their hands after they have eaten. They are like mislead donkeys.
They anchor their ships by the river Atil, which is a large river. By the shore they build a large house made of wood. In this house over twenty of them will live together, sometimes even more people. They all have their own bed to sleep and sit on. They bring beautiful slave girls with them on their journeys, which they sell to slave traders. They have intercourse with them when people are watching. Sometimes several of them will have a girl in each others company.
Every day they wash their faces in the dirtiest water. Every morning a slave girl with bring the water to her master. He will then wash his hands, face and hair. He then blows his nose and spits in the water. When he is finished the slave women will carry the water to his comrade. The water passes all the men and all of them blow their noses and spit ion the water.
The Burial of a Chieftain
I had been told that their burials were very special and I wanted to attend one. One of their chieftains had died and I was invited to the ceremony. If a wealthy man dies, they divide what he owned into three parts. One third is given to his family, one third is to pay for the funeral and the last third is to pay for the beer that is consumed during the funeral when the dead man is burned together with one of his slaves. They drink all the time, day and night, and it is not uncommon that they die of drink. One of them asked the slave girls: Who will die with him? One of the girls answered: I shall die with him. From then on she was guarded by two other slave girls who followed her all the time. The girl drank and sang while they prepared the body. They bury their dead in their ships . They had dragged the dead mans ship out of the water up on land. Around the ship they built a large construction of wood. They then lifted the ship up onto this construction. They began to come and go and utter words I could not understand. They built a bench on the ship and put the dead body there. They covered the bench with cloth, cushions and silk.
An old women, who they call the angel of death, arranged all of this. She is the one who kills the slave girl. I saw that she was ruddy and fat.
They dressed the body of the dead man with trousers, boots and a jacket. On his head they put a hat made out of sobel. The body was then carried into the pavilion they had built on the ship and they lay him on the cushions. They brought beer, fruit and basilica. Then they brought bread, meat and unions and lay it down before him. They took a dog and cut it in half and threw it on the ship. All his weapons were collected to be placed beside him. Two horses were killed and put on the ship. Then they killed two cows. A rooster and a hen were also placed there. The slave girl they were going to kill walked from tent to tent and slept with the owner of the tent. After they had finished with her they said: Tell your master that I did this for his sake. When the evening arrived, they brought the slave girl to a wooden gate they had built. She walked over the hands of the men and entered the gate reciting words I could not understand. They then lifted her up and down three times. After this they took the slave girl to the ship. She took of all her jewellery and gave it to the woman they callthe angel of death. The men came with shields and staffs and gave her beer. She began to sing and finished the beer.
They gave her more beer and she continued to sing. The old woman urged her to step into the pavilion where her master lay. The angel of death eventually had to pull her into the tent by the head.
The men now began to hit their shields with their staffs so the screams from the slave woman would not be heard. They did not want the other slave girls to hear this because they might refuse to seek death with them in the future. Six men entered the pavilion and all of them slept with the slave girl. The death angel put a rope around the girls neck and gave the end of the rope to two of the men. The men pulled the rope and the angel of death began stabbing the girl between the ribs.
People now brought fire wood and a man came with a piece of wood that was on fire. He was the dead mans closest relative and was completely naked. He walked with his back towards the ship and put it on fire.
The fire consumed the wood, the ship, the dead chieftain, the slave girl and everything the Rus had put on the ship. A wind started to blow, and the fire grew stronger.
Next to me a man of the Rus turned to me and said: You Arabs are really stupid! You take the person you love the most and bury him in the earth where maggots, worms and insects eat him. We burn our loved ones so they can enter paradise immediately.
When everything had burned they built a large mound of earth and stuck a pole of birch in it. On this piece of wood they had written the dead mans name and the name of the king of Rus.
Then they left.