Descriptions testify that the fearsome Nordic warriors not only secured victories through raw violence, but also by being smarter than their enemies and by using sneaky tricks without the slightest scruple.
The Vikings made life unsafe along Europe's coasts and riverbanks from around 790 AD to 1050. Behind the lucrative raids there were years of tough training, effective reconnaissance and cunning tactical advancements. Even the infamous Berserks - which, according to the sagas, went to war without breastplates and were "mad as dogs and wolves" and which "no fire or iron could defeat" - was a calculated part of the Viking's attack tactics. The Berserks was the spearhead, to intimidate and threaten the enemy.
From chronicles, sagas and archaeological discoveries, we know that the Vikings began combat training as children. The warrior mentality permeated the entire society and all Viking villages had a central place where adults and children as young as five to six years of age received systematic training in combat skills and various sports.
The children attended to harden the body and prepare for the growing challenges of life, while men were doing sports for the social aspect and to keep fit. According to the Heiðarviga saga, Vikings had a tradition of "exercise during the day and come together to wrestle each other."
The instructions was supervised by experienced warriors. They acted as tutors for children and taught them in attack and defense techniques. Among other things, the boys learn to use the many different weapons with both right and left hand, so that they could switch arm if they were wounded in the weapons-arm during a battle.
The education of the children stopped when they reached the age of 12. Then it was expected from the community, according to poet verses and sagas, that the young Vikings mastered a wide range of skills such as combat with swords, shields and axes, archery, javelin, wrestling, horse riding, swimming and longitude- and high jumping.
The Viking's first raids at the end of the 7th century were probably carried out by small groups who attacked targets along the coasts of northern Europe, without conducting any tactical recognizance ahead. But the Vikings soon developed a regular pattern for the raids, where thought-trough blitz attacks from the sea played a crucial role. The targets were selected on the basis of observations from previous raids or information supplied by traveling traders.
The element of surprise was crucial, and an attack almost always began early morning. When the ships approached the target, the Viking warriors lowered the sails and rowed towards the shore. The ships low hull made them almost invisible from the land, and with the flat bottoms of the ships, the Vikings could almost row completely ashore and then jump into the water as modern landing troops.
At the target for the attack, the warriors stormed shouting and screaming into the village or the monastery with their arms swinging above their heads. The goal was to cripple the opponents with fear, and numerous sources testify that the tactic succeeded time and again.
In a book from the French monastery of St. Bertin, an anxious monk tells about a Viking fleet in the year 842, that attacked the Commerce Square Quentovic "abruptly at dawn." The Vikings were horrible and left everything deserted. They killed and took people prisoner, regardless of gender, and the only thing that was left in the city, was the buildings that were bought off with money. "
Extortion was central in the Viking's pillage tactics. While the main force moved in with a frontal attack, the rest of the warriors surrounded the town or monastery so that no one would slip away. The Vikings quickly picked out priests, rich merchants and masters who they could demand ransom for. Also magnificent buildings with high standard material or symbolic value the warriors offered to spare - against a sizeable sum. The rest was looted and torched, while residents were led away to a life as slaves.
Occasionally it happened that the Vikings were caught off guard by a hostile force before the looting was over, and then they divided themselves into small groups and fled in opposite directions. Thus the hostile army was forced either to give up the fight or split up and meet the Vikings in smaller battles. Here the Scandinavians were usually strongest because of its year-long training.
Later the Vikings met again at a prearranged place where they could go to the boats and continue to the next target.
In time, the Vikings became braver and more skilled. The raids lasted longer, ships sailed deeper into the countries via the rivers, and the targets were bigger and harder to take. Not even cities with strong fortification could be sure of avoiding attacks.
In June 843 the Norwegian Viking Lords Asgeir and Gunnar sailed with 67 ships up the river Loire south of Brittany. The target was the ancient Roman provincial town of Nantes, which was surrounded by high walls. The news of the enemy fleet reached the city on 24 June, in the middle of the celebration of midsummer. People from all over the area were in town that day. The citizens hastened to shut the city gates, but to no avail. The Vikings climbed over the walls using ladders and rolled into the city. An eyewitness told later in a chronicle of the city:
"When they saw the enemy break through the walls, they ran to the Peter and Paul Cathedral, barricaded the doors and asked for divine intervention, for it was impossible for them to save themselves."
Moments later the Vikings stormed into the church and chopped off the bishop's head during the prayer Sursum Corda - "Lift up your hearts." According to eyewitness a massacre followed:
"Children, who clung to their dead mother's breasts, drank blood instead of milk, the church's stones were stained red by holy men's blood, and from the holy altar innocent's blood dripped. The pagans then plundered the whole town, grabbed hold of everything of value and set fire to the church. Then they took a large number of prisoners and hostage for ransom and returned to their ships. "
The Viking's urge to kill is probably exaggerated in this and other gory eyewitness accounts. The warriors had no interest of sending more than necessary to death, people were worth most alive, and most victims were therefore not killed, but captured and used or sold as slaves.
Nowadays the Vikings exist no more, but the tactics, the brutality and the bloodshed are recognizable.
As the Vikings did, ISIS train children to fight and kill.
As the Vikings did, ISIS takes slaves and hostages.
The Vikings had no fear of dying in battle, as Valhalla was waiting, where there was party time with Thor and Odin. ISIS fighters have no fear of dying as Paradise and 72 promised virgins are waiting.
Vikings beheaded people. ISIS behead people.
Vikings considered Christians as infidels. ISIS considers Christians (and all other faiths, and faithless) as infidels, and both took/take them prisoners or killed/kill them.
The Vikings looted and destroyed. So do ISIS.
The Vikings developed plans and tactics with the purpose of destroy, extort, loot, kill, rape, take hostages and slaves. So do ISIS.
So, is there any difference between Vikings and ISIS?
Yes, several. 1300 years of development, culture and progress. The year is 2015, and while the Vikings have developed into a progressive Scandinavian race, where science and European culture is the driving force, ISIS is stuck on stupid, in the year 620, citing the Quran, and acting like the then bloodthirsty ignorant barbarians of the North.
Vikings respected their wives and women, while ISIS has a completely different view.
Vikings had no mad religious suicide prospects, as ISIS has.
And of course the technological aspect. The Vikings were brave, going man to man in physical battle, swords swinging, while ISIS are cowards who shoot people from a distance.
There are probably a lot more differences, so feel free to comment.
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