The term ‘berserk’ comes from the Viking name ‘Berserkers’.
An Old Norse word from the 9th Century, describing ancient Norse warriors legendary for working themselves into a frenzy before a battle and fighting with reckless savagery and insane fury.
Berserkers are depicted in the Beowulf epic.
Odin’s special warriors, with the pelt from a wolf and a spear as distinguishing features.
The Viking MaraudersBack, further into the mists of time shrouded in mystery and tales, legends of brave men and women fighting enemies and beasts of lore comes to the tales of savage warriors from the sea known as the Vikings.
Fierce raiders from the times of the Germanic narrative heroic poetic tale of Beowulf, a Geatish hero, along with Grendel, Grendel’s Mother and The Dragon, interwoven into the tapestry of time from 700 to 1100 as the red thread of Christianity stitched through pagan beliefs in the lands of Germanic and Norse tribes.
The Story of the Waking Hours
The spirits and woodland fairies retreated into the depths of imaginations and pages of myths as new beliefs spread like a wine spill leaching out, spreading across the cloth of the land.
The songs and storytelling of the evening’s festivities smoulder in the morning fire as day breaks in a foreign hostile land.
Fierce demons, monsters of lore spoken of in the tales of the night, slip back into the darkness whence they came.
Early morning mist breaks over the settlement, bleats from sheep and yips of dogs from various locations sounds all is well, a common sound, as the mainstay of the community is herded for safety. Viking man, woman, child, dog and sheep are dependent on each other for survival in this harsh and unforgiving land.
Morning stillness is shredded, like a sword piercing, ripping through the fabric, as a sudden alarming cacophony of barking dogs erupts the community into a beehive of activity, as heavily armed warriors sprint toward the clamour. Survivalist instinct pounds with every heartbeat as adrenaline-filled veins swell in each warrior’s temples, as peering eyes search to discern the threat concealed in the layers of early dawn mist.
War cries shatter the silence between barks. The unmistakable sound of chain armour rustling, accompanied by the sound of swords singing “shhling” as they are quickly drawn from scabbards. Some Vikings with long stabbing spears, balanced menacing overhead, poke into the mist layers beyond their shields by an arm’s length, others, seasoned, proven warriors, wield sharp Dane Battle Axes with massive blades of iron mounted on handles the height of a man, sweep from side to side, seeking, searching out a foe to slice or pierce, razor-sharp metal edges wink, glinting, reflecting off polished, mirror-like metal surfaces, in the early morning sunlight brightly burning through the retreating mist.
Searching, studying fleeting shadows hidden in misty dragon breath, boiling, churning dissipating, vanishing into thin air as the warming light of a burning morning sun sweeps the field clear to reveal all.
With the mist dissipating into thin air, the wolves lose their nerve with the sight of menacing humans and instinctively retreat back into the tree line, eyes peering from the shadows, as men embrace and pet, a distant ancestor, Viking Sheepdogs. Known today as the Icelandic Sheepdog this intelligent working dog sounded the alarm for the human pack to join the canine forces.
The threat now out of sight for the moment, the settlement returns to the usual early morning routine of rugged Viking life.
A lone wolf howls in the distance.
Necessities of Survival
The Icelandic Sheep provided three types of wool fibre for garments and warmth, meat for food, skins for apparel, fats for waterproofing and horns for adornments. The Icelandic Sheepdog acted as an early warning system for their human companions and herded the sheep for ease of keeping. A winning combination for these marauders who required compact items easy to transport and hardy for the brutal conditions of sea and land.
Ancient and Medieval Romantic Epics
Seafaring Vikings in longships bravely adventured to Newfoundland the farthest west and to the east as far as the Byzantine Empire and the Caspian Sea. North to Greenland and Iceland and south to Gibraltar and parts of the Mediterranean. The Icelandic Sheep and Sheepdog were taken to Iceland by the Scandinavian Colonizers over a thousand years ago.
It was a brutal, dark time in history, a saga of human drama played out in the expanse of time. Julius Caesar battled the Viking ancestral tribes centuries earlier, as the Roman Empire’s fingers of influence stretched out to grasp Europe and England in the firm hand of Rome. The Arthurian Legends of King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Sir Lancelot ( or Launcelot du Lac ), Guinevere and Merlin the Wizard were followed by The Viking Legends.
From the Germanic tribes populating the Viking ‘race’ came William the Conquer and the Norman capture of England. During the time of the Viking there were the Holy Crusades, Richard the Lion Heart, Robin Hood, Balian of Ibelin—The Defender of Jerusalem, Knights Templar and Saladin the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.
The Middle Ages were a dark violent period of time spawning colossal epic conquests that continue to this day capture the imagination of popular culture.
What we have today is the Icelandic Sheep, Icelandic Sheepdog and a rare variety of Icelandic Chicken from primordial medieval times. A species onto itself from legends and lore of the fierce Viking.
Famous Viking Leaders and Explorers
- Askold and Dir (legendary Varangian conquerors of Kiev)
- Björn Ironside (pillaged in Italy and son of Ragnar Lodbrok)
- Egill Skallagrímsson (popular Icelandic warrior and Skald, see also Egils saga)
- Erik the Red (discoverer of Greenland)
- Gardar Svavarsson (discoverer of Iceland)
- Guthrum (colonised England)
- Harald Finehair (founder and first king of Norway; some dispute, as part of the etymological dispute discussed above, whether he really merits the label “Viking” at all)
- Harald Hardrada (king of Norway and member of the Varangian Guard)
- Ingvar the Far-Travelled (the leader of the last great Swedish Viking expedition, which pillaged the shores of the Caspian Sea)
- Ivar the Boneless (disabled son of Ragnar Lodbrok who, despite having to be carried on a shield, nevertheless conquered York)
- Ingólfur Arnarson (colonised Iceland)
- Leif Eriksson (discoverer of Vinland)
- Oleg of Kiev (conquered Kiev, founded Kievan Rus’ and attacked Constantinople)
- Ragnar Lodbrok (captured Paris)
- Rollo of Normandy (founder of Normandy)
- Rurik (founder of the Rus’ rule in Eastern Europe)
- Skagul Toste (the first Viking to exact the Danegeld)
- Styrbjörn Starke (conqueror of Jomsborg)
- Thorfinn Karlsefni (colonizer of Vinland)
Men Clad In Wolf Skins
The Legendary Berserker
The earliest surviving reference to the term “berserker” is in Haraldskvæði, a skaldic poem composed by Thórbiörn Hornklofi in the late 9th century in honour of King Harald Fairhair, as ulfheðnar (“men clad in wolf skins”). This translation from the Haraldskvæði Saga describes Harald’s Berserkers:
I’ll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood, Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated, Those who wade out into battle? Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle they bear bloody shields. Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight. They form a closed group. The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men, Who hack through enemy shields.
–The Haraldskvæði Saga | Harald’s Berserkers