Perhaps the main reason why Vikings are popular today is that they are the ancestors of Scandinavians, Scandinavian-Americans, Scandinavian-Canadians, Baltic peoples, and French Normans. Especially today, these descendants of the Vikings consider having Viking blood in their veins a point of personal pride. Certainly the popular image created through works of literature and other media have bolstered this pride, but these Viking descendants have also done a great deal to keep the memory alive. In Legend Land, the truth about the Vikings is less important than what the descendants of the Vikings think the truth is.

Viking Balls
Viking Balls
In Scandinavia, the Vikings have not always been a source of pride to their descendants. But during the National Romantic period discussed in the history section, the political ideas about a unified Scandinavian past trickled down into the daily life of all Scandinavians, who began to emulate their Viking ancestors. It became especially fashionable in the late 19th century for Scandinavians to decorate their homes with Viking inspired art motifs and to dress up as Vikings for important events. This trend continued well into the 1940s. Today, Scandinavians still like to keep reminders of their Viking ancestors around them, including Viking themed coffee cups, warrior figurines, coasters and trivets, to name a few. Vikings are also a dominant theme in tourist items. It seems Scandinavian pride in the Vikings has not abated, despite scholarly efforts to turn them into unheroic farmers and craftsmen.

Tony Auth on Viking Heritage

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Interestingly enough, the period of heightened pride in the Vikings coincided with a massive Scandinavian immigration to the U.S. and Canada. There are almost as many people of Scandinavian descent in North America as there are in Scandinavia itself! These immigrants brought with them their sense of pride in their Viking ancestors. In fact, celebrating the Vikings seems to be the main marker of Scandinavian ethnicity, in addition to a few Old World phrases and traditional baked goods. In Minnesota, where many Norwegians and Swedes settled, there are over 300 businesses with Viking in the title, and many more with a Viking ship as part of the company logo, which is certainly a sign of ethnic pride.

Minnesota Vikings
Football Helmets and Horned Helmets
The popularity of the Vikings in the mid-west is also linked to a noteworthy event which took place in 1893. In that year, a replica of the Gokstad ship sailed from Norway to North America. After visiting the eastern seaboard, it then traveled up the Erie Canal to Lake Michigan, and docked at the Chicago World's Exposition. This first-ever sailing of a replica Viking ship garnished tremendous publicity. Since then, other ship sailings have served to reinforce the link between Scandinavians and people of Scandinavian descent in North America. More recently, the Minnesota Vikings NFL football team has been a continual reminder (especially during the fall) of the many Scandinavians in the area and their shared ancestry in a Viking past. While some of this could be dismissed as crass publicity and marketing, in Legend Land it is these expressions of popular culture that make the biggest impression.

Viking descendants in other areas also find pride in their ancestors. Perhaps the best known of this is the people of Normandy, France. In 1911, at the one-thousand anniversary of the victory of the Vikings over the French, Normans celebrated their Viking heritage with elaborate festivals and parties that reinforced knowledge of the Viking legacy in French society. A more permanent reminder of the unique heritage of the Normans is found in Bayeaux, France. Housed in a special museum there is the gorgeous Bayeaux tapestry, dating to the late 11th century and measuring some 70 meters in length. This remarkable artifact commemorates the Norman invasion of England in 1066, when William the Conqueror of Normandy defeated the first king to unite England, King Harold, in the Battle of Hastings. William was a descendant of Count Rollo, also called Hrolf, who was a Viking chieftain that had been given Normandy in a peace agreement with the French king. The Norman invasion of England radically transformed the English language and English culture, and is rightfully a source of pride for these French descendants of the Vikings.

Other Europeans also point to the Vikings as a point of pride, including many living along the Baltic coast. Latvians and Estonians who live across the Baltic Sea from Gotland and along the Gulf of Finland reason that the Vikings undoubtedly visited their shores. Indeed, some cultural traditions, such as wooden boat building, might point to Viking influence in these areas.

In Legend Land, the descendants of the Vikings keep the memory of their ancestors alive and well, certainly contributing to their popularity. In fact, the Vikings seem to be a convenient identifier which differentiates certain groups, like the Normans or Scandinavian-Americans, from the rest of their countrymen. As an important part of so many individuals' identity, it is unlikely the popularity of the Vikings will wane anytime soon.

Choose your next voyage stop from the map at the left.