The Viking Buddhas
Thinking of your Ancient Art, would you consider the Viking Age ancient? It’s more early Middle Ages generally speaking.
I was wondering if you’d seen any of the Viking Buddhas? The Vikings had extensive trade with Asia (some through Russia and extensively through Persia). The most common east Asian trade item found in the Viking world (from what I understand) is silk. Less well known are the “uncommon” but not “rare” occurrence of Buddhas. There are several “classic” style Buddhas found in the Viking world that were likely acquired in trade from eastern Asia (i.e. China) as well as some in the style of southern Asia (i.e. India), but there are also some that are done in a style and with materials that suggests they might have been created in northern Europe, from within the Viking world. The more famous of these (to my knowledge) is the “Oseberg Bucket Buddha” (wikimedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Buckle_from_Oseberg_Vikingship_Buddha.JPG ). It was found in a burial of a very high profile woman.
From what I’ve been able to find, how these Buddhas fit into the Viking worldview is not known. where they representations of a religious minority? Where they co-opted as representation of Norse gods? Was a Buddha figure incorporated into the Viking pantheon in some areas? Where there immigrants or descendants from east/south Asia living in the Viking world that maintained their religious heritage (we know the Viking brought back people from both raid and trade expeditions from most of the “known” world, as spouses, slaves, and even equals/freemen immigrants, and it was possible for slaves to become freemen). In addition to the Buddhas, there are several figurines, mostly interpreted as Valkyrie or Shield Maidens, that have what art historians and hobbyists describe as “slanted” eyes (how i wish they said “artistic interpretation of a hooded eye” or something less probematic! Even “Asiatic” would have been less loaded, for goodness’ sake. ) ( wikicommons link http://www.flickr.com/photos/28772513@N07/4560502772/ ).
Actually, in recent years, more connections to the Vikings and Asia have been revealed in both art and literature. In additions to the Buddhas from Helgö and Oseburg, Persian silk fragments previously thought to have been looted from England or Ireland are now thought to have been gained by legitimate trade directly with Persia. Some of the fragments are suspected to have originated even further east in China.
The literary connection comes from the Saga of Siddharta, which became Baarlams and Josaphat, which was originally Buddha. Apparently a written version of this tale was recorded as a Norse saga in the 13th century.
There are also some linguistic and genetic connections, but that’s definitely wayyy outside my field.
photo credit to Saamiblog
I can’t help it, I gotta comment on this because it’s so exciting.
It is well-known that the norsemen were pretty keen on adopting gods into their pantheon, the more gods the better! (Which is what happened when they became Christianian, they simply adopted Jesus as yet another god to worship and I have even found proof of that on a rune stone not far from where I live. It was sporting a swastika, which is a heathen symbol, and a Christian cross just below it, but the christianization is an entierly different discussion.)
The fact that they could have been worshipping an Asian god doesn’t really sound far off to me at all, and frankly it’s pretty exciting to think about.
What I think is most ironic of all is when people use vikings as a symbol for white sympremacy (yeah, yeah, I repeat this a lot, I know, but it’s something that I will fiercely protect until the day I die) when the vikings themselves were a really curious and multicultural people who (supposedly) took a lot of pride in traveling and trading with people who lived far away. It is believed that it was seen as a symbol of status to own things from far away places. And it would make sense too, because it would indeed be a feat to travel to India and back to Scandinavia again (and required money)
One of the most obvious signs of Middle Eastern influence however, is the way that they dressed. These are harem pants. (Not all pants looked like this though, and most, if not all, of the archeological finds are from the later Viking Age.)
There’s also this little quote:
Vivid colors, flowing silk ribbons, and glittering bits of mirrors - the Vikings dressed with considerably more panache than we previously thought. The men were especially vain, and the women dressed provocatively, but with the advent of Christianity, fashions changed, according to Swedish archeologist Annika Larsson.
“They combined oriental features with Nordic styles. Their clothing was designed to be shown off indoors around the fire,” says textile researcher Annika Larsson, whose research at Uppsala University presents a new picture of the Viking Age.
- Vikings did not dress the way we thought
There are also a couple of mythical swords with the word “Ulfberth” embedded in them made from a special kind of crucible steel, and they got those ingots from places like Iran and Afganistan. If you’re really into swords, there’s a really good documentary on youtube about the process of making this kind of sword.
I even read somewhere that they took musical influence from the Middle East, but I would leave that to my followers because I’m not well-read regarding that aspect at all.
There are a lot of racists in my country saying that we’re destroying our precious culture (that already is a huge melting pot to begin with) and wasting our money on immigrants, and racists on tumblr using vikings and ancient germanic culture as an avatar for their disgusting beliefs, but they also fail to realize that multiculturalism is a tradition that runs REALLY FAR BACK. Even the vikings did it. We had brown people in Norway and Sweden back then, some were even free men. Odin facepalms at you. You have no excuse for your shitty opinions.
Reblog for the additional links and info.