Table of contents:
- Furious, fearless and very poorly studied
- What were the berserkers, why and why did they go berserk
- How the disappearance of berserkers is explained
They terrified everyone who was not lucky enough to collide with them during the battle: they roared, rushed at opponents without chain mail and sometimes without weapons at all, bite their shields in rage, and most importantly, they did not feel pain and often won victories in battles. Berserker warriors, as if turning into some kind of wild beasts, gave life to many myths and legends, and they themselves are seen through the prism of past centuries as semi-mythical characters.
Furious, fearless and very poorly studied
The nature of the fearlessness of warriors in different cultures is different - samurai, for example, put above all the honor of dying in battle for the master, and therefore do not avoid death and do not fetter themselves with excessive caution. But in the north of Europe, once raged, in the literal sense of the word, berserkers - not samurai at all, but also an interesting category of warriors to study. But to study them is not an easy task, since this phenomenon has reached the present day in the form of legends rather than described in historical documents and confirmed by facts.
The tribes of the Eastern Slavs knew about berserkers firsthand, and most likely tried to avoid meeting them at all costs. But how was it to be avoided? The times from the 8th to the 11th century were a period of domination by the Vikings, "sea robbers" who either limited themselves to the devastation of coastal villages and towns, then conquered the lands of northern Europe and not only. It is with the Vikings that the history of the berserker warriors, the mysterious characters of Scandinavian history, is associated.
Why mysterious? It's just that if berserkers existed, such as they are now presented to historians, it was even before the appearance of writing on the territory of Scandinavia and Northern Europe in general, that is, before the spread of Christianity there. Since the 12th century, they began to write down sagas - literary works based on oral narratives, but even these sources cannot be considered reliable enough, because by that time sagas had been told for more than one hundred years. In Byzantine sources, descriptions of such fearless "savages" are found; However, they are not called berserkers.
What were the berserkers, why and why did they go berserk
The first document where the word "berserk" appears is Thorbjörn Hornklovy's saga of the Battle of Havrsfjord in 872. Translated from Old Norse, "berserk" means either "bear skin" or "naked shirt". Both interpretations are allowed, because berserkers, according to the epic, really fought without chain mail and did not use defensive weapons, and preferred the skin of a bear as clothing.
They fought with particular fury, frenzied, entering into a state of fury that could not be pacified. During the battle, the berserkers did not feel wounds; according to legends, neither iron nor fire could kill them. They seemed to turn into bears themselves - the origin of werewolf legends is therefore sometimes associated with these warriors. Berserkers often started the battle - so it was possible to introduce uncertainty or even panic into the ranks of the enemy.
Apparently, these frightening-looking warriors often went to the service of the rulers, performing the functions of both personal bodyguards and executors of special assignments for the master. They went on Viking ships, becoming an excellent aid in the conquest of new possessions.
Berserkers did not cut their hair or shave their beards - until they won their first victory, then they got rid of the hair on their heads.
Traditionally, a battle ax or a sword is considered a berserker's weapon, but, according to legends, they could be thrown back and fought with almost bare hands - after all, the beast does not use human weapons, except perhaps a club or stone raised from the ground. After the end of the battle, the berserkers fell into a long, up to several days, deep sleep.
How the disappearance of berserkers is explained
Although the information about berserkers cannot be considered absolutely reliable, their numerous references in ancient works make it possible to form some idea of these "fighting madmen" and make assumptions about the reasons for such behavior during the battle. According to one of the versions, berserkers used tinctures of hallucinogenic mushrooms, in particular, fly agaric, as shamans of some northern peoples do.
Another explanation for the state of frenzy is mental illness, possibly inherited from the parents, which could lead to the transmission of this fighting style to offspring.
Another likely reason for exceptional courage and insensitivity to wounds is the state of combat trance, which was caused by special rituals.
With the end of the Viking Age in the 11th century, berserkers were no longer considered heroes as they used to be during the conquests. They did not like to work and really could not, and it was difficult to find the use of their fighting rage in a peaceful life. Legends say that during their "seizures" berserkers threw huge boulders and uprooted trees.
The church did not favor berserkers, and in the new sagas they were already exhibited as robbers and villains. At the beginning of the second millennium, these warriors were outlawed, and after a few decades, berserkers were already part of the past.