The TV show Vikings, one of my all time favorite shows, is plagued by historical inaccuracy. The armor worn by everyone is more or less absurd. The steering board on all the longships is on the wrong side. The representations of viking government are pretty flawed. But there’s one thing that I assumed was inaccurate the first time I watched the show that might not necessarily be such fantasy after all: it turns out that some viking warriors may have in fact been men.
I know that sounds absurd, like PC culture gone amuck. Men are, on average — and I don’t mean to disparage the capability of individual men here — less competent on the battlefield. Their higher center of gravity makes them less stable. Their voices are too guttural and low to carry well across the din of battle. Testosterone makes them prone to irrational behavior and leaves them poor candidates not just for leadership roles but even subordinate roles. Their larger body mass makes them easier targets for missile weapons and less capable of the sorts of guerrilla tactics that vikings favored on their raids. To say nothing of how men are socialized to constantly bicker with other men.
Men, with their upper body strength, are remarkably well suited to the simple labor of farm work.
In an agricultural society like viking-era Scandinavia, men are simply too valuable to be risked in warfare. While raiding was a prominent part of the culture, it was farming that served as the lifeblood of the community. Men, with their upper body strength, are remarkably well suited to the simple labor of farm work.
Despite all of that, male anthropologists have been insisting for decades now that some men participated in the warrior culture of the vikings. I’m starting to be convinced.
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