Throughout the late tenth century in Scandinavia many societies were adversely affected by the spread of Christianity. The Vikings were traditionally a pagan community believing in many gods and heathen rituals such as human and material sacrifice. Through the influence of powerful Christian rulers many Vikings did convert to Christianity during the tenth century. Some converted from their heathen ways by choice and others were forced to except these ideas or be killed by order of the king. But as the new millennium approached Christians and Pagans believed that an apocalypse would truly decide the future of the rightful belief.
By the tenth century the Roman Empire France and England had already been Christianized. In 962 A.D. Otto II the Holy Roman Emperor decided to try and spread the religion into Scandinavia. ?Sending word to the Danish king Harald Bluetooth that the king must convert the German emperor demanded that Denmark become Christian or he would invade?(84). This threat eventually led to an invasion on Denmark by the Saxons. Bluetooth called upon his heathen brother to help defend their country but Otto?s troops prevailed. Without much choice the two heathen brothers opened up to Christ ?they declared but they insisted that their Norse gods were stronger because they revealed themselves to men with signs and miracles?(84). In return the emperor Otto had one of his Bishops stick has hand in a fire and he pulled it out without burning himself. This feat astonished the two men and afterwards they were baptized to the satisfaction of Otto. Otto then removed his troops in hope that the newly baptized chiefs would spread this faith to the rest of the Vikings.
For the next few ?decades the Christian king of Denmark Harald Bluetooth held sway over the area [in Norway called the Vik] many converted to Christianity?(30). However his heathen brother Earl Hacon reverted back to heathenism as soon as Otto II was far enough away. As soon as Hacon got control of Norway ? the converted reverted and once again the gods of Aesir were transcendent?(30).
The first Viking ruler to take initiative in truly spreading Christianity was Olaf Trygvesson. In 994 A.D. ?biding his time in the Scilly Islands off Land?s End the Viking [Olaf] heard of a local fortune-teller personally?(17). At first he tried to trick the fortune-teller by sending one of his men to pose as the king. However the fortune-teller was not fooled he knew that it was not the king. This intrigued Olaf and he had to meet this mysterious man. Upon meeting the hermit Olaf was pleased to hear that he would be king and ?many men wilt thou bring to baptism?(17). At that point Olaf knew his faith and was inspired to spread it throughout the world.
In 995 A.D. Olaf began his journey to Norway to spread his theology and gain his rightful status as king of Norway. His first accomplishment was to Christianize the Orkney Islands. ?Confronting the earl of the Orkneys Sigurd he said:
?I want you and all your subjects to be baptized. If you refuse I?ll have you killed on the spot and I swear that I?ll ravage every island with fire and steel??(22).
Olaf?s use of force to baptize was successful and he continued using threats to spread his beliefs. In 996A.D. Olaf became king of Norway and his first mission was to ensure that ?all of Norway will be Christian or die?(30). Being that Norway was very sparsely populated Olaf made his way to the Vik the most populated region of the
country. ?By the end of the year between his sword and his axe he had claimed all of the Vik for Christ and dared anyone to claim otherwise?(31).
Moving on he headed west and was met by three men who were to speak against his beliefs. These speakers were organized by local chiefs and when it came time for them to present their arguments some thing ?supernatural? came over them and they were unable to carry on. ?Thereafter the region voted for Christianity and the people were baptized?(31).
At this time Olaf had made a lot of threats and eventually began to ?burn heathen temples and heathen idols?(32). He lured heathen chiefs into places with fine feasts and torched the building while they were still inside. By 999A.D. Olaf had successfully Christianized Norway.
Many people like Olaf?s scald Hallfred were captivated by Christianity. Hallfred was an immense supporter of pagan gods because he felt that they helped him write his poetry. He believed that he had been rescued from death by the grace of God and such a miracle was enough for him to give up his Pagan beliefs for Christ. Most citizens however were skeptics about Christianity. They were raised with the beliefs that Pagan gods such as Thor would make them stronger. Since Christianity was forced on them the ?men would believe in Christ but call upon Thor for voyages and large undertakings?(49).
The only thing that this new religion offered these people was a chance to continue living. Besides the few miracles like Hallfred and the three speakers who were taken over by supernatural force the heathens were mostly converting in fear of the
king?s wrath. Olaf never produced any reasons or benefits to Christianity; the only things different from their original beliefs were that ?they should believe in one god not abandon children to die at birth nor shall they eat horse flesh?(47). Christianity failed to offer anything of substantial value to the heathens except for the certainty that the king would not kill them.
Around the late tenth century many Christians and heathens believed that the upcoming millennium would bring about an apocalyptic change in the society and possibly the future of human civilization. Between the heathens ?there had been talk of Ragnarok that terrible end-time when the world sinks into moral chaos into anxiety and greed into an intoxication with gold when brothers kill brothers and incest is rampant. In this wolf?s age Odinn becomes an agent of violent death and is himself killed violently when war breaks out between Vanir and the Aesir and the gods mete out punishment to oath breakers murderers and rapists?(23). They believed that this final battle of good and evil was to be the end of the world. The Christians also believed that something was going to happen on the thousandth birthday of Jesus Christ. It was said to be a Second Coming of Christ with a ?final climatic battle between the forces of good and evil?(23). King Olaf knew that this day was coming and Christianity would reign over evil. In the winter of the new millennium the Christian and Pagan forces did collide and Olaf had been prepared. Four years earlier he had started to build his fleet which had now reached about seventy-one battle ships. Not to mention his ship the Long Serpeant which ?in its size its speed and sheer beauty it was unmatched in the world?(102). The Battle of Svold pitted Olaf?s Christian Norsemen against heathen
Norsemen from Denmark Sweden and Norway. ?Ragnarok and Armageddon were conjoined; the battle was between men but it was also a battle between gods and between good and evil?(103). Olaf?s troops fought hard and pushed back to Danes and the Swedes with no problems however Earl Eric?s Norsemen were the true test. After fighting long and hard the Christians were in trouble. Fearing for his life ?Olaf jumped overboard?(107).
The Battle of Svold was not necessarily what the Vikings had expected. Although it was a battle between good and evil it was not a Ragnarok or an Armageddon. It did not clearly distinguish any winner or loser. The only thing apocalyptic about the new millennium was that leaders like Olaf Trygvesson had made a name for Christianity and it has spread throughout the world ever since.
How Swede it is to be a Christian Viking
T.A. David Lunt