The Vikings raided, pillaged...and wrote love poems

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Mention the Vikings and most people will immediately think of horned helmets, blood eagles, and grizzled barbarians raiding and pillaging their way across the seven seas. It's a cliché, of course, but one embedded with an element of truth. During the early years of the Viking Age (circa 800–1100) the Vikings were engaged in a campaign of what we might now term "asymmetrical warfare," attacking religious targets in a savage attempt to assert their own culture against Charlemagne's expanding Christian empire.

Yet these warriors had an artistic side that's long been overlooked. They spun out intricately decorated shields, finely worked silver jewelry and woven wall tapestries depicting scenes from heathen mythology. And a mastery of poetry was a must for any young Viking who wanted to make a name for himself.

Most Viking poems praised the deeds of a king or patron, but a few of them even dwelled on love. Young Icelandic warrior-poets (or "skalds," as they were known) such as Gunnlaug Snaketongue, Kormak Ogmundarson, and Hallfred the Troublesome Poet, were documenting the ecstasies and despairs of romantic love as early as the late 10th century, some 200 years before the medieval troubadours we typically credit as being the world's first true Romantic poets...

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