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Thread: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

  1. #1

    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    Whilst there are very few historical accounts of Berserker gangs/warbands, and most of these are from sagas, I disagree that they are fantasy inspired. After all, they were officially outlawed by Jarl Eiríkr Hákonarson of Norway in 1015.
    The historicity of the berserkergang is not what is in doubt, but more so the widespread existence of berserker units that went into battle.

  2. #2
    Member Member Vytautas Lietuva's Avatar
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    Post Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cambyses II
    The historicity of the berserkergang is not what is in doubt, but more so the widespread existence of berserker units that went into battle.
    If they didn't go into battle all they could use their abilities to do would be to break-dance really well

    Hashishins were their own sect, though they could be hired. Battlefield ninjas that use shuriken stars from STW are totally fictional, the only way they were usually used for would be to sneak behind enemy lines and slit throats or shoot exploding arrows.

    I don't think hashishins should be trained as a battlefield unit however; they were mostly used as agent-style assassins.

    The hashishins weren't very friendly with people as you point out and I think they were destroyed (if only partially) by the Mongols in a castle siege.

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    Minion of Zoltan Member Roark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Cambyses II
    The historicity of the berserkergang is not what is in doubt, but more so the widespread existence of berserker units that went into battle.
    Err, actually no.

    He said they were fantasy-inspired. I said they weren't.

    We weren't discussing how prevalent or abundant they were. I'm sure they weren't, hence the scant information on them.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    Err, actually no.

    He said they were fantasy-inspired. I said they weren't.

    We weren't discussing how prevalent or abundant they were. I'm sure they weren't, hence the scant information on them.
    The "he" is me, and I said they were fantasy inspired which they are in that the unit in the game is based on the berserksgangr legend and not historical accounts. I didn't say the berserkers were pure fantasy units. While there are many historians that are convinced of their existence, there are equally as many that dismiss them, and their abilities, as a myth. It all depends on which sources you're reading from. There is also no real evidence as to what caused the so called bersker rage, several theories exists, none of them solid ones. The same can be said for the English Longbows, Viking Huscales or Fedayeen, it's all a matter of interpretation, perspective, and often, nationality. They existed, but did they exist as portrayed in the game?


  5. #5
    Minion of Zoltan Member Roark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    I think we're at crossed purposes here, dude.

    The Berserkgangr legend is based on their belief of supernatural gifts from Odin.

    Obviously, there is no historical evidence for supernatural gifts from Odin.

    Trust me that I take that as a given.

    All I'm saying is that there is historical evidence of warbands/units of warriors who:

    - believed that they had received supernatural powers and acted as such
    - were feared amongst their contemporaries
    - were referred to as Berserkers

  6. #6

    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    I think we're at crossed purposes here, dude.

    The Berserkgangr legend is based on their belief of supernatural gifts from Odin.
    I would agree with "legend" but disagree with that it is based on some religious belief, more so Norse Sagas that have been found to be highly romanticised and often highly unreliable. The legend is based on some very sparse old texts and mythology.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    All I'm saying is that there is historical evidence of warbands/units of warriors who:
    There is no actual historical evidence of such warbands. That is to say, there are no items or written texts that would count as evidence of their existence. They have not been observed or documented by independent scholars / the clergy, and so little is know of that region during the period anyway.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    - believed that they had received supernatural powers and acted as such
    Many "Viking" warriors would fit that bill, berserker or otherwise.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    - were feared amongst their contemporaries
    Again part of the legend - unproven. If they had existed this would have been pretty obvious, given their reputation.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    - were referred to as Berserkers
    Individuals perhaps, and no reliable sources.

    I understand where you're coming from with this, but I'm also trying to get my point across that there is simply no solid foundation to the berserker legends. They could have been blown out of all proportion for numerous reasons. Personally I do think that even if they existed, in very small numbers, for a TW game they're in the same league as German Screaming Women, Flaming Pigs, Battlefield Ninja and Kensai. To me they're "toy" units, placed in the game for the usual "berskers totally pwn!!!!!!!111" (childish and short lived fun) effect. This started back in the STW days with the MI expansion. From a classic game with a very balanced unit roster that required tactics on behalf of the player in order to win we have now come to a fast clicking RTS game (the battles) with no more tactical depth than "point and click" made up of highly imbalanced units, that give highly predictable battles where unit stats are everything. If you know the stats you can predict the outcome. Gamey morale, valour, armour and weapon upgrades have become the order of the day, and as with any RTS game you're simply involved in a technology race to outstrip your opponents. I've seen this kind of thing in this forum with players referring to unit x retrained in province y to get the valour bonus then retrained in province z to get gold armour and the best weapon upgrades, then they can apparently cut through anything they come up against and are ready for some "pwnage". I really can't see the point in this. There is no satisfaction or longevity to be had from this style of play, nor so called "uber units". Danish campaigns with a mob of Huscarles are an example of this. The Huscarles are so overpowered for the period that only about 6 units are needed to plough through half of Europe. There is pretty much nothing that can stop them, they eat Royal Knights for breakfast. With MTW 1.1 the Danish roster was fairly balanced with the Vanilla Vikings adding a slight advantage to the Danes in early. With the addition of VI these supermen, and others, were added from the VI campaign. Not because they were needed, the Danish roster did not lack this type of unit, they were added, as usual, as extra "toys" to play with.

    With the relevant historical references running out for CA, the next game or the one after that, could be a fantasy game. This will suit the style of gameplay, that CA have begun to define with RTW and M2TW, much better. A fantasy game will have no historical constraints and the "special abilities" such as the warcries and druid chants, as well as the uber units, will be more relevant.

  7. #7
    Minion of Zoltan Member Roark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    A couple of points, dude:

    - Berserkers were officially outlawed by Jarl Eiríkr Hákonarson of Norway.
    - Similarly, they were outlawed in writing within the Gragas, the medieval Icelandic law codex
    - They feature prominently in Snorri Sturluson's "Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway"

    It seems that these fantasy warriors were real enough to include in the written law.


  8. #8

    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    A couple of points, dude:

    - Berserkers were officially outlawed by Jarl Eiríkr Hákonarson of Norway.
    They were apparently exiled. This proves nothing, it proves they may have existed as an outlawry which is in all likelihood what they were, though their existence is not what is in debate here, and that to be outlawed they must have been "undesirables", it doesn't prove they took part in any kind of organised warfare or raids, nor does it prove that they took part in the raids and conquest of parts of britain.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    - Similarly, they were outlawed in writing within the Gragas, the medieval Icelandic law codex
    Same as above, but put into writing.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    - They feature prominently in Snorri Sturluson's "Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway"

    It seems that these fantasy warriors were real enough to include in the written law.

    Unfortunately your "historical" reference in this case is a 13th century collection of the norse "sagas", where historical fact, mythology and large doses of romanticism are to be found in abundance. This type of source is never reliable as it draws from many other earlier sources mostly made up of legend and folklore that are less than reliable. Many such works were written for the perusal of nobility and are very biased towards accepted traditions and lore.

  9. #9
    Camel Lord Senior Member Capture The Flag Champion Martok's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Split off from original thread and moved to Monastery.
    "MTW is not a game, it's a way of life." -- drone

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    Humanist Senior Member Franconicus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    The German army (Bundeswehr) still has some Berserker units. They are dangerous as hell, for their friends as well as for their enemies. Therefore, they are ocked away, most of the time.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Berserkers are fiction, like many things in Heimskringla, another being the record of the Battle of Stamford Bridge in which the English housecarles fought like Continental knights. If you have to go to Heimskringla to dredge up evidence of something, my advice is give up. And frankly Gragas has to be treated with caution on matters like this. Aside from "berserkers", it also outlaws "black sorcery", which it states is committed if "through is words or his magic a man brings about the sickness or death of livestock or people". What such provisions really prove is that Icelanders were superstitious, nothing more. Gragas is a valuable source but people should not take it at face value. Even in relation to bland matters of social and economic relations it can easily give the wrong impression- for example despite its numerous references to slaves the institution of slavery was well on its way to extinction in Iceland by the time the law was codified in 1117. Like any society Scandinavia probably had its share of nutcases and pathologically violent people, which the obsession with violence evidenced by the literature probably elevated to the status of legend, but that is all.
    Last edited by Furious Mental; 05-25-2007 at 14:09.

  12. #12
    Professional Cynic Member Innocentius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    I'm sorry but I don't really see where this debate is going. As far as I'm concerned there's only two real alternatives on the issue of the berserkers:

    1. They were "elite" warriors who believed themselves to have divine powers during battle.
    2. They did not exist and are mostly a result of 19th century nationalism.

    Whatever the case, berserkers as they exist in MTW are highly inaccurate. Letting the best troops run around half-naked makes no sense, and elite often meant rich enough to buy some armour (or at least proper clothes).
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  13. #13
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    You're forgetting that most sources ascribe a supernatural factor to berskerkers and the like - superstition for the modern viewer, but as real as anything to contemporaries as supernatural matters now generally were.

    Electing to not wear armour, even if you could afford to, was apparently often a kind of display of scorn of the enemy's weapons and the fear of death, and an act of showing the gods and whatnot that you had faith in their favor and judgement. It was apparently relatively common among "fanatic" shock troops, and apparently some elite formations who otherwise went armoured would leave off helmets or such to demonstrate their bravery and confidence to their own side and hereby encourage them to feats of valour.

    This would have had much the same function as war-paints and similar "totemic" praphenelia had in many military traditions; "psyching up" the warrior himself and seeking to unnerve the enemy by displaying a lack of fear and calling on factors beyond the human ken for aid. There's also the matter that by disdaining defensive war gear the aggressive warrior is essentially dedicating himself to offense - to slaying his foe before he is himself slain. Given the psychological factors of life-and-death combat and the importance of sufficient aggressive mindset and "drive" this approach has its uses, although obviously most people can't disengage their survival instinct in this fasion.

    Well, and there's always the "what kind of loon fights naked!?!" factor; anyone who did was basically presented himself as an unhinged, murderous lunatic who cared little for his own safety, and nobody wants to fight someone like that if he can help it. Nothing wrong with a psychological edge.

    Berserker-type institutions may also well have been a way for warrior societies to deal with their genuine headcases in a controlled and productive fashion; many premodern cultures are known to have regarded madmen as "divinely touched" and thus more or less out of focus with the reality common mortals lived in after all. Turning them into a body of fearsome shock troops with supernatural associations seems like a practical enough way to make genuinely murderous individuals useful in such contexts.
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  14. #14
    Minion of Zoltan Member Roark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Caravel
    They were apparently exiled. This proves nothing, it proves they may have existed as an outlawry which is in all likelihood what they were, though their existence is not what is in debate here, and that to be outlawed they must have been "undesirables", it doesn't prove they took part in any kind of organised warfare or raids, nor does it prove that they took part in the raids and conquest of parts of britain.
    As you yourself said, there is such a scarcity of information from this era anyway, the kind of "proof" I suspect you would be satisfied with would be impossible to provide.

    I don't even know what you're asking for proof of. I never sought to prove that they took part in raids on Britain, dude. You're splitting hairs that I'm not even interested in arguing.

    All I originally said was that there was historical evidence (albeit scant) that they actually existed, in response to you saying that they were "fantasy inspired".

    Out.
    Last edited by Roark; 05-26-2007 at 01:31.

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    Minion of Zoltan Member Roark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Innocentius
    I'm sorry but I don't really see where this debate is going. As far as I'm concerned there's only two real alternatives on the issue of the berserkers:

    1. They were "elite" warriors who believed themselves to have divine powers during battle.
    2. They did not exist and are mostly a result of 19th century nationalism.

    Whatever the case, berserkers as they exist in MTW are highly inaccurate. Letting the best troops run around half-naked makes no sense, and elite often meant rich enough to buy some armour (or at least proper clothes).
    1. Who ever said that they were elite, at least in military terms? Most references to them indicate that they were feared or reviled as uncontrollable, bloodthirsty savages, and religious freaks.

    2. Uh, no. The ancient references to them predate the 19th century by hundreds of years.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    That hardly proves anything, least of all that there were "warbands" of berserkers. Mention "berserkers" in the presence of an actual historian of the period and they will probably laugh at you.

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    Member Member MilesGregarius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Furious Mental
    Mention "berserkers" in the presence of an actual historian of the period and they will probably laugh at you.
    Here's at least one historian that takes the phenomenom seriously:

    Professor Michael P. Speidel, University of Hawaii

    Berserks: A History of Indo-European "Mad Warriors"

    Journal of World History, Fall 2002, Vol. 13, Issue 2

    http://es.geocities.com/sucellus24/2063.htm



  18. #18

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Well if you define "berserker" as widely as Speidel does of course you will find plenty of them down through history. For him anyone who makes a reckless assault or shows contempt for their own safety is a "berserker", which is such a wide definition that it makes the term nebulous. It's commonsense that you will find such people in wars- we have them nowadays, they are called suicide bombers. But frankly the notion of companies of "berserkers" marauding Scandinavia pepped up on hallucinogens is a complete crock, one which only ever existed in the popular imagination, hence why it is so funny.
    Last edited by Furious Mental; 05-26-2007 at 09:43.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Favorite unit(s)

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    As you yourself said, there is such a scarcity of information from this era anyway, the kind of "proof" I suspect you would be satisfied with would be impossible to provide.
    Hence the only evidence comes from legend only? As with Robin Hood, King Arthur, Centaurs, Pixies and Leprechauns?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    I don't even know what you're asking for proof of. I never sought to prove that they took part in raids on Britain, dude. You're splitting hairs that I'm not even interested in arguing.
    I'm not splitting hairs. I was stating that Berserkers are a legend, that is what I have said along. I agree that they probably have a very real origin, but as with most legends it's a case of exaggeration, folklore, evolution of myths that have been written and rewritten and passed down through generations.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    All I originally said was that there was historical evidence (albeit scant) that they actually existed, in response to you saying that they were "fantasy inspired".

    Out.
    I said that the Berserkers in MTW were "fantasy inspired", not pure fantasy. That is that their inspiration came from the myths and legends surrounding Berserkers. The only written evidence of Berserkers AFAIK is in the Sagas and in the Gragas.
    Last edited by caravel; 05-26-2007 at 15:18.

  20. #20
    Minion of Zoltan Member Roark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also describes a berserker at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but I suspect "that doesn't prove anything" and you won't be satisfied until I produce the berserker's family tree, tax file number and passport photo, right?...

    Later.

  21. #21

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also describes a berserker at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but I suspect "that doesn't prove anything" and you won't be satisfied until I produce the berserker's family tree, tax file number and passport photo, right?...

    Later.
    So now you're resorting to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle? I suppose that if I wanted a historically accurate account of the history of the ancient I need look no further than Herodotus?
    Last edited by caravel; 05-26-2007 at 16:06.

  22. #22

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Hilarious. Have you actually read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle? I have. Nowhere does it use the word "berserker", so I don't know where you got that from. What it actually says is that English were held up a Norwegian on the bridge, who was hit by a javelin, and then by a spear under his hauberk, and the English then finished off the rout. Judging from the fact that he was wearing a hauberk and fought with such dedication in the final stages of battle (i.e. as the English neared Hardraada himself), chances are that, far from being from a mercenary company of mushroom-eating nutcases, he was one of Hardraada's household men, similar to Harold's own housecarles.
    Last edited by Furious Mental; 05-26-2007 at 18:06.

  23. #23
    Professional Cynic Member Innocentius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also describes a berserker at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but I suspect "that doesn't prove anything" and you won't be satisfied until I produce the berserker's family tree, tax file number and passport photo, right?...

    Later.
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  24. #24

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    The ASC is one of the best sources for the period, but, having said that, it does not use the word "berserker", it does not evidence any concept of a "berserker" among contemporary Englishmen even though England had gone through centuries of dealing with violent Scandinavians (large numbers of whom had become part of the ruling class since Cnut the Great's kingship). Assuming that what the chronicler wrote actually happened, all it probably described is a desperate last stand by one of Hardraada's household men, which he may as well have made anyway because the English killed practically everyone they lay their hands on.

  25. #25
    Minion of Zoltan Member Roark's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Innocentius
    Ever heard of such a thing as criticism of the sources?
    Ah, the gentleman with the dubious deduction skills earlier in the thread has a seat on the bandwagon and is now lecturing me on research. Nice one.

    To the rest of you: Alright, fair cop. My source (uncited Wiki) for the berserker at Stamford seems to have been dodgy. I guess I should have looked further into it.

    Still, I think you have your heels firmly dug in, especially concerning the references to the Scandinavian law codices.

    Why outlaw something which didn't exist, or of which there was no perception of its existence?

    The lawmakers didn't read the sagas and say to themselves "Oh, are these guys drifting around the countryside, raping and killing people? Well, we'd better pass some laws to ban them from the army and populace".

    So, please... don't try and equate them with trolls and goblins. The irrelevance of that comparison is clear. You don't see the official national lawbooks of these countries outlawing trolls and goblins.

    Skip the stuff about mushrooms, too. It's only a theory, and I certainly never mentioned it. I also never claimed that they had widespread service in the British Isles. The Straw Man arguments are thick in this thread.

    I'm done.

  26. #26

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Well as the law codes show they also believed in "black magic". That proves it existed in the minds of the lawmakers, and nothing else. If you believe in every silly or sensational thing that is referenced in a document from that era you will end up with something that like looks like an acid trip, so don't. And the notion of whole groups of men somehow inducing a state of automatism in themselves every time they go into battle (without using some mind-altering substance) is just fantastic. Equally fantastic is the notion of a group of people in such a state not killing each other
    Last edited by Furious Mental; 05-29-2007 at 09:50.

  27. #27
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    I don't see what's so unbelievable about some sort of deliberately induced hysteric condition, especially if applied herbcraft was used to assist in the process. Humans can do quite weird things in suitable states of mind.

    Also, belief in magic has perfectly sensible and logical anthropological reasons which I can discuss if you now really want to. Would you care to explain where the belief in "berserkers" would have come from if such a tradition had not actually existed in one form or another, to actually make the two comparable ?
    Last edited by Watchman; 05-29-2007 at 11:53.
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  28. #28

    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    It isn't difficult to see where the inspiration for berserkers came from- every society has violent people and Viking culture exalted violence. Frankly it isn't a great leap of logic to deduce that warbands of berserkers were just something cooked up in the popular imagination, like black magic, the sea of worms, Native American unipeds, shape-changers and all the rest of it. On the other hand it is a tremendous leap of logic to believe that groups of men entered states of automatism simultaneously, and then what is still more fantastic didn't kill everyone around them. I don't believe the mushrooms theory has been considered credible for decades. Even in a test by a man who (frankly I don't know how) concluded that the similarity between taking the active chemical in amanita (which doesn't grow in Iceland anyway) and "berserkergang" was "striking", when the test subjects took the drug what happened is that they saw weird shapes, experienced what they described as " a very pleasant martini feeling", sometimes vomited, and then felt the same after a few minutes. "Berserkergang" that is not. So where does that leave us? Are we supposed to believe that Scandinavian warlords went around hiring groups of men with hypoglaecemia? Frankly if "berserk" refers to anything at all it is probably something much more mundane and general to human experience than the fantastic fits of hysteria which people think of when they wear the word, in which case really all we are talking about is reckless and violent people.
    Last edited by Furious Mental; 05-29-2007 at 16:06.

  29. #29
    Professional Cynic Member Innocentius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roark
    Ah, the gentleman with the dubious deduction skills earlier in the thread has a seat on the bandwagon and is now lecturing me on research. Nice one.
    I really don't see what that has to do with anything. The little I've written earlier in this thread has little to do with criticism of the sources and what do you mean by dubious deduction skills? I have read some (not much) serious literature on pre-medieval Scandinavia which is at least better than Wikipedia and thus consider my deduction skills to be quite reliable in this case.

    If you're able to find Maja Hagerman's book "Spĺren av kungens män" in English (I doubt it exists though) that'd be a good start.
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  30. #30
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Berserkers: What's faction and what's fiction?

    Quote Originally Posted by Furious Mental
    It isn't difficult to see where the inspiration for berserkers came from- every society has violent people and Viking culture exalted violence. Frankly it isn't a great leap of logic to deduce that warbands of berserkers were just something cooked up in the popular imagination, like black magic, the sea of worms, Native American unipeds, shape-changers and all the rest of it.
    Okay, now this analysis flunks on several points. First off, Migration Period Scandinavians were hardly the sole fierce warrior-culture around, nevermind now one that had to figure out what to do with its excessively violent members. Aside from the Celts and their "naked fanatic" tradition (and some peculiarities of Irish mythology) they are, however, the only one I can think of off the top of my head that had "berserker" legends, nevermind now ones influental enough that the phenomenom was officially outlawed after conversion to Christianity.

    Second, you're making a serious error in lumping "black magic" and the odd critters humans populated the dark corners of the world around them with. The former, in its endless guises, was a very real phenomenom - that is, people who were held to possess supernatural powers and knowledge were. That the "magic" was a matter of purely subjective belief is quite irrelevant if it was regarded as concretely real by both the sorcerer, his target (if any) and the society around them, as it was. Just for a few late-period examples, I've read of a case from 1700s Swedish Finland where a farmer was tried at the circuit court for being a hedge magician and having laid a curse on his neighbour's cattle or something along those lines. Now the man could have cleared his name of the accusations of witchcraft by finding, whatwasitnow, six upstanding members of the community to vouch for his innocence, and as per proper judicial procedure had something like a year to do so. He didn't even try, though. He rather accepted the heavy fine than proved he possessed no sorcerous abilities - in other words the prestige and respect that reputation afforded him outweighed the financial harm.

    Similar folk "witchmen" were around long enough that late Victorian-era Finnish folklorists were able to find a few and preserve their "magical rites" on film - and I'm talking moving pictures here, not just photographs.

    The same can logically be applied to the "berserkers" outlawed in Medieval times. However much the stories concerning them that have been preserved to us may be inflated (and it's a fairly safe bet there's been a lot of embellishement added), the royal authorities would not have bothered criminalizing something that wasn't regarded as real - and as "berserkers", like "magicians", were people rather than goblins and thus a social phenomenom, there must have existed some group or pagan tradition that warranted such attention.

    On the other hand it is a tremendous leap of logic to believe that groups of men entered states of automatism simultaneously, and then what is still more fantastic didn't kill everyone around them.
    ---
    Are we supposed to believe that Scandinavian warlords went around hiring groups of men with hypoglaecemia? Frankly if "berserk" refers to anything at all it is probably something much more mundane and general to human experience than the fantastic fits of hysteria which people think of when they wear the word, in which case really all we are talking about is reckless and violent people.
    I think you're quite underestimating the power of properly applied group hysteria. Anyway, by all the accounts the berserkers weren't completely out of control; they could normally refrain from attacking their own side provided there was a legit foe to vent their fury on, and exhaust themselves wrestling with rocks and trees until the rage passed if it came to them outside battle. Taken at face value this would sound more like they "wound themselves up" into their berserk state, presumably through some sorts of autohypnotic techniques (one has to recall the various "barbarians" and their priests and magicians were often quite skilled at many kinds of applied mind-games, particularly in the context of warfare) and whatever all the other different ways there now are for people to "hype themselves up" into fury. The accounts of chewing on shield-rims and occasionally drowning when trying to get to grips with enemies in naval engagements would suggest they then had to "rein themselves in", not always succesfully, until the moment came to let it out in an explosion of violence.

    'Course, taken at face value the stories of berskerkers going to wrestle rocks to avoid injuring their own people also suggest this "battle rage" could afflict them also out of combat, presumably when they were stressed, in a bad mood etc. in general short on patience.

    Now, based on the above and the fact "berserkhood" seems to be in the sources regarded as a rare gift and/or curse (ie. not just anyone could pull it off) we could theorize the phenomenom was really a question of unusually aggressive people who had learned to more-or-less voluntarily whipe themselves up into towering fury. Perfectly normal people raised into the restrained norms of modern societies can fly into bouts of blind, violent rage when their patience and self-control snaps, although the quality thankfully isn't all that common and comes to fore relatively rarely. Now, the ancient Scandinavians were a warrior culture of the by all accounts extremely fierce Germanic group; the society most certainly did not teach its members to much self-restraint when it came to violence. Still there would have been individuals of particularly ferocious temper and disposition; given the general character of Germanic mythology, society and obsession with combat it would hardly have been a great leap for these to form specific warrior cults that both legitimized their dispositions and gave them a framework within which they could follow their particular disposition in a socially acceptable manner. And conversely this gave the society at large a way to deal with its excessively violent members in a productive fashion, and the chieftains a ready if not terribly large pool of willing shock troops only too happy to be the first "into the breach" so to speak.

    A mutually beneficial arrangement you could say, and hardly one unfitting the peculiar combination of clever pragmatism and deep superstition (nevermind now glorification of battle and violence) that seems to have strongly characterized the Viking Age Scandinavian culture.

    Ergo the existence of the "crazed warrior" cults-cum-traditions of the berserkers and ulfrendar (or whatever the word now was), assuming those two weren't one and same thing. And as these would have been associated with the old pagan deities and the unruly, turbulent "Viking" times, the Christianized kings trying to forge proper stable kingdoms would have had an interest in getting rid of them. That such groups would never have been very large (sufficiently recklessly ferocious disposition and responsiveness to the autohypnotic techniques not being too common by default), and would naturally have been feared for their unpredictable violence at least as much as they may have been respected for their fighting qualities and perceived divine associations, could hardly have hurt in the attempts.

    Also, one has to recall the Scandinavian berserkers were hardly the sole examples of that kind of "manic warrior" principle. The ancient Celts, longtime rivals and neighbours of the proto-Germanic peoples, had their own peculiar "naked fanatic" tradition best known for the gaesatae ("spearmen") mercenaries whom the Romans also fought on occasion, most famously at Telamon in 224BC. By some accounts of these merry fellows I've read they had a fair bit in common with the later Germanic berserkers, including alleged use of some kind of potent herbal preparation to render themselves immune to pain - although personally I'd guess some form of autohypnotically induced frenzied state, probably assisted with choice natural products. People can do very scary things in sufficiently extreme states of mind.
    This curious warrior tradition was apparently taken into Asia Minor by the Galatian migration, and survived among them until early Christian times (although this version was apparently known as tindanotae, "wild men").
    "Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. --- Proof of the existence of the FSM, if needed, can be found in the recent uptick of global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Apparently His Pastaness is to be worshipped in full pirate regalia. The decline in worldwide pirate population over the past 200 years directly corresponds with the increase in global temperature. Here is a graph to illustrate the point."

    -Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

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