By Jeffrey Anderson, Caitlyn Belson, and Sabrina Vang
When Wisconsinites hear the term “Viking,” it often turns to the NFL football team, the Minnesota Vikings. This Viking Festival is nothing of that sort. Instead, this festival celebrates the history of the Vikings.
The Viking Festival took place on October 2nd, 2021, in Viking House, located at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay campus. This festival included many activities. Some of the highlights include storytelling done by Viking reenactors, in which old tales of the Vikings’ past were told with occasional singing and dancing. An activity that excited the crowd was the battle reenactments. The Viking actors began wielding battle axes, swords, shields, and other weapons to show off various strategies and tactics commonplace between the Viking period during 793-1066 A.D.
The event also included many areas set up to highlight specific areas of the Viking lifestyle. Examples of these booths include jewelry making, explanations of blacksmithing with some of the items being made on the spot. Cooking with a firepit, pots, pans, and more to represent the period were also demonstrated.
The event also portrayed how the Vikings fought and what they used in terms of weaponry. The main weapons that were used during the battle were axes and shields. In a way, the shield was a weapon by blocking the opponent’s attack. During the reenactment, the actors went on to explain the different weapons that were used.
Viking actor, Alec Svein, mentioned, “It all depends on how wealthy one was. Wealthy was good in battle because the wealthier one was, the better weapons they had.” If you were wealthy, you were an ensemble of a spear, wooden shield, and either a battle-ax or a sword. Battle axes were considered “the normal weapon” when fighting. If you had a sword, you were wealthier because swords were reserved for the upper class.
Alec Svein also mentioned, “There was more to Vikings than fighting. They were also travelers. They had ships to travel and used the stars and constellations to navigate.” When they encountered other people, they had to figure out if they could take them or if it was better to trade with them.
Professor Heidi Sherman’s background and interest in Viking history brought the Viking House to the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay’s campus. She has a Ph.D. in History and Archaeology. She spent many years in Russia learning about the Vikings and the sites they visited in Russia while traveling down to the middle east in search of silver. She has also taught Viking history at the University of Wisconsin- Green Bay. All these life experiences have led her to meet the builders of the Viking house and, later, her late husband, a Viking storyteller, Adrian Spendlow.
This festival was dedicated to Adrian Spendlow as he was a great storyteller and was loved.
The Viking House was introduced to the UW- Green Bay campus in 2017. Since 2018, the Viking House has held a handful of events like cooking and craft classes. Sherman says, “This first Viking Festival was so successful. We’re already planning on doing it every year [around late September, early October].”
She also mentioned that she hopes to introduce more classes to teach the community more about the Vikings. “We’ll probably have some classes for people in the community and students. We’re already talking about having a class on natural dyes.” Professor Heidi Sherman typically plans events herself or with the help of students and the community. “It really depends on what people want to do with the Viking house,” she said.
For the future, Sherman plans to decorate the inside of the Viking house to make it look like someone lives in it, “so people can see what people would’ve done in the Viking house.” Events in the Viking house will unlikely be happening in the winter due to the cold weather and the house not being heated. Still, Sherman hopes to bring spring crafts in the Springtime to educate the community about natural dyes.
“The Viking House is more than just Vikings. It shows people what you could do before machines,” Sherman said.
“The Viking house is important because it shows people what you can do before machines,” Sherman said. “[In the Viking house, you learn] how to do things hands-on. It’s a place where you can go outside and learn how to do things before [the] Industrial Revolution. [The house is] not just about Vikings. It’s about learning how to do things with your hands.”
Sherman looks forward to educating the university and Green Bay community more about the Vikings and their history with the help of students and the community.