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Why Did Vikings Have 'Allah' Embroidered on Their Clothes?

Discussion in 'Research' started by A. E. Lowan, Oct 12, 2017.

  1. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    As the article states, much evidence exists already of cross-cultural trade and/or aggression. I believe the Vikings raided along the coast of what is now Spain and into the Mediterranean and would have come into contact with Muslim culture. They also took slaves, brought the slaves back to their homes, and this could have introduced Islamic ideas into their culture.

    I wonder if this sort of effect is often overlooked in fantasy worlds. I'm currently working on a story set on a world I've been using but involving a set of small kingdoms that are relatively distant from the other lands I've been using. These five kingdoms have much the same culture with one another, with only very slight differences. This question of trade with those other, more distant lands has been perturbing me, as well as the sort of cultural influences from those other lands and even the degree to which these five kingdoms are aware of the cultures of those more distant lands. I'm working with a relatively early medieval setting for these five kingdoms and picture them as a sort of isolated microcosm, but my gut is telling me I need to think more carefully about that.
  3. Russ

    Russ Istar

    There is a ton of evidence of contact between Vikings and muslims.

    Perhaps the most famous and obvious is the Viking graffiti carved inside the Hagia Sophia that you can still go see today.

    There has also been plenty written about Vikings raiding in muslim Spain and farther on into Italy and beyond.
  4. Jorunn

    Jorunn Dreamer

    I think this is MASSIVELY overlooked in fantasy. When you even just dip your toes into "ancient" history you find out just how much contact various cultures had with one another. The way history is taught (in the US anyway) is unfortunate in that it fosters this idea that cultures existed in little bubbles for specific periods of time until they were either conquered or collapsed. In the case of medieval Europe, we get taught that Marco Polo 'discovered "the East"' as though no one in Europe knew there were lands and people over there before that point, but the Celts were trading in the Mediterranean and the Vikings were trading with every and anyone they could. Even if the average person didn't know about these other peoples, people involved in trade, art, or politics of any kind did. Basically, people with the impetus and means to travel and/or be educated. Plus, anything that came from far away was expensive as all get out and would be a major attraction for the wealthy or those looking to show off their status (ie: the new merchant class in a medieval Europe setting).

    As far as the Vikings, we know they had contact with the Muslim world not only because of the Hagia Sophia graffiti but because at least one Muslim wrote about it. Ibn Fadlan's Risala is one of the most relied upon sources for insight into a Viking Age culture (also a major inspiration for Michael Crichton's novel Eaters of the Dead and the film based on it). In that document he makes mention that "They are very fond of pork and many of them who have assumed the garb of Muslimism miss it very much." That "assumed the garb" line does seem to imply conversion, but we of course don't know what the Rus thought of it. It could have been they were abiding by codes of hospitality and guesthood inherent to their own society and forgoing pork for the time being. Some other sources I've come across have implied that Viking Age cultures were religious magpies, adding any deity to their rituals that they thought might be worthwhile. Depending on the structure of the culture, influences from others will have different effects and that makes for some really cool possibilities in a fantasy setting.
    FifthView likes this.
  5. ApaCisare

    ApaCisare Scribe

    This isn't really a surprise, to be honest.
    Silks played an important role in cross-cultural trade between the Middle East and Europe and were used for both religious purposes (wrapping icons, Bibles and artwork in expensive silks) and by wealthy rulers. They were obtained largely by trade (as was the case for the Byzantines until their own state-controlled silk production took off) or by raiding (as I suspect was the case with the Vikings).
    What would look like nice geometric patterns to European eyes were actually something like a trademark for the Muslim artisans who had embroidered the silk as part of a larger economic and taxation system (as well as religious, considering the Kaaba in Mecca is veiled with expensive silk, an honour for the patron providing the silk).
    Historian Xinru Liu has a great introductory book on silks in world history if anyone is interested.
    Great to see such an interesting part of history receive more attention and hopefully inspire more ideas for cross-cultural exchange and diversity in peoples' world building!
  6. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

    Pedantically that's only evidence for contact between Vikings and the Eastern Orthodox church, since the Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox church at the time, although serving in the Varangian Guard would mean that a lot of Vikings would have had rather pointy contact with various Islamic peoples and there are Islamic sources, as well as extensive coinage, supporting contact between them. With their tendency to take slaves back with them you could make a case for a number of Islamic people living in Scandinavia even without any major converting going on.

    To further empathise the diversity of Viking trading and raiding networks here's a link about a find on the Swedish island of Helgo that contained a Buddha statue from India, a bishop's crozier from Ireland, and a ladle from Egypt most likely used by the Coptic church.
    Presumably it was the result of the world's most depressing 'three men walk into a bar' joke.
    ApaCisare likes this.
  7. Russ

    Russ Istar

    There is actually an award winning history book with a Chapter on the subject of Viking-Muslim battles, particularly in Spain, I think the Chapter had a catchy title like "Allah vs. Thor" or something along that lines. The title of the book eludes me at the moment but if someone desperately needs it let me know and I can probably go find it in my basement.
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  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I always try to mingle trade and economics into my story, even in subtle ways. Foreign wines and liquors, silks and perfumes, that sort of stuff, as well as exchange rates and some supply-demand foundations. And if in some circumstance there wasn’t any trade and cultural influences, it would be pointed as to why. There are religious borrowings too, mostly the result of wars, but also from missionary work.
  9. DMThaane

    DMThaane Sage

    So since initially posting I've actually read about the subject of the original post and some are seriously disputing the findings, notably an associate professor in Medieval Islamic art and archaeology.
    Here's a compilation of her tweets on the subject: https://tttthreads.com/thread/919897406031978496

    I know the conversation has broadened since the OP and I certainly don't want to distract from that or start a debate, as extensive contact between Viking and Islamic culture is very well established, but at the same time I would hate for people to be misinformed because they only read one article on the subject.
    ApaCisare likes this.

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