Witness a Viking invasion this half term

by Katie Rowe

Category: Expert insights
February 12 2016
A close up of a man wearing a metal helmet look straight into the camera

We ask the Viking experts from Jorvik to dispel some common myths surrounding the ‘horned warriors’ and get the lowdown on what’s in store at this year’s week-long Jorvik Viking Festival, beginning on 15th February, just in time for half term. 

Jorvik Viking Festival is a sword slashing, shield smashing celebration of York’s heritage...

It’s also recognised as the largest event of its kind in Europe. Events range from enlightening talks and lectures, to hands-on crafting and living history encampments packed full of real-life Vikings ready to interact with visitors. When you visit York during February Half Term you will see a city re-invaded by the Vikings who made the city their home, over a thousand years ago.

Viking performers armed with shields and swords parade past York Minster

New additions to the 2016 programme include…

A larger camp with a special Viking animal steading on site, allowing people to experience more of Viking life. This means moving our main Viking encampment to Parliament Street, right in the heart of the city centre. There are also a series of new talks and lectures on offer throughout the Festival, covering areas including Viking vocabulary and our culture’s continued fascination with the sword.

Contestants wearing fake beards compete for the Best Beard Contest

Whatever you do, don't miss the march to Coppergate....

You'll see Viking warriors parade past the city’s ancient sites before the fiery battle finale in the evening on Saturday 20th February. Then there are our Viking warrior challenges for kids and Little Diggers sessions at DIG - An Archaeological Adventure where children can discover more about the Viking world through play. Also, for whiskered individuals, the Best Beard Contest is a now festival favourite - where fierce competitors take part to win the honour and prestige of the title of ‘Best Beard’. It’s open to men, women and children, and homemade beards are actively encouraged. 

A man dressed as King Canute sits in front of a grand table covered with lit candles

This year is all about King Canute…

2016 marks the millennial anniversary of Canute’s accession to the English throne, and as the first coronated Viking King of England it seems only right that we celebrate this key milestone. He is one of the most important monarchs you’ve probably never heard of. During his reign he was able to unify the Viking north of England with the majority Anglo-Saxon south, successfully stopped Viking raids on the coasts (though, this may have been due to him controlling these raiding groups) and expanded his territory to encompass Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden – laying a foundation of a North Sea Empire, with England at its heart. He also had two wives, both named Emma. His first wife, Emma of Northampton was cast aside when he became monarch in favour of a diplomatic marriage to Emma of Normandy, which we will explore at our Viking banquet.

Viking warriors armed with colourful shields charge forwards as part of a re-enactment

The Vikings aren't short of interesting characters...

Harald Hardrada – the last Viking leader to attempt an invasion of England in 1066 at Stamford Bridge, who incidentally went ‘Beserk’ performing a furiously fierce battle trance used by Viking warriors, but was killed early in the battle via an arrow in the neck as he wasn’t wearing any armour. Most interestingly, Viking culture tended to treat men and women as equals, so we have evidence of strong female characters throughout Viking society and mythology too. One great example is Aud the Deep-Minded who, on the death of her husband, commissioned a ship, gathered a crew and set sail to colonise Iceland.

Forget skull goblets and horned helmets…

Many misconceptions have grown up around the Vikings over the centuries – with the more lurid coming from the Victorians. One of the biggest is the idea that the Vikings wore horned helmets. We have no archaeological evidence of this and if you think about it, a horned helmet in battle would cause you problems; your assailant could grab hold of them and they would also get in the way when you try to swing your weapon, let alone the weight on your head. Also, it is doubtful if they drank from cups made from skulls. This is where horns would have been used - we know that drinking horns were used by the Vikings for their ale and mead. 

 VisitEngland’s top five Viking attractions and locations around the country:

Katie Rowe

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