Vikings. They were so manly that one dude could actually charge another dude in court with “ergi”, or unmanliness. Of course, there were some strange rules about what, exactly, constitutes unmanly behavior. Banging a dude? That’s cool. Getting banged by a dude? Not so much.
It’s probably not all that surprising to hear about a culture like the Vikings’ placing so much emphasis on manliness. Pop culture and social pressure have kept the ancient Norse at the forefront of our minds when it comes to certain gender stereotypes. While a great deal of what we see in TV and movies may be embellished or altered, there are certain elements that are pretty accurate. Though gender stereotypes are currently shifting here in many western countries, we still share much in common with people that lived eight hundred years ago. Many of the qualities we think of being masculine or manly are the very same qualities the Norse associated with the male gender and with their culture in general. To be part of Norse culture was to embody the ideals of manliness at all times. That’s why accusing someone of ergi was such a serious accusation, one that often required accuser and defendant to fight one another in armed combat known as holmgang. If someone were accused of ergi and refused to fight, exile or death were the typical outcomes (though death was the definite outcome if he lost the duel).
Death may seem a harsh penalty for engaging in homosexual behavior, but that’s where this all gets kind of strange. After all, there are some stories and fragments of stories that tell of famous figures boasting of sexually conquering another man. The thing is, it wasn’t homosexuality, sex, or pleasure that was the problem, it was the act of submission, hence why these sorts of charges would only be leveled against the “bottom” in the relationship. The thought process here was that if a man could submit to another man sexually or be dominated by him, he could be dominated or submissive in other aspects of his life and that was simply not the Viking way.
Now, that’s not to say that it was only for homosexual activities that a man could be charged with ergi. There were plenty of other ways to end up in holmgang for not living up to social expectations. Practicing women’s magic, also known as seidhr, was one such cause and one that was famously brought against Odin by Loki in Lokasenna. There’s quite a bit of information on just what this kind of sorcery involved and there is a lot of speculation on just why it was considered unmanly, but perhaps we’ll get into that on Friday!
All said, it’s not surprising that the Vikings remain a pop culture icon of masculinity and badassery when they would actually fight to the death over insults to their manhood. It’s almost as if masculine stereotypes came to life to kick each others’ asses over some words.
Know what else is manly? Banging dudes. You heard it! The most manly men that ever did live knew it!
Deal with it.