A lack of fjords and moraines (lakes) isn’t stopping a group of Viking Age enthusiasts from gathering at Fort King George State Historic Site on Saturday to celebrate the history and culture of the Norse people.
Known for their seafaring ways and perhaps having earned an undeserved reputation as savage warriors, the Vikings were among the first explorers to make their way to North American shores during the expeditions of Leif Erikson of Iceland, according to the “Sagas of the Icelanders.” The “Sagas,” unfortunately, do not give an exact date of Erikson’s discovery of America. Erikson was born around 970 A.D., and died in the neighborhood of 1020 A.D.
At any rate, his landfall in North America preceded that of Christopher Columbus by some 400 years. In the “Sagas,” Erikson is credited with establishing a Norse settlement in what is now Newfoundland, Canada.
Those first settlers are credited with bringing Norse culture to North America. An Althing is one component of that culture.
“The Althing was, historically, an appointed time and place in which people would gather for various activities, including holding court, passing laws, settling disputes and organizing the fighting men and women,” said event organizer Michael Putnam, adding that Vikings were rather democratic in their method of government. “As with any gathering, an Althing would attract merchants and skalds (or) minstrels; people from near and far would come to see old friends and meet new ones.”
This is the atmosphere Putnam and his cohorts are hoping to recreate Saturday.
“Our annual Althing has grown from an after-hours get-together of a handful of Viking Age enthusiasts, to one of the largest all-day Viking Age living history events in the area,” he said.
The event will be hosted by the Spear Danes and Shield Maidens (SDSM), which is a Viking Age-specific group based in Brunswick and Darien.
“… The group is made up of re- enactors of other time periods, colonial largely, who also have an affinity for the art, culture and history of the Viking Age,” Putnam explained. “We are also made up of artisans of all kinds, from blacksmiths and woodworkers to chefs and storytellers; all of these skills come through in our re-enacting.”
The group, he said, is focused on presenting a whole picture of Norse society from the late eighth to early 10th centuries, and dispelling the misconception of the Vikings being a dirty, brutish people solely focused on warfare and bloodshed.
Newcomers to re- enactments have nothing to fear, Putnam said, adding that the atmosphere at an Althing is fairly relaxed.
“When you step out of the museum/welcome center at Fort King George, you enter the world of the Norsemen,” he said. “Along the path to the fort proper, you may bump into a Norman soldier or a Pictish Celt, and at the gate, you might be met by a man with a spear.”
Once inside the fort’s walls, attendees are free to roam among the buildings, talk to the re-enactors or just sit and observe the goings on.
Putnam said the group is also working on setting up guided tours where guests can learn more about the people, culture and technology of the Viking Age.
Demonstrations, including blacksmithing, woodworking, cooking, archery, spear throwing, combat training and skirmishes, will take place throughout the day, Putnam said. The group expects about 60 re-enactors, from all over the region and representing Viking Age Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Norman, and Celtic cultures to be on hand.
“We will also be holding assembly throughout the day with criminal trials and legal proceedings,” he said.
While there won’t be food and beverages for sale at the event, vendors will be on hand to sell Viking-related merchandise such as drinking horns, jewelry, leather work and other items.
Although Southeast Georgia might not be thought of as a hotbed of Norse ancestry, Putnam says people might be surprised.
“The Norse of the Viking Age roamed far from their homes in Scandinavia, and settled in places as far west as North America and east to Istanbul,” he said. “If you can trace your family history to England, Scotland or Ireland, as so many people in this area can, you most likely have a bit of Nordic blood too.”