Invaders, Barbarians, plunderers? Who were these sailors, sometimes presented as shaggy and fierce Herculean individuals, who carried out raids on the Normandy coast and sailed up several rivers into the interior between the 8th and 9th centuries?
In Caudebec-en-Caux, newly Rives-en-Seine (Seine-Maritime), the “Vikings!” Storm on the Seine” returns to these clichés which stick to the skin of Scandinavian navigators to better dismantle them. “Based on recent work by scientists and linguists, it seeks to separate the narrative from works of fiction developed over the centuries about these medieval sea kings and the reality of historical facts,” explains Élise Cousin, curator of the exhibition. We discover that the word “Viking” does not designate a people, but the activity of “those who engage in piracy”. The horned helmets attributed to them were in fact invented in 1870 by the costume designers of The Valkyrie, the opera by Richard Wagner. We also note that the term “drakkar” does not designate a ship, but only the figurehead of the boats. One of them, a faering (traditional Scandinavian fishing boat) occupies the exhibition hall.
Around it, videos, a virtual reality headset, comics, a Playmobil scene and other media allow us to know how and why these women and men who came from the cold landed in Normandy.
What if the Vikings were simply migrants who had successfully integrated? The exhibition “Vikings and Normans”, in Caen (Calvados), defends this hypothesis. It illustrates how, over the course of History, “the barbarian invader of yesteryear became a prestigious ancestor for the peaceful Normans of today,” summarizes a guide. The tour, rich in 150 objects from French collections and Nordic countries, traces the making of the Viking myth, from ancient sources to video games, including TV series, literary sagas, the Bayeux tapestry, advertising, painting and decorative Art.
A film from 1911 bears witness to the Viking mania which gripped the region on the occasion of the millennium celebrations of the treaty between Rollo and Charles III the Simple, marking the birth of Normandy. We know what happened next: the pagan Rollo converted to Catholicism by being baptized by the Archbishop of Rouen. The Vikings adopted the languages and customs of the Franks… and blended into the population who thus lived for several centuries in peace. Until another, much more important landing occurred in 1944. But that is another story!