05 March 2016

Ingroup identification,identity fusion and the formation of Viking war bands


From Medievalists Magazine we have this interesting analysis taken from World
Archaeology on the whys and wherefores of the Viking propensity for raiding. It seems that there are those that think these men's loyalties were bought and paid for with food and general upkeep, which is expensive, to say the least. So, in that respect they were mercenaries, but it has always been so with armies. Someone must arm, feed, and clothe those of us that choose to take up arms for our country or some other cause, right? 

The title link or the link at the end of this excerpt will take you to the full paper. (Ed.)


Ingroup identification, identity fusion and the formation of Viking war bands



By Ben Raffield, Claire Greenlow, Neil Price and Mark Collard
World Archaeology, Vol.48:1 (2016)

Abstract: The lið, a retinue of warriors sworn to a leader, has long been considered one of the basic armed groups of the Viking Age. However, in recent years the study of lið has been eclipsed by the discussion of larger Viking armies. In this paper, we focus on the key question of how loyalty to the lið was achieved. We argue that two processes that have been intensively studied by psychologists and anthropologists – ingroup identification and identity fusion – would have been important in the formation and operation of lið. In support of this hypothesis, we outline archaeological, historical and literary evidence pertaining to material and psychological identities.
The construction of such identities, we contend, would have facilitated the formation of cohesive fighting groups and contributed to their success while operating in the field.

Introduction: Although the Viking Age (c. AD 750–1050) is often regarded as synonymous with violence, a number of important issues regarding conflict during this period have yet to be adequately researched. One of these is the nature of the Viking groups that engaged in warfare and raiding. The large Viking armies that were active in north-western Europe during the mid to late ninth century have been discussed in recent years. So far, however, relatively little attention has been paid to the groups that came together to form the armies and that were also responsible for the raids for which the Vikings are famous. One of the most important of these was the lið.

There is some uncertainty about the precise meaning of the term lið, but it is usually taken to refer to an independent ship-borne host or troop. A more detailed definition has been offered by Lund. He suggests that a lið was a retinue of warriors sworn to a leader who was responsible for feeding, equipping and rewarding the warriors for their service. Hedenstierna-Jonson has also emphasized the importance of reciprocal relationships between leaders and their followers in connection with lið. The size of lið was not fixed and likely depended on a leader’s reputation and wealth. As such, it is probable that some lið comprised no more than a couple of ships’ crews while others were much larger. The lið’sautonomous nature is indicated in the ninth-century Annals of St. Bertin, which describes Viking groups operating on the continent as part of a fleet in 861. It refers to these groups as ‘brotherhoods’ (Lat. sodalitates) and explains that they dispersed from the main force to overwinter in various ports along the river Seine.

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