Vikings: The Fury of the Northmen

For my first post, I’d like to share an activity I’m going to try with my 10th grade World History students during our Middle Ages unit.

After a basic, background reading on the Vikings* and their effects on Europe during the Early Middle Ages, we will discuss the text and I’ll pass a copy of the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song (1970), to each student.

I’ll play the song for the students and ask them to think about what each numbered reference means.  Here are the lyrics with the references that I implanted:

“Immigrant Song”
Ah, ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow ,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow (1).
The hammer of the gods(2) will drive our ships to new lands (3) ,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla(4) , I am coming!

On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore (5) .

Ah, ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
How soft your fields so green, can whisper tales of gore,
Of how we calmed the tides of war. We are your overlords.

On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.

So now you’d better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing (6).

Discussion Prompts:

1. ‘Land of the Ice and Snow’/ ‘midnight sun’ / ‘hot springs’ – Scandinavia, land of the ‘North’ Men

2. ‘Hammer of the Gods’ – Thor and a discussion of the Norse mythology

3. ‘Our ships’ – The Long Ships; light and of shallow draft; able to penetrate far upriver for surprise attacks

4. Valhalla – Viking idea of the glorious afterlife; battle all day and feast/drink all night

5. ‘Western Shore’ – A discussion of the Danes in England and the Great Heathen Army

6. ‘peace and trust can win the day’ – I take this to be a reference of the ransom money kings and nobles would pay the Vikings for them to go away.  The Vikings would go away… for a year perhaps.  Then they’d come back, wreck the same town again and, you guessed it, demand payment to go away.  These payments are known as Danegeld.

You’d be surprised how many 10th graders recognize the song and the band.  If you’ve never heard it, give it a listen.  The staccato, repetitive riffs and the wailing cries conjure up images of a Long Ship plowing through wind and wave.  These twelve lines offer an opportunity to discuss so much about the Viking Age.

*The word Viking means an expedition or journey.  The Norsemen would ‘go a-‘Viking’ during the summer months.  Contemporaries would have referred to them as the Norse (North) men.  Allegedly, these raiders caused so much despair, that the English Church added a prayer to its litany: A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine, “From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, O Lord.”