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Arabic characters found woven into burial costumes from Viking boat graves (bbc.com)
171 points by sohkamyung 41 days ago | hide | past | web | 166 comments | favorite

Swedish Vikings extended mostly toward what is now Russia and Ukraine, using Volga, Don and Dniepr as major communication/transport channels [0]. This brought them into contact with the Khazar Khanagate at the mouth of Volga [1] and the Volga Bulgars [2] (both muslim at the time). When Vladimir (half viking) had to choose a religion for his Kievan Rus, Islam was one of the choices [3] (rejected because it would forbid the joy of drinking, see link).

So there was ample cultural contact with Islam, a religion actively proselytizing. It lasted about 150-200 years. That some influence made it back to Sweden should not be surprising.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volga_trade_route [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khazars [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volga_Bulgaria [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_the_Great

This is an opportunity for me to link to one of my all-time favorite Vikings, alive contemporary as the dating of the finds. Harald Hardrada, whose journeys show just how mobile the Vikings might have been at that time period; if he had not contested the English throne at the same time as William contested it, history would surely have taken a greatly different course.


I remember reading that Vikings used ships rented in Khazar Khanagate to attack targets in Mediterranean as a form of disguise. They payed the rent with things they captured during the raids.

Thanks, I just googled this. Apparently it's Khaganate rather than Khanagate.

With old names it might be both, I guess, depending on who you ask.

I wonder, has khan any to do with Kahn (ger. ship).

It doesn't. "kh" should be read as a single sound (Arabic or Persian خ) not a sequence of two sounds.

both khan and kahn come out as british can't modulo t does, I guess, though noone knows what it sounded like originally.

No they don't, kh is an aspirated k sound. In any case that is not what was mistyped in the original post, it was the second and third syllables that hade changed places.

Well, why don't they think that Vikings simply seen these as a decoration, not understanding what they mean? That happens in much much more recent times. Late Russian ex-foreign minister, and ex-prime minister Primakov, who is Arab states specialist and reads Arabic scripts very well, once saw a garment with 'No god except Allah...' on Patriarch of Russia Alexy II, shocking him because similar ritual garments were used by the Orthodox church for centuries - with inscriptions on the cloth seen simply as decorations - cloth was by tradition bought in Syria. Story was from ca. 1995.

Allah literally means God in Arabic. It is comprised of definite prefix 'Al' and the word for god 'Elah'. In English, to show the difference between generic god and specific God, the first letter is capitalized. Arabic does not have the same capitalization rule , so instead they call the specific deity 'Allah', literally meaning 'the god', or 'God'.

This is important because not all Mulsims are Arab and not all Arabs are Muslim. Allah is first and foremost an Arabic word. As a result, practitioners of Islam in other languages use other words to refer to God.

In Iran, for example, Persian word 'Khoda' is used by Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians to refer to God in their religion. 'Allah' is never used except in phrases and words borrowed from Arabic and using it on its own in the middle of a Persian sentence would sound very odd.

I have also heard that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews use the Allah to refer to God in their religions, but I have not fact-checked it.

>I have also heard that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews use the Allah to refer to God in their religions, but I have not fact-checked it.

I can confirm this. We say "Allah." The advent of Islam into the global public awareness has created a lot of confusion about Middle Eastern cultures, e.g. I frequently hear "Allah is the name of the Muslims' God." But it is in fact a more generic word, exactly analogous to "God" with a capital G.

Exactly, the real question is why the muslim God is referred to as "Allah" even in English. It's not like the Christian God is called "Theos" or something in other languages. At least as far as I know.

In Japanese for example they use the same word, Kami, as the use for the more spirit like gods of Shinto.

> I can confirm this. We say "Allah."

Is there any difference at all? I was under the impression that all abrahamic religions referenced the same "God". So when a Muslim, Jew, and Christian say "God" are they not all referring to the same deity?

There is no grammatical difference. @smnrchrds above is spot on in his explanation of the etymology. "Elah" is "god" with a lowercase g (as in, a god). "Al" means "the" in Arabic. "Allah" = "Al Elah" = "the god" = "God."

Now, whether the Abrahamic religions consider their God to be one and the same is a philosophical question. It depends on what "the same" means. Each of them claims to refer to the same entity, at least from a historical (or archaeological) point of view; but some followers of the different Abrahamic religions might object to each other's representations of God and deem them "not the same." A theological case can be made that they are ultimately distinct (I find it to be weak, but it's been argued). But, nominally, they are the same entity despite differences in characterization (and I believe this is the prevalent view).

Islam is, AIUI quite explicit in saying that they worship the same deity as Christians, agree that Mary was a virgin, and that the birth of Christ was a miracle. They just consider Christ to be (one of?) God’s favourite prophet, rather than God incarnate.

There is even an empty tomb next to Mohamed's tomb for when the Christians kill Jesus when He returns and proclaims Mohamed the greatest Prophet. The religions have interesting intersections but I have never had a good conversation with a person about it because they always assume I am trying to convert them.

That would depend on the perspective of the follower. In general, each successive religion sees itself as a continuation of the former, but the former does not see its successor as legitimate.

Meaning, if you asked a Christian whether he and a Jewish follow believe in the same god, he would say yes. The Jew would probably say No (I once heard a Jewish man refer to the New Testament as "that appendix").

By the same token, a Muslim would insist that he follows the same god of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc. A Christian, however, would say that he does not.

See also the Druze and Bahai'i faiths, which draw upon an extend the Abrahamic faiths.

>a Muslim would insist that he follows the same god of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc. A Christian, however, would say that he does not.

I'm Christian, and I believe that the abrahamic religions worship the same entity. "The lamp is different; the light is the same." Now what? :-)

I should have used the word "probably" in all accompanying instances of "would"--the extent to which the followers are inclusive of other members of the Abrahamic faiths obviously vary from community to individual follower. I merely wished to limit confusion.

Yes, many Christians will consider that Muslims worship the same God. On the other hand, I grew up in the American South, and I can assure you that the sentiment is not universally shared down here.

In my understanding, (most) (white) (christian) people in the american south only concluded that catholics were christian in the last ~50 years or so... ;-)

The question is a variant of Theseus's Paradox. If you change some parts of God's character and actions, is it still the same god, or another? It really depends what kind of sameness you're asking about: grammatical, historical, nominal (claimed)... The question is otherwise ambiguous.

You are right nominally; the person you're replying to is right in terms of doctrine. Otherwise, you would say you were Muslim (or some pan-abrahamic variant) and not Christian.

THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL teaches that Muslims "adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humans. They take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even God's inscrutable decrees".

Pope John Paul II has said the fact that Christians and Muslims worship "the One and same God" is a factor that draws the two communities together and lays the basis for love and cooperation between the two communities of believers.

Really? Catholics, Anglicans, most "mainline" Protestant churches are doctrinally copacetic with the notion that jews, muslims and christians alike all worship the god of abraham. This was not always so, of course, but it turns out that ecumenicalism is a pretty smart idea.

To your point about Theseus -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophatic_theology is germane here. In this way of thinking, definitionally we can only agree on what God isn't, not what it is.

>Really? Catholics, Anglicans, most "mainline" Protestant churches are doctrinally copacetic with the notion that jews, muslims and christians alike all worship the god of abraham. This was not always so, of course, but it turns out that ecumenicalism is a pretty smart idea.

Sure, but the criterion for sameness is what matters. I see this as cultural and historical sameness, not doctrinal; the doctrines of the Abrahamic religions certainly do not agree on the fundamentals.

I also don't view it as apophatic, as I acknowledge both positive and negative claims are possible. I just think it comes down to the criteria of "sameness" and so it's ultimately an ambiguous question, and one must specify what is effectively being asked. Depending on the actual question, both your answer and others can work.

OK. So from that angle, though, it's turtles all the way down. Since I am not You, and thus we are not the same, our internal conceptions of _anything_, God included, are going to have some fuzz.

If you're too strict about sameness criteria, it's difficult to agree on what, like, pants are, and we wind up at the relatively trivial solipsism arguments that get boring pretty quick.

If you go back far enough, of course, the doctrines of the abrahamic religions _do_ agree on the fundamentals. "God made stuff, God is on our side, act accordingly." The procession of covenantal relationships throughout history (with noah, abraham, issac, ishmael, jacob, john, jesus, mohammed, etc. etc. ) continually reinterpret what that means for people, but the basics are something everyone can break bread over.

> If you're too strict about sameness criteria, it's difficult to agree on what, like, pants are, and we wind up at the relatively trivial solipsism arguments that get boring pretty quick.

> ... fundamentals ...

If I may butt in. That's one such essential message of these religions, that we are all the same and equal. Yet their essence is to define the respects in which to compare for equality and in those they do differ substantially. The primary difference is the question of authority, which has differing answers IMHO, and I believe that's the same question as the GP was asking.

And so you pretty quickly end up with fundamentalism, except that they all cannot agree on whose fundamentalism, whose authority, whose definition of failure to accept.

no, the question is as ambiguous as the source material, there is no specification. And the authors likely couldn't answer coherently either, so it's indeed an cboose your own adventure type of question.

> the same entity


i was trying to be non-anthropomorphic while referring to god. Whoops.

Well both Christians and Muslims have "names for God" that extend beyond just the simple word "God".

Christians have described God in myriad ways[1] since the Old Testament times.

Muslims also have the "99 Names of Allah"[2].

I don't think Muslims have another name for Allah like the Christians/Jews do (i.e. "Yahweh" or "Jehovah", depending upon your pronunciation).

[1]: https://www.gotquestions.org/names-of-God.html

[2]: http://www.islamicity.org/5855/99-names-of-allah/

muslims have something else of equal importance, mohammed is a demi-god by mere association, in christian terms he'd be one aspect of the trinity.

Yes and no. Their concepts of God have a shared historical origin (Judaism), but they are quite different. For example the Christian God (in mainstream denominations) is a Trinity composed of the father (basically Yahweh), the Son (Jesus) and the holy ghost. This is very different for the concept of God in Islams and Judaism.

> when they say deity, are they not all referring to deity?

fixed that for you

Yes? But the question makes little sense however whichway you turn it. undefined === undefined; on the other hand NaN !== NaN

and yet, I disagree, because the theism lies mainly in the believes and these are essentially about inequallity in either case.

The parent likely means "La ilaha illallah". So the point it not about "Allah" (indeed many cultures use that word for God -- it is derived from the semetic El). The point is instead about an inscription of the Shahada on the cloth of the Patriach of Russia. This would be akin to the US President wearing a garment with something along the lines of "God save the Queen" in Latin (assuming the President didn't understand Latin).

On the other hand (debates about the unity of the trinity aside), Christians believe in a single God as well (and that God is understood by Muslims to be Allah). So while the shahada is strongly associated with Islam, I doubt it would particularly conflict with Orthodox Christian teachings (IANA religious scholar). So perhaps the better analogy would be the US president wearing "A Mari Usque Ad Mare", the Canadian motto, which means "From Sea to Sea".

They do. There was a bit of a flap a few years ago in Malaysia when they attempted to ban non-Muslims (in practice, Christians) from using the word "Allah".


As a funny modern example, check out Kenyon Martin, former NBA all-star, having Chinese character tattoos. I never really thought about this until social media apparently all told him to back off when he said current Brooklyn Nets point guard Jeremy Lin shouldn't have dreadlocks in his hair because that was a black culture thing, and then Lin (politely) pointed out that Martin had Chinese character tattoos. I imagine very similar.

And then on the flip side, I read an article a while back about how t-shirt manufacturers in China choose English slogans for making t-shirts based on how nice they think the letters look, not based on what the words mean. They have no idea what the words mean and will actually even change some of the letters to make the pattern look nicer if they think it helps.

There is also the Western predilection for Chinese character tattoos which don't always mean what the customer thinks they mean and, of course, the Chinese predilection for English tattoos that...


- a blog "dedicated to the misuse of chinese characters in western culture". Highly recommended for disillusionment and entertainment value! :)

there are few blogs re: Japanese t-shirts 'in English'

'Crap your hands'... etc.


I would be really interested in that article about t-shirt slogans!

Sad to say I can't find it. But it had interviews of top sellers of t-shirts. These people would literally type random English letters into online search engines (obviously not Google) and see what got auto-suggested. Then they'd choose the auto-suggestions that literally looked the prettiest or coolest to them. Maybe change a letter here or there to make it look even more cool. Then off to the t-shirt printers.

Don't know about the GP's article, but there are actually quite some YT videos around of someone interviewing people in Asia (I think the last one I saw was based in Japan), asking them if they know the meaning of the words on their shirts.

Some of these are hilarious..

While living away from my native California, I had a good laugh seeing someone with a "San Bernardino Beach" shirt.

I have multiple shirts that say Surf Ohio on them, I’d assume it was also a tongue in cheek thing like that.

Well in my country (3rd world country), most t-shirts are imported from China. If they have slogans, it's with English text with broken grammar or usually with text that doesn't even make sense. No one bothers though since English isn't widely spoken in neither of the countries.

Is it actually shocking? Isn't it just a statement the Orthodox church would agree with ("there is no god except God") written in Arabic?

It's literally the first commandment.

not necessarily. monolateralism and monotheism aren’t exactly the same.

most versions of the commandments specify that the god of abraham is the only god that ought to be worshipped.

strict monotheism came later.

edit: that said, yes, it should be totally unsurprising.

But Allah is a cognate of El/Elohim. You could translate it as There is no god except El/Elohim. Just because it uses Arabic characters doesn't mean it can't be translated into English (or Russian) as something other than Allah.

But if it was literally that sentence, one has to note that it is the beginning of shahada, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahada , one of the Islamic creeds. From this perspective the surprise element of the story (if true), is both stronger and clearer to explain.

It’s a specifically Muslim formulation of the idea, though.

There's some suggestion that the Spanish interjection olé is also descended from Allah (or rather some conjugation of it).

More or less, each name for God in the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions is related to a similar name in one or both other traditions. "Allah" is a modern standard Arabic transliteration of a word which translates quite simply to God. The only reason to translate it as "Allah" is to signify that the context is Islamic.

Spanish speaking people have an even more obvious loan word from Arabic they use pretty commonly: ojalá. It means, "hopefully," or literally, "God willing."

The word "alphabeth" is also of greek origin.

But no one tries to pass the message of greek influence to the point of there being articles for that in hackernews.

I don't know what that means. Everyone knows that there is a massive Greek influence on Western culture. The only reason there might not be many HN articles on it is that it's so obvious.

>The word "alphabeth" is also of greek origin.

Yes and no. It came through Greek (though to us via Latin) but of course the names for Alpha and Beta (and most other letters) are based on the Phoenician Aleph and Bet.

Yep. It's like people nowadays getting tattoos with Han characters without knowing what they mean. Or the exact opposite happening in the CJK countries where Latin letters or gibberish English phrases are used decoratively in t-shirts. It is also well known that Nordic smiths would—with varying success—imitate decorative patterns and Latin phrases found in items forged by their Central European counterparts.

You all know that language is notorious for co-opting words and phrases from other languages, without necessarily bringing the original meaning or tradition. E.g. In Spanish the phrase ojalá is used to respond to a question with an optimistic 'I hope so!'. It is derived from the Arabic "ma sha allah" meaning if God wills it, and yet I doubt many a Spaniard cares that they are invoking the title of the Muslim God. Heck, a lot of the Spaniards that I know have the last name Matamoro which basically means that someone in their ancestry was given that name because they killed Moors, and while my acquaintances find the thought of killing revolting, they don't change their name.

Very interesting, do you have a reference?

Sceptical that this means that there were Muslim Vikings. Arabic script was commonly used throughout medieval Iberia as decoration, often without any meaningful words, just Arabic letters strung together for aesthetic effect. Wouldn’t surprise me if something similar was going on here, where Iranian weavers were simply mass producing cloth for export with Ali and Allah embroidered as decoration. Keep in mind that Viking runes can be found inscribed in the walls of the Hagia Sophia. That doesn’t mean that the Vikings were Christian (or Muslim); it means that our stereotypes about the Middle Ages are totally invented by nineteenth century historians with their own nationalist agendas that didn’t allow for a cosmopolitan, globalized medieval Europe.

    > "We know from other Viking tomb
    > excavations that DNA analysis has
    > shown some of the people buried in
    > them originated from places like
    > Persia, where Islam was very dominant
Which is also not proof-positive that there were Muslim Vikings, but as we know there were Persian Vikings, and as the name Allah appears as decoration, it does start to see pretty likely, no?

> Persia, where Islam was very dominant

Was that true at the time? They were certainly ruled by a caliphate, but other religions survive in Persia till this day so I wouldn't be surprised if the process took centuries. There also appears to be some repression of Persian people after. That Viking could of also been a refugee of the islamification process or the various power struggles in the region at the time.

> "but other religions survive in Persia till this day"

Just to be clear, what is known as Persia is a subset of modern day Iran:


Quick note about non-Islamic religions in Iran:


"The remaining 0.6% associate themselves with non-Islamic religious minorities, including Bahá'ís, Mandeans, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians. The latter three minority religions are officially recognized and protected, and have reserved seats in the Iran parliament."

> what is known as Persia is a subset of modern day Iran

Subset? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaemenid_Empire

Persia != Persian Empire. Just like Britain != British Empire, Rome != Roman Empire, etc...

The Islamic conquest of Iran happened in the late 7th century. The aforementioned remains were probably from the 9th/10th century. However, in that time there were still many Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians in Iran. I agree that the existence of Persian remains does not necessitate that there were Muslim vikings.

Here in Lithuania (well the empire, so Poland and Belarus too) there were a large number of Muslim settlers who arrived in the 14th century. They were known for their military strength and were invited by Vytautas to aid in the efforts against the Christian Crusaders.

If military prowess was as highly regarded as we believe to the Vikings, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did something similar too.

It's entirely possible that there were converts, as well. Many European cultures pre-Christianization had pretty broad-minded attitudes towards religion, and while the majority would adhere to the predominant pagan tradition, some individuals and families would sometimes convert to another religion when exposed to it. Especially given the rather pragmatic attitude towards religious worship among pagans at the time, choosing to honor and worship a god perceived as "stronger" for whatever reason would not be inconceivable - and the impressive early military successes of the Caliphate would be seen as testament to the strength of the god proclaimed on its banners...

While we're at it, one of the founding myths about Christianization of Kievan Rus involves knyaz Vladimir holding a council on which faith to convert to, and inviting preachers to compete - supposedly, Latin and Greek rites of Christianity, Islam (via Volga Bulgars), and Judaism (via Khazars) were all on the table. According to the legend, Islam was rejected first, solely on account of banning alcohol. Judaism was reviewed and rejected next, because the loss of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple was seen as a clear sign of divine weakness by the pagan Rus. Finally, between the Greek and the Latin rites of Christianity, they picked Greek, because Greek churches and priests were decorated much more lavishly (with lots of prominently displayed gold etc), while Latin ones were more subdued.

While it's almost certainly a legend that does not correspond to an actual event, its very premise speaks volumes about how religion was viewed in that time period.

>According to the legend, Islam was rejected first, solely on account of banning alcohol.

That may be one version. In another the people tasked with finding a new faith came back to Vladimir and talked about how boring the muslim rituals were, "they first look this way, then that way", whereas when they came to Hagia Sophia they "thought they were in heaven".

There were also geopolitical considerations, Byzantium was still very strong and Vladimir wanted to marry the emperor's sister Anna (Porphyrogenita).

Is there a reason given why he wanted to choose a religion ?

The country (Kievan Rus) was basically just freshly minted at that point, and its various constituent regions, and their respective tribes, didn't really see themselves as a single nation yet - Vladimir's grandfather Igor was killed in a rebellion when trying to collect tribute from one, for example. It occurred to Vladimir that to strengthen the centralized rule of a single king - himself - a monotheistic religion, mirroring the desired arrangement in the spiritual sphere, and providing religious backing to his right to rule ("divine right of kings" etc), would be helpful.

Initially, he tried to reform the existing pagan religion, by taking one god - Perun (god of war and thunder) - and elevating him above others as the supreme god. But that didn't take up too well, and meanwhile, he saw the far more successful examples of what he was trying to do happening in Bulgaria and Poland, with Christianity as the unifying force.

He also wanted to have a strong relationship with neighboring Byzantium. In particular, after getting involved into their ongoing civil war, and supporting the ruling emperor against the rebels, he convinced (or forced, depending on your perspective - it was a condition for his support) the emperor to give his sister in marriage to him - but converting to Christianity was a prerequisite for that. And, of course, a Christian ruler needed Christianity as a state religion, if he wanted religious backing. This last part is why the legend is most likely just that, a legend - Greek-rite Christianity was really the obvious pragmatic choice in the circumstances.

Thanks for this detailed answer.

Do you mean Lipka Tatars? Yes, they were (mostly) Muslims serving in the army of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and had been settled there. But not really that many of them - 2 thousand according to 2011 cenzus. Their villages (at least only those two remaining within in Polish border) still have mosques.


Not just lacking meaningful words—sometimes including designs clearly meant to look like Arabic, but not even real letterforms. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudo-Kufic

Wow, talk about conjecture! If they found these artifacts in their graves, the closes thing to truth is that they were Muslims, nothing else.


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Since there most definitely were Christian Vikings even in the early days (later they were all Christian), it seems quite probable that some would have also converted to Islam.

But I agree that embroidered pieces of cloth doesn't really say much at all.

It's also pretty strange that the article seems to say that Vikings got the idea for an eternal life after death from Islam. First of all there are very similar ideas in Norse Paganism (cognate to Greek and Roman Paganism), even if it's not in paradise. Secondly the idea also exists in Christianity, and by the 9th century most of Europe, and many Vikings, were of course Christian.

Norse were trading and raiding all over the rivers of eastern Europe, down into the Black Sea, and likewise along the Atlantic seaboard into the Mediterranean. It would be profoundly weird if some items of Islamic provenance did not make their way into grave goods and hoards in Scandinavia.

Almost every King Kyiv/ Kyiv Rus was a Viking. The last Viking King of Norway was also the last King of Kyiv from what I understand.

They fought with the Turks for 100's of years. It wouldn't surprise me if this clothing was not just something they came across on a raid or purchased.

Svyatoslav Igorevich (Sveinald Ingvarsson) was arguably the last ruler of Rus who was a pure-blooded Varangian (Viking), and mostly adhered to their customs - but, notably, he already used the Slavic form of his name predominantly, not the Norse one. His wives appear to have been Slavic, and his firstborn son had a Slavic name.

One of the other sons, Vladimir (Valdamarr), was still a Viking enough to go seek - and get! - the help of his Viking relatives in Scandinavia to overthrow his brothers. But after converting himself and the country to Eastern Christianity, arguably, he finally severed that link. His successors were definitely not Vikings in any sense, although they did marry their daughters into Scandinavian royalty, among others.

The Varangian Guard (personal bodyguards to the Byzantine Emperor) dates back to the 10th century. They were 'vikings' on loan from Kyiv Rus to the Byzantine Empire. There was much more cultural cross pollination than most people who have anglo centric view of history realize.

the "viking buddha" is another fine example of robust trade networks during the migration period. Material goods get around!


This goes both ways, of course. A Varangian Guards carved "halfdan was here" on the hagia sophia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runic_inscriptions_in_Hagia_So...

To go even further afield, Roman coins have turned up in the ruins of a 12th Century castle in Okinawa.


Robust trade, or spoils of conquest/pillaging. In either case, it's not totally surprising that good from half a world away would end up in some viking longhouse.

It's doubtful they were especially more keen on raiding and pillaging than other cultures of the time. They were some of the last pagans of Europe and they didn't shy away from raiding churches and monasteries. Monks were almost the only people who could write about it, and their bias influences their accounts.

It's not that vikings were especially nice and peaceable people but neither was anyone then.

definitely. but they seemed to be one of the most well-traveled (as an ethnicity), hence why they may have acquired objects from distant lands more easily than others. those things could have come into posession by visiting (either peacefully or forefully) less distant lands that traded with more distant lands for those objects.

another good one: the Hallstatt salt mines in what is now Austria have been around since the late Iron Age.

I recall but cannot currently find studies that have found bags of the mined salt in graves and digs all along the silk road over a time period of millennia.

"The Dark Ages" is a horrible name. It was coined to denote "a period that we, historians, don't know much about because we don't have nearly as many anal romans writing everything down and taking notes for us", but it was commonly understood as "a bad, barbaric time when civilization collapsed."

It's increasingly clear that nothing so apocalyptic happened. Trade routes survived and even thrived.

Dark ages => ages we are in the dark about (Tongue well in cheek).

no, really, that’s what the people who coined the term meant.

> we don't have nearly as many anal romans writing everything down

Please, they burned books simply because those didn't suit thier idea of history.

Placed in the perspective of the current political climate in Sweden I can not be but sceptic against research which tries to make islam part of Sweden's history. While the article is published by the BBC, the research - for what it is - was done in Uppsala.

That Vikings travelled to islamic countries is known. That they traded with them - willingly or unwillingly - is also known. They did the same with many other cultures and brought materials back to Scandinavia. There have been finds of Buddhist statues, swastikas, Christian ornaments from the time when the Vikings were still going the way of Odin and Thor, etc. There is, however, no research showing the Vikings were making Buddhism part of their culture even though they used some of their symbology (swastikas come to mind). Why not? Because there is no political drive to give Buddhism a part in Sweden's history while there is a strong drive to do this to islam, especially in parts of academia.

Also, if these Vikings wanted to show allegiance to allah and Ali, why did they do so in mirror image?

This belongs to the realm of Beatles covers showing mirror images of Paul McCartney being dead, backward satanic messages on rock albums and chemtrails: the conclusion was the starting point, all that was left was a search for 'evidence'.

Why are you so swift to cast this as political? All this suggests - at most- is that individuals might have decided they wanted to be muslims, or more likely just liked the iconography. Whichever way you slice it, islam is a part, however small, of Sweden's history, on account of its symbolism being found on Swedish historical artifacts.


Odd thing to say, the closest the article gets to this supposed BBC agenda is:

> "The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out,"

Then they say it's more likely it was some much more limited cultural influence. Then they talk about trade, in the context of the wide dispersion of Muslim coins. Then they say that the inscription isn't right, so probably it was an incorrect copy by whoever produced the fabric. The article is entirely reasonable, if it is a matter of ideology clouding judgment perhaps you should look at yourself rather than the BBC.

While not perfect and generally on the "liberal" side of the spectrum, the BBC is remarkably apolitical by US standards and I very much doubt they have any (Viking) axes to grind when it comes to Swedish politics.

Disclaimer: I used to work at a BBC company, although nowhere near the news department.

The BBC has a strong left wing bias. This doesn't come through so much in how they report mainstream political news but in the stories they choose to run on their website. A good example is the choice of stories for the "Society" section.

The BBC is also accused of having a right wing bias by the left. The 'Society' section appears to just be a view on the homepage with a few articles at a time, one of the things you can add or remove from the customizable homepage, not a cohesive category. These are the three articles on there at the moment:




BBC is biased towards the status quo. Very, very broadly it's position is economic-right social-left, which is pretty much Official Government Worldview, whatever the government, these days.

Yes, although there are a lot of diversions from that, for instance Farage and UKIP (who are anti establishment social conservatives) got substantially more coverage than was reflected in their polling. There are a lot of social conservative voices given a lot of coverage, and in positions of power (within a British context, more defense of the British Empire, Euroscepticism and than evangelical Christianity) like Paxman, Andrew Neil, Humphreys, Melanie Philips etc.

Also, I'd say their economics coverage is reactive, it's framed around the Budget, major speeches from prominent politicians, research or press releases from the OBR, IFS, the IMF or similar organizations. It reports those positions, then goes to opposition parties or other figures to ask for comment. The problem for left wing parties is that doesn't give much space to get across a completely different narrative, but that is frankly not the BBC's role.

I think you nailed it.

It can have both, it's not a homogenous mass. Various directors, separated program production, etc..

> The BBC has a strong left wing bias.

Only by American standards. Barack Obama (and his policies) would firmly be on the right in the UK. I think it only goes to show that US 'center' is to the right of the European 'center'.

I can't find the Society section. Could you provide a link?

ETA: thanks to Brakenshire above for the directions. I'm seeing the same three stories, and I'm not sure what's left wing about reporting on:

- a campaigner for gender-neutral passports winning the right to challenge government policy in court

- horrible things that some people do when dating

- a (somewhat unscientific) experiment that suggests that people take domestic violence against women more seriously than that against men.

Yes, exactly.

Big media has several tools available:

- Choose which stories to run - Choose which stories not to run - Choose which stories to allow discussion boards on - More obvious mechanisms, like slanted coverage

Used together, they make an impressive suite of persuasion tools.

Name any news/media organization that is not biased in some way.

not HN, I got flagged

The article is based on research done by an archeologist at a university who wasn't looking for evidence of Arabic culture. The research hasn't yet concluded anything.

What do you base your statement on? Your gut?

Usually for those kind of things, it doesn't have to be the research per se. Instead, it's which findings are promoted more in the media, and which are left obscure -- and that's often based on political decisions, what's popular (and can attract grants), and what fits certain narratives (sometimes nationalistic, sometimes globalist, whichever pays better at any given time).

"archeologist at a university who wasn't looking for evidence of Arabic culture"

What evidence is there for this statement, if I may play devil's advocate for a moment?


What is there to be credible or otherwise about? It's a geometric pattern which symbolizes Ali (of Shia) and the Islamic god, in a piece of fabric traded to the Vikings. The research even says it was likely an incorrect copy done by a second party of the original design from the Islamic world. That is interesting in the context of trade and cultural links, but is in itself exceptionally uncontroversial.

> That is interesting in the context of trade and cultural links, but is in itself exceptionally uncontroversial.

Exactly. It is more than likely that something like this is the result of trade. However, the way the narrative is built around "findings" like these by professors in the departments of said universities is something completely different.

That all sounds a bit far fetched if you ask me.

A more likely explanation is trade and cultural exchange [EDIT] and expropriation. The Vikings roamed far and wide [0] [1], and Islam even made it as far as Spain at one stage [2]

As far as they went though they probably never got as far as East Asia where they could have encountered Buddhism.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings#Viking_Age

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings#/media/File:Vikings_ex...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Spain#History

Does "cultural exchange" include looting and pillage? It may seem hard to accept nationalistically for Scandinavians but most Vikings stuff in tombs are the result of not a production economy.

I don't think most people in Scandinavia has any problem accepting this. Pretty much everyone in the world who knows about Vikings know that raping and plundering is what they did for the most part when they set sail to distant shores.

Bloody Scandinavian political correctness, trying to avoid offending the Vikings!

I've read that Vikings were kind of half traders, half raiders. It was a culture of 'bringing back the spoils', I think the word was leader was actually something equivalent to 'ring-giver', and the bond of allegiance was made on that basis. So I suppose you could accomplish that goal in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances, size of the group, access to weapons, or information, and so on.

I've read Vikings were kind of half traders, half raiders,

Also worth remembering the "the vikings" where not some homogeneous society. The term covers a large number of different groups from different countries and different periods of history. Some traded, some looted, some went west, some went east etc.

Good point, I fixed it for you :)


Given that this is twitter the whole thing has been chopped into bite-sized chunks but if you add them together it reads something like the following:


In other words, the "research" behind the BBC article is faulty and there is no mention of allah or ali on that Viking artifact.

i've heard a lot of very very preocuppying things about sweden, but could you elaborate on what you think the current political climate is ?

> if these Vikings wanted to show allegiance to allah and Ali

I call strawman.

Both article and researcher make no claims further than "cultural influence".

What would be the purpose of in including Islam as part of Swedish culture? Does Sweden want to get into OPEC?

No, just wants to open an opposed part of the population into integrating an increasing number of muslim economic migration.

I think other countries like Germany also have structural problems - a low birth rate will lead to a collapse of the pension system. They also need more people to keep it going in the long term.

The Swedish pension authorities ("Pensionsmyndigheten") has now published a - belated - study which shows that migration to Sweden will double the pension costs by the year 2060 [1]. This studt is 'belated' because these numbers had already been calculated and made known by others but that news was labelled 'främlingsfientligt' (xenophobic) and 'racist' to quench any chance of a fact-based discussion on the subject.

The problem with (current and recent) migration to Sweden is that most migrants come from places with low 'human development index' (Afghanistan and Syria are the top 2 countries at this moment) while the Swedish job market requires high levels of education compared to surrounding countries. This makes it hard for migrants to find jobs and to establish themselves, leading to a high dependence on government subsidies and state-subsidised pensions ('garantipension').

In other words, by allowing (until recently unlimited) economically-motivated migration of people from countries with a low HDI, Sweden has worsened any future pension problems dramatically and reduced the chance of the state pension system to survive in the long term.

In 2014 Sweden had a birth rate of 1.88 per woman [2], the third best in Europe. While not at the 2.1 level required to keep the population at the current level there was no obvious need to import a large contingent of people from the Middle-East and Africa to avoid the "collapse of the pension system".

[1] https://ledarsidorna.se/2017/10/pensionerna-migrationens-kos...

[2] https://www.thelocal.se/20160316/swedes-are-europes-third-be...

To be honest "Allah on mirror" sounds like "Jesus on toast".

The images make it quite clear these are not random patterns, but intentional.

Which are just basic patterns that require a mirror and imagination to be read as Arabic.

edit; I'm not ruling out interraction or even Muslim Vikings but reading Allah on that fabric is just absurd.

> Placed in the perspective of the current political climate in Sweden I can not be but sceptic against research which tries to make islam part of Sweden's history.

Good grief.

Not only Vikings were traveling as far as Constantinople but also Muslim traders were coming as far as Baltic.

Ibrahim ibn Yaqub [1] trader - Hispano-Arabic Sepharadi Jew (quite a pedigree) have left chronicle of his journeys as far as Wolin [2] and Rugen [3] - islands inhabited at the time by Weneds (Rani) - Slavian vikings - where contacts with Scandinavian Vikings were daily occurrence.

There were probably other traders.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibrahim_ibn_Yaqub

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%BCgen#Slavic_Rani

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolin

This makes me think of the movie the 13th warrior[0] where a warrior from Baghdad fights along side Vikings

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_13th_Warrior

Which is a third-hand adaptation of real-life travels of Muslim scholars through the Rus lands in this time period.



That's because the first part of the story was based on this:


Which Michael Crichton blended into a retelling of Beowulf.

The TV show Vikings shows one Viking family around 1100? traveling to Arab lands and picking up an East Asian female along the way and being the first ones to attack England, heavily fictionalized.

I would think the show is supposed to be set around year 800, since it started with attack on Lindsfarne, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindisfarne, which is the first known Viking raid. Also Ragnar and the Ragnar sons was before the story started in Snorres Heimskringla https://no.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heimskringla. Third Harald Hårfagre (850-930), from before he became king, is part of the series. Of course the series is not strict to the history, but in most places it is close enough to recognize the events from history. The Arab land they did go to was Spain, I even think they called it Spain in the series.

It is well known that vikings did go down to the Meditarian Ocean, for instance it is known that the vikings did call Constantinople for Miklagard and that they did trade with Arabs both in Arab countries and in Scandinavian

IIRC the place they showed was somewhere in Moorish Spain

What makes it plausible to assume a deeper connection than trade for an average case of this sort?

No one is assuming anything, they are investigating. It's what archaeologists and historians do when they find something interesting.

Why are you so quick to want to shut it down?


We've asked you a number of times to stop posting unsubstantive inflammatory comments, so we've banned the account.

"Brevik" is a strange name for a boy from syria.

The Swedish vikings are known to have travelled, traded and served as guards for the Ottomans. Most people equate Vikings with the Danish/Norwegian raids and voyages in western europe and the atlantic. It’s an interesting discovery, but the article lacks a bit of context. (Source: Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood, also a history interested dane/norseman).

The Ottoman Turkey did not exists at the time. Even for Seljuk Turkish state it was a little too early.

You mean Byzantium - Constantinople was called Miklagard by Vikings.



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seljuq_dynasty https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottoman_Empire

Right, sorry about the offhand naming, yes, the same region at least.

I think they only served the Byzantines opposed to the Ottomans.

If you fancy a fun piece of fiction that covers Muslim/Viking interaction, Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton is a good read [1].

He blends a re-telling of the Beowulf story with the accounts of Ahmad ibn Fadlan [2] and his interactions with the Volga Vikings [3].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eaters_of_the_Dead

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_ibn_Fadlan

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varangians

Height of the viking culture, height of the arabic culture. It's not so strange. Considering the vikings even had their own name for Istanbul.

The discovery seems makes sense given the migratory, raiding and trade patterns between the Arab and Viking worlds in the era discussed. Some settlers and converts (of tradition, religion, etc) will always be found within intersections of 2 or more cultural groups interacting under any pretext. The post also outlines physical evidence, which has/will presumably be re-examined directly by other researchers to verify and extend lines of inquiry.

So, it is mildly amazing to see the mental gymnastics being exhibited by some comments to refute a completely uncontroversial discovery.

I believe that the Vikings also raided cities in Islamic Spain. Could have been something they stole and made clothes of it.

They didn't just rape and pillage, as is popularly assumed; they settled and traded as well. It's not improbable that they'd buy exotic clothing, especially the ornate kind worn for various events or ceremonies.

They were probably more civilized than we think; I mean, the level of trade with the rest of the world is certainly the biggest proof we have.

It seems most of the pattern was made up by the researchers: https://stringgeek.blogspot.dk/2017/10/viking-age-tablet-wea...

Question for me as a Westerner capable of reading/writing arabic script: does anyone see an example where the name "Ali" is written? I wonder a bit. In the pictures, it is not shown (except for the picture coming from Bulgaria, which has nothing to do with Viking clothing).

So if someone can point me to a picture containing the "Ali" part of the enigma, please link it here.

Pascal's Wager?

1. it's the BBC, they are biased towards that type article

2. it's totally non-obvious and the message is hidden (as per the article)

3. arabs, were obsessed (also experts) by geometric patterns and those pattern were also their early gods. so they would have produced many goods with nice patterns on them.

4. it looks nice, and i'm sure they would have bought or stole those items from arabs.

5. pascal's wager, they could be hedging their bets.

6. they were probably pre Bluetooth, where he unified the viking religion to be Christianity.

Anybody else thought of the movie "The 13th Warrior" after reading the article?

Allah was used by Christians and other monotheists before the term was co-opted by Muslims. There were many Christians in the Arab peninsula before the Muslim conquests. It is derived from Elohim, the Hebrew word for God.

Archeologists deal "with touchable evidence". Archeology is above History and Linguistics. Since history is written by the ones who controls hashing power. History has higher entropy before the Gutenberg.

Why was the title changed?

Occam's razor:

Viking raided silk traders travelling far, or raided people who had access to those traders, traders who were either wearing or selling the silk cloth with pattern.

Occam's other razor:

You have to look at the garments in the mirror in order to see the word Allah so it could just as well be random patterns, like that piece of toast with Jesus' face on it.

It would not be the first time that the word Allah appeared among otherwise random patterns: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perceptions_of_religious_image...

Why assume raids? Vikings were also traders and travelled far. They might as well have bought the cloth in Byzantium.

IIRC viking is an action akin to "raiding", maybe that's why? People groups who vikinged also traded.

As to why make the assumption, unless there's evidence of Scandinavian goods in Byzantium it's a good assumption.

Someone in r/Sweden who works in the field pointed out the severe lack of credibility of the researcher who published this finding so do your due diligence and check your sources before jumping to conclusions

... What on earth is going on in r/Sweden? There's some real sludge being thrown around in there. It's about par with 4chan's /b. Somehow I don't think that reddit is a very normal sample of the culture of Sweden.

To put it gently... cough Where does r/Sweden get its credibility from?

Reddit is a refuge for a lot of very right-wing commenters, I've seen the same in several /r/<European country>.

The debate in Europe is so toxic, on one side starry-eyed humanists, on the other narrow-minded losers. Each resort to separate little bubbles where they can reaffirm each other. In the middle, reasonable people get squeezed out.

"Someone in r/Sweden who works in the field pointed out the severe lack of credibility of the researcher who published this finding so do your due diligence and check your sources before jumping to conclusions"

As others have pointed out, the discovery reported in the post is quite reasonable, given the migratory, raiding and trade patterns between the Arab and Viking worlds in the era discussed. Settlers and converts (of tradition, religion, etc) are also common within intersections of 2 or more cultural groups interacting under any pretext. The post also outlines physical evidence, which has/will presumably be re-examined directly by other researchers to verify and extend lines of inquiry.

Some comments here like Rusanu's are annotated with useful links that you should probably read to understand how unusual the discovery actually is, instead of supporting baseless attacks on the source. It is mildly amazing to see the mental gymnastics being exhibited by some comments (including the ad hominem attack reflected in yours) in quest to refute a completely uncontroversial issue.

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