Profiling used to shine light on Viking heavies
CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR:THE VIKINGS were a bad lot, big trouble for any country they visited, hell-bent on pillaging and burning to their heart’s content.
Unfortunately they couldn’t quite switch it off once they got home, leaving their neighbours with the problem of trying to live with these troublemakers.
This led to a form of early “criminal profiling” in Iceland in the 10th century, according to a researcher from the University of Aberdeen, Dr Tarrin Wills, who was speaking at the annual UK science festival in Aberdeen, which comes to a close this weekend.
“Criminal behaviour is very good when abroad but not when you are at home,” said Dr Wills from the university’s centre for Scandinavian studies.
The Icelandic sagas, not written until the 13th century, are littered with tales of misbehaviour, murder and death, perpetrated at home by men who would otherwise have been considered the very model of Viking manhood.
There was Arngrimr, nicknamed Styrr or trouble, who later had this upgraded to Killer Styrr. Clearly he was not the neighbour you would rush to have over for tea. Arngrimr was described in the sagas as having characteristics such as a large nose, broad forehead, receding hair and he was big-boned. Needless to say he was very aggressive and domineering, as one would expect of a Viking.
Worse still was the infamous Egill Skallagrimsson, who was quite a “grumpy” fellow “and noteworthy because his first homicide was at age seven”, Dr Wills said. He was a murderous article “with a lifelong interest in homicide”.
He did a great job for the Viking reputation while abroad. Unfortunately he continued this at home, drinking and harassing his neighbours and also writing poetry, including lines written to insult people.
Iceland at the time was something like the American wild west, Dr Wills said. It had a sophisticated legal system but lacked the state machinery to enforce it. As a result, the blackguards and miscreants who did such a fine job while on raids became a real problem when they got home.
“All you could do was lord it over your neighbour,” said Dr Wills.
He believes the sagas provide ample evidence of profiling, looking for the physical characteristics seen in the likes of Egill and Arngrimr and then writing them down.
“They seemed to have an evidence-based approach similar to the modern approach to criminals,” Dr Wills said. “In this sense, they were perhaps the first to begin criminal profiling.”