Success. It’s something most parents want for their children. It doesn’t matter when or where you live, no parent wants to see their child struggle. Of course people define success differently. Take the Vikings for example. Success for them included going out into the world and doing some really great looting and conquering. That’s how it went for Bjorn Ironsides, anyway.
Vikings were sort of like boys who never grew up. They felt the need to steal people’s toys and take everyone’s homes. Everything was me me me, mine, mine, mine. Had they proper kindergarten in those days, it’s possible they would have had better manners. Unfortunately, they did not and their bad behavior wasn’t just tolerated but encouraged. So let’s face it, if your dad is famous for killing and pillaging your going to get some flack if you try to make a career in say, underwater basket weaving. Challenging as it might be.
Now Bjorn’s dad was Ragnar Lothbrok, a pretty famous Danish king. Lothbrok is old Norse for Hairy Britches. Quite a distinguished name for a king, don’t you think? Now King Hairy Britches’ famous deeds include battling Charlemagne, terrorizing England, and laying siege to Paris in 845. So you can see how the pressure was on for Bjorn.
In 859 the time came for Bjorn to show the world his stuff, so he set off with his brother Hastien and 62 ships. They pointed their sails toward Galicia in northwest Spain, then Sevilla and the Portuguese coast. The boys did well. A few ships get lost here and there and some of the loot along with them, but it’s ok. These things happen. Still, they needed even more success if they were going to live up to dad’s legacy. Even blood thirsty, loot loving Vikings need a break, however, so the boys wintered in the south of France for a well deserved rest.
Over on the Italian coast in the city of Luna a man was working hard to make his father proud as well. Unfortunately, we don’t know his name but for the ease of the story we’ll call him Bob. Well, he’s in Italy, so maybe we should call him Bobillino. Now, Bobillino’s town was one of the oldest cities in the land. It was famous for its beautiful white marble, although if you prefer more of the blue cheese look they had that too. They even used some of Luna’s marble when making the Arch of Constantine in Rome. That’s quite a complement, don’t you think?
If marble isn’t really your thing, the city also had a great cheese industry. It’s said they made huge wheels of it, some as heavy as 1000 pounds. Now we don’t know what Bobillio’s father did, but let’s pretend he was a big-wig in the cheese industry. I bet Bobillio wanted to make his dad proud just like our Viking. He probably hoped to be even better, so he could make his dad real proud.
Summer was the traditional time to go a-viking, so when mother earth put winter to bed, Bjorn and Hastien were ready to go. Fresh and renewed, they set off for the coast of Italy. Their first stop was Pisa, which they duly sacked. While there, they found out they were pretty close to Rome. Of course, Bjorn knew the more successful he was, the more glory awaited him when he got home. He realized if he could take Rome he’d be quite the man when he got back. He could just see all the women who would line up to greet him.
All the talk centered around the Viking ships. Where would they go, what would they take? Some people ran, some built up fortifications, others just continued to talk. Bobillino, however, was a man with a mission. He had a goal of selling not just one but two of his 1000 pound cheese wheels before the week was out. He also had a goal of asking out that dark haired beauty that lived down the street. Therefore, he was too busy reading his new book, Cheese Makers and the Women Who Love Them, to be concerned about any foreigners in the area.
“We can’t just raid Rome, ” Bjorn said to Hastein, “The taking of Rome is to be my Magnum opus. Whatever we do has got to make me look really fabulous. There will be Bjorn cologne, Bjorn sportswear— oh, and my picture will be on Wheaties boxes worldwide.
So the two boys went off to their thoughtful spots to try to think up a plan. Finally, Hastein had an idea. “I’ll tell you what let’s do. We’ll convince the Bishop that we want to convert. He’ll be so pleased he’ll invite us in for a celebratory pasta dinner. We’ll be able to walk right through the gates then BAM! We got ’em.”
So the boys sent what they thought was a most repentant letter to the Bishop. The Bishop had his doubts, but what could he do? He was wise however, and instead of letting them in to the city he went to them. Thus the boys were newly baptized but without a dinner invitation. Bjorn was furious. “Hastein, you pretend you’re dead. We’ll tell the Bishop you need a proper burial, he’ll have to let us in. Then he’ll see what Bjorn Ironsides is really made of,” and he laughed a cruel chuckle.
“Why do I have to play dead?” Asked Hastein?
“Because you Idiot, you know on my birth my mother gave me the magical ability to deflect wounds . . . IRONSIDES, hello? He would certainly suspect something if it were me. ”
Read the newspaper headlines. “Well that’s nice,” thought Bobollino. Maybe some of them will stop and buy my cheese—that would give me international fame! Boy won’t that make dad proud.” And he moved his biggest and best cheese wheels closer to the front door hoping the visitors would stop in and help him not only meet, but exceed his quota.
By this time Hastein was snug and cozy in his coffin and on his way into town surrounded by a group of fake mourners. Once inside the church he jumped out of his coffin like a bikini-clad girl from a birthday cake. The men quickly turned on the awe struck clerics, then made their way to the city gates. A flood of Norsemen swept through, and the City was won.
“Yes, YES, ” yelled Bjorn. “Now bow to me citizens of Rome and acknowledge me as your leader.”
The people looked at each other in amazement, lips moved soundlessly, heads shook questioningly, but no one would bow to him as leader of Rome. Bjorn grew angry and repeated his demands in an even louder, angrier voice, but confusion was the only response. Finally a voice spoke up from the crowd, “This . . . isn’t Rome, ” it was the timid voice of Bobollino.
Bjorn walked quickly over to Bobollino who trembled in the shadow of the fierce stranger, “What did you say?”
“Yeah, Rome is about 250 miles from here. You’re in Luna, we sell marble. And cheese—we have really good cheese. As a matter of fact I—”
But poor Bobillino never got to finish. Bjorn was too busy yelling and smashing everything in site. His rage was uncontainable. In fact, he had all the men of Luna killed. I’m sure Bobillino was the first to go.
In the end Bobillino never reached his goal of being a famous cheese maker. To those who knew his role in the event, however, I’m sure he was quite famous. Much more famous than his dad ever was.
And what about Bjorn? Well he became a successful guy as well. He may not have taken Rome, but the crafty way in which he took Luna scored him some pretty big brownie points. Add to that the other successes he had on his trip, including capturing King Garcia I, and he was quite the man. He was so successful in fact that his dad got really jealous. But that’s a story for another day.
-It should be noted that not ALL Scandinavians at the time were vikings. The word viking should be confined only to those pirate types who did the raiding. Many Scandinavians at the time were farmers, merchants and craftsmen. For really good information on Vikings see the Viking Answer Lady.