Let's start this article by answering the question: the Jomsvikings were a group of paid soldiers and raiders who would fight in battles or go to raids for whoever would pay for their services.
Jomsvikings were active in the 10th and the 11th century AD and were known for their iron discipline and their almost fanatic belief in the Norse gods.
However, their religious beliefs didn't stop them from fighting and raiding for the "bosses" who were fighting for and in the name of other religions.
Jomsborg, the legendary stronghold of Jomsvikings
Jomsvikings appear in some of the sagas from the 12th and the 13th century AD, e.g., the Jómsvíkinga saga, a medieval text composed by an anonymous author.
This saga describes the famous Jomsborg, the legendary Jomsviking stronghold. Throughout history, the exact location of Jomsborg has been disputed and debated. Today, those who believe that the stronghold was real, think that it was located in the area north of Wolin, a town in Poland.
There are only a few sources from medieval times that mention a more precise location of Jomsborg. Some of them were discovered rather recently, in the autumn of 2019. However, it can be said that the general consensus is that Jomsvikings had their headquarters in Jomsborg, which was on the territory of today's Poland.
History of the Jomsvikings
Without knowing the exact location of Jomsborg, it can be quite challenging for historians to give very precise information on Jomsvikings, especially since the historical sources mentioning Jomsvikings and Jomsborg are quite rare.
However, history does offer some sources, such as runestones and passages from Old Norse poetry. There are also different versions of how Jomsborg was founded.
Some sources claim that it was founded after the Danish king Harald gave the conquered settlement of Julinum to the Swedish prince Styrbjörn, and together with Jomsborg, the Swedish prince got an outstanding force - the Jomsvikings.
There are other versions, too, according to which Styrbjörn took the command after the settlement had already been established; some also claim that there were different ethnic groups within the Jomsvikings. The same uncertainty also characterizes Jomsborg – it had anywhere from 30 to 300 ships in its harbor, according to some sources, and it was a market and trading center with the Danish garrison.
The glory and power of the Jomsvikings started fading after they suffered two big defeats, in the Battle of the Fyrisvellir, near Uppsala, Sweden, and in the Battle of Hjörungavágr. The Jómsvíkinga saga explains the end of the battle, which is known as the beginning of the end of the Jomsvikings.
The runestone near Uppsala describes the honor and courage of the Jomsvikings and how they didn't flee but fought as long as they could use their weapons.
The Jomsvikings followed a strict code of conduct. Source: Gioele Fazzeri / Unsplash
Life as a Jomsviking
It wasn't an easy thing to be accepted into the order of Jomsvikings. Men between the ages of 18 and 50 had to pass different tests and prove themselves strong, brave, and capable of becoming members of the order.
A strict code of conduct had to be followed, and discipline was key. Violation of the rules was punished by higher officers and could even result in expulsion from the order.
There was also a code of honor among the Jomsvikings – it was forbidden to gossip or criticize other members or quarrel with them. Jomsvikings weren't allowed to flee during a battle unless the enemy vastly outnumbered them. Even then, they weren't allowed to just run for their lives - they had to retreat in an organized manner.
The Jomsvikings, when not in battle or raid, had to spend all their time in Jomsburg and were allowed to spend a maximum of three days outside Jomsburg. Women and children weren't allowed to be within the walls of Jomsburg, and it is not known whether the Jomsvikings were allowed to marry and have children.
The Jomsvikings have also inspired popular culture.
In Vinland saga, a series based on a Japanese manga comic based in the 11th century AD, Vikings are portrayed as the invaders of England, and after several lines of stories intertwine, an expedition to Vinland (the coastal area in North America explored by the Vikings) ends up being the culmination of the series.
Several of the characters in the comic were based on the Jomsvikings, which were described as an elite army. The Vinland saga series, later adapted to anime, was considered one of the best anime series in 2019.
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