In ancient times, music survived mostly for as long as people could remember it. With no easy way to commit melodies, especially those of folk songs and skaldic ballads, to paper – or parchment, animal skin, or canvas – music could change beyond recognition as it travelled through the ages, passed down and held in memory.
Various stringed instruments, pipes, and flutes from the Viking Age have been discovered on archaeological digs, and upon visiting Hedeby, Denmark in the 10th century, the Arab merchant Al-Tartushi wincingly described Vikings’ singing abilities as “a rumbling emanating from their throats, similar to that of a dog but even more bestial”. So, while there were no Lady Gagas or Justin Timberlakes climbing the charts in ancient Scandinavia, we know for a fact that they liked a bit of a singsong. Speaking of!
Far removed from the Vikings’ throaty vocals, the silky tones and strumming you can hear in the above video belong to Kristoffer “Juriel” Bailey, our North American Community Manager who can tear up the stage just as well as the battlefield in Conqueror’s Blade. He’s singing Drømde mik en drøm i nat – which translates into English as ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ – a secular song written in Old Norse sometime before 1300 AD. It’s one of the oldest known songs from its time, and it’s likely that its origins can be traced back even further to Scandinavia during the Viking Age.
The music was discovered in the Codex Runicus, a manuscript detailing Danish history, monarchy, and law written on vellum (calfskin parchment) in runes that correspond with letters from the Latin alphabet. The final page of the Codex features the first two lines of the well-known folk song along with musical notes on a four-line staff, offering a tantalising glimpse of what ancient Scandinavian music may have sounded like.
Fancy yourself as the next ABBA? Here are the lyrics to Drømde mik en drøm i nat (thanks Realm of History):
Drøymde mik ein draum i nótt
um silki ok ærlig pell,
um hægindi svá djupt ok mjott,
um rosemd með engan skell.
Ok i drauminom ek leit
sem gegnom ein groman glugg
þá helo feigo mennsko sveit,
hver sjon ol sin eiginn ugg.
Talit þeira otta jok
ok leysingar joko enn —
en oft er svar eit þyngra ok,
þó spurning at bera brenn.
Ek fekk sofa lika vel,
ek truða þat væri best —
at hvila mik á goðu þel´
ok gløyma svá folki flest´.
Friðinn, ef hann finzt, er hvar
ein firrest þann mennska skell,
fær veggja sik um, drøma þar
um silki ok ærlig pell.
I dreamed a dream last night
of silk and fair furs,
of a pillow so deep and soft,
a peace with no disturbance.
And in the dream I saw
as though through a dirty window
the whole ill-fated human race,
a different fear upon each face.
The number of their worries grow
and with them the number of their solutions —
but the answer is often a heavier burden,
even when the question hurts to bear.
As I was able to sleep just as well,
I thought that would be best —
to rest myself here on fine fur,
and forget everyone else.
Peace, if it is to be found, is where
one is furthest from the human noise —
and walling oneself around, can have a dream
of silk and fine furs.
This feature is brought to you as part of Music Week, a special week of content running from May 10-16 celebrating the history of Viking music, and modern-day compositions by Heilung and Booming Tech. Keep an eye on the Conqueror’s Blade website for more features, a contest, and other surprises!