Saxon Engineering

March 22, 2010

I had mentioned in the post about my February reading that Tom Holland’s Millennium addressed the issue of how Christianity and monarchy spread throughout Europe after 800 AD. While it addresses the issue of how Scandinavia and the Vikings became Christian, Germania was converted before 800 AD, so the book doesn’t deal with that. I had to rely on Wikipedia to inform me that Germany became Christian thanks to the work of Theodosius, who outlawed paganism altogether. Constantine merely made Christianity official without actually persecuting the traditional religions.

The whole thing makes me very wistful. On Twitter, I have often said that anything will sound more badass if it is said in German; and the badassery of German Engineering is also widely acknowledged. If only the Germans had retained their Pagan religion, the sheer coolness of the cultural context would have made their engineering even more badass. I for one would delight in driving a Polo even more if I knew that Volkswagen had invoked Wotan and Donar while designing it. And if the resolution of quality defects or poor after-sales service involved battle-axes, even better. And I am quite sure that in such an ideal world, advertising would include Valkyries.

The other thing is that according to Millennium, the Scandinavians were persuaded to convert to Christianity by the Germans. So if the Germans themselves had never converted, the Norsemen (and women) would today be raising flagons of mead to Baldur and Thor.

Extend the implications of this a little further. Back in the 1950s, Jawaharlal Nehru and King Gustav of Sweden signed an economic co-operation treaty, as a result of which Pune is the India (and even Asia) headquarters for a bunch of Swedish companies. It has the offices and manufacturing facilities for Atlas Copco, Sandvik, ABB, BASF, and probably even more companies I can’t recall right now. Now imagine that Scandinavia remained pagan, but everything else stayed the same, including the economic cooperation agreement. Pune would still be a Swedish centre, except now the Swedes would now not be Protestant Christians but Vikings.

It would be awesome, especially if they joined in with the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. Picture a host of fur-clad berserkers escorting their Ganesh idol to the local lake; all the while chanting invocations to Vinayak… but with umlauts! And think how awesome the cheers and waves would be during the home matches for the new IPL team. Boat Club Quiz Club sessions would be even more entertaining, because every so often they would get to see a longboat bursting into flame as it carried the soul of a recently deceased expat manager to Valhalla. And assorted Marathi Manoos Senas would probably be far more circumspect about beating up immigrants if the immigrant was inclined to suddenly turn around and use the Marathi Manoos to make a Blood Eagle.

Unfortunately, it is not to be. India’s power cuts will never be addressed by a Mjollnir AB, labour organisers will not start industrial disputes in the name of Loki, and Ajay Shah will never get to campaign for full convertibility of the rupee against the gold ring. The Maytag repairman will not occupy his free time by stringing up Roman legionaries with their own insides; Krupp will not forge steel using their knowledge of Nibelung-lore, and Bayer will not patent pharmaceuticals using the knowledge of their druids.

It’s a cruel, harsh, dispiriting world; and it’s all Theodosius’ fault.