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The Viking World

The Vikings. A word that evokes romantic images of proud ships with a single large sail and gracefully curved dragon-head decorated bows and sterns. A word that evokes the picture of men clad in trousers, smocks and fur coats, wielding swords and battle axes, running up a slope bent on pillage and arson. The word might also evoke memories of beautifully decorated bracelets and brooches displayed in a museum.

The fact that the Vikings were also settlers, is known, but little about the details. Piratry and settlement went hand in hand almost from the beginning in the early 9th century.

Vikings from Norway and Danemark settled in parts of Ireland.

Norvegians made their home on Isle of Man, in the Hebrideans, Caithness, the Orkneys, and subsequently became intermixed with the indigenous people.

Norvegian Vikings settled in Iceland (sometimes via Scotland) and from there adventured to Greenland and Newfoundland and tried to establish stettlements there too (in Greenland with some success).

Danish Vikings were given the land of the so-called "Danelag" in England.

It was also Danish Vikings who established some - rather shortlived - settlements at the German coast.

Vikings from Norway and Danemark founded the duchy of Normandy in the early 10th century. The Normans later participated in the Crusades and in their turn founded the Norman kingdom of Sicily, and maintained a stonghold in North Africa. They also conquered England.

Swedish Vikings traveled across the Baltic Sea to Novgorod and along the system of Russian rivers to Kiev where they established the ruling dynasty of the Rurikides. They also were an integral part of the Imperial Palace Guard in Byzance.

From the 10th - 12th century, the sphere of influence of the Vikings or their immediate descendants stretched from ice-covered Greenland to the hot deserts of North Africa, from the Scottish Highlands to the plains at the shores of the river Wolga.

Vikings acted as catalysts for the interaction of cultures. Their ability to adapt to the different cultures they became acquainted with is amazing: The Rurikides spoke Russian, the Sicilian "Normans" Italian, William the Conqueror spoke Anglonorman French, and Somarled probably Gaelic. Usually, about hundred years after the first permanent settlements the Vikings had so well integrated themselves into the different cultures that they became Russians, Normans, Scots, rather than Vikings. In Iceland, where they did not meet with indigenous people, they developed a social system that was quite different from any other in Europe at the time.

Their impact on Euopean Mediaeval history from the 9th to the 12th century, on politics, society and culture, is still under-estimated, I think. But little known is f.e. the vast amount of Old Norse literature written in Iceland and Norway.

I will in the following present these fascinating people more detailed, and - hopefully - put an end to some typical Viking images inherited form Victorian times.

History of Scandinavia
From the Early Times of the Norsemen and Vikings to the Present Day by The Rev. Paul C. Sindog of Copenhagen (1859) (pdf)

An Account of Danes and Norwegians
In England, Scotland and Ireland by J. J. A. Worsaaw (1852) (pdf)

The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland
By George Henderson (1910) (pdf)


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