TEIO-Vikings-art - 1/10/97
"The EarlŐs Info on ... the Vikings" by S.J. Lean.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: earlofwarwick at msn.com (S.J. Lean)
Date: 4 Jan 97 13:59:57 -0800
THE EARL'S INFO ON ... THE VIKINGS
VIKINGS (also called NORSEMAN, or NORTHMAN)
These pagan Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish warriors were probably prompted to undertake their raids by a combination of factors ranging from overpopulation at home to the relative helplessness of victims abroad.
"Viking" originally meant a man from the Vik, the shore between Cape Lindesnes in South Norway and the mouth of the Gota River in Sweden (called Skagerrak since 1500). Their burning, plundering, and killing meant that the word "vikingr", became identical in meaning with "pirate" in the early Scandinavian languages.
The "Viking Age" is approx. 800 AD to 1050 AD, when Vik dwellers plundered abroad through surplus population. Through superior ships and weapons and a well-developed military organization this expansion was successful.
The Norwegians raided (and settled in) already-peopled areas:
the Isle of Man, and
and settled in unpopulated or very sparsely populated areas:
possibly Labrador (Vinland)
Many Vikings returned home ensuring the unification and Christianization of Norway.
Small scattered Viking raids began in the last years of the 8th C. In the 9th C, large-scale plundering incursions were made in Britain and in the Frankish empire as well. In 838 the Saxon king Egbert defeated a large Viking force that had combined with the Britons of Cornwall.
In 851 Aethelwulf won a great victory over a Viking army that had stormed Canterbury and London and put the Mercian king to flight, but it was difficult to deal with an enemy that could attack anywhere on a long and undefended coastline. Destructive raids are recorded for Northumbria, East Anglia, Kent, and Wessex.
A large Danish army came to East Anglia in the autumn of 865, apparently intent on conquest. By 871, when it first attacked Wessex, it had already captured York, been bought off by Mercia, and had taken possession of East Anglia. Many battles were fought in Wessex, including one that led to a Danish defeat at Ashdown in 871.
Alfred the Great, a son of Aethelwulf, succeeded to the throne in 871 and made peace. This gave him a respite until 876. Meanwhile the Danes drove out Burgred of Mercia, putting a puppet king in his place, and one of their divisions made a permanent settlement in Northumbria.
Alfred was able to force the Danes to leave Wessex in 877, and they settled northeastern Mercia. A Viking attack in the winter of 878 came near to conquering Wessex. It did not succeed because of Alfred's tenacity. He retired to the Somerset marshes, and in the spring he secretly assembled an army that routed the Danes at Edington. Their king, Guthrum, accepted Christianity and took his forces to East Anglia, where they settled.
The importance of Alfred's victory cannot be exaggerated. It prevented the Danes from becoming masters of the whole of England. Wessex was never again in danger of falling under Danish control, and in the next century the Danish areas were reconquered from Wessex. Alfred's capture of London in 886 and the resultant acceptance of him by all the English outside the Danish areas was a preliminary to this reconquest. That Wessex stood when the other kingdoms had fallen must be put down to Alfred's courage and wisdom, to his defensive measures in reorganizing his army, to his building fortresses and ships, and to his diplomacy, which made the Welsh kings his allies. Renewed attacks by Viking hosts in 892-896, supported by the Danes resident in England, caused widespread damage but had no lasting success.
In the second half of the 9th century, the Viking chief Harald I Fairhair from the Oslo Fjord area managed, in alliance with chiefs of the Frostatingslag and parts of the Gulatingslag, to pacify the western coast. The final battle took place in Hafrs Fjord near Stavanger sometime between 872 and 900. Harald proclaimed himself king of the Norwegians. His son and successor, Erik I (called "Bloodaxe" -- he murdered seven of his eight brothers), ruled about 930-935. He was replaced by his only surviving brother, Haakon I, who had been reared in England.
Haakon was Norway's first missionary king, but his efforts failed. He died in battle in 960.
* * *
VIKING SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
The Vikings were made up of landowning chieftains and clan heads, their retainers, freemen, and any energetic young clan members who sought adventure and booty overseas. At home these Scandinavians were independent farmers, but at sea they were raiders and pillagers. During the Viking period the Scandinavian countries seem to have possessed a practically inexhaustible surplus of manpower, and leaders of ability, who could organize groups of warriors into conquering bands and armies, were seldom lacking. These bands would negotiate the seas in their longships and mount hit-and-run raids at cities and towns along the coasts of Europe.
The exact ethnic composition of the Viking armies is unknown in particular cases, but the Vikings' expansion in the Baltic lands and in Russia can reasonably be attributed to the Swedes. On the other hand, the non-military colonization of the Orkneys, Faroes, and Iceland was clearly due to the Norwegians.
* * *
In England desultory raiding occurred in the late 8th C. but began more earnestly in 865, when a force led by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok -- Healfdene, Inwaer, and perhaps Hubba -- conquered the ancient kingdoms of East Anglia and Northumbria and reduced Mercia to a fraction of its former size. Yet it was unable to subdue the Wessex of Alfred the Great, with whom in 878 a truce was made, which became the basis of a treaty in or soon after 886. This recognized that much of England was in Danish hands. Although hard pressed by fresh armies of Vikings from 892 to 899, Alfred was finally victorious over them, and the spirit of Wessex was so little broken that his son Edward the Elder was able to commence the reconquest of Danish England. Before his death in 924 the small Danish states on old Mercian and East Anglian territory had fallen before him. The more remote Northumbria resisted longer, largely under Viking leaders from Ireland, but the Scandinavian power there was finally liquidated by Edred in 954. Viking raids on England began again in 980, and the country ultimately became part of the empire of Canute. Nevertheless, the native house was peacefully restored in 1042, and the Viking threat ended with the ineffective passes made by Canute II in the reign of William I. The Scandinavian conquests in England left deep marks on the areas affected, in social structure, dialect, place-names, and personal names.
* * *
THE WESTERN SEAS AND IRELAND
In the western seas, Scandinavian expansion touched practically every possible point. Settlers poured into Iceland from at least about 900, and from Iceland colonies were founded in Greenland and attempted in North America. The same period saw settlements arise in the Orkneys, the Faroes, the Shetlands, the Hebrides, and the Isle of Man.
Scandinavian invasions of Ireland are recorded from 795, when Rechru, an island not identified, was ravaged. Thenceforth fighting was incessant, and although the natives often more than held their own, Scandinavian kingdoms arose at Dublin, Limerick, and Waterford. The kings of Dublin for a time felt strong enough for foreign adventure, and in the early 10th century several of them ruled in both Dublin and Northumberland. The likelihood that Ireland would be unified under Scandinavian leadership passed with the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, when the Irish Scandinavians, supported by the Earl of Orkney and some native Irish, suffered disastrous defeat. Yet in the 12th century the English invaders of Ireland found the Scandinavians still dominant (though Christianized) at Dublin, Waterford, Limerick, Wexford, and Cork.
* * *
Scandinavian influence on continental languages and institutions is, outside Normandy, very slight. Sporadic raiding occurred until the end of the Viking period, and in the 10th century settlements on the Seine River became the duchy of Normandy, the only permanent Viking achievement in what had been the empire of Charlemagne. These Normans were the people who successfully invaded England in 1066, which was the last effective invasion of that country.
Farther south than France -- in the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and the Mediterranean coasts -- the Vikings raided from time to time but accomplished little of permanence.
* * *
The eastern Viking expansion was probably a less violent process than that on the Atlantic coasts. Although there was, no doubt, plenty of sporadic raiding in the Baltic and although to go on the "east-Viking" was an expression meaning to indulge in such activity, no Viking kingdom was founded with the sword in that area.
The greatest eastern movement of the Scandinavians was that which carried them into the heart of Russia. The extent of this penetration is difficult to assess, because although the Scandinavians were at one time dominant at Novgorod, Kiev and other centres they were rapidly absorbed by the Slavonic population, (who gave them the name Rus, or "Russians.")
The Rus were traders, and two of their commercial treaties with the Greeks are preserved in the Primary Chronicle under 912 and 945 -- the Rus signatories have Scandinavian names. Occasionally the Rus attempted voyages of plunder like their kinsmen in the West. Their existence as a separate people did not continue past 1050 at the latest.
The first half of the 11th C. appears to have seen a new Viking movement towards the East. Swedish rune stones record the names of men who went with Yngvarr on his journeys. These journeys were to the East, but only legendary accounts of their precise direction and intention survive. A further activity of the Scandinavians in the East was service as mercenaries in Constantinople (now Istanbul), where they formed the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperor.
After the 11th C. the Viking chief became a figure of the past. Norway and Sweden had exhausted their external adventures and Denmark became a conquering power, able to absorb the more unruly elements of its population into its own royal armies. Olaf II Haraldsson of Norway, before he became king in 1015, was practically the last Viking chief of the old independent tradition.
earlofwarwick at msn.com