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THE term Viking is a derivative of the Old Norse Vik, a creek, bay or fiord, and means one who haunts such an opening and uses it as a base whence raids may be made on the surrounding country. The word is now commonly applied to those Norsemen, Danes and Swedes who harried Europe from the eighth to the eleventh centuries, and in such phrases as ‘the Viking age’, ‘Viking civilization’, is used in a still wider sense as a convenient term for Scandinavian civilization at a particular stage in its development. It is in this larger sense that the term is used in the present chapter, covering the activities of the Northmen in peace as well as in war. The term Viking in its narrower sense is no more descriptive of this age than ‘Buccaneering’ would be of the age of Elizabeth.

Except along the narrow line of the Eider, Scandinavia has no land-boundaries of importance and is naturally severed from the rest of Europe. Though known to Greek and Roman geographers and historians, it was almost entirely unaffected by Roman civilization. It was not till the Scandinavian peoples were driven by stress of circumstance to find fresh homes, that they found that the sea instead of dividing them from the rest of Europe really furnished them with a ready and easy path of attack against those nations of North-West Europe who had either neglected or forgotten the art of seamanship.

The history of the Teutonic North from the middle of the sixth to the end of the eighth century is almost a blank, at least in so far as history concerns itself with the record of definite events. During the first half of the sixth century there had been considerable activity in Denmark and Southern Sweden. About the year 520 Chocilaicus, King of the Danes, or, according to another authority, of the Getae (i.e. Götar) in South Sweden, made a raid on the territory of the Franks on the Lower Rhine, but was defeated and slain by Theudibert, son of the Frankish king Theodoric, as he was withdrawing from Frisia with extensive plunder. This expedition finds poetic record in the exploits of Hygelac, King of the Geats, in Beowulf. Some forty years later there is mention of them in Venantius Fortunatus’s eulogy of Duke Lupus of Champagne. They were now in union with the Saxons and made a raid on Western Frisia, but were soon driven back by the Franks. From this time until the first landing of Vikings near Dorchester (c.787), the earliest attacks on the coast of France against which Charles the Great made defence in 800, and the first encounter between the Danes and Franks on the borders of Southern Denmark in 808, we know almost nothing of the history of Scandinavia, at least in so far as we look for information in the annals or histories of the time.

The story of these two hundred years has to some extent been pieced together from scraps of historical, philological and archaeological evidence. Professor Zimmer showed that it was possible, that the attacks of unknown pirates on the island of Eigg in the Hebrides and on Tory Island off Donegal, described in certain Irish annals of the seventh century, were really the work of early Viking invaders, and that the witness of Irish legends and sagas tends to prove that already by the end of the seventh century Irish missionaries were settled in the Shetlands and Faroes, where they soon came into contact with the Northmen. Evidence for the advance from the other side, of the Northmen towards the West and South, has been found by Dr Jakobsen in his work on the place-names of the Shetlands. He has shown that many of these names must be due to Norse settlements from a period long before the recognized Viking movements of the ninth century. Archaeological evidence can also be adduced in support of this belief in early intercourse between Scandinavia and the islands of the West. Sculptured stones found in the island of Gothland show already by 700 clear evidence of Celtic art influence. Indeed archaeologists are now agreed that in the eighth century and even earlier there were trade connections between Scandinavia and the West. Long before English or Irish, Franks or Frisians, knew the Northmen as Viking raiders, they had been familiar with them in peaceful mercantile intercourse, and it is probable that in the eighth century there were a good number of Scandinavian merchants settled in Western Europe. Their influence on the trade of the West was only exceeded by that of the Frisians, who were the chief trading and naval power of the seventh and eighth centuries, and it is most probable that it was the crushing of Frisian power by Charles Martel in 734 and their final subjection by Charles the Great towards the close of the eighth century which helped to prepare the way for the great Viking advance.

About the year 800 the relations between the North and West Germanic peoples underwent a great change both in character and extent. We find the coasts of England, Ireland, Frisia and France attacked by Viking raiders, while on the southern borders of Denmark there was constant friction between the kings of that country and the forces of the Empire. The question has often been asked: What were the causes of this sudden outburst of hostile activity on the part of the Northmen? Monkish chroniclers said they were sent by God in punishment for the sins of the age; Norman tradition as preserved by Dudo and William of Jumièges attributed the raids to the necessity for expansion consequent on over-population. Polygamy had led to a rapid increase of population, and many of the youth of the country were driven forth to gain fresh lands for themselves elsewhere. Polygamy does not necessarily lead to over-population, but polygamy among the ruling classes, as it prevailed in the North, means a large number of younger sons for whom provision must be made, and it is quite possible that stress of circumstance caused many such to visit foreign lands on Viking raids. Of the political condition of the Scandinavian countries we know very little at this time. We hear however in Denmark in the early years of the ninth century of long disputes as to the succession, and it is probable that difficulties of this kind may have prompted many to go on foreign expeditions. In Norway we know that the growth of the power of Harold Fairhair in the middle portion of the ninth century led to the adoption of a Viking life by many of the more independent spirits, and it is quite possible that earlier efforts towards consolidation among the petty Norwegian kings may have produced similar effects. Social and political conditions may thus have worked together, preparing the ground for Scandinavian activity in the ninth century, and it was perhaps, as suggested above, the destruction of Frisian power which removed the last check on the energy of the populous nations of the North.

The first definite record of Viking invasion is probably that found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (s.a. 787), which tells of the coming of Danish ships to England in the days of Beorhtric, King of Wessex. They landed in the neighbourhood of Dorchester and slew the king’s reeve. Certain versions of the Chronicle call them ships of the Northmen and tell us that they came from ‘Herethaland’. There can be little doubt that this is the West Norwegian district of Hörthaland, and that ‘Northmen’ here, as elsewhere in the Chronicle, means Norwegians. The term ‘Danish’ is probably generic for Scandinavian, the chronicler using the name of the nationality best known to him. In June 793 the church at Lindisfarne was destroyed, and a year later the monastery of St Paul at Jarrow. In 795 Vikings landed in Skye and visited Lambay Island off Dublin, and in 798 the Isle of Man. These invaders were certainly Norse, for the Irish annalists mention expressly the first arrival of the Danes in Ireland in 849, and draw a rigid distinction between the Norwegian or ‘white’ foreigners and the Danish or ‘black’ ones.

England was not troubled again by Viking raiders until 835, but the attacks on Ireland continued almost without cessation. Iona was destroyed in 802; by 807 the invaders had penetrated inland as far as Roscommon, and four years later they had made their way round the west coast of Ireland as far as Cork. In 821 the Howth peninsula was plundered and during the next few years the rich monasteries of North Ireland were destroyed. By the year 834 the Northmen had visited nearly the whole of the island and no place was safe from their raids. About this time there came a change in the character of the attacks in that large fleets began to anchor in the loughs and harbors and estuaries with which the coast of Ireland abounds. Thence they made lengthy raids on the surrounding country, often staying the whole winter through, instead of paying summer visits only as they had done hitherto. At the same time they often strengthened their base by the erection of forts on the shores of the waters in which they had established themselves.

When the Viking raids were resumed in England in 835 it is fairly certain that they were the work of Danish and not of Norwegian invaders. The Norsemen had found other fields of activity in Ireland, while the Danes who had already visited the chief estuaries of the Frankish coast now crossed to England. At first their attacks were directed towards the southern shores of Britain, but by 841 they had penetrated into Lindsey and East Anglia. London and Rochester were sacked in 842. In 851 the Danes wintered in Thanet and four years later they stayed in Sheppey. The Danish fleet in this year numbered some 350 ships. It was probably this same fleet, somewhat reduced in numbers, which in 852 sailed round Britain and captured Dublin. With the winterings in Thanet and Sheppey the Viking invasions of England had reached the same stage of development as in Ireland. We have passed from the period of isolated raids to that of persistent attacks with a view to permanent conquest.

The mainland of Western Europe was also exposed during these years to attacks of a twofold character. In the first place, trouble arose on the boundary between Southern Denmark and Frankish territory owing to the desire of the Danish kings to extend their authority southward: in the second, constant raids were made along the whole of the shores of Europe from Frisia to Aquitaine.

The friction between the Danes and their neighbors on the south was continuous through the last years of the eighth and the greater part of the ninth century. Charles the Great by his campaigns against the Saxons and Nordalbingians had advanced towards the Danish boundary on the Eider, and the Danes first gave offence in 777 when their king Sigefridus (Old Norse Sigurör) gave shelter to the Saxon patriot Widukind. Gradually the Frankish power advanced, and in 809 a fort was established at Itzehoe (Esesfeld) on the Stör, north of the Elbe. The Danes also made advances on their side and in 804 their king Godefridus collected a fleet and army at Slesvik (Schleswig). In 808 after a successful campaign against the Obotrites, a Slavonic people in modern Mecklenburg, he constructed a boundary wall for his kingdom, stretching from the Baltic to the Eider. He received tribute not only from the Obotrites but also from the Nordalbingians and Frisians. He was preparing to attack Charles the Great himself when he died suddenly by the hand of a retainer in 810. There can be little doubt that this Godefridus is to be identified with the Gotricus of Saxo Grammaticus and Gudrodr the Yngling of Scandinavian tradition. If that is so, Gudrodr-Godefridus was slain in Stifla Sound (probably on the coast of Vestfold), and was king not only of Denmark, but also of much of Southern Norway, including Vestfold, Vingulmork, and perhaps Agtir, as well as of Vermland in Sweden.

Later events confirm the evidence for the existence of a Dano-Norwegian kingdom of this kind. In 812 a dispute as to the succession arose between Sigefridus, “nepos” to king Gudrodr, and Anulo, “nepos” to a former king Herioldus (O.N. Haraldr) or Harold (probably the famous Harold Hyldetan slain at the battle of Bravalla). Both claimants were slain in fight but the party of Anulo were victorious. Anulo’s brothers, Harold and Reginfredus (O.N. Ragnfrodr), became joint kings, and soon after we hear of their going to Vestfold, “the extreme district of their realm, whose people and chiefs were refusing to be made subject to them”. Fortune fluctuated between Harold and the sons of Godefridus during the next few years, but Harold secured the support of the Emperor when he accepted baptism at Mayence in 826, with his wife, son and nephew. After his baptism he returned to Denmark through Frisia, where the Emperor had granted him Riustringen as a retreat in case of necessity. An attempt to regain Denmark was frustrated, and Harold probably availed himself of his Frisian grant during the next few years. The next incident belongs to the year 836, when Horic (0.N. Harekr), one of the sons of Godefridus, sent an embassy to Louis the Pious denying complicity in the Viking raids made on Frisia at that time, and these denials continued during the next few years. In 837 Hemmingus (O.N. Hemmingr), probably a brother of Harold, and himself a Christian, was slain while defending the island of Walcheren against pirates. These two incidents are important as they tend to show that the Viking raids were rather individual than national enterprises and that there was an extensive peaceful settlement of Danes in Frisia. In addition to the grant of Riustringen the Emperor had assigned (826) another part of Frisia to Rorie (O.N. Hroerekr), a brother of Harold, on condition that he should ward off piratical attacks.


St. Anskar

It was during these years that the influence of Christianity first made itself felt in Scandinavia. The earliest knowledge of Christianity probably came, as is so often the case, with the extension of trade. Danes and Swedes settled in Friesland and elsewhere for purposes of trade, and either they or their emissaries must have made the “white Christ” known to their heathen countrymen. The first definite mission to the North was undertaken by St Willibrord at the beginning of the eighth century. He was favorably received by the Danish king Ongendus (O.N. Angantyr), but his mission was without fruit. In 822 Pope Paschal appointed Ebbo, Archbishop of Rheims, as his legate among the northern peoples. He undertook a mission to Denmark in 823 and made a few converts. But it was in 826, when King Harold was baptized and prepared to return to Denmark, that the first opportunity of preaching Christianity in Denmark really came. With the opportunity came the man, and Harold was accompanied on his return by Anskar, who more than any other deserves to be called “Apostle of the Scandinavian North”. Leaving his monastery at Corvey (Corbie) in Saxony, and filled with zeal to preach the gospel to the heathen, Anskar made many converts, but Harold’s ill-success in regaining the sovereignty injured his mission in Denmark and, two years later, at the request of the Swedes themselves, he preached the gospel in Sweden, receiving a welcome at Birca (Björkö) from the Swedish king Bern (O.N. Bjorn). After a year and a half's mission in Sweden, Anskar was recalled and made Archbishop of Hamburg and given, jointly with Ebbo, jurisdiction over the whole of the northern realms. Gautbert was made first bishop of Sweden and founded a church at Sigtuna, but after a few years’ work he was expelled in a popular rising. Little progress was made in Denmark. No churches were established, but Anskar did a good deal in training Danish youths in Christian principles at his school in Hamburg.

Anskar’s position became a very difficult one when the lands from which his income was derived passed to Charles the Bald, and still more so when the seat of his jurisdiction was destroyed by the Danes in 845. Louis the German made amends by appointing him to the bishopric of Bremen, afterwards united to a restored archbishopric of Hamburg. Anskar now set himself to the task of gaining influence first with King Horic, and later with his successor Horic the Younger. He was so far successful that the first Christian church in Denmark was established at Slesvik, followed soon after by one at Ribe. He also concerned himself with Sweden once more, gaining authority for his mission by undertaking embassies from both Honk and Louis. He obtained permission for the preaching of Christianity and continued his activities to the day of his death in 865. Anskar had done much for Christianity in the North. His own fiery zeal had however been ill supported even by his chosen followers, and the tangible results were few. Christianity had found a hearing in Denmark and Sweden, but Norway was as yet untouched. A few churches had been built in the southern part of both countries, a certain number of adherents had been gained among the nobles and trading classes, but the mass of the people remained untouched. The first introduction of Christianity was too closely bound up with the political and diplomatic relations of Northern Europe for it to be otherwise, and the episcopal organization was far more elaborate than was required.

With the death of Louis the Pious in 840 a change took place in the relations between Danes and Franks. In the quarrels over the division of the Empire Lothar encouraged attacks on the territory of his rivals. Harold was bribed by a grant of the island of Walcheren and neighboring district, so that in 842 we find him as far south as the Moselle, while Honk himself took part in an expedition up the Elbe against Louis the German. In 847 when the brothers had for the time being patched up their quarrels, they stultified themselves by sending embassies to Horic, asking him to restrain his subjects from attacking the Christians. Honk had not the power, even if he had the desire, but, fortunately for the Empire, Denmark was now crippled by internal dissensions. This prevented any attack on the part of the Danish nation as a whole, but Viking raids continued without intermission.

The first sign of dissension in Denmark appeared in 850, when Honk was attacked by his two nephews and compelled to share his kingdom with them. In 852 Harold, the long-exiled King of Denmark, was slain for his treachery to Lothar, and two years later a revolution took place. We are told that after twenty years' ravaging in Frankish territory the Vikings made their way back to their fatherland, and there a dispute arose between Horic and his nephew Godurm (0.N. Gudormr). A disastrous battle was fought and so great was the slaughter that only one boy of the royal line remained. He became king as Horic the Younger. Encouraged by these dissensions, Roric and Godefridus, brother and son respectively to Harold, attempted in 855 to win the Danish kingdom but were compelled to retire again to Frisia. Roric was more successful in 857 when he received permission from Honk to settle in the part of his kingdom lying between the sea and the Eider, i.e. perhaps in North Frisia, a district consisting of a strip of coast-line between the town of Ribe and the mouth of the Eider, with the islands adjacent.

We have now carried the story of the relations between Denmark and her continental neighbors down to the middle of the ninth century, the same period to which we have traced the story of the Viking raids in England and Ireland. Before we tell the story of the transformation which those raids underwent just at this time, we must say something of Viking attacks on the maritime borders of the Continent.


The Vikings in Spain

The first mention of raids on the coast of Western Europe is in 800, when Charles the Great visited the coastline from the Somme to the Seine and arranged for a fleet and coast-guard to protect it against Viking attacks. In 810, probably under direct instruction from the Danish king Godefridus, a fleet of some 200 vessels ravaged Frisia and its islands. Once more Charles the Great strengthened his fleet and the guarding of the shores, but raids continued to be a matter of almost yearly occurrence. The Emperor Louis pursued the same policy as his father, nevertheless by 821 the Vikings had sailed round Brittany and sacked monasteries in the islands of Noirmoutier and Rhé. From 814-888 attacks were almost entirely confined to these districts, and it is possible that these Vikings had their winter quarters in Ireland, where they were specially active at this time. At any rate it was to Wexford that one of these fleets returned in 820. The later years of Louis’s reign (from 834) were troubled ones. The Empire was weakened by the Emperor's differences with his sons, and the Vikings had laid a firm hold on Frisia. They were attracted by its rich trade and more especially by the wealth of Dorestad, one of the most important trading cities of the Empire. Before the death of the Emperor in 840, Dorestad had been four times ravaged and the Vikings had sailed up the chief rivers, burning both Utrecht and Antwerp. Their success was the more rapid owing to the disloyalty of the Frisians themselves and possibly to help given them by Harold and his brother Roric, but the exact attitude of these princes and of the Danish king himself toward the raiders it is difficult to determine. There are rather too many protests of innocence on the part of Horic for us to believe in their entire genuineness.

After 840 the quarrels between the heirs of Louis the Pious laid Western Europe open to attack even more than it had been hitherto. In that year the Vikings sailed up the Seine for the first time as far as Rouen, while in 843 they appeared for the first time on the Loire. Here they were helped by the quarrels over the Aquitanian succession, and it is said that pilots, lent by Count Lambert, steered them up the Loire. They then took up their winter quarters on the island of Noirmoutier, where they seemed determined to make a permanent settlement. The invasions in France had reached the same stage of development to which we have already traced them in England and Ireland. It is in connection with this expedition that we have one of the rare indications of the actual home of the invaders. They are called “Westfaldingi”, and must therefore have come from the Norwegian district of Vestfold, which, as we have seen, formed part of the Danish kingdom about this time.

In 843 the Northmen advanced a stage further south. Sailing past Bordeaux they ravaged the upper basin of the Garonne. In the next year they visited Spain. Repelled by the bold defence of the Asturians, they sailed down the west coast of the peninsula and in September appeared before Lisbon. The Moors offered a stout resistance and the Vikings moved on to Cadiz, whence they ravaged the province of Sidonia in southern Andalusia. Penetrating as far as Seville, they captured that city, with the exception of its citadel, and raided Cordova. In the end they were out-generalled by the Musulmans and forced to retreat with heavy loss. Taking to their ships once more they ravaged the coast as far as Lisbon, and returned to the Gironde before the end of the year. It was probably on this expedition that some of the Vikings made a raid on Arzilla in Morocco. After the expedition embassies were exchanged between the Viking king and the Emir Abd-ar-Rahman II. The Moorish embassy would seem to have found the king in Ireland, and it is possible that he was the great Viking chief Turgeis, of whom we must now speak.


Olaf the White

We have traced the development of Viking activity in Ireland and England, for Ireland down to the year 834. It was just at this time that the great leader Turgeis (? O.N. Thorgestr) made his appearance in North Ireland and attempted to establish sovereignty over all the foreigners in Erin and gain the overlordship of the whole country. He conquered North Ireland and raided Meath and Connaught, while his wife Ota (O.N. Audr) gave audience upon the altar of Clonmacnois. His power culminated in 841, when he usurped the abbacy of Armagh. In 845 he was captured by the Irish and drowned in Lough Owel. By this time so numerous were the invading hosts that the chroniclers tell us “after this there came great sea-cast floods of foreigners into Erin, so that there was not a point without a fleet”. In 849 the invasions developed a new phase. Hitherto while the Irish had been weakened by much internecine warfare their enemies had worked with one mind and heart. Now we read: “A naval expedition of seven score of the Foreigners came to exercise power over the Foreigners who were before them, so that they disturbed all Ireland afterwards”. This means that the Danes were now taking an active part in the Scandinavian invasions of Ireland, and we soon find them disputing supremacy with the earlier Norwegian settlers. At the same time we have the first mention of intrigues between Irish factions and the foreign invaders, intrigues which were destined to play an important part in the Irish wars of the next fifty years. For a time Dublin was in the hands of the Danes, but in 853 one Amhlaeibh (i.e. Olaf), son of the king of Lochlann (i.e. Norway), came to Ireland and received the submission of Danes and Norsemen alike, while tribute was given him by the native Irish. Henceforward Dublin was the chief stronghold of Norse power in Ireland.

This Amhlaeibh was Olaf the White of Norse tradition, the representative of that branch of the Yngling family who, according to Ari Frodi, settled in Ireland. Affairs were now further complicated by the fact that many Irish forsook Christianity and joined the Norsemen in their plunderings. These recreant Irish, who probably intermarried with the Norsemen, were known as the Gall-Gaedhil, i.e. the foreign Irish, and played an important part in the wars of the next few years. One of their leaders was Caitill Find, i.e. Ketill the White, a Norseman with an Irish nickname. Usually they fought on the side of the Norsemen but at times they played for their own hand. Olaf was assisted by his brothers Imhar (O.N. Ivarr) and Auisle (O.N. Audgisl), and married the daughter of Aedh Finnliath (MacNiall), King of all Ireland. Dublin, Waterford, Limerick and occasionally Cork were the centres of Norse activity at this time, but there seems to have been no unity of action among their forces. In 866 Olaf and Audgisl made a successful expedition to Pictland, and again in 870-1 Olaf and Ivarr made a raid on Scotland. Olaf now returned to Norway to assist his father Goffraidh (O.N. Gudfrir) and possibly to take part with him in the great fight at Hafrsfjord against Harold Fairhair. We hear nothing more of Olaf, and two years later Ivarr, “king of the Norsemen of all Ireland and Britain”, ended his life.


Ragnarr Lodbrók

There now appear on the scene Viking leaders of a different family, which seems to have over-shadowed that of Olaf. They were the sons of one Raghnall, who had been expelled from his sovereignty in Norway. Raghnall had remained in the Orkneys, but his elder sons came to the British Isles, “being desirous of attacking the Franks and Saxons”. Not content with this they pushed on from Ireland across the Cantabrian sea until they reached Spain. After a successful campaign against the Moors in Africa they returned to Ireland and settled in Dublin. So runs the story in the Fragments of Irish Annals edited by Dugald MacFirbis, and there can be little doubt of its substratum of truth or of the identification of this Raghnall and his sons with the well-known figures of Ragnarr Losbrdók and his sons. In 877 Raghnall’s son Albdann (O.N. Halfdanr) was killed on Strangford Lough, while fighting against the Norse champion Baraidh (O.N. Bardr) who was attached to the house of Olaf.

At this point the Wars of the Gaedhil with the Gall notes a period of rest for the men of Erin, lasting some forty years and ending in 916. This statement is substantially true. We do not hear of any large fleets coming to Ireland, and during these years Viking activity seems chiefly to have centered in Britain. Trouble was only renewed when the success of the campaigns of Edward the Elder in England once more drove the Vikings westward.

We have traced the history of the Vikings in England down to the first settlement in 851 and 855. During the years which followed there were raids on the south made by Vikings from Frankish territory, but the great development took place in 866, when a large Danish army took up its quarters in East Anglia, whence they advanced to York in 867. Northumbria was weakened by dissension and the Danes captured York without much trouble. This city was henceforward the stronghold of Scandinavian power in Northern England, and the Saxon Eoforwic soon became the Norse Jórvik or York. The Danes set up a puppet king Ecgberht in Northumbria north of the Tyne and reduced Mercia to submission. Thence they marched into East Anglia as far as Thetford, and engaged the forces of Edmund, King of East Anglia, defeating and slaying him, but whether in actual battle or, as popular tradition would have it, in later martyrdom is uncertain. The death of St Edmund soon became an event of European fame, and no event in the Danish invasions was more widely known and no Danish leader more heartily execrated than Ivarr, their commander on this occasion. After their victory in East Anglia the Danes attacked Wessex. Their struggle with Aethelred and his brother Alfred was long and fierce. In the end Danes and English came to terms by the peace of Wedmore (878), and the ensuing “peace of Alfred and Guthrum” (885) defined the boundary between Alfred's kingdom and the Danish realm in East Anglia. It ran by the Thames estuary to the mouth of the Lea (a few miles east of London), then up the Lea to its source near Leighton Buzzard, then east-wards along the Ouse to Watling Street, somewhere near Fenny or Stony Stratford. The northern half of Mercia was also in Danish hands, their authority centering in the Five Boroughs of Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Stamford. Northumbria was at the same time under Viking rule, its king until 877 being that Halfdanr (Halfdene) who was killed on Strangford Lough. There can be little doubt that the chief Viking leaders during these years (Halfdanr, Ivarr and Ubbi) were sons of Ragnarr Lodbrók, the greatest of Viking heroes in Scandinavian tradition, but it is impossible to say how much truth there may be in the story which makes their attacks part of a scheme of vengeance for the torture and death of Ragnarr at the hands of Aella, King of Northumbria. One incident is perhaps of interest in connection with the family of Lodbrók. When Ubbi was fighting in Devonshire in 878 the English captured from him a raven-banner which, say the Annals of St Neot, was woven for the sons of Lodbrók by their sisters.

Though Alfred had secured an enlarged and independent kingdom, his troubles were not at an end, and during the years from 880-896 England suffered from attacks made by raiders issuing from their quarters on the Seine, the Somme and other Continental rivers. The Northumbrian and East Anglian settlers remained neutral on the whole, but they must have been much unsettled by the events of these years, and when they commenced raiding once more, Alfred built a fleet of vessels to meet them, which were both swifter and steadier than the Danish ships. After 896 the struggle between English and Danes was confined almost entirely to those already settled in the island, no fresh raiders being mentioned until 921.

During all this time the Vikings were almost continuously active on the Continent; raids on Frankish territory continued without cessation, and it was only on the Eider boundary that a permanent peace was established by a treaty between Louis the German and King Horic. In 845 a Danish fleet of some 120 vessels sailed up the Seine under the leadership of Reginherus, i.e. probably Ragnarr Lodbrók himself. Paris was destroyed and the Viking attack was only bought off by the payment of a large Danegeld. The years from 850-878 have been said, not without justice, to mark the high tide of Viking invasion in Western Frankish territory. We find Danish armies taking up more or less permanent quarters on the Rhine, the Scheldt, the Somme, the Seine, the Loire and the Garonne, prominent among their leaders being one Berno, or Bjorn Jarnsida (Ironside), another son of Ragnarr Lodbrók. A curious light is thrown on the effect of these raids upon the peasantry by an incident in 859, when we hear of a rising of the populace between the Seine and the Loire in the hope of expelling the Danes. The annals are not quite clear as to whether it was the Frankish nobles or the Danes who crushed the rising, but the outbreak indicates dissatisfaction with the half-hearted defence of the country by the nobility.

In the years 859-862 a second great expedition to Spain and the Mediterranean took place. Sailing from the Seine under the leadership of Bjorn Jarnsida and Hasting (O.N. Hästeinn), they made an unsuccessful attack on Galicia and sailed round the coast through the straits of Gibraltar. They attacked Nekur on the coast of Morocco. There was fierce fighting with the Moors but in the end the Vikings were victorious, and many of the Blue-men, as they called the Moors, were ultimately carried off prisoners to Ireland, where we hear of their fate in the Fragments of Irish Annals. Returning to Spain they landed at Murcia and proceeded thence to the Balearic Islands. Ravaging these they made their way north to the French border, landed in Roussillon, and advanced inland as far as Arles-sur-Tech. Taking to their ships, they sailed north along the coast to the mouth of the Rhone and spent the winter on the Island of Camargue in the Rhone delta. Plundering the old Roman cities of Provence, they went up the Rhone as far as Valence. In the spring they sailed to Italy, where they captured several towns including Pisa and Luna, at the mouth of the Magra, south of the bay of Spezia. The conquest of Luna was famed both in Norman and Scandinavian tradition. It is represented as the crowning feat of the sons of Ragnarr Lodbrók, who captured it under the delusion that they had reached Rome itself. From Luna they sailed back through the straits of Gibraltar and finally returned to Brittany in the spring of 862. The Vikings had now all but encircled Europe with their raids, for it was in the year 865 that the Swedish Reis (Russians) laid siege to Constantinople.

In France itself the tide began to turn by the end of 865. In November of that year the Vikings finally abandoned Aquitaine, and in the next year the Seine was for a time left free. The tide had now set towards England, and at the same time the Franks commenced fortifying their towns against Viking attack, a policy which was pursued a little later by Edward the Elder in England. For our knowledge of this period we have to rely almost entirely upon the chronicles of various monastic writers compiling their records in isolation from one another, so that it is almost impossible to trace any definite or general design in Viking attacks. The leaders change continually and almost the only constant figure is that Roric, brother of Harold, who was settled in Friesland. For some forty years he remained there, now in friendly, now in hostile relations with both Charles the Bald and Louis the German, and he does not disappear from our records until after 873. About the same time Honk the Younger must have died, for we find two new kings reigning simultaneously in Denmark, the brothers Sigefridus and Halbdenus. Both were probably sons of Ragnarr Lodbrók, the former being the famous Sigurór ‘Snake-eye’ and the latter the already-mentioned Halfdanr.

In the year 879 the tide of invasion turned once more towards France, chiefly owing to two causes. The great attack on England had failed or at least had led to a peaceful settlement, which furnished no outlet for Viking energy, while at the same time affairs in France were once more unsettled. Charles the Bald died in 877, followed 18 months later by his son Louis the Stammerer, who left two youthful children, Louis and Carloman, and a posthumous son Charles. Factions arose and the Vikings were never slow to hear and take advantage of them. When a great fleet which had wintered at Fulham found no opening in England, it crossed to France. There the young Louis won a decisive victory over it at Saucourt on the Somme, and the victory finds its record in the well-known Ludwigslied. An attack by the Northmen on Saxony and the lower Rhine was more successful. In a great fight which took place somewhere on the Luneburg Heath, 2 February 880, there fell Duke Bruno of Saxony together with two bishops, eleven counts and eighteen royal vassals. In 882 the Emperor Charles the Fat came to terms with the Viking leaders, Sigefrid and Gudrodr. King Gudrodr, who was probably a son of the Harold of Mayence, himself accepted Christianity and was granted lands on the lower Rhine, and at the same time undertook to defend Charles's territory from attack. King Sigefrid retired with a heavy payment of money. Gudrodr received his lands on much the same conditions as Charles the Simple granted Normandy to Rollo, but intriguing with the enemies of Charles he aroused hostility and was slain in 885. He had thrown away the chance of establishing a Normandy in the Low Countries. Viking rule was now brought to an end in Frisia, and henceforward we hear only of sporadic attacks which continued into the tenth century. So also from 885 Saxony was free from attack, and when trouble was renewed in the tenth century the attack was not made by sea but across the Eider boundary.

The West Frankish kingdom was still in the midst of the storm. Louis III and Carloman and the local magnates offered a stout resistance, but it seemed impossible to throw off the yoke of the here which ravaged the whole country between the Rhine and the Loire. The contest culminated in the great siege of Paris by King Sigefrid in 885-7. The Viking army numbered some 40,000 men with 700 vessels, and it was only through the stout resistance of Count Odo, and Bishop Joscelin and the withdrawal of the Vikings to Burgundy by an arrangement with Charles the Fat, that the siege was raised. With the overthrow of Charles in 887 the West Frankish realm fell into anarchy, and the Vikings ravaged Burgundy and eastern France almost without a check, while Brittany and the Cotentin fared no better. Finally the great here concentrated its attack on the valley of the Scheldt. In the autumn of 891 they were defeated on the banks of the Dyle in Brabant by the new King Arnulf, and after more desultory fighting they sailed for England in the autumn of 892. They had been in France some thirteen years, ravaging and plundering, and now for the first time since 840 France was free of the Northmen. In England, after three years’ hard fighting, the greater number settled down to a peaceful existence in East Anglia and Northumbria, but a few in whom the spirit of roving was still strong returned to the Seine in 896. Twenty-five years earlier the Vikings had seemed in a fair way to conquer Europe, but now the battle of Edington in England (878), the siege of Paris in France (885-7) and the battle of the Dyle in Germany (891), were significant of failure in these three kingdoms alike.

The West Frankish realm was weakened by the dissensions of the rival kings Odo and Charles the Simple, and soon all the old troubles were renewed. Unfortunately the Annals provide us with very meager information about events during the next fifteen years, and we know almost nothing about the critical period immediately preceding the cession of Normandy to the Northmen. The Vikings would seem to have settled themselves in the lower basin of the Seine, with Rouen as their centre, and by 910 they appear under the leadership of the famous Rollo (O.N. Hrollaugr). This Viking was probably of Norse origin (the Heimskringla describes him as one Hrólfr, son of Rögnvaldr, earl of Möre), though the main body of the settlers were certainly Danes, and he had already made himself a name in England, where he was closely associated with Guthrum of East Anglia. He probably came to France soon after 896 and gradually became the chief person among that band of equals. For some time he carried on a hard struggle with Charles the Simple, and then, towards the end of 911, each party frankly recognized the other's strength. Charles could not oust the Northmen from the Seine valley, while they were unable permanently to extend their settlement, so at St Clair-sur-Epte it was agreed that the part of the Seine basin which includes the counties of Rouen, Lisieux and Evreux, together with the country lying between the rivers Bresle and Epte and the sea, should be left in the hands of the Northmen on condition that they defended the kingdom against attack, received baptism and did homage to Charles for their lands. To these were added in 924 the districts of Bayeux and Séez, and in 933 those of Avranches and Coutances, thus bringing the Normans right up to the Breton border. With the establishment of Normandy, Viking activity was practically at an end in the Frankish kingdom: there were still Northmen on the Loire who ravaged far inland, while the settlers in Normandy freely raided Brittany, but no fresh settlements were made and the Viking here had become a recognized part of the Frankish ost.

We must now turn our attention to the Danish settlements in England. We have seen that already by the year 880 they had attained the same measure of independence which was granted to Normandy in 911, but their later fortunes were by no means so peaceful or uneventful. The Danes in East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria were not willing to confine themselves to their settlements, and soon Edward the Elder and his sister Aethelfleda, the “Lady of the Mercians”, established a line of fortified towns in Southern Mercia preparatory to an advance on Danish territory. By the year 917 all was ready. Derby fell in that year and Leicester in 918 before the advance of Aethelfleda, while in the same years Northampton, Stamford and Nottingham were captured by Edward, and East Anglia made its submission. By the end of his reign Edward was master of the whole realm, including English, Danes and Norwegians. These last were settled chiefly in Northumbria, where we find towards the close of the ninth and in the early years of the tenth century a line of kings closely associated with the Norse kingdom of Dublin. The Norsemen were often in alliance with the Scots, and matters came to a crisis in 937 when a great confederation of Scots, Strathclyde Welsh, and Norsemen was formed against Aethelstan. The confederates were defeated in the famous battle of Brunanburh (perhaps the modern Birrenswark in Dumfriesshire), and England was freed from its greatest danger since the days of King Alfred and his struggle with Guthrum (O.N. Gudormr) and the sons of Ragnarr Lodbrók. The Norse leaders retired for a time, but trouble was renewed in 940 by an Anlaf (?Olaf Gudfridson). Next year the famous Anlaf Sihtricsson (O.N. Olafr Sigtryggson), nicknamed ‘Cuaran’, is found at York. He marched south and endeavored to conquer the district of the Five Boroughs. King Edmund advanced to their help, and soon drove Anlaf out of Northern Mercia and relieved the Danish boroughs from Norse oppression. During the next twelve years Northumbria was in a state of anarchy. At times Anlaf was acknowledged as king, at others English sovereignty was recognized. Twice during this period Eric Blood-axe, son of Harold Fairhair, appeared as king, but was finally expelled in 954. Later Scandinavian tradition tells us that Aethelstan was on friendly terms with Harold Fairhair, and that when Eric was expelled from Norway in 934 he was welcomed to England by Aethelstan and given charge of Northumbria, where he ruled at York. Edmund was less favorably disposed towards Norwegians and appointed one Olaf in his stead. Ultimately Eric was defeated and killed by his rival. Eric may have been appointed to rule Northumbria after the defeat of Anlaf-Olaf at Brunanburh, while the appointment of Olaf as ruler of Northumbria may refer to the partition of England between Olaf and Edmund in 942. With the expulsion of Eric in 954 (Olaf had already retired to Dublin) Norse rule in Northumbria was at an end. Henceforward that district was directly under the rule of the English king, and earls were appointed in his name.

We have seen that during these years there was intimate connection between the Norsemen in Ireland and Northumbria, and that the kings of Northumbria often ruled in Dublin at the same time. Viking rule in Ireland was in a state of flux. The chief centers of influence were Dublin and Limerick, but their rulers were often at variance with one another and a succession of great Irish leaders, Niall Glundubh, Muirchertach and Brian Borumha (Boru), made bold and often successful attacks on the Viking strongholds. Brian was the greatest and most famous of these leaders, and when he became chief king of all Ireland, he built a great fleet and received tribute from Northmen and Irish alike. His power was threatened by the treachery of his wife Gormflaith, who intrigued with her brother Maelmordha, King of Leinster, and Sigtryggr of the Silken Beard, King of Dublin, against Brian. A great confederacy of the western Vikings was formed, including Siguror, the earl of the Orkneys, and men from the Shetlands, the Western Islands, Man and Scandinavian settlements on the Continent. Dublin was the rendezvous and thither the great army gathered by Palm Sunday 1014. Brian had collected a vast army, including Vikings from Limerick, and on Good Friday the two forces met in the decisive battle of Clontarf, just north of Dublin. For some time the fortune of battle wavered, both Brian and Siguror fell, but in the end the Irish were completely victorious, and the Vikings had lost their last and greatest fight in Ireland. They were not expelled from their settlements, but henceforward they led a peaceful existence under Irish authority and the Norse kingdoms of Dublin, Limerick and other cities either lost all power or ceased to exist.


King Svein and King Knut

After the fall of the Northumbrian kingdom in 954 England had peace for some five-and-twenty years, especially under the strong rule of Edgar, but with the weak Aethelred II troubles were renewed and from 980 onwards the whole of the English coast was open to attack. These raids were the result of a fresh outburst of Viking activity over the whole of the British Isles. Danes and Norsemen united under one banner and their leader was the famous Olaf Tryggvason. In 991 after ravaging the east coast Olaf engaged Brihtnoth, the ealdorman of East Anglia, near Maldon. The struggle was heroic and gave occasion to one of the finest of Old English poems, but Brihtnoth fell, and an ignominious peace was made whereby for the first time since the days of Alfred ‘Danegeld’ was paid to buy off Viking attacks. Svein Forkbeard now united forces with Olaf and together they besieged London in 994: the siege was a failure, but all southern England was harried and once more a heavy Danegeld had to be paid. In 995 Olaf went to Norway hoping to gain the kingdom by the overthrow of the tyranny of Earl Hakon, while Svein returned to Denmark. The raids continued but England saw nothing more of King Svein until he returned in 1003 to avenge the ill-advised massacre of St Brice's day. Year after year the kingdom was ravaged, Danegeld after Danegeld was paid, until in 1013 Aethelred fled to Normandy and Svein became King of all England. A few months later he died suddenly at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire (February 1014). His English realm went to his younger son Knut. On the death of Aethelred in 1016, his son Edmund Ironside offered so stout a resistance that for a few months, until his death by treachery, he compelled Knut to share the realm with him. Knut then ruled alone, firmly and well until his death in 1035, having succeeded to the Danish throne also in 1018. On his death the succession was not settled but, after some difficulty, Harold Harefoot succeeded his father in England. He was succeeded in 1040 by his brother Harthacnut (O.N. Hardacnútr), but neither king was of the same stamp as their father and they were both overshadowed by the great Godwin, Earl of Wessex. When Harthacnut died in 104 the male line in descent from Knut was extinct and, though some of the Danes were in favor of choosing Knut's sister's son Svein, Godwin secured the election of Edward the Confessor, who had been recalled from Normandy and highly honored by Harthacnut himself. With the accession of Edward, Danish rule in England was at an end, and never afterwards was there any serious question of a Scandinavian kingship either in or over England.

We have now traced the story of Viking activity in its chief centers in the British Isles and the mainland of Europe. A word remains to be said about other settlements in Western Europe, in the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Western Islands (or as the Norsemen called them ‘Sudreyjar’ (i.e. Sodor), the southern islands) and Man, and the Scottish mainland, and then we must turn our attention to Eastern Europe, to the famous Jómsviking settlement in North Germany and to the important but little known movements of the Vikings through Russia down to the shores of the Mediterranean. We have seen how early the Shetlands were settled, and there is no doubt that it was not long before Vikings made their way by the Orkneys round the coast of Scotland to the Hebrides. From the Orkneys settlements were made in Sutherland and Caithness, while Galloway (possibly the land of the Gall-Gaedhil, the foreign Irish) was settled from the Hebrides. In the ninth century the Norse element in the Hebrides was already so strong that the Irish called the islands Innsi Gall (i.e. the islands of the foreigners) and their inhabitants were known as the Gall-Gaedhil. Olaf the White and Ivarr made more than one expedition from Ireland to the lowlands of Scotland, and the former was married to Auer the daughter of Ketill Flat-nose, who had made himself the greatest chieftain in the Western Islands. When Harold Fairhair won his victory at Hafrsfjord he felt that his power would still be insecure unless he gained the submission of these Vikings who belonged to the great families in rivalry with him. He made therefore a mighty expedition to the Shetlands, the Orkneys and the west coast of Scotland, received their submission and gave the Northern Islands to Sigurór, brother of Rognvaldr, earl of More, as his vassal. Sigurór’s successor Einar, known as Turf Einar because he first taught the islanders to cut peat for fuel, founded a long line of Orkney earls. Warrior and skald, he came into collision with Harold Fairhair, but made his peace on promise of a heavy fine. When the peasants declared themselves unable to pay it, Einar paid it himself and received in return all the ódal (the holdings of the freeholders) as his own property. The most famous of the Orkney earls was Sigurdr Lodvesson, who succeeded c. 980. Though he acknowledged the overlordship of Earl Hakon, he ruled with almost independent power, and made himself popular by the return of the ódal. After a reign of thirty years he fell fighting for the Viking cause at Clontarf in 1014. Of the Vikings in the Western Islands from Lewis to the Isle of Man we have less definite and continuous record. There was a line of kings in the tenth century, of whom the most famous were Maccus or Magnus and Gudródr, the son of one Harold. They are found ruling with certain officers known as ‘lawmen’ by their side. The Isle of Man, which had kings of its own, was at times under their authority, at others under that of the kingdom of Dublin. It was probably from the Isle of Man that the extensive Norse settlements in Cumberland and Westmorland were made, and either from here or from Ireland came the various Viking raiders who throughout the tenth century made attacks on Wales. There they founded no permanent kingdom, but left a mark in place nomenclature along the coast from Anglesey to Pembrokeshire and in some districts of South Wales.


The Jómsvikings

From the days of Gudródr in the beginning of the ninth century to those of Harold Gormson (Bluetooth) in the middle of the tenth, Denmark had paid little heed to her Slavonic neighbors, but the rivalry between Harold Gormson and the Emperor Otto probably turned the Danish king's attention eastwards, and it was in his days that the great Viking settlement of Jómsborg was established at the mouth of the Oder. For many years there had been an important trading centre at Julin on the island of Wollin, where merchants from Scandinavia, Saxony and Russia were settled. Large finds of Byzantine and Arabic coins belonging to the tenth century have been made both in Denmark and in Wollin, bearing witness to the extensive trade which passed through Julin between Denmark and the Orient, using as its high road the broad stream of the Oder and the great Russian rivers. To secure to Denmark its full share in the products of the rich lands south of the Baltic and in the trade with the East, Harold built the fortified town of Jómsborg close to Julin and established there a famous Viking community. He gave them certain laws, and we probably find their substance in the laws given by Palnatóki to his followers in the unhistorical account of the founding of Jómsborg given in Jómsvínkingasaga No one under 18 or over 50 was admitted to their fellowship, no woman was allowed in their town, and none of the warriors might be absent for more than three days. They were bound by oaths of fidelity to one another and each must avenge the fall of any of his companions. No word of fear was allowed and all outside news must in the first place be told to their leader. All plunder was divided by lot among the community. The harbor of Jómsborg could shelter a fleet of 300 vessels and was protected by a mole with twelve iron gates. The Jómsvikings played an important part in the affairs of Denmark and Norway in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, and made many Viking expeditions both in Baltic lands and in the West. In 1043 their stronghold was destroyed by Magnus the Good of Norway. Other Vikings from Denmark made raids still further east than Jómsborg, but the true Viking conquest of those districts was due not to the Danes but to the Swedes.

In the chronicle of the Russian monk Nestor (c. 1100) we read how in the middle of the ninth century certain Varangians came from beyond the sea and that one band of them, the Rus, was soon invited to rule among the Slavs and put an end to their mutual quarrels. Their leader Rurik (O.N. Hroerekr) settled in Novgorod, while two of his men, Askold (O.N. Häskuldr) and Dir (O.N. Dyri), sailed down the Dnieper and settled in Kiev. These events probably took place in the half century preceding 862. Twenty years later Kiev was conquered by Rurik's successor Oleg (O.N. Helgi), and Kiev, the mother of all Russian towns, was henceforward the capital of the Russian state. From Kiev the Rus advanced down the Dnieper and in 865 ravaged the shores of the Black Sea (soon to be known as the Russian Sea) and the Sea of Marmora. They appeared with a fleet of 200 vessels before Constantinople, but the city was saved by a sudden storm and the greater part of the fleet of the ‘Rhôs’, as Byzantine historians call them, was destroyed. Oleg made a more successful attack in 907 with a fleet of 2000 vessels, and the Greeks were forced to pay a heavy ransom. Attacks of this kind continued down to the middle of the eleventh century. At the same time the Rus secured valuable trading privileges from the Eastern emperors and exchanged furs, slaves and honey for the luxuries of the East. From Arab writers we hear of these Rus in districts still further east, on the banks of the Volga and the shores of the Caspian.  


The Swedes in Russia

Though the point has been hotly contested by Slavonic patriots, there can be no doubt that these Rhos or Rus are really Swedish Vikings. Some of them accompanied a Greek embassy to the Emperor Louis the Pious in 839 and, though they called themselves Rhos, Louis made inquiries and found that they were really of Swedish nationality. They were detained for some time under suspicion of being spies: the Emperor no doubt feared some fresh design against the Empire on the part of the Northmen. A few years later, when the Vikings attacked Seville (844), an Arab writer calls them Ras, using probably a name for the Vikings which was already well known in the East. The descriptions of the life of the ancient Rus, which we find in Greek and Arabic writers, tally in remarkable fashion with those of the Vikings in the West, and archaeological and philological evidence tends to strengthen the belief that their original home was in Scandinavia. Certain types of fibulae found in Western Russia are derived from Scandinavia, and the hoards of Anglo-Saxon pennies and sceatts found there are probably our Danegeld. One runic inscription, belonging to the eleventh century and showing evidence of connection with Gothland, has been found in a burial mound in Berezan, an island at the mouth of the Dnieper. Professor Braun says that no others have been found because of the rarity of suitable stone. The names of the Dnieper rapids as given in their Russian form (side by side with the Slavonic) by Constantine Porphyrogenitus (c. 950) are undoubtedly Scandinavian in origin. Exactly how the term Rus came to be applied to the Swedish nation (or a part of it) has been much disputed. Still more difficult is the question of the origin of the term Varangian or Variag, to use the Russian form. We have seen that it is applied to the whole of the nation of whom the Rus formed part. It is also given to the guard of the Byzantine emperors. It is probable that the term Varangians was first applied to the whole of the Scandinavian peoples, but more especially to the Swedes with whom the Slavs had chiefly to deal, and later to the Emperor's guard recruited from these hardy Northerners. Most famous of such Varangians was the great Harold Hardrada, who after a career of adventure in the East ultimately fell at Stamford Bridge in 1066. Of the later history of the Scandinavians in Russia we know little, but it is probable that by the year 1000 they were largely Slavized and by the end of the eleventh century they were entirely absorbed by the native element.

We have now traced the main outlines of Viking activity in eastern and western Europe: it remains to say something of their civilization and its influence on the development of the various countries in which they formed settlements.

During the years of Viking activity the Scandinavian peoples stood at a critical period in the history of their civilization: side by side with a large element of primitive barbarism we find certain well-developed forms of civilization, while throughout their activity the Vikings showed an eager understanding and appreciation of the culture of the older civilizations then prevailing in western Europe. This strange blend of barbarism and culture finds its clearest illustration in their daily life and in the slow and halting passage from heathendom to Christianity.

Dr Alexander Bugge has pointed out for us how many characteristic features of Viking life find their closest parallel among uncivilized peoples of the ancient or of the modern world. Their cruelty in warfare finds illustration in their custom of exposing the heads of their enemies outside their camps and towns, or in the strange picture given us in some Irish annals of Danes cooking their food on the field of battle on spits stuck in the bodies of their fallen foes. The custom of human sacrifice was fairly common, while that of cutting the blood-eagle in the back of the fallen foe is well known from the vengeance for their father taken by the sons of Ragnarr Lodbrók. Children were not spared in warfare and were often tossed on the spears of their foes. A curious survival of primitive habit is found in the famous Berserk fury, when men in the heat of battle were seized with sudden madness and, according to the popular belief, received a double portion of strength and lost all sense of bodily pain. There is of course much that is superstitious in this idea, but it finds its parallel in the ‘running amok’ of the races of the Malay peninsula. Side by side with these traits of primitive barbarism we find certain well-developed forms of culture, an extensive commerce, a mastery of the whole art of shipbuilding, and great artistic skill, shown not only in articles of personal adornment but also in the sculptured memorial stones to be found from Gothland in the East to Man in the West. In warfare their cavalry were skilled, and they understood the construction of siege engines with the whole art of fortification. Above all the Northmen had a genius for law, and few early communities show their aptitude in the making of laws or such strictness in their observance.

The passage from heathendom to Christianity at this critical period is in some ways even more interesting. We have already seen how in the middle years of the ninth century Christianity was preached in Denmark and Sweden, but it had little effect on the main body of the nations concerned. The best evidence of this is to be found perhaps in the fact that it is in all probability to the ninth and tenth centuries that we owe the poems of the elder Edda, the main source of our knowledge of Old Norse mythology and cosmogony. It is true, no doubt, that in some of these poems we find a note of detachment, touches of irony and even of burlesque, which remind us that the belief in the old gods is passing away, but in the great body of those which deal with the world of the Aesir, there is no question of fading beliefs or of insincere statement. The greater number of the Vikings were undoubted heathen, and like the impious Onlafbald when defying the power of St Cuthbert would have sworn by their great gods Thor and Othin. When the Danes made peace with Alfred in 876 they swore an oath on the holy ring, which would be found on the altar of every heathen temple: such a ring sacred to Thor was taken by the Irish from a temple in Dublin in 996. There was a grove sacred to Thor just north of Dublin and place-names throughout the British Isles and in Normandy bear witness to the worship of this god. At the same time, in religion as in everything else, the Vikings showed themselves very ready to seize new ideas and, more especially, to avail themselves of any advantages which adhesion to the Christian religion might give. Scandinavian merchants settled in the various European countries were often ‘prime-signed’, i.e. received the sign of the cross, preliminary to baptism, which raised them to the rank of catechumens and enabled them to live in trading and social intercourse with Christians, while they did not necessarily proceed to the full renunciation of their heathen faith. Even in the ninth century, when the Danes were fighting the Norsemen in Ireland, we hear how they invoked the aid of St Patrick, thinking that he must take vengeance on those who had done him such injury. When victorious they gave him large offerings, for “the Danes were a people with a certain piety, whereby they could refrain from flesh and from women for a time”. As was to be expected in a time of transition from one faith to another, superstition was rife and more than once the Viking hosts fell a prey to it. When the army of Ragnarr Lodbrók was besieging Paris in 845 his followers were attacked by a mysterious sickness: prayer to the heathen gods was unsuccessful, but when, on the advice of a Christian prisoner, they prayed to his God, wisely abstaining at the same time from flesh and mead, the plague was removed. The blending of the old and new is happily illustrated in the sepulchral stones of the Isle of Man and Gothland: here we have stones in the shape of a cross, or with the sign of the cross on them, decorated with scenes from Valhalla or with an inscription praying at the same time for the repose of the dead man's soul and that God may betray those who betrayed him. More than once do we hear of men who believed neither in the heathen gods nor in Christ and had faith in nought but their own strength: the nickname ‘the godless’ is by no means infrequent among the settlers in Iceland. Throughout the period, however, Christianity made steady advance: by the year 921 we find the Vikings sparing hospitals and churches when sacking Armagh; the great king Olaf Cuaran, who died in 981, spent his old age as a monk in Iona; at one time in the tenth century the primates of York and Canterbury were both of Scandinavian family, and in the later tenth and early eleventh centuries the Roman Church had no more faithful sons than the Normans.

Their general philosophy of life was that every man must rely on himself and his own wisdom; he must place no reliance on others, least of all upon women. The great aim in life is to attain fame and fair speech from men after death. Though their beliefs were strongly tinged with fatalism, this brought no weakening of character or gloom of outlook. “Joyous and happy must every man be until death comes upon him”, is the counsel of Hávamál, and the highest ideal of the end of life for the hero is found in the picture of Ragnarr Lodbrók who when tortured in the snake-pit goes laughing to his death. With their enemies the Vikings had an evil reputation for cunning and deceit, but the incidents cited in illustration (such as the feigned desire for baptism on the part of a dying leader, which led to the capture of Luna, and the frequent mention of feigned retreats) hardly support this: the enemy were outwitted rather than deceived. Two common but widely different aspects of Viking character are reflected in the portraiture of their two chief gods; on the one side Othin (Odin), whose common epithets are “the wise, the prudent, the sagacious”, on the other, Thor, endowed with mighty strength, but less polished and refined. The besetting sins of the Vikings were too great love of wine and women. The rich vine-lands of the Rhine were ceded to the Vikings at their special request, in 885, and one of the best known examples of Viking cruelty is the murder of Archbishop Aelfheah (Alphege) at a drunken orgie in 1012, when he was pelted to death with the skulls of oxen slaughtered for the feast. Many are the references to their immorality. Wandering from country to country they often had wives in each and polygamy prevailed, at least among the leaders. From Ireland in the west to Russia in the east the same story is told. In Ireland we hear of what would seem to be harems for women, while in Russia we are told of the Grand Duke Vladimir, great grandson of Rurik, the founder of the Russian kingdom, that he had more than 800 concubines. Such excesses were unknown in Scandinavia itself. Legitimate wives were esteemed and took part in the national life to an unusual extent. Women at times took part in fighting, and heroic figures are found in the sagas and other historical records: such are Ota (Audr), the wife of Turgeis, who, as a vulva or prophetess, gave audience on the high altar at Clonmacnois, and Audr the Deep-minded, wife of Olaf the White, whose figure stands out clear among the early settlers in Iceland.

In outward appearance the Vikings were marked by a love of “purple and fine raiment”. Foreign, and more especially English, clothing was much sought after, and when in 968 the Irish plundered Limerick we hear how they carried off from the Norsemen “their choicest possessions, their beautiful foreign saddles, their gold and silver, their woven cloths of every kind and color, their silk and satin raiment, beauteous and variegated, both scarlet and green”. From John of Wallingford we learn how much attention the Vikings paid to the care of the body, indulging in Sabbath baths and daily hair-combing. The graves of the period have often yielded rich finds of ornaments in silver and bronze, and the geographical distribution of the famous Viking brooches, oval and convex in shape, can be used as an index of the extent of the conquests of the Northmen. The style of decoration is that derived from the interweaving of heads and limbs of animals which is found in Northern Europe in the preceding age, but the influence of Irish art is now often discernible, more especially in the use of spiral and interlacing designs. English and Carolingian influences are also to be traced. The same style of ornamentation is to be found in the memorial stones, as for example in the famous Jellinge stone at the tomb of Gorm the Old in Jutland. Their houses were wooden but often richly decorated with carvings and tapestries. In the latter half of the tenth century we hear how the house of Olaf the Peacock in Iceland was decorated with scenes from the legends of gods and heroes, such as the fight of Loki and Heimdallr, Thor’s fishing, and Balder’s funeral. Traces of tapestry hangings are found in grave-chambers. The dead chief was often buried in his ship, and ship-graves have been found not only in Norway but also at Groix in Brittany. In Denmark grave-chambers of wood seem to take the place of ship-graves.  

Of their ships we know a good deal both from the sagas and from archaeological finds. The Oseberg ship is a vessel for time of peace and coast-navigation only, but in the Gokstad ship we have an example of the ordinary war vessel. It dates from about 900, is of oak, clinker-built, with seats for 16 pairs of rowers, 78 ft. long and 16 ft. broad amidships, with the rudder at the side. The gunwale was decorated with shields painted alternately black and gold, and there was a single sail. In the course of the Viking period their size was greatly increased and in the famous dragon and snake-boats of Olaf Tryggvason and Knut the Great we hear of 34 and even 60 pairs of oars. The trading vessels probably differed very little from those of war, just as the line of division between merchant and Viking was often a very thin one. Time and again we read how, when merchants visited a foreign land, they arranged a definite time for the conclusion of their business and agreed after that to treat each other as enemies. The most remarkable feature about the Vikings as sailors was the fearless way in which they crossed the open sea, going boldly on such stormy journeys as those to the Hebrides and Ireland, to Greenland, and even to Vinland or America. Hitherto, seamen both in peace and war had confined themselves as much as possible to coasting voyages. The sea was indeed their element, and the phrase which William of Malmesbury uses (quoting probably from an old poem) when describing the failure (after four days’ trial) on the part of Gudrid of Northumbria to settle down at the court of King Aethelstan, “he returned to piracy as a fish to the sea”, is probably as true as it is picturesque.

The chief trading centers in Scandinavia itself were Skiringssalr on the Vík in Norway, Hedeby-Slesvik in Denmark, Bjorko, Sigtuna and Lund in Sweden, besides a great market in Bohuslän on the Götaelv where the three kingdoms met. The chief articles of export were furs, horses, wool and flesh: those of import would consist chiefly in articles of luxury, whether for clothing or ornament. The slave-trade also was of the highest importance: one incident may be mentioned for the vivid light which it sheds on the international character of Viking trade. Once, in the market on the Götaelv, the Icelander Miskuldr bought a female slave from the merchant Gille (a Celtic name), surnamed the Russian (because of his journeys to that country). The slave proved to be an Irish king's daughter made captive by Viking raiders. The Scandinavian countries, like Rome, are very rich in Anglo-Saxon coins, and though many of these must represent our Danegeld, the fact that they are most frequent in Eastern Sweden, on the shores of Lake Malar and in the neighborhood of the great waterways connecting Sweden and the Baltic, but above all on the islands of Oland and Gothland, whence, in all probability, very few of the Viking raiders came, would seem to show that there was extensive peaceful intercourse with England in Viking days. Yet more interesting are the frequent finds of Oriental coins. They first made their way to Scandinavia about the end of the ninth century, and are most common in Sweden. There can be no doubt that the vast majority of these coins reached Sweden overland through Russia, where extensive finds of Arabian coins mark the route along which trade at that time travelled from Asia to the north. The greater number of these coins were minted at Samarcand and Bagdad.

In social organization the Viking communities were aristocratic. The famous answer of the followers of Rollo when asked who was their lord: “We have no lord, we are all equal”, was essentially true, but with their practical genius the Vikings realized that leadership was necessary if any military success was to be gained, and we find throughout their history a series of able leaders, sometimes holding the title of fart, but, if of royal birth, commonly known as kings. That the title did not have its full modern connotation is evident from their numbers and from the frequency with which they changed. When, however, the Vikings established permanent settlements, hereditary kingship became common, and royal houses bore sway in Dublin and other Irish towns: thence a hereditary line of kings was introduced into Northumbria. The rulership of Normandy was hereditary and so possibly was the kingship in East Anglia, but in the districts grouped round the Five Boroughs the organization was of a different kind, the chief authority resting with the Lawmen. We find frequent mention of these Lawmen both in Scandinavia itself and in those countries where Scandinavian influence prevailed. Originally men skilled in the law, who could state and interpret it when required, they often presided in the Thing or popular assembly and represented the local or provincial community as against the king or his officers, though they do not themselves seem to have exercised judicial functions. They are usually mentioned in the plural number and probably acted as a collective body. In England and the Western Islands they attained a position of yet greater importance. In Man and the Hebrides they became actual chieftains and are mentioned side by side with the kings, while it is probable that they were the chief judicial authorities in the aristocratic organization of the Five Boroughs and other parts of the Danelaw. They were usually twelve in number, and their presence may be definitely traced in Cambridge, Stamford, Lincoln, York and Chester. The office would seem as a rule to have been hereditary.


Influence in Ireland Scotland, Man and the Isles

The influence of the Vikings varied from country to country, not only according to the political and social condition of the lands in which they settled, but also to some extent according to the nation from which they came. In Ireland the settlements were chiefly Norse, though there is some evidence for the presence of Danes in Cork and Limerick. Here their influence was concentrated in certain important towns on the coast (Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and the two already mentioned) and the districts immediately surrounding them. Scandinavian influence on Irish place-names is confined almost entirely to these localities and to the harbors and islands which must from time to time have given shelter to their fleets. Intermarriage between the Irish and the Norse settlers began at a very early date, and interesting evidence of it is found in the large numbers of Irish names in the genealogies of the chief Icelandic families preserved in Landnamabók. Such intermarriage was frequent, but the strength of the clan system would seem to have enabled the races to continue distinct. Norse words are very rare in Irish, and even when the old Norse kingdoms were shorn of their glory and reduced to dependence, the ‘Ostmen’, as they were called, remained an entirely distinct element in the community, and frequent mention is made of them in the records of the great towns. They still survived at the time of the English conquest, and often both claimed and received privileges entirely different from those accorded to the natives or to the English settlers. In Ireland as in other countries there is no doubt that the Vikings did much harm to religion and to learning, but at the same time they strengthened town-life and developed trade. For many years the trade of Ireland was largely in Scandinavian hands.

Norse influence in Scotland was great, but varied much from place to place. The Orkneys and Shetlands are thoroughly Norse. They formed part of the Norwegian kingdom till 1468, and Norse speech lingered on until the close of the eighteenth century. Place-names are almost entirely of Norse origin and the dialect is full of Norse words. In the system of landholding the udallers are an interesting survival of the old Norse freeholders, whose ódal was held on precisely the same free tenure as the Scotch udal. The Hebrides were also largely influenced by the Vikings, and it was not till 1266 that Magnus Hákonson renounced all claims of Norway to the islands and to Man. Place-nomenclature both in the names of the islands themselves and of their physical features shows a strong Norse element, and there are many Norse words in the Gaelic of the islands and of the mainland. These words have undergone such extensive changes and corruption in a language so different from their original source that their recognition is a difficult problem. There is at present perhaps a danger of exaggerating this element, the existence of which was long overlooked. Similarly, affinities have been traced between Scandinavian and Gaelic popular tales and folklore, but this evidence is of doubtful value to the student of history. As was to be expected, the chief traces of Viking influence on the mainland are to be found in the modern counties of Sutherland (the district south of the Orkneys was so called by the Norsemen), Caithness, Ross and Cromarty, which were for a long time under the authority of the Orkney earls, and in Galloway, which was naturally exposed to attacks from the powerful Norse settlements in Man. The name of this district (perhaps derived from Gall-Gaedhil) possibly bears witness, as we have seen, to the mixed race resulting from their presence, and the evidence of place-names confirms it. In the history of Scotland, as a whole, it is to be remembered that it was the weakening of Pictish power under Norse attack which paved the way for the unification of the land under the rule of Kenneth Mac Alpin.

The Isle of Man bears many and deep marks of its Norse occupation. Here as in the Hebrides the occupation was long and continuous. Attacked by Vikings from the early years of the ninth century, it came first under the rule of the kingdom of Dublin and then of the earls of Orkney. The successors of Godred Crovan, who conquered the island in 1079, took the title of king and were kings both of Man and the Isles (i.e. the Hebrides). The chief witnesses to Norse rule are the Manx legal system and the sculptured stones scattered about the island. The highest executive and legislative authority in the island (after the Governor) is still the Tynwald Court, whose name goes back to the Old Norse pingvöllr (the open plain where the popular assembly met), and the House of Keys, which is the oldest division of the court, consisted originally of 24 members (a duodecimal notation which constantly recurs in Scandinavian law and polity) chosen by co-option and for life, the office being generally, as a matter of fact, hereditary. These men who have the “keys of the law” in their bosom resemble closely the Lawmen, of whom mention has already been made. All laws to be valid must still be announced from the Tynwald Hill, which corresponds to the lögberg or law-hill in the Icelandic allthing. When the assembly is held the coroner “fences the court” against all disturbance or disorder, just as in the old Norwegian Gula-thing we hear of vé-bönd or sanctuary-ropes drawn around the assembly. Of the sculptured stones we have already spoken more than once: suffice it to say here that in addition to runic inscriptions they often give us pictorial representations of the great scenes in myth and legend, such as the fight of Odin with Fenrir’s Wolf and the slaying of the serpent Fafnir by Siguror. In many ways Man is the district of the British Isles in which we can get closest to the life of the old Viking days.

Cumberland and Westmorland stand somewhat apart from the rest of England in the matter of Viking influence, for they were fairly certainly colonized by Norsemen from Man and the islands. The greater number of the place-names are purely Scandinavian and the local dialects are full of terms of similar origin. It is probable that such parts of Lancashire as show Viking influence, viz. Furness and Lancashire north of the Ribble, should be grouped with these districts; south of that river their influence on place-nomenclature is slight, except on the coast, where we have evidence of a series of Viking settlements extending to and including the Wirral in Cheshire. A twelfth-century runic inscription survives at Loppergarth in Furness, and the Gosforth cross in Cumberland bears heathen as well as Christian sculptures. The parallel existence of hundred and wapentake and the carucal assessment in Domesday warn us that we must not underrate the importance of Norse influence.

The Scandinavian kingdom of Northumbria must have been much smaller than the earlier realm of that name. Northumberland shows but few traces of Viking influence, and it is not till we reach Teesdale that it becomes strongly marked. From here to the Humber place-nomenclature and dialect, ridings and wapentakes, carucates and duodecimal notation in the Domesday assessments, bear witness to their presence from the shores of the North Sea right up to the Pennines.

For the extent and character of the Viking settlements in the district of the Five Boroughs we have not only the usual (and often somewhat unsatisfactory) tests of place-names and dialects, ancient and modern, but also a far more accurate index in the facts recorded in the Domesday assessment of the eleventh century. For the northern counties this is largely non-existent or too scanty to be of any great value, but here it has its usual fullness of detail. The chief tests derived from this source with their respective applications are as follows : (1) The use of the Danish ‘wapentake’ as the chief division of the county in place of the English ‘hundred’. This is found in Derbyshire (with one exception on its southern border), Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire (with certain exceptions along the sea-coast which have a curious and unexplained parallel in the Domesday divisions of Yorkshire), Leicestershire, Rutland and one district of Northamptonshire now included in Rutland. (2) The assessment by carucates in multiples and sub-multiples of twelve, which is characteristic of the Danelaw, as opposed to that by hides arranged on a decimal system. This we find in the shires of Derby, Nottingham, Lincoln, Leicester and Rutland (with the above exception). In the two N.E. hundreds of Northamptonshire there are also traces of a duodecimal assessment. (3) The use of the ore of 16d. instead of that of 20d. is found in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire. In Leicestershire we are told on the other hand that the ore was of 20d. (4) In Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire (and Yorkshire) we have traces of the use of the Danish ‘long’ hundred (=120), e.g. the fine for breaking the king’s peace is. £8 (i.e. 120 ores). These tests establish Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire (Lincoln and Stamford), Leicestershire and (probably) the whole of Rutland (Stamford), as belonging to the Five Boroughs, and place-names confirm this evidence. The counties to the west and south answer none of the tests, and there is only a slight sprinkling of Danish names in Stafford-shire and Warwickshire on their eastern borders. Northamptonshire furnishes a difficulty. Except in the extreme north-east it fails to pass our tests, but Danish place-nomenclature is strongly evident, though it shades off somewhat to the S.W. It resembles Danish East Anglia rather than the district of the Five Boroughs, and it is possible that the boundary of Guthrum’s kingdom, which is only carried as far as Stony Stratford in the peace of Alfred and Guthrum, really ran along Watling Street for a few miles, giving two-thirds of that county to the East Anglian realm. While the judicial authority was in the hands of the Lawmen in the Five Boroughs, we hear at the same time of jarls in these towns and in Northampton and other places, who lead their forces to war and sign royal charters and documents. Probably to the Danes we owe the organization of the modern counties of Derby, Leicester, Nottingham, Lincoln (and Stamford), Northampton, Bedford, Cambridge and Hertford.

In East Anglia the tests which we used for the Five Boroughs fail, and we are left with the boundaries of Guthrum’s kingdom, certain evidence from place-names, and other miscellaneous facts. A few holmes in Bedfordshire, some holmesbiggins and tofts in Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire, a ‘Danish’ hundred in Hertfordshire, are almost all the evidence from place-names. Essex shows a few, Suffolk more traces of Danes on the coast, and the latter county has some traces inland, especially in the north. Norfolk is strongly Danish, even if we overlook the doubtful ‘thorpes’, which are so abundant here. The Historia Eliensis and other documents tend to show the presence of a strong Danish element in the population and social organization of the district around Cambridge. As a whole, however, the Viking impress on East Anglia is much less deep than on Mercia. The difference rests probably on a difference of original organization, but it is impossible now to define it.

Other features of interest in our social system due to Viking influence may be observed from a study of Domesday and other authorities. Attention has often been called to the number of freeholders in the Danelaw, and it would seem that Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Norfolk more especially had not been feudalized to any great extent before the Norman conquest. In the other counties the influence of southern custom is more apparent. The ‘holds’ of Northumbria, who rank next after the earls, and the ‘drengs’ of Cumberland, Westmorland, Northumberland and Durham, are undoubtedly of Scandinavian origin. The ‘socmen’, a class of free peasants, are most numerous in the Five Boroughs and East Anglia and are only found sporadically in other places.

Our legal system shows again and again the influence of Scandinavian law and custom. The word ‘law’ itself is a Scandinavian term in contrast to the English ‘doom’. We have already mentioned the Lawmen: still more interesting are the "’Twelve senior thanes’ of Aethelred’s laws for the Five Boroughs enacted at Wantage in 997. They have to come forward in the court of every wapentake and to swear that they will not accuse any innocent man or conceal any guilty one. The exact force of this enactment has been a matter of dispute, but there can be little doubt that (in the words of Vinogradoff) such a custom “prepared the way for the indictment jury of the twelfth century”. In criminal law the Danes introduced a new conception of crime. The idea of honor in the relationship of members of a military society to one another led to the appearance of a group of crimes whose perpetrators are branded as nithings, men unworthy of comradeship with others and, more especially, with their fellow warriors. In the general life of the nation the Danes placed an effective check on learning and literature except during the heroic activities of Alfred the Great, but on the other hand we probably owe to them an extensive development of town-life and of trade and the revival of English naval power. Disastrous as were the Danish wars, there can be little doubt that the Danish settlements were for the ultimate good of the nation.

In the Frankish Empire the only permanent settlement was in Normandy. Scandinavian influence was strong in Frisia and the lower basin of the Rhine (Dorestad was the centre of their commercial activity), but there is no question of influence on law, social organization or government. In Normandy on the other hand we have a powerful and almost independent State with a full Viking organization. The history of the Normans does not belong to this chapter. Suffice it to say here that perhaps more than any other of the Vikings they showed themselves readily able to assimilate themselves to their surroundings, and they were soon Gallicized; nevertheless law and custom, dialect and place-names, still show their presence clearly.

Of Scandinavian influence in Eastern Europe little can be said owing to our lack of knowledge. Attempts have been made to distinguish Scandinavian elements in the old Russian law and language but without any very definite results, and we must confine ourselves to the points mentioned earlier.

Nothing has been said of Iceland, which was one great field of Scandinavian activity in the ninth and tenth centuries. It was discovered in the middle of the ninth century and soon settled, first by some Norsemen who left their native land under stress of the same conditions as drove others to find fresh homes for themselves in the British Isles and elsewhere, and secondly by other Norsemen (with a considerable admixture of Irish blood) from the Western Islands, who left their settlements there when Harold Fairhair forced them into submission after the battle of Hafrsfjord. In Iceland, Scandinavian law and custom had fullest and freest play for their own development, and we must draw freely on the rich treasures of later Icelandic poetry and prose for our knowledge of the history and civilization of the Viking age, but Iceland itself lies on the extreme confines of Europe and plays practically no part in the development of Scandinavian influence in Europe in the tenth and eleventh centuries.

Iceland however points for us the moral of Viking civilization, that when left to develop on its own lines, it ended too often only in social and political anarchy. It is seen at its best when it came into contact with older and richer civilizations. From them it gained stability and strength of purpose, while to them it gave life and vigour when they were fast becoming effete.