The Vikings
Complex Society Based on a Strong Sense of Moral Values and Honor



 
Vikings
Complex Society Based on a Strong Sense of Moral Values and Honor

 
Popular conceptions of the Vikings often differ from the complex picture that emerges from archaeology and written sources. A romanticised picture of Vikings as Germanic noble savages began to take root in the 18th century, and this developed and became widely propagated during the 19th-century Viking revival.

The received views of the Vikings as violent brutes or intrepid adventurers owe much to the modern Viking myth which had taken shape by the early 20th century. Current popular representations are typically highly clichéd, presenting the Vikings as familiar caricatures.


The term Viking (from Old Norse víkingr) is customarily used to refer to the Norse (Scandinavian) explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.

These Norsemen used their famed longships to travel as far east as Constantinople and the Volga River in Russia, and as far west as Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland, and as far south as Al-Andalus.

This period of Viking expansion – known as the Viking Age – forms a major part of the medieval history of Scandinavia, Great Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe in general.

According to the Sagas of Icelanders, Norsemen from Iceland first settled Greenland in the 980s. Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr rauði), having been banished from Iceland for manslaughter, is said to have explored the uninhabited southwestern coast of Greenland during the three years of his banishment.

He made plans to entice settlers to the area, even purposefully choosing the name Greenland to attract potential colonists, saying "that people would be more eager to go there because the land had a good name".

The inner reaches of one long fjord, named Eiriksfjord after him, was where he eventually established his estate Brattahlid. He issued tracts of land to his followers.

According to the Icelandic sagas ("Eirik the Red's Saga" and the "Saga of the Greenlanders"), the Norse started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after the Greenland settlements were established.

In 985 while sailing from Iceland to Greenland with a migration fleet consisting of 400-700 settlers and 25 other ships (14 of which completed the journey), a merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson was blown off course, and after three days sailing he sighted land west of the fleet.

Bjarni was only interested in finding his father's farm, but he described his discovery to Leif Ericson who explored the area in more detail and planted a small settlement fifteen years later.

The sagas describe three separate areas discovered during this exploration: Helluland, which means "land of the flat stones"; Markland, "the land of forests", definitely of interest to settlers in Greenland where there were few trees; and Vinland, "the land of wine" (or as suggested by modern linguists "the land of meadows"), found somewhere south of Markland.

It was in Vinland that the settlement described in the sagas was founded. All four of Erik the Red's children visited the North American continent: his sons Leif, Thorvald and Thorstein and their sister Freydis. Thorvald died there.

Settlements in continental North America aimed to exploit natural resources such as furs and in particular lumber, which was in short supply in Greenland. It is unclear why the short-term settlements did not become permanent, though it was in part because of hostile relations with the indigenous peoples, referred to as Skrælings by the Norse. Nevertheless, it appears that sporadic voyages to Markland for forages, timber, and trade with the locals could have lasted as long as 400 years.

Evidence of continuing trips includes the Maine Penny, a Norwegian coin from King Olaf Kyrre's reign (1066-1080), suggesting an exchange between the Norse and the Skrælingar late in or after the 11th century; and an entry in the Icelandic Annals from 1347 which refers to a small Greenlandic vessel with a crew of eighteen that arrived in Iceland while attempting to return to Greenland from Markland with a load of timber.



The Real Vikings


Early modern publications, dealing with what we now call Viking culture, appeared in the 16th century, and the first edition of the 13th century Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus in 1514.

The pace of publication increased during the 17th century with Latin translations of the Edda (notably Peder Resen's Edda Islandorum of 1665).

In Scandinavia, the 17th century Danish scholars Thomas Bartholin and Ole Worm, and the Swede Olof Rudbeck were the first to set the standard for using runic inscriptions and Icelandic sagas as historical sources.

During the Age of Enlightenment and the Nordic Renaissance, historical scholarship in Scandinavia became more rational and pragmatic, as witnessed by the works of the Danish historian Ludvig Holberg and the Swede Olof von Dalin. An important early British contributor to the study of the Vikings was George Hicke, who published his Linguarum vett. septentrionalium thesaurus in 1703 – 05.

During the 18th century, British interest and enthusiasm for Iceland and early Scandinavian culture grew dramatically, expressed in English translations of Old Norse texts, and original poems which extolled the supposed "Viking virtues". The word "viking" was first popularised at the beginning of the 19th century by Erik Gustaf Geijer in his poem, The Viking.

 
Viking ships were vessels used during the Viking Age in Northern Europe. Scandinavian tradition of shipbuilding during the Viking Age was characterized by slender and flexible boats, with symmetrical ends with true keel.

They were clinker built, which is the overlapping of planks riveted together. They might have had a dragon's head or other circular object protruding from the bow and stern, for design, although this is only inferred from historical sources.


Geijer's poem did much to propagate the new romanticised ideal of the Viking, which had little basis in historical fact.

The renewed interest of Romanticism in the Old North had contemporary political implications. The Geatish Society, of which Geijer was a member, popularised this myth to a great extent.

Another Swedish author who had great influence on the perception of the Vikings was Esaias Tegnér, member of the Geatish Society, who wrote a modern version of Friðþjófs saga ins frœkna, which became widely popular in the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom and Germany.

The fascination with the Vikings reached a peak during the so-called Viking Revival in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

In Britain this took the form of Septentrionalism, in Germany that of "Wagnerian" pathos or even Germanic mysticism, and in the Scandinavian countries that of Romantic nationalism or Scandinavism.

Pioneering 19th-century scholarly editions of the Viking Age began to reach a small readership in Britain, archaeologists began to dig up Britain's Viking past, and linguistic enthusiasts started to identify the Viking-Age origins for rural idioms and proverbs. The new dictionaries of the Old Norse language enabled the Victorians to grapple with the primary Icelandic sagas.

Until recently, the history of the Viking Age was largely based on Icelandic sagas, the history of the Danes written by Saxo Grammaticus, the Russian Primary Chronicle and The War of the Irish with the Foreigners. Although few scholars still accept these texts as reliable sources, historians nowadays rely more on archeology and numismatics, disciplines that have made valuable contributions toward understanding the period.