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I was in York, England and there was a museum called Jorvik Viking Centre, which spoke about the Vikings who lived there. It said that the area back then was mostly populated by the Vikings. Since this place York, is not close to the coast, were there other areas in the UK which had large Viking or Scandinavian populations either visiting, raiding or colonising?
Primarily, in Eastern England and Western Scotland. In particular, what you might be looking for is the Danelaw. Technically, it refers to the parts of England (roughly one-third) where Scandinavian (Danish) laws applied. In geographic terms, this is a huge swathe of Northern and Eastern England conquered by invading Vikings during the 9th century.
England had been raided by intermittent waves of Danes since about 800. The attacks peaked peaked with the Great Heathen Army of 865. First landing in East Anglia, the vikings invaded all four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms as they moved up and down Eastern England over the next decade. York was captured in 866 and became the Kingdom of Jorvik.
Thirteen years later during an invasion of the Kingdom of Wessex, the viking army was finally defeated by Alfred the Great. A peace was concluded in the aftermath. The Scandinavians kept control of much of what they had captured in Eastern and Northern England, and settled down in relative peace.
The Anglo-Saxons would gradually reconquer England during the early tenth century. Jorvik was annexed into the Kingdom of England by 954.
Of course, the Vikings had been ravaging all of the British Isles during this period, not just England. Around roughly the same time as the Danelaw's formation, other Vikings conquered Western Scotland and the islands of the North Channel, including the Isle of Man. Here they established the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles, which would persist until 1266.
In addition, the Vikings also captured the islands of Orkney and Shetland during the 9th century. These islands were ruled directly by the Kings of Norway, and was only taken by the Kingdom of Scotland until much later.
As a side note, a significant part of Ireland was also conquered and ruled by Vikings, including the comparatively long-lived Kingdom of Dublin. This isn't within the bounds of the modern United Kingdom, though.
Viking Settlements in Scandinavia and Beyond
The Norsemen made their mark in northern Europe and beyond. Come with us on a tour of the best-known Viking settlements.
Thanks in part to a slew of TV shows, Viking culture has never been more popular. While the battle scenes are mostly fantasy, many are curious about the depiction of everyday life.
How do we know about Viking settlements? Where were they, who lived there, and do any still remain today? Those are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive, and they form the basis of this article. Enjoy!
Beyond farming communities, the early ‘towns' were primarily built for trade. These would be partly marketplaces, and partly points for import and export.
What was the Varangian Guard? A brief history of the Viking warriors of the Byzantine empire
Bodyguards to the Byzantine emperors, the Varangian Guard was a military corps in which Norsemen and later Anglo-Saxons made unlikely comrades. But how did the regiment begin, and why was it considered so formidable? Noah Tetzner investigates…
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Published: October 20, 2020 at 4:24 pm
During the Viking Age there existed, within the army of the Byzantine empire, an elite company of mercenaries mostly from Scandinavia. This group was known as the Varangian Guard, a regiment of warriors renowned for their ruthless loyalty and military prowess. Lured by wealth and glory, these were Vikings who had travelled the long road to Constantinople (or Miklagarðr, in Old Norse).
These men sought only to serve, and for this they were handsomely rewarded. Adorned in Byzantine silk, expensive and brilliantly coloured, Old Norse sagas emphasise the lavish appearance of Varangian homecomings. Members of the guard were the highest-paid mercenaries in Byzantine service, and received frequent gifts from the emperor himself.
Illustrious figures such as Harald Sigurðarson (later Harald Hardrada) and the far-travelled Icelander Bolli Bollason followed a long tradition of Scandinavian service in Byzantium. Indeed, Harald’s eventual (and successful) bid for the Norwegian crown was financed by the riches he acquired as a Varangian.
From c989–1070, scores of Scandinavians joined the regiment, and by the end of the 11th century the guard had caught the interest of Anglo-Saxons, who fought alongside their unlikely Viking comrades.
Vikings Season 6 arrives on Amazon Prime on 30 December: catch up on what’s happened so far
How did the Vikings reach Constantinople?
Although some Swedes followed Danish and Norwegian voyages to England and beyond, countless others set their sails eastward in search of Arabic silver. The allure of the dirham, a silver coin minted in the Abbasid Caliphate and other Muslim states, enticed the Scandinavians to try to discover its source. By the late eighth century, these coins had been appearing in trading places along Lake Ladoga (in today’s northwestern Russia) and the Baltic, where they came into the hands of Swedish merchants.
Expeditions were organised, and the ‘Volga Vikings’ began exploring the rivers of eastern Europe. The Swedes may have been driven by trade, but their legacy in the east was no more peaceful than the Danish and Norwegian expansion west. Through slave-raiding and tribute-gathering, these Vikings extorted trade goods. They founded settlements or captured existing ones on widely travelled trade routes. Along the way, these Swedes who settled in Eastern Europe, acquired a new name: the ‘Rus’.
The origins of this word, from which Russia gets its name, are ambiguous. Among scholars, it is widely accepted that ‘Rus’ is derived from the word Ruotsi, the Finnish name for the Swedes. Ruotsi, in turn, probably derives from the Old Norse word róðr, meaning ‘a crew of oarsmen’.
Vladimir, overlord of Holmgard (Novgorod), would become the eventual ruler of the Kievan Rus. In c978-80, the Rus prince placed his bid for pre-eminence in a power-struggle against his brothers. Holmgard’s northerly position placed Vladimir closest to Sweden, where he mustered 6,000 recruits, and with this newly formed army he returned east, killed his brothers, and conquered the realm.
Some nine years later, these 6,000 warriors would become the founding members of the Varangian Guard.
The formation of the Varangian Guard
In distant Constantinople, c989, the Byzantine emperor badly needed help. Basil II was up against no less than three challengers and appealed to the Rus ruler for military aid. In exchange for marriage to the emperor’s sister, Vladimir obliged, pledging his army of Swedes. These men turned the tide of Basil’s war, and it was Basil who named them the Varangian Guard.
Why Varangian? Like many Viking Age terms, the etymology of the word is debatable. A widely accepted notion is that it derives from the Old Norse word vár (plural várar) meaning ‘confidence (in)’, ‘faith (in)’ or ‘vow of fidelity’ – therefore, a company of men who had sworn oaths of allegiance and loyalty.
Basil II gained a national treasure in these valorous men of the north. No sword was drawn against him within the empire, nor could any foreigner withstand his might. Revelling in his new-found protection, the emperor founded an imperial bodyguard, thoroughly disciplined and ruthlessly loyal. The Varangian regiment came to replace his disloyal Greek lifeguards.
Keepers of Constantinople
As imperial bodyguards, the Varangians kept close to the emperor, forming the ‘Varangians of the City’, who guarded Constantinople. They stood sentry at the bronze doors of the Great Palace and protected the emperor’s other properties. The guardsmen also performed police duties and were able to carry out delicate tasks (arresting people of high status, for example) because of their imperial loyalty and external origin. For the same reasons, Varangians also acted as jailers, frequently operating at the dreaded prison of Nóumera that was attached to the Great Palace. These guardsmen never left the capital unless the emperor himself required it.
Varangians accompanied their monarch wherever he went, serving him while he attended church and standing near his throne during receptions. The presence of Varangians in Byzantine churches is illuminated by the graffiti they left in Hagia Sophia during the 11th century. On the marble balustrade in the southern gallery of the cathedral, one suspected Varangian used his axe to carve a mostly illegible inscription including the name ‘Halfdan’. Another inscription in the south gallery denotes a man called ‘Are’, a common name in medieval Iceland.
The Varangian Guard at war
When a Byzantine emperor rode out to battle, a detachment of Varangians accompanied him. Contingents were often deployed as shock troops with field armies, as fort garrisons, and on naval duties. In distinction from the Varangians who guarded Constantinople, these units were known as ‘Varangians outside the city’. On the battlefield, they fought as elite infantry, usually in a defensive function. The Varangians were often kept to the rear of the main battle line, held in reserve until the conflict reached a critical point.
The fact that they used Scandinavian equipment along with Byzantine issue is evident in 10th- to 12th-century Norse swords, axe and spearheads found in Bulgaria and Romania. The two-handed broadaxe was a favoured weapon of the Varangians. Along with the contemporary Rus, these weapons gave rise to the epithets by which they were commonly known: the ‘axe-bearers’ or ‘axe-bearing barbarians’.
Byzantine sources provide various examples of Varangians being sent to battlefields across the empire. Some 300-500 guardsmen were commanded by Emperor Alexios Komnenos in northwestern Macedonia, against the Norman attack of 1081. During the Byzantine-Venetian War of 1171, imperial ships carrying ‘men who bear on their shoulders single-edged axes’ followed Venetian ships escaping Constantinople.
Besides these land battles, Varangians were employed for suppressing piracy and other naval matters, because of their seafaring backgrounds. The Heimskringla (the chronicle of the Kings of Norway), written in the 13th century, relays that the Varangian guardsman Harald Sigurðarson, later Harald Hardrada of Norway, was to pay the emperor 100 marks for every pirate vessel he captured.
Famous Varangian Guards
Harald Hardrada is without question the best-known Viking to have joined the ranks of the Varangian Guard. Following the dethronement and death of his half-brother Olaf II of Norway during the battle of Stiklestad in 1030, Harald fled to Kiev, where he held some kind of military post. From Kiev, he went on to the Byzantine empire and joined the Varangian Guard.
Harald served as an officer from 1034 to 1043, campaigning far and wide. From Sicily and Bulgaria to Anatolia and the Holy Land, Harald’s time as a Varangian has been considered the climax of his military career. While the Heimskringla probably exaggerates the favours shown to Harald, it is clear that he made enough money as a Varangian to finance his successful bid for the Norwegian throne.
Fortunate members of the guard were not limited to Norwegian royalty. Ordinary Varangians such as the Icelander Bolli Bollason (who died c1067) returned to their northern homelands bearing the splendours of Byzantium. The Laxdæla Saga, an Icelandic saga written during the 13th century, recounts that Bolli returned to Iceland carrying a gilded sword and wearing the gold-embroidered silk given to him by the emperor. According to the saga, Bolli’s 11 companions were all wearing scarlet and rode in gilded saddles. Wherever the men took shelter, the saga recounts, womenfolk gazed at Bolli and his companions, for they had been Varangians, still covered in the glory of the Byzantine empire.
What happened to the Varangian Guard?
While Scandinavians dominated the ranks during the initial stage of the regiment from c989–1070, the Varangians were destined to become as diverse as the empire that employed them. Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Anglo-Saxons flocked to the Byzantine empire, eager to join the Varangian Guard.
In 1071, the Byzantine army suffered a disastrous defeat against the Seljuq Turks at the battle of Manzikert. Emperor Romanos IV was captured, and many Varangians were killed while defending the emperor after most of the army had fled. The depleted ranks of the guard were filled, in part, by Anglo-Saxons, though Scandinavians continued to join the regiment.
The Fourth Crusade saw Constantinople besieged in July–August of 1203. During the battle, some 6,000 Varangians manned the city walls, achieving several victories against the invaders. On 17 July, when crusaders destroyed a portion of the seawall with their battering ram, it was a contingent of axe-wielding Varangians who did well to repulse them.
In March–April of 1204, crusaders and Venetians attacked Constantinople once more. The Varangians fought bravely, but after a gate was forced open on 11 April, crusaders rushed in and the Byzantine defenders panicked. On 12 April, the emperor fled, and the Byzantines laid down their arms. Lacking a legitimate ruler to defend, the Varangians followed suit, submitting to the invading army.
The crusaders subjected Constantinople to a brutal three-day sacking, after which the city became part of a crusader state, the Latin empire. The remaining Byzantine leaders created their own successor states, such as the empire of Nicaea, which would recapture Constantinople in 1261 and reinstate the Byzantine empire. There are indications that a company of Varangians served the ‘exiled Byzantine empire’ in Nicaea. The Latin ruler of Constantinople managed to have a personal regiment of Varangians as well.
The primary references to Varangians in the 14th century are linked to ceremonial court and guard duties. Early in the 15th century, English Varangians were denoted in a letter from Byzantine emperor John VII to King Henry IV of England, but aside from this letter and a few obscure references, the Varangian Guard was virtually extinct (and barely Scandinavian). In 1453, the Byzantine Empire would perish at the hands of the Ottoman Sultanate, sealing the fate of this famous mercenary corps.
Noah Tetzner is the host of The History of Vikings podcast, which features scholarly discussions about the history of medieval Scandinavia. His book Viking Warrior vs Frankish Warrior: Francia 799-950 is due to be published by Osprey in 2021
This content was first published by HistoryExtra in 2020
16 Facts About the Brutality of Viking Life
Sea-faring Danes invading England (c. 10th Century) Pierpont Morgan Library/ Wikimedia Commons.
14. Homosexual rape was commonplace in Viking culture, with defeated enemies typically becoming victims of sexual assault in a show of domination and humiliation
Unlike early Christianity, Viking culture did not regard homosexuality as innately evil or perverted. However, this does not mean that the Vikings did not attach certain stigmas to homosexual conduct, in particular, to those who received rather than gave. Symbolically seen as a surrendering of one&rsquos independence in violation of the Viking ethic of self-reliance, a man who subjected himself to another sexually was perceived as likely to do so in other areas and thus untrustworthy and unmanly. Being used in a homosexual nature by another man was equally connected to the trait of cowardice, an immensely shameful description in Viking society, due to the historic custom of sexual violence against a defeated enemy. This was recorded in the Sturlunga saga, GuÃ°mundr captures a man and a wife and intends to rape both as a form of domination over his new property.
This use of rape to solidify authority over an individual, not unique to the Vikings but rather a recurrent feature of many hyper-masculine early civilizations, was reinforced by the frequent practice of castration for defeated opponents. Whilst the klÃ¡mhogg (&ldquoshame-stroke&rdquo) on the buttocks was ranked alongside penetrative wounds: a clear symbolic reference to forced anal sex. Due to this cultural connection of homosexual conduct with submission, dominance, and defeat, the engagement of same-sex consensual relations with a close friend was regarded as an immensely offensive and shameful deed. The act was viewed as a humiliation of the vanquished to participate in intercourse with a friend was not seen as a loving gesture but instead to betray that friend and shame him.
While the Vikings may have always been on the war path sometimes they strayed a bit from the path and settled down. What impact do the Vikings have on Western Europe both as an invading force and a conquering force?
Conquerors tend to stick around (check out Vikings in Anglo-Saxon England) here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/vikings/
Also pg. 172-173 has some great pictures on the Sutton Hoo site.
Or check out the Sutton Hoo site online. http://www.suttonhoo.org/tour.asp
I have never been to the Sutton Hoo site but I did get to see the items on page 172 in the British Museum when I visited England! Very cool.
25 responses to &ldquoVikings&rdquo
Vikings assumed a vital role in conquering land throughout Europe. A Viking is defined to be traders and thieves who invaded, ransacked, and conquered any land they could get to. Most raids were seaborne. They controlled multiple plots of land at a time, and they had a hunger for violence. There were only male Vikings, but women did play a large part in settling into new territories. Women assisted in procreation to colonize their newly conquered land resulting in future Vikings and future Viking women to carry on the cycle of conquering and settling. Vikings led a life of behaviors that affected them and their “Viking family” only. They were selfish in the way that they invaded any land not caring about who they killed or injured in the process.
Woman were very much taken care of in the sense that when they were buried they were buried at sea in a small boat with their possessions this also went for men. Not to say women weren’t taken advantage of, but women were appreciated as workers inside new colonies because they helped settle the land while male Vikings went off again to conquer more land.
It is said that the Viking era started to fade around 1013, and by 1066 it had almost vanished. Without Vikings many countries, colonies, cities, and city-states may not exist today. Also, many rules or laws may not exist during this period of time either. Vikings played a large role in colonizing much of Europe because they conquered so many lands with so many people. Without them it’s hard to say if Europe would be what it is today, but I believe it wouldn’t be the same because without the Viking’s rambunctious behavior rules about conquering and invading may have not been put into place.
I agree that despite the common disliking of Viking behavior that without them it is likely that the world would be very different today due to the Vikings playing a major role in the development of Europe.
The Vikings wreaked the most havoc in the short run, but probably had the most positive long term effects on Europe. Starting around 800 A.D. wave after wave of Vikings set out from Scandinavia either to raid their neighbors or to explore new and more distant lands for the purpose of trading or settling there. The Vikings would establish winter bases rather than return home to Scandinavia for the winter after raiding. Eventually these winter bases might become permanent settlements and the basis for the eventual conquest of the region. The Vikings were also great traders, as a result, they opened up trade routes, which helped start a revival of Europe’s economy. Though bringing all the chaos and destruction the Vikings caused with them, they founded some of the best-organized and most dynamic states in Western Europe. In 911 A.D. they founded Normandy as a virtually independent state in western France. Having established a well-run government there, they spread out to conquer England in 1066, laying the foundations for that modern nation. The Vikings were also fearless explorers. To the west, they founded a state in Iceland, continued across the Atlantic and discovered Greenland and North America. The rest of Europe was not ready to absorb these new discoveries, and they were forgotten for nearly 500 years. Without the Vikings, the countries we have or even states may be very different or they may not exist at all.
I definitely agree that life as we know it, countries as we know them, and cities as we know them would not be the same without the existence of Vikings. They played a crucial role in building new civilizations in Europe, and without them many events in history may not have happened. The way Vikings built their civilizations off of power and strength signifies how effective the way they did things were.
Your correct, without the Vikings colonizing who know where we would be today? The US might not even exist had it not been for their colonizing of Europe.
I think you’re both right with your reasoning of why the Vikings are so vital to our history. While they Vikings are not very favored, in a lack of better words, they did what they had to do. We must understand that it was much much harder to survive during the times when the Vikings lived and while they were very hostile and violent people, they were surviving, and their survival allowed for our civilization to come about.
I definitely agree with all of you that civilization as we know it, countries’ borders as we know them, and cities as we know them would not be the same without the existence of Vikings. They had an essential role in building new civilizations in Europe, and without them many events in history may not have happened.
I agree there organization seemed to create a way of showing how to run a civilized union. I
What a time they must have lived in. They were definitely barbaric and without emotion. This might be because of fear from their Gods. They would form beliefs, rituals and sacrifices just on weather patterns or eclipses. I think they were so afraid inside they had to be tough on the outside.
I have known many people who have ‘disliked’ Vikings as they are rather known for their violent streaks and have not been a favorite topic among my peers. Despite their reputation however, the Vikings did do good things too. Yes, they conquered many lands violently, but so did Rome. The Vikings while may appearing rather roguish by todays standards are actually very significant to the early development of Europe. Without them it is unknown what differences would have occurred, as they are very much responsible for colonizing Europe as they conquered a great deal of it during their time here over a thousand years ago. Due to this their is also their customs and laws to consider as that would have effected Europe at that time as well. Not to mention their way of life all together. All of these could have major effects on how Europe further developed through out the years.
Thinking now about the size of Europe I can’t fathom how much could have changed, yet I believe it greatly would have. Also think about some of the significant moments in history involving all or part of Europe. For example what of WWI and WWII? What of America, the colonist did originally break away from England after all. As fascinating as said Vikings are I can’t help ,but think about how their presence effected Europe more than anything else.
Yes, it is reasonable for Vikings to be disliked, but Vikings should be respected and appreciated due to their conquering techniques and abilities, in my opinion. I am, just like you, very taken back by the ability of the Vikings to take on such a large amount of conquering across the continent of Europe. This is something that when we think about it could most likely not happen in this day and age.
I completely agree with you. Vikings may have been disliked for their plundering but many of today’s society might not exist had it not been for their colonizing of Europe. History is a messy thing and our way of life wouldn’t be possible if such events hadn’t occurred.
The effect the Vikings had on Western Europe through their conquering and invading is vast. For one they are the main reason Europe became colonized. They came from Scandinavia and took over many lands. Instead of heading back from their plundering in the winter they had base camps they would stay at through the winter. Eventually these camps became small colonies. They even established a well run government in Normandy. they had vast trade routes which improved Britain’s economy. While looking for lands to conquer they discovered Iceland in the west and across the Atlantic they found Greenland and North America. However 500 years later these amazing discoveries were forgotten. Had it not been for the Vikings, much of Europe as we know it today would probably not be the way it is.
In the beginning of the Viking invasions, the invading Northman on Christian monasteries allowed them to acquire wealth of great proportions. At first, they were just to pillage and take women and children as slaves. This gave them greater riches as tradesman. As their societies grew, their need for land and natural resources also grew. The climate was also becoming warmer, allowing more passages through the farther north. As the invasions continued, they began to learn the ways of Christianity and how to write using the alphabet that we use today. By conquering almost all of the land, they would then settle in these new places and create boundaries, establishing new regions, countries and kingdoms. Although there is not a lot of supporting credible evidence on the history of Vikings, we do know they were sailors, tradesman and very barbaric. They also had very little knowledge of the rest of the world and the people they would invade. By this direct interaction, they would learn of the ways of these people and of Christianity. They began to incorporate the two ideas together. This conquest would lead to the establishment and founding of new countries. Some of those countries today are England, Ireland and Scotland and can be directly attributed to the Viking conquest. The Sutton Hoo site is fantastic. The days of the Vikings are personally a favorite time in history for me.
i totally agree with your opinion
It seems to me Vikings had a substantial impact in medieval Europe. Contact with other cultures in Western Europe was incredibly widespread so their culture spread just as fast as the ships sailed. They helped establish different kingdoms by conquering and settling down. These are including England, Scotland and Normandy. Since Vikings were so widespread, they quickly adopted the ways of those who were there before them. This includes Christianity, which Vikings also came into contact with when they raided monasteries.
The impact of the Vikings as both an invading and conquering source was humongous. Part of the Vikings invasions were oriented with trading which led to the many trade routes throughout Europe and which also helped start a revival in Europe’s economy at the time. Being the Vikings invaded with sturdy ships that were easy to maneuver, spacious to hold, tough to withstand winds and light enough to dock inland rivers, other ships were built in motivation of the Viking foundation. As well as the structure of Viking ships, Viking navigation led to the production of long centuries of traditional oral navigation for many European sailors. As for conquering, this trait of the Vikings founded exponential parts of the west such as Iceland and Greenland. Also contributing to their conquering trait was their outstanding advancements in governments in Normandy, England, Southern Italy and Sicily. Overall, the Vikings are a prime example of how one cannot judge a book by its cover, regardless if the Vikings even realized their impact made.
I agree that while the Vikings may have not realized their impact they most certainly made a huge impact on Europe. Specifically you mentioned “their outstanding advancements in governments in Normandy, England, Southern Italy and Sicily.” I think it’s important that we remember this as well as their overall conquering and trade. All too often I believe we tend to focus on just the few major well known things a civilization has done and we forget other things that are just as important. If they had not made such advancements in government in these places we may not even have these places today. For example, say if due to not getting a governmental advance we lost England. What would then have happened over the last couple of hundred years. England was a huge part in multiple wars since then and is still an important place today – not just for the people of England ,but for people all over the world.
The impact Vikings had on Western Europe was marrying the Franks and adopting their language. They transported large amounts of silver. They made the economy great. The Vikings also mobilize trade routes. The Vikings colonized political entities it was the first parliamentary democracy. There settlement left peace and therefore , lead in development of tools.
Through invasion and exploration, the Vikings discovered present day Greenland and North America. They brought trading to the lands they conquered, as well as technologies including the long boat and several farming implements. The Vikings founded many trading routes that influenced Europe’s economy, as well as some of the strongest, best-organized states. Their influence was wide in Europe, having conquered and established a well-run government in England, Italy, and Normandy. By cutting down the wealth of many of the churches in these areas, they indirectly paved the way for new religious beliefs. In short, they were not simply savages, but harbingers of change and trade.
I had never really done much research on the Vikings before this assignment, but I was surprised to learn so many things about the Vikings and their impact on Western Europe. For instance, I had no idea how far of geographically they had reached out and traveled. I was surprised to learn that Dublin and Ireland were founded by Vikings and even served as trading posts and supply bases for travelers. This is really significant because it shows how influential the Vikings were on their barter and trade economic system as well as how they effected travel during their time period. However, on another note, the Vikings are known for their ruthlessness and savage ways. The raids they preformed harmed Western Europe’s economy so terribly that it reached an all time low almost collapsing in the 3rd century. The Viking era ended around the 11 century, however Europe began recovering from its collapse in the 8th century. The Vikings were known for there nomadic lifestyle of plundering through villages but many Vikings are credited with settling down and starting many civilizations (as previously mentioned.) The relationships Vikings had with local colonists was be believed very hostile and the lifestyle of the Vikings was very interesting to me. The Vikings were known for their barbaric and uncivilized lifestyle, but I thought it was interesting that when it came to dealing with deceased family members there seemed to be much respect involved.. Ancient burial sites have proved that these Vikings were buried in a traditional pagan style: fully clothed along with personal belongs. Men would be buried with their weapons while women possessed linen, iron sickles or spinning combs. While I don’t exactly respect the Vikings methods I do have great admiration for how they survived and their contribution to Western Europe.
Last year, there was a TV series on the Vikings. It was broadcast on the History channel. They are probably on you tube. This series was very good. A new series is coming this spring I believe. Much of the information from our history book was properly documented in the film. It really is an interesting time and I wish there was more to learn from it.
I feel as though the Vikings did what they had to do to keep there economy growing the vikings had alot of trade routes that help them they brought trades to the lands they defeated the Vikings impact on Europe was because they perform sudden assault or attack that almost made western Europe collapse
Vikings played a major role in making Europe what it is today. They were and still are known for invading and conquering as many lands as possible. They ended up making colonies after not returning home to Scandinavia during the winters. They established governments, trade routes, and discovered many different lands. As many have said before me, without the Vikings taking on the roles they did of conquerors and invaders, then the Europe that we all know would not be the same. Who knows what kind of effect that would have had on the land and people living there.
The Vikings left their mark on the European map: Here is our guide to help you find them
Snaefell The highest mountain of the Isle of Man, at 620 m ( 2,034 ft) above sea level. We have several mountains in Iceland called Snæfell. The name is composed of snæ, meaning snow and –fell, meaning mountain. Photo/Jon Wornham/Wikimedia Commons
During the Viking Age, which is commonly considered to last from the earliest recorded Viking raids in the 780s until the Norman conquest of England in 1066, Viking explorers, merchants and raiders extended their influence throughout Europe and beyond.
Sailing from their original homeland in Scandinavia the Vikings colonized the islands of the North Atlantic, including Iceland, and settled along the coasts of Western- and Northern Europe, reaching as far as Greenland and even the shores of North America. They also spread east, along the Baltic and up the rivers of Russia, making it all the way to Constantinople.
The Vikings gave names to places
Most of the Viking trading posts or colonies have long since disappeared, disappearing into the mists of time or swallowed up by the surrounding culture. However, even if the Vikings themselves and any physical remains they might have left behind, have long since disappeared, they did leave unmistakeable marks on the landscape in the local place names: Wherever the Vikings settled we can find place names with Norse origins.
There are literally thousands of place names in England, of Viking origin, and hundreds in Western Europe. Finding these place names isn’t that hard – if you know what you are looking for. To help you find these Viking footprints on the map we prepared this guide. Note that this is by no means a complete list. The varrious French, Englilsh or Irish place name elements with Viking origins, including given names, number in the hundreds.
North Atlantic Islands, the Danelaw and Normandy
Viking place names are understandably more common in the areas where Viking settlement and influences were most dense and Viking influences were strongest. Outside of the Faeroe Islands and Iceland the most thorough Viking settlements in the North Atlantic were in the Orkneys and Setland Islands, the Isle of Man. In the eastern part of Ireland, several towns and natural areas bear names also bear witness to the strong Viking presence in the 9th and early 10th centuries.
In England Viking place names are of course most common in the area known as the Danelaw, the areas where Danish law applied in Northern and Eastern England, the shires of Yorkshire, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Stamford, Lincoln and Essex. The other main area where we find Viking place names is Normandy, a territory in North France conceded by the Franks to Danish Viking settlers around the mouth of the Seine. But we can find Viking traces in place names outside these areas as well.
Viking place names in the British Isles
When the Vikings arrived in a new land they gave their names to places. In some cases the Nordic names replaced the local names. A good example is Egilsay in the Orkney Islands. Egilsay simply means Egil’s Island. Then there is Snaefell, the highest point on the Isle of Man: Snaefell is composed of snæ, meaning snow and –fell, meaning mountain. There are a number of Snæfell’s in Iceland, and then of course there is the snow-mountain-glacier, or Snæfellsjökull.
In other cases Viking place names can be identified by the use of a Norse suffix, like –thorpe which means village or -by, which can both mean village or town, as in Grimsby, which simply means the town or farm of Grímur. In other cases the Norse suffix was added to an Anglo-Saxon word or name. Two particularly common examples in East Ireland are the suffixes –holm, hólm which translates as small island or hill, and -firth suffix, derived from fjörð, which means fjord.
The Vikings of Normandy
A common place name ending in parts of Normandy is –tot, from the Norse word tóft, meaning the place of a farm. In modern Icelandic we have the word tóft, which is used for the visible ruins of a farm structure, but is also known as a homestead name. There are at least 589 places in Normandy which end with suffix tot. Another particularly common is the suffix -londe with 269 places ending with the -londe or -lont suffix from the Norse word lund, which translates as clearing. There are several places with the lundur ending in Iceland, including Bjarkarlundur in the South Westfjords.
Historical boundary of Normandy Place names with Norse roots are most common near the coast and along the river Seine. Photo/Wikimedia Creative Commons license.
Other common Norman place names of Scandinavian origin are –hogue from the Norse haug, meaning hill or mound (more than 100 examples) and -dalle from dal, meaning valley (over 70 examples).
How to find English place names of Norse origin?
Place names with Norse roots in the British Isles number in the hundreds. The easiest and quickest approach is to look for the place names ending in –by, meaning town or farm. There are 210 –by place names in Yorkshire alone. This word even exists in English in the word by-law, which means local law of the town. Another suffix is –thorpe, with 155 place names ending in –thorpe in Yorkshire alone. The suffix –gate from gata, which means street or road. Other places have a Norse prefix, like Grimston. Grímur was and still is a common name and ton is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning town. Grimston is sifmply the town of Grímur.
Common suffixes of Viking origin in England include:
-thorpe: þorp, meaning village.
-toft: tóft, meaning farm.
-keld: kelda, meaning spring.
-ness: nes, meaning cape.
-by or -bie: town, farm or settlement.
-kirk: kirkja, meaning church.
All of these are found as parts of place names in Iceland as well. Other place name elements you are likely to encounter in Iceland as well as in the British Isles:
ayre: eyri, meaning a gravelly or sandy river, lake or ocean bank
ay: ey, meaning island.
dale: dal, meaning valley.
firth: fjörð, meaning fjord.
garth: garð, meaning enclosure.
gerdi: gerði, meaning enclosed area.
holm: hólm, meaning small island.
lax: lax, meaning salmon.
lunn: lund, meaning grove.
mire: mýri, meaning swamp.
noup: gnúp, meaning peak.
clett: klett, meaning rock or cliffs.
sker: sker, meaning skerry.
wick: vík, meaning bay.
vat: vatn, meaning lake.
strom: straum, meaning stream.
strand: strönd, meaning coast.
How to find French place names with Norse origins?
The Vikings did not leave as large an imprint on the landscape of France or even Normandy, where their influence was greatest. Place names with Viking roots are most dense close to the shore in Normandy, and become more spares as we move inland, with the exception of the banks of the river Seine. Still, there are hundreds of place names in Normandy with suffixes of Norse origins.
These are the most common suffixes of Norse origin found in Normandy:
-tot: tóft meaning farm.
-londe: lund meaning clearing, look for Icelandic place names –lundur, as in Bjarkarlundur.
-hogue: haug meaning small hill or mound. Look for Icelandic place names ending in -haugur or beginning with Haug-. But it also exists as a place name on its own.
-beuf: bæ meaning town or farm. The Icelandic equivalent is –bær which is a very common suffix.
-dalle: dal meaning valley. Look for –dalur in Iceland, an extremely common suffix.
-torp: þorp meaning village. Not particularly common in Iceland, but is known as a farm name. However, the modern Icelandic word for a village is þorp.
-nez: nes meaning cape. There are countless places in Iceland with the suffix nes.
5 key Viking discoveries in Britain – and what they reveal about how the Vikings really lived
Brutal berserkers. Blood-splattered raids. Barbaric acts of war. These are the aspects of Viking culture and mythology that have dominated our collective imaginations for centuries. But focusing solely on these tropes does not paint the full picture of what life was really like for these early medieval people who hailed from Scandinavia. There is so much more to understand about the Vikings than violence and pillaging – as these discoveries and research projects from around Britain demonstrate…
This competition is now closed
Published: June 1, 2021 at 2:27 pm
With their fearsome appearance and even fiercer reputations, it’s easy to see why the Vikings have intrigued the British public and academic world over the years. In recent years, the popularity of series such as Michael Hirst’s TV drama Vikings has propelled these sea-faring Scandinavians even further to the forefront of our collective imagination – enticing both old and young alike. Their distinctive garb is a continuous favourite of cosplayers and fancy-dress fanatics (although a true historical reenactor worth their salt will know that adding horns to a Viking costume is woefully historically inaccurate!)
It’s clear that Vikings hold a special place in our hearts. But what do we know about how they really lived their lives? These five remarkable Viking discoveries in Britain offer some insight…
The 1976–81 Coppergate excavation, York
Where evidence suggests the Vikings may have converted to Christianity much earlier than previously thought
The discovery of a ‘lost Viking city’ beneath the streets of York made headlines around the world in the 1970s. Archaeological finds from the Viking age had previously been discovered here largely by chance – but this all changed when the city council proposed redevelopment in Coppergate, one of the city’s medieval streets. A small dig led by York Archaeological Trust had already highlighted that the area had remarkable archaeological potential – and they weren’t wrong. Within a few days of the Coppergate redevelopment work, rare traces of Viking buildings were being uncovered.
A large-scale excavation site was soon set up. Between 1976 and 1981, a team of 12 professional excavators and dozens of amateur archaeologists unearthed a mammoth 40,000 artefacts from the site. Among the discoveries were five tons of animal bones, thousands of Roman and medieval roof tiles, and a quarter of a million pieces of pottery.
So what did the finds tell us about Viking life in early York?
One fascinating find suggests that the Vikings converted to Christianity relatively early on in their settlement of Britain. We know that the first Vikings to arrive in Britain worshipped pagan Norse gods, however the remnants of a medieval Viking-era church in Coppergate suggest that they may have adopted Christianity fairly early on.
Other notable finds from the Coppergate excavations highlight the truly global influence of the Vikings, with objects found during the excavation coming from Norway, the Rhineland, the Baltic, Uzbekistan, and the Red Sea.
Despite their popular image, the Viking age wasn’t just about invading and pillaging. As this 2019 article for HistoryExtra by historian Levi Roach notes, trading links between England, the continental mainland and Scandinavia were apparent very early on in the Viking story “Vikings were traveling from Norway to a marketplace in the Danish port at Ribe as early as 725 – well before their ‘infamous pillaging’ years,” Roach notes.
Although the Coppergate dig has long since concluded, its artefacts are available to view in a heritage experience that aims to replicate what the original Viking settlement – Jorvik – looked like.
Cuerdale Hoard, Lancashire
A hoard of treasure that hints at the Vikings’ global activities
The Cuerdale Hoard, a trove of silver discovered more than 150 years ago, is considered the largest Viking treasure ever found in England. It was discovered in 1840, when workmen in Lancashire stumbled across a lead chest while working to repair the embankment of the River Ribble at Cuerdale, near Preston.
Containing more than 30kg of bullion and an impressive c7,000 coins, the hoard is notable for highlighting the international scale of Viking activity. It is thought to have been deposited around AD 905, with its contents being traceable to places including Ireland, the Middle East and the Frankish kingdom (modern-day France).
Silver was common currency in the Viking world – and the Cuerdale Hoard represents astonishing wealth (even by modern standards). There are a variety of theories about its purpose a notable one suggests that it was a war chest collected by Vikings who had been expelled from Dublin. The Ribble Valley was a main route between Viking York and the Irish Sea, and some experts think that the treasure might have been part of a plot to reoccupy Dublin from a base on the estuary.
Why did the Vikings hoard treasure?
There have been numerous hoards unearthed in Britain that date from the Viking Age – but why did people at this time engage in this behaviour? Here are the main theories…
- Religious reasons – One line of thinking suggests that people believed they might take any treasure they were buried with into the afterlife, rather like how the Egyptian pharaohs took items of value (and people!) into their sarcophagi and tombs.
- Display of power – Stockpiling treasure may have been the equivalent of saving money in a bank account. It would be handy to draw on this wealth at a later date, perhaps to dish out as handouts to keep questionable ‘friends’ on side – or to mitigate a threat from an enemy
- Pirate-like hoarding – Sometimes it might have been necessary for a Viking to hide their wealth for various reasons, with the intention that it would be collected later when it was safe to do so. Conversely, threats of Viking raids may have provoked others into hiding their treasures, too.
The Watlington Hoard, Oxfordshire
Where a rare coin highlights the alliance of two rulers as equals
A more recent discovery that has added to our understanding of Viking culture is the Watlington hoard. The astonishing collection of Viking silver was unearthed by amateur metal detectorist James Mather in a farmer’s field in Watlington, Oxfordshire in 2015. it contains 186 coins (not all of which are intact), 15 ingots and seven pieces of jewellery, and is thought to date to sometime after the battle of Edington (May 878), a decisive victory over the Vikings for Alfred the Great (of Wessex).
Perhaps the most remarkable find among the hoard is the ‘Two Emperors’ penny, of which there are 13 examples. The coins depict two emperors (thought to be Alfred the Great and the lesser-known Ceolwulf, the last king of Mercia) ruling side-by-side. The coins contradict the traditional narrative that Ceolwulf was a ‘puppet of the Vikings’, offering a potential new understanding of this key timeframe in the Viking story.
“The coins indicate that Alfred and Ceolwulf’s pennies were probably struck in large numbers, too, so this was no fleeting alliance,” explains John Naylor, national finds advisor at Ashmoleon Museum, where the Watlington Hoard is now displayed. “The chances are it was buried by a member of the Viking Great Army as it made that journey to East Anglia. In fact, the hoard may have been part of the peace deal struck between Alfred’s Wessex and Guthrum’s Vikings following the great clash at Edington.”
The Lewis Chessmen, Scotland
A medieval chess set that reveals how the Viking berserkers achieved their otherworldly abilities
Those familiar with the Harry Potter franchise will recognise the Lewis Chessmen from the denouement of the first film, when the three main characters – Harry, Ron and Hermione – battle against a violent life-size chess set that is an enlarged replica of the Lewis Chessmen.
Discovered in the sand-dunes of the Isle of Lewis, part of the Outer Hebrides, in 1831, this hoard of Norwegian chess-pieces is considered one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Scotland. There are 93 pieces in the Lewis Chessmen collection, thought to be from at least four different chess sets plus some additional games. It is thought that they were made in late 12th or early 13th-century Norway, but no one knows for definite who they belonged to. One theory suggests that the pieces – made of intricate walrus ivory and whale tooth – were carved in Skálholt, Iceland by Margret the Adroit, a priest’s wife who was considered “the most skilled carver” in the country.
Unlike the other discoveries in this list, the Lewis chessmen do not date from the Viking period specifically. However the chessmen are worth noting for how they pay homage to Viking culture, with the rook taking the shape of a Viking berserker, a legendary type of Viking warrior who was associated with the god Odin and said to have fought in a trance-like fury.
Tales of berserkers and their epic exploits frequent sagas and skaldic poems composed at the courts of Scandinavian and Icelandic leaders during the Viking and Middle Ages. But did such warriors really exist? Yes – according to historian Kim Hjardar:
“The description of ‘berserkers’ and ‘wolfskins’ in the sources is on the boundary between fantasy and reality, and it is difficult for us today to imagine that such people can have ever existed, possessed of incontrollable destructive power. But they did. The berserkers and the wolfskins (also known as ‘heathen wolves’) were a special group of very skilled and dangerous warriors associated with the god Odin,” he wrote in a 2016 article for HistoryExtra.
Possible explanations for their unearthly abilities range from eating psychedelic mushrooms to psychological dissociation, which allowed the individual to lose control of their actions. The Lewis Chessmen warrior is particularly fascinating because he is shown biting down on his shield – which some believe to be part of a pre-battle Berserker ritual that enabled them to achieve a trance-like state.
The Repton warrior, Derbyshire
A Viking burial that suggests raiding was a family business
Not a great deal is known about the ‘Repton warrior’, but what is certain is that he met a grisly end the Viking man was found in the 1980s with a cut to his leg that is thought to have severed his penis. Dubbed “England’s best-known Viking burial” by historian Cat Jarman in a recent issue of BBC History Magazine, the body of the ninth-century warrior was found side-by-side with another, younger man in the Derbyshire village of Repton in the 1980s.
Possible theories about the identity of the two men have varied over the years initially it was thought that the younger of the two was the Repton warrior’s weapon bearer (killed, perhaps, to assist his master in the afterlife). More recently, however, DNA analysis has revealed that the pair were first-degree relatives, giving credence to a theory that they were leaders of the Great Army that terrorised England in the 860s and 870s. As Cat Jarman surmises: Viking raiding could be “a family business”.
By the beginning of the X century, the Scandinavians occupied the territory from the Thames to the Tis, moved to a sedentary economy and created their own social organization. There was no political unity between the various Danelaw territories, but in the event of war they united against the Anglo-Saxons. By the systematic offensive on the Danish lands, the Anglo-Saxon state passed during the reign of Edward the Elder. By the year 919, after several years of uninterrupted campaigns in Danelaw, the power of the Anglo-Saxon monarchs was recognized by all of England south of the Humber. The entry into England, however, did not entail changes in the ethnic composition, social structure or the introduction of Anglo-Saxon law. Danelaw remained a virtually autonomous region. However, while the English kings regained their power in Central England, Norwegian Vikings from Ireland invaded Northumbria and established their own independent kingdom in York. In 937, the Anglo-Saxons managed to inflict a crushing defeat on the combined forces of the Scandinavian kings of York and Dublin under Brunanburg, however, already in 939, the Dublin king Olaf I Guthfrisson again occupied York and the next year invaded England. According to the agreement of 940, the region of the former Union of the Five Cities was ceded to him, although two years later this territory returned under the authority of the Anglo-Saxons. In 944, the new king of York, Olaf II Quaran, led the invasion of the Norwegians into England, but the attack was repulsed, and the residents of Danelaw supported the Anglo-Saxon king, which allowed King Edmund I to regain the power of the kings of England over York. In 947, the Vikings re-captured the city. The struggle for York continued with varying success over several decades, until, in 954, when the Kingdom of York finally become part of England.
New Danish raids began in the 990s. In 991, Danish troops looted West Wessex, forcing the English kings to begin collecting “Danish money” – the first historically known universal tax in Britain. Then the raids became frequent. In response to the invasion, the Anglo-Saxon king Etelred II in 1002 organized mass pogroms of the Danes who lived in England. But this did not stop the Vikings, and over the years 1009-1012 the army under the command of Torkel Long destroyed the southern regions of the country. The defense of the country and its morale were undermined. When the king of Denmark, Sven, became head of the Viking army in 1013, the Anglo-Saxon state could not resist the invaders. Residents of Danelaw and part of the Anglo-Saxon residents went over to the side of the Danes. King Ethelred II and his family fled to Normandy. Although after the death of Sven in 1014, Ethelred briefly regained his power in England, in 1016 the military service of the nobility and the clergy of Wessex and Danelaw recognized the son of Sven Cnut as king. Despite the heroic resistance of Edmund Ironbok, the Anglo-Saxon troops were defeated and the country was united under the authority of the Danish dynasty of Cnut the Great. During Cnut’s reign, the Scandinavian element in the English state sharply increased, and the Danish aristocracy occupied leading roles in the country. At the National Assembly in Oxford in 1018, in which both the Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon kingdom of nobility took part, conditions for the coexistence of two nations within a single state were agreed. Danelaw finally became part of England.
Morton, AL The History of England
Musset, L. Barbaric invasions of Europe: The second wave
Hadley, DM The Northern Danelaw: Its Social Structure
Stenton, F. Anglo-Saxon England
Turns out the Irish have more Viking in them than Previously Thought
An Irish Viking. The concept has become more real and more captivating. Anyone who’s read even a bit about the history of the Vikings knows that their DNA is likely to be found in people living in the British Isles today. New research shows that the Irish definitely have their fair share of Viking heritage–in fact, the Irish are more genetically diverse than most people may assume.
The Irish have Viking and Norman ancestry in similar proportions to the English. A comprehensive DNA map of the Irish has for the first time revealed lasting contributions from British, Scandinavian, and French invasions.
“By comparing 1,000 Irish genomes with over 6,000 genomes from Britain and mainland Europe, genetic clusters within the west of Ireland, in particular, were discovered for the first time, leading the researchers to investigate if invasions from the Vikings and Normans to the east may have influenced genetics in that part of the country,” according to Irish Central.
Map of Ireland in 950 showing Viking influence and Viking territory (in green)
Because of extensive Irish immigration to the United States and other countries, these findings have ramifications. There are 80 million people in the world who claim Irish heritage. “This subtle genetic structure within such a small country has implications for medical genetic association studies,” said Trinity College Dublin geneticist Dr. Ross Byrne. In fact a number of American slang words have roots coming from the Irish:
Researchers found 23 distinct genetic clusters, separated by geography by comparing mutations from almost 1,000 Irish genomes with over 6,000 from Britain and mainland Europe. “These are most distinct in western Ireland, but less pronounced in the east, where historical migrations have erased the genetic variations,” said the Irish Mirror.
Ireland in 1300 showing lands held by native Irish (green) and lands held by Normans (pale)
The researchers studied genes from Europe and calculated the timing of the historical migrations of the Norse-Vikings and the Anglo-Normans to Ireland, yielding dates consistent with historical records.
The Vikings invaded Ireland for the first time in the 8th century, raiding a monastery on Rathlin Island on the northeast coast. The Viking warriors were large in numbers and well armed. They moved inland along river-ways, attacking the monastic settlements they came across. They also took captives to trade as slaves.
Ireland in 1450 showing lands held by native Irish (green), the Anglo-Irish (blue) and the English king (dark grey)
The Vikings in Ireland built wintering camps, known as longphorts (derived from the Irish words boat & fort), a ship port. This meant they could settle on the island longer. They used their longphorts as a base allowing them to perform further in-land raids.
Although longphorts were mainly built to only last one winter, some of them became major settlements, such as the one in Dublin, Dyflinn, founded in 841 AD. Excavations during the 1970’s discovered more than 100 homes from this early period and thousands of daily household objects in Dublin.
The Viking conquest in Ireland would continue for more than 200 years, until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans. In the late 12th century, the Norman lords who had already subjugated England came to Ireland to take large plots of land. In the 16th century, under Elizabeth I, many more English Protestant families arrived, often displacing the native Catholics.
It’s believed that the first group of Vikings to invade Ireland were from Scandinavia. They had also settled in Scotland and would later became known as Gallowglass, an elite mercenary warrior group. From the mid-13th to the early 17th centuries they fought for hire in Ireland itself. Their name is an Anglicization of the Gaelic word gallóglach (roughly pronounced GAHL-o-glukh), which translates as “foreign warrior.”
Gallowglass are descendants of not only Vikings but of Scots native to the western Highlands and Hebrides. As Scottish historian Fergus Cannan notes, the Gallowglass “lived for war.…His sole function was to fight, and his only contribution to society was destruction.”
The Anglo-Saxons were worse than the Vikings
Credit: CC0 Public Domain
The Vikings invaded England in the 9th and 10th centuries. They plundered, raped and burned towns to the ground. Or at least, this is the story we know from school and popular culture.
Nevertheless, the reported plundering and ethnic cleansing are probably overrated. The Vikings simply had worse 'press coverage' by frustrated English monks, who bemoaned their attacks.
In recent decades, groundbreaking research in DNA, archaeology, history and linguistics has provided nuance to these written records and painted a much clearer picture. This research indicates that the Vikings were not the worst invaders to land on English shores at that time. That title goes to the Anglo-Saxons, 400 years earlier.
The Anglo-Saxons came from Jutland in Denmark, Northern Germany, the Netherlands, and Friesland, and subjugated the Romanized Britons. Thus, if the Viking Age is defined by numerous migrations and piracy (according to most scholars, Viking means 'pirate'), the Viking Age should start earlier than 793 AD—it should really start around 400 AD.
Here, I outline the various sources that indicate a much more systematic colonisation that started with the Anglo-Saxons, and how recent research, when viewed in its entirety, offers a much clearer understanding of the impact that the Anglo-Saxons had before the Vikings arrived.
The Anglo-Saxons eradicated Celtic languages in England
One support for this contention is the impact, or rather the lack of impact, that the Viking Old Norse had on contemporary Old English language of the Anglo Saxons in the ninth and 10th centuries. This should be compared to the absence of Celtic language in England in the fifth and sixth centuries after the Anglo-Saxons had arrived.
In the fifth and sixth centuries, Old English wiped out the earlier Celtic language in a similar way that modern English eradicated the language of the Native Americans in U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is clear in the almost non-existent impact that Native American words have on the English spoken today in the U.S. Modern American English has retained around 40 Native American words. Similarly, only a dozen Celtic words made it into the Old English of the Anglo Saxons.
So did the Anglo Saxons have the same sort of impact on the Britons that 19th century Europeans had on Native Americans? And are we looking at ethnic cleansing from the fifth to the eighth centuries?
An Anglo-Saxon sells a horse to a Viking
If the Anglo-Saxons eradicated the Celtic language, the Viking's impact was significantly less. Linguists do see some influence from the Old Norse of the Vikings in the Old English language. But it doesn't come close to the eradication of Celtic by the Anglo-Saxons.
Old Norse did not eradicate the Old English language Old English was simplified or pidginised because the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings were able to coexist for a time.
An example could be somewhere in Eastern England in the 9th century where an Anglo-Saxon met a Norseman.
The Anglo-Saxon wants to sell the Norseman a horse to pull a wagon. In modern English he'd have said the equivalent of "I'll sell you that horse that drags my wagon." In Old English it would have sounded like this: "Ic selle the that hors the draegeth minne waegn."
The Norseman on the other hand would say "Ek mun selja ther hrossit er dregr vagn mine."
One says "waegn" where other says "vagn," meaning wagon.
One says "hors" for horse, and "draegeth" for drag, while the other says "hros" and "dregr."
The point is that there are differences but they would have understood each other. What is lost in translation are the grammatical elements.
For example, it would be difficult for the Norseman to know if the Anglo-Saxon was speaking about one or two horses, as the Anglo-Saxon says "that hors" for one horse, but for two horses he says "tha hors."
Therefore, according to some linguists, English was simplified because of the meeting between two closely related languages. The plurals slowly became "-s." "Stone," which in Old English is "stan" in singular, and "stanas" in the plural developed to "stone" and "stones." Hors in the singular became "horses" in the plural.
Anglo-Saxons caused more change than the Vikings
The same process that changed the language spoken in Britain 1,200 years ago also led to of the pidginisation of languages in the old English and French colonies of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, 500 years ago.
The language simplified, so one could 'do business' and communicate when people and languages met. They did not want to be cheated in the horse trade, so to speak.
Numerous archaeological finds of settlements and graves in England suggest that many Scandinavians settled in the Eastern part of England, in what they called Danelaw and in parts of Scotland.
On the other hand, the Old English of the 9th century was not assimilated into Old Norse, unlike the earlier irradiation of Celtic by the first Anglo Saxon conquests.
Put simply, the impact of Viking immigration was not as massive as the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in the fifth century. And this is now backed up by a large-scale DNA analyses of the modern British.
Anglo-Saxon apartheid and Scandinavian multi-ethnic culture
In fact, some scholars have suggested that the Anglo-Saxons practiced a sort of apartheid against the local Celtic-speaking people between the fifth and 9th centuries, where they probably lived apart, or only had limited interaction.
As we saw in South Africa from 1948 until Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994, apartheid was, however, hard to enforce long-term.
Ethnic cleansing by the Anglo-Saxons is a likely alternative scenario, as suggested by the fact that Celtic culture and language did not survive outside of Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
Additionally, the Romano-British were less well organised and lived in a vacuum after the Romans left Britain in the fifth century, whereas the later Anglo Saxon kingdoms of the 9th century were better organised. Thus, Anglo-Saxon England was harder to conquer in a similar way. The Vikings most likely married into Anglo-Saxon families over time, yes maybe the children of the Scandinavians were raised by Anglo-Saxon servants, as was the case among white American children in the southern states, where African slaves took care of white children.
In the U.S., white children often adopted words from African Americans, before they were sent to boarding schools in the North to learn 'proper' English.
Whether poor servants played a similar role among the Vikings in Danelaw England we do not know. But the lack of boarding schools for re-education back home could explain why Old Norse did not gain too much ground.
Additionally, by intermarrying there was no way to maintain the Old Norse language in England.
However, some linguists suggest that if Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons had not met up and in that process modified each other's languages, people in England today would speak something more similar to Frisian or Danish, depending on whether the Anglo-Saxons or Vikings had won the language clash.
Place names indicate the presence of Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons
Place names confirm the presence of Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon settlements in England.
Anglo-Saxon place names end in -ham, like Clapham, -stowe like Hawkstowe, and -ton like Brighton. The place names of the Scandinavians end in -by like Grimsby and Derby.
The word 'by' is in Sweden still a small hamlet as opposed to a 'stad', which is a city. -wick is also seen as of Scandinavian origin like in Swainswick, and -thorpe and -toft.
The last names suggest that the Scandinavians initially founded a number of field systems, which indicate that they settled on land that was more marginal. Later the fight for land increased.The Viking's did not irradiate Old English -- a sign of their limited impact compared to the earlier Anglo Saxon invasion. But remnants of their influence are still visible in modern English. For example, north and east of the line that demarcates the Danelaw, you are likely to hear 'bairn' instead of 'child,' which is more closely related to the Danish 'barn.' Other similarities include ’armhole’ (Danish: armhole) for armpit and ‘hagworm’ (Danish: hugorm) meaning adder. (Map: ScienceNordic, based on an original in'Word Maps. A dialect Atlas of England'). Credit: ScienceNordic
King Alfred stopped the advance of the Vikings
But all of this is not to underestimate the immediate threat that the Viking's posed to life in 9th century England.
In CE 878 the Viking invasions became so dire that the Anglo-Saxons were close to being overrun by the Scandinavians, just as their Anglo-Saxon ancestors had besieged the Britons 400 years earlier.
King Alfred of Wessex was forced into hiding in a bog in Somerset with a small group of men, and many omens suggested that the future England was going to be inhabited by Old Norse-speaking peoples.
However, Alfred succeeded in gathering an army from Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. He made a surprise attack on the Danes at the battle of Ethandune, a battle that to this day is commemorated by a large white horse carved into the hill.
After the battle, Alfred settled the dispute by the so-called Treaty of Wedmore. He forced the Danes to withdraw their army from Wessex. In addition, their leader, Guthrom, was christened.
His victory saved Wessex and perhaps even the English language.
Alfred drew a line across the country, behind which he settled to the South, and the Danes settled towards the Northeast. Everything behind the frontier was the Danelaw.
This frontier ran northwest along the old Roman road from London to Chester, west of Rugby, a Nordic place name, and south of present day Liverpool. Dialects still spoken throughout England today point to the dominance of a Danish speaking population east of this line.
Alfred's policies of identity kept the Danish language at bay
Alfred was now much more alert and he mobilised the English against the Danes. He also rebuilt a number of monasteries and schools.
He started using English instead of Latin as a basis for further education, and he initiated the first translation of Bede's 'The History of the English.'
He knew that without a history, the English had no identity against the Danes. Thus, he saved the English language against further pidginisation.
The Vikings had a bad (English) press
Even though the Christian chroniclers complained about the Viking invasions and written and archaeological sources confirm that the Vikings came in large numbers, with modern eyes and evidence, it seems that the Viking invasion was not as massive as the Anglo-Saxon invasion, 400 years earlier.
First, they did not take over the entire country of England, neither linguistically, materially, nor genetically.
Second, all analyses show that the present population of the East of England has more in common with the peoples on the North Sea coast (Northern Germany and Netherlands), one of the places of origin of the Anglo-Saxons, than they do with the present day population of Scandinavia. This is supported by all sources, including DNA.
Finally, the same study suggests that the flow of Anglo-Saxon immigration must have been so massive that they came to consist of up to 40 per cent of the population in England at the time. The Vikings did not come close to that. And where the earlier Anglo-Saxons apparently did not mix with the native Britons, the Vikings did exactly that with the now Anglo-Saxon English.
By these measures, the Vikings were not as bad as the name and the written sources suggest.
If the Viking Age is to be defined as the period when piracy, migration, and ethnic cleansing, was predominant, the period should start much earlier.
Of course, there is more to the Viking Age than piracy and pillaging. But this is another story for another day.
This story is republished courtesy of ScienceNordic, the trusted source for English-language science news from the Nordic countries. Read the original story here.