There has been some misconception about who the Vikings are. Here, we talk about the people and their history, dispelling any myths that you might have about them. Once we’re through, you’ll have an appreciation for who they were, and their contribution to the world.
Who are the Vikings?
The Vikings were Norse people who were a North Germanic ethnolinguistic group who spoke the Norse language. They were alive during the Middle Ages, the Vikings settling in southern Scandinavia, that is Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. What is notable about these people his how far and wide they traveled to both trade and raid other territories. Between the 8th and 11th centuries, they had gone to Northern European lands and made their way across Europe, even going as far as Greenland, Iceland, and Vinland, a coastal area in North America.
The Vikings had an impact on the whole area, making a considerable contribution to the Scandinavian history, along with those of the British Isles, Estonia, Sicily, France, and even the Kievan Rus’ from the Varangian Rurik dynasty. The rapid expansion had a lot to do with advanced sailing and navigational skills, and they went as far as North Africa, North America, the Middle East, and western Europe. The Vikings would use both the sea and rivers to explore and expand, creating new settlements where they went.
It wasn’t only about sailing. The Norse civilization was equally known for its advancements in technology, the military, and cultural expansion. In light of that, the misconception about the Vikings is unfounded, with false narratives being painted in the 19th century during the Viking revival. The Vikings were not noble savages that they were painted to be. Indeed, they were an advanced people, with historical sources and archeological findings supporting the reality of the same.
If you thought that the Vikings were pirates and violent, then you would be missing the point altogether of who they were. It is thus crucial that you separate the depiction of the 20th century Viking and aim to understand how organized the Vikings were, having settled in three main territories, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. If anything, the current paintbrush used to talk about the Vikings during these modern times only perpetuate stereotypes, making one unable to appreciate how great a people the Vikings were.
The Viking Age span a few centuries, having first coma bout in 793 until 1066 after the invasion and occupation of England by Normandy. The Normans were descendants of the Vikings but had gotten feudal overlordship in the 10th century in northern France. As mentioned, the Viking Age is characterized by expansion, and it was through sailing the Norwegian Sea and Baltic Sea they were able to move to new territories. Once they arrived, they would build independent settlements. In about 980, the Varangian Rurik dynasty took over, annexing Kievan Rus’ to be their capital.
The Viking’s ability to navigate the sea and rivers allowed them to travel great distances. It was primarily for trade, but also conduct raids and colonize areas, taking over the land they had conquered. There is archeological evidence showing the people went as far as Bagdad, which was the capital of the Islamic Empire. They would trade goods that include tusks, furs, seal fat, and even slaves. Even so, the men also acted as mercenaries, even going to be part of the guard for the Scandinavian kingdom.
Another thing to note about the Viking Age is they did not see themselves as one people per se. They shared a similar language and culture, but after the Viking age ended, the separate kingdoms decided to come up with distinct nations. It is the coming of Christianity that brought an end to the Viking Age, and thus ushering them into the Middle Ages.
The expansion wasn’t always easy, as they learned with the Saxons then based on the North Sea coast. The Saxons were also early Germanic people. They proved to be violet toward the Vikings, and after the Saxon wars of 772 to 804 ended, the Vikings has to adopt some of the ways of their new conquerors. Even so, the Vikings were able to defeat the Obotrites, a federation of Slavic tribes. In 804, the Vikings asserted their domination of the Baltic Sea too.
The motivation behind the expansion of the Vikings is still up for debate. Some historians say that it was the polygamous nature of the Viking men that led them to seek out other territories. They were known for having many wives and concubines. Since women were finite, wealthier people and also those unmarried went out to capture or buy women to marry and have their children with. The competition between the men would have been a motivation for the men to set off to new lands in search of women.
The other narrative was that Charlemagne, that is, Charles the Great, used force to Christianize the Vikings. That was between 768 and 774, and those who did not want to convert opted to resist and move away. It is this force to conversion under Charlemagne that brought about the conflict in the region of Norway for about a century. The other reason is that their neighbors were not strong, and thus subduing them was more straightforward.
Facts and fiction about the Vikings
As mentioned, there are misconceptions about who the Vikings were based on the 19th and 20th centuries of these people. The person behind most of these stereotypes and misinformation stems from Queen Victoria of the Kingdom of Great Britain (1819-1901). It is said that the Catholic church, angered by the loss of countless treasures and relics from raids, chose to tarnish the Viking’s name. The church ran a campaign that painted them as brutal and violet.
Later, the perception would shift to seeing the Vikings as noble savages that wore horned helmets. They were thought to be fearless in battle, and people proud of their culture. Even though the thoughts of them shifted and became more favorable, their portrayal of the Vikings remains tainted from the people they were. The Vikings were an advanced people, with their excellent naval skills being unmatched. Let’s look at two areas where the facts and fiction are marred.
Helmets: For example, the horned helmets were not factual. Instead, during a war, the Vikings wore metal frame helmets in the form of a bowl. There was also a nose guard that protected the Vikings during the war. The helmet was made from putting several pieces together, but that changes to have a singular piece of iron that got hammered into shape. That made the helmets easier to make. The inside part of the helmets had leather or sheepskin. It was to absorb the force when the helmet got hit.
Personal hygiene: Archeological findings prove that the Vikings were not filthy as they were typically portrayed. There is evidence of grooming tools and utensils that showed the Vikings to be civilized. It would make sense for people who were incredibly good at making ships would have the know-how of taking care of themselves.
We cannot talk about the Viking era and not mention their ships. They had longships that were a demonstration of their technological superiority. They mainly used a ship that had a deeper draft and also wider called the Knarr which was the standard merchant ship since they could store a lot more goods. Their longships were more for traveling long distances. These vessels had a tactical advantage in battle since they were easy to maneuver in a hit-and-run attack on enemy ships. The drafts were also smaller, so they could sail further inland too.
The Vikings weren’t only good in sea warfare, but also on land. They were quick to assess the defense of the enemy, typically opting to go for those that weren’t as well guarded. As for their ships, they were light enough that the men could carry them overland to the next body of water, mostly rivers. Though rare, battles on the sea would be mostly when pirating another vessel.
There is a lot to appreciate with regards to the Viking history. They were a notable people whose exploits left a mark in past. Though aspects of who they were have been hijacked, it’s essential to stick with the facts and remember the Vikings for who they are. The Vikings might not have the cartoon and humorous appeal of Asterisk, but they were still a force that could be reckoned with as they sort to expand their territory.
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