site's logo and link back to the English-speaking home page decorative picture 2, the same than above, as smaller .Viking Sunstones .Were the Revelations in Fatima, Portugal by the Virgin Mary About Russia in 1917 About the Bolshevik, or Varangian Russia? arrow back

Northmen and the Viking Raids

pages decorative bandeau, reminder of the one of the main entry home page and the localized home page

The whole of what is presently Scandinavia, was, at the Carolingian times, the homeland of the "Northmen", or "Vikings" -with 'viking' meaning 'plunder' in the language of those people. The Finns were living in the northern part of present Sweden. The Swedes were cut from the western shores of Sweden by the Norwegians, who were living along the coast of southeastern Norway, with their country stretching North, along the coasts. The whole of the Norwegians lived in Norway, as the Danes, as far as they are concerned, were living in this peninsula and the islands which are separating the Baltic from the North Sea. Such these people of the North were connected by the race and the language to the German stock. The most of the history of the region is obscure, with Roman traders only venturing there. The alphabet they brought with them translated into the Runic writing. The political organization of these countries was that of tribes and clans, with chieftains or kings who assumed both the political and religious power. Large forests, the absence of roads, was maintaining the isolation of the people, with the rivers and the lakes as means of connection. The Northmen were pagans. The Swedes had the chief religion of the Norse in their country, with the great temple of Odin in Upsala. Large human sacrifices were often performed at the feast of the equinoxes each nine years, with dozens of human bodies hung in the trees. Tacitus refers to the people of the North, living beyond the Baltic, as the "Suiones", rich in arms and ships and men. Under the Carolingians, the term 'Nordmannia' refered to current Danemark only. As early as the 4th century and onwards, Uppsala was the key religious, economic, and political centre of the Norse world. The earliest Scandinavian written sources name it as the residence of the fabled Yngling dynasty. For centuries, it served as the location for the Thing (assembly) of all Swedes. One of the main trait of their culture was like they buried their dead aboard their boats, with a symbol of social hierarchy. In such a tomb in the island of Saaremaa, Lettony, noblemen had been buried separately from their servants, and, upon the corpse of the nobles pawns of a strategy game had been spread, with the piece figuring the king put into the mouth of one of them. Few Viking-Era mortuaries exist under the form of 'houses of the dead,' with maybe a symbolic value similar to that of ship burials, or that they might have also been a place of farewell rituals. Such famed Viking ship burials were only available for high-ranking members of the warrior aristocracy as during the Iron Age, from about 250 BC until about 1050 AD, Northmen kept part of corpses around farms or long houses, which means deceased were biologically, not socially dead or some magics, or a mean to destroy the personality of an enemy. Vikings in Denmark built typical ring-shaped fortresses as such fortresses in Denmark were only used during a decade, by about 980 A.D. They were not used to defend Viking territory from foreign invaders, but to claim and defend it from attacks by other Viking tribes

Northmen were traders-adventurers during some centuries before turning raiders. During the Bronze Age, between 1725 BC to 300 AD, in Scandinavia Vikings also used trade land routes across the peninsula. Vikings, when at land, were also hunters-trappers as they knew the use of skis). Raids honed their maritime skills. At the time of trade relations with Rome, goods to and from the continent aiming to Norway were ferried through the the Alverstraumen strait, a centrality called 'Nordvegen', or the 'northern way' which constituted a gateway between the southern and northern parts of the country. Northmen commercial activities likely also could explain that their first victims -- like the monks of Lindisfarne by 793 A.D.-- didn't worry when they saw they landing at that occasion. The merchant activity of Northmen brought them up to the East of the Baltic Sea, which constituted a king of northern Mediterranean at those time, and unknown from people dwelling more South. When Northmen raiding activities more generally, started to become a more permanent thing, families at some point journeyed along with warriors, heralding the settlement of some Northmen tribes outside their native Scandinavia. Viking women were the key guardians to their home, and they participated into the process of expansion of peoples of the North. Vikings likely moved with their families, with children and livestock. Northmen's raids against the Frankish world were determined, by the late 8th century A.D., by the development of the Frankish presence in northeastern Germania, with the Franks now neighbours to the Baltic sea. How the Northmen came in relation with the Carolingian empire lies in two aspects. As the Danes had been the allies of the Saxons, Charlemagne waged war against them, with the war ending in 811 when the Danish king Gottfried was assassinated. The Eider river became then the boundary between the Frankish empire and the Danish kingdom. The Viking raids, on the other hand, starting about 810 along the Frankish shores, were the other fact. The 'Viking Age' strictly began with the attack on Lindisfarne in 793 A.D. A increase in population, the rupture of the old tribal system to the benefit of kings who wanted to establish a more absolute power, the love of adventure, or the weaknesses of the Western world, all are explanations to how the Northmen's raids began. Such raids might have a merchant turn too when raiders were accompanied by merchants of their people. This might have been particularly true for the Swedes. It's at the same time that these raids were beginning, that a first systematic effort of christianization was made towards those countries. As quarrels had arose in Denmark, one of the pretendors, Harold, seeked the protection of Louis the Pious and was baptized. It's then than Anskar, the Apostle of the North, left to preach for the first time in the countries of the North. Anskar reached the commercial town of Birka in 830 as, from the see of Bremen, he directed the efforts of the Christendom in all the region of Denmark, the southeastern Norwegians, and Sweden. His work was pursued by his disciple Rimbert. About 870 however, the work of Anskar and Rimbert was destroyed by internal turmoils and wars. It was not until the year 1000 that the Church could come back in the region even if Harald Bluetooth (950-985) had united Denmark and Norway and converted Danes to Christendom. The role of merchants in the region is well seen along the journeys of Anskar as, still under Norse King Harald Bluetooth, by about 960, a hint to the commercial activity of Scandinavia resides into that coins from Bohemia, Germany, Denmark and England are extant, as Viking merchant-warriors defaced Christian and Arabic coins with pagan symbols or that coins from India and Persia were also found. The Volga Trade Route, which was utilized by the Varangians who founded Russia --and before them by local Slavs, went deep into Muslim lands, enabling interaction between the cultures, of which maybe the Muslim monotheism with the idea of a eternal life in a Paradise after death

->Finns and Samis
With a cold climate, agriculture spread slowly in current Finland and northern Sweden, as the area endured influence of a civilization coming from the Altai and central Mongolia and from southern Ural to the middle Volga, with Uralic languages. Part of that, the Sami hunter-gatherers -- they likely diverged from the Finns about 700 B.C. and pushed northwards by farmers -- kept their lifestyle, long connected to people from Siberia to Americas and Greenland, and they survived in Lapland. Finns proper came into contact with Baltic people and Scandinavia since the Iron Age, beginning by 500 B.C. and lasting into 8th and 9th centuries. Finland exported furs, slaves, castor oil (or castoreum), and falcons as buying silk, other fabrics, jewelry, Viking swords or glass. The Finnish identity cleary formed definitely by the late 9th century A.D as varied evangelizing crusades brought by regional powers, in the 12th and 13th centuries eventually converted Finns to Christianity. Until into modern Era, Finland mostly became part of the Swedish kingdom as Russia also turned a contender by that latter time, and the country turned since 1809 the Grand Duchy of Finland, a autonomous duchy in the Russian Empire

The Viking raiders became an important part of the history of the Carolingian empire after Charlemagne. The predatory journeys of the Northmen, on the other hand, took them too to other countries as they kept navigating aboard their 'drakkars', those ships the front of which was ornated with a dragon (terrifying dragon-head boat prow however might well be late Roman indeed and nothing to be linked with Vikings), and the sail of which was red. It's tribes from South Norway and Denmark which systematically attacked the coasts and the river valleys of the Empire, in Germany and Gaul, between 835 and 900. The Vikings were spreading far inland, reaching Paris or even penetrating in Auvergne. The Viking raids were never really checked. It's only because the Northmen turned themselves into settlers that the destructions ceased. In 911, Charles the Simple granted, for example, Normandy to Rollo. 'Normands' eventually made a duchy of their allotment, whence they conquered England by the 11th century, or by the early 880s, the remnants of the 'Great Heathen Army', which had been defeated by English king Alfred the Great at the Battle of Ethandun in 878, began to settle in the Low Countries. One of the Vikings' tactics was to establish strongholds in islands located near rivers' mouths, such places serving to winter, to store booty, or to retire in the rare cases when the Frankish or English kings tried to check their raids. Such islands were, for example Sheppey at the mouth of the Thames, Walcheren at the one of the Scheldt, or Noirmoutiers near the river Loire. The relics of St Philibert, which had settled in the abbey of that latter island, had to be moved far inside continental France, down to Tournus, a town along the Saône River! Other relics of saints at the time had to be moved too. The activity of the southern Norwegians and the Danes brought them as far South as Spain, where they met the Saracens, or even, sometimes to the Mediterranean and Italy! These same people, via a direct route West, through the North Sea, brought destruction in England too. Despite the efforts of king Alfred, he had to depart the country beetween the Danes and the western Saxons

thumbnail to a map of the Viking routesclick to a map of the Viking routes

Two other peoples, the Norwegians -those located more North, and the Swedes, took their own part of the Viking raids. Due to the will of the king Harold Fairhair to establish an absolute power, some of his opponents settled in the Orkneys and other Scottish islands. From there, in a first time, they raided Ireland where the real invasion began in 820, leading, eventually to the foundation of three Viking kingdoms in the country. The Norwegians, however returned in Norway about 855 to help the ennemies of Harold Fairhair. The king had the victory however and he took himself possession of the Orkneys. It's that episode which forced the Norwegians dissidents to pursue further West, to the Faroes and, eventually to Iceland! They were joined later, in 874, by other Norwegians opponents, as Iceland, which had been explored by Irish monks about 800, became one of the most remarkable Norse civilization. The same colonists, about a hundred years later, settled in a land they called the "Greenland" and, eventually, they founded a temporary settlement in the "Vinland", in mainland America. Iceland, by the year 900, had a population of 25,000. The christianization of the island occurred about 996 only. The Norwegians, at last, established commercial routes up to the North Cape and to the "Bjarmaland", on the shores of the White Sea, in the neighbourhood of current Arkhangelsk, Russia. Ohthere of Halogaland, a chronicler and traveller, told, circa 890, about a area by a river and the White Sea with many buildings. The Swedes, as far as they are concerned, transformed the Baltic Sea into a Swedish lake in the 9th and 10th centuries. Their expeditions took them in Finland, and in Russia. The large island of Gotland, southeast of Sweden, had a rich merchant class who thrived on the bustling Baltic trade, maintaining a network spanning dozens of harbors and markets as Gotlanders effectively ran a independent republic, prospering from its unique position as the meeting point between the West and the East. It's as soon as 850 A.D. that Ruric founded a "Varangian" kingdom, capital Veliky Novgorod, becoming the ruler ('knyaz') of it, according to the 'Primary Chronical' a history of Kievan Rus, published in Kiev in 1113. One of his successors, Oleg, moved it to Kiev in 880, founding the Kievan Rus! Such his kingdom was stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Oleg even had Constantinople to pay the "Danegeld", the tribute, in 907! It might that the Varangian ships have crossed the waters of the Caspian Sea, sailing down the Volga! That foundation of Russia owed to the fact that Eastern Slavs had succeeded in departing from the domination of the Khazars. They allied themselves to the 'Rus,' the Vikings of Riurik and they formed a confederation of Slavic and non-Slavic tribes. Russian Rus passed to the Eastern Church by 988 A.D., which determined the affiliation of Russia to Byzantium. Paganism and tribal freedoms receded. Russia Rus reached its apogee in the 11th century and then it declined due to rivalries between principalities and the threats, South, from the peoples of the steppes, and it let room to cities of the northeast like Moscow or Vladimir-Suzdal, which were protected by the forest that extended from Poland to the Urals. That 'Russia from beyond the forest' in turn succumbed about 1250 A.D. under the blows of Genghis Khan

Successes of the Northmen was likely due to their courage and to a tradition of discipline which made their units superior in fighting qualities to the mixed and ill organized forces of the Frankish and the English kings. Most Vikings fought in their everyday clothing of woollen coat reaching to mid-thigh and baggy trousers, sometimes tied at the knee as the more affluent ones would wear a mail hauberk or whatever armour they could afford. The style of helmet also depended upon the wealth of the wearer, with the poorer warriors with leather helmets or none at all. Of note that the helmets with horns are not historical, and a 19th century fantasy. Viking warriors also comprised some 'Berserks,' ones with a peculiar ferocity and determination. Ferocious and fearless 'berserkers' were elite Viking warriors able to fight with frenzy, a behavior due to that they used a potent hallucinogen, a plant called Hyoscyamus niger, commonly known as henbane. In addition, 'Skajlmö,' warrior-women also existed, similar to the Valkyries and armed with a shield, or even some women commanded a entire ship. The sword was the main weapon of Vikings, with some number of axes too. Their attacks against the Carolingian empire occured when the empire was weakened by the divisions among the heirs of Charlemagne, as, except when king Alfred of England built his own fleet, they were the unchallenged rulers of the sea, due to their fine and efficient ships. After a early missionarizing work by Anskar under Emperor Louis the Pious, in Sweden, Northmen progressively turned Christian, by 1000 A.D. either in their homelands, or where they eventually settled. That Rollo accepted in 911 A.D., for example, to settle in Normandy, France, was due to the intervention of Virgin Mary during the battle of Chartres. The definitive conversion of the Danes and Norses under King Harald was due to the help they needed from the Ottonians to intervene into southern Sweden as Viking kings benefited from that relation to the Church as they turned kings of divine legitimation. The Northmen's conversions however, since the time of Anskar, always kept double-minded as they kept practising their pagan worships and mostly considered the Christian god like one among their 70 existing pagan ones! Christian cross held like a ornament, for example, were similar in shape to Thor's hammer. That translated also in Iceland where, by the end of the 10th century A.D., a formal decision likely allowed inhabitants to Christianity along with paganism in a private sphere

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 4/29/2020. contact us at
Free Web Hosting