Vikings were pillagous, murderous and slave-taking barbarians who were plundering the coasts and inlands of Europe from the 700s and into the 1000s AD - that is, for 250 years or so. The period is called the Viking Age, and made the Dark Ages darker still.
As for their discovery of a part of North America, Native Indians and Inuits were there already. And before them came bison herds from Asia - bisons, the largest terrestrial animals in North America, with their own horns. Good to know? "There is no evidence that Vikings used horned helmets in battle, although it is possible that they were used in a ritual fashion. The horned and winged helmets associated with the Vikings in popular mythology were the invention of 19th-century Romanticism." [WP, "Viking Age arms and armour > Helmet"]
Viking marauders of ill-gotten gains became ancestors of royalty and noblesse in Europe and Great Britain. The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway, written in the first half of the 1200s on Iceland, furnishes more or less accurate details. You are right in lifting your eyebrow over passages in it where to persons talk together under four eyes, and next get killed, and ultimately get cited by their chronicler Snorre after, say, hundreds of years. Details may be there, but you do well not to trust all of them. Now, the Chronicle also reflects the attitudes and values of the often very ill-behaved Norsemen or Vikings, and glorifies bullying, infesting kings and heroes without particularly good reasons, also through PR bards hired by various Norse kings and earls.
Their values made life rather unbearable among their top-dogs too; they were thinning out one another. Massive civil wars in Norway cost lives. But these happenings came later than the flight to other parts of the world during the reign of Harald Fairhair, the one who made Norway his own, by battling and defeating earls that had shared the territory earlier.
Some of those who were unwilling to bear with the reign of Harald, found islands in the west and settled there. And already in the 1000s there is a mention of America was discovered by Norsemen too. The earliest mention of America found in any geographical work follows:
Adam of Bremen's account
ADAM OF Bremen was a German historian and geographer of the 1000s. He came to Bremen in 1068 at the invitation of Archbishop Adalbert there, and in time wrote a history of the See of Hamburg and of the Christian missions in the North from AD 788 to 1072.
When he came to Bremen, Adam was a young man. Shortly after he made a journey to the Danish King Svend Estridson (1047-76) [Svend Ulfssen was called Estrithson in English sources], who had knowledge of the history and geography of the Northern lands. The King received Adam well and gave him much information for the historical work Adam intended to write, and which he began after the death of Archbishop Adalbert. The work itself, at least in part, was finished before the death of King Svend, in 1076.
The fourth and last book of Adam's work is a geographical appendix and describes the Northern lands and the islands in the Northern seas. It contains the earliest mention of America found in any geographical work. The passage is as follows (IV, 38):
Furthermore he [King Svend] mentioned still another island found by many in that ocean. This island is called Winland, because grapevines grow there wild, yielding the finest wine. And that crops grow there in plenty without having been sown, I know, not from fabulous report, but through the definite information of the Danes.
Adam based his knowledge partly on written sources, partly on oral communication. His most valuable information was had orally from persons who had actually visited the lands he describes. As for the Danish King Svend Estridson, he "remembered all the deeds of the barbarians as if they had been written down" (II, 41).
Adam also learned much from Archbishop Adalbert, who was informed about the lands where the Northern missions were. In addition Adam was informed by traders and missionaries passing through Bremen to and from the North. Adam assured that he has taken great pains to make his account both truthful and accurate. "I have at any rate written truthfully, using as authorities those who are best informed about the subject," he writes in the epilogue. [◦More]
A Norwegian woman
A story that suggests why some Norsemen sailed westward and took Celtic slave-women to live with - perhaps. Those who colonised Iceland, did it a lot.
There was a great farmer called Iron Beard, who dwelt in Uphaug. He was the foremost man of the farmers in speaking against Christianity and the very athletic Norse King Olav Tryggvason. Iron Beard told him on the part of the farmers, that the king should not break their laws.
"We want, king," said he, "that you should offer sacrifice, as other kings before you have done."
All the farmers applauded his speech with a loud shout, and said they would have all things according to what Iron Beard said. Then the king said he would go into the temple of their gods with them, and see what the practices were when they sacrificed. The farmers thought well of this.
King Olaf entered into the temple with some few of his men and a few farmers; and when the king came to where their gods were, Thor, as the most considered among their gods, sat there adorned with gold and silver. The king lifted up his gold-inlaid axe which he carried in his hands, and struck Thor so that the image rolled down from its seat. Then the king's men turned to and threw down all the gods from their seats; and while the king was in the temple, Iron Beard was killed outside of the temple doors, and the king's men did it.
When the king came forth out of the temple he offered the farmers two conditions, that all should accept of Christianity from then on, or that they should fight with him. But as Iron Beard was killed, there was no leader in the farmers' army to raise the banner against King Olaf; so they surrendered to the king's will. Then King Olaf had all the people present baptized, and took hostages from them for their remaining true to Christianity. And all people took baptism.
King Olaf soon appointed a meeting with the relations of Iron Beard, and offered them the penalty for his bloodshed; for there were many bold men who had an interest in that business. Iron Beard had a daughter called Gudrun; and at last it was agreed on between the parties that the king should take her in marriage.
When the wedding day came, King Olaf and Gudrun went to bed together. As soon as Gudrun, the first night they lay together, thought the king was asleep, she drew a knife, with which she intended to run him through. But the king saw it, took the knife from her, got out of bed and went to his men, and told them what had happened. Gudrun also took her clothes, and went away along with all her men who had followed her there. Gudrun never came into the king's bed again.
Fleeing Men and Explorers
Haughty and revengeful women at home aside, Vikings spread in many countries, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean.
Greenland, Iceland, Ireland (built Dublin, Cork etc.), Man, Norhumbria, North-west Scotland, Novgorod and Moscow (in Russa), Pommern, The Hebridees, The Orkneys, The Shetland Islands, Vinland (of North America), Wales (called Bretland), York (in a period).
These may be considered controversial still:
Spitzbergen, The Canary Islands.
So, apart from the warlike Vikings, some Norsemen were more peaceful slave-takers and slave-traders and settled on islands in the west. They took slave women from among Celts, as genetic studies of Icelanders show. A large part of their female genes are Celtic of origin.
Einar Árnason and his colleagues of the University of Iceland present evidence that the original founding population was genetically quite diverse. Iceland shows a genetic amalgamation of the original Norwegian Vikings and Celtic slaves. About 60 to 80 percent of the founders were from Nordic countries and the rest were Celtic stock from the British Isles. Also, "Vikings in Iceland really did import their wives from Ireland and Scotland.", says Bryan Sykes in the book Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland .. (New York: Norton, 2006).
[(1) CBS News. 'Gene Frenzy' Heats Up Iceland. May 26, 2008. [www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/12/02/tech/main531396.shtml]
(2) Bijal P. Trivedi. Icelanders, a diverse bunch? GNN. August 11. 2000. [www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/08_00/Icelanders.shtml]
What Snorre and Other Icelanders Tell
People emigrate for many reasons. Some reasons are more common than others.
Snorre Sturlason writes that many Norse settlements were due to the rise of the tyrant Harald Fairhair. Before his time, there were many minor kingdoms or earldoms along coastal Norway and interior parts of the country. Harald started as one such earl who got power-hungry and dreamt of subjugating all the others, and managed to get control over the other small kingdoms by warfare and sinister cruelty among other things.
Many found his tyrannic system too bad, and fled to other areas where he hopefully would not get them. That was how large tracts of current, western Sweden were built: Jamtland and Harjedalen. At that time and much later Bohuslan was Norwegian too.
Farmers and fishers also fled to islands in the west, leaving women behind. That is much of how Iceland was colonised, the Faeroe Island and more islands still, according to several sagas. Example:
Earl Thorfin Sigurdson . . . had under him Orkney, Shetland, and the Hebrides, besides very great possessions in Scotland and Ireland. [Olav Haraldson's Saga]
Rolf Ganger's father and some of his relatives
A forefather of British and French royalty, Rolf Ganger, was outlawed by Harald Fairhair. Rolf's father, Ragnvald Earl of More, had helped Harald on his way up, and was his best companion. How was he? Among other things an arsonist. Here is a glimpse from what is recounted of Ragnvald:
King Harald set Earl Ragnvald over South and North More and also Raumsdal, and he had many people about him. . . . The . . . winter (AD 869) Ragnvald went over Eid, and southwards to the Fjord district. There he . . . came by night to a place called Naustdal, where King Vemund was living in guest-quarters. Earl Ragnvald surrounded the house in which they were quartered, and burnt the king in it, together with ninety men. [Section 12].
There is more to tell:
One summer (Harald) sailed with his fleet right out into the West sea. First he came to Hjaltland (Shetland), and he slew all the vikings who could not save themselves by flight. Then King Harald sailed southwards, to the Orkney Islands, and cleared them all of vikings. Thereafter he proceeded to the Sudreys (Hebrides), plundered there, and slew many vikings who formerly had had men-at-arms under them. . . . He then plundered far and wide in Scotland itself, and had a battle there. When he was come westward as far as the Isle of Man . . . all the inhabitants had fled over to Scotland, and the island was left entirely bare both of people and goods . . .
Man was a Norwegian kingdom for five hundred years.
One of the sons of Ragnvald, Ivar, fell in that war, and as a compensation for the loss Harald gave Ragnvald the Orkneys and Shetland Isles.
Ragnvald in turn handed them over to to his brother Sigurd, and King Harald gave Sigurd the earldom of them. Sigurd entered into partnership with one Thorstein the Red,; and after plundering in Scotland, they subdued Caithness and Sutherland, as far as Ekkjalsbakke. Earl Sigurd killed Melbridge Tooth, a Scotch earl, and hung his head to his stirrup-leather; but the calf of his leg were scratched by the teeth, which were sticking out from the head, and the wound caused inflammation in his leg, of which the earl died, and he was laid in a mound at Ekkjalsbakke. His son Guthorm ruled over these countries for about a year thereafter, and died without children. Many vikings, both Danes and Northmen, set themselves down then in those countries. [LINK]
The outlawed Rolf Ganger went over sea to the Hebrides, or Sudreys; and at last farther east to Valland, where he plundered and subdued for himself a great earldom, which he peopled with Northmen, from which that land is called Normandy. Rolf Ganger's son was William, father to Richard, and grandfather to another Richard, who was the father of Robert Longspear, and grandfather of William the Bastard, from whom all the following English kings are descended [written in ca. 1220]. From Rolf Ganger also are descended the earls in Normandy. [Section 24]
Brown's summary. The Norse name Hrolfr (Rolf) in time became Rollo. His descendant William conquered England in 1066 AD. Normans also rode out and conquered the best (southern) half of Italy, setting up [a kingdom in Sicily and a duchy in Apulia and Calabria in Southern Italy and so on, to the end of establishing a state that existed in the south of Italy from its founding by Roger II in 1130 until 1816 - and (WP, "Kingdom of Sicily")] later established effective vassal states around the Mediterranean Ocean: In Antich in Syria, Palestine, in Tunisia they ruled in Oriental splendour, the historian Brown says. . Offspring of the Norman dynasty in Palermo were wed into such as the Habsburgers of what is now Austria, and Constantinople rulers, the saga of Sigurd the Crusader tells. [Link]
"Vikings in origin and established in their province from 911 by the grant and "treaty" of St. Clair-sur-Epte [when Rolv Ganger caught hold of the first of three domains to rule over in that region], they made of Normandy in the next one hundred and fifty years one of the most powerful states . . . Thus established, they conquered the far larger kingdom of England in 1066, and in due course rode out from there into Wales and southern Scotland, and ultimately into Ireland. . . . [Brown 15, also 262-3]
"Of all the centuries in the history of the West, the eleventh is perhaps the most exciting. . . . Most serious of all . . . were the Vikings, whose raids, by reason of their extreme mobility, seemed to range over almost all Latin Christendom and to come from every direction at once." [Brown 9]
Going forward at the same time, was their piecemeal conquest of southern Italy and Sicily, which in some respects was even more remarkable than their English enterprise. . . . The Norman conquest of southern Italy and Sicily [taken from such as Moslems there] . . . was the achievement of individual Norman adventurers in one of the most dazzling examples of private enterprise the medieval and modern world has witnessed . . . possible, one might say, (also) in . . . nineteenth-century North America." [Brown 15]
They were "unscrupulously bold", marked by elegance, "love of fighting", got papal recognition by 1059, and one of these lords, Roger 2, "in 1130 was crowned and anointed at Palermo king of Sicily, Apulia and Calabria - and as such he, and descendants after him, remained.". [Brown 17] (2)
"Adopters and adapters par excellence, the Normans . . . had their share, which was often the lion's share, in all the achievements and developments of the eleventh century . . . by their own conquests." [Brown 15]
Jerusalem was taken from [what was called] the Infidel in 1098 . . . Norman lordship was established by Bohemond at Antioch (and it) became the strongest and best governed of the Latin states of Outremer . . . By the end of (the eleventh century) a chain of Norman states had been established from the Atlantic to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, . . . all ruled by a potent mixture of [such as] feudal customs, and dynamic energy. [Brown 19]
At Clermont in 1095 ◦Pope Urban 2 appealed for a crusade. "The Normans were in the vanguard of the First Crusade, with a powerful contingent from Normandy under duke Robert (who was) the Conqueror's eldest son, and another . . . from Norman Italy and Sicily, under Bohemond of Hauteville . . . and Bohemond's nephew Tancred. [Brown 18]
The muscular Christianity fostered, was marked by such as: violence mixed with piety; pilgrimages; fashion; and "irresistible military prowess" [Cf. Brown 16]
The new Norman kings established in Southern Italy and Sicily became men of "near-incredible success, ruled in Oriental splendour over the riches, the most powerful, the most cultured and technically the most advanced state in all Latin Christendom." [Brown 16]
[Cf. WP, "County of Apulia and Calabria"]
The following is from the sagas.
Snorre Sturlason writes in the 1200s that (Lucky) Leif, a son of Eirik the Red,
who first settled in Greenland, came this summer (AD. 999) from Greenland to Norway; and
as he met King Olaf he adopted Christianity, and passed the winter (AD. 1000) with the
king. (section 93) [Link]
King Olaf had been two summers and one winter in the west in Valland on this cruise; and thirteen years had now passed since the fall of King Olaf Trygvason. During this time earls had ruled over Norway; first Hakon's sons Eirik and Svein, and afterwards Eirik's sons Hakon and Svein. Hakon was a sister's son of King Canute, the son of Svein. During this time there were two earls in Valland, William and Robert; their father was Richard earl of Rouen. They ruled over Normandy. Their sister was Queen Emma, whom the English king Ethelred had married; and their sons were Edmund, Edward the Good, Edwy, and Edgar. Richard the earl of Rouen was a son of Richard the son of William Long Spear, who was the son of Rolf Ganger, the earl who first conquered Normandy; and he again was a son of Ragnvald the Mighty, earl of More, as before related. From Rolf Ganger are descended the earls of Rouen, who have long reckoned themselves of kin to the chiefs in Norway, and hold them in such respect that they always were the greatest friends of the Northmen; and every Northman found a friendly country in Normandy, if he required it. To Normandy King Olaf came in autumn (AD. 1013), and remained all winter (AD. 1014) in the river Seine in good peace and quiet.
25. OLAF AND ETHELRED'S SONS.
King Ethelred's sons came to Rouen in Valland from England, to their mother's brother, the
same summer that King Olaf Haraldson came from the west from his viking cruise, and they
were all during the winter in Normandy together. They made an agreement with each other
that King Olaf should have Northumberland, if they could succeed in taking England from
the Danes. Therefore about harvest, Olaf sent his foster-father Hrane to England to
collect men-at-arms; and Ethelred's sons sent tokens to their friends and relations with
him. King Olaf, besides, gave him much money with him to attract people to them. Hrane
was all winter in England, and got promises from many powerful men of fidelity, as the
people of the country would rather have native kings over them; but the Danish power had
become so great in England, that all the people were brought under their dominion.
The same spring King Olaf also sent Leif Eirikson (AD. 1000) to Greenland to proclaim Christianity there, and Leif went there that summer. In the ocean he took up the crew of a ship which had been lost, and who were clinging to the wreck. He also found Vinland the Good; arrived about harvest in Greenland; and had with him for it a priest and other teachers, with whom he went to Brattahild to lodge with his father Eirik. People called him afterwards Leif the Lucky: but his father Eirik said that his luck and ill luck balanced each other; for if Leif had saved a wreck in the ocean, he had brought a hurtful person with him to Greenland, and that was the priest. [Op cit. Section 104]
Thorgils was the son of Are Marson, who visited America (Vindland). Thorgils, who was
still alive in the year 1024, was noted for his kindness toward all persecuted persons.
In GreenlandIN 982 AD, Eric the Red was outlawed from Iceland for three years at a Thing there. He decided to explore the country to the west; it had been sighted some 50 years earlier from a storm-driven ship. The land was rich in wild life, fish and birds, so he and his men marked sites for future farms there. He returned to Iceland, called the country Greenland, and sailed again to Greenland in 986 AD, accompanied by 25 ships. Only 14 of them arrived safely.
They landed in an area (the Eastern Settlement) which eventually contained several hundred farms, 12 parish churches, a cathedral and a monastery. Sheep, cattle and goats were raised in the area; seal and Caribou supplemented the diet. The best land lay around Ericsfjord in the Eastern Settlement. Here at a farm they called Brattalid, Eric and his family settled.
Within ten years the settlers had pushed north and formed the Western Settlement around present-day Godthabsfjord. And the area to the north of the Western Settlement, Nordseta, was good for hunting, fishing and gathering driftwood.
A small area called the Middle Settlement contained about twenty farms along the coast near modern Ivigtut.
The Greenlanders exported furs, hides, rope, cable oil, woolens and sea ivory and imported corn, iron, timber, garments and assorted luxuries.
The Icelandic Annals for the year 1121 record that Bishop Eric of Greenland set out in search of Vinland. The results of his voyage are not recorded.
In the 1400s temperatures went down, and before 1500 the settlements in Greenland were gone.
A passage from the IslendingabokAri Thorgilsson's vernacular History of the Icelandic people (Islendingabok): Speaking of Greenland, Ari says,
They found there human habitations, both in the Eastern and Western parts of the country and fragments of skin boats and stone implements; from which it can be concluded that the people who had been there before were of the same kind as those who inhabit Vinland and whom the Greenlanders call Skraelings.
"Are there any ruins here?" Ingstand asked a man who came walking down to the water's edge. It was the fisherman George Decker, and they year was 1960.
It is also told that the Ingstads were working from an Icelandic map from the 1500s, showing part of North America. The location fits the "Promontorium Winlandiae" of some medieval maps.
Their work started in 1961. The long houses excavated resemble those of the eastern settlement in Greenland. Also, a building believed to be related to ship repair and a smithy with a hearth for a forge, a stone anvil and hundreds of slag and iron fragments were found. [More: Wikipedia, s.v. "L'Anse aux Meadows"]
Artifacts discovered at the site confirm the Norse origin. They found a
ring-headed bronze pin, commonly used as a cloths fastener by Norse men, in one of the
houses. This was definite proof. They later found a fragment of a bone needle of the type
used by Norsemen. It was found along with a piece of copper that turned out to have been
formed by a primitive smelting process unknown to Native Americans at the time.
Radio carbon analysis of samples from the site yielded dates from about 700 AD to 1000 AD. Dates of turf samples used in building the walls of the long houses yields the span AD 920-1120, which corresponds with saga records.
After seven excavation seasons, Helge Ingstad concluded:
An evaluation of the archaeological material can hardly lead to any other conclusion than that the site at L'Anse aux Meadows must be Norse and pre-Columbian.
Historians have arrived at highly different conclusions with respect to the location of Vinland (from Labrador to Georgia), but Ingstad localized ancient house sites on L'Ans aux Meadows, a small fishing village on the Northern beaches of Newfoundland. From 1961 to 1969, Ingstad and his wife led several archaeological expeditions that revealed Viking turf houses with room for approximately 100 people. They also excavated a smithy, outdoor cooking pits, boathouses, a bathhouse, and enclosures for cattle, in addition to several Viking artifacts. The finds were C dated to AD 990 +/- 30.
Today L'Anse aux Meadows is on ◦UNESCO's list of heritage sites along with Egyptian pyramids. And President Lyndon B. Johnson, backed by a unanimous Congress, in 1964 proclaimed October 9th "Leif Ericson Day". Leif Erikson Day honours the first Scandinavian known to have set foot on American soil.
Vikings explored and settled areas of the North Atlantic, including the northeastern fringes of North America. Continental North American settlements did not develop into permanent colonies. There is evidence of Norse trade with natives.
According to the Icelandic sagas ("Eirik the Red's Saga" and the "Saga of the Greenlanders" - chapters of the Hauksbók and the Flatey Book), the Norse started to explore lands to the west of Greenland only a few years after the Greenland settlements were established.
The sagas describe three separate areas discovered during this exploration: Helluland, which means "land of the flat stones"; Markland, "the land of forests"; and Vinland, "the land of wine" (or as suggested by modern linguists "the land of meadows"), found somewhere south of Markland. It was in Vinland that the settlement described in the sagas was founded.
The location of the various lands described in the sagas is still unclear however. Many historians identify Helluland with Baffin Island and Markland with Labrador. The location of Vinland is a thornier question. Most believe that the L'Anse aux Meadows settlement is the Vinland settlement described in the sagas; others argue that the sagas depict Vinland as being warmer than Newfoundland and that it therefore lay farther south.
In 2012, possible signs of Norse outposts in Nanook at Tanfield Valley on Baffin Island, as well as Nunguvik, Willows Island and the Avayalik Islands, were identified by Canadian researchers.
[All from WP, "Norse colonization of the Americas"]
Norse people sailed there, traded furs and found timber and built settlements, having over 300 years of sporadic contact with various Indian, Inuit, and other Native American peoples.
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