What was the ethnicity of the Vikings?
The raid on Lindisfarne
It is the morning of June 8th, 793. The monks of the monastery of St. Cuthbert on the English island of Lindisfarne near Scotland observe strange silhouettes over the sea. You move very quickly towards the flat sandy beaches.
The friars recognize elongated boats with fearsome dragon and snake heads on the bow. It doesn't take long for them to reach the bank.
Heavily armed men rush to the monastery. They kill the inhabitants of the island and steal crosses made of gold and precious stones, goblets, candelabra and valuable manuscripts from the monastery.
Alkuin, the famous English scholar at the court of Charlemagne, reported: "Never before has such horror descended upon Britain. The church of Saint Cuthbert is sullied with the blood of the priests of God and all its treasures have been stolen."
The raid on St. Cuthbert's monastery on Lindisfarne is the first major Viking raid that is documented by sources. But he was not the last.
In the following three centuries the Vikings plundered villages as far as inland Europe. They advanced from Denmark into France and southern England; and from Norway to Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and Northern England - even to the Faroe Islands and the Shetlands.
Vikings from the area of Sweden oriented themselves more eastward. They used the ramified river system and reached Novgorod, now Russia, and Kiev in Ukraine. They came to the Black Sea and even to Constantinople (today's Istanbul).
The hordes from the north
The name "Vikings" was given to the hordes from the north from the people who attacked them. The looters were by no means a single people, an ethnic group. The term "Vikings" is much more a collective term for various peoples from the north who seemingly suddenly appeared on the European continent from the ninth century onwards.
The Vikings were native to Scandinavia, they came from Norway, Denmark and Sweden and formed loose followers in order to prey in central and southern Europe, to find settlement areas and to get rich quickly.
Back then, the people of Central Europe didn't care who exactly attacked them. For them the "barbarians" who had traveled far across the sea were all indiscriminately terrible, all of them "Vikings".
The name "Vikings"
The meaning of the name is controversial today. The term "Vikings" is possibly derived from the Old Norse verb "víkingr" (robbery, plunder, be on the prowl). Or from the Latin word "vicus", which means the traveling men who get from place to place, from port to port on the ship.
The word Viking does not denote an ethnic affiliation, it is rather a determination of a state: a Viking is a Scandinavian who is on a prey journey.
Vikings have numerous other names as well. Normandy, a French region, is derived from the "Northmen" - just like the name "Normans".
Finns and Slavs, on the other hand, called the Swedish Vikings "Varangians" or "Rus", from which the word Russia originated. From the year 750 they settled in what would later become Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Central Europe - the promised land
The incentive for the Vikings to undertake such arduous and dangerous journeys and to invade Europe in every nook and cranny was the creation and safeguarding of better living conditions.
The Scandinavians lived as poor farmers and settlers who struggled hard to survive. Important Viking settlements were Greenland and Iceland. Over 10,000 people came there from Norway because overpopulation forced them to emigrate.
Trading Vikings were the most important source of information for the Scandinavians. And from the traders one heard fabulous stories about poorly guarded riches in foreign Central Europe, which one could easily seize.
Such promises attracted the mobile men from the north, they equipped ships, formed casual car pools and set out on prey voyages. The first forays were so successful that the Vikings regularly appeared off Europe's coasts from now on.
The trade of the Vikings
Vikings were not only traveling in Central Europe with warlike intentions, they were also traders who, in the second half of the first millennium AD, visited coastal areas and islands in Europe, partially colonized them and established a dense trade network in Europe and the Orient.
These traveling traders did not want to steal the booty, they wanted to do business. The Viking traders exchanged goods such as honey, wax, amber, hides, animal skins and weapons for precious metals, silver, silk, brocade, spices, helmets and armor.
A particularly important branch of trade were slaves, which were sold as far as the Middle East. Slaves were often and abundantly captured by the Vikings on their numerous forays.
The end of the Viking Age
The Viking Age ended in the 11th century. Norway, Denmark and Sweden became great kingdoms and the Northmen began to settle down. The missionary work of the Scandinavians, the turn to the Christian faith, led to a fundamental pacification of the former warriors.
At the same time, the European world was changing, the Vikings lost their monopoly and military superiority in shipbuilding.
The Vikings had a noticeable influence on the Central European order. In 911 the Danish Viking leader Rollo received French Normandy as a fief from the French king. Although the king lost land to the Scandinavians, they stopped the devastation and looting around Paris.
Another agreement also included the protection of France from future Viking raids by the Scandinavian outpost in Normandy. The Normans assimilated quickly. That is, they adopted the French language and customs, they smoothly fitted into French culture.
The Norman Duke William the Conqueror started his famous expedition against England in 1066: in the Battle of Hastings he succeeded in conquering the British Isles. The Normans even took possession of southern Italy and Sicily.
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