Beyond literacy, political savvy, and agriculture, the Vikings were also a people who traveled the globe far and wide, in boats, which could only have been done with their knowledge of the stars and planets, and mathematics. In other words, the Vikings also knew science. To cross the ocean for global exploration and trade, in boats that could also serve as warships in shallow tides, the Vikings had to know more than just thumping people on the head. Fierce warriors, to be sure, they were feared opponents, but they were also sought after for trade, and for imparting their technological advancements.
Kings in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe commissioned Viking longships, because in the years between and AD, no one could craft a sea-going vessel to match the Viking longship. Their art, delicately crafted and intricately tooled, has been unearthed in archaeological sites across the globe. Their literature paved the way for current best-selling books and blockbuster movies. They gave the world a government which serves as foundation for governance in countries all over the current world. As you discover Iceland, with its hard, finicky weather, its rumbling mountains and tectonic activity, blue ice glaciers, and its isolation from the rest of the world, you have to imagine that the people who could settle in such a land, and who could be successful, must have been a bit smarter than the average polar bear.
From any Icelandair Hotel , you can easily tour and explore a world that marries fire with ice, and you can visit museums and landmarks to learn more of Viking history. If you stay long enough, you might even become a Viking yourself! Sign me up for newsletter. To eat Party out Mingle Explore Getting around. The Historical Importance of the Vikings. Magazine The Historical Importance of the Vikings.
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And they did. In truth, the Vikings gave to and educated the world as much as the Greeks and Romans. That, at least, was the idea. Before they settled into their new role, Rollo and his men changed allegiances a few times, raided the coastline and generally made nuisances of themselves.
The Vikings in Britain: a brief history
Despite his conversion to Christianity, Rollo is said to have sacrificed slaves to the pagan gods Odin and Thor on his deathbed, just in case. Old habits die hard. But evidence for the Norse cultural roots of the Normans is relatively scarce. Norse place names tend to be concentrated around the coast, where Scandinavian settlement was most concentrated.
There is not much archaeological evidence to go on, which suggests that the newcomers were in the minority and did not take long to adopt Frankish material culture and burial practices. By the early 11th century, it would have been unusual to hear anyone local speaking the Norse language. One clue is the hairstyles that many of the Normans sport, shaved at the back and long at the front. Elsewhere in the tapestry, Normans hold up war banners depicting ravens, a design associated with the Norse rulers and warriors. As carrion birds, ravens were also emblems of corpses and battles and, in Norse poetry, ravens are described hovering over the corpses of warriors and feasting on their flesh.
It would have been appropriate to march into battle with images of ravens fluttering above the army — a reminder to their enemies of what awaited them. The Norse connection to the Normans is well known.
But, in terms of Scandinavian cultural assimilation, what is even more remarkable about the events of is that all three major players were of Nordic descent. As King of Norway, his Scandinavian credentials were well established. Leading the Normans, William the Conqueror was the great-great-great-grandson of Rollo, the Norse-raider-cum-royal-vassal who was given Normandy. However the battle had transpired, a king of Scandinavian descent would have ended up on the English throne.
The Nordic cultural and political influence on the British Isles was substantial. Off the northern coast of Scotland, the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland were under Norse rule until the 15th century. For hundreds of years afterwards, a form of Old Norse — Norn — was spoken in the islands. Before the Norse arrived, the Northern Isles had been occupied by the Picts, but evidence for cultural assimilation of the sort we see in Northern France is limited.
Were they simply wiped out, or did the Norse come to dominate the socio-cultural landscape so completely that little evidence of other inhabitants survived? Elsewhere in the British Isles, the situation was more fluid. Today the Isle of Man might seem rather remote, geographically, but for the Norse, with their superior ship technology, Man lay at the centre of the waters that connected England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
It is hardly surprising that Scandinavians chose to settle there, but they did not wipe out the pre-existing population. Some depict stories from Norse mythology: Sigurd the dragon-slayer roasting the heart of the dragon Fafnir, or the one-eyed god Odin being swallowed by the wolf Fenrir at Ragnarok, the doom of the gods.
But some stones also include Christian crosses, while others mix languages and scripts: Celtic names written in Norse runes, or stones with both Norse runes and Celtic ogham inscriptions. Viking Age activity in England began with sporadic raids at the end of the eighth century. By the end of the ninth century, much of northern and eastern England was controlled by Scandinavians, an area that later became known as the Danelaw. Once they started bringing over their wives and children — or forming relationships with local women — Norse concerns would have been more about keeping their farms and families safe, rather than looting and battling.
Recent archaeological studies suggest that female immigrants expressed their Scandinavian heritage through jewellery they had brought with them, which may have once belonged to their mothers or grandmothers. These were not particularly high status, but were rich with emotional and cultural worth. Often incomers were very good at adapting to the local social landscape and creating hybrid identities.
One condition was that he convert to Christianity. Coins from the Danelaw often include Christian symbols and inscriptions and many feature both the name of a Norse ruler and an Anglo-Saxon moneyer. Related Articles Magic, Medicine and the Viking Way of War Barbaric Beauty When it came to matters of cold hard cash, the Norse could be remarkably pragmatic with their cultural heritage and religious beliefs. Others were utterly shameless when it came to their religious affinities. Every year Danes would arrive demanding to be baptised, not because of their piety but because of the free gifts that accompanied the ceremony: expensive clothes, baptismal robes and weapons.
On one occasion no fewer than 50 Danes turned up. Louis had to cut up some old shirts to use as robes.
See where the Vikings travelled
It was not just the Norse in Western Europe and the British Isles who displayed such cultural — not to mention moral — flexibility. Once inside they pretended to be Christian, presumably because it gave them a business advantage even if it meant they had to pay tax like the Christians. The Rus were descended from Norse traders — mostly Swedes — who had set off east, crossed the Baltic Sea and sailed up the waterways of the Russian steppes. In , according to later accounts, a Norse prince called Rurik was said to have established his base in Novgorod.
In time, the centre of power shifted south to Kiev. The Rus, too, operated in a multicultural world.
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In fact, the 10th-century Persian explorer and geographer Ibn Rustah described the Rus as being particularly friendly towards foreigners and strangers seeking refuge. As with the Vikings in France and England, the Rus were the minority and the further they ventured up the Russian rivers, the more they found themselves in a landscape dominated by Slavic tribes. There would certainly have been Rus of Scandinavian extraction, but also non-Scandinavians in the mix. It is not always easy to work out how people from the past defined themselves culturally, but sometimes they leave clues.
One example is the names they give their children. From to , the ruler of Kievan Rus was Igor. But the pair called their son Svyatoslav, a decidedly Slavic name. In the decades since Igor and Helga were themselves named, something seems to have shifted in terms of the dominant cultural affiliation. When he came to power, Svyatoslav styled himself as a typical Slavic ruler, worshipping the Slavic gods Perun god of thunder and lightning and Volos god of flocks.
Later sources describe how he was killed by enemies who did him the great honour of covering his skull in gold and using it as a drinking vessel. This sort of cultural fluidity has posed historians numerous problems but also allowed for selective readings of the past. During the Soviet era, Russian historians were keen to play down the role of European Scandinavians in the founding of their nation, in favour of the Slavic tribes. As is so often the case, the historical truth is probably somewhere in between. Over time the Rus became more multicultural, more Slavic. Even so, links between Scandinavia and Russia were maintained.
The Old Norse sagas — stories recorded in 13th-century Iceland but often looking back to the Viking Age — tell tales of Scandinavian kings who fled to the Kievan Rus court to escape their enemies. There is even one outlandish tale of two Russian princesses spirited away to supernatural lands ruled by nymphomaniac giant women this may not be entirely accurate.