Vikings - Norse Myth
At first thought, the word "Vikings" awakens a bad notion in your head, resembling onslaught, piracy, raiding and storming villages and towns by a broad group of men with vicious beards and horned helmets. However, is there more to it about the Nord-originated, nomadic fleet? Just enough, so that it doesn't grow to a commercialized perspective, as portrayed by the famous series. I'm not telling you that the series isn't argumentatively based well, but it sure does have elements which were added to strengthen the fable.
It's true that the Vikings had eagerness and proneness to war, but that doesn't make them warmongers. Besides warriors, among them were experienced merchants, artists, explorers and of course, sailors. Along with their famous sea pet, they used Drakkar's (translated it would be something like dragon-ship) to travel to the Middle East, expanding their Nordic culture to the Asian continent. The sad truth is, during the 20th Century, numerous myths about the Vikings had been born. The prior period was just a plain comprehension of Vikings as a populous tribe comprising of a variety of people. Nowadays, we think of them as paganic, non-religious, murderous and cruel beings that terrorized through land and sea, spreading like the plague after conquering the Middle East, Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland, and other further coasts, far from their original soil.
The Vikings’ Provenance
Allegedly, as many of historic sources suggest, the first ever recorded raid was on the coast of Northumbria, kingdom reigning on the territory of today's North England and South-East Scotland. That was 793 BC, and the aim of their raw power was a monastery, leaving church-people in disparity seeing an unknown flock of hefty men. Because of the diversity of nations in Scandinavia during the ongoing century, confirmed by the historic Jordanes which lived in the 6th century, undetermined to define the true nationality of these man-beasts.
The folks of that time simply called them Dani (Danes) that pulls a root from Denmark, misinterpreting the Danish for having brutal ancestors. Namely, it's a false assumption to say at least. Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were divided into multiple tribes, all mixed up, disorientated from where they belong. At the beginning of the 9th century, Harold "Bluetooth" was the first emperor that united the Danish, which meant that a third of England and south of Sweden would be a possession of the Danes.
Norweigan's Saint Olaf felt self-empowerment, becoming their unifier which they can rely on. And just like that these nations scattered to two different directions, one heading to seize the West, towards France, North Germany, and England, while the other went for a rough boat ride upstream to Slavic lands, such as Kiev. Although, under the name of Varangians. This is mere evidence that the Vikings were subjectively indicated each time they sieged a new land, albeit a new nation with a completely different culture from theirs.
Next up, chronologically, these fearless Nordic tribe clashed Scotland in 794, Ireland 795 and France 799. At the beginning of their pillaging, it was a smaller group of undefeated warriors, who settled in the occupied territories up until they pillaged just enough resources and villagers. The areas in which they settled at first were extremely rural, un-urban, nothing divided them from the cattle grazing green fields. Despite their unethical way of living, their shipping technology was more advanced, because instead of using and depending on strict oars, their ships used the power of the wind to sail. Later on, they developed and eventually invented new things to help them navigate on water, have better anchoring and landing on wild, non-bay areas and shores.
Year 844, flowing downstream on the river Galloni, they set sail for Toulouse, then Lisbon and Cadiz. Sevilla was next on their route, 845 Paris was struck and pillaged, 859 the Vikings conquer Gibraltar as lengthwise looting the coasts of Mediterranean to Sicily and south of Italy. Europeans situated on the repertoire of the Vikings didn't have quite a time, neither did they had a point of resistance against them, encouraging them for returns when they refresh their arrangement. Besides robbing them out, the Vikings also kept them captive and turned them to their side, bringing them back to the homeland and their other colonies. No European nation apart from the Byzantine Empire would forcefully deny and parry their raids, so the Vikings knew what's for the best - keeping Byzantine as their trading ally, therefore keeping them from the loot they collected and away from conflicts and potential danger. Just because of the fact that they formed trading alliances, there's a chance that the Vikings have acquired the influence of many Mediterranean, Islamic and Christian people, which reflected on their art and ship-building strategy.
As regards to the ships, there were two types. One, long and narrow, was used for war and the shorter and wider ones were used for transport and trading. Developing ships without decks, reinforced keels and troughs made the specific form of a ship - the earlier mentioned Drakkar. The warships, light on weight, were easy to maneuver due to their remote stability, they gave the defendants no chance to answer back adequately, while a ship full of warriors is coming your coasts' way at superb speed! On the front, the tip held a dragon's head (remember; dragon-ship), and with its opened mouth and sharp teeth, sieving fear in the veins of a civilized European.
Their main weapon was a 90 cm longsword, with a width of 10 cm. Seems like their favorite type were the blades imported from Francia, adding their significant ornament on the handle in order to make it theirs, uniquely crafted. Other than swords, bows and arrows weren't neglected. The bows were made from a plant spread across Europe - Taxus baccata. What's left noted that their agenda and strategy for raids wasn't as complicated - a simple rush to the resource, snatching the goods and off they are to their boats leaving for another tour.
Money and its economic use
The Vikings also had a monetary economy! Of course, they didn't print out the money like the modern Western society, however, their coinage was used to economically communicate in trading fashion with the nations they came in touch. All this thanks to the Norway part of the tribes. The money though didn't have any nominal value - evaluating it rationally to the weight it had, the more they carved off - the more worth it had. Since money wasn't a thing they pondered over dinner, most of the stash rummaged through the ancient Vikings possessions was found to be from different countries. Allegedly, historians reposed that the Vikings had more English coins than from they descended. This perhaps is a bit theatrical, since historians think that people are tardy - the ongoing king of England switched to different coinage one in every 5 or 6 years, so no wonder specimens vanished through time.
Religion in general – an anecdote from the one who reigns
As a matter of fact - religion, the Vikings should be thankful for their God-turning upswing, paying tributes to Harald Bluetooth, the Danish king which accepted Christianity and it's influence from the missionaries who had already finished their missions among other people, such as France and a couple of Slavic nations. Bluetooth was fit for vice, and some sources tell how he came out the gates after a long talk with the missionaries of which God is more powerful, the current belief in Odin or Thor, or maybe Jehova (Hebrew naming) and Jesus. However, not all land did turn to Christianity, leaving some impact but not total impact on Iceland per se, since they had political reasons not to bring another religion to the table since it would cause a war between factions inner-state-wise.
Resume of the lands controlled by the Vikings
Let's conclude what the Vikings ultimately had under their territory. They held power in Scotland, England, Normandy, Spain, and Portugal in the west. Part of Italy, Sicily, and a tip of Africa in the south. Bulgar people (today's Bulgaria) territory breaking out on the horizon of the Black Sea, Kiev, Novgorod, of course, central power was in Scandinavia, then Iceland and Greenland as further islands to the north, and Vinland, North America, finally.
Probably the brighter part of the story, regarding art, the delightful "Gripping-beast-style" of shaping animal figures represent animals that interlace and tangle up, while fighting, biting for survival, giving the figures an odd dynamic. These figures weren't only used as decorations, some of them found use in the every-day life of a blood-thrilling Viking, a pinch of practicality which didn't include war and unease. Just like the imprints on their coins, their art was based on materialistic things, like such. Animals, boats, houses, flags, etc. Vikings were physically advanced beyond comprehension, but invertedly their culture and education hadn't had a solid base. During the 4 centuries of their expansions, never did their want and will wind up fulfilled, the Vikings frequently sought a way to expand their geopolitical bounds. Entitled and evaluated historians tell their sword-lunging is connected to the empowering Christianity, which was depicted as brutal throughout the years.
Religion – a twist settled in Iceland
There's a possibility that they even touched the Faroes with the motive to expand the religion, only to have a settlement after a long time sailing across the Atlantic, moving towards Iceland which they finally conquered. Truth be told, either because Iceland was a land long away over the sea, the society established there almost had no relations to the original tribe of Vikings, the mix-up of multiple nations of Scandinavia and their kings. Over a course of some time, they were losing interest in them, so Iceland-Viking society was completely removed from the rest. Iceland built a parliament during the 10th century, allegedly being one of the oldest countries were a republic and democracy stepped on the threshold of history.
Many books were written in Iceland regarding Vikings since their troubled society lived for a century and a half there, usually unraveling conflict with the natives there, their tribes and head families. There's a completely new story behind Iceland and Viking history, it can be fit to thousands of pages, like a tale of its own. A lot of quarrels, disagreements and ultimately murders, deceit and cheats happened during the ages in Iceland, however since the core of the problem embracing ethnicity of these people remains indecisive, I couldn't categorize it as a part of Viking history. In conclusion to all this talk, this was a huge reason for Iceland not to accept the trending religion, because it would lead them to a civil war because the population of their island wasn't homogenous.
Let's dig into etymological part of their name. The "Vik" in Viking translated to English means "creek - a small tributary of a river". However, the more acquired theory is that it resembles a district in Norway "Vikin", which would mean the specific, belligerent people are linked to Norway immediately.
The afterlife of the Norse Myth
The actual end of this chaotic cluster leads to time-fading, spontaneous cause of non-existence, and that's pretty intuitive and self-explanatory. The Vikings expanded throughout the width of the globe, however they merged with other nations where they resided. The other reason why is related to religion again. This is a topic closer to the native part of Vikings, when Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were now looking up to Germany and the English as models of civilization development, therefore the Vikings losing their authenticity and impact on the Nordic culture.
The assimilation also caused them to lose their naval integrity, becoming unwilling to travel and explore the planet overseas, subdued to gain trust of their neighbors, as well as establish long friendships which gave a nod to a new era.
The burial sites are quite commonized, even with Vikings. They were either buried or cremated, or they would collapse the body from the ship during war conditions so that it doesn't burden the sailing. Along with the dead, people paying tribute to the deceased handed an item which was labeled as important for the afterlife. Since they were spread across numerous nations, there's not a definitive way of burial, but what most caught my eye is the Funerary Stones set on the ground, after dirt and soil are thrown into the burial site. It looks kind of creepy, utmost paganic!
Myths and misconceptions
Due to European civilization retaining to a biased approach to the Vikings, because of the bad history they had between them, there are lots of misconceptions about the Vikings which should be cleared out. Note that these are official myths investigated by accountable archeologists and historians, and who knows how many more there are which spite reality.
First off, the horned helmets. The horns would actually be more dangerous to the helmet-wielder than it's effectiveness against enemies. Then comes the fabric which isn't determined if it really belongs to the Vikings or their colonies all over Europe and the Middle East. What poses by itself it's the barbarity, the representation of their beast-like behavior and appearance, dirtiness, shabby appeal and messy hair. And the last, but the most blatant one, a typical blundered delusion - drinking their fine imported alcoholic beverages from the skulls of their enemies - used as vessels to soak their beards, portraying the sanguinary dominance among oppressed European civilization.
What remains of the Norse genetic legacy?
Norse descent is mostly held by the Scandinavian countries, where people have up to 40% of Norse descent in their genes. Heading to the south, the percentages decrease. Before the industrialization period, studies researched in England, where they found a huge contribution of the Norse gene among males whose families wore the surnames of origins implying that they had family relations with Vikings' generations across. The percentage came up to a whopping 50% of a Norse genetic group!
Feel free to say that the genetics of the mythical Norse people have dropped ground-level, almost to the point that the Viking blood is completely exterminated! All that's left is the minority of Scandinavian people who hold under 50% of those genes tied with the notorious Vikings, so if you've got a friend whom you suspect to be harmful and violent, check his DNA, maybe it’s inheritance, making him being one of the last of the dying breed!