THE barbarians of the distant and little-known north, of Scandinavia, that is, and of Denmark, became notorious in the ninth and tenth centuries as pests who plagued the outer fringes of the civilized world. In chief, this was because the coasts and river-valleys of Frisia and Francia, then a part of the western Roman Empire ruled by the house of Charles the Great, suffered heavily from their onslaughts; but it was not only the monks and merchants of these two countries whose voices, lifted in shrill lamentation over the smoking ruins of plundered monasteries and towns, added to the disquiet of a Christendom already preoccupied with its own disorderly affairs; for the loud cry of terror was heard reechoing from the religious houses of Ireland, and it was told how half Saxon England had fallen into the hands of these ruffian robbers from the north. Even Constantinople herself, the lordly capital of the Eastern Empire, then ruled by the Iconoclast and Macedonian dynasties, was shocked suddenly into recognition of these wild and redoubtable heathens; only once seriously affrighted, and never persistently assailed, but twice or thrice compelled to come to terms with the Swedes of Russia, and thereafter willing to enlist such splendid warriors in her service.
These adventurous people of Scandinavia and Denmark are known to history as the vikings. It is a word that was often heard in the talk of the Northmen themselves, for among them a man could not hope for sweeter praise than to be called by his fellows víkingr mikill, a great seafarer, while to go í víking was their accustomed expression for the favourite enterprise of trading and plundering across the waters. Yet to employ this word viking as a collective name for the three peoples of the north, whether at home or abroad, to speak of the viking nations, or even of the Viking Period, these are only modern uses of the word. For in antiquity, though the name may have been current not only in Scandinavia and Denmark but also through