The Vikings

The Vikings

The Vikings

The Vikings

Excerpt

A thousand years ago in the churches and monasteries of northern France was heard the prayer: 'From the wrath of the Northmen, O Lord, deliver us.' This prayer was amply justified. The Northmen were the Vikings: Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes, whose plunderings ranged from private acts of piracy and coastal raids to formidable invasions in quest of new land to colonize. Viking activity started before A.D. 800, and more than two centuries elapsed before it ceased. During this period the Vikings left their mark not only on Western Europe, but also right through the Mediterranean from Gibraltar to Asia Minor; in what is now western Russia, Scandinavian commercial enterprise linked Byzantium and Arabia with Sweden.

Now how could all this happen? Why did Europe permit the Danes and Norwegians to rule large parts of England, Ireland, and France, and the Swedes to form a ruling class in western Russia? Why was Scandinavia strong and the rest of Europe weak? What inner forces led to the Viking raids?

To answer the first question one must examine the centuries immediately preceding the Viking Age, and try to assess the political, commercial, and social development of the time. The most important examination of this period is by the prominent Belgian historian, Henri Pirenne. One of his theories is that the real dividing-line between ancient and medieval Europe fell, not in the migration period (c. 500), but during the reign of Charlemagne (c. 800). The break . . .

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