II

THE NORTHMEN

1 GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE SCANDINAVIAN INVASIONS

FROM the time of Charlemagne, all the populations of Germanic speech living to the south of Jutland, being thenceforward Christians and incorporated in the Frankish kingdoms, came under the influence of Western civilization. But farther to the north lived other Germans who had preserved their independence and their own traditions. Their speech, differing among themselves, but differing much more from the idioms of Germany properly so-called, belonged to another of the branches that sprang originally from the common linguistic stock; we call this today the Scandinavian branch. The contrast between their culture and that of their more southerly neighbours had been clearly marked after the great migrations which, in the second and third centuries of our era, had almost depopulated the German lands along the Baltic and about the mouth of the Elbe and thus removed many intermediate and transitional elements.

These natives of the far north formed neither a mere sprinkling of tribes nor yet a single nation. The following groups were distinguishable: the Danes, in Scania, on the islands, and, a little later, on the peninsula of Jutland; the Götar whose memory is preserved today in the names of the Swedish provinces of Oester- and Vestergötland;1 the Swedes, round the shores of lake Mälar; finally, the various peoples who, separated by vast stretches of forest, by partly snowbound wastes and icy tracts, but united by a common sea, occupied the valleys and coasts of the country which was soon to be called Norway. Nevertheless there was a sufficiently pronounced family likeness among these groups, doubtless the result of much intermingling, for their neighbours to attach a common label to them. Since nothing seems more characteristic of the foreigner—a being by nature mysterious—than the direction from which he appears to spring forth, the Germans on the hither side of the Elbe formed the habit of saying simply: ‘men of the North’, Nordman. It is a curious thing that this word, despite its outlandish form, was adopted unaltered by the Roman populations of Gaul; either because, before they came into direct contact with ‘the savage

1 The relationship of these Scandinavian Götar to the Goths, whose rôle was so considerable in the history of the Germanic invasions, poses a difficult problem on which the specialists are far from agreement.

-15-

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