The Birth of Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
The Vikings and Scandinavian Expansion

T HE TASK OF SHOWING how the heroic achievements of the Scandinavian peoples, in agriculture and trade as well as in warfare, enlarged the horizon of civilization, could best be dealt with in a work devoted to the origins of western economy -- or so Marc Bloch declared.1 We shall do well to bear this challenge in mind as we approach that century during which Western Europe was ravaged by the invasions of the Northmen. The economy of Gaul, of Northern Germany and of Great Britain was seriously impaired by them, but it would be a mistake to pay too much attention to the accounts of chroniclers and hagiographers who have exaggerated the destructive rô1e of the invaders, and above all to forget the decisive contribution made to the European economy by those known by the general name of Northmen. They initiated their contemporaries into the art of navigation on the high seas, and as a historian has aptly put it, their essential rô1e consisted in welding the entire Atlantic front of Europe, from the Neva to Gibraltar, into a single navigational bloc.2

This was not the first time that Scandinavian peoples had surged over Western Europe in search of a new home, but it was with the Viking expeditions that Scandinavia made her real entry on to the stage of world history.3 Unfortunately the actual history of these Vikings is as elusive as it is fascinating. It has come down to us chiefly in the form of numerous prose

____________________
1
La société féodale, p. 30.
2
W. Vogel, Geschichte der deutschen Seeschiffahrt, I, p. 98.
3
The words are those of L. Musset, Les peuples scandinaves au moyen âge, p. 45.

-211-

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