The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
THE NORTHMEN AND OTHER NEW INVADERS

INTERNAL weakness was one important cause of the breakup of Charlemagne's empire, but a new series of invasions from all sides hastened the disintegration and greatly increased the confusion. The overland advance of Islam had been checked, but through the ninth and tenth centuries Sicily and southern Italy and the coasts from Naples to the Rhone were assailed by sea by Saracens from North Africa and elsewhere. On the east the Wends beyond the Elbe and the Czechs in Bohemia, both Slavic peoples, made inroads; and in the southeast appeared a new terror, the fierce Magyars, representing another wave of the mounted nomads from Asia. But most destructive and dangerous of all to Western Christendom seemed the invaders from the north, the cruel heathen Northmen, the vikings, who came by sea like the Saracens in their swift, long boats which could penetrate far up the rivers, and who then rode about on horseback plundering like the Asiatic nomads.

Invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries

The character of one of the Northmen, as set forth in a later saga, will sufficiently illustrate their spirit and standards. "The grimmest of all men was he in his wrath, and marvelous pains he laid on his foes. Some he burned in the fire, some he let wild hounds tear, some he gave to serpents, some he stoned, some he cast from high cliffs." Yet we are further assured that he was not only "before all men for heart in battle," but that he was the "gladdest and gamesomest of men, kind and lowly, exceeding eager, bountiful and glorious of attire." The vikings were firm believers in wizards, ghosts, and other supernatural forces, and in their wanderings to distant coasts and strange places they often encountered -- in their opinion -- both the magic of men and weird powers of nature. Such

The viking character

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