Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Vikings /The Expeditions

Norsemen, Danes, Swedes

The Viking expeditions are grand. They include all of Europe, to the east along the large river-roads through Russia, to the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, to the west along the Atlantic coasts down past Arab Spain through  the strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. But they also include the wild unknown North Atlantic with the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland, even America. 

The three Scandinavian countries had each their own geographic profile externally, and their own political interests. The names Sverige, Norge and Danmark show that each country had memories of old historic life. The name Sverige (Svearike) is the rige of the Swedes, a rige meant in that period a land where a king was the ruler  (= English: a kingdom). It is not a coincidence that the name of the land of the Swedes pointed to the authority and power of a king. The Swedish kingdom existed long before the Viking-period.

map from 1539 with Danevirke

Danmark means the mark (land/field) of the Danes. The old meaning of the name "marc"  = uninhabited borderland.The Mark must in this connection be the land at the south of Jutland's foot, the wild land south of Danevirke, which divided the Danes from the Saxons to the southwest and from the Slavic people to the southeast.The name Danernes mark = Danmark was gradually used in general already before year 900.   The Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great wrote Denemearcan in his foreword to Orosius' world history, and this is the first time the name Danmark is mentioned in the world literature.

The name Norge has an old root, but in a different way from the Danish and Swedish. Norge was also a collected kingdom under Harald Fairhair, but much later than what happened similarly in Denmark and Sweden. The name Norge has a commercial historical meaning. It means "den nordlige vej" (the northern road) or Nordvejen ( the Northroad), an appellation of commercial historical origin. This road was the trade route along the long, long coast of Norway, from south to north and back, a route which is described in the before mentioned king Alfred's document from the late 900s. It was a sea route from the trade center Skiringstal at the Oslofjord, via the seas of Kattegat, Skagerak and the North Sea up to the White Sea, where they fetched sealskin, polarbear skin and walrus-tooth. 

Sea Stallion model of Viking ship on its first voyage Denmark-Ireland.
The face of Norway turned west, towards the great oceans and their islands. It was mostly the Norsemen, who before and during the Viking period braved the immense, icegrey, stormy North Atlantic - and they started their voyage with no knowledge of, what they might meet or find. The Norwegian interest was split in two, the first one expeditons/raids to the southern, starting by a north-Scottish island, which was inhabited by Norsemen at the very first beginning of the Viking period; from here to the coast of Scotland, to Ireland, to the Isle of Man, to all Irish and English coasts around the Irish Sea - from here the Norse expeditions went deep into England from northwest, where they were fighting and competing with the Danes, but the Norse went still farther away, to the northern and southern France and into the Mediterranean - the French part of the expeditions is the same for Norsemen and Danes. The Norsemen's second interest, the northern expeditions went to the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland. These expeditions were probably due to the pressure, which king Harald Fairhair put on the Norse earls and free farmers, when he roughly forced them to accept Norway under one Crown in the end of the 9th century. These later Norwegian expeditions across the Atlantic were not raids or piracy, they were more colonization of desolate areas.

Sweden looked to the east. The Swedish expansion had started already in the 8th century (across the Baltic Sea). The mighty Swedish trade developed and branched in a grand manner southwards through Russia to the southern states. The Baltic Sea was considered common area for Swedes and Danes.

Thousand years ago the Viking Ingvar Vidfarne went towards the east. In 2004 a Swedish expedition revived his tour from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, a a wearing tour across sea, mountains and along tortuous roads. The magazine Illustreret Videnskab  was onboard on the almost ten meter long Himingläva.

The Fyrkat house, copy of Viking stone (London stone)
And south of the Scandinavian peninsula was Denmark with lots of islands and the peninsula Jutland, the main land. Jutland had its foot upon the Central European continent, but this did not mean a connection between Denmark and the countries south of the border. On the contrary was Jutland and thereby Denmark  withdrawn from their southern neighbours, the German Saxons to the southwest and the Slavic Obodrits and Wends to the southeast. The Vikings preferred to use the water routes on the sea and the rivers. The Danish interest went therefore not directly to the south, but to the southwest along the Frisian and Frankish coast and towards west to England. To the east was the western part of the Baltic Sea. To the southwest were all the coasts and rivers of the northern France deep into the Danish field - but the Danes did not stop here -  they went farther away and came to the Mediterranean together with Norsemen and Swedes.

Sea Stallion Vikingship Museum Roskilde

Source: Johannes Brøndsted, Vikingerne,1960; Illustreret videnskab, 2004.

photo: grethe bachmann     


Teresa Evangeline said...

I have very little understanding of Scandinavian history, despite being partly Norwegian, so thank you for this.

Thyra said...

Hej Teresa! I was sitting writing by the computer when it said pling!
Thank you for your comment. It doesn't matter a thing if you or the other readers do not know about the history of the Vikings. It must give a thrill to anyone who knows that his or her forefathers sailed the oceans. It's a big flock who's got more or less drops of Viking blood!
Grethe `)

Joan said...

The great Viking sailors. This is such an interesting post Grethe ..Thank you. The Vikings .. like the ancient Maori seafarers that found their way to New Zealand a thousand years ago. So brave.

Thyra said...

Hej Joan! Yes, I have heard about the beautiful Maoris who came to New Zealand from Polynesia. I see on Google that they have fine wood-carvings with spirals - alike the Jellinge-style. And great mythology too.
They were not brutal pirates like the Vikings, although the Vikings had not only war-expeditions - they had also expeditions for colonization like the Maoris.
I can just imagine how brave they were sailing out in the unknown...
Have a nice doodling-day, Joan! ´)

Bill said...

A fascinating post. I understand Leif Eriksson was born in Iceland and was son of Eric the Red who was from Norway and settled Greenland.

One account of Leif's exploration of North America states he had visited his father's homeland in Norway and when sailing back to Iceland was blown off course. Another account says he followed the path of a previous Viking explorer Bjarni Herjolsson and retraced his historic journey. In either event he was likely not the first European to North America. Both Brendan of Ireland and Farfarers from France came to the Canadian Martimes and New England several hundred years before. Some evidence of Gaelic monks still remain.

Fascinating post! Thank you. I learned much about Viking culture today.

Thyra said...

Hello Bill! I'm actually very glad to hear from you. I was in doubt about this, about writing it on the blog. I'm myself fascinated by this history, and I cannot expect others to be so too! Thank you very much for your comment and what you have told me here. That's great!