Monday, April 30, 2007

12: The Vikings

With the decline of the Roman Empire, power in Europe dropped into the hands of the various cultures that it had once dominated, and they in their turn spread their influence and swung their swords over their surrounding territories, and the territories surrounding those territories. Among the tribes that stomped around Europe were the Huns (who were very fond of each other - called each other 'hun' all the time - except for their fierce leader Attila, who was probably just annoyed about having a girl's name), the Goths (in their scary black and white makeup), the Austrogoths (hats with corks) the Visigoths, and presumably the Invisgoths (though nobody ever saw them).
On the more peaceful side, there were the Celts, whose main contribution to history was to inspire (1) the nice ornate artwork that those monks on Lindisfarne used all over their gospels, (2) the elves in 'Lord of the Rings' and (3) all of Enya's music, though I think St Cuthbert might have been disappointed by the last couple of albums.
Now finally we can move on to the Vikings.
The Vikings came from Scandinavia, notably Norway, and were motivated into moving further afield by the cold rocky barrenness of their own country. For much of the ninth and tenth centuries (not the seventh and eighth, as Orson Welles tells you at the beginning of the otherwise excellent film 'The Vikings') they sailed and rowed their scary-prowed longboats all over northern Europe, raping and pillaging and often deciding they liked the place and staying, much to the discomfort of their hosts, I imagine.
The Vikings explored as far as North Africa and Russia (which even takes it name from the 'Rus', the tribe who settled the place) and it's now widely accepted that they got to North America as well. They don't appear to have been very successful in colonising the place - perhaps having been enticed to Greenland by the alluring name given to the place by their explorers, they thought 'once bitten, twice shy'.
At the peak of their power, the Vikings (or at least the Danes) controlled all of Scandinavia and England as well, and took a kingly share of that country's revenue for the privelege. ('Danegeld')
We in this country don't seem to care to remember that England was once simply part of the Danish Empire. We chiefly associate the place with bacon, Lego and angsty TV detectives, so it's understandable.

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