AN03d3_Ch13-European Middle Ages: The Vikings and the Rise of Feudal Europe.
Timeline: 8th – 10th C.
FQ: Oh Lord, Save Us from the Northmen!
Main Idea: The invasions that plagued Europe at the close of the Roman period were a testament to the history-altering power of massive human migrations. Such phenomena was not destined to disappear once the Goths and other Germanic peoples settled in their newly conquered territories. The relative stability of the Frankish Kingdom was no match for the next migratory invasion. The Viking incursion would be huge in scope and depth. Following this era, Europe, motivated by fear and the need to compromise, had no choice but to enter a new era. Feudalism, a political and economic system based on land-holding and protective alliances, now emerges in Europe.
I. Viking Invasions & Movements
1. Climate Change: Increasing temperatures from a warming trend melted ice-packs and permitted easier sea access to the south.
2. Trade, a significant source of goods and income for the Vikings, stood to benefit from incursions into the heart of the European continent.
3. Lucrative trade with Muslim merchants and bumper harvests supported by a warming climate contributed to rapid population growth. Population pressure could be relieved by colonizing other territories.1
4. A cultural propensity to go “a-Viking” (raiding) against others who have dishonored them. Christian merchants of Europe may have shunned trade with the ‘heathen’ Vikings or tried to cheat them when possible.
1. Longship: Sleek design and shallow draft permitted the vessel to cut through water and sail shallow rivers.
2. Sword: Innovative design employing a blood groove. It became very popular and destined to influence Europe’s medieval sword design.
3. Battle Axe: The weapon of choice for most Vikings. Cheaper to make and maintain than the sword.
C. Westward Expansion: Not all Viking activities involved ‘looting’. A branch of this Scandinavian movement of people involved maritime expeditions westward. The islands of Iceland and Greenland were colonized in turn (one being more successful than the other). Further excursions reached the North American continent, though permanent settlements were not established. Famous Vikings of the 10th & 11th C…
1. Erik the Red
2. Leif Erikson. (son of Erik the Red)
D. Invasions Halt: Several phenomena can explain why the Viking incursions stopped. Among these we could include:
1. Feudalism: The developing feudal order permitted Europeans to withstand the invasions.
2. Christianity: The Christianizing of the Vikings made their former activities less likely (e.g. less likely to ‘sack’ monasteries).2
3. Climatic Change: The climate cooled, thus making sea travel treacherous in the ice-laden North Atlantic.
4. The raided wealth, and territories colonized, met the needs of the Vikings that were not destined to become feudal vassals.
II. Impact of the Vikings
The Vikings were culturally and racially related to the Germanic peoples south of Scandinavia (current-day Sweden, Norway, Denmark). However, their relative separation from contact with the Roman Empire left the Vikings with more of their native cultural values than their southern brethren. Hence, the invasions contribute to an infusion of culture that is significantly different than what existed in Europe at the time. The process of cultural diffusion has ensured the survival of Viking culture to this day. Examples include…
A. Days of the Week: In the English calendar…
1. Wednesday => Woden’s Day
2. Thursday => Thor’s Day
3. Friday => Frey’s Day3
1. Diet, language, myths, traditional events (rituals), etc.
2. Germany, Denmark, Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, & others.
3. Acted a s a catalyst for the diffusing of many cultures. Viking commercial prowess connected distant peoples and contributed to the adoption and adaptation of cultural traits. An example of this is the uncovering of East Asian statuary in Viking burial mounds.
C. Rise of Feudalism
III. The End of Viking Incursions and The Birth of Norse Kingdoms
The Norse conquerors establish their own monarchies on the Italian peninsula, Britannia (the British Isles), Ireland, and mainland Europe. However, it was in the former Frankish kingdom that a model for all feudal relationships was born. It was forged between the beleaguered Frank king, Charles the Simple, and a leader of Viking invaders- Rollo. A ritual was performed that was to become the standard for future feudal bonds between a lord and a vassal in the Middle and High Middle Ages. (The Investiture Ceremony)
The land given to the new Norse vassal was the western coastal region of the Frankish Kingdom. That region became the ‘Land of the Norsemen’ or Normandy. ‘Norseman’ evolves into ‘Norman’.
A. Feudalism: A socio-economic system based on the ownership of land.
1. Bonds of loyalty/ service are derived from such ownership.
2. Loyalty to polis or empire (or any other political institution) disappears.
3. ‘Public’ affairs now become ‘private’.
4. The Church and State become linked politically, socially, and economically.
B. William ‘the Conqueror’
In 1066, a descendant of the Vikings who settled in Normandy led an invasion of Britain. The introduction of the Normans to England (‘Land of the Angles’) has fueled legend and myth ever since. William establishes a monarchy in England that unites the feudal land holdings of his recent conquest with those of Normandy. To ensure that he has no shortage of land for present and future vassals, 20% of the conquered area is reserved for William’s estate. This became the origin for the most centralized version of feudalism in Europe in the Medieval Period.
– World History: Patterns of Interaction
– Slide Presentation
– (PBS) NOVA: Secrets of the Vikings’ Sword
(1) This is still a debated conclusion:
(2) Celtic Cross:
(3) Frey, Viking god of fertility.