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Essay/Term paper: The viking

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Position Papers

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The Vikings

Viking History

The Vikings were a group of Scandinavian raiders that were around from about the 8th century to the 11th. They mainly attacked the British Islands , the Frankish empire, England, but they also plundered places such as the Iberian peninsula and northern Africa. Vikings did not always settle into the places that they found, for instance after exploring North America they left the place never to return again. Even so, after landing on Greenland they colonized themselves there, and ancestors of the Vikings still live there today. So now that you know a little about the history of the Vikings lets go into detail about the specifics of the Viking age. (Peter Sawyer, Oxford Ill. History of the Vikings p. 1-19)

On the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, which is located between England and Scotland Irish monks had built a monastery; there they wrote many holy and beautiful books, called the Lindisfarne Gospels. These monks were peaceful people, wouldn"t hurt a fly, pity they were chosen by the Vikings, on the 8th of June in 793 to be the first major victim of one of their raids. Their arrival was seen first far off, they could see dragon head carvings on their well crafted ships slowly coming closer and closer to the shore. As soon as they got out of their boats the Vikings poured onto land ripping off the monk"s clothing and tearing their bodies apart with their sharp swords, and sometimes drowned them. Viking raiders tipped over the cross of Bishop Ethelwold, which was built out of stone. Before they left that hot day the Vikings had taken all of the monk"s treasure, set each building aflame, and killed the monk"s cattle to feed themselves on. Then, in an instant they got into their ships and left.

This was the first major Viking attack, as you can see it was pretty gruesome, but they were just getting started. The next summer there were several places on the British North Sea coast attacked. After 799 the Vikings managed some raids on Friskan-Frankish coast, forcing them to set up a coastal watch to warn citizens of the area. (Oxenstierna, Eric, The Norsemen p. 49-74)

The Vikings in the 8th century mainly centered in places along the Dutch coast, but the Norwegian Vikings were settled in the Orkney and Shetland islands. Throughout the 9th century the Viking"s expanded their empire to engulf Ireland, and Northwestern England. In the 10th century they settled in Iceland then claimed Greenland and set up shop there. Here in the late 900"s Vikings raids thinned out due to civil wars in Scandinavia. Even so in the 11th century they set up temporary residence in North America in what they called Vinland. (Barnes & Noble New American Encyclopedia Vol. 19 p. 594-596)

The first Viking attack on Ireland was in 820, and like the monk"s attacked in 793, the people of Ireland had no chance against the powerful Viking army. In the years following the first attack Viking"s gained leadership, and by 839, a brave Viking chieftain named Turges, declared himself king of Ireland. Turges sacrificed the Irish kings Armagh and Clonmacnois, to Thor, a Viking god.

The Vikings organized attacks very well, they set more and more extravagant goals, and soon met them. Their attacks on England were successful mostly because no one expected them. In May of 841, Danish Vikings led by a man named Asgeir sailed the River Seine, and they burnt the city Rouen to the ground. Next they moved into St. Denis, but decided that it was in their best interest not to provoke the passing Frankish army. But they went right back at it again in 842 they destroyed Quenstovic, the Frisian harbor town. In 845 they attacked the tri-divided Holy Roman Empire, all at the same time!

Ragnar Lodbrok, a legendary Viking hero and his army sailed up the Loire River and conquered Paris by defeating half of Charles the Bald"s army. The other half were on the other side of the river and watched as Ragnar hung 111 of Charles"s men as a sacrifice the another Viking god, Woden. The Vikings finally left after Charles gave them 7,000 pounds of silver. After a while paying the Vikings off was the best way to get rid them, but it ended up costing the Christian lands of Europe a lot of money after a while. (Oxenstierna, Eric, The Norsemen p. 49-74)

Even though the Vikings were very good at offensive tactics, they still were good at defending themselves. In the late 10th century the Viking King of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth collected a lot of tax money, despite the fact that he was not well liked by the people, to build four similar well defended forts. These forts were protected by large barriers, or ramparts. All of these forts were divided in four parts with four longhouses in each division, all arranged in small squares. These longhouses were where man and their families lived, where weapons and tools were made, horse stables, and storage places. Viking coastal towns were also well protected, they built them right up on the coast using the ocean or lake as a barrier. Then they built floating buoy walls and spikes to cripple enemies ships as they ran along the coast.

The two foster brothers Ingolf Anarson, and Leif Hrodmarsson are the two adventurers credited with discovering and inhabiting the island of Iceland. The two brothers traveled 700 miles, to a land with lush green cliffs, very beautiful at first glance but once the Vikings traveled inland they discovered large snow covered volcanic peaks. Leif and his brother entered Iceland at a fjord in waters that were full fish and other sea life. Next they carefully scoured the lands searching for people to attack, despite a few Irish monks that weren"t that big of a deal the massive island was humanless.

All of the information in the next three paragraphs come from translated Viking reports and some of the truths to these reports may or may not be stretched.

In 900 a Viking voyager that was seeking land was driven off coarse towards the west and accidentally met up with some islands, so he named them after himself, the Gunnbjorn Islands. Not until 82 years later was this land in the North Atlantic paid attention to when Eric the Red called it to his attention. After Eric was banished by the thing (the Vikings kind of government) for killing two sons of one of his enemies, he decided to explore the area to the west of Iceland. He sailed to the west and noticed a large island, this island was not very appealing, the climate was not to warm and the terrain was not very good for habitation. As he sailed southward of this island he noticed that the climate got somewhat warmer, he came upon a fjord area and settled. Eric called his settlement Osterbygden, this means eastern settlement, even though it was on the west coast. Eric liked this area because hunting was plentiful there and id had room for pastures. He decided to name this area Greenland because according to him more people would want to go if it had an appealing name.

America came to be discovered by the Vikings in an interesting way, Bjarne Herjulfsson, a man looking for his father who had left with Eric the Red"s fleet from Iceland on its way to Greenland. So Bjarn took his boat from a fleet of 26 on a mission to Greenland from Iceland all alone across previously untrammeled ocean. Bjarn knew few details about Greenland that he learned from what people had told him, so he and his faithful crew started off. On his third day at sea Bjarne"s ship hit fog and he was driven off coarse. He kept going until, one day he struck land, but he immediately knew that it was not Greenland, no high hills and to many trees, this was probably what is now called the Baffin Islands, but since it was not what he was looking for Bjarne sailed away in search of his father. He floated around the area and found many islands but none of them were Greenland and he was not interested. By the fourth island they hit, Bjarn knew he found Greenland, it matched the description. He met with his father Herjulf, and lived with him until his death, and stayed even after.

When Leif Ericsson, Eric the Red"s son, learned of this new unexplored land from Bjarn he jumped on the chance to venture unto it. Leif too Bjarn"s old ship that had already made the trip and 35 other men, he sailed from Greenland and followed Bjarne"s precise instructions, to get to these new islands. The first island that he came upon he named Helluland, The Land of Flat Stones. Next he hit an island that was heavily wooded and had white sand shores, he named it Markland, meaning Woodland. Heading south he came upon a third land and this one had grape trees, Leif"s crew cut these trees down and took the grapes for wine-making and kept the trunks to take to the woodless Greenland. Not all of this information is to be trusted as true since all of it sounds so fake and made up, we must look at these reports however so we can get whatever truth that can be drained from them.

The Vikings relationships inside the family show how the households gender roles and life-cycle rites and rituals all work together. The Vikings had large families which shows that they needed a strong authority in the family. The very strict weddings and funerals show how there was a lot of respect in the household.

The family was the most important thing to the Vikings. they valued their ancestors and knew about them through the many generations. The members of a family always stood by each other in good and bad times. There was much honor inside the families. If one family member was insulted it was insulting the whole family.

Inside the family there was much respect, but much freedom. Fathers let their sons find the way of life they wanted and they usually let their daughters marry against their will. The authority in the family never over powered their children, but helped them through their life. Women status allowed them to own land and had as much authority in families as men. Women could run the house and farm while their husband was gone. The man stuck by his family no matter what happens, and in return he received the same from his family. His job was to protect and guide his family in the right direction. If he failed to do these things, he could be outlawed from his family.

Children were raised at the home where they could be taught the importance of the family. Most children were brought up at home, but a child could be raised at another household. Boys were sent to other families when the other family was in need of help. They could also be sent there if there was a feud between two families and the sending of him would stop the fight. It was hard for a child to get a education from a school. The schools they had were very small and there was very few of them. Children

were taught how to farm and, do other household tasks from their parents. Boys were taught how to fight and practiced with their elders or brothers. If a child showed a talent in any tasks he was sent somewhere, where he could perform it to his best ability. He usually was sent to a household where they specialized in his talent. If his own household specialized in his talent then he would just stay home, History, poetry, and knowledge of law were passed on by the elders of the family.

Children were expected to work hard and not sit around while the rest of the family worked. The Vikings family did not tolerate a lazy child. A Viking child was respected if he had a bold spirit. If a child stood up to their elders, he was admired for it rather than punished for it. Once a boy turned twelve he was legally an adult. He would either stay at home for a couple of years more, or he would go on a Viking expedition. After a boy has made enough money, he came home to a life of farming. If the boy was married he would live with his father, or usually he would build a house next to his fathers. A boy could choose to live over seas and start a new settlement, or he could choose a life in the Viking ships as a fighting man.

Relationships were important and also played an important role in the Viking life. Giving and receiving gifts was more than politeness; it bonded a relationship. It could bond a lord and follower relationship or bond a host and guest relationship. If a gift was given the receiver was to give something back in exchange or offered protection and loyalty to the other person. Friends could mm their friendship into a blood-brotherhood by swearing of it. Friendship is not just important in two common people, but in lords, followers, hosts, and guests.

A woman was not forced to marry and choose who would be her husband. A man could have many wives, or he could only have one. Each wife was distinguished by a thing called the "bride price" which her husband paid for her. She could also receive a dowry from her father and a gift from her husband on the day after the wedding. The sums that became her property are the first and third, if the marriage ended in divorce then the dowry was paid back. On the wedding day, for it to be legal, there must be a drinking of the "bridal ale" in front of witnesses. The witnesses must then lead the man to the wife's bed. A wife would never disconnect with her family by keeping her name. If her family and her husband got into a fight, she could choose either side.

Divorce was an easy task in the Viking culture. All you had to do was make your complaint, and of the intention to divorce before witnesses. The only way the divorce went through, was if it fell in these categories: impotence, the wearing of breeches by a wife and of a effeminate shirt by a husband, and a husbands friendliness towards the man who had killed his wife's brother.

When a baby is first born it was shown to its father and if it was deformed he could have it killed. If the baby lived then it was sprinkled with water, a custom in the Viking society. The father would also choose a name for the baby. The name would be of good luck, or be the name of a recently dead kinsman. The baby was given a gift because for naming the name. Once the baby got his first tooth it would receive another gift that would be a nickname.

The Vikings strong political system helped them control and please the people in the Viking culture. There were three different classes in the society, but they all looked upon as equals. This is what pleased the people and made them enjoy the Viking society. The three classes were thralldoms, freemen, and the aristocracy.

The bottom class was the thralldoms and it included slaves, men sentenced to death, debtors, or men caught in Viking raids. The slaves were owned by a master and a master usually had many slaves. A slave had no rights and his master owned him the same way he owned his animals. When a slave married his children would be born into slavery. If one of these men ever tried to run away he could end up beaten, dead, or one of his body parts could be cut off. Once the Vikings studied Christianity, thralls were beginning to be treated better. A thrall could be given time to work for himself and might be able to buy or be rewarded his freedom. The second and middle class were the freemen. This class included a wide range of Viking citizens. There were poor peasants and, men of wealth and authority. They usually owned land, but if they didn't a member in their family did. Freemen had legal and political rights no matter how much money you had. Men in this class were farmers, stock raisers, sailors, merchants and craftsmen. Some men made the decisions in court and voted in the local assembly on changes in the Viking Society. The farmers would own slaves who would help with the field work. The Freemen class is the foundation of all the Vikings powerful society.

The third and last class is the aristocracy. This class said they were descendants from the gods and kings of the past. There was a wide range people's power which started at leaders who ruled only one fjord, and ended at leaders who ruled an entire

region, owned a army with ships, and was know as a king. The aristocracy was the highest and the most class to be in.

In the society, the Vikings lived in tribal communities. The communities were independent and joined together only on special occasions. There were many kings and each could rule over only one community or could rule over many more. Usually a king would rule over a small section of land, no bigger than a country. Each community had an assembly called a thing. The thing was a legislative body and only those who owned land could be members. In this body, if they didn't like the king they could have him removed, and for another king to take his place, it had to be approved by the thing.

Earls, who were right behind in rank, had almost as much land and power as the kings. Even though the kings had more power than the earls, many were very powerful and sometimes had a rivalry with the king.

Laws kept the Vikings under control and in safe communities. The people knew the laws from the passing down of the them in the family. They came up with the laws from traditions and the opinions of the people. The people voted in men, called lawmen, who would memorize the laws and always be ready to explain them to the rulers. Laws were finally written down for everyone to read in 1100.

Trade gave the Vikings needed resources to stay healthy and strong within the communities. The Vikings would travel near and far to find the goods they needed. From the North the collected timber, iron, furs, whale skins and bones, and walrus ivory. These items gave them warmth and things for building ships, tools, and weapons. From Britain they would receive mostly foods like wheat. They would travel to Russia and

walk through markets and pick up spices, silks, and slaves. In return they would give their traders local goods like wine, salt, pottery and gold. There were Viking market towns that grew to be important trade centers for the world.

The Vikings used silver and coins for their system of money. The silver would be chopped into coin like pieces and was weighed on scales. The first coins were made in the ninth century, but weren't produced massively until 975. If a Viking didn't use coins or silver to buy goods, he traded with his goods.

Viking Civilization and Culture

The housing of the Vikings were similar to early Native Americans. They lived in traditional long houses or farmhouses. A single room was approximately 48 feet long, this was known as the living room or dining room, the house also contained a small kitchen. The-'building was supported by two long rows of pillars and others laying on top of those. The roof was made of thatch or turf with the sides made out of wooden tiles or flat stones overlaid by turf were sometimes 7 feet thick. There were only a few openings in these long houses, the door and smoke vents, these openings were separated by open space. Long houses were the perfect building for the average Viking family because it was big and was strong against the harsh conditions they usually lived in.

Educating the young scholastically was not a high priority, it was more of how to be fit to survive. The boys worked in the fields with their fathers so they could learn what to do when they had their own family. While the girls did the house work with their others to learn how to raise their house hold the proper way in the Viking civilization.

Old Norse was the language the Vikings used and it has other languages were derived from it. They used the runic alphabet which was invented 2888 years ago. The letters or symbols are made up of straight lines so it could be carved into wood or stone. R chisel or knife was used to write carve the letters.

Vikings had very simple clothes, but warm, to with stand the harsh weather conditions they lived in, but they weren't too different from place to place around Europe. Men wore trousers or knee-length tunics made out of wool, animal skins and furs. They also wore long-sleeved shirts or jerkins made out of the same materials. The women wore long, loose fitting dresses made from animal skins. They took two rectangular pieces of cloth and sewed them together to make their dresses. Vikings used wool a lot in making their clothes for warmth. This was taken from the sheep they raised and they had to spin the wool to make thread, then it was weaved into cloth, cut to length, and sewn together for clothes. Richer families imported linen or even silk for their clothes yet it was still common for them to wear wool. The hems, collars and sleeves were usually decorated with embroidery or a woven braid. Shoes were made of leather and some were called turn shoes because they were constructed inside-out and then turned, leaving the stitching on the inside.

Subsistence and survival is a main factor in any culture for it to live and be prosperous. The Vikings were around during the agrarian revolution and when they stayed in one area for a long enough time they grew a lot of their food. They also were involved with animal husbandry for sheep and cattle on their farms for food and clothes. Hunting for food was another source of survival. Conquering and destroying other cities with the Vikings large dominant army was another survival tactic because they didn't want anyone to destroy their culture. During their conquering years the Vikings are attributed large measures of expansion in the Baltic lands and in Russia to the Swedes. This great land expansion was due to their survival techniques.

Following along with the subsistence of the Vikings was their need to eat and what types of foods they ate. They were farmers and sheep and cattle ranchers as one resource of food but really they were quite similar to the rest of Europe with what they ate. They ate two meals a day consisting of breakfast and dinner. With these meals they ate breads, meats, like beef, mutton, seal, and elk. The meat was dried, salted, or pickled for storage and so they would have food in case of an emergency or for their long sea explorations. They also ate fish, fruit, vegetables, and homemade butter and cheese. Among the meals they drank milk, beer, and mead. The Vikings ate very well and didn't seem to be short of food during their main period of existence.

Viking art was popular during the 5th through 8th centuries. The interior decorating of the Vikings was a very popular that seemed to come and go. It was the use of animal, skins or patterns, style interlace decoration. They also made many intricately designed jewelry pieces. Other ornamental pieces they made were for the horse harnesses and for their weapons. The largest impact Vikings had on art were the burials. Oseberg's and Gokstad's burial ships had rich goods burned with the leaders for their after life.

The ships were artistically crafted and designed with many beautiful details. The early Viking musical traditions are lost but it is believed they were similar to other Scandinavian

cultures during the 1st century.

Religion and Spiritual Beliefs are important to every culture and are sometimes basic living standards. Viking religion was polytheistic. They believed that the gods resided at Osgard, which was the Olympus of the Nordic mythology. Osgard was in the center of an enormous ash tree which was so big its roots reached all the way to the underworld and its branches pierced the heavens. Valhalla was another mythological place, it was where the dead would go before they entered their journey into the realm of the gods. There were sill gods that were worshipped by the Vikings. One of the gods was Njord and he was the god of the sea. Freya was the goddess of fertility, beauty, love, war, and death. Her brother Frey was the god of summer and also the god of fertility like herself. Another god was Loki and he was the god of lies and mischief. Thor was the god of thunder and was one of the most powerful. Thor has had more of an impact on are society of today and is also known as a comic book hero. The last god was Odin who was the Chief god over the rest of the gods.

Viking Territory and Environment

The Scandanavian lands are very mountaineaous in Norway and Sweden, where the Vikings live. During the winter very little land is availible for cultivization and grazing. Only 3% of the land in Norway can be farmed. 50% in Denmark can be farmed. In Sweden 99% of the land can be farmed. During the winter, the growing season was very short and the lands to grow crops were limited. Lack of good farmland for the increasing population was thought to be the one reasonwhy the Vikings set out to the new land.

The Vikings used a lot of vegetables, including: cabbages, peas and flax. Vikings herded cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry were herded and used for food and hides. Vikings hunted wild deer, elk, boars, rabbits and birds for consumption. In the areas in the North where the climate was very cold Vikings hunted: reindeer, polar bears, seals and walrus for food and hides. On the coast fish were caught with lines and traps, they also collected shellfish for food. Sometimes Vikings went out in their attack ships to deep sea fish. (Baffey pg. 10-20)

Most Vikings were farmers, even those who went on raiding parties to attack Western Europe or sailed to the east as merchants usually returned to the farm, returning with their loot and profits gained from their journeys. In some parts of Scandinavia (particularly along the coasts of Norway) fishing played an even larger role than agriculture throughout the Viking"s economy. They caught their fish with: nets, lines, and harpoons. Walrus Hides were cut into strips and twisted to make rope. Lakes and rivers supplied freshwater fish.

In Denmark the deciduous woodlands provided oaks to build the framework of the houses, hazels and willows for weaving the wickerwork bands that filled the spaces between the upright posts of the walls. The posts were covered with a mixture of clay and dug them to make them draff and weatherproof. Vikings lived with their animals, the animals kept their houses warm, and it secured them from being stolen, because cattle was very valuable. Women did all the work around the house while men worked in the fields, and on the farms, of coarse they also fished and hunted when that was needed.

There was not much wood in Sweden and Norway, except in the south where softwoods like conifers were used for building. They also provided for the long straight horizontal timbers that served as the joints.

Viking Relationships

The military leaders of the Vikings were Earls (called Jarls) and sometimes even priests. The freeman (bonds) were the farmers and merchants. The slaves (thralls) worked on other people"s farms to pay for their share in profits from raids. (Purves, pg. 10)

Viking family life did not include much free time for personal enjoyment. They ate slept and worked in one room of their house. The 2 most important objects in the room were the firepit and the weaving loom. There were no cupboards, tier belongings were hung on the wall or in chests that were at the edge of the room. (Gibson, Michael pg. 18)


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