Economic and political development in the Viking Era

Swedish stamps, circa 1990. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

In The Vikings, Else Roesdahl provides a great description of how economic growth took place during the Viking era and how political development was both possible as a result and was simultaneously required for the growth to continue.

Early on men in an area would gather in “things”, local assemblies to resolve conflicts. Local yarls (rulers or strongmen, vaguely similar to a small city mayor) struggled, schemed, and fought to gain influence over larger areas.

Without a modest level of security and property rights, one dare not risk scarce capital in building a foundry or gather lots of goods for trading.

As regional yarls, or petty kings, gain influence, more stability developed.

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Researchers don’t really know much about the Viking Era but have increased knowledge with new techniques.

Viking ships on the water under the sunlight and dark storm. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The opening comments in all the books I read on the Viking Age explore the limits on our knowledge of the Viking era.  Seems to me most of the reliable information has been developed in the last century or so.

Like my discussion of other books on the Vikings and Romans, this series of posts will describe some things I find particularly interesting. My hope is this will be interesting to others as well.

With the series on this book I will start bringing in other things I have learned from previous reading.

Researchers don’t really know that much of the Viking Era

Like other authors, in The Vikings Else Roesdahl points out most of what we know of the Vikings is from contemporary victims of the Vikings or from reports written long after the Viking era ended.

As a result, as the author says, it is difficult, if not impossible

“to distinguish pure fiction from an embellished version of an event…”

and to separate

“improvements and additions to make the story more coherent, from what was once objective reality.”

Continue reading “Researchers don’t really know much about the Viking Era but have increased knowledge with new techniques.”

More ideas on how to interpret those horrible, brutal, vicious Vikings who were worse than those other horrible, brutal, and vicious people.

Illustration courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth provides lots of enjoyable information on the Viking Age.

The author suggests that much of what we think we know about the Vikings is “skewed, exaggerated, or simply misunderstood. “ He wants to challenge some of the over-the-top stories we hear.

One factor he suggests we keep in mind is the Medieval ages were incredibly violent. He suggests the Vikings were no more violent than other leaders of the time, specifically Charlemagne.

The reports of their raids, normally written by the victims, suggest they were unusually ruthless, unusually successful, unusually destructive.

In contrast to common lore, the author suggests they were just as destructive and just as brutal as all the other people groups of the time.

Continue reading “More ideas on how to interpret those horrible, brutal, vicious Vikings who were worse than those other horrible, brutal, and vicious people.”

More background on the Viking Age, part 3 of 3

Equipment of the Viking warrior: shield, sword, and bearded axe.

This series of posts describes fun things I learned while reading A Dark History: Vikings, by Martin Dougherty. You might find it on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble.

This post describes the criteria for picking target for raids, adds a few comments on weaponry, and discusses life expectancy.

See part 1 and part 2.

Newborns were valued only after they were accepted

The times were hard, as we see in so many ways.

One particular way life was harsh was that a new-born child could be abandoned to the elements if the baby was deformed or a family did not have the means to feed another mouth. This was socially acceptable.

A family accepted a baby by naming the child and having the mother nurse the baby. After a family accepted an infant, the baby was recognized by society and subject to legal protection.

If not named or nursed? The baby would be allowed to die.

Like I said, times were hard.

For some perspective, the economy was so lousy that another mouth to feed might make the difference between the family surviving the upcoming winter or much of the family dying from starvation. Life was that precarious.

Life expectancy

The book describes life expectancy in a different way.

Continue reading “More background on the Viking Age, part 3 of 3”

More background on the Viking Age, part 2 of 3

Part of viking age village replica in southern Sweden in early spring. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

This series of posts describes fun things I learned while reading A Dark History: Vikings, by Martin Dougherty. You might find it on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble.

Text points out the rest of the story behind the incident when King Knut the Great sat on the ocean shore commanding the tide not to come in.

After his command failed, he turned to his nobles and pointed out that the power of a king is nothing compared to the power of the Christian God.

That sort of changes the point of the story, doesn’t it?

Social order

Chapter 3 goes into some depth on “Viking law and social order.” There were well-developed laws which provided property protection. That in turn allowed the society to prosper.

Text points out there was no police force to enforce laws. Instead those who violated social norms would have to deal with armed men enforcing what society disapproved.

Continue reading “More background on the Viking Age, part 2 of 3”

More background on the Viking Age, part 1 of 3

Viking house in the city of Hobro, Denmark. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Another fun read on Viking history is A Dark History: Vikings, by Martin Dougherty. You might find it on the discount shelf at Barnes & Noble.

Will mention just a few particularly interesting thing I found noteworthy.

Weak information

Book starts out reminding us the information on the Vikings is limited.

Without a contemporary written history, we can’t look at the non-metallic and non-stone artifacts, such as clothing and homes, because they have long since have disintegrated. Written accounts, even those that are contemporaneous, are by people who are not Vikings and would thus not understand the Viking culture or mindset. (paragraph updated for readability)

As mentioned by other writers, comments by victims of Viking raids may have a bit of bias in their comments.

Starting and ending point of the Viking Age is vague

Contemporary comments for the first raids, such as during the famed Lindisfarne raid referred to the raiders as being “from the north” or “from the land of robbers” which suggests the Scandinavians had a reputation in place long before 793 A.D.

Continue reading “More background on the Viking Age, part 1 of 3”

When pondering the horrible violence of the Vikings, consider the oh so refined civility of the English in the 1700s – part 7

Swinging from the rope was only the second of five painful steps used by the English to punish High Treason in the 1700s. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Yes, we all know the Vikings were horrible, terrible brutes.

Consider the ‘blood eagle’ form of execution. Quite an astounding way to slowly kill someone while imposing exquisite pain.

As you consider that idea, compare those nasty Vikings to the so very civilized and refined and cultured English of the 1770s.

Page 23 of Killing England: The Brutal Struggle for American Independence, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, contains a vivid description of the punishment awaiting anyone convicted of High Treason. I’ll paraphrase:

Such a terrible, horrible person would first be dragged to the gallows by a horse. Then the condemned soul would be hung by the neck, but not until dead. No, the executioner made sure a lot of life was left for several additional steps.

Continue reading “When pondering the horrible violence of the Vikings, consider the oh so refined civility of the English in the 1700s – part 7”

Highlights of Viking Age warfare – 4

Just Get On With It” by Lil Shepherd is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This post continues a discussion of interesting tidbits from The Vikings and Their Enemies – Warfare in Northern Europe, 750 -1100 by Philip Line. The book focuses on warfare, which is slightly off-point for this blog, so I’ll mention some of the highlights for me.

Previous discussions include:

Wrap up

The author concludes by pointing out that warfare was pretty much the same in 1100 compared to 750. Warfare throughout that timeframe would have been highlighted by a focus on raids, taking everything of value from the enemy territory, avoiding high risk set-piece battles, and operating with limited objectives.

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Highlights of Viking Age warfare – 3

Battle Cry” by Lil Shepherd is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This post continues a discussion of interesting tidbits from The Vikings and Their Enemies – Warfare in Northern Europe, 750 -1100 by Philip Line.

Previous discussions described the limits of our knowledge and battle techniques. This discussion focuses on campaigns and sieges.

Campaigns

Size of armies, and their mobility depended on the quality of roadwork, which deteriorated after the decline of the Roman Empire. Poor road systems suggest there was more use of pack animals than of wheeled transports, which would slow down a mobile force.

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Highlights of Viking Age warfare – 2

Confrontation” by Lil Shepherd is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This post continues a discussion of interesting tidbits from The Vikings and Their Enemies – Warfare in Northern Europe, 750 -1100 by Philip Line.

Battle techniques

Chapter 3 dives into battle techniques.

Predominant leadership model was for a commander to lead from the front. In a time when loyalties were tied to the leader this was a powerful yet risky strategy. Troops would be willing to follow their leader into combat, but if he were killed, morale would probably collapse and the force could disintegrate quickly.

Lots of modern histories assert that a wedge was a frequent Viking technique, yet the author points out there is minimal evidence to support the statement. On the other hand, there is little evidence for much of anything in the Viking era.

Another feature of the medieval battle was the lack of reserves to reinforce breakdowns in the line or reinforce success. This means a collapse somewhere on the battle line could cascade to defeat of the entire line since there would not be any troops to fill the gap.

Continue reading “Highlights of Viking Age warfare – 2”