Thursday, April 28, 2016


And they are still ready to invade us!


I still wonder if Harald Hadrada is Hadrada or Harada but that’s just a little pebble in my shoe.

The history of the Vikings is Fascinating in many ways. Fascinating because they are, which is not said, Germanic and as such part of the vast Germanic migration into Europe and it has to be clearly positioned between the Slavic migration and the Celtic migration respectively east and west. It would be good to remember that all these are part of the same Indo-European migration from the Middle East through the Caucasus and then into the vast steppes and plains of central Europe.. It would also be good to remind us of the fact that another branch of this Indo-European migration came through Anatolia to Greece and then to Italy and will give after the Roman Empire the various romance languages. It would also have been a good thing to remind us of the survival of pre-Ice-Age Turkic languages of Europe in the shape of Basque, Sami, the language of Lapplanders, and Finnish. Finland is essential in the history of the Baltic Sea.

If we assume we all know this heritage or history and that the basic Scandinavian mythology, Odin, Thor and Ragnarok, is in fact a Germanic Mythology vastly shared with the other German people and was Richard Wagner’s basic inspiration, we can neglect recalling it to mind, though recollecting such facts should be basic. In the same way the sagas are often common and the German Siegfried has a Scandinavian version with Sigurd. This Germanic nature of the Scandinavian people or even peoples is central in the whole history of Europe and it probably explains why the Scandinavians never tried to raid or conquer German territory. They looked east into Slavic territory and they look west into Celtic and Frankish territory which must have appeared at the time as some continuation of the Roman Empire in western Europe and the Gaulish Celtic previous phase.

The presentation dividing the whole history in three phases: raiding, conquering and settling down is interesting. In Western Europe we hardly mention them apart from their famous raids accompanied by looting, burning and killing all that could have any value or any life. With maybe one element that could be added clearly: they actually got some prisoners that they enslaved in their own communities. These slaves were the substitute workers necessary to replace the warriors who went on missions. These slaves are just servants that have no civil rights and it would have been interesting to insist on the direct government they had, each community convening their male members into some kind of general assembly that decided of all common issues. They invented direct democracy (though some might see it as a pre-Roman-Empire survival that also existed among Celtic people and was killed along with the egg the Roman legions crushed) and what will become parliament in England a few centuries later.

The conquering phase presented as an exploring venture is very interesting and it reveals the change in Scandinavian societies and ideologies and it should have been twinned with the religious evolution. They replaced raiding with trading. It is commerce that saves them from being eventually destroyed, the way they were in England in the 11th century, a destruction that led to the full dissolving of Anglo-Saxon culture under the domination of Norman culture. And yet this Scandinavian influence remained in England and it will lead to Runnymede and the Magna Carta and with Parliament being re-invented later on. This Anglo-Saxon influence and behind it the direct influence of Danish and Scandinavian cultures and languages is the substratum of English today and makes English a Germanic language. This linguistic descent should have been emphasized and the famous Tristan and Yseult will be translated into German but also into Norse and Icelandic in the 12th century. The connection worked both ways from Celtic Welsh oral tradition to other Celtic areas (Cornwall, Ireland, Brittany) into English, or rather Middle English at the time, and further on into German and Scandinavian traditions.

The book justly insists on the conquest of Iceland, Greenland and the discovery of Newfoundland and Canada, or Northern America. It mentions the fact they will have to eventually leave Greenland under the pressure of local Inuit or Eskimo people and the fact that they did not settle in America because of the strong hostility from the local Native Americans. This is based on sagas and old tales but such documents are essential in a mostly oral society since it was the only way for people to know their history and destiny: to listen to the sagas told by the saga-tellers/poets/minstrels who had learned them by heart from having heard them themselves. No books in those days, only memory. And these sagas were told very often to some accompanying music that could be some string instrument like the lute, or some pipes, or later on the organistrum evolving into the hurdy-gurdy (and later on in Sweden the nyckelharpa), and we probably should speak of the bagpipe too (Scandinavia or Swedish Sackpipa and Finnish Sakkipilli). Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon poem or shouldn’t we say saga, is a perfect example since it states the use of music to tell the story.

The book is very interesting on the Scandinavian or Viking penetration of Ukraine (more than Russia) even if the Rus Brothers brought the root of Russian into that territory. Kiev was the cultural epicenter in Slavic lands just as much as it became the religious center of Slavic Orthodox Christianity. It is this religious link that should be seen as first finding some echo in the Christianized Vikings and at the same time lead them to the ambition of going further and reaching out to Byzantium. Interestingly the military move was defeated and they immediately replaced it with a commercial link. Note this was easy since the commercial link between Scandinavia and Byzantium already existed through the commercial network developed by the Hanseatic League. Actually it would be interesting to connect the commercial dimension that developed at the end of the first millennium and the beginning of the second to the progressive Christianization of the Vikings themselves. We could and probably should also connect this Christianization with the important Peace of God movement that developed in Feudal Europe starting in the 10th century and enabling the development of trade fairs and markets with special protection to merchants all over feudal Europe: merchants could move freely in Europe with their merchandise and be protected along the way and at the various fairs provided they paid special fees. Bartholomew Fair in London for instance developed a special court for the duration of the fair.

I will not conclude like the book does with Christianization. It is this necessary evolution that explains the slow shifting from a warlike stance to a commercial stance and that commercial stance requires peace. Then the Nobel Peace Prize is the direct continuation of this evolution. But this heritage can be slightly contradictory. Scandinavia was the first European region to instate eugenic laws just after the first world war (Swedish State Institute for Race Biology in 1922 after the Swedish Society for Eugenics founded in 1909) and also the last one to get rid of them long after the second world war (The various eugenic laws lapsed only in 1976). Norway seen as a haven of peace is not always true. Norway tried to help in Sri Lanka when the Tamil Tigers were dominant in nearly half the country Thanks to their using terrorism and the ceasefire the Norwegians instated there was only the smokescreen used by the Tamil Tigers to build up their military power and to go on with their terrorist activities (assassination of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in July 2005, and/because he was a Tamil, hence  a traitor to his “people” according to the narrow nationalistic approach of the LTTE).

The book opens up our horizon on Scandinavia and should enable us to widen our approach and to see the great influence Scandinavia (including Finland though their language and culture is Turkic, hence agglutinative) had in Europe when it accepted to become Christian and to integrate European procedures.


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