James Bryce Bryce.

The book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) online

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inhabited these northern regions.

In the last centuries before the Christian
era this northern race first became ac-
quainted with iron, and about that time
the old writers Pliny, Tacitus, who calls
the Swedes "Suiones," and others inform
us that the northern peoples of the Iron Age
were Teutons. Scandinavia derives its
name from the "island" of "Scandia" or
Scandinavia (more correctly Scadinavia),
which was known to the Romans. From
the oldest literary records which the North-
men have left us we learn also that even
500 years after Christ one and the same
language, the oldest Scandinavian, was
spoken throughout the north, and that this
was closely allied to Gothic and German.
The runic letters used by the Northmen
were borrowed with modifications from
the Greek and Latin alphabets, which they
had learned through contact with the
southern Germans.

353 1


We may therefore conclude that the
northern lands, at least since the last
centuries before the Christian era, were
inhabited by a Germanic race, which
probably had gradually worked its way
from south to north. Jutland and the
Danish isles were the first to become
inhabited. After this the Northmen
N . , reached Southern Sweden and
Norway, and then penetrated

further and further, until they

in Legends ., , ,-, , J

gradually came to the Polar

seas, where they came into contact with
the Ugrian peoples, the Lapps, who even
at that time had wandered so far north.

It is only after the ninth century A.D.
that we have any definite knowledge of
the social and political conditions of the
north ; and that comes to us through
the Prankish, Anglo-Saxon, and Irish
chroniclers. The Northmen themselves
begin only about the twelfth century to
keep any kind of historical records ; their
memories of earlier periods were trans-
mitted in the form of oral legends. The
social conditions of the north were at that
time essentially the same as those of the
southern Germanic races during the migra-
tion period. The people were divided into
freemen and bondsmen. There was really
only one class among the freemen, that of
the peasants, and they all had equal
privileges and duties. There were a few,
however, who had gained position and influ-
ence, perhaps through illustrious ancestors,
personal bravery, or great wealth ; indeed,
even before this time, more especially in
Norway, a nobility had arisen.

The land was as yet little cultivated, and
although much importance was attached
to agriculture, still, cattle-rearing, the
chase, fishing and commerce remained the
more important means of livelihood. The
peasants in Denmark and Sweden lived
chiefly in villages ; in Norway, on the
contrary, where the natural condition of
the country prevented this, in scattered
homesteads, as is still the case.

Property descended regularly
and Their ,, '

y. .. to one of the sons ; the others

were therefore obliged to seek
a maintenance by clearing uncultivated
land. The majority, however, preferred
to seek their fortune on the sea, and often
became sea-robbers, or Vikings, as they
were called, because they usually lay in
wait in bays (Vik) and sounds for the ships
of merchants ; for the sea was at that
time, when natural conditions made tra-


veiling by land so much more difficult, the
principal high-road of commerce, and thus
from early times the Northmen were
trained to a seafaring life. They became
capable shipbuilders and bold seamen ;
and thus even at an early period an active
intercourse arose between these northern
lands and other countries.

The Northmen possessed a strong feeling
of independence ; the highest aim of a
freeman was to be his own master. In-
telligence and prudence stood high in
their estimation, but they did not despise
the exercise of cunning ; they possessed
quick perceptions, made ready and appro-
priate answers, and for poetry they had a
decided aptitude. Strength, courage, and
endurance, were valued most of all, and
battle was their highest aim. They fought
often for fighting's sake, and their desire
for battle rose sometimes into real fury,
the " Berserker rage." Their customs
were wild and rude ; when they became
enraged they showed a cruel, revengeful,
and implacable spirit, and in their passions
they were insatiable. On the pther hand,
their behaviour towards enemies was, as
_, a rule, open and honourable, and

\ y ;J they possessed in the highest
Among the , J ,, , , ,,

K, degree the knightly virtues

Northmen , , -,, ' / ,

of good faith and honour.

Their institution of " battle brotherhood "
is well known ; all the members of the
brotherhood mixed their blood, and swore
to share good and bad fortune with one
another for ever. They had a feeling for
family life, and in the home the wife was
the counsellor of the husband. Indeed,
women enjoyed the greatest respect, and
occupied in general an independent posi-
tion, even taking part in public assemblies
and the banquets of the men.

Northern mythology is in its origin
common to all Germanic races, but it was
on northern soil, where it came under the
influence of Nature and the characteristic
life of the people, that it received its
independent development. Our know-
ledge of this mythology is obtained from the
old Norwegian poetry and sagas from the
earlier and later Eddas folk songs which
were collected and written down in Iceland
only in the thirteenth century. Thus we
are unacquainted with them in their
original form. Some of the later investi-
gators are of opinion that the myths con-
tained in these Eddas originated first during
the Norman period, under the influence of
a baptised people, the Anglo-Saxons and





The Gods
of the

Irish, and do not represent the religious

aspects of an older period and a peaceful

people, but the ideas of the Vikings, whose

ideal was a life passed exclusively in warfare.
According to the Eddas, the gods, " the

Ases," dwell in Asgard, in the centre
of the world. From this dwel-
ling-place a bridge, " Bifrost "
(the rainbow), leads to Midgard,
where mortals live ; towards the

north lies the cold Jotunheim, the home

of the giants, or Jotnen,the enemies of the

gods. The highest of all the gods is

Odin. His dwelling-place is " Glads-

heim," with its hall Valhalla, where he

holds his court, and

where those who have

fallen in battle meet

together in joyous

feasting, the Valky-
ries, Odin's maidens,

pouring out the mead

for them. Tyr is

the god of war ; Thor,

the god of thunder ;

Balder., the god

of all goodness and

wisdom, of purity

and innocence ;

Brage, the god of

poetry ; Heimdal, the

guardian of the Ases ;

Njord and Frey, gods

of fertility and peace-

ful occupations.

Among the goddesses

may be mentioned

Frigga, Odin's wife

and the goddess of

marriage ; Freya, the A

I dun,


r>f Invp anrJ This wooden church of Borgund, pagoda-like in its
c > a * lu - style, situated in the mountainous Norwegian district
whose apples of Sogne, forms one of the most remarkable and charac-

hrniierrit pfprnal teristic monuments of medieval Norwegian architecture.

youth to the gods. The gods are always at
war with the giants. Through the malice
of Loki, the holy Balder loses his life. The
time has come when violence and evil pene-
trate to the world, its end draws near, and
will finally take place at Ragnarok, at
the last battle between the gods and the
giants. A new and beautiful world will
afterwards arise, in which Good shall rule.
The gods were worshipped by sacri-
fices, which were offered under the
open sky, in sacred groves and by holy
springs, or in temples. The principal
places of offering in the oldest times
were Leire, in the neighbourhood of Ros-
kilde in Zealand, Upsala in Sweden, Maren


and Skiringssal in Norway. There was
no distinct priestly class ; every man
offered sacrifices for himself and his
family. The king or chief, who, in his
capacity of sacrificial priest, was called
" Gode," offered sacrifices for the whole

The Northmen were divided into several
main tribes : Denmark and Scania
were inhabited by the Danes; Southern
Sweden and the coasts of the large lakes
Wener and Wetter by the Goths (Gotar),
who were separated by great forests
from the Svear, who lived in Central
Sweden ; Norway was inhabited by the
j Norwegians. These
tribes were sub-
divided into " folks,"
each of which had
its own political
organisation. The
district belonging to
a " folk" was called
" land " or " land-
schaft" by the
Danes and Goths,
" folkland " by the
Svear, and " fylk '*
by the Norwegians.
The " landschaft "
consisted of several
"harden" (herred,
hundred), comprising
the estates of those
families who had
formed the original
basis of society in that
district. At the head
of the harde stood
the " herse," who
was president of the
herreds-ting, in which
the peasants drew

up their laws, passed resolutions, and
decided lawsuits. The landschaft also
had its assembly (fylkes-ting) where
affairs which concerned the whole land-
schaft were settled ; in this assembly one
of the chiefs in Sweden the "lagman"-
was president. If war was
declared, the peasants chose
a leader, and from this in-
stitution the kingship gradu-
ally developed. The king, or konungr,
was originally the leader of a band of
five warriors, who had sworn fidelity
to him. With this band of followers
he undertook military expeditions in
order to win renown and wealth. If he

How the


The Vsttisfos cascade, seen in the first picture, has a drop of 850 feet ; next are shown the Svartisen and Bouims glaciers,
the latter a branch of the largest glacier in Europe. The first of the two lower illustrations shows Essefiord, with the huge
mountain rising in the background, and the other the famous Seven Sisters waterfall dropping into Geiranger Fiord.



was successful in this he rose in the esti-
mation both of his followers and of his
countrymen ; he became the leader of
the national host. His influence in-
creased also hf' the assembly ; he became
kiijgt -QJ[ : : the landschaft. As a rule, his
" ~ i" office was inherited by his sons,
Im * ? , and in this way royal families
Power** * kad their origin. The king-
ship was at first very limited
with respect to locality. Ambitious
kings, however, were not contented with
a landschaft, but contrived to extend their
domain by violence or by other means. Yet
local autonomy continued in force. The
power of the king was virtually limited
to leading the army in time of war,
defending the country, superintending

who were too cramped in their own land,
began to visit the countries in the west of
Europe. Soon every sea was covered
with their fleets, and scarcely any Euro-
pean coast was free from their plunderings.
The chief cause which drove out the
Northmen from their native country was
poverty. The Viking expeditions were
therefore originally nothing more than
pirate raids undertaken for the purpose of
earning a livelihood. In accordance with
the Norse view of life and religion, it
was more honourable to earn a livelihood
by the sword than by the plough. The
Viking life was to them a lawful and
glorious profession of arms, which was
practised by their noblest men and even
by their kings. The exploits of the


law and justice, and offering sacrifices
to the gods of the people.

We do not know when the Danish
and Swedish kingdoms were founded.
According to legend the Danish kingdom,
which had its royal residence at Leire,
was founded by Skjold, the son of Odin,
and on this account the old Danish kings
were called Skjoldunger. The Swedish
kingdom is said to have been founded by
the god Yngve-Frey, the founder of the
race of Ynglinger. Norway remained
divided up into small kingdoms longer
than the other northern countries. There
the " fylkes " were not united into one
state until the end of the ninth century.
Before the ninth century A.D. little or
nothing was known in the south and west
of Europe concerning the northern peoples.
But about the year 800 the Northmen,


Vikings were admired by the people and
glorified by their poets ; only he who had
fallen in war was received by Odin into

The political situation in the north was
another cause of the emigrations. In
Denmark in the ninth century two royal
families were struggling for the suprem-
acy ; victory fell now to one, now to the
other, and the conquered claimants, who
T were compelled to leave the

. country, tried to establish new

Glorified J i j

v ... empires in foreign lands, or
at least to win for themselves
wealth and glory. About the same time
Norway became united under one king,
and many princes left their homes
to preserve their freedom, since they
would not tolerate the authority of a



1 Rantaseutu Lake; 2, Nyslott Castle, Olofsborg ; 3, The breaking: away of an immense ice-floe in th
Gulf of Finland; 4, Taipale on the Saima Canal; 5, Hameenlinna Lake, Tavastehus; 6, The Imatra waterfall.


This famous picture depicts Alfred, the heroic king-, in the midst of his dreaded enemies. Long: before Alfred's time the
Danish plunderers had landed in England and completely held in their hands the north-eastern portion. Alfred had
only part of the country under his governance, but his wise and good rule had so roused the patriotism of his people
that they offered a stubborn resistance to the invading army. Disguising himself as a minstrel, in 878, and accom-
panied by only one servant, it. is said that Alfred made his way to the camp of the powerful Danish chief, Guthrum, and
delighted the Danes by his skill in singing and playing the songs of his native land. On returning to his own people he
at once assembled all his available forces, and fell upon the Danes with such good effect that they had to sue for peace.
From the design by Herbert A. Bone, executed in tapestry, by permission ef Mr. Antony Gibbs










""THE Northmen were far superior in
* strength, courage, deeds of arms, and
seamanship to the peoples whom they
attacked. Moreover, England, Ireland,
and the Frankish Empire were at this time
weakened by internal strife. It was
this fact which ensured the great success
of the pirates. At first they appeared
only in small bands, landed on the coasts,
which they laid waste with fire, and then
departed with their booty. When they
saw that they encountered little or no
resistance, they became bolder. Large
armies were formed, which had their own
laws and were generally commanded by
several chieftains who were equal in power.
They carried on their warfare according
to a settled plan, and were no longer satis-
fied with plundering the coasts. They
spent the winters in the estuaries or on
islands lying off the coasts. In summer
p. they sailed up the rivers far

R ira cs into the interior, which they

ap isz. t Devastated, plundering chiefly
Civilised , ,

churches and monasteries,

where they knew they would find the richest
booty. At last they made it the object
of their conquests to provide a new home
for themselves ; they accordingly settled
in the land they had conquered and
founded new states. Then the raids
ceased ; the fierce pirates accepted baptism ;
savage warfare gave place to peaceful
activities, agriculture, commerce, and navi-
gation. As Normans, they blended with
the native races, to whom they imparted
new strength and whom they influenced
in many way?.

All three of the northern peoples the
Swedes, the Danes, and the Norwegians
took part in the expeditions of the North-
men. The districts which they infested
were the coasts of the Baltic Sea and the
countries adjoining the Atlantic Ocean
. and the North Sea.

After the Swedes had for some time
been visiting as pirates and merchants the
countries of the Baltic Sea, which were

inhabited by Slavonic and Finnish races,
they settled shortly after the middle of the
ninth century on the coasts of the large
Russian lakes, where they founded an
empire called " Gardarike," with its capital
" Holmgard " (Novgorod). According to the

_,. Russian chronicler, Nestor, the

I he Swedes . ,,

circumstances were as follow :

Jhe Warjager, or Warager,
Swedes from the country on
the other side of the Baltic Sea were
accustomed to go to the races, living on
the large lakes, and levy taxes. But in
861 these races refused to pay, and
drove out the Warager ; they wished
to rule themselves, but soon became
disunited. Family arose against family,
and war broke out everywhere. Then
they summoned the Warager again
into the country in 862 to make peace.
The three brothers, Rurik, Sineus, and
Truwor, from the Waragian tribe Rus,
or Ruotsi, advanced with a troop of
Waragers across the sea and settled in
Novgorod, Belosersk, and Isborsk. As Si-
neus and Truwor died shortly afterwards,
Rurik became sole ruler in the kingdom,
which had received the name " Russia "
from his tribe. Some of Rurik's warriors
advanced further south, marqhed down
the Dnieper, and founded a kingdom in
Kiev, which was conquered in 882 by
Rurik's successor, Oleg.

Soon the Waragers extended their raids
as far as the Black Sea. At the beginning
of the tenth century they had even sailed
past the Crimea to the Sea of Azov and down
the river Don ; they then dragged their

ships overland to the Volga,
Northmen -i j j j.u-

.. . sailed down this river to the

in the Service /^ ,,

, D Caspian Sea, the coast of

of Russians , ,' . ,

which they laid waste, and

then returned laden with booty. The
Russian kingdom stood for a long time in
friendly relations with the northern coun-
tries and their princes, and the Russian
princes often employed Northmen in their
services. These friendly relations did not



cease until the Swedish element had gradu-
ally succumbed to the Slavonic, and the
kingdom at the end of the eleventh century
had become purely Slav.

It is true that the Swedes have not
left any perceptible traces in modern
Russia. Still, their immigration was of
great importance ; for through them
the Finnish and Slavonic races, which
had been at variance, were united for
the first time in one empire, and by the
communication which was opened up
between Russia and the west of Europe
the commerce, wealth, and power of
Novgorod in particular were advanced.
It was also through
the Russian kingdom
that the Northmen
came into contact
with the Byzantines.
Many Northmen en-
tered the services of
East Roman em-
perors as auxiliaries ;
after the middle of
the eleventh century
they were admitted
to the imperial body-
guard. At Byzantium
they were called
Varangers. "The
axe - bearing bar-
barians from Thule "
were renowned for
their courage and
bravery. As a
memorial of their
stay in the Byzantine
Empire they have left
the runic inscriptions
on the Lion of the
Piraeus, which is now
in the arsenal at
Athens. It is probable that these inscrip-
tions of the Swedish Varangers in the second
half of the eleventh century were carved
in honour of a northern chieftain who had
fallen in Gregk waters. As early as the end
of the eighth century the Norwegians came
to the islands lying off the north
18 and west coasts of Scotland the
Faroe, Shetland and Orkney
Islands, and the Hebrides.
These islands, however, were then barren
and unattractive, and served at first in
reality only as starting-points for more ex-
tensive expeditions. The Norwegians sailed
along the rough and desolate western shores
of Scotland, founded several settlements,


In the eleventh century " the axe-bearing barbarians from
Thule " entered the Byzantine Empire, where they were
renowned for their courage and bravery. As a memorial


and then crossed over into Ireland. This
island was at that time divided into Several
small kingdoms, the rulers of which were
constantly at strife. The Ardrigh, or
High King, had not enough power to
control the restless people and the strife-
D br loving chieftains. These divi-

Con 'ucrcd b s ^ ons facilitated the advance

y of the Northmen, inasmuch as
Northmen , T . , , ,, . .

the Irish were too deficient in

ships and seamanship to prevent their land-
ing. In the first half of the ninth century the
Norwegians, who were called by the Irish
Lochlannoch (the men from the country of
lakes), Fingalls (the white strangers), or
Ostmen, settled on
the east coast ; in
838 they conquered
Dublin, which they
fortified strongly.
The whole country
was devastated,
monasteries and
churches were burnt,
and Thorgisl, the
leader of the Nor-
wegians, became ruler
of almost the whole
island. After a few
years, however, he
was murdered. The
Irish rose and drove
out the foreigners.
But these soon came
back, and in 852 the
Norwegian chieftain,
Olav Hvite, founded
a kingdom in Dublin ;
at the same time
Norwegian kingdoms
were established in
Waterford and
Limerick. The Nor-
wegians built strong fortresses everywhere
in order to secure their rule. For
several years the kings of Dublin had
to resist the attacks of the Irish, who,
although their efforts were sometimes
favoured by fortune, tried in vain to drive
out the foreigners. About the middle of
the tenth century the conquerors threat-
ened to destroy the independence of the
island. " They set up," narrates an old
chronicler, " in every province a king, in
every district a chieftain, in every church
an abbot, in every town a bailiff, in every
house a soldier, so that the men of Erin
are no longer masters of their property.
No one dares to show generosity or

The most celebrated of the Northman chieftains of the middle of the ninth century, Hasting- plundered France for
several years, and then undertook a journey to Italy with the intention of conquering Rome and securing the wealth
which it contained. Driven ashore by a storm near Sarzana on the Magra, he took the town by stratagem, thinking
it to be Rome. Pretending to be on a peaceful mission, he was admitted into the town and baptised at the hands of
the bishop. During the following night loud lamentations were heard proceeding from the ship of the chieftain, and it
was reported that Hasting was dead. He was taken ashore for burial, and the bishop was just about to conduct
the funeral service when Hasting sprang from the bie r, and, with the assistance of his armed followers, first slew
the bishop and the governor, and then attacked the town, capturing it after terrible slaughter of the inhabitants.



tenderness to father or mother, to bishop,
to lord temporal or spiritual, neither to the
sick nor miserable, not even to a new-born
child. If an Irishman has only one cow,
he must give the milk to the soldier, so
that he gets no milk for himself."

The struggle continued. The Irish suc-
ceeded in gaining some victories over the
hated foreigners, but they were
!J? s n not able to rid the land of the
8 intruders. The most celebrated

in Battle . ,,

of those victories is that of

Clontarf, fought in the neighbourhood of
Dublin on April 23rd, 1014, which the Irish
remember with pride to this day. Brian
Borumha, High King of Ireland, had
collected a large army and advanced
towards Dublin, while the Norwegians in
the town had obtained auxiliary troops
from their countrymen dwelling in the
Scottish islands. It was a desperate
struggle, and both armies fought with
great bravery. The old king Brian fell on
the battlefield, but his army was victorious
and the Norwegians sustained heavy
losses ; no fewer than 6,000 perished in
the battle.

This victory did not alter the situation
in the island ; internal strife did not cease.
It is true that the Norwegians aban-
doned the hope of subduing the Irish, but
they remained in the country. Occasion-
ally, when it was to their advantage, they
did homage to the Irish kings. Thus matters
continued till the twelfth century, when

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceThe book of history. A history of all nations from the earliest times to the present, with over 8,000 illustrations (Volume 9) → online text (page 6 of 55)