Mists of Time: The Viking Age

As a reader, the most important part of any novel is the story. A character or two for whom I can feel some sort of emotion (other than complete loathing) comes a close second in the list of priorities for choosing what to read.

As a writer, that story and those characters can come from anywhere.

I tend to find History to be full of both. There have been many, excellent, stories over the centuries. Leastways, I think so, and given the number of historical novels, apparently so do quite a few others. Anyway, as a step along my path, rather than just reading history and occasionally making notes in one of my many notebooks, I’m going to start sharing some of those stories here.

But first, I shall explain a little about the Viking Age. I’ve been doing that quite a bit recently – part of explaining my CV and background as a Viking Studies graduate.

The Viking Age is a very specific period. It is usually taken to begin with the attack on Lindisfarne at the end of the 8th Century, in 793, and the normal end-date of the period is 1066, with the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the death of the Last Viking, Harald Hardrada, at the hands of the last Anglo-Saxon King of England Harold Godwinson (well, OK, his army). Harold didn’t last much longer, dying at Hastings a few weeks later, leaving England in the hands of William of Normandy.

Actually, the Viking Age lasted a bit longer in the peripheries – in Scotland and Ireland – and had long since ended in mainland Europe and Byzantium.

After a bloody Ninth Century, Charles the Simple of France signed a treaty with Rollo the Viking in 911, offering him land in northern France in return for protection from other Vikings. Rollo said thanks, and proceeded to spread his wings a bit further along the French coast, with the Duchy of Normandy being established a couple of generations later, under Richard the Fearless (942-996).

In Byzantium, Vikings went from occasional raiders to Imperial guards, when Basil II formed the Varangians in 988. He decided he couldn’t trust his own people and recruited from the Northmen. Before he became King of Norway, Harald Hardrada was a very successful leader in the Varangian Guards.

To go ‘a-viking’ was something of a rite of passage for young male Scandinavians. Norwegians and Danes tended to west, towards the British Isles and mainland Europe; Swedes went east, down the rivers of eastern Europe towards Byzantium. Along the way, they also helped to establish Kiev and Russia – they were known as the Rus.

And that’s it briefly. I’ve glossed over it, and not talked much about Ireland and Scotland, but there will be more details when I’m talking about more specific people and not simply being brief.

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