Watching history on the television 

A few months ago towards the end of my leave I watched an episode of series on the Vikings. It was a well produced program fronted by a well known and possibly respected Scottish presenter. He has great definite, in your face tough delivery. There was lots of dramatic cinematography,  beautiful views of the places visited to show the history. Interviews with academics, archaeologists and displays of what they had recovered. The whole drive of the story was how great the Vikings were, they very embodiment of modern values. Adventurous, democratic,outgoing, dymanic, trading , technologically advanced, unencumbered by Christianity, they had the whole tool kit. Ambitious people who knew what they wanted and where to go.  A fairly conventional view of the last wandering tribe in the post Roman world.

In the west of Scotland the Vikings are part of our cultural and historical memory. The history described in the program doesn’t seem to match our land. 

In the late seventh century neither Scotland or Norway exsisted. The concept of nation states or kingdoms was centuries away. There were no borders or defined countries. Regions were ruled by tribal leaders or chiefs who were only as good as thier last battle. Or until those under him thought they could do better. A leaders supporters  were paid in booty from those they beat. Their territory was only as large as the extent they could defend. 

Populations were much smaller than they are now, so there were vast areas  of land that were uninhabited and unruled. The land was still heavily wooded. The people living in small isolated communities along the coastal margins and fertile river valleys close to the sea. It was useful as virtually all transport and trade was seaborn. But it made them vulnerable to attack from raiders from the sea.

At some point in the late seventh century groups of people started to migrate from western Norway. Why nobody knows, likely it was population growth. There was plenty of empty space in Scotland. A place known to them through centuries of trading links. Anyway the climate was milder and they shared a similar culture. You could maintain family and cultural links easily with thier homeland too. They began by settling in the Orkney and Shetland Isles, slowly moving on to the northern mainland, then down the west coast. 

Realistically, I think they came in self supporting group that could defend themselves if need be. Settling in places that they deemed suitable for thier needs. There would be clashes between them and the locals. It would only be natural, the way of the world at the time. In time they would be accepted. Local Chiefs  would appreciate thier support, greater number would increase productivity. A connection would be established with Norway which could offset the growing power  coming from the south.

The importance of the Christian infrastructure would have been strange to them.Churches and monasteries were the only substantial settlements. The priests and monks influence over both the rulers and general population was a real challenge to thier leadership and social order. The separateness and connection with the world beyond again a wonder. The intellectual power of the monasteries could well have been a bit scary too. It is little wonder that they tried hard to eradicate them. Besides the literate monks made very saleable slaves not to mention any gold and silver. 

But they returned and the Norse were converted. Until the comming of Anglo Normans in the thirteen century  it was a peaceful place. Virtually a separate country too. Even today when you travel into the west you still notice a difference.

Here’s a couple of things for consideration. As consequence of thier attacks in England and France,the first organised cival administration appeared since the Romans appeared to deal with thier attacks.The word Viking was first used in the late eighteenth century in academic writing. Sir Walter Scot made the term Viking popular through one of his novel.