Norsemen And Vikings: The Culture That Inspired Decades Of Fear
By Alexandra McKenna and John Broom
Paper given at the WEI International Academic Conference, October 2014
Introduction: When one thinks of Vikings the mind’s eye often envisions muscular men covered in furs with large horned helmets. Thoughts of these monstrous men link themselves with words such as bloodlust, raids, and conqueror. Which leaves one to ponder why these men have come to be forever linked with such carnage, surely they must have had some redeeming qualities? Viking studies have increased in popularity during modern times. This has led many historians to pick up the sagas left behind by the Norse people, so that they may better understand the driving forces behind the decades of fear these Viking raiders inspired. What these historians have uncovered sheds new light on the Vikings, showcasing not only men of destruction, but also of enlightenment.
It is widely believed that at the opening of the Viking age, Scandinavia housed a mere two million people. This time also saw an age of rapid population growth, which many historians and geologist alike, attribute to climate change. The warmer climate brought on during the early eighth century allowed for milder winters in the Norsemen’s cold climate. The warmer climate inspired the typical response of lower infant mortality rates, and a more protein rich diet that allowed for overall better health. It is thus feasible to believe that the overall population boom supplied the necessary push factor that inspired the Vikings to take to the sea in search of new lands.
Iceland remains one of the lands most linked with the Vikings. The land was first colonized in 874 AD, under Ingolf Arnarson and Leif Hrodmarson. This country has seen some of the most far-reaching land degradation in northern Europe. Many historians attributed this erosion as a consequence of Viking occupation, which would supply another push factor for Viking exploration and raiding. However, Rannveig Olafsdottir, launched a study that proved the shift in landscape actually began in 2500 BP. The study suggest that the Norse settled on land that had already experienced severe degradation, and that their settlement just contributed to an overall downward spiral. Given this evidence, one could still argue that the poor land of one of the major Norse territories helped to reinforces the need to explore and conquer.
To understand the warriors that took the world by storm, one must realize that not all Norsemen were Vikings. Viking, as a word, during the period meant raider, or better yet “warfare at sea,” therefore Viking was an occupation within the Norse community. Vikings as explorers expanded their reach across the globe. They are noted by many historians to be the earliest point that American’s can trace their history. Thor Heyerdahl, who spent time in Peru studying the Incan culture, discovered light-skinned inhabitants that trace their ancestry to, “Mythical white forbears.” While the possibility exists that Vikings did not father any children in Peru One thing is certain, Viking explorers explored and colonized many lands leaving behind lasting impressions.